MLitt Thesis Festival 2015: Session 3

Good evening, Sarah Enloe here, taking over for Cass for the final session of the 2015 Thesis Festival. So far, the scholarship and presentations have been excellent. Looking forward to the final five. A little description of the room for those who have not attended a festival before: Down stage right, the MBC seal graces a podium made of stained oak, an extension cord runs from the discovery space to the “media cart upstage left–indicating readiness for tech support for any upcoming presentation. The house features the student body of the three class years of the MBC program, their faculty, and loved ones (as well as OCS education staff). Paul Menzer walks to the front to introduce the session: “Like an episode of COPS: Starts with nudity, ends with cursing,”

Adrienne Johnson “Leave Them ‘Naked as the Vulgar Air’: A Study of the Effects of Nudity in Performance.”

Actor: Josh Williams

In a break from the previous presentations, students occupy the gallant stools stage right and left. The full paper covers the history of censorship in early modern England and concludes with the ending of the position of the Master of Revels in the 1960s, which saw the advent of nudity onstage. The nudity was not limited to London, but expanded to NYC, as well. Appreciation of the human form its most vulnerable state. Nudity can connect the actor and character. When Ms Johnson started to study this, she encountered many who wanted to share their personal experience of seeing nudity onstage, professors, actors, and audiences. The list of actors and theatres who employ the practice is long. But why bother? Why has the London stage become a “wang-addicted world”? The presentation of the actor body as a focal point directly effect the audience experience. The tradition of pageantry By showing the naked body, the production can show that the actors are more than just icons: they are human.

There is no evidence of nudity on the early modern stage. The early modern theatre practitioners were concerned with nudity, though they did not show it. The censors never legally prohibited nudity, but it was not accepted. Could Shakespeare have had nude actors on stage? “I like to think so.” In the early modern period, the Privy Council was continually called on to censor action on the stage, while the Master of Revels was in charge of censoring the text. THe establishment’s need to control content created the Patronage system, in 1572, the Privy Councils’ vagabond act created the profession of actor. The privy council’s rulings in the restoration (after 1672 Drury Lane patent) focussed less on offensive language (even considering witty language necessary). In this period,the appearance of women on stage led some to comment on the states of undress among one particular actor–Nell Gwyn–which could have been merely a pants role or could have been light, revealing clothing. The examples of ROMEO AND JULIET and ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA provide scenes that were ripe for thoughts about nakedness. Iago in OTHELLO, tempts his superior to think about the lewdness of nakedness, while in KING LEAR nudity plays a role for Poor Tom. Similarly, in TIMON OF ATHENS, nudity is a driving force in Timon’s exit from Athens.

In the scene presentation, Josh WIlliams plays a scene that suggests a choice for a production, the first time through, Josh removes his suit jacket and throws it against the wall. Ms. Johnson points out that the lines indicate that. the character wants to leave Athens his clothes, this time Josh removed his clothes gradually throughout until he is left nude at the end of the speech. Ms Johnson calls the actor back to stage so that he can participate in a discussion with the audience. After asking the audience to express their feelings, Ms Johnson is, at first, met with silence, then:

–I expected to giggle but became engrossed

–I was waiting for him to get naked

–Where in the text did you find to justify each removal? (Josh explicates that he chose shoe removal on the word cripple because he saw it as related to walking)
Q: Women’s nudity?
–More prominent
Q: Differences between stripping between and immediate clothing
–Ms Johnson wanted the suit
Q: Does pre-warning in marketing have an effect
–only one that she has looked at gives pre-warning. (One did warn about poop.) The Vollage in the 60s ran kind of nudity and theatre
Q: In the last 10 years there has been more male nudity than female, have you noticed a trend?
–not specifically

Jordan Zwick “Cardenio: A Case Study in Textual Reconstruction.”
Actors: Josh Williams, Zac Harned, Mark Pajor
This presentation will not be nearly as naked. Who here has read or seen Double Falsehood? Who here thinks it could use a little work. Greg Doran started a 12 year journey that culminated in a 2011 production. This production will use the Cardenio names, and will focus on one relationship and the actors learnings from them. The play exceeded expectations for a reconstructed text. Through interviews with cast members and the record in Doran’s book, Ms. Zwick pieced together a picture of the rehearsal room. When rehearsals began it was “complete” but Doran had a hard time seeing Stanley Well’s claim that Shakespeare’s hand was in it. Nevertheless, the room was one that welcomed editing and addition. As actors dug in, they found holes in the script, particularly in the Cardenio/Fernando relationship. In DOUBLE FALSEHOOD, the two characters do not meet until late in the text, despite textual evidence of a deep friendship before Fernando dishonors Cardenio by usurping his love, Lucinda. (actors illuminate the relationship with readings from the text). During rehearsals for the early scene in which Fernando and Cardenio discuss the loss of Lucinda, the actors decided it was falling flat and they concluded the need for a scene (one absent from both Theobald and Cervantes), Doran created one in which he tried not to sound like “early modern pastiche.” The framework he created by consulting other early modern plays was fleshed out during rehearsals. With the actors’ help, Doran was able to create a dynamic piece of theatre and gave the process and the actors credit on his title page.

Q&A
Q: In some ways a much darker TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA?
A: Closer to TWO NOBLE KINSMEN, but Doran poached from everywhere
Q: What Genre? and How much blood?
A: Romance, keeping honor in the production was important to the Spanish dramaturg kept the aim on that.
Q: Familiar with Chuck Mee/Greenblatt? Know of any process overlap?
A: Biggest difference would be the length of time, some cast members from 2003 staged reading were with it til 2011.
Q: Gary Taylor’s CARDENIO?
A: Biggest difference (wasn’t able to consult with all of the versions) is that Gary Taylor stuck with the text
Q: Spectrum between careful reconstruction to adaptations:
A: Gary Taylor, Doran, Mee
Q: Why?
A: Appeals to me as a scholar and an artist, because I appreciate the idea of the actor being a text consultant. Across the board the actors said it was most gratifying and they were proud of the production.

Aubrey Whitlock “Shakespeare of the Oppressed”

Actors: Merlyn Q. Sell, Molly Seremet
Begins with a parody of “This too too solid flesh…” You are about to witness a a transculturation (transcend a foreign tradition and create something new from a indigenous tradition). Today the presentation will be playing with Boal’s methods to question thesis presentations. Next vignette: “Speak not the speech”, an oath to trust the text. A scene by the actors debating text and playing it. One folio nut chases the other less adherent off.  Next scene: Political theatre in the form of an infomercial.  “The joker system” will allow you to take your political theatre explorations to the next level, Aubrey explains the joker is a wild card who can interact with the audience or play any character in the play. Boal argued that it could be used in any play. What do you get when you order” this system? All actors can play all characters and comes with a set of instructions:

–The protagonist can only be played by one actor and must be naturalistic and maintains the reality. The character for whom the audience feels the most empathy

–The Joker is the opposite of the protagonist, he can explain anything, speak for the playwright, and company

— chorus, and music.

