Blackfriars Conference 2011- Staging Session III

Hi, Deb Streusand here. This afternoon I’ll be liveblogging Staging Session III at the Blackfriars Playhouse from 2:30 pm to 3:45 pm.

Staging Banquo’s Ghost
Nicole Ricciardi, Monmouth University

Ricciardi describes the particular interest of Macbeth 3.4 and the question of “to see or not to see the ghost”–which is scarier for the modern audience? Also, how do we see this scene in terms of actor-audience relationship? She discusses modern productions that make use of stillness, contrasting them with those that use paranormal movement and activity. James Keegan, John Harrell, Gregory Phelps, Miriam Donald, and Chris Johnston perform the scene in stillness and with an invisible ghost. The audience finds a surprising amount of humor in this version of the scene. Ricciardi asks Keegan, who played Macbeth, for his reaction. He describes making the choices of how to imagine the ghost in terms of making choices for an actor who is not there. Ricciardi discusses the insights this version of the scene can provide about purpose of this scene in terms of the play’s structure, specifically as an echo of the dagger, which we also do not see. She considers that it does not take the story where it needs to go, however, and requests that Rene Thornton join the scene as the Ghost, first as a silent and unexpected visitor and then as summoned by Macbeth. Before the actors perform, Ricciardi asks, “why a ghost? Why Banquo? Why does he come back twice?” She describes the second visit as necessary to help the audience move through a progression in its relationship with the actors. After the actors perform the silent and unexpected visit, Ricciardi reminds us that we are looking for the answer to “why twice,” positing that in terms of the progression from the dagger, this experience spurs Macbeth on to the next murder. The actors discuss why Macbeth seems to see that the table is full but not to see Banquo at first, and ways of staging this phenomenon to make it believable. An audience member asks about Sarah Siddons’ innovation of having Lady Macbeth see the ghost as well, wondering if anyone else has done the same. Ricciardi does not believe so. She discusses having Macbeth appear to conjure and then dismiss the dead with the Ghost’s second visit, using the toast to Banquo as the summons. If Macbeth is showing this power of conjuration and dismissal off to the audience, he is working with them within the relationship that the dagger soliloquy establishes between actor and audience, and advances it to a necessary step for the progression of this relationship. An audience member brings up the implications of exactly when Banquo leaves the second time. The actors perform the conjuration version of the scene, wherein Macbeth summons the Ghost for his second visit. In closing, Ricciardi draws our attention once more to the crucial question of how this scene moves the story forward, and how we can stage its paranormal nature for the modern audience.

Rehearsal of Philaster 4.5
Lois Potter, University of Delaware

Potter describes seeing Actors’ Renaissance Season rehearsals this spring and wanting people at the Blackfriars Conference to be able to see the process. She decided to stage for the conference a rehearsal of one scene from the beginning using cue scripts, and chose Philaster, which the actors will perform as part of the Actors’ Renaissance Season this coming Spring, with Gregory Phelps in the title role. Potter briefly summarizes the plot and the present situation before the actors perform. The actors first read through the lines to see how they will fit together, pausing to make sure they understand what they are saying, and sometimes to enjoy the humor of the lines. They work on figuring out who is talking to whom and when. Next, they stage the scene. Miriam Donald, today playing Arethusa, discovers that she needs a stick to serve as a sword for Philaster, and finds a pencil for the purpose. John Harrell and Rene Thornton discover that a line of James Keegan’s includes embedded stage directions for them, specifying where they should look. Thornton amuses the audience by taking some time to figure out that he is speaking to Chris Johnston on one line. The actors discuss the differences between this workshop and the rehearsal process, explaining that they would ordinarily have done a read-through beforehand, and one actor would have cut the play for performance, so that he would have greater knowledge of it. The actors discuss the textual aspects of their process, responding to a question about when they do and do not use cue scripts. John Harrell describes his process for cutting Philaster, saying that he was not able to make cue scripts because he could not obtain a good electronic edition of the play. The actors discuss the experience of their improvised blocking in this workshop and the questions they need to answer to make things move more smoothly next time. They chat with the audience about how they make their different conceptions of the blocking fit together, and what actors do while other actors are speaking. Harrell describes how his cutting process involves a lot of envisioning how to make the play work for the company on a practical level. He tells the audience about how important it is for OCS actors to be good readers and to think carefully about genre. Phelps discusses the importance of understanding the whole story when acting any given scene, “to play honestly to everything that happens, and not throw it away.” An audience member asks about the creative potential of keeping mistakes that actors make in rehearsal, and Harrell confirms that this type of choice happens frequently in the Actors’ Renaissance Season. An audience member asks about how much the Renaissance Season has revolved. Donald describes initial struggling over who was going to act like a director, making decisions about the play as a whole, but that this approach did not work, and that as they have started to make decisions about individual scenes instead of the whole play, the process has become much more effective. The actors reminisce about the amusing aspects of everybody’s trying to be director in the first Renaissance Season. An audience member asks about whether Ralph Cohen or Jim Warren (the co-founders of the American Shakespeare Center, who often direct the plays when it is not the Renaissance Season) are involved in this process at all. The actors explain that Warren takes care of casting, and is able to pass a very occasional veto on a choice the actors have made, but other than that, the actors have total autonomy. The audience and actors chat about the experience of learning to do things this way. Chris Johnston describes his learning process, and how Phelps helped him work with the difference between “your problem,” an actor’s individual difficulty, and problems that affect the company as a whole. He describes how the actor playing the largest role typically ends up organizing rehearsals for practical reasons.

Moderator Terry Southerington encourages questions for both presenters.

Question for Harrell and Phelps (playing lords who could not see the Ghost) about the Banquo scene: What changed for you having him visible and not visible? Harrell says he finds it more helpful to have someone there so that he knows where not to look. An audience member comments that having a ghost gives the audience more things to track, and different ways of reading the lords’ not knowing what is happening. Phelps discusses the value of the lords’ being inconspicuous, and how having Banquo present draws the audience’s gaze to the lords, making it more difficult for them to ignore what is happening.

Question for the actors: For how long have they been doing Renaissance-style runthroughs of shows that they will later work on with a director? Dr. Cohen answers that the OCS has been doing so since at least 1995, and that when they were first starting to do the Actors’ Renaissance Season, their experience with the Renaissance runthroughs made them confident that the actors would be able to do well without a director.

Question for the actors: When do you start using props, doing fights, etc.? Donald answers that they start using props as soon as possible, but fighting requires more preparation. In response to another audience question, the actors explain how they find their own props and then make them fit together, and how they differ in their approaches to finding costumes.

