Gender and Behavior in TWELFTH NIGHT

Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from the OCS Education Study Guide on Twelfth Night, available for purchase in our Gift Shop or through lulu.com as a PDF download or a print-on-demand hard copy. You’ve got til November 27th to see our current production of Twelfth Night and discover for yourself how OCS actors portray the confusions and complexities of gender and identity in the play.

Perspectives

Gender and Behavior

Twelfth Night is one of several of Shakespeare’s plays to feature a heroine who dresses as a man. At the beginning of his career, Shakespeare included a cross-dressing heroine in The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Julia dresses as a pageboy to follow her boyfriend to another city. She reveals herself at the end to stop him from marrying another woman. Julia’s disguise is a plot convenience, allowing her to travel and to observe Proteus without suspicion. Later plays push that plot device further, creating the cross-dressed woman as an object of desire. In As You Like It, written two or three years before Twelfth Night, Rosalind dresses as a boy named Ganymede to travel into the forest; when she runs into her crush, Orlando, she offers, as Ganymede, to pretend to be Rosalind so that Orlando can practice wooing. She also finds herself the object of desire of a shepherdess named Phebe. In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare presses the mismatched desire even further, having a primary character, Olivia, and making that desire a central point of conflict in the play, rather than a side joke. This creates a double-play of suggested homoeroticism; Olivia is in love with Cesario, who is actually another woman, while Orsino thinks he’s falling for a boy, who is actually a woman, who was originally played by a male actor.

Twelfth Night | American Shakespeare Center

Jessika Williams as Viola and John Harrell as Orsino in TWELFTH NIGHT. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Gender issues could prompt quite a bit of social anxiety in early modern England. Many of the anti-theatrical polemics leveled at the playing companies lamented the presentation of boys as women, particularly in romantic roles. Conversely, the idea of women usurping men’s roles suggested an upending of convention. Though a female monarch had ruled England for over forty years – and for all of Shakespeare’s lifetime – women were still considered subordinate to men, legally, socially, and religiously; even Queen Elizabeth spent much of her life pressured by her councilors to find a man to share her throne. Many pamphlets published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sought to instruct women on their “proper” place – suggesting that a great many of them had stepped outside the proscribed bounds and entered spheres typically dominated by males. Only two or three years before Twelfth Night, in As You Like It, Shakespeare has Rosalind reappear in women’s garb at the end of the play, which some scholars have suggested was a deliberate method of allaying social anxiety about her ability to resume her feminine role. Viola in Twelfth Night, like Julia in the earlier Two Gentlemen of Verona, never reappears in her “women’s weeds,” remaining in a state of gender ambiguity through the end of the play.

Twelfth Night | American Shakespeare Center

Allison Glenzer as Olivia and Jessika Williams as Viola in TWELFTH NIGHT. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Today, the definition of gender roles remains a hot-button issue. Political debates continue to challenge ideas about balance between the sexes, both socially and financially. In many ways, however, the conversation has changed from determining what one gender or the other can or can’t do to debating the very meaning of gender itself. As the 21st-century begins, advocates for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights continue to push at the boundaries of the binary gender system. In 2010, a British expatriate living in Australia became the world’s officially and legally neuter person, though some cultures of the Indian subcontinent and of Southeast Asia have long recognized the existence of a “third gender.” More recently, transgender advocates such as Laverne Cox, of Orange is the New Black fame, have raised the profile of the transgender population – which has, in turn, led to political debates over bathroom use and legally protected classes. The ongoing gender debate suggests the existence of gray areas between male and female and in the spectrum of sexual attraction – the very sort of grey area that Viola-as-Cesario inhabits.

Twelfth Night, along with the other gender-bending comedies featuring cross-dressing heroines, suggests that, in the view of society, at least, a person’s role in life is more defined by what they wear and how they behave than it is by anatomy. How does Viola challenge or affirm the idea of strictly defined roles for genders? How convincing is her disguise? Several characters tell her during the course of the play that she behaves in a way unbefitting a man, particularly when she does such stereotypically feminine things as fainting at the sight of blood. How does Viola give herself away? How much double-speak does she engage in, allowing the audience to appreciate her duality without explicitly telling other characters about it?

To explore these issues in your classroom, download these sample activities or purchase the OCS Study Guide for Twelfth Night today!

The Rhetoric of Speaking Truth to Power

In 1954, a journalist named Edward R Murrow stood up against the bullying and intimidation of Senator Joseph McCarthy. PBS describes his famous broadcast like this: “Broadcast on March 9, 1954, the program, composed almost entirely of McCarthy’s own words and pictures, was a damning portrait of a fanatic. McCarthy demanded a chance to respond, but his rebuttal, in which he referred to Murrow as ‘the leader of the jackal pack,’ only sealed his fate. The combination of the program’s timing and its persuasive power broke the Senator’s hold over the nation.”

I was inspired to revisit Murrow’s speech recently, when one of our presidential candidates stated, “In the Cold War, we had an ideological screening test. The time is overdue to develop a new screening test for the threats we face today.” Remembering just what that ideological screening test was reminded me of the film Good Night and Good Luck, and that put me down this particular historical rabbit hole. Beyond the political resonance of Murrow’s speech, however, I was struck by the simple elegance of its rhetoric.

I decided to compare Murrow’s rhetoric to that of two of Shakespeare’s characters who we see in moments of speaking truth to power: Hermione at her sham of a trial and the Lord Chief Justice defending himself to the newly-crowned King Henry V. These are three very different speakers in three very different situations, but there are some strands of rhetorical similarities that perhaps reflect what is most persuasively potent in moments like these. To see the full speeches and my (scribbling) mark-up of them, click here.

In The Winter’s Tale, Hermione’s in a tough position, because she’s been dragged to court from childbed, while suffering a total breakdown of her entire world. It’s not surprising, then, that her speech is disordered. The device known as hyperbaton is what most of us would think of as “Yoda-speak”.

The bug which you would fright me with I seek.
To me can life be no commodity.
The crown and comfort of my life, your favor,
I do give lost.

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Stephanie Earl as Hermione in The Winter’s Tale, 2011; photo by Tommy Thompson.

When you encounter disordered speech like this, it’s often helpful to rewrite the sentences as normal syntactical order would have them — so, “The bug which you would fright me with I seek” becomes “I seek the bug with which you would fright me” — and then ask why the words don’t come in that expected order. What information is Shakespeare giving us through the disorder? What I find interesting about Hermione’s structure is that she places the predicate/object first, saving herself for later. Whether this is strategic or an effect of her distress is up to an actor, but it seems to reflect her dissociation from herself and her life.

Despite this disorder, there is still an underlying structure in her speech. Hermione testifies as to her losses: (1) “The crown and comfort of my life, your favor, I do give lost”; (2) “My second joy / And first-fruits of my body, from his presence / I am barr’d”; (3) “My third comfort, / Starr’d most unluckily, is from my breast… Haled out to murder”; (4) Myself on every post / Proclaimed a strumpet; (5)with immodest hatred / The childbed privilege denied… (6)lastly, hurried / Here to this place, i’th’open air, before / I have got strength of limit.” Her order is not precise; it’s broken not only with the aforementioned hyperbaton but with parenthetical statements and somewhat rambling descriptions. But the order is there. My sense is that you can feel in that underlying structure a woman trying to hang on, even through extreme turmoil. And it pays off.

Hermione seems to wrap up with fairly simple statement, including a blistering antithesis (the contrast of opposing ideas): “Tell me what blessings I have here alive that I should fear to die?” Something in her is still fighting through the despair, however; she gives us a telltale “But yet”, a phrase that almost always cues a shift in a character’s speech, and then launches into her longest thought in the speech. (My mark-up shows the breaks where each full thought ends).

Not life,
I prize it not a straw, but for mine honour,
Which I would free, if I shall be condemn’d
Upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else
But what your jealousies awake, I tell you
‘Tis rigor and not law.

It’s a tangled thought, with those qualifying parentheticals, but it lands strong. “Rigor and not law” is a wonderful antithesis, and Hermione follows this long thought with a strikingly simple one — her simplest in the speech, with no disorder, no augmentations, no diversions: “Your honours all, I do refer me to the oracle.” Out of her disorder, Hermione finds strength — and the will to speak that truth to the husband and king who wants her dead.

The Lord Chief Justice is similarly challenged to defend himself in public, when King Henry V demands he justify having imprisoned the king when he was still a young, carousing prince. The Lord Chief Justice (hereafter LCJ) speaks in longer thoughts than does Hermione, though their overall monologues are roughly the same length. He paints a picture at length, of Henry having his own son who might disobey him, and throughout the speech, uses language that consciously calls upon Henry to “imagine” what might be.

Like Hermione, he has an underlying listing structure to his speech, though he carries it to greater lengths. His speech is also highly ordered, rather than disordered; the LCJ calls upon the device of isocolon, parallel sentence structure, to drive his lists home, whereas Hermione’s were more scattered in their structure. Below, I’ve numbered the items in the list — each a similarly-structured verb phrase, wherein the LCJ calls upon Henry to imagine specific things:

If the deed were ill,
Be you contented, wearing now the garland,
(1)To have a son set your decrees at nought,
(2)To pluck down justice from your awful bench,
(3)To trip the course of law and (4)blunt the sword
That guards the peace and safety of your person,
Nay, more, (5)to spurn at your most royal image
And (6)mock your workings in a second body.

He then moves from this structure to the even more direct imperatives (a bold thing to use when speaking to a king):

(1)Question your royal thoughts, (2)make the case yours;
(3)Be now the father and propose a son,
(4)Hear your own dignity so much profaned,
(5)See your most dreadful laws so loosely slighted,
(6)Behold yourself so by a son disdain’d.

Like Hermione, the LCJ gives us a wonderful turning point with “And then” — where he finally turns the topic back to his own deeds, both past and potential. Throughout this speech, the Lord Chief Justice is speaking to save at least his job, perhaps his life, but that does not seem to rattle him. Though verbose, he is not disordered, and that insight may tell an actor quite a bit about who this character is.

Cqe6cmrUAAADPntAnd so to Murrow:

Murrow’s dominant rhetorical trait at first glance is that of the double predicate (a simplistic form of zeugma, with one subject governing multiple verbs and objects). He also makes an interesting grammatical shift about one-third of the way through, moving from speaking in the abstract third person (“No one familiar with the history of this country can deny”; “It is necessary to investigate”, etc) to the first personal plural: “We must not confuse”; “We must remember”; “We will not walk in fear”; “We will not be driven by fear”. Murrow takes himself out of the ostensibly dispassionate, objective seat of the reporter and makes himself a part of the whole, which both personalizes the speech and encourages audience complicity in it.

Murrow also makes great use of antithesis, contrasting “dissent” with “disloyalty”, “accusation” with “conviction”, “oppose” with “approve”, “abroad” with “at home”, “allies” with “enemies”, and “create” with “exploit”. His lists are more spread out, but those contrasts in themselves provide the thrumming beat of structure that carries through the speech.

So what do all three have in common? Lists and contrasts seem to make for powerful points. Somewhat strangely, in all three examples I examined, the lists came in sixes — usually with some sort of grammatical patterning shift between the first three and the last three. The arrangement of contrast seems natural when speaking truth to power: the objective is to draw a line between what is and what is not, between the truth and the lie. The starker the contrast, the more successful the argument.

The thing that strikes me most, looking at all three speeches, is that the simplest statement, the least rhetorically embellished, always falls almost at the end of the speech. Hermione’s “I do refer me to the oracle”, the Lord Chief Justice’s “After this cold consideration, sentence me”, and Murrow’s “And whose fault is that? Not really his.” all have a punch-like quality to them. After using different strategies to lay out the situation, all three “put a button on it”, as we say in our Leadership Programs. They also then follow up with a call to action — something that turns the focus from the speaker to the listener. Murrow’s is perhaps the most interesting, because it is not stated outright as Hermione’s “Apollo be my judge” and the LCJ’s “As you are a king, speak in your state / What I have done that misbecame my place / My person, or my liege’s sovereignty”. Rather, Murrow turns back to Shakespeare himself to make his audience think about their complicity in evil actions: “‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.’ Good night, and good luck.”

Good luck with what? The phrase was Murrow’s standard sign-off, but it carries such weight following the speech he’s just given. Good luck re-examining yourself? Good luck enduring these circumstances? Good luck challenging power? Whatever it is, it’s something the audience has to carry forward with them.

And all three win, in the end. It takes longest for Hermione, but she is, eventually, vindicated by the Oracle and then, sixteen years later, by Leontes. Henry V embraces the Lord Chief Justice. And Edward R Murrow started a chain reaction that eventually brought down Senator McCarthy and his witch hunts.

In an age of constant media, it’s sometimes hard to tell where the truth, the deflections, the distractions, and the outright lies are in the public discourse — but sometimes, it’s not very hard at all. Whenever I give a rhetoric workshop, I tell students that one of the reasons I love it is because rhetoric makes you a better listener. Sometimes that’s about listening for how someone’s using rhetoric to try to fool you, but it can also be about listening for the person who’s speaking the truth that someone else doesn’t want you to hear.

–Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

Book Review: How to Be a Tudor, by Ruth Goodman

HowtoBeaTudorWhat would Shakespeare have eaten, drunk, slept on, dressed in, and smelled like? When would he have broken his fast or eaten dinner? How was his life different in London than when he was living in Stratford-upon-Avon? How did morality, religion, sex, and money affect his interactions with other people? If you’ve ever wondered about the real daily life of the bulk of the population in the Tudor era, then How to Be a Tudor is the book for you.

The book is arranged to take you, more or less, through an average Tudor day, nearly hour-by-hour. Author Ruth Goodman makes sure that you get a good look at both the uppermost and lowest extremes of society, however, she focuses the bulk of her attention on what a day was like for a farmer or an artisan. There are differences between town and country, men and women, young and old, religious and secular — and Goodman touches on all of them, while still paying attention to the overall worldviews that shape them all.

