Wake-Up Workshop: Audience Contact

Hello everyone! Liz here to start off the morning with the Wake-Up Workshop on Audience Contact! Live-blogging of this session will last from eight to eight forty-five in the morning. Natalia “Lia” Razak Wallace, OCS Education Artist, Mary Baldwin College Master of Fine Arts candidate, and Sweet Wag Shakespeare member, leads this session.

Wallace asks if everyone saw at least one show in the Blackfriars Playhouse. “We really like the audience,” she smiles. She talks about the space informing the performance – including the lights that stay on during the show, the audience surrounding the actors on three sides. She expresses her dislike of messy audience contact, which she calls “the wash”, and states that this dislike led to her thesis on eye contact with the audience. Wallace states that the best way to contact the audience is to face them.

Wallace then transitions and gives different categories for audience contact in early modern drama. She brings up a scholar to perform a scene from The Merchant of Venice to display the first form of audience contact – casting the audience. She and the scholar perform the scene between Portia and Nerissa from II.i. in a proscenium-style, directly on the same plane and facing each other on the stage. Now, Wallace gives the scholar some whispered directions and performs the scene again. This time, she and the scholar point to scholars in the audience, naming them as the suitors mentioned in the scene. The audience laugh more and accurately portray their parts this time around, due to the actors’ engagements with them. “Mocking people in reality is way more fun than mocking abstractions,” Wallace states to explain why making contact with individual audience members in this scene makes it so much stronger. Due to the continuous action and lack of lighting and stage changes at the top of a show on the early modern stage, casting the audience in early scenes commonly occurs to help bring the audiences into the world of the play. The audience cannot be cast the audience as any characters that appear in the play. Wallace states that everyone has one or two reactions to audience contact, which is either positive or negative.

Wallace calls the second allying. Humans are naturally convincing, so we want people to be on our sides. She mentions that Iago is one of her favorite characters because he spends so much time explaining himself to the audience. The audience will give support to characters that ask for audience support, which occurs with many different characters across many different plays. Wallace then grabs another audience member and has them read some lines from Richard III from the end of I.ii. She explains that this is a great example of character allying. Richard loves to share and the text wants to be shared, so the text begs for the actor to ally with the audience in this moment to convey why he is correct. Wallace says that states of emotion are contagious and that when we see someone do any action, our neurocortex actually has a part of us do that action as well. An audience member asks about Ben Curns’ interpretation of Richard as seduced by convincing others and explaining his handiwork to the audience.

The third form of audience contact is asking the audience a question or to seek information. Wallace gives an example of Polonius in the OCS’s Hamlet, where Polonius took the question, “What was I about to say?” to an audience member. Many audience members thought that the actor went up on his line, when he was really including them in the world of the play.

Wallace briefly explains the difference between audience contact and audience connection. Audience contact is an action that can be practiced without people in the room. This is in contrast to audience connection, which relies on the audience member’s reaction to the contact that occurs.

The fourth form of audience contact is using the audience as the object. This makes the audience an example, rather than a specific character. She exemplifies this through the discovery of an audience member with a drink in their hand and generalizing them as like “all drunk men.”

Wallace then has everyone look at a scene from Henry VI, Part I. She then asks for her two volunteers to play Suffolk and Margaret for the scene. She then states that the fifth form of contact is talking to your scene partner, because relationship between characters must be established before contact with the audience can be meaningful. Wallace reminds the group that there was no verisimilitude on the Elizabethan stage. She points out the odd nature of Margaret standing onstage silent for several minutes while Suffolk confides in the audience. Wallace specifically points to the Margaret line, “Why speakst thou not?” as evidence for audience contact on the Elizabethan stage. Suffolk talked for a while and the audience is aware of this, because they are privy to it. Yet Margaret’s line indicates that she has not heard any of these words. This evidences that the audience was Suffolk’s point of contact during the scene. Wallace quickly wraps up the workshop by  wondering how the Margaret/Suffolk scene could work without audience contact.

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Plenary Session 8

Mary Finch here! I will be the live-blogger for this session running from 5:00-6:15pm and moderated by Tyler Moss from The Shakespeare Forum.

Neil Vallelly, University of Otago
Way-making at Shakespeare’s Globe

This paper deals with two questions: What do we mean when we say we make or way, and why does that matter? Vallelly, began to answer these by discussing the opening of the Same Wanamaker playhouse, as well as the knew foyer at Shakespeare’s Globe. While lots of scholarship deals with what happens within in the theater not much has dealt with the semiotics outside of the theater space.

During research about light, Vallelly realized he had to begin by looking at the outside of Wanamaker, because that is where the theater experience begins. Theaters are not stagnant locations, but a imporant house in the midst of way-making. Vallelly distinguishing way-making from going as a process, rather than a means to an ends. Vallelly invoked Tim Ingold to describe theater as a knot; something that exists at a location, but also extends behind the single instance. He then pointed out that from above, the Globe even looks like a knot. The openness of the theater also calls to mind the relationship between the theatre and the world around it. Audiences are constantly reminded that the theater experience does not edge of the property, and the outside can constantly intrude into the theater from above.

In contrast, the enclosed space of the Wanamaker does not allow such easy permeation, severing the thread from the knot. When the Globe and Wanamaker exchanged performances of Julius Caesar, the annex was a common space for crowds from both theater. For the Globe, the use of the annex smoothed the transition from public to private, making the distinction impossible. In the Wanamaker, the transition was less smooth, and the pre-show events were separated by the requirements to take seats and adjust eyes to new lighting.

As audiences come together, we should consider the threads that come together.

Holly Picket, Washington and Lee University
Silence and the Music of the Spheres in Pericles

Much like how only Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo, directors must consider if audiences can hear the music that Pericles hears during the play. Music appears more frequently in this play; more than in any other play. The music also fulfills an important role, especially during the revelation. While some stage direction call for music, the quarto contains no such directions.

Picket plans to test the effects of the differing stagings using OCS actors (Tim Sailer, Andrew Goldwasser, and Patrick Poole).

At this point in the play, Pericles is at the end of his journey and has lost his wife and daughter. Silence has deepened his despair, rather than given him peace. In returning to speaking, he uses musical vocalization before the oral epiphany that only he can hear.

The actors played the scene once with music and then once without. Picket proposed that the audible music would connect audiences more with Pericles, while removing the music would do the opposite. Within the text, music has a range of meanings, from the holy to the wicked, throughout the text. In the beginning, music features in the incestuous and luxurious speeches, but later it function as a means of revival, either hard or smooth. It could also be religious, alluding the both the religious practice of the Greeks, or the Christians. Overall, music can release and transform throughout the play.

Musa Gernis, Washington University
The Privy in Public

How was  understanding at the Globe felt, as well as thought? To answer this, Gernis examined A Game at Chess by Thomas Middleton, which centers on a chest game and Gondomar, a ruler with a sore on his rear end which requires a chair with a hole in the center.

“When a toilet is brought on stage, there must be farts.” Looking at this scene, and the requirement of a commode on stage, Gernis says it requires a blatant treatment the scatological humor, rather than anything subtly ironic or allusive.

The scene was staged with OCS actors and many whoopie cushions.

This scene, which contains some of the scariest and most political moments of the play, is re-contextualized when the fart jokes are acknowledged. Gondomar cannot stop his mouth “or his sphincter.” His bodily functions alienates the audience, and the pawn-character. As the play continues, the Blank Knight loses his sway and control.

“Seated on the chair of ease, he becomes the butt of the joke.”

Maria Knowlton, Utah Valley University,
May Rites and Midsummer Offerings

Knowlton opened by discussing the similarities and differences between the Elizabethan holiday calendar and contemporary holidays. She detailed the typical activities that accompanied each passing season, many of which included courtly performances by the London theater companies.