Question for John Harrell: How did the Spring 2011 Actors’ Renaissance production of Look About You come together? Harrell discusses the importance of costumes for plays involving disguise, and how for that play, they used costumes quite early in the rehearsal process.

Question about fights: How does the choreography work? Phelps mentions the actors’ varying levels of experience and how they affect the process.

Question for Ricciardi: How does the phenomenon of doubling with a character who dies early on affect the reaction to ghosts, since in either case we see an actor who “died” returning? She describes the importance of timing and the choices that are made about how to portray the Ghost. Thornton mentions how Falstaff haunts Henry V, and an audience member talks about the role of Will Kemp’s departure in determining Falstaff’s absence and how it is handled in the play.

Terry Southerington of Mary Baldwin College moderates this session.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session VII

This is Cass Morris, back yet again, this time for Plenary Session VII, moderated by Janna Segal, newest addition to the teaching team at Mary Baldwin College’s MLitt/MFA graduate program. I’ll be blogging from 1:00pm to 2:15pm.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a session involving technology, held in a re-construction of a sixteenth century theatre, the session starts a bit late due to technical difficulties.

Denise A Walen, Vassar College: “The Performance History of Rhetorical Strategies in 3.4 Much Ado about Nothing

Walen prefaces Much Ado as an unusual play, in that it features two scenes comprised entirely of female characters. In one of those, 3.4, the women prepare for Hero’s marriage. Walen notes that this scene is often reduced or cut entirely from production. As early as 1674, “revised” prints of the play excised nearly half of the scene. Walen argues that “a sense of prudish propriety” led to the elimination of the bawdy jokes in the scene. Walen shares visuals of the scene not only as printed, but as manually adjusted for performance by actors or in promptbooks, with much of the scene crossed out. Towards the end of the production history, Walen notes that Kenneth Brannaugh shot the scene for his 1993 movie, but ultimately left it on the cutting room floor, dismissing it as “too frustrating”.

Walen argues that both the length and the placement of the scene indicate its importance. The scene of innocence, where Hero is ignorant of the forces working against her, augments the tragedy of Claudio’s rejection. The scene also shows Hero exhibiting some interesting characteristics, contradictory to her public persona of meek, dutiful daughter. The scene also helps recuperate Margaret’s character, demonstrating that she has no malice and that her part in the plot is, as Leonato later notes, unintentional. Walen suggests that the scene is most revelatory about Beatrice, showing a more vulnerable side of her character — engaging the audience on her behalf just before the key turning point with Benedick in the church.

Walen walks briefly through the pathos, ethos, and logos of the scene, linking its importance to its rhetorical function. “Shakespeare makes its rhetorical construct essential to the female characters.”

Nathan Jerkins, Penfold Theatre Company / Hidden Room Theatre: “Frame Characters: An Actor’s Approach to the Original Practices Movement”

Jerkins wonders aloud “What am I doing here?” — specifying that he asks that, not for lack of enjoyment, but in astonishment at himself for presenting at an academic conference. He thanks the OCS and the conference attendees for being willing to let an actor take part in the conversation.

He points out that modern actors cannot approach original practices entirely devoid of modern techniques and training, and wonders how we can take those necessarily modern actors and apply them to early modern plays and methods. He thinks the answer may lie in the “frame character”, as in the Induction of The Taming of the Shrew. He thinks, rather than trying to ingrain our modern actors with anachronistic sensibilities, that we should take advantage of actors’ extant strengths. He suggests the idea of a creating a “frame” character who can guide an actor through discovering a role. He thinks this would also circumvent the stresses involved in needing a “dramaturgical referee” to pull directors and actors back when they have “gone too far astray”.

Andrew Phillips-Blasenak, Ohio State University: “The Materiality of Shakespeare’s Companies”

Phillips-Blasenak examines some of the successes of early-modern-style acting companies, including the ensemble and repertory setups. He suggests that, while this style may be enjoyable for an actor, it also presents problems for an actor’s career, as the prolonged nature of repertory and ensemble work. It encourages innovation in company structure and performance space, but . He will look at how Michael Boyd of the Royal Shakespeare Company attempted to navigate these problems, both in building the actor-audience relationship and in creating a sensible ensemble in the company, especially in regard to the reinvention of the material and physical space.

Phillips-Blasenak looks at the structure of the RSC as a company, where the personnel of the company did not change when the space did. The actors who come in, then, though working with directors who were new to them, were thus working with directors who did not necessarily use the new space in a way that augmented the actor-audience relationship. Phillips-Blasenak gives examples from two past performances which he believes were alienating, rather than engaging. Boyd has also instituted a policy of hiring actors for 2.5 year contracts, with the aim of building a consistent ensemble. Phillips-Blasenak particularly examines this practice in the recent history cycle completion project. “The company was able to adapt and work as an ensemble as they adapted to a variety of roles.” The following year, hiring the directors first and then the actors led to an experience that appeared to be confusing and frustrating for the actors, as the directors could ask wildly different things of the actors. The ensemble nature also broke down, with certain actors getting nearly all lead roles and others only supporting roles — for, Phillips-Blasenak stresses again, two and a half years.

Phillips-Blasenak then runs through an overview of the OCS’s style of ensemble-building, audience engagement, and rotating repertory. This structure “provides many of the material challenges that fulfill the goals of Michael Boyd’s intentions.” Phillips-Blasenak suggests that this is more satisfying for the actors, and may be the reason why OCS actors are more willing to return to this company rather than take their skills elsewhere.

Megan Lloyd, King’s College, and Beth Brown, University of Rio Grande: “‘Is this a dagger which I see before me?’: Choreographing Props on the Early Modern Stage”

Lloyd begins by interrogating the tangibility and necessity of props in early modern plays. She uses examples first from ‘Pyramus and Thisbe” to show that Quince is concerned with the material issues behind stage performance. Lloyd suggests that today we, like Quince, are concerned with stage authenticity — and she gives examples from particularly spectacular Shakespearean performances. The early modern stage, on the other hand, relied on the imagination, not just for sets, but for props as well. Lloyd wonders if, today, we use props that the early modern audience did not see or expect to see, suggesting that our modern concern with realism may lead us to consider some props essential. James Keegan and Miriam Donald Burrows present two scenes from The Tempest to illustrate the questionable necessity of Prospero’s iconic staff. On the second run, the actors perform without the staff. While it may help the actor conjure magic, illustrate age, or otherwise demonstrate character, Lloyd argues that the text does not require it; the text does not even mention it until the very end of the play. Lloyd believes that “a staff gets in the way” of Prospero’s emotions.