While the format of the book is a generally sensible way to introduce the reader to different aspects of Tudor life, sometimes her information loops in upon itself. There are some redundancies that probably could have been cleaned up, and a few points where a single topic gets disjointed over multiple chapters (particularly the matter of clothing). These are places where it feels like the book’s structure is working against rather than with the writer — but it’s a small detraction, overall.

The great advantage that Goodman has is that her knowledge is not only scholastic, but practical. To the textual authorities of extant written sources, such as household accounts, ecclesiastical records, and early modern household-advice writers such as the prolific Gervase Markham, Goodman adds not only material culture but her own lived experience. As a re-enactor, a museum consultant, and someone involved with numerous documentaries on the Tudor era, Goodman seriously knows whereof she writes: she has lived the Tudor lifestyle as closely as it is possible to do in the modern age.

One of my favorite tidbits involved early modern cleansing practices. We often hear that Tudor folk must have stank to high heaven because they rarely bathed. What Goodman elucidates is that, much like the ancient Romans with their oil-scraping practices, the Tudors simply had their own way of keeping clean and BO-free. It all has to do with linen. Rubbing the body down with a clean sheet of linen every day, plus wearing fresh linen garments, seems to have adequately combated dirt and odor alike. Goodman has tried this herself and states that there was no appreciable scent difference from our modern method of near-daily showers.

This is just one of the fOCSinating insights that the book offers. You can also learn how bedding changed from the early to the late part of the period, how to dress yourself in Tudor fashion, how to brew your own ale, how to conduct yourself at an alehouse, and even how to plough a field.

What does this book offer for theatre practitioners? As Goodman herself points out, an understanding of early modern life can help you understand early modern jokes:

As people who have spent many years deep in experiments recreating Tudor life, who cook the food, make the clothes, and drink the beer, my friends, family, and I have, without any conscious effort or thought, acquired a fairly Tudor vocabulary. I am regularly surprised when people treat words that I consider perfectly normal as arcane and mysterious. … When my friends and I go to the Globe to see a performance, it is very obvious that we are laughing at least twice as often as the rest of the audience, and not just at the slapstick elements. Shakespeare really is very funny.

An understanding of the reality behind the jokes can help actors help the audience members who haven’t spent their lives studying these things. It can help costume designers translate the clothing-related humor (of which there is quite a bit). It can help directors shape and hone the presentation. And all of that gets you a more satisfying performance.

Overall, this book is quite readable and includes some surprises even for readers who already know the era fairly well. It’s solid social history with enough interesting details to supply a well-painted picture, but for the reader who wants to know more, Goodman also supplies an extensive bibliography of both primary and secondary sources. I can cheerfully recommend this to Shakespeare enthusiasts and armchair historians alike.

Guest Post: ‘The Sea Voyage’: On Directing a Read Not Dead Staged Reading

During the month of June, OCS Education is featuring the shows of our 2015-2016 Artistic Year in a series of guest posts!

The Sea Voyage appeared in the OCS’s 2016 Actors’ Renaissance Season. James Chalmers is a British actor, director, and producer who has worked with the Globe and the RSC. 


The Sea Voyage: On Directing a Read Not Dead Staged Reading
by James Chalmers

Where to begin? Shakespeare’s Globe kindly asked me to direct, or “co-ordinate,” a reading of The Sea Voyage on August 15th, 2010. Though it has now been some years since the joyous one-off event, the play has very firmly rooted itself in my mind, and I can unequivocally say it is one of the “shows” that I am most proud of having been a part of. I have attempted (through the mists of time and deterioration of grey matter – well a whole five years’ worth at any rate!), to elucidate how we approached this wonderful late Jacobean comedy by Fletcher & Massinger.

Firstly, it is important to understand the setting: The annual Read Not Dead season at Shakespeare’s Globe is a rare but vital beast. Launched in 1995, the annual series of staged readings explores and celebrates the plays performed in London Stages between 1567 and 1642, a repertoire that in playing has become greatly compressed overtime. In the UK, both Shakespeare’s Globe and The Royal Shakespeare Company have admirably dedicated seasons to Jacobean and Caroline plays; however, the number of fully-realised productions have barely made a dint in the canon of some 400 extant plays of this period. The bastion that is Read Not Dead has staged some 200 plays to date.

Shakespeare’s Globe’s website states:

“The ground-rules are simple. Actors are given a script on Sunday morning and work with a director to get the play up on its feet – with entrances and exits, token costume and music if needed. They present it, script in hand, to an audience at 4.00pm.

 These are not intended to be polished productions. There is a shared spirit of adventure, excitement and experimentation for actors and audiences who sense that they might be uncovering a hidden gem.”

For the actor, the motto is “fight or flight,” and barring a cursory glance at the scene in the brief rehearsal period before performance, the real discoveries are made collaboratively as a group through the playing of the piece: the freshness of first impulse, the choices conscious and unconscious. In this unmediated form, without the shackles of imposed interpretation, the free-thinking audience is able to take a draw on the text, like a Gauloises cigarette – unfiltered and maximum strength.

It doesn’t always go according to plan, and sometimes the most wonderful happy accidents occur. I remember some years ago, the actor playing the part of Sencer being “off” for the top of Act 4 Scene 3 of Thomas Heywood’s The Wise Woman of Hoxton. After what seemed an eternity (but was probably only a minute or so of dead stage time) the realisation dawned on the actor that it was his “turn” and he exploded on to the stage with a line gifted beautifully to him in the text, “Now or Never!” You can imagine that this brought the house down!

So wrong, and yet somehow so right.

10 years ago, I had the privilege of working as an actor for the RSC for director Mike Alfreds, whose overarching mantra was that the audience should receive a “freshly cooked meal every night.” With Read Not Dead, the meal is prepared and cooked right before the audience’s very eyes – a veritable iambic teppanyaki – leading to a shared experience of discovery in the moment that heightens the artistic tension or exchange as the rollercoaster of the performance teeters between impending doom and immediate ecstasy.

In his review of the reading, Andy Kesson writes:

“Staged readings make both demands on an actor, requiring them to read as they invent, and the etymological roots of improvisation in the unforeseen and unexpected (Latin, improuisus) reminds us that the modern actor in a staged reading may be nearer than we think to the early modern player with their cue script”

To do this, you need a team of experienced actors with a highly developed sense of classical verse speaking and a finely tuned sensitivity to listening and responding.

So, to the matter in hand. The play starts in action, in the middle of a raging storm on board a boat. Without the luxury of a proper stage (the reading took place in a lecture room whilst construction was taking place on the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse), the challenge became how to open with a “tempest.” (I shall refrain from using this word again as, though often referenced alongside Shakespeare’s play of the same name, I believe the strands of colonialism and commonwealth set The Sea Voyage apart from the magic of, well, the “other’”!)

If you don’t have the budget for special effects wizardry, you should hide in plain sight; if played with conviction, the audience quickly buys in. Armed with rainsticks, thunderboards, and the voice – be it piercing whistle or swelling moan – the company provided a wondrous choric storm. This meant that the actors on the “boat” (delineated by a heavy rope in the shape of a prow, and littered with large sections of heavy cloth to denote broken sails) had to pitch their voices to be heard. This also gives something for the Master to rail against:

Master: We have sprung five leaks, and no little ones.
Still rage! – Besides, her ribs are open,

The missing beat or caesura in the line filled with an appropriate peal of thunder, giving a call and response. For this first scene, I insisted half-lines had to be picked up quickly, and through playing at full tilt added a rhythmic intensity.

To counterpoint this, I asked the actors playing Sebastian and Nicusa to completely undercut the storm in the next scene (ii), insisting they were rooted to the spot through weariness and their own sense of fatalism, and that we should feel through them a suffering through passage of time – such suffering that, when the French encounter them in Sc. iii, they brand them monsters, wretches, ghosts; to be pitied rather than feared.

This weariness of life would mean their internal rhythms would be diminished, and so I gave them a degree of freedom with the half-lines, allowing for suspension through giving the full value pause of the ‘missing line’. This adagio gave a wonderful melancholic tone to the scene.

The Sea Voyage is abundant in half-lines or shared lines; just as Fletcher and Massinger constantly shift focus in the plot, so too do they “gear up or gear down” through the use of the sharing of lines.

One particular example demonstrates the self-perpetuating frenzy as the Surgeon, Morillat, Franville and Lamure prepare their ridiculous cannibalistic onslaught on Aminta:

VOYAGE-19

Ginna Hoben, John Harrell, and Aiden O’Reilly in rehearsal for The Sea Voyage, 2016. Photo by Jay McClure.

Surgeon:                               Come, gentlemen,
                     Who are for the hinder parts?

Morillat:                                         I.

Franville:                                                 I.

Lamure:                                                      And I.

Surgeon:            Be patient,
They will not fall to every man’s share.

The rising tricolon shows that Franville and Lamure attempt to ‘top’ the proposition of the man before, giving an accelerated rhythm to the moment and providing the Surgeon with the necessary madness to quell.

Stage directions occasionally replace the caesura – ‘She binds his wounds with her hair’;Horns within’; ‘The women draw their bows’; ‘Enter ALBERT, TIBALT and the rest with treasure’ – adding intensity. One moment that I felt demonstrated this well was in Act 2 sc. i, where Aminta tends to Albert’s wounds.

Aminta:                                                Pray give me leave
                        To play the surgeon and bind’em up;
                        The raw air rankles ‘em.

Albert:                                                  Sweet, we want means.

Aminta:                        Love can supply all wants

 She binds his wounds with her hair

Albert:                                                  What have ye done, sweet?

Here the moment between the lines given by the stage direction must be given its full value. We were able to find a suitable hairpiece for the actress playing Aminta that could be “cut off” by a dagger. The actors beautifully played the ceremony of the binding of the wounds, giving the impression of a contract or marriage. We could see the shift in Aminta from the formality Act 1 sc. iii where she addresses Albert as “Noble Captain” and acknowledges his “dear tenderness”, before finishing her speech with:

Aminta:                        So far I am tied and fettered to your service.
                        Believe me, I will learn to love.”

The tenderness and solemnity of the ritual reveals Aminta’s acceptance and love of Albert, leading to her vow:

Aminta:                                                                        O Albert, I offer
                        This sacrifice of service to the altar
                        Of your staid temperance, and still adore it.

When the stage directions cue the hunters’ horns to sound (both times at the midpoint in Albert’s lines), this has the effect of shifting the focus, and the gear change prompts “hope” for survival.

I like to think of these joins between shared lines as “seams,” where sometimes a pause is justified, though it must be active; sometimes a stage direction or action impacts, and sometimes the second line trumps the first, as a new thought supplants the old. The approach to the playing of these “seams” very much helped inform the “music” of the piece in the reading, and provided a key in for the actors to the rhythm of each scene.

VOYAGE-22

Lauren Ballard in rehearsal for The Sea Voyage, 2016. Photo by Jay McClure.

Another “device” in the text that I asked the actors to respond to was where there was enjambment of the lines – where the phrase and sense of the line carries over the end of the line and is not end-stopped (punctuated with a period, comma, question mark, semi-colon, etc). By surrendering to this, the actors found that there was increased forward animation in these lines, and that gave a greater intensity and urgency to the relevant moments.

As a director of staged readings with the aforementioned time restrictions, these textual clues given in shorthand are what you hope to arm the actors with so that they can key in to each scene, moment by moment, providing a framework of “rules” as a baseline from which they can then feed off of their impulses and truly play. The discovery when watching the performance was that when the actors surrendered to the text and to the “rules of the game,” it punctuated the comedy of the piece. Andy Kesson picked up on one of my favorite moments in his review:

The actor playing Albert [must] enter and collapse, but the actors playing the female characters need to decide not only how to respond but when. In the intimate space of the Nancy Knowles Lecture Theatre, Darcy’s [Albert] entrance forced him between and amongst the women, and their stunned silence followed by Juletta’s exclamation, ‘‘But stay, / What’s here cast o’th’ shore?’’ was a comic revelation.

In contrast to the feeble, impotent Portuguese men on their sterile island, we meet the Portuguese women as they burst forth in pursuit of their quarry – headstrong, attractive and fertile. In the midst of ruminating over Crocale’s erotic dream, a wounded Albert enters and collapses at their feet.

Here I asked the actors playing Juletta and Hippolita to share the experience of the vision that Crocale conjures up through the telling of her dream, so that the silence could be charged. But the timing of the line comes down to the actor’s impulse feeding off of the pulse and rhythm of the piece. I feel it is particularly important in a staged reading that the actors not only render unto, but also render images for the audience. In this moment we (as audience) need to see the creation of the dream in the faces of the actors, and their reactions to the images flashing before their eyes, before they summon up the very thing they speak of.

Costume in staged readings can only ever be suggestive. There simply aren’t the resources and time to assemble a full wardrobe, and doing so would contradict the point of discovery and openness to interpretation. The usual garb for the men is a suit or jacket and white shirt. It is amazing what can be achieved with simple pieces of material,: a bandana for a pirate becomes a sash for a statesmen. The plethora of accessories available at Shakespeare’s Globe (crowns, swords, daggers, bottles, bags of gold, jewels, shrouds, stools (and even for this a Hog on a platter!), well arm the actors to present any piece.

However, I felt it was important to put a little bit of thought into the presentation of the ‘Amazons’ in The Sea Voyage.

Crocale:             But here’s our governess.
                        Now I expect a storm!

The second ‘storm’ of the piece comes in the form of Rosellia – the governess that forbids us/On pain of death the sight and use of men (Act 2. Sc. ii 21-22). With 6-8 pages build up (version dependant) to her entrance, when she did arrive, it was as an unstoppable force of nature as the commander in chief of the tribe. To facilitate the crescendo, it was important thematically to establish the commonwealth of women from the outset.

