Keynote: Ayanna Thompson

Hello everyone, and thank you for joining the OCS blog for today’s Keynote speaker today, Liz is here to blog this session from ten thirty in the morning until eleven thirty in the morning. Our Keynote speaker today is Ayanna Thompson of George Washington University. Today, she will be speaking on Reading Backwards from Morrison to Shakespeare: Desdemona/Othello. John Attig sponsors this session.

First, Sarah Enloe, OCS Director of Education, comes out and introduces our very first conference sponsor, John Attig. We thank him for all of the really cool new events. Enloe also encourages everyone to get to the Lunch and Learn at Masonic as soon as possible after the Keynote ends at eleven thirty today. She also encourages scholars to fill out some prompts from Antony and Cleopatra to help with the staging session tomorrow. Finally, she advises presenters to email their presentations to [email protected]

Next, Dr. Ralph Cohen introduces Thompson, a Professor of English at George Washington University and Trustee of the Shakespeare Association of America. He enumerates her published works, both as an author and editor, most of which focus on race and Shakespeare. These include Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America, and Colorblind Shakespeare: New Perspectives on Race and Performance. Her current focus is on two in-progress books, one of which centers on Peter Seller’s form of directing. Dr. Cohen emphasizes that Thompson brings her research and scholarship puts her findings into practice in the real world. He ends his introduction and points out the largely white audience at the conference today and stresses the need for Thompson’s work today.

Thompson thanks Dr. Cohen for “possibly the best introduction she has ever had” (a rough paraphrase) and jumps right into her speech. Thompson points to Desdemona as an empowered and empowering female character, yet also disempowered and complicit to the Moor, Othello. Most performances choose to place Desdemona on one these two poles. Thompson mentions the misogynistic tendencies in both Iago and Othello throughout the play and shares an example of Iago’s flawed logic. She then states that scholars have grappled with how to portray these tendencies to modern audiences along with how to portray Desdemona.

This talk focuses on a specific form of adaptation of Othello, that of Toni Morrison’s Desdemona. Thompson clarifies that she believes that appropriation has a more direct and pointed purpose than adaptation. She then explains that she believes that re-vision takes appropriation a step further by breaking new ground. Thompson follows this up with an introduction to several late twentieth century adaptations and re-visions of Othello, including Goodnight, Juliet, Good Morning, Desdemona and Desdemona: A Play about a Handkerchief.

Morrison and Sellars collaborated to give Desdemona a full voice in the actress Rokia Traoré, who plays Barbary. Desdemona, in this production, is enigmatic, but also beautiful. Here, Desdemona’s voice dominates the play. The original intent for this production was for Morrison and Sellars to create a companion piece to Othello to show at secondary schools.

Thompson shares a story where she talked with Sellars’ The assistant told Thompson that the production team asked her to come in based on her research and work on casting. Thompson jokingly states that when she saw what was happening, she said, “Oh shit!”

Thompson explains that Morrison wanted to create a Desdemona that was different from any Shakespearean production with a great emphasis on music because “if Othello is about vision, Desdemona is about sound.” The goal was to unbind the story from time. The play takes place after death, in a “timeless” world. Desdemona knows more after death than she did during her life. Morrison’s response in this re-vision helps the audience reconcile with the tragedy of Othello that Iago brings to the life of Desdemona and the other characters.

Thompson explains that she offers a less optimistic view on the Othello/Desdemona binary. She believes that the lack of dialogue with other feminist writings has stunted development of new re-visions of Othello. She states that she sees the play as more of an event than a play, which impacts the play’s reproducibility. In addition, Thompson questions the ultimate utility of revisiting Othello.

As a performance product, Desdemona is a great experience. She describes the mostly-bare set, with the actress Traoré playing her guitar with teenage backup singers. Thompson describes these backup singers as upbeat and “in their own… play.” The stage is black with white costumes for the performers made of Malian linen. Projections on the background translate the text into the language of the location of the play, such as French. The actress playing Desdemona plays all of the other characters, with the exceptions of Cassio, who appears as a projected voice and Barbary – whose name is revealed to be Sa’aran [sic] – played by another actress. Thompson then plays a short clip of the performance with a song by Traoré for the audience.

In Desdemona, Desdemona and Othello’s mothers speak to each other. While the two women come to no clear resolution, but do come to an understanding about the different worlds from which they come. However, they cannot connect through religion. Desdemona’s mother wants to kneel and pray for her daughter, while Othello’s mother desires to make sacrifices for her son’s death. This found understanding comes through dialogue and appears again and again.

Thompson further talks about the character of Desdemona in the production Desdemona. Desdemona is the focus of the performance. Her parents named her “misery,” but she will not be passive to the misogynistic society which she was born into. Her character is “inquisitive, forceful, and direct.” Her insights alone are more hollow and shallow than in her conversations with other characters. These engagements with other characters allow her to explore herself and others. Here, Desdemona and Emilia gain a greater understanding with each other and Desdemona moves from judgment to understanding with Emilia. Time also allows Desdemona and Othello to gain a greater understanding of each other. Othello, in Desdemona’s afterlife timeline, tells his wife of his days in the army on the field. Othello describes to Desdemona how he and Iago raped a woman with a young boy viewer. He reveals their shame from this act, but also states that the memory will live in another: that of the young viewer. While Desdemona does not forgive him, but states that she will remain committed to him.