Brown considers the necessary props for Hamlet, giving the example of the trail of actors who must handle the cup that ultimately poisons Gertrude. She highlights the necessity of thinking about who must handle any prop that appears on-stage. Ben Curns and Miriam demonstrate “what happens when Ophelia has too much to handle”. Miriam attempts to negotiate letters, books, and a small box, which she has to half-juggle. The second run shows “an unencumbered Ophelia”.

Sid Ray, Pace University: “Sticky Shakespeare: Testing Action as Eloquence”

Ray examines “stage business: the unscripted activities of an actor for effect”. She positions the popularity of the term and action in the 20th century, derived from improvisational theatre. She gives an example of Patrick Stewart’s Macbeth assembling a sandwich while giving instructions to the murderers — illustrating the difference between the character’s humanity and his growing monstrosity. She also mentions Ian McKellen’s Richard III performing all activities one-handed, drawn from clues in historical references and in the text. Both examples, Ray argues, convey more information to the audience about the character. Ray draws a line between stage business and “schtick”, which she categorizes as distracting, unnecessary, and without character revelation or illumination.

She suggests that Shakespeare’s plays indicate need for stage business, even though the term was not popularized until much later. One of the best examples is Lady Macbeth’s hand-rubbing, which has no stage direction, but is implicit in the gentlewoman’s dialogue. During the Restoration, actors may have developed “schtick” which then got passed down to the next actor inheriting the role. Ray believes that stage business has become risky business, particularly with determining whether or not an action is justified, as well as determining “how much is too much”.

Ben Curns and James Keegan perform an expository scene from The Winter’s Tale twice, once in a reserved style, second with more stage business spectacle. In the first, they simply sit at the edge of the stage to talk. In the second, they unpack a breakfast of Golden Grahams (complete with milk) and proceed to eat it while they talk. While it does give Camillo a physical reason for “Beseech you” — asking for the milk — it also slows the actors down and somewhat distracts from the words. Ray notes that she left the choice of stage business to Ben and James; they rejected wrestling, rolling cigarettes, or playing cards. Ray asks, whether or not we enjoyed the first or second version better, that teachers consider using stage business in classrooms as a way of interrogating the needs of a scene.

Jeremy Lopez, University of Toronto: “All the Fletcher Plays”

Lopez suggests that it’s difficult to see the Fletcher canon, especially in conjunction with his many collaborators, “as a jungle, rather than as so many terrifying trees”. He breaks them down by titles: those titled for women (such as The Island Princess), those titled for men (such as The Noble Gentleman), those titled with proper names (such as Sir John van Olden Barnavelt), possessively titled plays (such as The Maid’s Tragedy), idiomatically titled plays (such as A King and No King), plays titled for places (such as The Laws of Candy), with specific examples of plot from each category.

Lopez categorizes the plays as at once familiar and strange, with a combined sense of recollection and insubstance. He looks at several of the plays which may help determine “what is not a Fletcher play, and what is”. He finishes with a claim that the Fletcher plays “preserve traces of what they might otherwise have been, or what they might otherwise have liked to be.”

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Scott Kaiser Keynote

Hello, all! Cass here again to live-blog the Scott Kaiser Keynote Address from 10:30 to 11:15am on Friday, October 28.

Ralph introduces Kaiser by discussing his delight in discovering Kaiser’s book, Shakespeare’s Wordcraft. He says, though, that by removing the classical Greek and Roman terms for rhetorical devices in an attempt to make the topic more accessible, “you have underestimated the appeal to word-nerds”. He half-jokingly suggests, along with his grad students, that he consider reinstating those terms in the second addition. Ralph thanks Kaiser for joining us on behalf of “all the other word-nerds here”.

Acting Shakespeare’s Wordcraft
Scott Kaiser, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Kaiser prefaces his speech by introducing his assistant actors, Dan Kennedy and Doreen Bechtol. He’ll be talking today about “how to act Shakespeare’s figures of rhetoric” by demonstrating how he works with them in rehearsal. Kaiser defends his choice by stating that the classical terms are almost always an impediment for actors — that his book “is primarily not a scholarly book, but a book for actors and actors-in-training.”

Of vital concern to the actor working with rhetoric is “to illuminate the figure to the audience through voice and body.” He begins with the “speech measure”, using a quote from Stanislavski to explain his meaning: to break down a speech by thought patterns in order to get to the meaning and to make the speech more graceful in form and content. A speech measure, then, is a moment for a choice, “a unit of sense that contains one inhalation, one operative word, one focal point, one image, one action, one moment of human behavior.” He then invites Dan and Doreen up to work through some examples.

Dan: “Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius.” Kaiser calls this one parcel of text, bookended with ‘Cassius’. Doreen: “I see you what you are; you are too proud.” Kaiser calls this two speech measures, pointing out Doreen’s inhalation between the two phrases. Dan: “Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not seems.” Kaiser delineates this as three speech measures, connected by the “seems” on either end, with “is” as a fulcrum in the middle. Doreen: “Come weep with me, past hope, past cure, past help.” This Kaiser identifies as four speech measures, but notes that this is not necessarily the only choice — but that it may “illuminate ‘past’ in a different way.” Dan: “Oh Helen! Goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!” Kaiser points out that this line mostly comes out as one exhalation, and asks Dan to try it again as five speech measures. Kaiser points out that this then differentiates each speech measure, automatically conferring greater emotional variety to the line.

Kaiser then moves on to finding the “operative word” — the one word in the measure that is key. It can be created through pitch, volume, or duration. Dan: “What lusty trumpet thus doth summon us?” Kaiser asks Dan to pick one word to make the operative; he chooses “trumpet”, using volume and pitch to key it. Kaiser has him try again, this time with “summon” — he helps Dan out by giving him the incipient action, having him imagine the actual trumpet before delivering the line. Kasier points out that he “stacked the deck” against Dan by giving him a line full of schwas — and that holding that vowel “would make it Transylvanian”.

Dan: “One woman is fair; yet I am well; another is wise; yet I am well; another virtuous; yet I am well.” Kaiser identifies this as three measures, and says he heard three operative words from Dan’s first reading: one, wise, and virtuous. He redirects Dan to make the new word in each phrase the operative: fair, wise, and virtuous. You then hear the operative word “build in a staircase”. Kaiser points out where Dan held his breath during the line, rather than inhaling as he could have to break it into 6 measures.