Actors ask: What if the theatre company is small?

–Can still work

–Each scene can have its own style, linked by commentaries by the joker, episodes end with an exclamation, also can feature the inside story of a character and an exaltation, Boal says it can be adjusted for any need.

Next scene introduced by a poem delivered by Ms. Whitlock.

–narration summarizing Hamlet (DANES OF OUR LIVES)

–Gravedigger scene, Hamlet is accused of breaking the fourth wall, and asked what he knows about Shakespeare of the Oppressed in a good cop/bad cop routine. When asked she says she’d like to apply the Theatre of the Oppressed to Shakespeare and argues for the play to be HAMLET because Boal was “obsessed” with it. It is riddled with the meta awareness in the joker system. THe actor playing the inspector asks: Who is the presenter right now? Hamlet, the joker, Aubrey? All three.

This is an example of the melding of the indigenous to transculturation and surpassed all three forms–Boal, HAMLET, and thesis presentation. This is not acculturation, every transculturation adjusts to the needs of its audience. It belongs among the theatre world and education.

Go, make you ready.

Q&A:

Q: In applying Boal to HAMLET, you are designating roles to different characters.

A: Primary question that drove presenter to HAMLET, see it in performance would answer could involve altering text, costume designation, Hamlet seems most joker like when he speaks prose.

Q: How much can be applied to devised theatre more generally, in terms of the MFA year, will it reach beyond?

A: I do, Boal says it can be applied to any play, and you don’t have to follow all of it and his system (games, etc) can be applied broadly.

Q: Besides protagonist and joker, how are other characters designated–one protagonist? one joker? more of both?

A: Yes, any of that is possible. In the strictest, one actor playing protagonist and any actor can play any other character with the assistance of a physical mask. It is malleable, and I continue to look at it.

Q: Hoping to create a new genre of Shakespeare and the Oppressed, what is the difference between the Theatre of the Oppressed doing HAMLET and Shakespeare of the Oppressed?

A: not a new genre, but more about the transculturation (the indigenous and transculturation)

Q: Would the play follow the same text each night?

A: Up to the audience. Part of what the joker does is bringing in both questions and guidance from the audience.


Danielle Guy “Performing Bedlam: The Performance of Madness in Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi

Actors: Megan Clauhs and Ian Charles

Actors perform a scene from Slings and Arrows re: playing madness. Guidance from Stanislavsky, Mizener, Adler indicate that the Method may not have much to offer the person who needs to play insanity. And particularly not early modern insanity. In the 16th and 17th c, a doctor Napier made case studies of madness and even explained how one might play madness. He separated into temporary and long term disjointed mental states. Giving an actor Napier’s records may assist them in the presentation of madness. With readings from the Napier studies, the actor plays a scene two times, showing the difference the information can make. The steps are: character profiling, diagnosing, actor application.

The malady noted in The Duchess of Malfi, that of werewolfism, is not described in Napier’s notes. But, as it is a madness of physical change and predatory state, revealed by the transformation into his beastly state throughout the play. Presenter suggests that the actor consider the malady described as melancholy because its description well fits the character descriptions in the text, and that they play it throughout the play. Because the descriptions are helpful. Using this method helps tear down the bars of bedlam and gives access to sound comprehension and solidarity.

Q: Were the milch bats part of the raving, or were they milking bats?

A: Yep, it happened.

Q: In depth diagnosis, is there a theatre that could have done this? Contacted Farah Karim-Cooper? Interesting to find out, use that connection.

A: Yes, that would be awesome.

Q: Ethics of playing madness?

A: Need to know the rules before you break them. Maybe in tablework.

Q: Since any play performed today by actors will be for an audience with modern understandings, recommend modern techniques as well?

A: I believe that the audience will go along, this is more for the actor.

Q: Richard Napier is wrong about everything, using his diagnosis might be insensitive?

A: In the world of the play, it should be a consideration for understanding the social roles?

Q: What is the external expression of this?

A: The chart features some physical descriptions and are linked in my thesis, connections to the humors but didn’t have time.

Q: You referenced some characters that are not mad but performing mad, wonder if there is a different methodology or symptomatology. It sounds like your concern is that playing mad will make the actor mad, and that sounds like antitheatricalism discourse. Might want to think about the conversation to be had between those two.

Molly Harper “Stick it in your Et Cetera

Actors: Zac Harned, Ryan Odenbrett

Thanks everyone for staying through to the last one. If you are offended by dirty words, you may want to leave. Flashes O’Keefe images on screen, to begin discussion of euphemisms for “vagina” and lists some including “et cetera”, Scenes from Henry V, 12th Night, Hamlet.

Laurie Maguire’s work on the term “et cetera” discusses its substituting for a woman’s vagina.  A completely spelled out word, in the noun position. In the verb position it refers to defecating. This research agrees with Maguire and asked: What could have happened between the early modern page and stage. Shakespeare uses it two times, in Mercutio’s and Pistol’s lines. Editors believe that et cetera was a censoring mark, but Ms Harper’s research indicates no such thing. When talking about controlling obscenity, a pamphlet from 1579, inspired the reaction against theatrical obscenity.  Actors demonstrate differences between Q and F editions of two Falstaff’s lines indicating this change. Modern editors have been replacing Mercutio’s et cetera with arse to remove their view of “censorship” though the use of et cetera would be more in line if they understood it.

Performance choices (tried with Romeo and Mercutio scene)

Leave it in–say it

self-censoring-skip over it

Embedded stage directions-hand over mouth

Main concern of this presentation is with what happens to the text (with Pistol scene):

This section is titled: Why does the prose character get to keep his et cetera when Mercutio doesn’t?

Pistol’s line is repetitive in its use of euphemisms for the vagina.

Amusingly, different editions footnote the Pistol et cetera with references to Mercutio’s.

Editors are perpetuating the effect that verse can not support the bawdy use of et cetera in prose.  Examples of 20th century bawdy use appear in Ogden Nash and Edward Albee, so why are editors removing the use from verse and not prose? Theatre practitioners make decisions about character portrayal from the text, by not editing the text to fit an iambic pentameter line the editor limits potential.

 

Q&A:

Q: When did it die out as a euphemism?

A: The OED lists it as the 5th definition, it hasn’t actually gone out. But popular language? No idea. Great if rappers started to pick it up.

Q: Euphemism vs Vulgarity?

A: It would have been socially acceptable, because of its latinate origin, but it doesn’t actually work for Pistol because it would have been so well alone. Pie corner/Saddle of Beef=Prostitute. But it would have well known.

Q: What do you make of the double euphemism of et cetera and nothings with Pistol?

A: Trying to find a clever way of insinuating Doll is nothing, not useful, practical, etc. Because it may be diseased.

Q: Nothing tells you that it tells you that it belongs to a woman with comparison to a man?

A: It can serve as a continuance, a shortening, or (as with Nothing) the absence of something.

Q: Why can’t it be an appositive for two words? could be a definition?