VOYAGE-40

Lexie Braverman in rehearsal for The Sea Voyage, 2016. Photo by Jay McClure.

The word “Amazon” for many conjures up a scantily clad siren à la Robert E. Howard, but this image falls short of the mark of capturing the strength of the women in this play. Whilst the men barely survive, the women thrive, and so I wanted to position the commonwealth more inline with the fearlessness of the Dahomey Amazons, an all female regiment, that terrorized Africa for more than 150 years.

To achieve this, I asked that all the actresses playing the Portuguese women come dressed (where possible) in boots and trousers, not skirts, as if they were on expedition in the jungle or were contestants on a survival show. This gave an effective uniformed appearance, a sense of order and strength, and again, the ever-so-handy pieces of material were used to great effect as headbands or headscarves to heighten the feeling of militia.

When Rosellia did appear, it was as a force to be feared, respected, and reckoned with.

That, as they say is that. Bar picking out clues in the text, determining mostly minimal costume, and working out entrances and exits, a director can achieve little else in the 4-5 hour rehearsal period. The rest is with the actors and their ability to respond instinctively to the play.

Shifting and unpredictable narratives, with a heavy underscore of rhetoric, are a mainstay for Fletcher and Massinger as they keep us at bay from second-guessing the plot, and the pendulum swings between romance and farce, through the many happy and convenient coincidences. Characters betray their own convictions when challenged with new circumstances; allegiances are complex: they form, break, and reform; and running through the core of the narrative is love and romance leading to the final resolution that leaves us on a high note proving that the Beatles were right after all: “All You Need is Love.”

The Sea Voyage is like a rollercoaster: the joy is found in surrendering yourself to the ride. I truly hope you enjoy this remarkable piece.

VOYAGE-13

Patrick Midgley in rehearsal for The Sea Voyage, 2016. Photo by Jay McClure.

References
Andy Kesson (2011) Review of Fletcher and Massinger’s The Sea Voyage
(co-ordinated by James Chalmers for the Read Not Dead Series, Globe Education), Nancy W. Knowles Lecture Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, 15 August 2010, Shakespeare, 7:3, 358-360, DOI: 10.1080/17450918.2011.589068

*Editor’s Note: The OCS’s own Staged Reading series was born out of the Globe’s Read Not Dead series. Join us next year for The True Chronicle of King Leir and His Three Daughters, George a Greene, and Antonio and Mellida.

 

“Admit me Chorus to this history” – A brief lesson in starting shows, by William Shakespeare, Stephen Sondheim, Will Smith, and Lin-Manuel Miranda

Over the past nearly-six years, I’ve developed a fOCSination with the opening scenes of Shakespeare’s plays. This is a direct result of my work on our Study Guides — in the Basics section of each one, I use the first 100 lines of the play as an example to teachers of how to work with embedded stage directions, scansion, paraphrasing, rhetoric, and audience contact. It means I get to know those opening five minutes quite intimately.

It’s occurred to me that there are some similarities that run not only across Shakespeare, but across the centuries, when it comes to starting a show. Obviously not every play follows the same pattern, even within Shakespeare, but a great many have certain characteristics in common, particularly when there’s an opening prologue of some sort.

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John Harrell as the Chorus in the OCS’s 2011 Henry V; photo by Tommy Thompson

The first few minutes of the play let the audience know what’s important and what to expect. I’ve talked about the importance before, in my Wandering through Wordles series, but on a basic story-telling level, those first moments set the scene, often quite literally. Within those first 100 lines (which are often but not always within the first scene), Shakespeare tells us where we are or soon will be:

The Two Gentlemen of Verona: “here in Verona”
2 Henry IV: “in a bloody field by Shrewsbury”
Henry V: “the vasty fields of France”
Troilus and Cressida: “In Troy, there lies the scene”
12th Night: “This is Illyria, lady”

He tells us who our important characters or factions are:

Henry V: “the warlike Harry”
Romeo and Juliet: “these two foes”
Richard II: “Henry Hereford… against the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray”
Love’s Labour’s Lost: “You three, Biron, Dumaine, and Longueville”
Much Ado about Nothing: “Don Pedro of Aragon comes this night to Messina”
Richard III: “this son of York”

Sometimes he tells us what’s already happened, in the time before the play begins:

1 Henry VI: “King Henry the Fifth, too famous to live long. / England ne’er lost a king of so much worth”
Troilus and Cressida: “Six-and-ninety, that wore / Their coronets regal, from t’Athenian bay / Put forth toward Phrygia, and their vow is made / To ransack Troy”.

Very often, Shakespeare tells us what’s going to happen, either in the short term, as when Richard lets us know he means to “set my brother Clarence and the King in deadly hate, the one against the other”, or else over the whole course of the play, as with Romeo and Juliet‘s famously spoiler-iffic opening: “A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.”

Sometimes the information doesn’t come from a separate prologue, but from the characters themselves, as when Orlando gives us his family history in As You Like It or as in Aegeon’s famously interminable info-dump at the start of The Comedy of Errors. Generally monologues, though sometimes with limited prompting by another character, these openings serve a similar function as the prologue-openings, but come from inside the world of the play rather than from an outside spectator. (This may have the effect of immediately bringing the audience in as well, making them eavesdroppers or confidantes, rather than casting the play as a pageant presented for their perusal.) Some plays also don’t have their famous prologues in their Quarto versions, but even then, the first five minutes still transmit much of the same information — the brawling Capulets and Montagues set up the conflict of Romeo and Juliet, and King Henry tells us about his warlike aims in Henry V, for example.

One purpose of the prologue or prologue-like opening, then, is biographical: either of the individual or of the setting. Shakespeare has to set his stage. The other purpose I’ve noticed is instructional: Many prologues conclude with some sort of “call to action” for the audience, much the same way that epilogues will often end by asking for applause. Romeo and Juliet asks the audience to watch “the two-hours’ traffic of our stage/The which if you with patient ears attend/What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend,” while Henry V requests that the audience “Admit me Chorus to this history,/Who prologue-like your humble patience pray/Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.” Both of those openings beg the audience’s indulgence for imperfection. The stage can never present things as they truly were, after all, but the actors are going to do their best.

So how do I connect this to more modern media? When I started thinking about biographical and instructional openings, one of the first things that popped into my head actually wasn’t from live theatre — it’s the opening theme of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Pretty much any child of the 90s can bust out these rhymes on command:

Smith not only starts with a great opening word — “Now”, the same as Shakespeare uses to start Richard III, excellent because it focuses the audience’s attention on the immediacy of the speaker’s words — but he also begins by contextualizing his speech as a story. Just as many of Shakespeare’s openings do. The instructional portion of the intro is brief: “Just sit right there; I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air.” He moves quickly into the biographical purpose: He then moves on to a “story up to this point” retelling; it doesn’t give away the ending (impractical in an ongoing TV series), but it does set the scene, much like Rumour in Henry IV, Part 2 and the brothers of Henry V who begin Henry VI, Part I.

We also see in Smith an unreliable narrator. His narration does not always match the visuals. This made me think both of Rumour, who outright tells the audience his purpose is to mislead, and of the Chorus in Henry V, whose version of an ultra-glorious hero-king is not always borne out by the events of the play that Shakespeare gives us. The biographical purpose of the intro cannot be trusted.

Then I thought about the opening number of Into the Woods, which introduces us to all the characters we’re going to need to know about. Sondheim begins as traditionally as is possible: “Once upon a time, in a far-off kingdom, lived a fair maiden, a sad young lad, and a childless baker and his wife.” The audience quickly recognizes the fair maiden as Cinderella and the sad young lad as Jack of beanstalk fame; rapidly, all within the opening number, we also meet Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters, Jack’s mother (and his cow), Red Riding Hood, and the Witch.

Sondheim doesn’t really need to tell us how these stories end — we already know that. (Or do we? as the second act of the musical proceeds to explore — but then, his purpose is subversion of tropes, so it’s entirely fitting that he would give us an opening that lays out expectations, then waits til halfway through to break them). Critically, he does tell us what they all want. The theme of “I wish” runs through the entire play, and Sondheim seeds that in these first moments, as well as providing us with their first obstacles.

Since the play features an on-stage character called The Narrator, who begins with the famous “Once upon a time”, the musical quite obviously points at itself as a story, though in a slightly different way than Shakespeare and Smith. These stories are so well-known as to be ubiquitously understood in Western culture. By giving the audience the familiar opening, Sondheim makes us a promise, placing us in the comfortable realm of the bedtime story — and then almost immediately breaks that promise by showing us that these are not the stories we know, because they will interweave and affect each other.

The instruction in this opening is implicit, embedded in common culture. When we hear the words “Once upon a time,” we already know what to do. We don’t need to be told. But by including them, Sondheim is still pointing us in that direction. And then, he tricks us, pulling a bait-and-switch on the familiarity, to delightful effect.

The biographical purpose of the opening number of Hamilton is obvious: Lin-Manuel Miranda gives us a literal biography of Hamilton’s young life, up to the point where he arrives in New York. The first four words give us crucial information about his family background (“How does a bastard…”; a few lines later, we learn where he’s from (“a forgotten spot in the Caribbean”). And then we learn who he is and how extraordinary he is. It’s a little like the first five minutes of Henry V — not only the prologue, but the first scene between the bishops, where they discuss Henry’s earlier years. And like Romeo and Juliet, Miranda’s Hamilton takes the biographical purpose of the opening all the way through, giving away the ending when Burr states: “And me? I’m the damn fool that shot ‘im.”

Though delivered by Aaron Burr, this song’s purpose is really Hamilton’s self-contextualization. No one else gets a name in this song — we’ll properly meet Burr, Mulligan, Lafayette, and Laurens in “Aaron Burr, Sir”, Angelica and Eliza in “The Schuyler Sisters”, Washington in “Right Hand Man”, and other important figures as the play goes on. Here, they are defined only by their relationships to Hamilton:

MULLIGAN/MADISON AND LAFAYETTE/JEFFERSON:
We fought with him

LAURENS/PHILLIP:
Me? I died for him

WASHINGTON:
Me? I trusted him

ANGELICA SCHUYLER, ELIZA, MARIA REYNOLDS:
Me? I loved him

BURR:
And me? I’m the damn fool that shot him

The musical even presents most of the cast in stripped-down versions of the costumes we’ll see them in later, parchment-colored and almost ghostly; the ensemble presents scenes from Hamilton’s past in stylized dance, dumb-show like — a convention familiar to early modernists. Burr (who has the first lines) alone begins in a full-color costume, and Hamilton dons a jacket partway through. This presentation, with the context of the lines, seems to suggest that Hamilton will be the only character who “matters”, that we will see everything through his eyes and everyone through that lens. But, much like Shakespeare and Sondheim, Miranda subverts that expectation. We get nearly as much insight into Burr’s anti-hero as into Hamilton himself, and Eliza ultimately decides the course of her own narrative (as I’ve discussed before). Everyone’s story matters, even if the main focus of the musical is a single man.

Hamilton

(Click for link to video)

And, like Shakespeare and Smith, Miranda gives us unreliable narrators. Hamilton and Burr are telling their own stories, with their own biases, often at cross-purposes. One of the largest themes of the musical is that of self-determination: How do you create yourself? Is the self that you conceive the same self that the world witnesses? What do you do when the two don’t match?

The instructional component of Hamilton‘s intro is subtler, and it goes by fast. The only line that seems a direct appeal to the audience is Burr’s: “His ship is in the harbor now, see if you can spot ‘im.” I think there’s a larger appeal, though, in what Hamilton says upon his entrance and what the ensemble echoes later: “Just you wait.” He’s not just talking to the other figures on stage: he’s talking to us. And we will wait, of course. We’ll stay in our seats to see how the story plays out, even if we know the ending — as Shakespeare well knew we would, too.

The idea of storytelling weaves throughout the musical, in numerous references including the show’s tagline: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story”. Miranda seeds it here, though, in the very five minutes (The opening number runs about 4:25, and then the very first bars of “Aaron Burr, Sir” give us one last crucial bit of information: the year our story begins, 1776). Miranda is, like Shakespeare, cluing us in to something important — about self-determination, about choosing your narrative, about trying to control the story of your life.

Obviously not every play or musical falls into this pattern, and even fewer TV shows and movies do, but it makes me think, broadly, of how storytellers introduce information. How do they give us the background we need? How do they let the audience know what to expect? How and when might they subvert those expectations?

–Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

PS: Don’t worry, rhetoric geeks! I’m still working on some Shakespeare-to-Hamilton comparisons.

PPS: Also on posts about parallels regarding final lines, parodies, meta-theatre, doubling, costuming, and many more things. The more I explore this, the more solidly convinced I become that Lin-Manuel is one of our modern Shakespeares. Not an exaggeration. Just my analysis of how each writer uses his space, his actors, his audience, and above all, his language.

Apprehend a world of figures: Rhetoric and the SAT

ROADS boxA recent feature on NPR’s The Takeaway discussed changes to the SAT exams (which many students will be taking tomorrow), and it included a reference to the fact that rhetorical analysis is now a component in assessing a student’s verbal skills.