Here, in Desdemona, “we are not simply left with tragedy.” Thompson stresses that we get the apologies we have waited years for in this production. This re-vision allows for a resolution and the concrete possibility for another world. Desdemona’s interactions with other women creates a “queer space,” particularly with Barbary. Desdemona attempts to connect with Barbary; however, Barbary does not reveal an interest in further engagement with Desdemona. Desdemona includes her own suffering with Barbary’s suffering, which invites several interpretations of the connection of the suffering between these two women, including cultural appropriation.

Thompson states that the performance mode of Desdemona does not bridge the gap between sound and vision. Here, the potentials for the play contract, rather than expand, due to this limited scope. In addition, Thompson describes Traoré as the cornerstone of this production, and points out that currently the play does not have a run outside of her. In contrast, the production changed the actress for Desdemona at one point. This text, like many other re-visions, remains insulated and does not connect with other re-visions of Othello.

Thompson further stresses that Desdemona attempts to give a voice to the absent black woman in Othello through Traoré’s portrayal of Barbary.

Thompson, in quoting a woman who did not want her husband to play Othello in a performance, states that “This play is a struggle.” She then reflects that perhaps that should be the tagline for Othello, garnering a huge laugh from the audience.

Most revisionists have turned a blind eye to the breadth of Othello re-visions, particularly female-written re-visions, who seem to resist reading other re-visions of the play. Thompson notes that there is less of an intertextual dialogue between multiple present texts and a greater focus on the past original text, the Shakespearean text, and the present text in creation by the re-visionist.

Thompson notes that Traoré often talks about her travels between Mali and France and the greater death in childbirth among her friends in Mali. She has several concerns about death, a topic which she sings about a great deal in Desdemona. Thompson wonders if the play is the proper venue for these concerns that Traoré portrays within the contexts of Shakespeare’s story. She concludes by suggesting the possibility that Othello must stay on the shelf for this purpose, in order to fully explore this voice.

Paper Session II

Hello everyone – this is Liz once again to blog for Paper Session II at the Blackfriars Playhouse. This session is full of great presentations, moderated by Mary Hill Cole of Mary Baldwin College. The presenters, in order, are Stephen Purcell of the University of Warwick with Just Who Do We Think We Are?: Some Models for Practice-as-Research in Shakespeare Studies, Nick Hutchison, a freelance director, with Is This Winning? Thoughts on The Two Noble Kinsmen in Performance, Jess Hamlet of Mary Baldwin College with Q2 Hamlet and its Neighbors, Sid Ray of Pace University with Staging Epilepsy in Othelloand Catherine Loomis of the University of New Orleans with “Sore hurt and bruised”: Visual Damage on the Early Modern Stage. Live-blogging of this session will run from two forty-five to four in the afternoon.

Mary Hill Cole introduces the panel, but it seems that one presenter is missing… She passes the question to Dr. Cohen, and the decision is made to have Stephen Purcell start off the session.

Stephen Purcell: Just Who Do We Think We Are?: Some Models for Practice-as-Research in Shakespeare Studies

Purcell begins with examples of practice as research, such as Mark Rylance’s work of performing Romeo and Juliet lines in monotone and inviting the audience to give an emotional cast upon the performance. He asserts that there seems to be a divide between the practitioner and researcher. Purcell gives the Globe recreation as a case where both practice and research can merge, particularly in how the remodel allows for an investigation of original staging practices. 

Purcell gives three different models for collaboration between the actor and researcher and suggests a fourth model. The first model is the expert and the craftsperson. This model lets the researcher overlook the research and theory, however, this method also sees the actor primarily as a skilled craftsperson. He points out that, in this model, “one of them makes through thinking and the other thinks through making.” The practitioner is the source and the researcher is the witness, in his second model. In a way, he clarifies, his second proposed method is almost the reverse of the first model. Here, theory translates to practice, rather than the other way around. He speaks about anthropological research, collaborative research together, which segues into the third method: co-examiners. In this method, the practitioner and researcher work together to explore. This method allows for an open-ended method. He then suggests a fourth method, that of an academic practitioner that is a never-ending cycle of questioning and searching for answers. Here, the practitioner and researcher are one, simultaneously practicing and researching to ask and answer questions.

Nick Hutchison: Is This Winning? Thoughts on The Two Noble Kinsmen in Performance

Hutchinson talks about working on The Two Noble Kinsmen at a university, during a season when he had the ability to do productions he normally would not be able to do. Previously, he states, much scholarship focused on who wrote which parts of this collaborative play between John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. In his production, Hutchinson wanted to focus on one authorial voice and theorized that Shakespeare relished working with Fletcher. 

Hutchinson brings out OCS actresses Allison Glenzer and Sarah Fallon to perform some segments from The Two Noble Kinsmen, in cross-gendered roles. He argues that the inconsistencies in the authorial voice are inherent in the characters, rather than “dramatically inconsistent.” He believes that these inconsistencies make the characters more human, rather than unbelievable and poorly written. 