A: Used the 2012 2HIV in which the et cetera becomes the final straw before he is kicked out (thrust down)

Thanks to all for a stimulating day.

–This session live-blogged by Sarah Enloe, OCS Director of Education

“These be the stops that hinder study quite”: In Defense of Enjambment

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my current project is building a scansion workbook — a practical guide to understanding, marking, and performing meter in Shakespeare’s plays. This workbook follows a far different structure than our usual Study Guides, based on the scaffolding of language skills rather than on elements of a play’s plot, history, and staging challenges. Once we get through the basics of syllables, feet, and pentameter, we get to play with the aspects of scansion that pertain more to character and performance.

I came to scansion through Latin long before I came to it through English. Years before anyone had bothered to explain to me what iambic pentameter is, beyond perhaps a token mention of “that’s the stuff they make sonnets out of,” I was beating out the long and short vowels of Ovid, Catullus, and Horace. In my AP class, we had to recite Latin poetry aloud, which meant careful attention to the cadence of the lines. I learned a lot about elision — particularly when it comes to slurring vowel sounds together — and I learned about enjambment. One of the things my teacher hammered into my adolescent head was the concept that you don’t stop at the end of a line unless that’s actually where the thought ends. Of course, where the thought ends can be a tricky matter to determine, since Latin originally had no punctuation, and no spaces, for that matter. You either have to choose to trust the editor of your text (which I did far more readily at 16 than I do now), or else you had to figure it out for yourself through the translation. Once you made the determination, you had to put it into your voice during the recitation. Taking an unnecessary breath docked points from our grade.

Enjambment means, quite simply, that the thought or sentence continues past the end of the line. Here’s an example from Macbeth (click to expand):

Enjamb1

Now, this speech is a goldmine of information when it comes to both scansion and rhetoric (elisions! stressed conjunctions and pronouns! antithesis!), and my markup is far from the only potential choice in many of those lines. For the purposes of this conversation, however, just look specifically at those little right-pointing arrows. Each of those indicates an enjambed line. Many of them, as you can see, then lead to caesuras — those mid-line breaks — and many involve feminine endings, a final unstressed eleventh syllable tagged on to the end of a pentameter line.

Compare that to something like this speech from Richard II (click to expand):

Enjamb2

It’s one of the most rhetorically dense passages in Shakespeare — but not a single enjambed line. I could make an argument for ignoring the comma at the end of line for, after “head”, perhaps, and enjambing that line, but all the others are very clearly end-stops. They vary between full-stops, like periods, and partial stops, like commas, but in this passage, there is a sense that each line completes a thought or clause of some sort, even if the sentence continues. On the whole, Shakespeare’s later plays are more enjambed than his early ones — but you can certainly find end-stops in Macbeth, Othello, Coriolanus, and The Tempest, just as you can find enjambed lines in the Henry VIes, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of the Shrew. Plays which are heavily rhymed, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are more likely to have more end-stops as well, as enjambment tends to obscure the rhyme.

Enjambments and end-stops are one of the topics I’ll be covering in this new workbook. As I’ve been researching and discussing the process, however, I’ve run across the doctrine — apparently far more dominant, at least in some spheres, than I’d ever imagined — that an actor should take a brief pause at the end of each line of iambic pentameter, whether or not the punctuation and sentence structure make that indication. I’ve heard it justified as “the way the verse works” — which ignores the fact that enjambment is, itself, part of how the verse works, a conscious choice by an author to go on rather than to create a break. I’ve also heard that it’s necessary, because ten syllables is about how much an actor can say with one breath — which seems not only to undervalue the lung capacity of actors, but to ignore the playable value of that breathlessness, should it occur.

This is a weird concept to me. How can you ignore enjambment like that? Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that punctuation alone is unreliable, what with the variant preferences of typesetters. From my explorations of the Folio and quartos, however, it’s generally pretty clear where a line is end-stopped versus enjambed, even if the precise nature of the stop as a period, semicolon, colon, or question mark might be up for debate. Even where you can’t trust the punctuation, you can also figure out where a thought terminates or turns. (Rhetoric can help here, too, by identifying shifts in focus or alterations to a pattern).

End-stopped lines and enjambed lines operate differently. If you pause indiscriminately, you lose the crucial information that the enjambment gives you — that breathless, rushing quality which is a character clue and a clue for performance. Pausing at the end of each line in that speech of Macbeth’s doesn’t just interrupt the flow of thoughts — potentially obscuring comprehension of an already-difficult bit of text — it also misses out on something critical about Macbeth himself. The entire speech is, after all, about his attempt to squish time together and “jump the life to come,” to get to the end without pausing at the middle. It makes sense that, metrically, he’d be rushing, eliding, and running ahead of himself. His cadence transmits emotional information.

One of the comments that the OCS most frequently gets from our audiences is that our plays are accessible, easy to understand. I believe part of the reason for that lies in enjambment. Our actors speak their lines with attention to scansion and stressed syllables, but also as though they are… sentences. Things that people would actually say, in the manner they would actually say them. Enjambment is a part of pentameter. I have to think that our actors’ acknowledgement of that piece of the pattern, following a thought through to its natural end rather than carving it into bits, contributes to our audience’s ease of understanding. So, when it comes to the OCS Scansion Workbook, we’re going to promote what’s worked here at the Playhouse and in our classrooms: pause when the thought indicates you should, not just because you’ve said ten syllables and need a break.

What were you taught? What do you use in practice or teach others? Can you hear a difference when listening to Shakespeare in performance?

–Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager

“My life and education both do learn me how to respect you”: Teaching and the Art of Collaboration

Projects have a funny way of infiltrating one’s thoughts and setting up their own domain in  the mind.  I think this may be why research institutions want  their faculty showing the product of their labors (read: publication).  By encouraging faculty to invest time in  something–research, an experiment, a paper– they facilitate new solutions, innovations, connections. The project on my mind this summer is our No Kidding Shakespeare Camp, for which Cass and I (collaboratively) selected the theme of collaboration.  As I’ve been planning for it,  it has tickled my brain about all of the work we do and how it connects (or, sometimes, doesn’t) to that one word.  

 I was lucky enough to meet a scholar who is new to town for coffee yesterday to discuss some upcoming projects and to see if we could work together.  I’d been giving a lot of thought to our work in the Education Department even before this meeting, in which, as we were trading tales and getting to know one another, my colleague asked “What do you do at OCS?”

Most of the time, when I answer that question, I tend to start with our divisions — College Prep, Educator Resources, Research and Scholarship, Life-Long Learning.  I talk about the programs in each, what they mean to me.  Depending on the day, one or the other may be my favorite.