Doreen: “I’ll tell you who time ambles withal, who time trots withal, who time gallops withal, who he stands still withal.” Four measures, and Kaiser points out the different operative verbs. Doreen used what Kaiser calls “a Ted Wright ladder”, with a build of three and then a drop in pitch for the fourth. He has her do it again, this time bringing the “tell” down so that it doesn’t overwhelm the “amble”.

Kaiser then examines “focal points” — a visual target, “at which you can inhale, towards which you can OCSend your energies”. Doreen: “Husband, I cannot pray that thou mayest win. Uncle, I needs must pray that thou mayest lose. Father, I may not wish the fortunes thine. Granddam, I will not wish thy wishes thrive.” Kaiser asks Doreen to try it again without breaking into new measures at the commas. The result is “greater drive; it could not bear all those breaks.”

Dan: “Put out the light, and then put out the light.” The focal point changes between the candle and the sleeping Desdemona. Kaiser states, “It’s the movement of the focal point that makes the figure work.”

Doreen: “Thy deed, inhuman and unnatural, provokes this deluge, most unnatural.” Kaiser says she’s working with two focal points, which he calls “panning and scanning” mid-measure. He suggests that each measure should have a single focal point for greatest clarity on the stage. He wants the first part to focus on Richard, the second to focus on the body. “The reason I coach this way is because, if your eyes are darting back and forth,” the meaning can be lost, especially for audience members farther form the stage.

Dan: “Boldness be my friend! Arm me, audacity, from head to foot!” Kaiser says that Dan’s focal points slipped around. Kaiser points out the figure of personification, that Dan is literally talking to Boldness and Audacity, not to himself — he asks Dan to choose a focal point for each. Finding a specific point for each brings the emotion forward more clearly and makes the point easier to arrive at for the audience; Kaiser points out, “I didn’t tell him what to imagine. I just asked him to structure it in a way that would be clear to the audience.”

Kaiser then moves to the “image” — a complete mental creation, which invokes the imaginative aspect of all five senses. Doreen (as Constance in King John): “

Grief fills the room up of my absent child, / Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me, / Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words, / Remembers me of all his gracious parts, / Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form; / Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?” Kaiser thinks it communicates more clearly the depth of her despair when she doesn’t shift her focal point; he asks her to try it again with one single focal point, letting the pressure build up there. Kaiser explains this as finding a single focal point and adding a new layer to it with each measure. “The inesntiy of that single focal point… is so strongly communicated by a single focal point that you understand what all the men are talking about when they call her crazy.”

Next: actions — played in pursuit of objectives against obstacles. Each measure should have one and only one. Dan: “Fool, of thyself speak well. Fool, do not flatter.” Kaiser asks Dan to encourage himself in the first measure, then admonish himself in the second. He further examines the shift, particularly with regard to where the inhalation is positioned and where it comes from — “from his imagination” rather than from the text.

Doreen: “Sweet, sweet, sweet Nurse, tell me, what says my love?” Kaiser says that Doreen has made this three measures, and suggests that the second measure tends to have the same emotion as the first. He asks her to find three wildly different things to play in the three measures (and comments that this tactic is typical of thirteen-year-old girls).

Kaiser then adds the idea of subtext to the lines, which he calls “the realization.” Dan: “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” Kaiser has Dan break that into two measures, asking Dan to realize in the middle, at the comma, that he’s now going to die without having accomplished his goals. “The figure is illuminated by the realization at the comma in the middle of the line,” by the reversal of emotions that the active silence causes — “a moment of human behavior that is atextual.”

Doreen: “Seeming, seeming! I will proclaim thee, Angelo; look for’t.” Kaiser suggests that Doreen realize the depth of Angelo’s corruption at the comma between the two “seeming”s. Kaiser points out that the repetition requires a variation in delivery, discussing the reasons why people repeat themselves.

Finally, Kaiser comes to decisions, a different type of subtext. Dan: “She sees not Hermia. Hermia, sleep thou there, and never mayest thou come Lysander near.” Kaiser suggests the first focal point be on the audience, and that he then make the decision “to leave Hermia there, by herself, unguarded, in the dark.” Dan’s callous deliberation makes the decision hysterically funny, and Kaiser suggests that seeing the choice happen is what makes that humorous for the audience.

Doreen: “What if this potion do not work at all? Shall I be married then tomorrow morning? No, no, this shall forbid it.” Kaiser points out that Doreen has several focal points operating, talking to herself but also indicating the dagger that she will use to kill herself. He asks her to make a decision between the two “No”s. Kaiser notes that this speech complicates delivery, because it layers the decision on top of multiple actions, moving from measure to measure.

Kaiser wraps up by saying that effective theatre lives in these decisions, “not in when the giant neon apple flies down out of the ceiling.”

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Staging Session II

Deb Streusand is back! This afternoon I’ll be liveblogging Staging Session II from 2:30 pm to 3:45 pm. This session is taking place in the King Theatre at Stuart Hall School.

Instant!_Shakespeare: Make Students’ First Readings Staged Readings
Becki Jones, Thomas Dale High School

Jones conjures the picture of a student struggling through a dreary, solitary reading of his or her first Shakespeare play, and contrasts this with her own recommendation for a first class on a given play: a lively staged reading of one scene, plastic swords and all. She cites several experiences, including work at the Globe and seeing Patrick Tucker’s Original Shakespeare Company perform without rehearsal, that gave her faith in the ability of a staged reading to create engagement with the play regardless of the degree of preparation. She demonstrates preparing the students by telling them the story of the play up to the scene they will be reading. The students from Stuart Hall School do their reading of the final scene of Hamlet, working out the blocking as they go; the sword fight is the only portion that they have prepared, for safety reasons. Jones gives them limited instructions as the scene goes on, but only where it is necessary for the scene to operate properly. Making sure that Hamlet and Laertes do change foils, for example, aids students’ understanding of the scene without disrupting the flow. Jones describes the advantages she has perceived from doing staged readings before students begin reading on their own. She gives the audience practical advice on how to prepare for this type of staged reading, and provides a handout for this purpose. Sally Southall, a fellow teacher at Jones’ school, provides an account of how this process has worked for her. She reports that she has found it quite successful in engaging even students who have studied Shakespeare before and have not particularly liked it. Jones concludes, “Instant Shakespeare! Just add students! Try it today!”