This was news to me, but also delightful. I’ve been arguing for the inclusion of rhetorical studies in high school classrooms for years now, and as I did some research into the new SAT’s format and focus, it became clear to me that the OCS’s R.O.A.D.S. to Rhetoric materials are designed specifically to give students an entry-level understanding of precisely what the test now seems to be looking for:

  • From the College Board’s SAT study guide: “Analyzing word choice: Understanding how an author selects words, phrases, and language patterns to influence meaning, tone, and style; Analyzing text structure: Describing how an author shapes and organizes a text and how the parts of the passage contribute to the whole text”.
  • From Five Tips for a Top Essay on the New SAT: “For a high-scoring essay, don’t forget to use some rhetorical flourishes of your own: big words, literary devices, and even statistics and quotations you’ve memorized as part of your test prep. Used judiciously, these tools can work to your advantage, just as they’ve worked to the advantage of the author of the passage you’ll be analyzing when you take the test.”
  • From BodSAT’s News: “Any good rhetorical analysis process includes the head as well as the heart. Good English teachers know the importance of having students engage with the text before they analyze it.”
  • From Montgomery School of Maryland’s SAT prep: “Reading: The student needs to analyze the passage’s word choice and text structure, along with analyzing the author’s point of view, purpose, and argument (how the author builds, structures, and supports the argument)…. Writing: These questions focus on revision of text to improve the use of language to accomplish particular rhetorical purposes.  While reading, the student needs to ask him/herself questions like… – How is the author using phrasing and word choice to accurately, clearly, and concisely state the intended message? – How does the wording and sentence structure affect the style and tone of the passage?”
  • From Study Study Tips for the 2016 SAT Essay: “Point out specific rhetorical devices that strengthen the argument and connect the author to the reader. Common examples are word choice, hyperbole, figurative language, rhetorical questions, and emotional appeals – devices that you’ve probably learned in school.”
  • From Persons for the People: “An overview of Aristotle’s appeals: Ethos: The Ethical Appeal, demonstrates credibility, author is trustworthy/fair, emphasis on morality, right v wrong, considerate of both sides; Logos: The Logical Appeal, author uses reason, facts, evidence, charts, graphs, figures, general thoughtfulness; Pathos: The Emotional Appeal, taps into audience’s feelings, passion and possibility, pity, sympathy, sadness, seeks the ‘gut’ reaction, about the ‘experience’.”

This is right in line with everything we say about rhetoric and how it can help actors and students mine information about character, expression, intent, and action out of the text. (Plus, as I discussed last month, it’s pretty sexy stuff and totally fits with modern media). But it’s not enough just to be able to regurgitate definitions: students have to experience it in ways that are vital and visceral in order to learn how writers use rhetoric to shape critical thought and emotional affect. That’s where the application comes in — and there’s no better lens than Shakespeare for exploring rhetoric-in-action.

Here’s a snippet of what I encourage students to look for once they’ve got a basic grasp of rhetorical patterns:

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So, if you’re a teacher wondering how to approach this new requirement of the SAT exam, I encourage you to join us at an upcoming Teacher Seminar, or, bring your class in for a R.O.A.D.S. to Rhetoric workshop. We’re also happy to travel to you for classroom visits or in-service training. Whether or not you study the play we’re covering — or even if you don’t teach Shakespeare at all! — our methods of rhetorical analysis are cross-applicable across all language studies and will help to make your students better readers, writers, listeners, and thinkers.

And if you’re a student looking to get a leg up on the SAT exam? Try our Rhetoric Flashcards, available in the Box Office and through our online gift shop. Your classmates may all know what alliteration is, but you’ll be the one walking home with 800s when you drop terms like antanaclasis, polysyndeton, and anthimeria into your essay.

MLitt Thesis Festival 2016 – Session 2

I’m Cass Morris, back again to live-blog the second session of the MLitt Thesis Festival, 3:00-5:00pm.

Kayla Blue, A Baffling Whim: Sexual Imagery in Film Adaptations of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Capulet Ball
The presentation opens with Katie Little, as Blue, watching the ball scene from the Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet. Blue then explains that she’s watched thirty-nine film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, and that the ball scenes in 27 of them feature phallic imagery (69%). She noticed the repeated imagery of columns (or column-like vertical structures) and drapery, tapestry, or similar materials. Blue argues that the columns and arras both call upon romantic/historic ideas and invoke sexual imagery.

Columns: have a history of tragic scenery, evoke wealth (particularly ancient money), and connote the Italian heritage to a Western audience. Blue is interested in the conscious result of many directors’ subconscious decision. Little’s Faux!Blue takes a moment to comment on adaptation: Blue moved beyond just versions of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, using Shakespeare’s own text, to include anything that self-identified as an R&J adaptation (so, things like Shakespeare in Love and Gnomeo and Juliet are on her list).

Blue notes that the stagnant features of the Elizabethan stage, as demonstrated in the presence of our own frons scenae, have been appropriated by many directors of film. Blue notes that film allows for some “minutiae” that are impossible to convey in a theatrical setting. Blue identifies key components of the ball scene: A) Moment of Initial Attraction, B) Moment of Mutual Connection, and C) Moment of First Physical Contact, followed by the shared sonnet. Romeo’s A moment is textually prescribed; Juliet does not have a corresponding A moment in text. The opening of the sonnet brings them together, and “If I profane with my unworthiest hand” is the C moment.

Blue then tells us when to look for columns, including but not limited to: entering the ball, Romeo and Juliet’s A moments, Tybalt’s promise, with servants and musicians, Romeo’s adoration speech, the moment of mutual connection, the moment of first physical contact, during the sonnet, or during the recognition of their identities. Zeffirelli uses what Blue calls the “positive” slope, moving from A to B to C, though it does break down into RA and JA. This is the most common sequence. Gnomeo and Juliet, meanwhile, has the “negative slope” – C to B to A, as the characters accidentally touch hands, then become aware of each other. Shakespeare in Love moves JA to RA to C to B. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet moves B to A to C, as the characters first see each other through the fish tank.

Blue then notes the fourteen adaptations make use of an “in within” – a “private, interior female space” – for the lovers to have their interaction away from the party. They have, however, still “retreat to somewhere public.” The party is still going on and nearby, but allows a certain amount of privacy for the sonnet. “Romeo and Juliet are alone; the party is simultaneously adjacent and distant.” She argues that the audience understands that Romeo is entering a sacred interior space of some kind, which has some form of vaginal connotations to an audience “already stimulated by male phallic imagery… from all the columns!” She connects this to the history of theatre and the classical concern with public and private spaces. Blue parallels her list of where to look for the columns with where to look for the arras: during the sonnet. “The two scenic images together do something special” to the audience’s cognitive awareness, connecting the modern film with the Elizabethan theatre with the classical theatres.

Blue notes that scholars have considered phallic imagery so common as to have become invisible to Western culture. The statement of mOCSuline presence is the erect phallus; Romeo is not just the “cock in the henhouse” in that he is a Montague amongst Capulets, but because he is representative of that mOCSuline presence. She then notes that the imagery connects with Romeo’s already aroused state when he arrives at the ball; the language after he meets Juliet, however, turns gentler and more feminine. The Montague faction represents an unwelcome penetration into the Capulet space, but the arras imagery used within the lovers’ sonnet turns that unwelcome penetration into something mutual, an allowed penetration, consensual and romantic. Blue notes that Juliet chooses to engage in the sonnet with Romeo, telegraphing her own agency and sexual interest to the audience.

Blue ends by asserting that columns subconsciously stimulate sexual ideas in viewers’ minds, and when the lovers share their sonnet and kiss in an intimate, female space, the audience will bind sexual and romantic love together in their story.

Q: These are film adaptations. Are you aware that the arras has been used in this way in a theatrical staging of the play?
A: It could be, but Blue has not seen it. Cohen comments that he has never seen it played quite like that.

Q: Have you seen any correlation with whether there are columns and arrasses in 1.5 and whether or not the lovers are separated or able to connect in the balcony scene?
A: Blue hasn’t, due to needing to narrow the scope of her thesis to examining a single scene. She has noted that columns are most often re-introduced in the tomb scene.

Q: How might you take what you’ve done in terms of film and apply it to the stage?
A: FOCSinatingly, “my discourse about how film can provide for certain opportunities, it also has its failures and downfalls. I would have to really think about how to stage a cinematic interpretation on a stage like this.”

Kendra Emmett-Goldwasser, Od’s F***ing Bodykins: Shakespeare as Cross-Section of the Early Modern Flux of Taboo Language
Emmet-Goldwasser begins by noting that she has been interested in swearing and censorship for several years. Applying this to the early modern period, she wanted to know which words were “bad” and why. She notes that religious words were still taking seriously and that some currently offensive words were not yet considered obscene. She moves to definitions: taboo, oaths, obscenities, and vulgarity. “Taboo” is something permanently or temporarily forbidden or inviolable in a society, something which is simple in concept but complex in reality, constantly evolving and variant between cultures. For this thesis, Emmett-Goldwasser uses it to refer to language taboos, which are, in turn, largely oaths and obscenities.

Oaths invoke God or gods as witness to a statement, such as “by God” or “by God’s wounds”. She also includes minced and abbreviated oaths, like “‘zounds!”, or “life!” or “heart!” with an understood “God’s” before them. They then became words uttered due to their evocative or provocative value. Obscenities, then, “are to be defined against oaths,” specifically words that referents to parts of the body and its effluvia, both sexual and scatological: fuck, shit, cunt, etc. These can be found both explicitly and implicitly in early modern texts. She notes that many of these, including fuck and shit, were not explicitly taboo in the early modern period. Vulgarity, for this thesis, means “words that have coarse or impolite reference” but without being the same level of taboo as obscenities. In England, at the end of the 16th and early 17th century, the taboos were shifting from religious to bodily nature.

Emmett-Goldwasser mentions that there is a physiological way to measure the body’s response to words, based on electronic impulse on the skin. Since she cannot travel back in time to test this on unsuspecting early moderns, she examines the effect of words through other means. She begins with ecclesiastical exhortations, such as various publications regarding “the abuse of swearing”. People must have continually used these words, or clerics would not need to warn against them, and the invective publications indicate that these words were still taboo. Swearing, cursing, and oaths do not seem to refer to obscenities or vulgarities in early modern parlance.

“The best way to find out what is taboo in a society is to find out what it censors,” and so Emmett-Goldwasser moves to considering what the Masters of the Revels censored out of plays of the time. Three manuscripts exist with censor marks on them, and Emmett-Goldwasser shares one from The Second Maiden’s Tragedy. It includes no examples of censored sex or sexuality, not even when a tyrant steals his love’s dead body for necrophiliac purposes. Theatrical taboos seemed to focus on religious and political means. The most pertinent instance of censorship was the Act to Restrain the Abuses of Players, which fined 10 pounds for the use of sacred or religious words, again with no mention of obscenities.

Emmet-Goldwasser then considers “print” censorship, noting that the Folio oddly minces oaths, even though the Act only applied to those spoken on the stage and that other quartos printed after the Folio retained the original oaths. She notes Gary Taylor’s argument that the altered Folio texts may, then, have been set from altered playhouse texts, adjusted to comply with the Act. To demonstrate one of her findings, she looks at Hamlet, 3.2 in its three versions. “‘Zounds” in Q1 is exchanged for “S’blood” in Q2, then disappears in the Folio.

So, if these oaths were taboo, then why did playwrights use them? Shakespeare’s plays help us to see the moment when the religious oaths were becoming less taboo and the bodily terms were becoming moreso. As an example, Mercutio’s conjuring of Romeo after the Capulet ball, with the et cetera serving not necessarily as external censorship, but perhaps as a euphemism used for the self-censorship of the word “cunt”, which does not seem to have been taboo earlier in the medieval period (particularly as it appears in a number of place names). Shakespeare puns on the word several times – “Her Cs, her Us, and her Ts” and “country matters”. Emmett-Goldwasser compares these to “fuck” and “shit”. In the 1500s, “shit” appeared in print with no sign of bashfulness or censorship. Shakespeare puns on “fuck” (or its French variant) a couple of times in Henry IVHenry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and it also appears in Ben Jonson’s Epicene, which refers to a “windfucker” — the common name for a kestrel. If the word “fuck” was taboo, it is unlikely that it would have been used so casually in another context. Emmett-Goldwasser notes that it seems to have been vulgar but not necessarily obscene nor taboo in the early modern period.

In conclusion, censorship seemed concerned more with blasphemous language, as evidenced by the Act. “Oaths still held taboo, and some obscenities were not yet obscene.”

Q: Did you notice how comparatively blasphemous was Shakespeare?
A: Emmett-Goldwasser has looked a little at the contemporaries, but mostly focused on Shakespeare due to scope. Oaths are present, but he complied after the 1606 act.

Q: If words like “fuck” and “shit” weren’t taboo, then why only playfully pun on them?
A: Emmett-Goldwasser feels this is an indication of her thesis that the taboo was shifting; those words might not have been quite as appropriate even though not explicitly taboo.

Q: In “windfucker” to “windsucker”, can you argue against the typesetting?
A: “I wondered about that.” Her thesis posits that it could’ve been a mistake or a matter of convenience.

Davies: One final question — Where was Grope-Cunt Lane? I’ve decided to go there.
Menzer: Thank you, Kendra. See me in my office, Davies.

Megan Clauhs, Her Mother Hath Many Times Told Me So: Innogen and Silence in Much Ado about Nothing
Merlyn Sell opens, as Clauhs, opining that Innogen in Much Ado doesn’t speak because she’s a ghost character, and therefore a ghost, without lines. Clauhs then interrupts to correct. There are two kinds of ghost characters: seen and unseen. Seen ghosts enter in stage directions but never speak, nor are spoken to; unseen ghosts, like Rosaline in Romeo and Juliet, who is referred to often but never appears on stage. Clauhs then argues that Innogen ought not be considered a seen ghost character, as there are lines within the play that do refer to Innogen, at least as Hero’s mother, though her name is never spoken.

Clauhs then presents the opening scene of Much Ado about Nothing with a silent Innogen included. Any mention of her paternity must acknowledge her, if she is on stage. Clauhs then considers places where seen ghost characters get left out of the staging — usually when productions cut servants and attendants due to the constraints of cast size, a practice which does not affect the plot or the audience’s experience of the play. She argues that Innogen, the only married woman in the play, cannot be excised as easily. Clauhs puts forward the idea that, with few exceptions, married women do not talk in comedies, and even Hero is more talked-about than talking. Clauhs points out that even Beatrice stops talking after her mouth is stopped, presumably with a kiss, suggesting that the happy ending requires the silence of the female characters.