But the programs we run are not, really, what we do.  We bridge a lot of territory here in our little world — or, as we often say, we wear a lot of different hats. Kim and I are administrators, wrestling with budgets, staffing, communications.  Cass and I are curriculum developers: we worry with Common Core, clear instructions, and quelling ShakesFear. All of us write and market and edit and network and schedule and (some days it feels like more than anything else) answer emails.  Each of us have been performers at various point in our lives, and we still enjoy the aspects of our jobs that entail performing and putting together scenes and plays. We don’t get to act so much at the office or day-to-day like our colleagues a block away at the Playhouse, but we do get to teach — and in a way, that is the most collaborative and rewarding kind of performing.

We talk a lot about collaboration in theatre, but  not so much in the classroom.  It is a buzzword in one part of my job because the folks in the arts need to be collaborators in the most essential sense of the word: from the OED (you know it is a good day when I get to open that baby up) col- together + labōrāre – to work.

The word seems to be so essential in theatre that I am a little surprised (okay, disappointed) that the OED doesn’t credit Shakespeare with being the first to record it.  Instead, it first appears in print a good two and a half centuries after his death,

To work in conjunction with another or others, to co-operate; esp. in a literary or artistic production, or the like.

Shakespeare does record the concept in some of his plays. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck describes the how the Mechanicals “were met together to rehearse a play” and we see their first production meeting as they discuss the ins and outs of staging Pyramus and Thisbe. But one doesn’t find the same acknowledgement of learning, teaching, or educating together. In Shakespeare, those activities generally occur with singular pronouns — “I” or “you” or “she” or sometimes the royal “we/our.”

On the best days, the Education team gets out from behind our desks and go into a room full of people and we teach. We teach Shakespeare, history, acting, teaching.  We do it in a particular way that we learned from watching our boss, Ralph Alan Cohen, when he teaches, and from watching other teachers, who include both faculty in the Mary Baldwin Shakespeare and Performance program and the actors who work on the stage at the Blackfriars.  We teach students who are with us for one hour or one week or one semester.

We learn something every time we stand up in front of a group of people. We are lucky that the people in our classrooms, unlike those, say, in a typical public school English/Literature arts class, have chosen to be there. They want to hear what we have to say. We are doubly lucky in that our classrooms have resources that win interest instantly — actors and the stage. We are triply lucky that in our classrooms we have the opportunity to take a collaborative approach to learning.  We are not lecturers or authority figures so much as facilitators. We take pride in showing our students paths and helping their navigation and exploration. In raising genuine questions and discussing them. In exploring options and working together to achieve the best result for that moment, that group, that classroom. Knowing full well that the next moment, group, and class may resolve the exploration in a completely different (and exciting) way. That collaborative journey and its different landing points is part of why Shakespeare stays fresh on stage and in the hands of students invited to think like (and given the tools to work like) performers.

Little Academe

 

Over at the Playhouse, the artistic staff and actors spend time in a room together from the beginning of rehearsals until the closing night. Whether they are closely studying the text in table work, getting up on their feet and blocking it, or taking their curtain call, they are giving space and sharing credit with one another. They discuss the colors of the costumes and the period of the props, the movements and gestures that will unify or create the feel they are looking for from a particular moment. They will try things in different ways and work through challenges and disagreements with conversation.  They will, essentially, model an ideal environment for learning and creating: an environment that the best teachers and businesses are interested in making the norm.

In the quote from Othello that forms the title of this post, I see the three essential pieces at the heart of any genuine collaboration: life (experience), education, and respect. I think it is the last one that causes the most problems for teachers and others looking to work in a collaborative way.  For some reason, respect is a feeling that is hard to conjure up for some people with a lot of life experience and education. In the recent past I’ve noticed that the ability to collaborate with our students or with our co-workers is inversely related to how much more life experience or education we think we possess relative to theirs–or, in short, to how much we respect what they bring to the effort.  Sometimes, those in  a collaborative may need to ask: how much effort we are willing to give to showing respect? What will make this collaboration a success?

Collaboration is not easy in the best of situations — as I think the OCS has learned in the act of putting up plays since 1988. At various times, whether while running productions by two to three troupes simultaneously, or because we added new initiatives like our College Prep camp (1997) and the Actors’ Renaissance Season (2005), we have discovered that it takes time and energy to establish the system that will make the collaboration fly. And, it hasn’t always worked right off the bat. Within a system, collaborators have to be willing to acknowledge when something is broken and to work together to fix it. Otherwise they risk, in the words of one of our recent Leadership participants, that “a problem for some can quickly devolve into a problem for none.” If one person alone is not forced to deal with an issue, then it never gets addressed at all, as everyone it bothers will assume someone else will handle it.  The challenge for groups working in a truly collaborative way is to show respect for one another by recognizing an issue and bringing it to the group, working on a plan to solve it, and taking steps to do so.  Once is not enough, though; newly rising issues require the same approach whether they occur once a month or once a day.

As I watch our partner program experiment with this notion with their new MFA third year, I am learning just how important both the systems and the dogged determination to deal with situations as they arise is to the healthy functioning of a group.  And how difficult it is to build truly collaborative work into the day to day tasks we do to DO our work.  Our new third year demands collaboration of 11-12 souls for a year of their lives, and has set up some guidelines and tools to make that possible. It is the ultimate melding of pedagogy and art–a model of how to teach collaboration through process.  It has taught me that Collaboration needs not just invitation, but also stakes–something that we MUST accomplish together.  Something that gets us out from behind the devices and into one another’s space, something that has a deadline and an audience, something that we can feel pride in together.

At No Kidding Shakespeare Camp this year, our study will focus on the collaboration we find evidence of in Shakespeare’s company, the collaboration we engage in daily at the OCS, and the discoveries about collaboration we are making in the MFA third year company. We will experiment with models of collaboration drawn from what we know of Shakespeare’s rehearsal process, explore musical collaboration to see if we can compose something together, and discuss the implications of Shakespeare’s collaboration with other artists. I hope we will find new ways to engage and “work together” that feed our campers when they leave and our organization as we continue to mount productions and learn about the world of  early modern theatre. Won’t you join us?

Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Plenary Session X

Welcome back to the 7th Blackfriars Conference. I’m Cass Morris, and from 2:15-3:30pm, I will be live-blogging Plenary Session X, moderated by Tom Delise of the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory. This is the final Plenary Session of the 2013 conference.

Dorothy Todd, University of Georgia — “‘We’ve Got Blokes in Dresses’: Cheek by Jowl’s As You Like It and the Challenges of Drag”

Todd opens by commenting on the “stir” created by Cheek by Jowl’s 1991 presentation of As You Like It, which featured an all-male cross-dressed cast (the first since 1967), and that even the director experienced discomfort on opening night — “What were we thinking? We’ve got blokes in dresses!”. Why, Todd wonders, did audience members have so much trouble putting aside the actors’ corporeality? Todd comments on many of the other strange conditions of early modern theatre which we as audiences are willing to accept, including deaths, storms, and exotic locations. She notes that the audience’s responses to the Cheek by Jowl show were “rooted in the physicality of the actors’ bodies and the gender significations they adopt”. The audience could only understand the cross-dressing as camp — noting that that hinges on specific signifiers as belonging to only one gender (gender itself not necessarily corresponding to sex). To move away from campy drag, the actors had to find different ways to signify femininity.