Patronage protected companies politically, but was not hugely profitable from a financial standpoint due to the cost of costumes and props to stage productions. The high cost of properties forced companies to reuse and recycle, as well as find ways to fund their companies. Harsh weather did not deter new theaters from being built throughout London.

According to Henslowe’s receipts, new plays had higher attendance. Rotating plays and using season productions, companies lent some stability to their business practices. Re-using plays allowed companies to recycle properties, as well as built anticipation within their audiences as they looked forward to the seasonal shows.

In Shakespeare’s case, we can see a pattern similar to the one revealed by Henslowe’s diary. The plays have similar themes and events, if not direct temporal repetition. This affords a look into historical and contemporary habits of audiences.

Adam Zucker, University of Massachusetts
Love’s Labour’s Lost and the Pedagogy of Incomprehensibility

“The central text for Shakespeare’s relationship to school room tactics.” Scholars have used this text to prove that Shakespeare went to, and excelled at, grammar school well enough to construct the satire in Love’s Labour’s Lost. This logic has a lot of assumptions, most of which never hold up under scrutiny. We know that Shakespeare wrote about things he did not know, sculptures coming to life or exotic islands for instance.

What evidence do we use to create Shakespeare’s evidence? We want to see his brain as a mirror of our own. Perhaps if we can learn enough the way he learned it, we can be like him.

Scholars Barnes and Baldwin seemed to think that Shakespeare had no interest in formal education, beyond what he wanted or needed to be a successful playwright. Zucker does not wish to completely disagree, but present alternate lenses of understanding.

For instance, can we appreciate the Latin jokes within LLL without knowing Latin? Obscurity and difficulty was a problem felt by audiences of the sixteenth century, and therefore modern editors and scholars should not try to remove all confusion. Zucker than led an experiment where the audience read words allowed, leading up to honorificabilitudinatatibus. A word where the meaning is less important than the context surrounding it; a character proving that he can say a long silly sounding word.

Jennifer Holl, Rhode Island College
Name-Dropping and Theatrical Branding in Greene’s Tu Quoque

Holl begins with the ambiguity around the use of the word “brand” in Sonnet 111. Names can be used outside of the control of the figure they represent.

Holl asserts that Shakespeare’s name was used to sell a range of products, whether he wrote them or not, as support she invoked Tiffany Stern and accounts of Will Kempe complaining of ballad makers using his antics and name.

Name-dropping on stage, Holl argues, functions as a counter-product of the written use of name. There are instances where the name is absent (such as Hamlet complaining of Will Kempe) and more explicit use of names. John Cooke’s The City Gallant provides an example of name-dropping as a commodified sign as a means of publicity. The stage was a place to promote plays, actors, and upcoming events outside of immediate performance.

In the scene, the actor drops his own name within the scene, in a moment of amusing metatheater. The drama is disrupted the draw attention to the actor beyond the character and alert audiences to popularity of the actor. The humor only works if the actor is well known by the audience. This entices audiences to become aware of what is happening in order to get the “in joke” and find more such moments.

The success of the play might have depended upon the success of the actor, as shown by the re-naming of the play “Greene’s Tu Quoque” after a humorous moment within the play. His name, like Shakespeare’s, became public property and “a brand-name in itself.”

— Mary Finch
MLitt Student at MBC Shakespeare & Performance

bfc15, BFConf15, blackfriars conference, research and scholarship, american shakespeare center

Blackfriars 2015 – Staging Session with Tina Packer and James Lochlin

This is Merlyn Q. Sell, at the Blackfriars Playhouse once again, blogging now about today’s staging session featuring Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Company, James Lochlin of University of Texas – Austin, and the OCS actors. This session is moderated by Sarah Enloe. The actors will be working scenes from Antony and Cleopatra based on suggestions from conference attendees. There was only one suggestion from attendees so Packer turned to the actors asking if there are portions of the current OCS production that they are stuck in and would like to work with in this session. The actors wisely demur. From the house, Dr. Matt Davies inquires about how actors can stage a broken heart. Packer says that is a moment that will be worked later. James Keegan finally responds to Packer’s request for problematic moments with a particular line of Antony’s that repeats the word “well”. Packer does admit that this staging session won’t be able to accommodate an attendees request to investigate raising Antony aloft, a moment that’s of particular interest after Bob Jones’ paper yesterday. Actor Rick Blunt offers up two moments wherein Enobarbus speaks to characters who are not on stage.

Staging begins with the first scene of the play. After the actors run through the scene as it is currently being performed, Packer explains her belief that the first scene provides first an explanation of how the world views Antony and Cleopatra and is immediately followed by the truth of the situation. Lochlin echoes the idea of two frames of reference competing for the audience’s focus and belief. The typical reception of the play seems to be about the tragedy of Antony – that he fails to keep his position through this relationship.

The actors next take on the scene where Antony chooses to fight by sea. As Packer points out, this scene can be problematic as Antony must know he is less likely to win by sea than by land but he makes that decision anyway. This scene holds the line Keegan had mentioned earlier. Packer initially talks to Sarah Fallon and asks that she portray Cleopatra not like Cleopatra the seductress, but as though she is trying to prove in this moment that she is as capable a military strategist as the men in the room. Packer then asks Keegan to support Cleopatra in this and that his decision is made because he’s prioritizing her wants. The redirect does immediately alter the blocking. The audience responds favorably to this stronger Cleopatra. The change seems to give Keegan more to play in the moment as well, both placating his soldiers and supporting Cleopatra. Keegan and Packer disagree a bit about whether the idea of Cleopatra as a general in this scene is consistent with Cleopatra’s flight from the battle later on. Eventually the disagreement seems to boil down to whether or not Antony’s ultimate allegiance lies with Cleopatra or the army. The spirited debate highlights the great deal of thought both have put into the role and their passionate defense of their positions is invigorating.

Next the group approaches the Enobarbus moment previously requested by Rick Blunt. Packer suggests that Enobarbus is in love with both Antony and Cleopatra. Packer directs Blunt to consider when he has done something he knows was stupid, and keep this in mind to understand that Enobarbus completely understands why Antony and Cleopatra have made their mistakes. Blunt ultimately interprets this direction as Enobarbus experiencing disappointment in people he loves dearly. When running the scene again, Blunt’s performance is decidedly more emotional and this Enobarbus is not the stoic soldier seen previously. Certainly it is a different performance, which most of the audience seems to respond to favorably, thinking those choices set up Enobarbus’ death in a more believable way. Packer asks Blunt to perform his final speech, keeping in mind the work that was just done. Almost immediately Packer takes Blunt back to further investigate the word “life”. Packer states that she is not yet believing that Enobarbus wants to die. Blunt responds, “I didn’t know I wanted to die.” He goes back to the top of the speech again and Packer stops again and asks Blunt to pay a little more attention to specific words. Packer commends Blunt bravery in taking the direction and working the speech in front of an audience. Lochlin commends Blunt’s final run at the speech as adding the layers and intensity without simply being bigger. Blunt seconds that, and adds how much work and preparation is required by an actor to be able to access an authentic feeling in each performance. Packer agrees and cautions that actors taking on this challenge have to exercise their skill in order to be able to recreate these performances in an authentic and safe way. The trap is always that an actor can be come indulgent and in Packer’s words do the “wanky, wanky, wanky thing”. Packer feels that the authentic presentation of feeling is an integral part of the creation of empathy between actors and audience. Packer cautions against an approach that disregards the empathic nature of theatre. Packer argues whole-heartedly for actors that embrace the pathos of the story and don’t become distracted by the logos of the work.

This session provides a lot for attendees (and no doubt the actors as well) to consider. As the floor is opened to the audience one attendee finds a way to unite the scholarship on this play with the work we’ve seen today. Does the play champion the love-based story of Antony and Cleopatra over the rational politics of Caesar? Packer suggests that Shakespeare wrote a string of lovers where men and women have equal agency and that that equal agency is the key to success in these relationships and potentially politics as well.