Clauhs argues that the Messina of Much Ado is one of Shakespeare’s most misogynistic settings, illustrated both by Leonato’s vitriol (absent in the source material), Claudio’s indifference, and the propensity of cuckold jokes in the play. Clauhs notes that some modern productions have given lines from other characters to a speaking Innogen. She believes this would have raised questions for an early modern audience that it does not for a modern audience. “Just because Innogen is silent in the text doesn’t mean she has to stay silent forever.”

Clauhs stresses the importance of retaining Innogen, particularly as a married woman in the world of a play which focuses on female virtue and chastity, and argues for undoing the editorial choice of Theobald which got carried forward into future editions.

Q: If Innogen is an important part of the play in her silent presence, what does her absence after 2.1 say?
A: The full thesis argues that her absence is the mistake, not her presence. Other characters lack entrances but speak lines within scenes.
Q: What scenes do you think she should be in that she’s not?
A: “My thesis is evolving every day. I’m starting to believe that she should replace Ursula.”

Q: Clarification regarding what defines “happily” married women.
A: Conflict, such as Adriana, indicates an unhappy marriage.

Q: If Shakespeare did intentionally only put Innogen in 1.1 and 2.1, then why is she there?
A: Shakespeare needed a married woman there to be the butt of a cuckold joke.

Q: Is there anything to tie in the possible alternate pun on musical noting in the title?
A: “I hadn’t even thought of that. I was more interested in the vagina joke.”

Q: I wonder if there’s an inverse proportion to sad men. Is there a feminization of Don John the bastard, as if he’s being told to shut up? He does speak a lot but not in public.
A: Clauhs doesn’t think so, “but no offense, I don’t care about men in this thesis.”

Paige Hammock, “Hear My Soul Speak”: Experiential and Atemporal Shakespeare through Music
Hammock considers the musical supplements to the early modern scene, including plays, masques, dancing, bear-beating, “adult dancing”, and even work. “Music was and is a foundation of cultural stability.” Music was an integral part of the early modern theatre transaction, and today can be used as a bridge between what seems archaic and what is familiar. Hammock underscores the ability of music to influence and suggest emotion, as well as to cross temporal boundaries. Examples of music assisting theatrical transaction include those at the Globe in London and here at the Blackfriars Playhouse. Hammock mentions particularly the foreign language productions of the Globe to Globe project, where music told a story that the audiences could follow.

Hammock compares the Globe’s typical use of music, only when called for in the script and at the end with a dance, to the Blackfriars Playhouse’s use of music before the show and during the interlude, which may tell the audience something about what they are about to see. “Music can help clarify and set boundaries for the meaning that the production and the audience will create together.” At the Globe, initial music serves as a signal that action is about to begin; she provides an example from the 2013 Macbeth, wherein the tones of bagpipes serve to silence the audience as well as setting the scene, before transitioning into warlike drum beats. “At the very least, the intro music draws the attention of the audience through sheer volume.” Such abrupt starts seem typical at the Globe, creating an aural boundary with immediate audience awareness. The production ended with a musical salute and a dance. While the jig may be discordant with a tragedy, Hammock suggests that the music and dance signals the end of the play in the same way as the call for applause in other plays. Music then, reminds audience to both pay attention to and to leave the play: an absolute beginning and a clear ending. “Transaction started; transaction completed.” Hammock also notes the ability of music to establish patterns and to signal transitions within a play, such as the music in The Tempest. She plays a clip from the Globe’s 2012 production, during Ferdinand’s initial entrance.

By contrast, the musical scene at the Blackfriars Playhouse “is a bit difference.” Here, the actors perform modern music during the pre-show and interval, often suggesting, as Jim Warren puts it, “something about the play.” During the touring days, it was used as a mood-setter, mediating between what an audience might expect and introducing them “to a potentially less stuffy version.” For example, the use of U2’s “Love is Blindness”, frequently used as an LGBTQ anthem, helped ease the way into Marlowe’s Edward II. Hammock suggests that the interval’s inclusion of “You Shook Me All Night Long” was perhaps more tongue-in-cheek, serving to highlight the play’s melodramatic elements. This, Hammock argues, becomes a different kind of transactional allowance, giving the audience permission to feel that the relationship between the King and Gaveston, while real, is also overly dramatic.

Hammock then considers the 2014 OCS production of The Comedy of Errors. The pre-show and interval music “semeed to take the painfully obvious and making it obviouser,” highlighting the absurdity of the entire play. The opening “Hey Brother” by Avicii has an obvious connotation, in the twins. The long-lost twins and wronged twins find a theme in Three Dog Night’s “One is the Loneliest Number”, and the falsities and mistaken identities get the same treatment in the interval’s “Little Lies” by Fleetwood Mac. All of these, Hammock says, comment on the play’s own absurdity. She also considers the cover of Cake’s “Never There”, which transitions into the door-keeping scene, and Weird Al Yankovic’s “I Think I’m a Clone Now.” The latter is both humorously self-referential during the play and an echoing reference to the original song, “I Think We’re Alone Now”. Hammock argues that there is a cognitive dissonance between hearing modern music on the early modern stage, perhaps creating competing “winks” to the audience, “a lot for the audience to process.” She expresses concern that this may break the transaction between theatre and audience. Another example was the interlude song and dance to “Me and My Shadow” by Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.  In comparison, Hammock feels that Weird Al cover might have pulled the audience too far out of the play, while the Sinatra/Davis cover created a stronger sense of the world of the play.

Concluding, Hammock states that music can define boundaries and enhance the theatrical transaction. “Music is used not as an alternative language, but as an additional one.”

Q: Have you thought about the difference between recorded sound and live?
A: Yes; initially Hammock wanted to have the music in her presentation performed live.

Q: You’ve pretty skillfully hacked the layers of something like the Weird Al song; is the atemporality something that comes out of that?
A: Usually when you come to a show, you can make the connection between the song and the play you’re about to see, but the Weird Al song seemed to add too many layers for the audience to then think about.

Q: You mentioned a bit about the audience’s attention to the song, and that got me thinking of how I frequently cannot hear the lyrics of the song thanks to the noise of the audience. How does that ability or inability impact the audience’s experience?
A: Hammock does talk about that some in the actual thesis. It’s not necessarily meant to serve as an essential component of the play. There’s still an aural connection to something happening on the stage, even if you’re not trying to OCSribe meaning or listening to the lyrics.

Q: Thoughts on the use of modern music like at the Blackfriars Playhouse versus historical music like at the Globe?
A: Hammock is looking at the variant experiences that creates, without necessarily saying that one is a better choice than the other.

Q:Do you get the same atemporality when productions take early modern lyrics and set them to modern music?
A: It can have that effect.

–This session live-blogged by Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager

MLitt Thesis Festival 2016 – Session 1

Good morning! Cass Morris, back again to live-blog the first session of the 2016 Thesis Festival, 11:30am-2:00pm.

OCS Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen welcomes us, then Dr. Paul Menzer notes that this is just the start of a week of exciting MBC Shakespeare & Performance events.

Justine Mackey, “This Dog, My Dog”: Shakespeare and Man’s Best Friend
The presentation opens with dueling dogs: a lovely (adoptable!) pitbull called Duchess, actor Clarence Finn in a dog suit, and an invisible dog on a leash presented by Tyler Dale, all attempting to present Crab from The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Mackey comes out and introduces herself and her actors, and Jocelynn Joy Murphy presents the “moon” speech from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, first with Duchess as “this dog”, then a second time with a stuffed dog. Mackey explains how she came to this topic, then notes that theatre still struggles with the choice to use live dogs, whether trained for performance or not, as opposed to prop or imaginary dogs.

“Performing animal” typically refers to an animal trained to do tricks for entertainment value, but Mackey believes that considering non-performing animals in theatre has value as well. A live dog can not only provide an interesting challenge for the actor, but can also create satisfying emotional experiences for the audience — and perhaps find a non-performing dog a forever home. Dogs, Mackey notes, need no special training in order to behave as a dog on stage. She moves to a consideration of various references to dogs in Shakespeare — there are over 2300 references to animals in Shakespeare, and the most-referenced animal is the dog.

This makes sense to Mackey, as humanity’s relationship with dogs goes back thousands of years. She provides a visual of cave paintings involving dogs. “Shakespeare was continuing a longtime theme that began thousands of years before him.” Mackey comments that outdoor theatre, such as the nearby Oak Grove, always contains the potential for unintended animal participation, as when frogs hop on stage. In this case, it can be a distraction for both actor and audience. Even intended animals can be a distraction, however, as their unpredictability can draw focus. Mackey sees this as a chance to heighten excitement. Dogs were, even in the early modern period, “an easy and accessible animal to work with on stage.” Mackey also ties this to the modern age, with the prevalence of animal-related videos on the internet, particularly with regard to the compassion that animals have for each other and for humans, and in turn, the compassion that we feel for them.

Mackey calls attention to the dual experience of placing a non-performing animal next to a performing actor, noting that it also brings up some ethical concerns. She seeks to place the theatrical use of non-performing dogs in line with other considerations of the relationship between dogs and humans. As an example, she speaks of the experiment of bringing a dog into the classroom, which improved both performance and attendance. Mackey ties this to the economic success of having a live dog in the OCS’s 2012 production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, as the marketing for that show let the audience know they could expect to see a live dog on stage.

“Putting a dog on-stage will immediately trigger some response to the audience.” Mackey’s observation is aptly timed, as Duchess makes some cute noises, eliciting coos from the audience. She returns to the OCS’s 2012 Two Gents, where over 13 weeks, with 13 different dogs, 9 of those adoptable dogs found homes from audience members. She then discusses the challenge for the actors: having to quickly get accustomed to a new animal, and to get the animal accustomed to them. “The dog truly becomes a symbol of the improvised.” The actor and director could not block the dog, “but rather familiarized the dog with the stage and the actors.”

She shares some experiences from Ben Curns, who played Launce in that production, including the instinctive acting that the second dog, JR, seemed to demonstrate on-stage. Another dog, Jed, was noisier, likely to cry or whine any time the attention on the stage diverted away from him. She relates that, despite some mishaps and challenges, Curns nonetheless felt that the project was more a success than not.

“Seeing an animal on-stage next to a performing human” stimulates certain things for the audience. According to an ASPCA study, nearly half of all Americans own a dog, and more know someone who does, augmenting the connection that audience members feel with a dog on stage. A live dog on stage changes the way the audience experiences the moment. Mackey notes that Thadd McQuade believes that having a live dog on stage causes a “friction of reality”, which may provoke the audience to think about why the dog is there — particularly in plays like The Two Gentlemen of Verona, where a dog is not explicitly called for. She then speaks to the backstage effect of having a dog in a performance. McQuade’s dog was “miserable backstage” because the dog could sense a level of distress in the actors as they focused on their work, which in turn distressed the dog.

Mackey hopes that her work can help change the way that scholars focus their exploration of live animals on stage. As Mackey discusses the lasting impression that an animal can have on the audience, Duchess sneezes adorably. Mackey concludes by underscoring the long history that live animals have in performance, then states her belief that the live dog generates more connection with the audience, generates more revenue, and enhances the overall theatrical experience.

Q: Is there any sort of consent issue when it comes to using animals in performance?
A: There are organizations that work with regulations on performing animals, more for Broadway and film.

Q: What are the runner-up animal references in Shakespeare?
A: Second was birds, third was horse. Cat was low, and a handful were only answered once, like shark, squirrel.

Q: How does the dog not know that it’s not witnessing real conflict on-stage?
A: There can be a correlation; one dog reacted just to the word “kick”, which suggests that they do pick up on the on-stage dynamic.

Q: Did you get into the history of circus?
A: “I’m digging more into that now and how that has changed, even more recently.”

Molly Seremet, Cyborging Hamlet: A Tabletop Engagement
Seremet opens by referring to Harold Bloom’s assertion of Shakespeare’s singularity, his ability “to write the human.” This line of thinking suggests that Hamlet, then, is a “field sketch” of an entirely new kind of life. Seremet ties this to the idea of a human “that has not yet been,” figuring the conflict between heart and head for future hands that engage with the text. “A man from the future, caught up in the concerns of the past.” Seremet then presents a counterpoint argument from Degrazia, who also engages with the idea of interiority, but suggests that this positions Hamlet as dated, not modern. Defining Hamlet by that interiority only works if you divorce him from his reality; his contemporaries would have understood him in relation to contextual concerns such as land, patrimony, and inheritance. “In order for Hamlet to appear modern, the premise of the play had to drop out of sight.” Trying to make Hamlet’s self-reflection too modern ignores that he exists in a historical set of expectations and influences.

Throughout these discussions, Tyler Dale, on stage, manipulates a series of seemingly unrelated props.

The attempt to “assume modern ownership” of Hamlet ignores his and the play’s reality, and says more about our modern desires than about the play and character. Seremet suggests that the tension between Bloom’s and Degrazia’s interpretations is fOCSinating because it challenges our definitions of what is “modern”. Seremet proposes that we move away from questions of “what makes Hamlet modern” and instead consider that he has moved beyond modernity and moved into a post-modern idea of humanity, “an emblem of the post-human subject.”

Seremet then directs our attention to Dale as he wordlessly performs a card trick.

Seremet discusses the position of the cyborg in human understanding, then ties the ideas of Hamlet to that definition. Hamlet “as a character symbolizes a kind of human that few can emulate.” He is both “abundantly familiar” yet distant. “In cyborg fashion, Hamlet the character manages to hold us at arm’s length” as he performs humanity. We should consider that he represents not the human, but “a possible human,” an “actant”. He has the ability to act, but chooses not to, and “through the act of non-acting, becomes an actant.”