The production “asks that the audience see the world of the play, and all the world,  as a stage rife with possibilities”. By opening with Jacques’s famous monologue, with the actors in plain dress, the production created the division of male and female characters visually at the start, despite that all the actors were male-bodied. Todd then notes that the epilogue also reminds the audience of how slippery the typical gender code can be — whether that epilogue is spoken by a male- or female-bodied actor, interweaving “the factual and counter-factual” — but that it has peculiar resonances in an all-male cast. Todd then questions the strength of the automatic identity of “the lady” with “the epilogue”. She notes “Rosalind’s employment of the ‘if’ trope” as another marker that she “stands not for what is, but what can be.” This holds true both for the things which are true as for those things which are contrary to fact. Todd concludes by noting that these conditions of ambiguous gender identity made  As You Like It perfect choice for Cheek by Jowl to perform with an all-male cast.

Bob Hornback, Oglethorpe University — “Shall we have a play extempore?”

Hornback begins by exploring the probability that early modern clowns necessarily had improvisational abilities, noting that while some may have, others may have been scripted to sound improvisational. “Extemporal wit” was noted in the period as a rare quality, not a usual trait. He notes a critic from the period who lamented the lack of improvisational skills present in clowns at the time of his observation, and relates that to lines in Hamlet which “suggest a waning” of extemporal clowns. Hamlet also skewers “the spate of bad improv” present on the stage. Hornback then quotes from Nashe regarding the war between the extemporal clown and the authority of script and cues. Hornback then cites examples of scripted improvisational idiom, “seeming extempore” rather than genuinely spontaneous.

Hornback moves to considering the instances of Kemp’s true improvisation versus seeming improvisation, particularly in the role of Falstaff. “Kemp’s improvisation made him uniquely suited for the role, not ill-suited,” particularly due to the character’s potential for improvisation. He notes that Falstaff’s lines are “opposite to sparse lineality”. Falstaff is, himself, an improviser. Hornback also examines the possibility of connected repetitions indicating a mimicry of improvisational idioms. Falstaff also, he notes, cues his own jesting with questions.

Nashe and Shakespeare, Hornback argues, would have seen both successful and unsuccessful improvisational clowns and would have known what it was that created that success. They did not, in their plays, aim at eliminating the real thing. Instead, having delighted in it, they sought to re-create it in script. Robert Armin, Hornback says, was an even more famous improviser than Kemp. He concludes by noting that the conditions of the early modern stage, including those re-created at the Blackfriars Playhouse, encourage “improv with a script”.

Celestine Woo, SUNY Empire State College – “Isabella in Measure for Measure: Discovering the Pleasure of Performance”

Woo begins by thanking her actors, Scott Campbell, Patrick Harris, and Amy Simpson Grubbs. She begins by saying that Measure for Measure is more satisfying if there is some intimacy developed between Isabella and her various auditors, particularly the Duke. The actors first present the “too-rehearsed first appeal” of Isabella (Grubbs) to Angelo (Campbell), encouraged and amended by Lucio (Harris). Woo argues that Isabella’s “use of the second person is perfunctory” and that she does not really see or acknowledge Angelo. In her second attempt, she re-assesses her audience — and Woo notes that, after Sarah Enloe’s workshop on audience contact, she now thinks this could include the theatrical audience as well as Angelo. As she goes on, warming both to her theme and to her auditor, her vehemence and persistence earn Angelo’s attention and pique his interest. Woo’s staging has Isabella move to Angelo and touch him on the arm as part of her appeal. Woo notes that, once she drops her self-consciousness, “she’s good at this! Her rhetorical eloquence is a bit of a surprise to her.”

Woo then notes Isabella’s several oratorical strategies: imagining a reversal of roles, as well as pointing out the pattern of pronouns (from I to you to a hypothetical subjunctive I, then to third-person hypotheticals regarding Angelo and Claudio). Woo considers this reminiscent of Portia’s rhetorical strategy. Woo thinks that Isabella “falls in love with performance”, and that that leads to her ultimate success. Woo next looks at the moment where Isabella and the disguised Duke plot Angelo’s downfall through the bedtrick, noting that she has “always heard some glee” in Isabella’s speeches there. Isabella is “wryly amused at Angelo’s eagerness”. In baiting Angelo himself, though prompted by others in action, “she finds her lines herself” and “highlights her own cleverness” regarding some details of the bedtrick.

Woo believes that viewing Isabella as overly reactive, rather than possessing agency of her own (via the power of improvisation) is problematic. Her newfound love for improvisation can help to ameliorate the otherwise problematic ending of her silence. Grubbs demonstrates by offering, in that moment, an Isabella who takes a moment to consider, then gives Angelo her hand with a beaming, theatrical smile.

ETA: A question regarding Isabella; Woo notes that she has no desire to “negate the seriousness or the pain of what Isabella has to go through”, but that she still thinks that Isabella’s lines also convey a sort of joy in the limelight. She thinks that, since some Isabellas can seem “overly flat”, this interpretation could offer nuance.

Larry Weiss, Independent Scholar: “‘Ha! Ha!’ Ophelia’s Tell”

Weiss comments that, “early in the nunnery scene”, Hamlet realizes that Ophelia is not quite what she is presenting herself as at that moment. He notes that Hamlet’s behavior is, from Ophelia’s perspective, unexpected and unusual — but how, he wonders, has Hamlet come to be suspicious? Weiss discusses the extratextual solutions that directors have invented, generally involving some sort of unintentional reveal of the men behind the arras, which he believes are “contrived” and thus unsatisfactory. He argues that Hamlet’s “obnoxious behavior towards Ophelia is explicable” by examination of what is present in the play itself.

“When no other cunning solution presents itself, I like to look at the text.” Weiss walks briefly through the action of the scene in question, noting that, when Hamlet rejects the returned gifts, Ophelia mistakes his meaning, interpreting it as part of his madness. He notes the shift from courteous to discourteous as occurring at “Ha ha, are you honest?” He does not believe the “Ha ha” is a laugh; “Hamlet has no reason to laugh here”. Weiss thinks that this line instead indicates that “Ophelia has slipped and put Hamlet on notice”. But this does not explain what alerts Hamlet to Ophelia’s disloyalty. Rejecting any extratextual possibilities, Weiss looks at Ophelia’s previous lines: “My honour’d lord, you know right well you did; / And, with them, words of so sweet breath composed / As made the things more rich: their perfume lost, / Take these again; for to the noble mind / Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind. / There, my lord.”