Hutchinson then states that the women in The Two Noble Kinsmen are at the heart of the play and the two authors’ intentions. Glenzer and Fallon join Hutchinson again to perform more segments from the play, now as female characters. He speaks about the sexuality of the female characters, particularly Emilia and the Jailer’s Daughter. He speaks of the inherent sexual implications between these two women. To illustrate, Hutchinson has Glenzee and Fallon perform a scene and highlights the inherent sexuality in the dialogue. 

In contrast, he speaks of the boys’ adoration toward these women. He states that, in the end, no one is ultimately happy with their fate. Hutchinson points to the mixture of moods, comedic and tragic, in the play that reinforce the whole of the play. He expresses his hatred for the Morris dance, but then speaks of the courting dance and the “bouncing” in the woods that this portrays. This leads to the dark ending of the play. Hutchinson states that this dark ending illustrates the price of chivalry, because the characters will soon be dead. Hutchinson states when he focused on one voice in the play, rather than the inconsistencies, the true heart of the play became clear.

Jess Hamlet: Q2 Hamlet and its Neighbors

Hamlet starts with reminders that the print and book trade fell, ultimately, into the hands of the publishers. In the early 1600s, publishers judged which plays and texts appealed to patrons more. The second quarto of Hamlet, Hamlet states, appeared on the shelves of Nicholas Ling’s bookshop on Fleet Street. 

The second quarto appears in a short-title catalog on the shelf of this bookshop that worked with about six printers, two in particular more often than the rest. The short-title catalog names other Shakespearean titles surrounding the Q2 Hamlet. These were The First Part of the Contention betwixt the Two Famous Houses of York and Lancaster, Titus Andronicus,  the first quarto of Hamlet from 1603, and Henry IV. 

Hamlet suggests that, despite the similarity in authorship of Hamlet to the other Shakespearean plays, Gowrie was actually the more interesting of the surrounding books. Many similarities in the revenge plots and strong family ties solidify this assertion. She suggests that the similarities between Hamlet and Gowrie inspired reader to read both books: one as a dramatic text and another as a sort of sensational political writing. 

The first quarto of Hamlet also shared the shelf with the second quarto. This presented, in Hamlet’s words, a “unique marketing challenge.” A bookseller could market the second quarto as an elaboration of the original text. In addition, Q2 also emphasized the original authorship of the second quarto, rather than the performance nature of the first. Hamlet concludes that, without time-travel, we will never know the true story, however, we may speculate.

Sid Ray: Staging Epilepsy in Othello

Ray talks about Act IV, scene i as a sort of epilepsy. She states that Othello takes the position of the starer in this scene and wonders how this moment could bring up questions of perception for the audience, who are the “starers”of the play. 

Ray references the depiction of a falling sickness narrated in Julius Caesar. In Julius Caesar, Cassius narrates Caesar’s falling sickness and uses the narration to feminine Caesar. She states that in contrast, Othello demonstrates this epilepsy onstage. 

Here, Iago works Othello into an epileptic state. She looks at the stage directions, where the folio states that Othello “falls in a trance” versus other editions that state that he simply “falls down.” She talks about the impact of the staging of this scene where a black man writhes on the ground while a white man stands above. Ray acknowledges diagnosis studies and states that many psychologists and other professionals give their ideas on Othello’s condition, all differing in their conclusions. She points out that none of the professionals revert to the beliefs of Shakespeare’s day, which took into account cosmic goings-on and excesses of phlegm. She also talks about Iago’s medical views, through which the audience hears of Othello’s epilepsy, which she sees as dubious. Ray further explains that audiences in Shakespeare’s day believed that the mere sight of a disease passed on the disease. 

Ray then has Rene Thornton Jr. (Othello), Allison Glenzer (Iago), and Sarah Fallon (Cassio) perform this scene from Othello. Ray states that what the audience feels now, involving our history, experiences, and biases, is what the theatre of this scene is all about.

Catherine Loomis:“Sore hurt and bruised”: Visual Damage on the Early Modern Stage.

Loomis talks about visible and physical evidences of violence on the stage. She focuses on Othello, in the scene where Othello strikes his wife. 

Loomis brings Fallon (Lodovico), Glenzer (Emilia), and Thornton (Othello) to stage this scene from Othello. She talks about the use of the word “strike,” which normally shows status and authority. The character striking often has status over the stricken character. She wonders about the effect that a colored mark on Desdemona’s cheek has on an audience. 

The actors, Fallon, Glenzer, and Thornton, stage the scene again, this time with Desdemona applying makeup to indicate a mark from the strike. Loomis then previews of the next scene, where Desdemona can bear the black and blue marks of a bruise through more makeup application. She also states that a bruised Desdemona brings to mind a woman beaten to death. 

The actors then stage this next scene and Loomis points out the language that actively references the bruise from the previous strike. Glenzer and Fallon then stage a scene between Emilia and Desdemona. She asks the audience to focus on how these moments work both dramatically and thematically and the different perceptions audience members gain or lose with the visibility or invisibility of the bruise.