Seremet suggests that “Hamlet can be seen as a placeholder for the human,” stuck within his story, “an object occupying the subject position.” She argues for the replacement of Hamlet with an unpredictable object, to “shift the character”, which she hopes will re-ground Hamlet within his own text. Seremet refers to the mechanic terms that the play uses in reference to Hamlet. “Hamlet’s actant state can be framed in cyborg terms,” caught between the no man’s land between technological and human. Seremet relates this to the concept of “thingification”, examining the relationship between the animate and inanimate.

Seremet concludes by suggesting how we can capture the cyborg metaphor in theatrical practice, particularly by drawing attention to “thing-power”, thinking beyond the life-matter binary. In theatrical terms, an object remains a prop; an object-cyborg with thing-power, however, could become active rather than passive — a shift in perception, away from how we might use objects to considering how objects already use their thing-power on us. Seremet hopes to challenge the primacy of the human in theatrical practice.

Q: Any connection to the previous presentations, regarding the dogs?
A: Parallel tracks. Animals are different in that they do possess more outward agency.

Q: How does this relate to definition of “property”? What happens when the agency is reversed?
A: “In order for an object to cross over into cyber-territory, it has to act on us.” The difference between a prop and a object-cyborg is whether or not the thing has its own agency.

Catie Osborn, Contextualizing the Sword: Titus Andronicusand Early Modern Performance
Osborn begins by discussing how Raiders of the Lost Ark relates to Titus Andronicus, specifically the moment where Indiana Jones shoots the swordsman rather than engaging with him, because Harrison Ford had dysentery at the time. Osborn wondered how the cultural connotations of each weapon affects the audience’s perception of this as a humorous moment or not. “Does this become a symbol of colonialism and white oppression? Does Indiana Jones become the bad guy? Or, what happens when we understand the story behind the story? … It wasn’t colonialism, it was diarrhea.” Which brings us, Osborn notes, to Titus Andronicus, “famously shit on over the centuries.”

She wants to attempt to illustrate that the rampant violence is not demonstrating Shakespeare as an inexperienced and bloodthirsty playwright, but rather a commentary on cultural violence of the time. Her thesis examines the moments in Titus when a weapon appears and connects them to the early modern audience’s perception of those weapons.

Osborn presents the Peacham drawing from Titus, which illustrates a scene that never happens in the play — so how much can we really learn from it? She looks particularly at Aaron’s sword, not only incongruous in the supposed scene of imprisonment and pleading, but also at odds with the textual description of his weapon as a scimitar (important because the word choices centers Aaron as “exotic other”). Titus, meanwhile, seems to have spear, even though the text describes him as having a sword.

The play, Osborn notes, opens with a call to arms, specifically, to swords. Titus Andronicus, though not a historical Roman story, nonetheless connects to the cultural ideas of Rome prevalent in early modern England. Even without Latin, an early modern reader had access to Roman ideas and stories through English translations of Plutarch and others available in print. Shakespeare opens with a conflict between patricians and plebeians, but because the play has no specific time period, the audience cannot exactly know why either party appeals to each group of citizens. Osborn also remarks that, in Shakespeare’s England, Rome had alternate connotations, thanks to early modern Rome representing the corruption of Catholicism; this may explain some of Titus‘s atrocities, including the literal killing of messengers.

Titus combines familiar references to Rome into something vicious and brutal. Osborn highlights the important influence of Seneca on the text. A juxtaposition exists between the Roman and early modern ideas of vengeance; for the Elizabethans, vengeance belonged to God, and personal revenge was punishable by law. Titus, then staged “an Elizabethan anxiety” about the possibility for personal vengeance to spiral out of control. Osborn connects the 1594 publication of Titus to another text in the same year, which commented on the negative effect that vengeance had upon the revenger – specifically, visions and apparitions, such as that which Tamora visits upon Titus in the play.

Osborn shares a deeper consideration of just who gets murdered in Titus and why, positing it as both a dual morality play and a revenge tragedy. This becomes important when taken along with the religious conflicts of the time. Both Catholics and Protestants, though, would have been familiar with the story of Cain — and the admonition of God that any one who visited vengeance upon him would have it returned to them sevenfold. Osborn points out how many instances of violence in Titus are about brothers and that the “sevenfold” plays out within the play. Actors Sophia Beretta and Chris Moneymaker perform a scene between Chiron and Demetrius, which references their rapiers — a weapon which Osborn states was recognized as “contentious” by the early modern audience. The sword was associated with tradition and honorable warfare, while rapiers were weapons of personal vengeance. Fencing manuals commented on the dueling culture of the period, particularly with regard to the “daring” language that Shakespeare has the Gothic brothers emulate. Osborn points out that Chiron and Demetrius are doing something doubly illegal, both with regard to dueling and to wearing live steel in a royal court (illegal under Henry VIII). The scene, then, explains dueling culture and then tension between new and old styles, “hidden masterfully in a bevy of boner jokes.”

Q: How did the idea of the scimitar register at this moment historically?
A: There’s a notion of “otherness” present in Titus, which carries over into the culture at large — that of a mystical East.

Q: How does the research you’ve done translate to other plays?
A: This actually started with the Wars of the Roses, which ended up being just a little bit too much, because there was so much going on historically and culturally. “I thought Titus was a good test case,” but she wants her research to be something that readers can apply to whatever play they’re working on.

Q: Did you arrive at a sense of “rapiers are always this, swords are always this” in regard to their cultural connotations?
A: Youthful spirits, irresponsibility, people willing to fight in the streets = rapiers; Fancy people, high status people, those with traditions and responsibilities = swords “is generally how it splits across the entire canon.” Chiron and Demetrius are a good example.
Q: Did that link with military vs personal?
A: “That’s a great question; I’ll let you know!”

Ryan Odenbrett, Exit Crying Murder: A How-To Manual for Statistical Shakespeare Analysis
Odenbrett begins by stating that his thesis began as a desire to state Shakespeare’s intention in creating a pattern with the “murdered and escaped” characters in 3.3 and 4.2 of Macbeth, but that the project spiraled into “the Death Sheet”, a catalog of all the deaths in the Shakespeare canon. “I wanted to prove one point, but instead and accidentally, I made something better.” He hopes that this will enhance the Shakespeare community’s ideas about death on stage and that it will be able to inform performances.

His database illustrates topics including but not limited to: the ratio of Shakespeare death plays to non death plays, identification of on and off stage deaths, frequency of deaths within plays, how deaths take place, how they are discovered, chronological placing of death within a play, etc. Odenbrett carefully notes that he refrains from placing authorial intent upon the patterns that the database suggests.  “In short, Exit Crying Murder uses statistical Shakespeare analysis to examine the deaths in the canon.” Odenbrett comments that this is particularly apt in the year in which we are recognizing the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and refers to performances taking place across the globe that are performing all of Shakespeare’s deaths.

To start, he describes the phenomenon of charting Shakespeare’s deaths, beginning with an infographic that circulated the internet in 2013. Odenbrett suggests that the analytical human brain finds something satisfying in “this synthesized information in the way of visual images”. He challenges them, however, on the grounds of being inaccurate, and then presents his own table of the chronological compilation of every death in the canon (recorded from the First Folio).

Odenbrett then shares his “rules for admittance” for including a death in his compilation: that the character must appear on stage, be mentioned as dying on stage, or have appeared in a prequel work (the “Falstaff rule”). Looking at his chronology, Odenbrett points out that Shakespeare averaged one “death play” per year, and that he favored death plays over non-death plays by a factor of roughly two to one. He then shares his own pie chart displaying how many of the total deaths take place in each play. Most of the deaths take part in the tragedies, then the histories, then just two deaths in comedies. Early in Shakespeare’s career, most of the deaths took place in histories, but later in his career, he produces eight death plays in a row. However, the histories tend to have more deaths per play (6 in tragedies vs 8.1 in histories). The deaths in tragedies are also mostly on-stage, whereas more deaths in histories take place off-stage.

Plotting all the on-stage deaths into a line graph indicates a negative correlation over time — more deaths earlier in his career than later. Odenbrett speculates that that may have indicated his competition with Marlowe in the first few years. His last five plays have zero on-stage deaths, “as though he got tired of trying to drag carcasses off-stage”. A trend line of off-stage deaths indicates nothing useful by itself, as there is no discernable pattern, but when compared with the on-stage trend line, it seems that his plays alternate between high on-stage and high off-stage deaths.

Odenbrett uses Macbeth as a case study, intending to highlight the play’s irregularities when it comes to on-stage deaths. “Of the Death plays which feature more onstage deaths than offstage deaths, Macbeth possesses the lowest percentile at 57%.” Only Macbeth and Richard III die in stage directions, speaking nothing after their fatal wounds are received, “as though they didn’t deserve it.” Macbeth is also one of only two plays where a child dies on-stage — only 1.2% of all of Shakespeare’s deaths. Odenbrett argues that killing Lady MacDuff on-stage diminishes the rarity of that death. He mirrors this scene with Fleance’s escape and Banquo’s on-stage death, drawing attention to linguistic similarities between Banquo and Lady MacDuff.

Odenbrett “remains confounded by the amounts of data I’ve yet to explain to you” and hopes that the crash-course will encourage us to use statistical data when examining staging questions in the future.

Q: Is that death sheet going to be available?
A: Yes, it will be!

Q: The reason you excluded Two Noble Kinsmen was because of the collaboration?
A: Yeah, even though he most likely wrote the death of Arcites, but because it’s the most contested play and because it only happens in the stage direction.

Q: Is this information supposed to be just for study or to tell future productions whether or not to stage certain deaths?
A: The purpose is to give productions an informed choice.

Q: What is behind the popularity of the impulse to turn death into data?
A: Not sure “why they do it with death”.

Joshua Williams, Tactical Acting: A Foundational Approach to Actor Training through Stage Combat
Williams begins by stating that every actor has their own method of approaching acting, regardless of training, because of each actor’s individual background, psychological state, etc. Most schools of acting agree on one thing, however: conflict. “The basis of all acting is the physicalization of conflict” by bodies moving through space and time. Williams notes that the past few decades have seen a trend of moving towards privileging scansion and rhetorical devices, at least in the realm of Shakespeare studies, over more physical acting training.

Williams argues that many forms of training often neglect the whole-body concepts that are most accessible particularly for young actors, as well as sacrificing the specificity of intention and the tension between two actors. “The principles at the core of stage combat are the same as those of acting.” Combat foregrounds “the one against the other”, the most basic and savage source of drama. He thinks that combat should be the first skill taught to young actors, as through it, they can learn much about blocking, tension, expression, and specificity. Combat also helps young actors to understand the importance of “stakes” in any given scene. In a fight sequence, “what is ‘at stake’ is life itself.” This also forces young actors to listen to each other, both vocally and with their bodies. Combat, then, “teaches all of the most important lessons in acting.”

Tyler Dale and Melinda Marks assist Williams in demonstrating his methods. He begins with “conflict-style games”, including but not limited to tag, hide and seek, etc. One of the most useful that he found was tug-of-war. Combat there “has been shifted and reduced to its most basic concepts”, that is, two figures moving forward and back. Williams notes the ease of attaching storytelling to the back-and-forth. Marks and Dale demonstrate, attaching tugs and slips to certain words. Williams points out that this also involves breath, eye contact, etc. Partners can “tell the story of struggle” without actually exerting power over each other. Stage combat, Williams notes, “is not about winning”, but about working with a partner to sell the story.

Dale and Marks then demonstrate the basic footwork of advances, retreats, and passes can work in armed combat — pretty much the same footwork as in a game of tug of war. The tension between two fighters creates an unbroken line of tension between the actors, much like the literal line of the rope in tug-of-war. Williams notes that this tension can also apply to rhetorical conflict in the plays. In his future consideration, he intends to pursue that frame further, physically embodying verbal argument. For example: “In a normal scene, without combat, who ‘strikes’ first?” Who draws blood, who retreats, who gains power over the other? “The primary goal of this work is to serve as the basis for an actor training regiment.” His thesis outlines a theoretical conservatory program along these lines.

Q: How do you rectify the required falseness of the aggression in combat with the often-encouraged realness of the emotions in actors?
A: “I mean, it’s all acting.” Williams doesn’t see acting as generating “real” emotions. “That’s not what I’m interested in.” He performs actions.

Q: You’re claiming that your method is easier to train an actor in?
A: “No. I think it’s better.”
Q: So what makes it better than a traditional Stanislavski approach? Why is your terminology better?
A: “In my personal experience, having come up in a method-influenced environment, I never felt like it was enough to connect to the text.” Williams point to the need to connect with a partner and to connect points of action with the story.

Q: Wondering if the lines of tension correspond with Head-Heart-Gut-Groin zone theories?
A: “I have never felt as confident in the idea of physical zones for certain types of expression.” Williams says he wants to find ways of being eloquent in different areas. In terms of the idea of learning the ultimate stakes first, it would give more room to explore along the lines of those zones.

Q: How would you approach the concept of teaching physical neutrality to an actor?
A: “I think you go to another method.”

This session live-blogged by Cass Morris, OCS Academic Resources Manager

MFA Thesis Festival 2016

Welcome! From 6pm-8:30pm tonight, I, Cass Morris, shall be live-blogging the presentations given by the members of Sweet Wag Shakespeare, the 2015-2016 MBC MFA company.

OCS Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen begins with a brief introduction, then passes it off to Dr. Paul Menzer, who welcomes us all to the “annual opportunity for our students to share their work with the entire community.” Each presentation will be 10 minutes with a brief Q&A; a 10 minute recess will follow Maria Hart’s presentation.

Natalia Razak Wallace, “Your Brain So Tempered”: This Is Your Brain on the Company Model
“The ability to move an audience emotionally is theatre’s prime directive,” Wallace states, then moves on to defining the goals of the MFA company model. She states that she hoped to study the neurology of emotion, hopefully “explaining why we feel how we feel when we feel things”, then to apply that to the experience of creating and performing shows. Then she explains why that was a terrible idea for a thesis.