These lines, Weiss argues, sound more like Claudius than they do like Ophelia, and he believes that that reading “can convey the idea” of Ophelia having been coached so that it works in performance. Celi Oliveto (Ophelia) and Jordan Zweick (Hamlet) present the scene. Oliveto’s Ophelia becomes stilted as she tries to remember the “script” given her by Claudius, then rushes through “There, my lord,” eager to have the business over with. This moment, Weiss notes, “is easy to miss. It has been missed for 400 years.” He claims knowledge of no productions and only one editor to have commented on this possibility. He concludes by noting that this idea connects to Polonius’s instructions to Laertes; that Hamlet’s comments on beauty and honesty are then placing an immediate timeframe on his “now” in those lines; and that Ophelia’s response, if delivered in quavery tone, can reconfirm Hamlet’s suspicion; and finally, that Ophelia’s closing half-line opens up opportunities, perhaps originally suggested by the actors.

Lars Engle, The University of Tulsa: “Shame and Contempt in Montaigne, Tomkins, and The Tempest

“Actors are frequently accused of or credited with shamelessness,” Engle opens. He examines Montaigne’s commentaries on personal shame, both those which he dismisses and those which he invokes in regards to cruelty. Shakespeare, he argues, finds personal shame harder to cast off. He quotes Tomkins’s belief that shame is accompanied by a number of gestures which close off the shamed person from the shaming, perhaps in an attempt to reclaim some space.  “Shame turns the attention of the self and others” to the visible resonance of self in the focus, outward or inward, of the eyes. These are the negative affects attached to positive emotions or desires such as admiration or love. That which ties the self to the object (of love or affection) also ties the self to shame. He seeks to draw a distinction between shame-humiliation (which ties) and contempt-disgust (which unties). The former relates us to those we still seek the good opinion of; the other precludes any equality or mutuality of relationship. Tomkins notes that, in unequal relationships such as master-servant, teacher-student, parent-child, or conqueror-conquered, there is then a choice as to whether to base disapproval on shame-humiliation or contempt-disgust.

Engle applies this to Prospero. Rebecca Hodder (Caliban), Rebecca Wright (Miranda), and Michelle Johnson (Prospero) present part of 1.2 from The Tempest. Engle posits Caliban as child in one of the above relationships, but also as a former sovereign who was formerly a sovereign. In his lines, Caliban attempts to use shame-humiliation on Prospero. Prospero then attempts to recast himself in a contempt-disgust relationship. Engle explores the strange relationships that these three have had on the island in isolation, particularly with regard to the fact that “something shameful happened between Caliban and Miranda”, something sexual and something recent — and that this incident was interrupted, but that we do not know how or by whom. This leaves the relationship between all three in need of clarification. Miranda then, too, tries to turn shame into contempt.

“We deal here in imponderables,” Engle notes, and we do so because it matters to us, as scholars and audiences, what happened in these relationships. He relates this to socio-political issues regarding the colonizer and the “Other”. To conclude, Engle notes that Prospero “attempts to expunge the shame that he and Miranda feel with regard to Caliban … by transforming it into contempt, and by transforming Caliban from a son-pupil into a monster-slave.” This fails, however, and shame overwhelms contempt.

Catherine Loomis, University of New Orleans — “Bringing Justice to Bear: An Unusual 1609 Trial”

Loomis begins by thanking Adrienne Johnson and an anonymous actor for their help, and invites the auditors to “bark along at the appropriate moment”. She then comments on references to bears in early modern England. She relates a story of merchants who came late to an inn because they had been hunted by a bear during their travel. The innkeeper mocked them, claiming that he would slay ten bears if they should pursue him. An overhearer, Scoggins (or perhaps Scroggins?) decided to play a prank: went out, bought a bearskin, propped it up on sticks and and stuffed it with straw so it would look alive, and then stuffed its mouth with two children’s shoes. In the night, Scoggins convinced the merchants to call for drink; the innkeeper sent his maid, who saw the bear, thought it had killed her master’s children, and killed herself. Loomis notes that this story may have been based on the real event of a captive bear killing a child in 1609. This bear then was to be put to death by lions, but they inexplicably refused to fight, so it was chained, staked, and baited with dogs on a stage.

Loomis then stages the death of our very own Blackfriars bear. Many scholars, tormented by the bear during the past four days, applaud.

Loomis then describes the typical staging of a bear-baiting, highlighting its cruelty as well as the utter impossibility of survival for the bear in question. Though the 1609 bear execution likely did not occur at the Globe, but it was not long thereafter before The  Winter’s Tale  featured a bear pursuing Antigonus off. Was this, perhaps, Shakespeare’s retribution for the bear?

ETA: In the Q&A, William Proctor Williams questions that, if you kill the bear off in your paper, can you continue talking forever? We conclude that Loomis may have set a dangerous precedent for future bears.

Colloquy Session X: Big Woo

Chair: Nicolas Crawford

Title Big Woo attempt at humor

Wooing is pervasive in Early Modern drama. There is a range of different types of wooing from stalker, to homoerotic, to romantic.

Wooing sometimes becomes something else.

How do we identify a woo element?

Actors woo the audience, especially as Iago, and Richard III.

Theater itself woos audiences.

To move or solicit alluringly.

Crawford announces we will be starting out with Act five, Scene two from Hamlet.

Rick Blunt – Laertes,  Patrick Earl – Hamlet ,  Colin Ryan – Claudius,  Stephanie Holladay Earl – Queen, Russell Daniels – Osric,  David Millstone – Lord

Crawford has Hamlet hold Laertes hand though his whole apology speech and Laertes response until they call for swords.

A scene that is not obviously a wooing.

Presenters:

Joseph Stepheson: Even though the words are on the page we don’t always do what they say but it can provide important visual image

Thomas Sellari: Hamlet being so close to Laertes when you know he want to kill him, it is very interesting.

Blunt: Who is convincing who of what? It is interesting to think about who is watching this and who the display  is intended for.

Thomas Sellari

Phantom Loves, artifacts of plot lines that have disappeared. One character claims a love, but we never see it enacted. These phantom loves are important because they determine the relationships between characters. Richards wooing of Anne, does  she come to care for him. R+J Romeo’s love for Rosalie, whom we never meet. Hamlet and Laertes, some people found H’s apology to Laertes disingenuous, but I take it more sincerely. I read Hamlet as a quest for self identity. But I don’t believe Laertes’ acceptance of the apology. The idea of phantom love may exclude the idea of wooing.

I wonder in the film version of Othello(Branagh) where Iago swears his friendship to Othello, the camera is on Iago’s face and there was some sort of residue of affection there and I wonder if Richard’s wooing of Anne is sort of the same thing. He says he wasn’t made for love but maybe he is.

Joseph Stepheson

If Rosaline wasn’t in Romeo and Juliet if it would be a very different story.

The term hand-fasting is a ceremony where people would hold hand and declare a vow of love for each other.

Chancer in 1960 looked back at a book by Henry Swinburne from around 1600 that there are two kinds of hand-fasting: of the present tense, and of the future.  The of-the-future hand-fasting could be broken of like a traditional engagement.

If they exchange a vow in terms of present tense then they are man and wife, even without a priest, church or witness. Present tense hand-fasting does not require holding hands, just present tense vows. Anything additional just ads to the ceremony and proof for possible legal complication.