Blackfriars 2015 – Honorific: Barbara Mowat

This is Merlyn Q. Sell blogging this year’s Honorific from the Blackfriars Playhouse. The honorific will be starting a little later than originally scheduled at 1:20.

Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen begins the honorific by reminding us of the beginnings of the OCS as the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express and the support that endeavor received from scholars centered at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Cohen shared Stephen Booth’s glowing 1992 review of Shenandoah Shakespeare Express’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Barbara Mowat was the editor who printed that review and has continued through her work to make Shakespeare’s works available and inviting to everyone.

Inspired by Mowat’s work, Cohen and Sarah Enloe invite a panel of scholars to audition OCS actors with Mowatt’s Folger Shakespeare Library editions as a guide for performance. The first actor to step up to the plate is Chris Johnston. Given elaborate direction to awake some of the archaic terms in his speech, Johnston admirably performs the verb “flapdragon” to the delight of the crowd. Abbi Hawk is the next to take the stage. Ann Thompson directs Hawk to communicate to the audience the importance of Saint Martin’s Day – right down to the date, November 11th. Rick Blunt is next with a Puck speech. Paul Menzer asks Blunt to pay particular attention to playing the size of fairies that are small enough to “lurk in gossip’s bowls”. Blunt achieves this by adopting a “monstrous little voice”. Tiffany Stern takes on James Keegan’s Leontes, specifically requesting more detail in his description of Hermione’s hand play with Polixenes. Keegan gamely tackles that and the suggestion that his reference to his brows might be a reference to cuckold’s horns. Sarah Fallon performs Cleopatra. The panel requests that Fallon sing or hum to evoke the music of the spheres that she claims is in Antony’s voice. Patrick Midgeley is next with a bit from Florizel. Tiffany Stern suggests that the piece may be bettered if it was performed “a bit more nude”. Next we saw John Harrell performing Oberon. Mary Hill Cole suggests there needs to be more specificity with the words vestal virgin and its connection to Queen Elizabeth. Gregory Jon Phelps accepted a redirect to his Caesar monologue with a focus on geography and geneology. Allison Glenzer gives the panels a monologue from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Glenzer attempts to integrate the notes to make clear that “chiding” is a type of barking and that the hounds of Sparta were known for their hunting ability. Renee Thornton Jr has the luck (misfortune?) to receive direction via punctuation. Patrick Earl’s Hamlet seems inspired by the previous actors’ notes. The panel determines their work is done.

Cohen reads a letter from Bruce Smith, which praises Mowat’s good judgement, diligence, and tact. Cohen then calls Mowat’s co-editor, Paul Wurstine, to the stage. Wurstine stresses the breadth of Mowat’s scholarship. Mowat takes the stage to a standing ovation. Mowat recalls her first exposure to Shenandoah Shakespeare Express and the unbelievable growth from that point to today’s 2015 Blackfriars Conference. Mowat receives her own honor by graciously expressing her admiration for Cohen and the amazing work of the American Shakespeare Center. Cohen stresses that Mowat has modeled the integration of scholarship and performance, and the OCS was built on her example.

Blackfriars Conference – Plenary Session VII

I’m Molly Beth Seremet and I am so pleased to be back, live-blogging this afternoon’s incredible plenary session! This session takes place on the Blackfriars stage and is starting a bit late due to some technical difficulties earlier in the day.  We will be getting under way at 2:20pm and will run until approximately 3:30pm. Amy Cohen of Randolph College moderates this session, with scholars Joseph Stephenson (Abilene Christian University), Patricia Wareh (Union College), Katherine Schaap Williams (New York University – Abu Dhabi), Peter Hyland (Huron University), Julie Simon (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), and Gretchen Minton (Montana State University).

Joseph Stephenson (Abilene Christian University) –“Kill Claudio” and What Followed: When a Woman Asks Her Man to Kill His Best Friend 

Stephenson begins his paper by recommending that we all check out Folger Digital Texts online, harkening back to last session’s honorific for Barbara Mowat. Now Stephenson moves into an introduction of that “little known” text Much Ado About Nothing. He introduces us to American Shakespeare Center touring troupe actors Jessica Lefkow and Chris Bellinger who perform the post-wedding scene from the play for us, portraying Beatrice and Benedick respectively. Lefkow delivers the climactic line “Kill Claudio!” and Bellinger chuckles. Lefkow leaves the stage, leaving Bellinger to puzzle over her departure. Stephenson takes over, reminding us that this line in question in often played for laughs, turning Benedick’s textual “ha?” into more of a “ha! ha! ha!” Stephenson calls the actors back to the stage and ask them to play the seriousness of the line, in a similar manner to that used when OCS actor Sarah Fallon played Beatrice did in 2009. The actors do so, playing this moment in the scene for broke. Lefkow and Bellinger achieve a moment of seriousness in this quick exchange.

Stephenson now moves into a discussion of the significance of this moment in the broader play, calling on notions of homosocial and heterosocial interaction in the play. Further, Stephenson puts a finger on this “Kill Claudio!” moment as the hallmark of this play’s tragi-comedic plot. He compares this moment to Fletcher as well.

Now, Stephenson turns to an investigation of Marston’s Dutch Courtesan. He first asks to consider Beatrice in this play, who is a bit more like Hero in Shakespeare’s text. He also calls our attention to Marston’s more Beatrice-like character, Crispanella. Lefkow performs a Crispanella monologue for the crowd, aptly demonstrating Crispanella’s bawdy and pleasantly rude language and Beatrice-like character. Stephenson connects Crispanella’s language to Beatrice, having Lefkow demonstrate some of Crispanella’s dirty jokes, including my favorite – “I slept on my back last night… and had the strangest dreams.”

Stephenson now moves to a scene from The Dutch Courtesan, featuring a different character, Franchesina. Now, Lefkow and Bellinger perform this scene for us, in which Francesina is propositioned. Bellinger swears his service to Franchesina and the scene includes a passionate kiss and a debate over the potential of love at first sight and a promise of death for Franchesina’s enemy.

Stephenson examines the way that rhetoric of this scene in Dutch Courtesan practically demands a laugh, as compared to the potential for serious ambiguity in the similar moment in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Stephenson points out that variations in this scene can be found in other plays including Massinger’s Parliament of Love. 

The Bear enters, just as Stephenson brings up the subject of male-female duets, in a nice moment of art imitating life.

Patricia Wareh (Union College) – Courteous Performers and Audiences in Love’s Labour’s Lost

Wareh begins her paper by reminding us that in the early modern period, social expectations for courteous behavior were real and influential on a theatre-going audience. In this way, playwrights incorporated the familiar language of courtly interaction into their plays and also reached out to audiences through tropes of social performance. According to Wareh, early modern plays demonstrate apt use of exposed and implied courtly behaviors and relationships.

Wareh refers primarily to Castiglione’s manual of courtly behavior, and asks us to consider how much the behavior of the men in Love’s Labours Lost demonstrates the failures of the titular love’s labors. Wareh points out that the men’s choice to dress as Muskovites signals a failure in Castiglione’s eyes. As Castiglione points out, masquerade entails a necessary distance between performer and costume – in short, there is no pleasure in a prince playing a prince, doing in sport exactly what he should be doing in good earnest.  By pretending in sport to be true lovers, Wareh urges us to remember that it becomes very hard to take their performance of love seriously in the play at large. Thus, theatre and courtship are closely aligned in Love’s Labours Lost, though as Wareh jokes, the wooing men should not worry about brushing up on their Castiglione.