While the neurology of eye contact was fairly clear-cut, the neurology of emotions is poorly understood and harder to explain. Wallace also states that even if she could find a “neuro-hack” for why we feel these things, she would “both revolutionize and destroy theatre.” Instead, she hopes that her findings will speak to the company model and perhaps help those approaching this project in the future.

1) It takes many variables to create emotions, both mental and physical. Humans are born with certain emotional responses, but can only access most feelings through living. “If I have never been in love, how will I recognize it when it comes?”

2) We can manipulate these variables somewhat to manufacture some parts of the emotional experience. Wallace uses an example regarding the biological expression of laughter from the Wags’ current rehearsal process. Manufacturing the physical effect of happiness, laughing, can in some cases contribute to actually creating a feeling of happiness.

3) Positive affects are better than negative affects. Good emotions tend to generate more good emotions, and visa versa. For the Wags, this has had a positive effect, as the company members got along and were generally people more inclined to make the best of situations. Wallace also notes that more challenging experiences create a stronger group affect. Positive emotions also help people to remember experiences, even challenging ones, more positively. “To make sure, we should make something really traumatic happen to the group early in the process: Maybe a devised piece in the first month?”

4) Emotions are contagious. Wallace notes that, in the case of the Wags, this means you have a group of company members who cannot keep a straight face anytime anyone says the word “but”. (The company members proceed to prove her correct by giggling from the Lords’ Chairs).

“Is this useful for future MFA companies? I don’t know.”

Q: Are there any direct actions that can come out of this?
A: The group check-ins help to release any negative emotions, as well as making group members aware of each others’ emotional states. Wallace notes that you can check . Wallace states that the first MFA company, the Rovers, are all still very close friends, and they also used check-ins.

Q: Did having journeymen enter the group (non-MFA company members taking part in a show) change the dynamic?
A: Yes, since one of the key variables in a group affect is the composition of that group. But if a group already has a strong affect, new members are more likely to “adopt that affect” than to change it.

Q: You talked about conflict being negative group affect. Can you think of any examples where conflict ended up moving the company into positive group affect?
A: The words “positive and negative become problematic”, because you can have positive group conflict — if the people taking part are still respectful of each other.

Molly Harper, “Devise with Me”: Devising with Shakespeare
Harper begins with a parable regarding the making of broth for cooking. The devised piece is the broth which will flavor the cooking for the rest of the MFA company’s year. This challenge, which Wallace referred to, involves sticking the company members in a hot room, tossing them ingredients, roasting, then simmer and serve.

“Devising is difficult when most of the participants in the room don’t understand what devising is or how it works.” She uses her personal example of the character of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, connected to the theme of Rumor — a foil to crookbacked Richard, connected to the theme of Ambition. Wallace considers them the heart of the broth for her scene — something to “roast”, to condense and bring to the forefront. They were then redirected to move their scene to a smaller space and to make choices that were more confrontational with one another. “The scene wasn’t really working if you’re actively avoiding conflict and tension.” They found contrasting tempos of movement and overlaying the speeches, rather than taking turns, heightened the tension. “I watched audience members squeeze against walls to get away from us.”

She addresses the slow simmer: tension, both between the characters on stage and within an actor’s body. “The fight to control one’s body was the greatest take-away for myself.” Harper speaks of the challenges involved with “the constant battle to keep tension in my body” as she worked through the scene with Wallace. That tension is what creates meaningful emotional responses, and thus a more satisfying story for the audience.

“The final product was a delicious performance — which you may see again in the upcoming Sweet Festival of Wags!” The broth, she notes, ties the entire course together. The ideas, themes, and words enriched and condensed throughout the devised process ended up coloring those in the other plays in their year. Their actions began with examining Shakespeare’s text, but they then had to find ways to physicalize those concepts. “I believe that the devised show is an integral part of the S&P MFA model” because it helps to bring their studies out of the realm of the mind and more into the realm of the body, “thereby creating richer and more present performances.”

Q: To continue the metaphor, how do you avoid the adage that too many cooks spoil the broth?
A: “Hmm. That’s a good one.” Harper uses an example of, if there’s too much cayenne, you can cut it with yogurt or oregano — so if you’ve got one cook that’s too prone to cayenne, you can balance it out with cooks that like yogurt or oregano. Harper then ties it to Wallace’s ideas about a positive atmosphere.

Q: What ways have you found to continue uncovering these tensions?
A: Harper discusses that she’s focusing a lot on the tension between the upper and lower body — and the challenge created in dealing with a torn meniscus when working with that! She then discusses an exercises that Doreen Bechtol does with a pole, where two actors have to keep a literal physical connection between them.

Meredith A. Johnson, “These Indeed Seam, for They Are Actions That a Man Might Play”: A Humorous Thesis on Costume Design and Character Embodiment in Hamlet
Johnson begins by discussing the connection between early modern humourism and modern psychology and “how the physical manifestation of bodily humours in costume pieces” interacts with character choices and performance. The presentation will focus on Claudius, played by Patrick Harris, and Hamlet, played by Ian Charles.

(This live-blogger notes that there are a number of delightful sewing-related puns that she is not typing quite fast enough to catch)

Johnson provided the cast with single-page humour-based character profiles during their first read-through, meant to be examined alongside the script, in the hope that references and connections might be easily visible. She translated the concepts into costume pieces, relying largely on humoural colors and fabric weights.

During the costume parade, she discovered that “my humoural concept should not visually compete” with the show’s overall minimialistic, high-tech concept. So, she revisited her designs, re-imagining in how the humours might manifest in the costumes. “There is a fine line between serving the process and serving the product, and in that liminal space, I found a fine lining.” Literally — in the lining of the garments.

Johnson, with the aid of Charles and Harris, shows these to the audience, noting how the colors both tie the characters to each other and reflect their humoural balances — or imbalances. The actors then had the choice to find out where they could reveal those inner linings during the natural course of the show.

Harris speaks about how this helped him to think about Claudius’s tension and stress, particularly because: “my choler was located in my collar.” During the play, he first fidgets around his throat, then exposes the choler within the collar. Charles speaks to “playing with opening a button, but letting it be a subconscious thing” inspired by an emotion.

Johnson believes this gave the actors an intriguing new concept to work with, “without interfering with or muddying the aesthetic of the production.” Charles speaks to the consideration that actors then can carry over to other performances: what is the character hiding?

(Ralph: So are there any questions you’d like to be unraveled, any points to tie up?)
Q: How did you avoid stereotyping?
A: It was more about the fluctuation of the humours — which came from working with the actors, to see where they felt the most choleric. Johnson speaks to it being a state of flux, something to activate or de-activate.

Q: You talked about how this created better communication with the audience. Any insight on how that was still readable to the high school audiences?
A: “I actually intended to do the opposite — I think it enriched the performances and made the storytelling more clear.” Johnson notes that that terminology was never introduced to the audience; it was all visual.

Q: In a play where Hamlet literally wears the color of his humour on his sleeve, did you ever think about the fact that the other characters have a surface humour and then the inner humour?
A: Oh, absolutely.

Q: So how would you dress Claudius externally?
A: Phlegmatic, which it is — calmer, more pulled together.

Q: Did you choose colors linked to the humour historically or that would evoke that humour emotionally in the audience?
A: Historically.

Merlyn Q. Sell, Suit the Word to the Actor
Sell begins by stating that for adaptation to function as adaptation, it requires some participation from the audience, that they be able to conceive the similarities and differences from the original text. Actors will shape how the audience experiences those text. For this presentation, she will focus on the function of direct Shakespeare quotations in the staged reading of her One Woman Town.

Quotations can work in two ways: the first is simplest, where characters are performing Shakespeare. The second function, in Shakespeare as well as in One Woman Town, indicates madness. “The disjointed functions of a troubled mind” manifest as quotations, disjointed from their surroundings. The Old Man in One Woman Town utters quotations that are only tangentially related to the conversation he’s taking part in. “The response is not easily interpreted.” Sell is unsure whether or not it is important for the characters or audience to recognize the quotations; they add something of an “easter egg”, but without that awareness, the disjointed nature of his speech is still apparent.

The playwright can define meaning of the quotations via the surrounding context, but the actors also help to shape an audience’s understanding. Shakespeare as a form of ethos, a figure of memory — a character knowingly quoting Shakespeare, even if they don’t specifically reference him. This can function to align the character with Shakespeare’s authority. As example: the “wonder-tonic” salesman in One Woman Town, where Shakespeare seems to give “a celebrity endorsement”. In subtler context, it can draw a connection for the audience, who may associate the quote with a particular emotion or memory. A figure of distance — “a character may find themselves free to say what they really mean only when clothing themselves in Shakespeare’s words.” A character can speak words, as when Jane quotes Goneril, with a different intention than the Shakespeare character’s. This depends on the characters understanding that those words are a quotation. In instances where that is ambiguous, it muddies the understanding; Sell offers potential examples from One Woman Town. Sell also includes moments where the characters are unknowingly quoting, where a script quotes “to ingratiate itself” with an appreciative audience.

Sell discusses how she will revisit these quotations for the re-mounting of the staged reading in the upcoming festival, as well as for future production. For the play to survive outside the audience that will appreciate the inside jokes, “Every line must serve the story.”

Q: What constitutes “failure”, what’s the metric by which a quotation might be found wanting in the script?
A: If the only purpose it serves is to highlight the playwright and not the play itself.
Q: Which playwright?
A: “Me.”
Q: How do you judge that?
A: Sometimes it’s a grey area, and those can be left to the actors to interpret. Sometimes “I know very clearly, I’m just doing nudge-nudge, wink-wink, aren’t I clever, and those can clearly go”.

Q: Do you think in your paring down, you’ll reserve the quotations for certain characters?
A: The Old Man will keep all of his. Some characters would know Shakespeare, so it’s logical for them. Others have mangled Shakespeare, which may still have a function.

Q: You mentioned the role of the audience in adaptation. Would you perform that show for a more general audience?
A: “I would like to perform it for other audiences. As it currently stands, it requires revision to be performed that way.” Sell notes there are currently references that don’t serve the play’s actual story.

Q: Was part of the project related to your MLitt thesis about the prevalence of Shakespeare in the Wild West?
A: It’s definitely where it generated from.

Q: Where the character has mangled the Shakespeare, do you think that’s the character hiding behind it, or discovering it, or remembering it from seeing a Shakespeare show go through town? What did you mean by that?
A: Sell thinks the specifics of some of that could be left to the actor.

Aubrey Whitlock, Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Butts: Puppeting As You Like It
Whitlock begins by discussing the nature of a small-scale production, which may require one actor to play multiple characters on stage at the same time. Some previous companies have used either costumes or audible signifiers to indicate the change between characters. Whitlock references Jeffrey Chips’s thesis, which discussed change of costumes as a kind of puppetry; Sweet Wags took this a step farther, casting only three actors to play all the parts in As You Like It and using literal puppetry in the show.

Whitlock identifies three phases of working with the puppetry: Phase One: Delineating the puppet hierarchy; Phase Two: Working w/ signifiers and body parts; Phase Three: Rehearsal, mishaps, and re-evaluation. Choosing body part puppets was not only practical, but tied to the “hipster aesthetic” embraced by the production.

The hierarchy allowed the cast to answer two questions: who claims the actor’s body, and who gets the pieces? (“That’s really gross”). Sell, from the sidelines, shares her instructions to her actors. Whitlock notes that dominance was generally determined by the size of the role and importance in storytelling. Some characters would always need to inhabit the actor’s body (Orlando, Rosalind, Celia); others would only ever be a part. Based on that, they workshopped where, how, and when the other characters could appear. They had to explore how much expression they could . Angular parts of the body provided natural ridges that could approximate nose-like structures; softer parts were more difficult to anthropomorphize “but also far more hilarious”.

Her own hierarchy broke down thusly: Orlando and Dennis, full body; Duke Senior, half of the body; Touchstone, a clown’s nose and mustache Phoebe, on the thigh; Audrey, the bum; the Forest Lord: on one hand. Whitlock proceeds to done all of these costumes before resuming her thesis.

Through rehearsal, they found it impossible to embody more than two characters simultaneously, as they lost mobility. Eventually, the cast realized that the technical skill necessary was “far beyond what we could master in six weeks”. In re-evaluation, they dropped the concept of puppetting secondary characters and returned to other methods, such as stepping between characters. Only one did survive: Adam, which Adrienne Johnson demonstrates. He was always a fully-puppetted character, never one that she had to switch between fully embodying and puppetting.

The exploration of puppetting, however, still helped the actors to inform their physical choices when they moved to fully embodying those characters. Whitlock discusses examples from her own performance: such as Audrey, previously the butt, who turned into someone whose butt was always the first part of her to enter the scene.

She ends with this advice: “Don’t try to totally re-invent the wheel. BUT – do seek for new and interesting ways to approach the small-scale challenge.”

Q: Discuss more of the process of how the puppets continued to haunt your physical process.
A: Uniformity of posture became particularly important. Silvius, who had been a thigh-and-knee puppet, became a knock-kneed character. Charles the wrestler went from just being a bicep to having a bicep-centric signature gesture.

Q: If you had enough puppetry experience, would that be a lucrative experience?
A: “It would certainly be fun trying.” Whitlock notes that more time and specific training would have made that easier. “I don’t know how to make my butt expressive and articulated from the upper half of my body.”

Q: How much merit in the idea of puppetting empty spaces?
A: When it’s clear, it’s effective, but not what we chose to do.

Patrick Aaron Harris, Look at This F*cking Thesis: Modern Counterculture in Sweet Wag Shakespeare’s As You Like It
Harris begins with a disclaimer that this thesis includes strong language and internet memes; viewer discretion is advised.