Catholic Church was clear that the marriage was real, but they had to get Church Married too. As Protestantism became the norm people did hand-fasting more and more and not get church-married or get married later, perhaps at the baptism of their child.

Duchess of Malfi uses the correct legal ;language of present tense hand0fasting.

S. Earl – Duchess, Ryan – Angelo, Emily Joshl-Powell – Cariola

In this scene she actually used the Latin term for of the present and says that the church can follow up what hey do now.

A wooing scene where we have the woman being the wooer.

Audience: A the time people could be punish for participating in clandestine marriages, even witnesses could be punished.

Stepheson: “This if flesh this is not marble,” indicates touch, hand holding, plays good documents for finding out what people did in a hand-fasting, plays show a lot of uniformity.

With Shakespeare virtually every comedy has some reference to hand-fasting

From Shew hand-fasting after Kate and P’s fist scene together Baptista officiates.

Bridget Rue  – Kate, Patrick Midgley Petrucchio, – Baptista

Sometimes another person can utter the words of the contract there can be witnesses.

Petrucchio leaves saying “Father, and Wife” and end with a kiss, not legally required but traditional.

Spontaneous hand-fasting of Claudio and Hero at the party.  And hand-fasting before revel of Hero being alive at the end. David Millstone- Leonato, Esterhuizen – Hero, Fernando Lamberty – Prince, Powwell – Beatrice, P.Earl – Claudio

Characters often don’t say the words in present tense, is there a reason? Would the boy-actor/adult male actor make people uncomfortable? But why when all stage romances were boy actors and adult men.

Winters Tale

S. Earl -Hermione, Midgley – Leonites, Daniels – Polixonies , Joey Ibanez

They had Hermione and Polixonies doing stuff with each others hands the whole time as is indicated in the script. Not a real hand-fasting, but a perceived one.

Othello

Blunt- Iago Lamberty – Othello

Iago vowing his love hands and heart to Othello and Othello’s acceptance. “I am you own forever” – Iago

Blunt point out that Iago and Othello could be kneeling facing each other.

Stepheson: Same language as Claudio to Hero.

T: When seeing B playIago it was amazingto see that hegot whathe wanted but hehas ruined everything.

Stepheson: Othello says “Now are thou my lieutenant”

Blunt: From the first moment Iago has it set up so that there is no way they can avoid the end. This train is going downhill.

As You Like It

Conor Strickland, Stepheson’s his research assistant, joined in as Rosalind in the As You Like it hand-fasting scene with Daniels as Orlando and Ibanez for Celia.

Very interesting to see it with all male actors

Stepheson Rosalind has a legal husband after this scene. Did Richard Burbage actually kneel there (on the Globe stage) and actually say this?

Amy Simpson Grubs Do the names change anything?

P. Earl:  It isn’t a planned thing it just kind of happens.

Blunt: Celia realizes what is going on.

Stepheson: In the play they’re really married.

Nicolas Crawford ended session for time.

Touring troupe acting scenes

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Staging Session II: Auditory Worlds Onstage: Hearing, Overhearing, Eavesdropping, and Stage Whispers – Blackfriars Conference 2013

Good afternoon from Clare at the Blackfriars! I will be blogging on the second staging session of the 2013 Blackfriars Conference.

Staging Session II: Auditory Worlds Onstage: Hearing, Overhearing, Eavesdropping, and Stage Whispers

With little to no practice, the OCS residence cast and their facilitators will work through complicated staging situations. Please see: Staging Session II Handout

Moderator: Sara Vazquez, OCS stage manager

1. Much Ado Masked dance: Conducted by Walter Cannon and Nova Myhill (Much Ado About Nothing 2.1)

2. Eavesdropping in Measure for Measure: Gayle Gaskill (Measure for Measure, 3.1)

3. Public vs Private speech in Hamlet: Laury Magnus (Hamlet, 3.2)

1) Myhill and Cannon will look precisely at the moments of hearing and non-hearing, and how the scene changes when characters over-hear, and when they fail to over-hear each other.  They also want to gives special attention  to the way that masks which usually give individuals power over each other, or render each other powerless. The actors will first play the scene all masked and then time with only the men in masks.

The first time the actors played the scene, they all danced and only the head couple spoke to each other.  The other actors were not distracting themselves from hearing, but also did not appear to react much to the head couple. They were all masked.

The second time, the women wore no masks and again only by the two interlocutors heard the conversations.  Each couple broke off from the dance to their individual conversations after they spoke to each other in the dance for their own private conversations. The women also played the scene as having more agency over the men who are unable to answer for themselves when the women confronted them about themselves while the women enjoy displaying their wit.

2) Differing editions of Measure for Measure have the duke and the provost exit in a scene 3.1., or stay on stage and eaves drop during the conversation in which Isabella confesses to her brother that she must sleep with Angelo to save her brother’s life. Does the duke upstage the other actors if he is seen overhearing the actors?

The first time, the duke and the provost left and then the duke reappeared listening from the balcony. Claudio’s initial support of Isabella’s chastity gave the duke in comfort, but at Claudio’s first request for Isabella to save him by sin, the duke rushed out of the balcony and reappeared later to stop the two from their argument.

The second time, the duke and the provost remained on the apron of the stage, downstage left, and listened to the conversation,  The duke even inserted a few non-verbal auditory reactions. He then chooses a specific instance to insert himself. His motivation for reappearing appeared to change.

3)Just before the play within the play, Hamlet is playing the harlequin which keeps him from culpability while simultaneously insulting the characters (possibly without their realizing they are being insulted). The actors have their hearing visible by their onstage reactions, and the actors are free to respond as they will to the speech. This scene has an elaborate architecture of seeing and hearing.

The first time, the scene began with Hamlet putting on a harlequin disguise for the sake of the court. Before the play, the characters who were not interlocutors played mostly sock and disgust regarding Hamlet’s words, but little reaction to the dumb show, and were not watching each other watch the play, with the exception of Hamlet on a diagonal downstage of them and able to see them.

The second time, Hamlet did not put on a disguise and appeared in earnest, acting more like the typical Romeo character, and when he was speaking with one individual, the others broke off to have their own private conversations which allowed Hamlet to comment on people without the subjects of the comments aware he was speaking of them. This staging also allowed the actors to watch each other watch the play and each others’ reactions to the play. During the break in the play, when the characters comment on the play, Hamlet got up and pulled characters to the side to have conversations with them about the play and direct specific ideas toward them. This allowed him to be much more manipulative and direct in his comments, but lead to some discontinuity when other characters commented on the individual conversations.