Questions and Answers

A scholar asks the actors what they think about staging the Othello scenes. Fallon states that a physical bruise makes it more apparent that Othello has hurt Desdemona. Thornton states that the use of makeup gave him a physical reaction. Due to another question from a scholar, Fallon reveals that she palmed a tube of makeup in her hand which she squeezed onto her face when she dropped to the ground. She reveals that with talking between scenes, she was able to apply more bruise makeup to make the bruise look darker and different.

A scholar asks a question about outsiders and disabilities in Shakespeare’s plays and if a more accepting society changes the influence of these characters. Ray states that Shakespeare’s audiences most likely saw seizures, which may affect their perception of epilepsy onstage.

A scholar asks how Hutchinson staged the relationship between Emilia and the Woman, or Jailer’s Daughter. He states that he believes that productions often neglect Emilia, and that he wanted to foreground Emilia to bring light to her in the production.

Podcast Archive: 2014

2014 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2014 Spring Season

2014 Summer and Fall Seasons

Podcast Archives: 2010

2010 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2010 Spring Season

2010 Summer and Fall Seasons

 

Podcast Archives: 2006

2006 Summer and Fall Seasons

Winter-Spring 2014 Playhouse Insider Now On Sale

The Winter-Spring 2014 issue of the Playhouse Insider, celebrating the shows in the Actors’ Renaissance Season and the World’s Mine Oyster Tour, is on-sale now in the Box Office and will soon be available for purchase through our online shop. CoverWith this magazine, we hope not only to introduce readers to the fOCSinating shows in these seasons, but also to provide a spectrum of viewpoints from the wonderful scholars, artists, and audience members who love these plays as much as we do.

In this issue:

  • Frequent OCS patron and blogger Adrian Whicker discusses his love for the Actors’ Renaissance Season and chronicles his reviews on the Mid-Atlantic Traveler.
  • Amanda Trombley, Director of Education at the Southwest Shakespeare Company and MBC MFA graduate, delves deep into her experience playing the role of Evadne in a 2011 production of The Maid’s Tragedy.
  • Jade Eaton, OCS patron and No Kidding Shakespeare Camp participant, compares Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters with Richard Bean’s adaptation One Man, Two Guvnors and tells us why she’s so excited to see The Servant of Two Masters at the Blackfriars Playhouse.
  • Eliza Hofman of Chicago’s Two Pence Theatre, another MBC MFA grad, shares her insights on the role of Celia in As You Like It from the 2009 MFA production directed by Ralph Alan Cohen.
  • University of Delaware Professor Emeritus Lois Potter analyzes the performance history of Othello, with special attention to how the central roles have developed over time.
  • OCS actors René Thornton Jr. and Benjamin Curns talk about playing Othello and Iago with an MLitt class in a conversation recorded by Kim Newton, OCS Director of College Prep Programs.
  • A Dramaturg’s Corner features five things you might like to know about Henry IV, Part 1, including a family tree to help you keep all of those dukes and descendants straight.
  • Former OCS actor Daniel Kennedy relates his discoveries and experiments in directing Richard II for the 2013 OCS Theatre Camp.

Would you like to write for an upcoming issue of the Playhouse Insider? Email to find out more.

OCS Education in 2014

As we wrap up another great year at the American Shakespeare Center, here’s a sneak peek at what we’ll be bringing you in 2014:

  • Teacher Seminars: We start the year off right with our Winter Seminar January 31st-February 1st, focusing on As You Like It and some of the wonderful learning techniques we’ve gathered from rehearsal practices during the Actors’ Renaissance Season. We already have teachers from six states registered to join us in a few weeks, coming from as far away as Oklahoma and Massachusetts. In Spring (April 25th-27th), we’ll cover Othello and The  Merry Wives of Windsor. Our Summer Seminar (August 15th) this year will be a Macbeth intensive. Our last Macbeth seminar was one of my favorites, leading to discoveries that I still bring up in workshops, so I’m greatly looking forward to revisiting the play this summer. In fact, I love it so much that we’ll also be covering Macbeth at the Fall Seminar, along with The Comedy of Errors. Registration is now open for the Winter, Spring, and Summer Seminars, and we’ll be opening registration the Fall soon.Little Academe
  • OCS Theatre Camp: We kick things off in January with an alumni reunion event: a weekend of celebrating the ARS and our former campers’ continuing love of Shakespeare. This summer, campers ages 13-18 will explore Measure for Measure, The Tempest, 3 Henry VI, All’s Well That Ends Well, and the anonymous Fair Em, the Miller’s DaughterApply now to join us this summer.
  • The No Kidding Shakespeare Camp 2014: We’re back in town this year for a week-long camp focusing on the theme of Collaboration. Our activities will explore the partnerships and the community necessary to create theatre then and now, from shareholding to co-authorship, from ensemble casts to audience contact. Registrations are now open, so make some summer plans to spend time at the Blackfriars Playhouse.
  • Conferences: Our biggest conference news this year is that OCS Education will, for the first time, present a teaching workshop at the Shakespeare Association of American Conference in April. We’re excited to bring our classroom methods to SAA members and to the local teachers of St. Louis. Dr. Ralph will also be leading a rhetoric workshop at SAA. Read more about the 2014 Conference and the OCS’s workshop on the SAA website. OCS Education will also appear at the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference in January, at the Virginia Association of Museums conference in March, and at Shakespeare Works When Shakespeare Plays at UC-Davis in September.
  • On the Road: Our workshops are currently roaming the country with the World’s Mine Oyster Tour, and next summer, we’ll build new ones for the Method in Madness Tour. We’ll be participating in Shakespeare Month at the Alden in McLean, Virginia in January, in the Virginia Children’s Festival of the Book at Longwood in the fall, and we anticipate expanding our Educational Residencies to new territories throughout the year.
  • In-House: We look forward to welcoming Little Academes from across the country during the ARS and the Spring Season, as well as to hosting the local chapters of the English Speaking Union and Poetry Out Loud Competitions. Our Leadership Seminars are also ongoing: we celebrate our continuing relationship with the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, with programs throughout the year, and with International Paper, returning for another week-long program in April.
  • OCS Study Guides: In 2014, our Lulu offerings will expand to include a special guide on Christopher Marlowe, to celebrate the fact that the OCS will produce Edward II in the Fall Season and Doctor Faustus in the Method in Madness Tour. We’ll also be creating improved second editions of As You Like It, Macbeth, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the ShrewMuch Ado about Nothing, and Hamlet. You can preview all of our sixteen current titles online and purchase them as print-on-demand hard copies or PDF downloads.
  • Play-going Enrichment: Our Dr. Ralph Presents Lectures and Inside Plays Workshops will begin again in just a few weeks with insights into the plays of the Actors’ Renaissance Season. Join us select Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the year at 5:30pm to brush up your knowledge of old favorites or to get an introduction to unfamiliar works.
  • Perfect Pairings: Our 2014-2015 Staged Reading series will feature little-known plays which complement the shows produced in our seasons. After finishing the Slightly Skewed Shakespeare series in the spring, with Nahum Tate’s King Lear in March and The Famous Victories of Henry V in April, we will present Plautus’s Roman farce Menaechmi in September, in conjunction with The Comedy of Errors, and Thomas Heywood’s Edward IV, Part 1 in October, in conjunction with Marlowe’s Edward II.
  • Student Matinees: In 2014, we’ll be offering six titles for Student Matinees: Macbeth and The Comedy of Errors in the Fall, A Christmas Carol in the Winter, with a sneak peek at HamletThe Taming of the Shrew during the Actors’ Renaissance Season, and Hamlet and Much Ado about Nothing in the Spring. 
  • And more… We’re working on new initiatives in Research & Scholarship, College Prep, and Educator Resources, so look for further updates as we launch new programs and partnerships throughout the year.
A very happy New Year to all the Shakespeare lovers out there — we look forward to seeing you at the Blackfriars Playhouse in 2014!

Wake-Up Workshop #4: Asides and Audience Contact

A fine Saturday morning to you all. Cass Morris here from 8-8:45am to liveblog the fourth and final Wake-Up Workshop of the 4th Blackfriars Conference. Sarah Enloe, the OCS’s Director of Education, will be presenting on Asides and Audience Contact.

Enloe begins by discussing how, as a high school teacher participating in an NEH Institute, she learned about the OCS’s methods of audience contact, and knew immediately that she wanted to use it in her classroom — but wasn’t sure how to implement the ideas effectively. OCS Education, with the help of OCS Actor Ben Curns, developed this method to help teachers think through the various approaches and opportunities.

Enloe asks if anyone knows when the word “aside”, as we currently think of it, first appears, and when no one does, she explains that it’s more than 150 years after Shakespeare’s time. The term appears only twice in Shakespeare, and never with that precise meaning. She prefaces that the group will explain the different kinds of asides that Curns helped OCS Education identify, and will then work through a scene together to identify character choices.

The first method of audience contact is casting the audience. Enloe gives examples of the audience serving as Henry V’s army, as the plebs of Rome, or as Portia’s suitors in The  Merchant of Venice. She points out how Shakespeare not only writes these opportunities into the plays, he also writes in opportunities to return to that audience reference later in the scene or the play. Casting the audience gives the audience member a specific role inside the world of the play.

The second way that we identify audience contact is that of the visual aide. Enloe notes that this can be a difficult distinction for students sometimes, as it has some similarities to casting. The difference is that, rather than bestowing an identity, the visual aide uses something that the audience member already is — generally a physical attribute, something they’re wearing, or something else essential to their own identities, used as an illustration. Enloe uses the example of perhaps casting a man and woman sitting next to each other as an adulterous couple. Auditor Michael Hendry notes that he has been the bald-pated man used as an example in The Comedy of Errors. Enloe notes the favorite example of her co-worker (yours truly): Benedick’s “One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well; another is…. virtuous… yet I am well,” with the actor picking out a fair and wise woman, but unable to find a virtuous one in the audience.

The third example, which Enloe notes as particularly obvious in characters like Iago and Richard III, is that of allying with the audience. Many characters who get a lot of time alone on-stage with the audience use this to get the audience on their side — and quite often, those characters are the villains. This can also be an example of the character letting the audience in on a secret or providing them with clarifying information.