Now, Wareh turns to questions of authenticity, considering the tug between actor and disguise, player and played, in the course of the play’s action. She advises that the onstage audience of the play is encouraged to watch the action of the play but also to watch the larger audience watching them. Wareh suggests that courtesy factors in here in the behavior of the audience as well, in addition to considering the ways in which the characters act courteously in their enacting. The play as a whole delights in exposing the efforts behind courtly behavior, reinforcing the parallels between onstage and offstage audiences, and the success of the courtly play in satisfying (both) audiences. By pretending to stage a failure of a play, Wareh argues that Love’s Labours Lost succeeds in staging Castiglione’s conceptions of courtly behavior in a manner that delights an audience in all its self-deprecating pleasure.

Katherine Schaap Williams (New York University – Abu Dhabi) – Characterizing Monstrosity

Schaap Williams begins her paper by quoting Trinculo and Stephano’s first 10 lines regarding Caliban in The Tempest, including extreme repetition of the word “monster.” Schaap Williams questions this exchange, putting pressure on exactly what Stephano and Trinculo see when they look at Caliban.

Schaap Williams argues that the monstrous body and monstrosity are often used as ways into reading disability back into the early modern canon, as an analogue. The spectacle of the extraordinary body becomes especially vexed in these texts. Schapp Williams considers the technology of the actor’s body to ask how might the early modern stage challenge our assumptions regarding the performance of the monster on the early modern stage. For Schaap Williams, staging monstrosity through the technology of an actor’s body risks removing the distance that is required for wonder’s emergence.

Schaap Williams refers to an account of Merlin’s birth, in which his monstrosity body and precocious birth asks us to think about the utility of his body within our conceptions of the monstrous body. In this account, Merlin will not be silent and his body cannot be interpreted in our usual interpretive frames. Now, Schaap Williams considers a similar example in an early modern play in which Timothy is described as a spectacle, an extraordinary sort of half-human, half-fish, “my feet made flounders.” As Schaap Williams indicates, however, poor Timothy is actually a human suffering from the very human malady of a hangover. In fact, his monstrosity lies in stage props that lend him alterity, while at his core, he is human.

Schaap Williams now turns to an investigation of the monstrous body as a site of appropriation. She calls our attention to Stephano and Trinculo’s desires to exhibit or charge people to look at Caliban’s monstrous body. When a body is described as monstrous, it is necessarily a site of replication in a dramatic context.  As Schaap Williams points out, theatre technology is one of embodiment and therefore, monstrous bodies are made through actor bodies, night after night. The character described as monstrous is an opportunity for the making of bodily difference in time.

Peter Hyland (Huron University) – Stumped: Alarum for London and Henry V

Hyland begins his paper by calling our attention to the first staging of Alarum for London in 1599 and suggests that it is probable that Shakespeare would have had an interest in this play, though he was very unlikely to have had a hand in its writing). Hyland describes the play’s plot, depicting the cruelty of the Spaniards during the seige of Antwerp and the unlikeability of the play’s victims, and suggests that the play may have been written as a warning for English citizens.

Hyland notes that the play has little performance history until the past decade, much of which focuses on the play’s character of Stump, leading to readings surrounding portrayal of disability and prosthesis. Due to the potentiality of these readings, Hyland posits Alarum for London as a potential prosthetic companion to Shakespeare’s Henry V.  Hyland calls our attention to the passage in Henry V in which the King pledges atrocities at the French gates. As Hyland suggests, this instance from Shakespeare’s text serves as a neat summary of the full plot of Alarum for London.

Hyland now moves to descriptions of atrocities in Alarum, including deaths of innocent women, children, and blind men whose lives cannot be saved by impassioned pleas. In this play, the slaughter of innocents is staged in the manner that Henry threatens in Henry V.  Hyland now explores moments in both plays in which characters count the lives lost on both sides of both wars, finding analogous moments in both plays.

Now, Hyland introduces the character of Stump, who in his first appearance in the play, does not speak but is instead referred to by other characters as he limps across the stage. He then exits, not to appear for several scenes. Hyland points up the significance of allowing an audience to take in a disabled character’s body before the character is able to speak. Hyland than describes Stump the solider as a representation of something more than human, indicating that perhaps the actor playing Stump might also double for Time earlier in the play. Further, Hyland indicates that Stump’s rage is the play’s rage; Stump is forced into martial violence but manages to never lose his magnified humanity.

The Bear appears and takes Hyland’s paper!

Julie Simon (Oregon Shakespeare Festival) – Interpreting Shakespeare: Literal versus Figurative Translation

Simon begins her presentation with a message of congratulations for the American Shakespeare Center on their recent receipt of a grant for research on sign language interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays. Simon then segues into her paper, introducing her background as a sign language interpretation and foregrounding her interest in translating Shakespeare’s language into American Sign Language.

She introduces four challenges to sign language translation. First, implcit vs. explicit language. Here, Simon argues that an interpreter must know all possible readings and meanings of phrases, concepts, and words and then make clear choices in the moment of interpretation to get the emssage across to the audience. She mentions that American Sign language relies heavily on active voice while the English spoken language makes heavy use of passive voice, especially when a speaker wishes to conceal who is doing the action. Further, Simon notes that an ASL interpreter can sign two phrases simulataneously, one with each hand, while spoken English is a linear language.  She points up the inherent difficulty in signing comedy, in which an interpreter must not give away so much information as to get to the punchline before hte end of the joke.

Now, Simon turns to the notion of sign selection. She describes choices made regarding concepts of money. A character of high social status might indicate that they have a lot of money by signing a bag of money, which a lower status character might sign a coin or two in their hand. In this way, the sign itself adds layers of meaning for a deaf audience that enrich the world of the play.

Simon’s third point relates to humor in translation, especially with regard to double entendre and bawdy language in Shakespeare’s text. She points out that many signs for bodily functions may actually be readable to all audience members and not only those who know sign language and the audience laughs with recognition at this complication. Simon also discusses the challenges posed by double casting and “twinning” in Shakespeare’s texts, indicating the challenge posed to interpreters in keeping everyone straight.

Simon then moves to an exploration of prose versus verse. She mentions that it is possible to show meter and rhyme in sign language with repeated gestures, though the specific beat count cannot be performed without sacrificing meaning. Simon also calls attention to the particular needs of a deaf audience, who need both a clear view of the stage and the interpreter.

To help interpreters, Simon suggests providing interpreters with accurate copies of the play’s text and inviting them into rehearsal as early as possible. She further reinforces that interpreters share the same goals as directors and actors: to make plays understandable and enjoyable to the largest audience possible.

Gretchen Minton (Montana State University) – ‘A Quant Piece of Beauty’: Dressing Up Gloriana’s Skull

Minton begins her paper reminding us of the scene in The Revenger’s Tragedy in which Vindici uses the skull of his dead fiancé to enact his revenge. Minton draws a comparison between Vindici and Hamlet, likely both played by Burbage on the early modern stage, stating that we read Vindici as already dead when the play begins.

Minton now reminds us that the stage directions in The Revenger’s Tragedy indicate that the skull is ‘wrapped up in tires’ and also at one point, enters masked. Minton questions how possible it might be that this skull might be mistaken for and/or read as a beautiful (presumably alive) courtesan. Minton refers to a moment in the text in which the skull is referred to as a “quaint piece of beauty” in consideration of the aesthetic quality of stage props, even the grotesque ones.

Now, Minton calls on actor Jessica Lefkow to demonstrate. Lefkow and Bellinger enact a portion of the text, using Minton’s skull prop. This skull wears a mask that suggests skin, has long flowing auburn hair, and a blank cloak that covers Bellinger’s arm. Bellinger removes the mask and wig from the skull’s “face” and an audible gasp courses through Blackfriars. This unmasking reveals a rotted skull, which Bellinger touches tenderly throughout the scene. This unmasked skull lends special resonance to the lines regarding hiding madness “in clothes.” At times, Bellinger strokes the skull gently and concludes the speech by re-masking the skull as well.