The audience was divided on the positioning of the duke. Many felt that his position on the apron of the stage found it difficult to see him and divided their attention.  There was also a lot of debate on whether or not the Duke, or Isabella and Claudio should be the focus of the scene.   Most of the staging today used dumb show conversation to indicate not listening.  They also talked about the difficulty of having to listen for cues while also pretending not to listen.  The actors posed the example of Malviolio reading the letter in 12th Night.  In this scene the actor must be extremely aware of where the other characters are hiding, and how they are reacting to his speech so that he does not look at them, while simultaneously pretending to be oblivious. The actors stated that the presence of the provost was difficult.  They also stated that it is particularly difficult to find ways of NOT doing something (such as not listening).  They said that in Hamlet it can be difficult for the King and Queen to not see the play and then be startled, but by having Hamlet pull people to the side created more for them to respond to.  In Much Ado, the actor playing Claudio (Chris Jonston)  found that the private conversations gave him more to use as an actor when he watched Pedro and Beatrice flirting.  The actor playing Benedick (Ben Curns) found that it was frustrating to play a stupid Benedick.  This comment opened the question of whether or not the women are masked.  Textual evidence suggests that women could be masked or not without working against the text. One of the actors raised the question of what constitutes the harlequin character, how it should be played, and how the scholars present would have liked to see the responses and actions of the characters on stage for the Hamlet scene. They also asked if there is something that the other players should be doing.  Another question was the way to play NOT hearing, in any way other than doing something else, or being distracted.  The scholars were hoping to achieve a “sneak attack” by Hamlet on Claudius. Some audience members felt the private staging of the Hamlet scene was much more powerful than the public version of the staging.  Audience members also requested what a good balance could be between the public and private versions of the scene.  The scholars and actors found it difficult to map who hears what lines. The private version placed an interesting highlight on the lines about the chameleon.  Hamlet (Dylan Paul) found that the public version trapped him in a type, whereas in the private version he felt able to play tactics and work individually on specific people. Everything needs to be based on deciding what story the production wants to tell and what is the best way to tell the story they have.

You Can’t Bop a Bop: Idiosyncrasies of Process and Personality in the Theatrical World

I’ve spent the past few weeks preparing a new Study Guide for this summer’s Class to Cast Seminar. It’s been an unusual challenge, not only because this Study Guide doesn’t follow the structural format I’ve established for all of our show-specific guides, but also because I frequently find myself trying to explain in written words things that I learned kinetically. The Class to Cast Guide will provide teachers with a start-to-finish model for producing a play with their students, either inside their classroom or as an extracurricular opportunity. Our goal is to cover everything that a teacher totally new to this concept would need to know: cutting the script, doubling, holding auditions and casting, the rehearsal process on the macro and micro level, dealing with text-based tablework, warm-up activities, guiding actors to make strong choices physically and vocally, dealing with particular staging challenges, audience contact, using dramaturgy, and finally dealing with the production concerns of costuming, props, stage combat, music and sound, marketing, and putting the whole thing on its feet for showtime.

Little Academe 2013; Photo by Pat Jarrett

Little Academe 2013; Photo by Pat Jarrett

What makes this process even stranger is that I am not, broadly, a kinetic learner. I’m a verbal learner — written or auditory. Yet the theatrical world is a place where kinetics seem to take over in a stronger way. Most of what we do for the stage, we learn by observation, instruction, and emulation. For a lot of us, it starts back in middle or high school, watching what the older students do, following in their footsteps, then passing the traditions on in our turn. I can easily write instructions for our usual activities — scansion, rhetoric, staging challenges, historical perspectives, textual variants — but when it comes to describing the procedures that shape a rehearsal process, I found myself having to engage entirely different writing muscles.

The oddity of attempting to put these things into words first struck me when I was scribing the instructions for Zip-Zap-Bop-Boing, the variation on Zip-Zap-Zop that we played at William & Mary. Staring at an empty bulleted list, I decided to try talking it out to myself. “Zips go to the side, zaps go across, bops rebound, and, of course, you can’t bop a bop.” Makes perfect sense, right? Well, no, unaccompanied by action, that’s total gibberish. While I’ll be able to demonstrate the actions to those teachers attending our Summer Seminar, I still have to make sure that the written guide is comprehensible to anyone else who might purchase it. Stretching routines and vocal exercises were also difficult to wrap language around. I’m coming to have a lot of respect for people who actually write whole books on those processes — but I also see very clearly why so many of them promote their workshop series and why more and more professionals are taking to YouTube for their demos.

Warm-ups and physical action aren’t the only difficult things to flatten onto the page: detailing the ins and outs of scheduling and structuring rehearsals takes some linguistic wrangling as well. This is something else I learned by mimesis: when I directed my first solo full-length show in college, it was after many years of exposure to other directors. Many start in assistant positions before taking on solo projects, in order to see the behind-the-scenes work and get a feel for the ebb and flow before diving in. And, of course, no two directors will run their rehearsal process in the same way, nor do all productions have the same needs. Cast size, rehearsal space, and actor availability are just some of the factors that can influence the scheduling, particularly for school productions rather than professional companies. So how to express something so nebulous? I’m giving a basic breakdown of how to think about those variables, but I’m also giving our teachers a few different examples: an OCSTC three-week schedule, the six-week format I used in college, a recent Ren Season schedule covering only three days. Hopefully this will give our teachers the information they need while still showing them the necessary flexibility of such a project.

What this is all really bringing home to me is just how important people are to the theatrical process. I know that might sound like a no-brainer, but I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it in exactly this context before. When I hear people talk — directors, actors, vocal coaches, etc — about their training and experience, they don’t tend to talk about what books they read. They talk about who they learned from. They talk about the amazing workshop they went to. They talk about summer immersion programs and the best course they ever had at school. They talk about the high school drama teacher who gave them a phrase that still rattles in their brains twenty years later. They talk about the first director who opened a door that let them feel like they were really doing something great on-stage.  That’s the sort of guidance I hope OCS Education can offer: a tangible and personal connection to the work, above and beyond the words on the page.

–Cass

Blackfriars Backstage Pass: Twelfth Night

In this edition of the Blackfriars Backstage Pass, OCS actors Lexie Helgerson, Jacob Daly, Seth McNeill, David Millstone, and Andrew Goldwasser discuss their work on William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night with OCS Co-founder and Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen. This podcast was recorded on May 3rd, 2013.

Blackfriars Backstage Pass: Twelfth Night
File Size: 48 MB; Run Time: 50:01

Blackfriars Backstage Pass: Love’s Labour’s Lost (2013)

In this edition of the Blackfriars Backstage Pass, OCS actors Patrick Earl, Andrew Goldwasser, Rick Blunt and Liz Lodato discuss their work on William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost with OCS Co-founder and Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen. This podcast was recorded on May 3rd, 2013.

Blackfriars Backstage Pass: Love’s Labour’s Lost
File Size: 48.1 MB; Run Time: 50:04

Blackfriars Backstage Pass: The Duchess of Malfi (2013)

In this edition of the Blackfriars Backstage Pass, OCS actors Stephanie Holladay Earl, Patrick Midgley, Bridget Rue, Patrick Earl, and Rick Blunt discuss their work on John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi with OCS Co-founder and Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen. This podcast was recorded on May 3rd, 2013.

Blackfriars Backstage Pass: The Duchess of Malfi
File Size: 57.3 MB; Run Time: 47:46