The fourth way that Enloe identifies audience contact is seeking information. Enloe gives an example of Curns as Polonius in the OCS’s 2011 Hamlet asking an audience member, “By the mass, what was I about to say?” and notes that Curns often got two examples: the terror of “eighth-graders frozen in the headlights”, or the graduate students able to provide the correct answer. She gives another example from Hamlet (this time the Q1, when Curns was playing Hamlet), from the moment when Claudius is on his knees praying, and Hamlet enters, asking, “Should I kill him now?” When Curns took this to teenage boy sitting on a gallant school, the boy replied, “Absolutely, he must die”. In that moment, the actor discovers that Shakespeare in fact wrote in the answer to that question in the rest of the monologue.

Enloe then addresses the probability that someone in the audience is asking how we know that Shakespeare really did write these opportunities into the plays intentionally, and she uses an example from Henry VI, Part 1 to illustrate how, in that early play, Shakespeare actually pokes fun of the convention of audience contact in a conversation between Margaret and Suffolk. Enloe notes that as proof in the text that Shakespeare is thinking about that convention.

Enloe then discusses the possibility that almost any line could be taken to the audience — but that not all of them should be. She suggests letting students go all-out with every possibility at first, then reining them back in so that we don’t lose the connections between the characters. The group then discusses some of the challenges in audience contact, including how to deal with unexpected contributions from the audience. Enloe notes that some of our actors acknowledge everything, and uses the example of Gregory Jon Phelps responding to sneezes or particularly loud laughs.

Moving on to scenework, Enloe hands out the first fifty lines of Julius Caesar. Enloe explains that this worksheet has the four types of audience contact listed at the top, along with the fifth option of actually speaking to a scene partner. Enloe divides the room into three groups, assigning one group responsibility for Flavius, one for the Carpenter and Cobbler, and one for Murellus. She then gives the auditors a few minutes to work through the text, assigning modes of audience contact to each moment for each character.

Each group sends an avatar to the stage to walk through the scene. Enloe notes that the opening stage direction, Enter Flavius and Murellus and Certain Commoners over the stage, is a little odd and cites Dessen & Thomson’s Dictionary of Stage Directions as to what “over the stage” might mean. They take the first suggestion for the Carpenter and Cobbler to enter from the back, through the audience, though Enloe notes that we generally don’t allow that in our Playhouse since there is no evidence of it occurring in the period.

The first decision has the Flavius taking all of “Hence! home, you idle creatures get you home: / Is this a holiday? what! know you not, / Being mechanical, you ought not walk / Upon a labouring day without the sign / Of your profession? Speak, what trade art thou?” to the audience. The group discusses whether the final question, answered in the play, can appropriately be asked of an audience member. Enloe notes that, at Julius Caesar‘s first performance at the Theatre or the Globe, the audience would in fact have been full of idle creatures who were skivving off work. The group has, sadly, run out of time to run the rest of the scene, but Enloe notes that you can see, through just that little bit, how much audience contact can change the play.

Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Colloquy Session XV: Critical Theory

Hello, Charlene V. Smith here again, live blogging Colloquy Session XV on Critical Theory. This session is co-chaired by Janna Segal and Donald Hedrick and the other participants are Matt Kozusko, Matt Davies, James Keegan, and Paul Menzer.

Segal opens the panel by introducing the panelists and noting that the specific topic of this panel is theoretical approaches to character and characterization in the Shakespearean canon.

James Keegan – “An Epilogue to Henry IV, Part 2: The Liminal Moment and the Actor-Character”

Keegan admits to theory fear upfront owing mostly to his experience as an actor. For this panel, Keegan continues his thoughts about the epilogue of 2 Henry IV, some of which many of us heard yesterday in a paper session. He describes the epilogue as a liminal moment between actor and character, but also liminal in space between the historical moment of the play and the moment of performance. Keegan grounds his discussion in the work of Gregory Currie who writes that film exerts “fictive dominance.” Keegan argues that a theatrical space like the Blackfriars allows for a fictive fluidity which is fuller and more gratifying for an audience than a situation in which the fiction is dominant. In the epilogue, character and actor exist at the same time to equal degrees.

Matt Kozusko

Kozusko notes that the word ‘character’ does more work than we typically think. The word is defined in multiple ways. Pointing to the paper session we just saw, Kozusko argues that Iago’s character is defined by responding to the audience, and in that way, he’s not actually changing. Kozusko argues that when we define Shakespeare’s characters, we are influenced by factors beyond Shakespeare himself. These characters are inflected with extra-Shakespearean influences and expectations that in turn become a part of the characters and how we read them. Keegan wonders about aware audiences versus unaware audiences, using the example of Falstaff’s fake death. Audiences in-the-know will read this moment with the knowledge that Falstaff is pretending to be dead. New audiences, however, react very differently, and may be honestly surprised when Falstaff stands back up.

