Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Paper Session #1

Hello!  Whitney Egbert here, liveblogging our first paper session of the 2013 Blackfriars Conference from 1:00pm to 2:15pm.  The session is being moderated by Herb Weil from the University of Manitoba, with help from OCS actors John Harrell, Chris Johnston, and Tim Sailer.

Kara Northway, Kansas State University
“[M]y spirit is moved, the fire is kindled, and I must speake”: Nathan Field’s Epistolary Defense of the Vocation of Player

Northway will be discussing Field’s life off the stage and his letter known as The Remonsterance, and his argument with Sutton.

In this epistolary defense, Field refers to his profession as an actor as “my poor talent,” acting as “harmless matters of delight,” and rebuts the arguments from clergyman Sutton against the deeds of actors in that what they do is from their god given talent.

A fun quote from Field –  “you waited very low in your hatred of us.”

Field asserted that a sermon was meant to be the winning of souls not demoralizing as Sutton was doing – Field then said that his point was that there are “faults in all professions.” Oh isn’t that the truth!

Northway closes with points about the fact that letters could get similar publicity to poetry through manuscript circles, which seems an interesting point to me and one that might be interesting to learn more about.

Lindsey Snyder, Gallaudet University
Speak Hands for Me: Why Shakespeare Scholars, Educators, and Performers Need American Sign Language

Snyder’s work at Gallaudet, a school for the deaf, and her paper is about the work and how teaching Shakespeare to deaf students is different from teaching hearing students.  Snyder talks about how all the work starts with translation as everything has to be translated into American Sign Language (ASL).  Snyder talks about the difference in her classes – starting with a voice class won’t work; tension is held in her students around making sound so getting them to even make a sigh can be difficult.  The idea of the gallop can be hard for students to understand – their rhythm is different than ours.  But ASL brings in the idea of hold and release – two sit (one tap of fingers on the other hand) in a chair (two taps) always has a hold between.

Snyder talks about some productions – a production of Richard 3 where Richard was deaf and Anne was hearing which created a beautiful landscape of hold and release; a Hamlet production directed by deaf students where the ghost was a projection on the back wall of just hands (AMAZING!!)

UH OH … THE THUNDER!!  Snyder is going to skip ahead for times sake …

Snyder is directing an upcoming production of Richard 3; from that she and John Harrell perform one of the monologues, Snyder using the ASL translation she has created.  The visuals are beautiful.

Snyder wants to encourage future research into how the relationship with ASL can further the rest of our work.  I am particularly intrigued by the difference in tension and the idea of hold and release.

ADDENDUM: A question was asked after all the papers had been presented about how breathe plays into Snyder’s work – she spoke to her own work in translating during a performance.  Snyder’s relationship with the OCS has allowed her to get to know many of the actors so that she can fall into their breathing rhythm, use some of their gestures, etc.  Working elsewhere can be harder as the breath does matter to allowing her to live in the same space and time as the actors.

Ben Curns, American Shakespeare Center

Richard: Portrait of a Serial Killer

Curns is going to discuss his research as he prepared to play Richard in Richard 3, specifically the characteristics that have been connected to serial killers.

The first characteristic Curns discusses is fetal brain injury which Curns believes that Shakespeare establishes through the Duchess of York as she describes his birth.

Second characteristic – the upbringing with his parents – York loves to tell everyone that they are the rightful bloodline to the monarchy and when Richard kills, he gets his fathers praise and love.  Richard also learns from his father that women (like Joan de Pucel who York kills) are not to be trusted.  And then there is the isolation – many serial killers (and their mothers) have talked about how they were set apart from the start from other children or siblings.

Third characteristic – fantasy – as Richard watches Edward marry Elizabeth Woodville, he then turns to imagining winning the crown.

Curns believes that Richard does not kill Anne or the princes in the tower to secure his crown but rather because he is addicted to killing.

The final characteristic is fetishes – Curns believes (but does not want to spend much time elaborating on) that Richard exhibits signs of fetishes with both stabbing and necrosatism.

ADDENDUM – A question was asked of Curns after all the papers were through about how some of these factors played out in performance for him.  Curns spoke about how in the scene with Lady Anne, Richard is, as many serial killers do, returning to his greatest crime, the killing of Henry VI, and so feels, in that scene, more mOCSuline, more sexually aroused than any other time in the play. It certainly creates a stronger reason for Richard to approach Anne then than at any other time.

Darlene Farabee, University of South Dakota
My Kingdom for a Boat

Farabee is discussing “The Poor Man’s Comfort” (by Robert Daborne) and how the nautical language used in so many of the plays at the time changes the meaning and setting.  It would, as Farabee points out, require actors and an audience that are knowledgable about the nautical terms and their multiple meanings

Harrell, Johnston and Sailer join us for a scene – made all the better by Johnston’s donning of a skirt and a lady’s demeanor. At least for a moment.

I missed who said it but Farabee quotes that audience members come to the theatre ready for a voyage – I really love that thought.

Sarah Werner, Folger Shakespeare Library


Werner will be discussing how fragments of performances are now being used to teach and discuss productions and what we might be losing from that usage.

Going from reading to performance can be hard enough – from your own imagining to someone else’s vision of it – but to then take a performance and chop it up, you lose so much more – “it leaves the text whole” but it simplifies the presentation.  Werner also makes the point that the more we allow this, the more we will lose the productions that are possible; the more we ignore the problem, the more we miss the patterns that are visible only through the whole production. “What damage are we doing breaking the whole into fragments?”

“Why do we prioritize the convenience of clips over the messiness of art?” – a poignant question by Werner.

Werner’s use of Harrell was delightful – he delivered a speech, and then, throughout the remainder of her presentation, he would suddenly arise and deliver a few lines of that speech or other well known speeches.  A truly wonderful example of her point.

Matt Kozusko, Ursinus College
Why Are Shakespeare’s Characters so Relatable?

 Kozusko is discussing how characters are both relatable AND “relatable.”

Since, as we all know, the language is the first hurdle – how can we say they are actually relatable?  We are seeking to understand the words, the many meanings, the deep thoughts but “we know we can all misunderstand him as well.”

In speaking about a Punchdrunk performance of Macbeth, Kozusko says that Lady Macbeth becomes “not so much relatable but related” – the performers use well known physical actions to create Lady M so what exactly are we relating to in those moments: a character? A stereotype?  Is that really relating?

Kozusco asserts that student relations with Shakespeare’s characters often times need “chaperoning” – not only because there are many selling an easy way to understand but because if we are preemptive, then bad relationships don’t get in their first.

Kozusko’s closing was a great, striking theme for us all and how I will close my blog for today: “getting Shakespeare right matters to all of us” – we might not always get it right but we sure can try.