Minton discusses the historical difficulties in staging this skull “wrapped in tires.” She discusses ways in which famous productions work to ’embody’ Gloriana, including using an actor’s own legs or a beheaded teddy bear to stand-in for the missing body. Minton asks us to consider what the staging of this skull signifies for an audience and the larger resonance in the space of theatrical performance itself. As Minton indicates, Vindici gives the skull an identity and a memory by dressing it up and endowing it with gendered trappings. Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy foregrounds a theatrical property much in the way theatre itself uses objects to conjure collective memory, making “a thing of no thing.”

And that’s a wrap for another glorious session of Shakespearean scholarship. It has been a true pleasure to blog this session and I hope you will continue to join us for the rest of the conference. Keep reading!

-Molly (@moxymolly)

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Keynote #3: Gina Bloom

Hello, everyone! I’m Cass Morris, back on the blog for our third keynote session from 10:30am-11:30am on this sunny Friday morning.

Gina Bloom, University of California – Davis
Every Body Can Act: Reclaiming Histrionic Gesture through the Digital Theatre Game Play the Knave

Sarah Enloe introduces our next keynote speaker, Gina Bloom. She begins by noting that facility of language is common in this room, yet many of us still have some trouble with technological terms. She then rattles off a list of jargon far too quickly for this humble blogger to keep up with. “We need some help with all of that. Fortunately for us, there are people like Gina Bloom” who can connect the world of early modern drama with the world of modern technology, as well as connecting theatrical and academic organizations.

Bloom has been at UC-Davis since 2007, focusing not only on technology but on gender studies and sound studies, among other topics. Enloe shares a list of Bloom’s august publications, as well as noting that she is responsible for “expanding the digital canon” through the Luminary project. “Bringing worlds together in promising and thrilling ways.”

Enloe then passes off to Bloom.

Bloom begins by thanking Enloe and Cohen for bringing her to the OCS and to the whole technology team for helping her to get her “post-late-modern technology to work in this early modern theatre”. She cautions us all that if the technology is testy today, it’s because “it’s unhappy. Computers have emotions,” and this program has been moved around and demonstrated at many different locations, and is expressing displeasure at its tumultuous life.

Bloom is here to discuss and demonstrate a video game called “Play the Knave” being developed at UC-Davis: a Shakespeare simulator game, where the player is performing in a Shakepseare game. She describes it as a mixture of “karaoke and machinima”. Players can choose their characters, plays, the theatre they want to perform in (early modern and modern). When all of the components are set up, they perform their scene karaoke style. But there’s a twist — it’s not just karaoke, but motion-capture karaoke. The player’s own gestures inform how the avatar moves.

Bloom notes that the experiment is interesting because the avatars are always inhabiting a model of a theatrical space and because the game is generally played with an audience (similar to Guitar Hero or other musical performance games). “When people play, they tend to gather a crowd around them” — and that crowd watches both the digital and the analog performances. The motion-capture technology and the code written for it rewards players who use large “histrionic” gestures. “Although not all players think about gesturing… the ones who are ready to gesture, they inevitably end up using these exaggerated, big motions, that interestingly recall the declamatory style developed by ancient rhetoricians.” She notes that this happens regardless of the player’s experience with acting — both novices and professionals — so it’s less the player’s training that produces this style of acting, but rather the digital machine. As such, players feel like they’re puppeteering the avatar, but the digital machine is also puppeteering the player, getting a certain kind of performance out of them.

Bloom introduces actors who will play the game for us — but will first perform as they would in any theatre, to get a sense of the difference between the acting style that is more natural and the acting style that the game produces. OCS Dangerous Dreams actors Zoe Speas and Josh Innerst perform a scene from Hamlet, wherein Hamlet speaks to his father’s ghost.

Before having the actors do the scene a second time, through the game, she notes that while they have not done this scene before, they have played the game to get a sense of its operation — but that in doing so, they proved her point! Bloom also notes that they are adding new theatrical spaces from participating organizations, such that actors at the Stratford Festival were able to play the game with their own spaces.

(Encountering some difficulties with the program running in Windows 8, Bloom jokes that, “The real problem here is that all of us are Mac users”)

Prepping us for the scene, Bloom states that “Coarse exhibitionism gets a better response from the game.” She wants to examine what is digital about that declamatory acting style and what might be significant for theatre history in exploring that inherent digitality of bodily motion. Declamatory acting has gotten “a bad rap” — and Bloom relates this to the derogatory comments made in modern society about emoticons and emoji. (We’re unable to get the tech to cooperate, but Speas and Innerst testify to what Bloom says regarding the necessity of large gestures to get a good response from the avatar.) She presents a picture of a 1644 gestural language next to a field of emoji — and the two are remarkably similar.

Bloom moves to discussing how the system actually works: the Kinect sends out infrared dots, which the player’s body interrupts. The software then translates this information into “discrete and stable datapoints”, reconstructing what the camera thinks is the skeleton of the player’s body. The skeleton then drives the movement of the avatar. “Precision is largely a function of the granularity of the data”. She notes that the Kinect works well for the public playing aspect of the game. The information is not quite as precise when it comes to nuances of gesture, but does not require multiple cameras or for the player to put on a suit of reflective markers in order to play — a trade-off they considered worth it. To get the full-body capture, they have to forego smaller elements like the hands and the face.

Bloom notes that this challenges an assumption of modern acting regarding the importance of the face as a locus for emotions. She relates her discoveries via the game to other early modern and modern theories of movement and action in acting. She comments on Hamlet’s advice to the players — and Innerst provides a humorous moment in making the same gesture for “saw the air thus” as he had attempted when trying to get the game to pick up his form for the screen. Bloom points out that Hamlet’s advice advocates subtlety over declamatory style. The latter, connected to the rhetoric that might have been learned in the classroom, might have been more accessible and efficient for the younger boy actors — thus connecting it with an amateurism. Bloom suggests that Hamlet’s comments might have been calling upon common criticisms of that style, particularly in light of a professional company looking down its nose at less experienced players.

Bloom connects this to the modern idea that while singing and dancing are social activities, acting is still considered something best left to the professionals. Few people put on Shakespeare in their living rooms — though she jokes that this might not be true in this room. There are no theatrical motion-capture games the way there are games for singing, dancing, and playing instruments. She suggests this is because we now consider acting as something that can’t be done without refinement through training.

The game, she notes, often makes tragedy funny — emotions tend to slip into a comedic mode. She thinks this is because calling attention to the emotions as codified feels like an ironic move. Bloom posits the question: if “we should be encouraging everyone to perform Shakespeare if the result is countless bad productions?” She comments on the phenomenon of YouTube Shakespeare, which may corroborate those fears. Digitality has the potential to democratize acting, but it can also threaten to reinforce a generalzed view of acting and emotions. She hopes that Play the Knave might mitigate that by adding context to the digital-visual elements. Players’ gestures are digital artifacts, but not only digital — spectators get a unique experience of the declamatory style because they watch both the digital and analog performances. Bloom thinks this may help participants understand the historical importance of gestural acting even while they are laughing at what they produce through the game.

She returns to Hamlet’s critique of the declamatory style: “Such a snob, that Hamlet.” Bloom thinks his comments indicate that “naturalistic” acting, requiring training, reduces the diversity of bodies on stage. Play the Knave’s digital components may distill and even erase differences between playing bodies, but the analog components can remain diverse.

Bloom concludes by stating, “Perhaps there is something to be gained if we sometimes take Shakespeare performance a little less seriously.”