Touring and Original Practices: The Grassroots Shakespeare Company
Alex Ungerman and Mark Oram, Utah Valley University

Ungerman and Oram describe their experience founding the Grassroots Shakespeare company. Oram discusses his visit to the OCS in 2008, and the powerful effect that elements such as universal lighting, minimal sets, and doubling had on his experience. He saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Revenger’s Tragedy in the Actors’ Renaissance Season; he praises the “beautiful chaos” of this experience. Inspired by the OCS, he returned home and started an Original Practices company. The principles of Grassroots Shakespeare include role doubling, cue scripts, not having a director or any designers, and using limited rehearsal time. Oram and Ungerman describe their learning process as they worked on creating and using cue scripts, having actors design their own costumes, and coordinating rehearsals as a group.

Oram describes the challenges of using original practices without having a resident company, and explains the casting process that they have devised to make this possible. In the initial audition, they bring in groups and have the members of the group give each other notes on their monologues, allowing them to assess the actors’ potential as ensemble members. Ungerman describes a callback exercise wherein groups create jigs to popular songs and perform them. After further monologues and feedback, the company selects itself by popular vote, so that the actors know they have been chosen by their peers, setting up an immediate sense of collaboration. The company casts the show itself in the same way, working with sides and feedback, and the process again culminates in a popular vote and, if necessary, discussion until consensus is reached.

The presenters next discuss how their rehearsal process works. Their primary principle is that all actors must come to the first rehearsal prepared with a “first draft” performance, with their lines memorized. (There are about two weeks between casting and the first rehearsal.) They must also be prepared to receive and implement peer feedback. All actors are required to watch their fellow actors and give them feedback, emphasizing positive reinforcement and language of collaboration. They find that this atmosphere creates a better show and a more positive experience for the actors. In rehearsal, actors first perform a scene once through uninterrupted. The entire company then works with that scene collaboratively, trying to establish an approach to the scene that feels good onstage and looks good from offstage. Once the scene is put together, they perform it again to commit it to memory.

The presenters describe their two basic rules for their actors. 1)You must try any suggestion once, even if it is totally absurd. 2)Actors have final authority over their own performance. They note that once the company comes together, it creates a synergy and trust that makes actors responsive to each other and determined to make things work.

They next discuss the logistics of company work. Since there are no designers, the actors choose their own costumes, bringing a first draft in and then getting feedback on it. Without a stage manager, actors rotate through being “captain” for each rehearsal and performance. Actors are also responsible for marketing and publicity. Oram reports that in a group of 15-20 actors, he finds that there is an expert on just about anything. By making collaboration a part of the design, they achieve great results.

The presenters tell us how created their own stage to bring with them on tour. They describe several influences on their staging practice for tours, including Shakespeare’s Globe on Tour and other modern companies, as well as Elizabethan images of touring stages. They created a design inspired by these influences, with primary elements including wooden planking, curtains for a discovery space, ladders to provide levels, stairs up to the stage, trestles as a base for the stage, and, the innovation of which they are proudest, placing their stage on top of barrels to create the feel of early modern performance at an alehouse or inn. Their practical considerations include negotiation of the relationship between an early modern aesthetic and modern construction materials, creating universal lighting even at night with 360-degree lamps, and easy assembly and disassembly of the stage.

Oram and Ungerman share some of their company’s successes with us. They describe productions of Much Ado about Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, illustrating the evolution of their staging practices. They share some of the ways they encourage audience engagement, and provide data about the growth of their audience. Oram tells us about Grassroots companies he started in Exeter and London, which are going strong without him due to the collaborative nature of this approach.

They conclude with the principles that are most important in their approach: autonomy for the actor, enlisting everyone in the collaborative process, and synergistic collaboration. They again acknowledge their debt of inspiration to the OCS.

We have some time for questions. A questioner asks Ungerman and Oram if there is anything they would have done differently. Ungerman describes starting over from scratch with each new company, and starting troupes in different locations, so that in effect, they get to revise their approach each time. Another questioner asks about the financial elements of the work. Oram describes their beginning as a sharers’ company, and how this approach did not work so well, which led them to become an unpaid company, with a Pay What You Will policy for most shows. Another questioner asks about how they build their audience. Oram explains their use of social media and email databases, and the enthusiasm their audience engagement creates, which encourages audience members to bring their friends next time. The final questioner asks about their growth plan. Ungerman reports that they will be doing workshops with Tiffany Stern in the spring and touring in the summer. Oram tells us that they are thinking about starting Grassroots companies in San Francisco and Salt Lake City.

Brett Sullivan Santry of Stuart Hall School and Mary Baldwin College moderates this session.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Staging Session I

Cass Morris back again, and I’ll be covering the first of our Staging Sessions. In these sessions, scholars and practitioners get to bring specific staging issues to our actors and work through them. We have two running concurrently today, one in the Blackfriars Playhouse, and one at the King Theatre at Stuart Hall School, just a few blocks down the road. From 2:30pm to 3:45pm, I’ll be covering the session at the Playhouse, moderated by Matt Davies of Mary Baldwin College.

Matt opens by remarking that he presented at one of these staging sessions back in 2009, and he jokes that while Sarah Enloe assured him that he knew what to do to introduce one, he thinks the best thing to do is just get to the staging as quickly as possible. He points out that both companies ran Kickstarter campaigns in order to reach the Blackfriars Conference this year. Both staging sessions will run in succession, and then Davies will moderate a group discussion. The presenters in this session are assisted by Greg Phelps, Daniel Burrows, and Dan Kennedy.

Lee Benjamin Huttner, New York University: “Mirrors in Richard II

Huttner is a graduate student in both literature and drama at NYU and Tisch. He will be examining the “mirror-breaking” scene and the famous deposition scene, 4.1, of Richard II, and he believes that this scene may never have been performed on the early modern stage, due to censorship issues. He looks at mirrors as an organizing principle for Richard II, not just literally, but as “the fundamental disjuncture that occurs at an encounter of the self”.

Huttner begins the scene at Richard’s entrance. Greg as Richard II encourages the audience to respond when he calls out “God save the king!”, which he then immediately denies being, prefacing the tug-of-war that will occur over the crown with Henry Bolingbroke (Dan Kennedy) later in the scene.

“There are a number of choices to be made during the scene,” some of which Huttner admits he did not anticipate, “which is why we’re here.” He brings in the idea of role segregation — the idea of the self being separate from one’s role. Richard in this scene exists between the two roles of subject and king. Huttner argues that he is not distanced from both, but rather has to try to fulfill both simultaneously. Huttner explores some ideas of metatheatricality, looking at ways in which human life can be construed in terms of performance, scripting, and “backstage” actions. Nothing, he argues, distinguishes the ritual performativity of the stage from the ritual performativity of life. This concept brings the idea of mirrors back into play (via a short detour to Hamlet’s ideas of holding a mirror up to nature); Richard sees himself in the glass as others see him, seeing the self that he presents to others.