Matt Davies – “Drawing Shakespearean characters in black and/or white: conflicting methodologies in the contemporary rehearsal room”

Davies finds that actors and directors are finding themselves adjudicating between competing conceptions of character in the rehearsal room. First, is character in its original, lexical meaning: the typeface on a page. Second, is the psychological realists who build inner life from the subtext. Davies notes that many practitioners are now trying to balance those two systems, particularly when performing Shakespeare. Drawing from his experience co-directing (with Doreen Bechtol) Pericles for the MLitt Shakespeare and Performance program, Davies looks at how we can use text and subtext in a way that will co-habit the early modern and the modern conceptions of character. He posits that maybe we should operate both systems concurrently in the rehearsal room, rather than blending them. Davies found noticeable differences in the ways students responded to the rehearsal process. Scott Campbell, who played Pericles, constructed his character from the line out, basing his work on rhetorical structuring. Amy Grubbs, who played Marina, began with a powerful super-objective which influenced the rest of her work. Davies notes that these two approaches actually fit the characters themselves, arguing that Marina has a much richer inner life than Pericles.

Janna Segal – “Whom love hath turned almost the wrong side out”: Exploring the Transversality of the Tragic Lovers in Othello

Segal’s paper looks at the relationship between Emilia, Desdemona, and Othello to demonstrate a theoretical model developed by Bryan Reynolds and others. Segal argues that the behaviors of these characters would have caused ruptures in the contemporary audience’s ideology. Shakespeare’s representation of amorous desire interrogated dominant conceptualizations of gender and sexuality. In another example, Segal argues that Jacquenetta and Don Armado are the most subversive characters of Love’s Labour’s Lost because they are the most hopeful, despite being types that aren’t supposed to end up together. Segal points out that the usefulness of this theory is that it gives characters more agency than they are usually thought of to have, an idea which actors can directly apply to the rehearsal room.

Paul Menzer – The 4th Unity

Menzer opens by defining theory as a way of organizing and answering questions. Theory is not something to be afraid of, but something of which to be aware. Over the past couple of years, Menzer has been interested in AC Bradley who haunts all questions of Shakespearean character. Bradley’s work is the most discredited scholarly work of the 20th century, but at the same time has a major influence within the rehearsal room. Menzer’s working thesis is that character is a system of organization. Character is the 4th unity (next to time, place, and action); it binds together the many elements of performance, such as costumes, properties, architecture, etc. Characters are effects created by a range of distributed meanings, rather than an agent that causes things to happen. Individual character is a mystification of theatrical effect and collaboration. It takes a lot of people to make a person on the stage.

Don Hedrick – “Fun: the Shakespearean Actor-Character and Entertainment Value”

Hendrick’s paper responds in a way to Menzer’s paper, asking what happens when that organizing principle refuses to organize? Following our focus on Falstaff, Hendrick points to his moment of playing dead as anti-theatrical: we don’t pay to watch someone sleep on stage. Hendrick is interested in the entertainment value of character and how they create multiple pleasures for the audience. How do they make the most return in the least amount of time, a successful element of wooing scenes of Lady Anne in Richard III and Katherine in Henry V? 

Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Paper Session VII

Hello, I’m Charlene V. Smith and I’ll be live blogging Paper Session VII, running from 1:00pm to 2:15pm on Friday, October 25. The moderator for this panel is Peggy O’Brien from the Folger Shakespeare Library. The panelists are joined by American Shakespeare actors Tracie Thomason, Dylan Paul, John Harrell, Benjamin Curns, and Allison Glenzer, and Whitney Egbert from the Shakespeare Forum.

Roslyn Knutson, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Everything is interesting about the lost play, ‘Gowrie’

Knutson’s first point is simple: lost plays should be a serious part of the conversation in early modern scholarship. Her paper today is specifically on ‘Gowrie‘. John Chamberlain describes ‘Gowrie’ as a tragedy, twice represented by the King’s Players, and refers to displeasure over the play due to it’s presentation of a living prince on the stage. Our knowledge of the plot of this lost play comes from the pamphlet Gowrie’s Conspiracy which describes an assassination plot on 5th August 1600 involving James VI of Scotland. During ‘Gowrie’s’ composition, London playhouses were closed due to the plague. The King’s Players may have considered the Globe, due to open in the fall, and the court as possible playing spaces for this piece. But Knutson wonders why would the newly minted King’s Men chose this risky play in 1604? The likeliest motive is a simple one: they thought the King would be flattered.

Sybille Bruun, The Shakespeare Forum, You That Way, We This Way – Letters and Possibilities in Love’s Labour’s Lost

Bruun, who directed Love’s Labour’s Lost recently in New York, investigates how a textual ambiguity has shaped the character of Costard. Bruun directed this play recently in New York. In rehearsals, the actor playing Costard asked her questions about why he does what he does. In act four, Costard delivers two letters, one from Berowne to Rosalind, and one from Don Armado to Jaquenetta. He misdelivers these letters. Why? If he can’t read, he may misdeliver the letters accidentally. He may also be able to judge the superscripts and choses to misdeliver them. Bruun also points out that Armado’s letter may have been folded differently, allowing Costard to tell the difference. One again, he could purposely give the wrong letter. Bruun, with the help of actors Curns, Glenzer, and Egbert, shows that the Princess could hand the letter to Rosalind or back to Costard after discover that the letter isn’t for Rosalind. If Costard doesn’t get the letter back, he purposely choses to give the remaining, wrong letter to Jaquenetta. This choice gives Costard agency and perhaps even some maliciousness, traits we don’t typically associate with this character. This question hinges on the Princess’ line, “Put up this; twill be thine another day.” Bruun notes that editorial tradition closes down the possibilities of this moment by noting that the Princess is giving the letter to Rosalind. While talking to actors and directors who had worked on this play in the past, Bruun discovered that it hadn’t occurred to them that there was another choice to back beyond what the edited text told them was happening in this moment. Bruun says we need a greater awareness of how the communities of academia and theatre interact with each other, and to realize that we don’t need to pigeonhole ourselves or others.