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Colloquy Session XIII: Magic in the Early Modern Stage

Merlyn Q. Sell here, blogging Colloquy Session XIII: Magic in the Early Modern Stage from the fourth floor of Staunton’s Masonic Building.  This session runs from 9:00am to 10:15am.   The session is chaired by Annalisa Castaldo and the presenters are Jim Casey, Michelle Danner, Brittany Proudfoot-Ginder, Patrick Harris, and Stephanie Howieson.

The session starts with a recap of the presenters work.  Castaldo is interested in the intersection of magic and gender, specifically in Macbeth.  Castaldo has identified some links between the presenters works, focusing on how magic may destabilize or disrupt gender, how magic might be staged, both in early modern playhouses and today, the importance of the magic book on stage, and finally how magic and the magical differ onstage.  Proudfoot-Ginder is joining us via Skype.  Her work is also concerned with magic and gender, specifically how magic performed by women is viewed as black magic as opposed to the beneficent magic of men.  Harris’ work is focused on the role of literacy and education is perceived as a stepping stone to magic in early modern works.  Howieson is interested in the impact of religion on an early modern audience’s perception and fear of stage magic and how modern productions can stage magic in ways that inspire a similar fear in their audience.  Danner’s paper is focused on Cassius in Julius Caesar and the possibility of Cassius as a Sybil character.  Casey is looking at the doubling of fairies and mechanicals in Midsummer Night’s Dream and how playing the supernatural and transformative nature of the fairies can set off the mechanicals inability to transform as actors.

The conversation begins with Danner and Proudfoot-Ginder discussing the disruption of gender through magic.  Proudfoot-Ginder points out that the typical staging of the witches in Macbeth and Prospero in The Tempest provide a visual example of the gender divide.  While the witches are usually embodied with a hunched posture seeming to pull their power from primal, natural forces, Prospero is frequently seen standing quite erect with his power coming from his education and magic books.  Danner has been looking at the possibilities of Cassius in Julius Caesar as having shifting gender throughout the play.  Danner notes how this staging choice can complement the two extremes of femininity that exist in Portia and Calpurnia.  Castaldo troubles the idea of Prospero as a mOCSuline beneficent magician and points out that the text does frequently feminize Prospero via his relationship to Miranda and the background of his power being not only his magic book but also his female precursor.

Castaldo invites Howieson to speak to the idea of how gender might influence her investigation of how modern productions can stage the terror of magic.  Howieson points out that at the time Macbeth was written views towards magic were shifting from one of good and bad magic as opposing forces to one where all magic was black magic.  Harris adds that Dr. Faustus and The Tempest can function as a late morality play with the moral being “don’t practice magic”.  Casey wonders if early modern audiences would have shared that view as Prospero gains from his magic.  Harris points out that Prospero has to abjure his magic in order to resume his place in the world outside of the island and that it is through his obsession with magic that Prospero is initially banished.  Harris believes that perceived magicians had a very precarious position within early modern society as it was a slippery slope to damnation.

Castaldo points out that the conversation began with gender and magic and that the conversation becomes complicated by the introduction of a third concept, morality.  How might morality intersect with gender and magic?  Proudfoot-Ginder believes morality is an important element in the relationship between gender and magic as early modern women were considered closer to sin.  However, Proudfoot-Ginder admits this connection is disrupted, or at least complicated, by characters such as Puck and Ariel that are gender-fluid.  Casey points out that in the text and in early modern performance these characters were not gender-fluid, they were specifically mOCSuline.  Castaldo wonders if the casting of a boy actor in these roles wouldn’t have made these characters gender-fluid for the original audience.  Harris troubles the idea of assigning gender at all to some characters, specifically Ariel and the Weird Sisters.  Harris adds that in the case of the Weird Sisters the text links the characters to the Fates, who are female, but at the same time the text assigns them beards and Macbeth himself has difficulty parsing gender.  Howieson also points out that some of these elements may have been coincidental when the texts were written.  Shakespeare wrote to a specific company of actors and had to deal with the actor bodies they presented on stage.

Moving towards a discussion of the magical versus actual magic, Danner points out that in plays such as Julius Caesar, magic exists in the world of the play and it influences that world and characters even if nothing we identify as magical occurs on stage.  Casey asks if the supernatural and magic are the same.  Harris says no, but that they are a part of the same occult world.  An audience member further troubles the boundary between the supernatural and the unnatural.  Definition of these terms seem to be key to understanding these concepts.  Howieson points out that for the early modern population there was no supernatural.  The magical and the occult were considered a part of the natural world.

Castaldo brings up Hermione’s waking in the end of The Winter’s Tale.  The moment is always magical but staging choices can make it a product of actual magic or not.  Howieson also points out the stage direction requiring music at that moment and that there is a precedent in Shakespeare’s work for music to invoke magic.  Harris and Castillo discuss the possible intersections but also disagreements between Hermione’s supposed death and the potion that puts Juliet in a state that appears as death.  From the audience, Terry Southerington points out that this differentiation between magic and the magical was unlikely to be perceived by an early modern audience that accepted magic as science.  Howieson ties this idea back to the gender question earlier, by pointing out that male magicians are typically seen as in control of their magic while it would have been believed that female magicians can’t hold magical power themselves but must be under the sway of Satan.

The panel turns their attention to Prospero specifically and how murky his power really is.  How much power does he wield and how much is due solely to Ariel and the other magical inhabitants of the island?  Castaldo points out that the text is not clear about the nature of the island and its inhabitants in the first place.  Are the island’s inhabitants naturally magical?  Or is it Prospero’s (and previously, one assumes, Sycorax’s) power that imbues the inhabitants with magic?  As the panel continues to unpack all the possible sources of Prospero’s magic, Harris points out that while Prospero’s magic books are discussed the text does not require they be seen onstage.  This, plus our understanding of early modern views on magic, make it seem to Harris that magic can be learned and once learned practiced at will.  The magic books provide the knowledge but are not in and of themselves magical.  This view ties magic indelibly to literacy.  This view is troubled further by Rafe and Robin who are able to summon Mephistopheles without being able to accurately read and interpret Faustus’ magic book.  Harris points out a distinction between magicians who obtain their power via learning whereas witches receive their power through a pact with Satan.  Faustus is a problem then in how he crosses those boundaries.

Closing with a discussion of examples of effective magic onstage, there’s a great deal of debate as to what constitutes magic for each person as an audience member.  The panel does seem to agree that the one required element is the actors’ investment in the belief of the magic.  Audience member Renee Thornton Jr. hints that audiences may see the fruits of this panel onstage this coming actor’s renaissance season at the American Shakespeare Center.

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Colloquy Session XIV

Morning! Whitney Egbert again live blogging from Colloquy Session XIV on Political Wisdom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Antony and Cleopatra, The Winter’s Tale, and 1 Henry VI. The session is running from 9:00 to 10:15 in the Augusta Room at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel.

A small change to the schedule with one presenter being absent – this morning we will hear from Bernard Dobski, John Presnall, Dustin Gish, with additional thoughts from William “Reg” Rampone.  Gish will also be our chair.

Dobski starts us out with 1H6 and the presentation of Joan of Arc.  He is interested in the claims that she can produce the results she does on politics and military without any previous involvement.  He asks “What is the proper or legitimate claim to rule?  Or is there no legitimate rule and is just whoever can win?  Or is the only legitimate rule the one where the people put them there?”  He explores this in three steps: 1) the bodily needs – our own and those of others; 2) Joan has a relationship between body and soul that allows her to manipulate/dominate over the men; and 3) as good as her understanding is, it is incomplete, especially in her understanding of how her sexual politics might effect her results.

Presnall discusses Antony and Cleopatra, the sunset of our last true republic.  He explores the role of speech and the sense of common good and points out that a lot of the text for the leaders of the world at that point seem to have set aside the concept of common good.  Presnall points out that no one seems to want to talk about killing others and ignore the need for advancement – there is a divergence between what they speak about and what needs to be done and so we turn to a love story instead.  That leads to a diminishment of the life politic in lieu of the life erotic in, if none others, Antony’s world.  He ponders, as a note, if this play shows the early sense of the new world to emerge into Christianity as the next thing to emerge after all of what is now, in the play, finishes its sunset.