Huttner relates this disjuncture of self with the disjuncture of the crown (and thus of the role and assumed self) that we just saw in the deposition. He describes Richard and Henry as “a living chiasmus … simultaneously linked and thrust apart by the crown, by the ‘I’.” He interrogates the idea that Richard and Henry might have to both hold on to the crown for an extended length of time during the scene. The chiastic structure comes back into play with Richard’s response to Henry’s question, “Are you content to resign the crown”: “Aye, no; no, aye” (or possibly “I know no I”, bringing the signification of self back to the forefront). Taken out of his roles, Huttner argues, Richard “considers himself erased.” Huttner then discusses how Richard pre-emptively “ghosts” himself — and will, in fact, become a ghost that haunts the rest of the tetralogy, his legacy weighing heavily on Bolingbroke’s son Henry V.

The actors confer for a moment and stage the scene again, incorporating ideas from Huttner’s presentation. This time, Richard requests less of the audience initially, and his approach to Bolingbroke is somewhat softer (though also quite bitter). Both men cling tight to the crown throughout the verbal negotiation over it. Richard re-crowns himself (acting, as Huttner earlier pointed out, as both bishop and king in an instant) and then holds the crown out to Bolingbroke, though does not relinquish it throughout his long speech. Dan Kennedy’s Bolingbroke seems impatient, even exasperated, with Richard’s indulgence.

Beth Burns, Hidden Room Theatre: “Original Practices at Hidden Room”

Beth Burns introduces her support team from Hidden Room, noting that she met her dramaturg for The Taming of the Shrew at a previous conference. She positions herself clearly on the side of practitioners as opposed to strict academics, but states that she tries to make her practice as well-grounded in scholarship as she can. She thanks the scholarly crowd for “letting me steal your work, as I do do and will do today.”

Burns discusses her experiences with Original Practices and notes that, while different companies and scholars have different views on what that means, they all come down to: “let’s not fight the text; let’s go with it.” She’s curious about the idea of “male playing female, and what that does to the text,” particularly what it does to jokes — which she doesn’t like to cut just because the reference isn’t relevant. She wondered if the idea of men playing women would balance out the gender issues in Shrew. “What I found instead was, actually, a love story. A really sexy love story.” It also produced a theme of identity.

She noted two challenges: 1) to get the audience to believe the man playing a woman as a female character, and 2) to make the audience perceive the relationship displayed as a heterosexual one, not a homosexual one. Her actors from Hidden Room then present the introduction between Kate and Petruchio (2.1), in (as in her production), late-sixteenth-century costumes and (lead-free) makeup. The scene is fast-paced and full of action, with a Kate visibly enjoying the challenge of sparring with Petruchio, and a Petruchio utterly unwilling to part company with her. Kate also seems moved (though somewhat uncomfortable) by a Petruchio speaking to her sexually — as, this staging seems to suggest, no other man has ever done.

Burns notes that the scene is “a veritable cornucopia” of the techniques they use. She notes that, to make the steaminess palpable, they don’t just go for the obvious sexual jokes, but also those words that “sound sexual” by virtue of their sonic qualities or the face-shapes the sounds cause. They also explored “non-standard touch”, to break the expectation of the usual courtship interactions. She moves to the next scene, which she hopes will cause us to look at gender role and power.

In the “sun and moon” scene, 4.5, Kate’s concession to Petruchio’s declarations comes with more than a light touch of sarcasm — but she laughs when Petruchio address Vincentio (an impromptu substitution of Matt Davies) as a fair mistress. When Kate gets the joke and flirts with Vincentio, Petruchio intervenes a bit hastily, to cut off a kiss — which represents, as Burns points out, that she’s now playing on an even field with him. They move to the final scene: 5.1, on the street — the “kiss me, Kate” moment. Their frenetic energy slows to tender regard, but loses none of its passion.

Burns brings her actors out and first asks Ryan (Kate) about building the character. He talks about placing her “center” low, to ground her and also give her grace. Burns and Judd (Petruchio) talk about building the “uber-macho” Petruchio, who Judd describes as “the archetypal alpha male” who goes beyond the typical plateau of gentlemanly behavior.

Matt Davies opens up to questions from the audience for either presenter.

Q: Has Hidden Room yet done this with tragedies, and if so, how was it the same or different?
A: Short answer is no. Will be doing “Rose Rage” in July.

Q for Beth: How early in the process did you get into costume?
A: Ryan responds that the skirt and the shoes were really important — He gave himself permission to go there early on, not just for himself but also because he felt it helped his castmates see him as Kate, not as Ryan. Judd adds that it changes the way you carry yourself. Beth clarifies that they got Ryan into a skirt on Day One, and that their Bianca had to shave an enormous beard before they could start her love scenes. Matt comments that competing beards could create “a Velcro situation”.

Q for Beth: Would you consider casting a prepubescent boy whose voice has not yet cracked?
A: Beth says was not willing to go “that far down the rabbit hole”. Afraid that less-experienced actor might not get the quality needed, also that a prepubescent boy might get them in trouble with all the steamy bits. Matt adds his wondering if, looking at plays like Antony and Cleopatra, if the boys got given better female roles as they got older, and thus were no longer prepubescent or even pubescent.

Q for Greg: Struck by first version, when he came out to the audience, with the scene moving to such a solipsistic moment — interesting counterbalance to the mirrored exchange. Wondering if that was scripted as part of rehearsal?
A: All respond that: There was no rehearsal.
Q: Matt adds, does the direct address come into contrast with those introspective moments, asks Lee how he would deal with that in rehearsal.
A: In early modern environment, there’s no huge distinction between stage and audience. Richard speaks of notions of embarrassment and of deference — thinks deference particularly important, especially with regard to reflection of how audience defers to actors on stage. Thinks the interplay of ideas only works in an environment like this.

Q: Wonders what he thinks about how the direct address would have functioned with the Essex performance?
A: “Well, there’s a lot to say about that.” Discusses the possible explanations regarding the censorship.

Matt suggests that discussion of the Essex Rebellion continue at the bar.

Blackfriars Conference 2011- Plenary Session III

Hi, I’m Deb Streusand, and I’ll be liveblogging Plenary Session III from 9 am to 10:15 am.