Andrew Blasenak, Emory and Henry College, “I would you were as I would have you be”: Negotiation of Character with/for/by an Interactive Audience

While in the modern theatre, audiences assume characters are set from performance to performance, at early modern re-creation theatres, audience interaction has the possibility of changing performance and character. Blasenak argues that character arises from the interaction of actor and audience and the reaction of the audience to the actor. In interviews with Blasenak, actors didn’t speak of finding character in rehearsal, but on finding “what works.” “What works” is hard to define; it is a sense of something clicking, of causing an audience’s heightened attention. The uncertainty of audience response makes acting in this style like windsurfing, according to one Globe actor. Jim Warren of the American Shakespeare Center calls this form of theatre, “improvising with a script.” Blasenak discusses some examples of audience informing character. The actor who played Edmund in a recent RSC tour of King Lear told Blasenak that he would adjust his cockiness and smoothness based on audience response. Benjamin Curns of the American Shakespeare notes that sometimes his speeches as Henry VIII were met with boos, feeding his character’s need to get the audience on his side. Blasenak next demonstrates, with the help of Curns, with Iago’s “What’s he that says I play the villain?” The first time through, we as the audience are directed to cheer and applaud Iago. The second time, we are asked to give resistance. Curns takes the audience’s attitude and changes the character and speech in response.

Hsiang-Chun Chu, National Changhua University of Education, From Cunning Fox to Libidinous Swine: Imposture and Sexual Sadism in the Wooing Scenes of Volpone

This paper discusses the wooing episodes between Volpone and Celia. Volpone is mostly confined to his bed as an old and sick man. In contrast, Volpone acquires much more energy and agency when he is cast as a lover. Volpone disguises himself as a mountebank in order to see Celia, allowing him to demonstrate his persuasive language skills in a way he is not able to when playing the sick man. In the second part of her paper, Chu looks at the sexual transaction between Volpone, Celia, and Corvino. Corvino is a possessive husband, yet Volpone convinces him to give Celia as a gift in order to secure a place in Volpone’s will. No matter how much identification an audience may have felt with Volpone, this sympathy evaporates as Volpone shifts into a lecherous swine in his attempt to win Celia.

Kate Moncrief, Washington College, “And are by child with me”: The Performance of Pregnancy in Shakespeare’s All’s Well that Ends Well 

In Alls Wells that Ends Well, Helena’s body is used as evidence that she has completed the tasks Bertram set before her, particularly that she is pregnant. Moncrief points out that Helena re-interprets Bertram’s challenges. He asks her to show a child; she instead is with child. The play’s timeline is not clear – how much time has passed since the bed trick? The play offers no physical description of Helena at this moment, leaving practitioners to decide just how pregnant Helena is. Moncrief next explores, with the help of actors Thomason, Paul, and Harrell, how this pregnancy can be performed: gestures, prosthetics, etc. In version 1 Thomason does not wear a pregnancy bump, forcing Bertram and the audience to rely on her word that she is pregnant. Paul hits the if in his line, “If she, my liege, can make me know this clearly,” expressing his doubt. The actors perform the scene again, with Paul believing the pregnancy and kissing Helena. Next, Thomason puts on the pregnancy bump and the actors play the scene twice again, one with Paul expressing doubt as Bertram and once with him truly believing her. Moncrief polls the audience, who seem to prefer the version without the pregnancy bump.

Nick Hutchison and Donald Jellerson, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art/Globe Theatre, Feste and the Performance of Character

In 2011, Hutchison directed Twelfth Night in Memphis, with Jellerson playing Feste. In this paper, with the help of Allison Glenzer, they share the discoveries they found while rehearsing. They found two questions they explored: why doesn’t Feste care for Cesario, and what is the something he care for (“Not so, sir, I do care for something; but in my conscience, sir, I do not care for you”)? Hutchison admits that after decades of dismissing character criticism, asking what a character wants can seem misguided or passé. Hutchison and Jellerson wish to demonstrate how expanding our understanding of character can involve both practitioners and literary critics. Hutchinson and Jellerson quote from a book defining character that Shakespeare might have read as a student, revealing how Shakespeare may have been trained to think of character and what conclusions we can draw from this knowledge. The book asks writers to imagine their characters in three parts: a past, present, and future, which gives them, according to Hutchison, the illusion of enduring consciousness and psychological depth for which we value Shakespeare. Hutchison suggests that possibly Feste figures out that Cesario is a woman, and is concerned that Olivia will get hurt. This choice can be reflected in the final scene based on when Feste is quoting Malvolio and when he is speaking directly to Olivia, as the punctuation is different in different versions of the text.