Gish dives into The Winters Tale and the idea of tyranny, mentioned more in this play than any other excepting Macbeth, the sense of justice that comes up, especially in the second half, and finally the Oracle, again mentioned more here than in other shows.  He also points out the connection between this and other great works – the sense of Eros as in The Symposium and Plato’s The Republic; likewise the Oracle’s most famous advice of “know thyself,” with Leontes does not do but Socrates did abide by.  Gish, going back to his points of tyranny and justice, says that Leontes is not really driven by the jealousy he feels but the anger that jealousy creates.  Camillo and Paulina both site changes in the king in their text that indicate changes in his true person.  He is changed by the calming of his soul as his faith is reawakened.  Gish proposes that Leontes is, across the play, a passionate man who never goes from that but that it changes – anger at the first, despair and grief, and finally passion and joy and that it is Paulina who helps him transition through them, moderating his Eros.

We return to Dobski and Joan – he clarifies that Joan’s manipulation might come from her understanding and awareness of men’s pride and sense of wanting to excel but that she seems to give too much too quickly so she loses everything.  He sites the taking and losing of both Rohen and Orleans.  Rampone jumps in and points out that the men are also using Joan.  Dobski agrees but says that he doesn’t think, in this play, that Joan thinks she is divinely inspired but that instead she is smarter than the men and she knows she needs something to get the power. That plays into the English opinion of the French at the time the play was written (a woman is smarter than your king!) and she is portrayed as complicated rather than just a fop as the French are portrayed in Henry V.  Her real counter in the play is Talbot and that ends in a draw.  She is not the typical portrayal of a French person nor of a woman, even a strong woman, in Shakespeare.

Gish asks Dobski and Presnall to define what they mean by Eros in each of the plays so that we ensure that everyone in the room is on the same page.  An interesting discussion between the three about the dichotomy between love and politics in each of these three plays ensues – drawing the similarities but also how love is different in each, how each play highlights a different type of the Eros.

Rampone asks Gish about the psychology behind the jealousy of Leontes in The Winters Tale.  Gish responds that he hasn’t really looked at it in the modern sense of things but used Aristotle’s sense around the time, which is how he got to anger.  There is not, then, a sense of love in marriages as we currently define it, so when it comes up, it gets turned to anger and therefore, as Presnall adds, to the treason that Hermione is actually accused of in the court.

The discussion continues, jumping from a sense of male/female, god/goddess to a longer conversation about whether the final moment in The Winters Tale and whether it is a miracle or theatrical.  It got lively and passionate!  A great discussion over how could Paulina know that her name is Perdita and could she have orchestrated it all.  Paulina is a great point of interest in the group.

Dobski then swings the conversation to Antony and Cleopatra before we see the show this evening, asking Presnall about the suicide.  There is a break in the room between those who think Cleopatra is egocentric and those who think she is attempting to preserve her empire, whether for herself and her memory or for her son.

An auditor draws a connection between all three plays, saying they are all about “what’s worth living for” and then “what makes a good ruler.”  The ideas that what do the characters in each of these plays fight for and what are the characteristics that work and fail in the leadership.  And what is honor and virtue.

This was a truly lovely discussion.

-Whitney Egbert

The Shakespeare Forum

Colloquy XV: Mediating Music in Middleton’s The Witch

Hello everyone – Liz here again to blog for Colloquy XV: Mediating Music in Middleton’s The Witch in Masonic Muilding – Blue Room. This live blogging session runs from nine to ten fifteen in the morning.The chair for this session is Linda Austen from Northwestern University. The presenters are Katherine Brokaw from the University of California, MercedScott A.  Trudell of the University of Maryland, College ParkSarah Williams of the University of South CarolinaAmanda Winkler of Syracuse University, and Jennifer Wood of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Austen thanks the attendees for their presence and turns the floor over to Trudell.

Trudell explains that this session focuses on the mediation of a song in performance within the text. He also explains his fOCSination with media transformations that adapt and re-imagine that bring us closer to the original performance of the song. Trudell is part of a project to create an open-source internet media to interface with to hear early modern songs. This project hopes to give archival and historical contexts for lyrics. Trudell and his team want to avoid giving the impression of original musical representations. Trudell explains that songs existed in variants, rather than one authorial version. Through this project, Trudell hopes that teachers and theatre practitioners can find, hear, and download songs for research and performance.

Trudell then gives an example of lyrics in Middleton’s work and explains different ways to view the lyrics. First, one may look at the meter of the song. One may also choose to speak the lyrics. Then, he brings the lyrics into the context of a larger song within the scene with Hecate and her followers singing. Trudell shows some early prints of the play, including a 1778 edition that has the voices “in the air.” He explains that the song itself was first printed in 1774 which numbers the voices, rather than assigning the lyric lines to characters. Middleton’s song appears, in part, in print, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth in 1623. In 1625, the song also appears in print from scribe Richard Cane, which is attributed to Robert Jonson from the 1620s. Trudell hopes that his interface will allow users access to more modern versions of the musical score and to link to other sites that would elaborate on the performance and images of early modern witches. He states that many current links online to recordings of early modern music is of poor quality. His project hopes to work with collaborators to provide cleaner recordings. He hopes practitioners will be able to use this interface to include early modern music in their performances.

Austen then takes the stage to talk about reproduction of early modern music in today’s theatre. Music, in early modern drama, acted on the body it found to change its emotions. Austen shows an image of a recreation of the Blackfriars Theater with a third floor known as the music house. She then shows a photo of our own Blackfriars Theater. She points out a version of The Witch with the stage direction [Music] to indicate music would start before the lyrics to the song begin. She then shows a photo of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in London to illustrate another location where performance of music can occur.

Austen moves on to a photo of musical notation in a songbook for the song from The Witch. She explains that this print would be for home usage and allows little room for harmony and chords. She shows a modern notation of the song and explains that modern musicians have to fill in the gaps left by early modern song books. She gives a list of all musical instruments called for by name in the second Blackfriars Playhouse. She divides these into loud and soft instruments, and explains that only the loud band instruments would be used for this scene. The introduces the violin family, associated with May Pole dances and disreputable spaces and performers. She likens violins to saxophones today. She explains that images of cats playing the fiddle abounded, rather than witches playing the fiddle. Then, she shows pictures cornettis and sackbuts with their brass and woodwind-esque sound and explains that they would be versatile. There is debate as to which voices would accompany these instruments.

Williams then takes the floor to speak on witches on the stage. England in the early modern period was less concerned with demonic possession and more concerned with misdemeanors and disruptive behavior. Middleton based his portrayal of witches heavily on The Discovery of Witchcraft. The broadside ballad trade assisted in the spread of stories of witches in a performative manner. Witches were described as hybrid creatures, half-man and half-beast, which Williams illustrates with a woodcut. Boys would play the attendants of witches and men would play the grotesque witches. She points to several textual examples of the grotesque features of witches in literature. Several Jacobean witches sing and dance, as expressed in several texts and illustrated in several woodcuts. The witches’ world was see as similar to our own, but backwards, which Williams illustrates with textual examples.

The seventeenth century illustrated hags onstage through song and dance within the bounds of the century’s language. The dance music would be rustic and abound with language reminding the audience of the bad intentions of the witches. She then introduces the first performance, informed by these evidences. The actors, including Trudell, Austen, and Josh Williams – a Mary Baldwin graduate student -, Wood, and Brokaw perform the scene, accompanied by Williams on the piano.