“Lie there, Religion”: Implications of the Vestment Controversy on the Early Modern English Stage
Margaret Rose Jaster, Pennsylvania State University Harrisburg

Jaster argues that one of the lasting effects of the Vestment Controversy might have been satirical treatment of Roman Catholic clergy on stage. She suggests that vestments served as a metonymic device for all things Roman Catholic, and that the cultural event we refer to as the Vestment Controversy did affect the early English stage. Vestments were regarded as “indifferent,” that is, not necessary to the honor and glory of God. The reformers despised the vestments as symbolic of excess, and wanted to return to a more pristine spiritual institution, free of such trappings. On stage, whoever dons the Roman Catholic vestments appears as a Roman Catholic cleric to the audience, even in the case of characters who are in disguise. In the anonymous play Look About You, the scoundrel Skink disguises himself as a monk in order to con the other characters. In Measure for Measure, Duke Vincentio dons religious garb for his own ends, but, scandalously, he actually confesses Mariana in the process. If the portrayal of characters in clerical garb was always satirical, it is possible that the Roman Catholics in the audience might have been horrified or indignant. If both reformers and Catholics considered vestments indifferent, however, and the characters misusing the vestments were not Roman Catholic at all, as in the case of disguise, the contention that vestments were used this way is not so controversial.

“The mirror of all Christian kings”: Choral Medievalism in the Henry V Folio
Christina Gutierrez, The University of Texas at Austin

Gutierrez argues that Shakespeare can be regarded as one of the most recognizable writers of medieval history. As a historical account, Henry V‘s double vision of its central character destabilizes audience perception of this historical period. She reads the play in the light of current medieval historiography and analyzes contemporary stagings of the play. She cites Umberto Eco’s argument that the Middle Ages have never ended in the popular imagination, arguing that “Medievalism constructs the Middle Ages to suit post-medieval values, concerns, and effects.” The play can be used to stage tensions between the historical past and the present moment. She cites the Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh movie versions, drawing a contrast between their respective treatments of Henry and of the Middle Ages. This ambiguity about how we should view Henry and his historical period comes from the text itself, particularly in the differences between how the Chorus describes Henry and how he is portrayed in person. The Chorus exists to provide a contrast to the Henry that the audience sees. In the 1600 Quarto, the choral passages do not appear. Scholars debate the reason for this absence-had they not been written yet, or were they redacted for political reasons? The Quarto’s portrayal of Henry is unambiguously heroic. Shakespeare may have meant this to be an image of Elizabeth I. Gutierrez discusses the productions of Charles Kemble and William Macready, who respectively cut and restored the Chorus. She argues that Macready’s restoration of the Chorus allowed the play to live in the gaps of time between the historical period being portrayed, Shakespeare’s time, and the time of the production. More recent productions have set the play in various modern conflicts, whether to promote patriotism or portray the folly of war. The play’s double presentation of its central character represents the duality of our view of the Middle Ages, allowing directors to make a choice as to how they will stage Henry and the play’s approach to war.

Linden Kueck performs as the Chorus in Henry V for this presentation. A.J. Sclafani performs as Henry.

Making Malapropism: Reconsidering Mistress Quickly
Emily Sloan-Pace, University of California, Santa Cruz

Sloan-Pace points out that Mistress Quickly is often read solely for her malapropisms and is not considered relevant enough to the Falstaff plot or to the play’s historical project to be worthy of much more analysis. She argues that in this typically upper-class genre, Quickly offers an alternative voice, representing the middle class and a female with linguistic agency in a play dominated by the mOCSuline and martial. Quickly is distinct for her control over the economy of her alehouse and her body. In 2 Henry IV, she becomes a developed character outside of her relationship to Falstaff and the other tavern characters. The characters outside of the tavern allow her agency by providing her with positive acknowledgement. Aside from Falstaff, men seem to respect Quickly, but in his company she is subjected to a constant barrage of slurs. Editors have allowed this barrage to color their view of Mistress Quickly. Yet the Lord Chief Justice, for example, immediately accepts Quickly’s claims over those of Falstaff, implying that the men in power respect her. The Justice’s refusal to view her sexually leads Falstaff to admit his debt, giving Quickly the power and thereby placing her in the mOCSuline role in this sexual exchange. Reading this scene in a non-malapropistic way provides a new view of this character as a respected figure who can employ language to her own ends.

How to Shrew
Joe Ricke, Taylor University and Hungry Shakespeare

Ricke begins his presentation in the character of Stephanie Stern, Tiffany Stern’s fictional younger sister, illustrating the ways in which we view the concept of “shrewing.” In his own person, he argues that the short answer to “how to shrew” is not “you’re beaten to a bloody pulp,” but that you are loud and argumentative, being tried as a shrew after an accusation made by a specific man or men. In a shrew play, the shrew must defend herself against the audience and her male accuser. Although some critics argue that Shakespeare’s shrew must be viewed in the light of contemporary concerns about shrewish women, we should consider his approach to the shrew in terms of the tradition of staged shrews in other shrew plays rather than viewing it as an anomaly of cultural hysteria. In Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare uses one of the most popular contemporary ways of talking about the battle of the sexes. In these plays, shrews are on display as shrews because of the characters who accuse them. They then defend themselves in dialogue. The ubiquity of the shrew plays challenges any simplistic view of the Early Modern perspective on shrewish women because of the plays’ allowance for dialogue and self-defense. We must also take into account the shrew’s characterization of the men around her as lazy and not contributing to the household economy, which further complicates any argument that the plays unequivocally portray the shrews in a negative light. “Saintly shrews” in the mystery plays turn out to be on the side of righteousness. In Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare portrays his own saintly shrew in the person of Paulina, showing that shrews can do good work by protecting others and themselves.

Kim Maurice portrays Kate in this presentation. A.J. Sclafani performs Petruchio. Maurice portrays Paulina and Sclafani Leontes in Winter’s Tale. These two actors also play scenes from an earlier shrew play concerning Noah and from Peele’s The Old Wives’ Tale.

Competing Heights in As You Like It
Jemma Alix Levy, Muse of Fire Theater Company

Levy lays out the textual contradiction between the descriptions of Rosalind’s and Celia’s heights in two different scenes, and reminds us that in production Rosalind is usually portrayed as taller. Editors and directors seem to have reached the consensus to that Le Beau’s statement that Celia is taller is a mistake. Levy discusses the performance potential of leaving this contradiction intact. What if Le Beau is referring to their current physical positions, or following the Duke’s requirement that he see Celia as taller? Levy argues that the explanation with the greatest potential in performance is that the two women may be so close in height that each appears taller at different times. Staging their heights in this way draws attention to the competitive aspects of Rosalind and Celia’s relationship. Competition is a theme throughout the play, but the competition between Rosalind and Celia is limited to the time when they are both presenting as female. While at Frederick’s court, they continually one-up one another. Since Rosalind is the speaker who describes herself as taller, while Le Beau is speaking in public in the court, the shift in height may reflect a shift in perspective rather than a mistake. By insisting she is taller, Rosalind earns the right to become male while they are in disguise, preventing comparison to her cousin for that period, which allows her to become a unique individual, an initiator rather than an onlooker. In the forest, they compete only when alone or with Touchstone, as in their conversation about Orlando’s poems, but this scene is interrupted, suggesting that it is no longer important who would have won. The cousins have changed in the forest, and the play replaces the language of competition with the language of equality. Now that the women have truly separated from each other, they seem prepared to embrace their equality. Levy argues that staging this contrast, rather than regarding it as a mistake, illuminates the characters and their relationship.

Linden Kueck and Charlene Smith portrayed a taller Rosalind and a shorter Celia. Smith and Kim Maurice portrayed a Rosalind and Celia of indistinguishable heights.

The presentations finish promptly and we have time for questions.

A questioner describes Quickly and Mistress Overdone as shrews of a sort, and wonders whether Overdone has agency in a fashion similar to Quickly. Sloan-Pace suggests that Mistress Overdone is portrayed more exclusively as a madam, but that men may also show her respect in a manner similar to how the men outside the tavern world treat Quickly. Ricke discusses these women as shrews in terms of the ubiquity of shrew plays and their portrayal of female agency.

The next questioner asks whether women were becoming more of an economic force in England at this time. Ricke replies that there is a dialogue about women’s struggle to gain the upper hand, as portrayed in contemporary ballads. The female character is given the opportunity to voice opposition in the dramatic tradition.

The next questioner asks Jaster about the representations of authentic churchmen on stage, as opposed to characters in disguise. Jaster thinks that even when the characters are supposed to be clerics, the authors are still being satirical, as in the portrayal of Canterbury at the opening of Henry V. The cultural moment provided too good an opportunity for satire for the playwrights not to have taken advantage of it, she argues. In Look About You, Skink explicitly identifies his clerical disguise with religion itself, addressing the words “lie there, religion” to his clerical cloak.

The next questioner asks Sloan-Pace about the relationship between malapropisms and justice scenes, as in Much Ado About Nothing. Sloan-Pace points out that in these cases it is the character of lowest class who is able to discover the truth.

The final questioner discusses the first OED definition of shrew, which applies to men. Petruchio is said to be almost as shrewish as Kate is, so the issue of shrewishness and gender is much more complicated than the exclusive assignment of that identity to women. Ricke discusses the English dramatic tradition of shrewish characters and related name-calling, where “shrew” is often used to refer to men, especially in the earlier plays. This word, he asserts, tells us as much about the person who’s saying it as about the person described.

Holly Pickett of Washington and Lee University moderates this session.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session II

Hi! I’m Julia, I’ll be liveblogging Plenary Session II from 3:15 to 4:45.

Moderator: Hank Dobin, Washington and Lee University

Time to Play
Steven Urkowitz, University of Southern Maine

Urkowitz discussed the duration of performances in Early Modern Theater. Some scholars have tried to argue that all performances adhered strictly to the “two hours traffic of our stage,” even though some early modern plays are a good deal longer than others. He mentioned that a performance of a play would include music before and dancing after, so that even if a performance was expected to be more or less the same duration, the other entertainments could be shortened or lenghthened to accomodate the difference. He also discussed script cutting as a possibility raised by scholars such as Andrew Gurr, but Urkowitz dismisses the arguments that script cutting was necessary.

The Bookend Project:
Transforming Shakespeare’s Revenge Play from Violence to Virtue in Titus Andronicus and The Tempest

Tara Bradway, St. John’s University

Bradway, artistic director of the Adirondack Shakespeare Company, discussed one interesting comparison she and her performers discovered when the same actress played Lavinia and Caliban. Early in Titus Andronicus, Lavinia fails to play within the form of the iambic pentameter line, but later in the play she breaks out of the pattern, uses initial trochees and lines witn 9 or 11 syllables, and in so doing struggles for greater agency within her own life. Caliban also uses an irregular verse pattern to assert his agency within is position of servitude. Both characters are also marked by sexual violence, and both become more eloquent through silence. Miriam Donald performed as Lavinia, Benjamin Curns as Caliban, and James Keegan as Prospero.

Laughter in Time and Space
Casey Caldwell, Mary Baldwin College

Caldwell brought together two ongoing scholarly discussions (the study of laughter in Shakespeare, and the study of sound in Shakespeare) to point out that neither discussion integrates laughter as a sound. He goes on to point out that the Blackfriars’ status as an Early Modern reconstruction gives us a tension when we come into it bringing our own time period, as there is a tension between our time and the time to which the Blackfriars belongs. Laughter is a way of imposing our own imminence onto our surroundings, but we are not laughing at the space. In the same way, a sleeping Bottom (performed by Benjamin Curns) awakes from his dream and chooses to remain imminent by re-formating his perception of his experience and using it to commission a work of art.

Remember the Porter:
Knock-Knock Jokes, Tragedy, and Other Unfunny Things

Chris Barrett, Harvard University

Barrett discussed the Porter’s scene as an extended knock-knock joke; the first, she says, in the English language. The porter, as the keeper of the threshold, has no trouble playing both the host and the interrupter in the joke. A knock-knock joke has a formula that suggests not only fear, but a disruption of the rules of hospitality: the guest is an uncouth interrupter and the joke is always on the host. Implied is a laughing forgiveness for the transgression — thus pity and fear are integral to the knock-knock joke and also, as it happens, to tragedy.

Performing Verse/Prose Transitions
James Loehlin, The University of Texas at Austin

Loehlin presented several instances of transitions between verse and prose in Shakespeare, using examples from Hamlet and As You Like It, performed by Shakespeare at Winedale actors Isto Barton, Sonia Desai, and Kelsi Tyler. He demonstrated that when a character switches from verse to prose, the other characters onstage have an opportunity to confirm or deny that transformation. He also discussed lines within prose scenes that sound and scan like verse, and concluded that characters can manipulate verse/prose transitions to rhetorical effect.