Brokaw explains her experience as a professor and a theatre practitioner. She talks about directing The Winter’s Tale at Merced last February. She decided to set the first three acts in the 1950s. Then, she had acts four and five take place in the 1970s. She explains her options for the music composition with the possibility of collaborating with a composer to create the music for the show. The Royal Shakespeare Company in 2013 commissioned an indie songwriter to compose music for their performance. Brokaw soon realized that she did not have all of the RSC’s resources at her disposal and could not compose new works. She explains that she finally decided to incorporate modern songs into the play. She also decided to add more music where the text does not indicate music. For example, she had Hermoine and Perdita sing Blackbird at the end of the play as the reunited family looked on at a 1950s portrait of Mamilius. She states that this began a conversation within the community on music on the early modern stage. She shares that this experience allowed non-academic theatre-goers to ask about her scholarship and research. Brokaw explains that she could also have placed Shakespeare’s lyrics into a 1950s and 1970s musical score.

She then introduces the next performance, where this final option is utilized. The performance will use the original lyrics, but will incorporate the tune of a Frank Sinatra song, performed by Wood and Winkler.

Winkler takes the stage to say that working on the edge of scholarship and practice has allowed her to research in a very different way. She states that performing Hecate allows her to experiment with different versions of Hecate, including an option that allows her to emphasize Hecate’s incestuous qualities. She explains that the original text allows for the actor to infuse the song with dramatic choices that can alter the audience’s views on Hecate. She points out that everyone has an imagined version of the song from reading the text. But these imagined versions cannot all appear on the stage at once.

Winkler speaks that the witches in Middleton’s play sip on blood before singing and that by placing the lyrics within the tune of Sinatra’s song gives a shadow of Sinatra’s presence over the witches’ grotesque presence. She states that she hopes to start a dialogue on whether theatre practitioners should adhere to early modern lyrics and music or experiment with contemporary music.

A scholar asks if many audience members were upset by the use of modern songs in The Winter’s Tale, citing that many of her students were curious about the OCS’s use of modern music in the performance. Brokaw questions if we are excising anything by incorporating contemporary songs, but she also states that she feels that lyrics are easier to alter or switch out than the words themselves. Austen mentions that many times she experienced shocked theatre practitioners who did not realize that there were early modern versions of songs within the texts. Trudell speaks that the OCS’s Winter’s Tale did not use any early modern music. He acknowledges this worked very well, but he also calls for greater experimentation with early modern music and ballads.

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Colloquy VIII: Practical Rhetoric

How can rhetoric help students?  How can actors use it?  Colloquy Chair Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager with the American Shakespeare Center introduced the session’s format as a conversation, as she put it, rather than that of a lecture, and she then had the presenters seated around the meeting room table introduce themselves and state exactly what it is that they do with rhetoric.  Tom Delise with the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory teaches his students fifteen rhetorical devices to help them in their acting.  Marshall Garrett, Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare & Performance MFA candidate mentioned how his thesis on “Measure for Measure” focused on rhetoric, and stated that he is interested in helping actors who are not familiar with rhetoric to be aware of it and be able to work with it.  Sign language interpreter Lindsey D. Snyder of Gallaudet University said she is interested in making rhetoric understandable for the hearing-impaired.  Annette Drew-Bear teaches Shakespeare courses at Washington and Jefferson College, and she said she wants to discover more effective teaching techniques, including ways to improve her students’ assignments.  The other presenters included Collin Bjork with Indiana University, Scott Crider with the University of Dallas, and Kathleen Quinlan, English Teacher with Stonewall Jackson High School.  

The Chair then talked of methodology and strategies in rehearsal and in the classroom.  Delise distributed around the room his “Rhetorical Devices Worksheet,” explaining that he gives this to his students/actors to help them prepare for a role.  The worksheet calls upon the student to name the rhetorical device, give an example of it from the text, and then asks the question, “How Can It Inform an Acting Choice?  What Questions Does It Raise?”  Garrett discussed his work on “Measure for Measure.”  He said he discovered that the flow of rhetoric in Shakespeare’s play reveals that the prison characters use almost no rhetorical devices at all, while by contrast, the character of Isabella uses rhetoric to render her antagonist Angelo speechless.

The Chair next proceeded to the topic of Dramatization of Rhetoric, mentioning that Crider’s paper in particular explored the “performativity” (performance conventions and audience perceptions) of rhetorical devices.  Some of these, such as “epizeuxis,” or the immediate repetition of a word, are definite cues for the actor.  Snyder demonstrated through signing how different words and expressions utilize different hand signs.  She also discussed how the meaning and the meter of the verse are affected by the actor’s breathing.  Crider asked the sign-language interpreter if she had worked in gesture and if so, how it relates to Early Modern acting.  Gesture, Snyder replied, didn’t appear in print until sometime in the mid-1600’s.  There is some documentation which still exists today, she added, but there is not much writing on how it was used on the stage.  She suggested that some actors were not as declarative as we now believe they were, and that the practice of using gesture became more established over time.  Snyder continued on a related subject, stating that physical training and classroom training should not be separate and distinct from one another.  Instead, rhetorical instruction should synthesize both of these approaches.

Garrett discussed Shakespeare’s use in “Measure for Measure” of the rhetorical device known as “anadiplosis,” which is the repetition of a clause or sentence’s last word or phrase at the beginning of the next line, clause or sentence.   “Do we stop Angelo’s action to try to get a word in,” Garrett asked, “or do we just let him keep on going in the scene?”  Rhetorical devices can be translated into actors’ actions as well as into words and emotions, he explained, as when one character in a scene mirrors the posture of another, indicating to the audience love and attraction between two characters.  “Souls and hearts start beating together; characters start to move in tandem,” he noted.

Quinlan shared her insights as an English Teacher on the performativity of rhetoric as well.  The character of Iago in Shakespeare’s “Othello” uses a device known as “aposiopesis,” or a sudden breaking off in mid-speech, as a kind of innuendo, she explained, to imply to Othello his wife Desdemona’s fabricated infidelity.  Quinlan also discussed another kind of omission, “ellipsis,” in storytelling.  Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell Tale Heart,” she illustrated for her listeners, intentionally leaves out the names of the characters.  Her students comment on this omission in her class, remarking that the narrator refers to his antagonist/victim simply as, “The Old Man.”  The reader is left to fill in the blanks by using his or her imagination.

Garrett in addition discussed his staging for “Measure for Measure,” particularly in ways to communicate to the audience a sense of balance and also the sense of miscommunication.  Bjork then shared an anecdote from his days as an actor.  He was rehearsing a scene in which his character uses alliteration, in this case it was a repetition of ‘f” sounds.  His director explained to him that the rhetorical device informs the actor’s face in performance.  The director told the actor, “You are making a kissy-face!”  Bjork said the repeated ‘f’ sounds in his character’s language was his cue to pucker up to his lady scene partner.

The Chair then asked her presenters the question, How does rhetoric figure in writing and composition?  Crider mentioned that rhetoric helps his students in their composition, and that learning rhetoric develops them into better readers of Shakespeare and in general.  Morris next asked, “Students may learn the correct term, but how can an actor use it onstage?”  The Chair proceeded to describe as an example of practical rhetoric, how emphasis on rhetorical usage in OCS’s leadership workshop helps workshop participants, who have included leaders in the business community as well as in politics, become more persuasive leaders through its use.

The Chair opened up the floor to “gallery” questions shortly before the session concluded.  Lia Wallace, OCS Educator, talked of how she taught rhetorical devices to younger kids, such as “anthimeria,” or nouns as verbs.  Wallace remarked how younger children are able to learn rhetorical devices and their names with great facility because they haven’t yet learned from cultural bias that it is supposed to be so “hard.”

Morris admitted to the colloquy’s attendees that what it is she needs to know now is what is the “next step” in the practice of rhetoric as she brought the session to its conclusion.

–Bill Leavy