His thesis examines how early modern “deviant counterculture” might manifest in Shakespeare’s plays and how to engage modern audiences with historically deviant social identities — specifically here, the hipster counterculture. So why is it called “Look at This F*cking Thesis”? Harris invites us to travel back to 2003, when counterculture was presumed dead — and then the hipster revival came, leading eventually to the 2010 creation of the website “Look at this f*cking hipster”, a visual critique designed to mock and expose hipsters. This, Harris believes, demonstrates that “hipsters, to this day, occupy a very precarious cultural position in our society.” On the one hand, they tend to be forward-thinking trend-setters, particularly in economic and environmental concerns. On the other hand, they are often accused of misappropriating cultural identities and of turning important movements into fads, placing the need to be cool above everything else. Harris quotes his mother when she was admonished for not shopping at Whole Foods: “Get off your locally-sourced, recycled-from-the-old-world-forest soapbox.” They are also accused of contributing to gentrification.

“But Patrick, what do hipsters have to do with Shakespeare?” Theatre, Harris states, of any time period, is a vehicle for culture and counterculture. During the early modern period, “many regarded public theatres with suspicion and abject hatred”. He speaks specifically of the performance of Richard II that became involved with the Essex Rebellion. Harris then turns to consideration of As You Like It, quoting director Merlyn Sell’s supposition that as the actors inhabited both male and female parts, the audience would have to question and interpret issues of gender, and that this also fit with the often gender-fluid hipster aesthetic. Harris then shares pictures of the characters in their performance of As You Like It, specifically focusing on Rosalind and Celia’s transition from the court to the forest: “Their choice to dress below their socio-economic status, despite escaping to the forest with a bounty of gold and jewels,” is emblematic of the hipster aesthetic.

Harris closes by stating that he hopes this peek into their concept will encourage us all to think about the relationship between theatre, culture, counterculture, and how we embody those things.

(Matt Davies: I feel so uncool up here)
Q: What is the official culture that hipsters are being counter-culture to if hipsterism is on the rise in culture?
A: “I devoted about 60% of my thesis to explaining that.” Harris draws the line at what is supported by social and government institutions and what contraverts that. There is a grey area. “Hipsterism seems to only be preoccupied with not being mainstream.”

Q: When Rosalind and Celia buy the farm in Arden, that is literal gentrification. Can you talk about that?
A: “For hours.” Harris notes that this changes the economy of the forest, as they pay for land that they’re not going to work, creating a complicated socio-economic relationship.

Maria Hart, Character Gesture in War of the Roses: Using Movement in the Small Scale Touring Model
Hart begins with a disclaimer regarding the title: the lecture is more about the framework for her work than specifically on War of the Roses. She then confesses to a pedagogical pitfall: that she tends to default to teaching the way she was taught; instead, reflective thinking regarding the development of a skill set is more productive, and she wants to apply that to the development of the small scale touring model. She notes that institutional memory allows her to ask three questions: Where did we come from, where have we been, and where are we going?

Since 2010, the program has been involved in an ongoing discussion about “extreme casting”, stemming from Jeffrey Chips’s thesis and the arrival of Matt Davies to the faculty, coming from an extreme doubling company. Though not a new technique nor new to the program, 2010 was pivotal to the role of extreme casting within the program, as it then became a staple of the MFA model. The change in terminology to “small scale” allows for more flexibility in interpretation.

Hart worked with Chips during her first semester at Mary Baldwin and connected it to other productions she had experienced at El Paso Kids and Company. Her awareness better prepared her to take on 10 roles in Katy Mulvaney’s Henry IV x 4. Hart notes that the program’s continued work on these shows is creating a set of alternate rules and methods. Nothing in the scaffolding of program skills directly prepares the MFA company for putting together the small scale performance; rather, they learn both by observation of previous years’ shows and through the trial and error of their own in rehearsal.

The actors must operate within a distinct set of rules in order for the storytelling to remain clear to the audience. Hart then delineates the variant rule sets used by the Sweet Wags’s As You Like It and War of the Roses. While the methods were different, both involved intense physicality. Hart describes the process as one of developing a “physical score” that went along with the verbal script. “The genre also requires an intense sense of ensemble” because the actors are so reliant upon each other for the various components of that physical score. Hart also describes the importance of precise motion, physical virtuosity, and mitigated ego.

Her future work will focus on the transitions, physical tension, stage business, character gesture, and vocal points in War of the Roses. She hopes to then describe a set of solutions for shifting from character to character.

Q: The small scale touring show has generated the most institutional memory; why do you think it might be that this show has generated that body?
A: Hart believes that relates to the ability to define it. Other shows are based more upon a traditional model given to them — the Ren style show derives from the OCS’s Renaissance season, the educational show derives from the OCSTC shows, but the small scale is out of those pre-defined molds.

Q: Interested in the idea that each actor is a storyteller, expand further?
A: Hart views this as a sort of reincarnation of the idea of the Greek chorus.

Q: How small can small go whilst retaining the ensemble?
A: That’s a hard definition. “We know that Kate Norris can do a one-woman show, so is she an ensemble within herself?” Hart discusses the importance of having an outside eye as director even in a one-person show.

(And now, a ten-minute interval)

As we resume, Garrett opens by getting everyone to sing “Happy birthday” to Matt Davies.

Marshall B Garrett, Revisionist History (Plays)
Garrett begins by referencing Hall’s condensation of the 3 Henry VIes and Richard III into one show, wherein Hall begs forgiveness for the heresy of cutting and changing Shakespeare’s words. “We can perhaps forgive the founder of the RSC for having a flair for the dramatic… and the passive voice.” Garrett notes that companies have been adapting Henry VI for centuries, though everyone seems mortified by their own temerity in doing so. Garrett and Harris created their own adaptation, and Garrett argues that this is the same sort of re-imagining that Shakespeare himself did, as evidenced by the variant quarto and Folio texts of these plays.

To convince us of the merit of the quarto texts, Garrett draws our attention to a handout provided to attendees (and which he will perhaps be good enough to provide a digital copy of to this live-blogger for inclusion here). The two versions prepare the audience for the next play in different ways: either preparing for the death of Rutland or for the mirroring of fathers and sons.
(ETA: Garrett.ThesisFestHandout1; Garrett.ThesisFestivalHandout2)

Garrett then turns to considering the quarto’s use of “pull” versus the Folio’s “pluck”. Though using the quarto as a base text, they determined to transpose in the Folio’s “pluck”, as it seemed a distinct revision. “Pull” is a less distinct word, and interesting for examination largely in those places where it changes to “pluck” in the Folio. Their choices “highlighted action over lament”, and, for an audience that has seen the Temple Garden scene, “pluck” has a stronger connotation later on than “pull” does.

Q: Difference between “deliberately unstable” and “deliberately revised”?
A: “I’m not really using them distinctly; that was sloppiness on my part”. He does note that there may be something to examine in the actors available in the different companies that Shakespeare was working with at various points in his career.

Q: Did you find that having worked on the cutting, things that happened in the show that would have changed your cutting?
A: They did make a couple of cuts pretty late in the process. “One thing I would have done” related to the choice to highlight the feuding rather than the familial, where he would have made the pluck/pull substitution throughout.

Jess Hamlet, “Kicks Her and Exit”: Staging Violence in The City Nightcap
Hamlet begins by describing the high volume of “kicks” in The City Nightcap, noting that this presentation will focus on the first two kicks in the play and their relation to early modern ideas of gender roles. The first, “Kicks her and exit, she weeps” may at first seem quite specific, but leaves a lot of room for interpretation. The kicked character, Abstemia, also receives a second kick from Lorenzo at the end of Act One (“kicks her, she swoons”). Hamlet argues that, in a tragicomedy, these kicks contribute to the tragic nature of the play and should be interpreted as such by performers and audience.

She also notes the importance of distinguishing whether these kicks are the same or different. She finds opportunity in the kick being the same, despite Abstemia’s escalated reaction to the second: “he considers her to be a possession, a piece of chattel.” Abstemia’s variant reaction may come from heightened emotional pain in the second instance. Hamlet notes that if her reaction comes from physical pain rather than emotional pain, a production may choose to make the second kick more violent. Patrick Harris and Maria Hart then demonstrate the Wags’s staging of the stage direction. This could be textually supported, as a character then accuses Lorenzo of being “too violent”.

Hamlet then discusses Jacobean notions of appropriate conduct in marriage. Violence against husbands was treason, but wives were subject to “appropriate correction” and were thought to be improved by suffering, encouraged to suffer in silence in the promise of spiritual reward. Though Abstemia does not verbally object, Hamlet argues that Davenport makes her passively eloquent.

Hamlet also points out that the people in this play “kick downward”, sending a message of inferiority and disgust to those being kicked. “In choosing to kick rather than slap or hit, the men are telegraphing” that their victims deserve nothing better than that part of the body most in contact with dirt, mud, and shit. Hamlet suggests that stage directions could be better examined for character clues, and those who do so “may be surprised to find new avenues into the play’s meat.”

Q: How often is the kick that of a higher person to a lower person?
A: Hamlet looked only at the kicks in this play, not at the 40ish in the rest of the canon of early modern drama.

Q: Follow-up: How many of those kicks are against women?
A: “That’s the next step.”

Q: Does the theatrical space (such as lights-on in the Playhouse) affect the audience’s experience of these kicks?
A: Hamlet is interested in how spectator relationships affect the experience; ie, if one audience member sees another being uncomfortable, does that change how the first audience member feels? She thinks this may be different in a larger space such as the Globe, as opposed to the intimacy in the Blackfriars Playhouse.

Q: How do you think the location of where the kick is received on the body may change the perception?
A: Abstemia is already down, both physically and in the marriage, “so that… sends a message. And not one I agree with!”

Q: So how does that relate to other kicks, where they are standing?
A: “Well, in the Turk kick, because he’s a man, he automatically gets more equality even though he is socially inferior. The gender gives him agency.”

Q: Relating to the idea that, when you take a dead body off-stage, if it’s the hand last, it’s tragic, if it’s the feet last, it’s comedic, that the foot is a comedic body part. Is there a connection there?
A: “I would point you to YouTube and groin kicks.” Hamlet thinks less so in The City Nightcap, that only one kick might border on comedy and it comes so quickly on a non-comic kick that it’s hard to separate the two.

Ian A. Charles, The Ur-Melody: Awakening Character and Place in Sweet Wag Shakespeare’s Cymbeline
Charles discusses his role in creating music for Cymbeline: sound designer, music director, and composer. Drawing from his background in musical theatre, he looks at the idea of melody-as-theme, but notes that he must consider what music in theatre is meant to accomplish: to cue transitions, establish patterns, underscore particular moments. Music can thus shape character and place in performance. He then discusses the leit motif, a repeating pattern that gains meaning through association with characters and moments. He uses West Side Story as an example. “I’m drawn to the idea that a central theme” can illuminate something “genetic to the play”.

His argument for this thesis is that they can accomplish something similar in Cymbeline, giving the music “an almost rhetorical power”, using leit motifs as signifiers. How, then, does a composer begin? The temptation is to go to the romantic themes of Cymbeline and Postumus, but Charles suggests that there is more of a heartbeat in redemption and reconciliation. He also notes that many characters could only get away with the things that they do in a romance. Charles then ties this concept to ideas of music itself having the power to be redemptive and soul-lifting.

Charles then shares some of his compositions thus far: the initial music “must be unresolved, maybe even discordant” thanks to the unsettled state of things at the start of the play. He demonstrates a few variants that different characters might have to illustrate how they subvert, twist, or change the main theme. Charles discusses how these might relate to the textual instances of music in Cymbeline as opportunities to inject the redemptive leit motif in different ways, possibly with “something as simple as tempo”.

Music can also usher in a new location. Charles gives examples for royal Britain, rural Wales, and Rome. Jupiter’s intervention might also provide changes and even resolution to the theme. Charles notes that what we’ve heard today is still a work-in-progress and liable to change as they continue through rehearsals. He hopes that this redemptive “ur-melody” will help them find other motifs to illuminate the characters and story.

Q: Is there a period aesthetic that’s pairing with the redemptive theme that’s in line with the concept of the play?
A: Charles shares what he’s considered, though he hasn’t landed on anything. He’s explored Celtic music, much of which he found very upbeat and flexible, but he realized that he has to be able to “let go of Celtic persay, if I want it to be able to be something otherworldly”.

Q: Have you explored the ways in which the story can be told differently by playing the same leit motif on different instruments?
A: Charles notes that they are playing with the instruments and vocals in rehearsals. He wants to capitalize on the vocal strengths of the company.

Q: A question about the specific moment where the brothers question whether they should sing because their voices are breaking.
A: “I’m really excited to get to that scene” particularly since both actors “are stellar singers”.

Adrienne Johnson, Imogen as Britain: Foreign Threat in Cymbeline
Johnson opens by stating that the princess Imogen is a vehicle for the themes of sexual conquest, love, and family bonds, moving through the plot in different roles. Her identity is defined by the men who desire and seek to control her. “All of these men, whether violently or tenderly, seek to desire Imogen at some point in the play.” Johnson notes that the possessive language seeks to objectify Imogen, but suggests that Imogen also illustrates the threats to Britain’s court. Her identity and the various claims on it are then a metaphor for the vulnerability of the British crown. Johnson positions this in relation to the mOCSuline narration of the British myth.

Johnson gives examples of Shakespeare’s use of feminized language in reference to the British body politic, where England is often described as a bloody, bruised, broken woman, ravaged by various wars and strife. In Cymbeline, the men involved consistently fail at protecting and defending the female body they seek to control and which they descriptively place value upon. Johnson notes the vocabulary used to refer to Imogen of “that of exchange”, where the audience is continually reminded that she is property. Imogen later relates her own worth to that of the land she will someday own.

Johnson further suggests that both Imogen and the Queen provide foils to the idea of mOCSuline nationality, at opposite ends of the moral spectrum. Imogen reinforces the patriarchy through her consent to the domestic role. Johnson states that her full thesis looks at the parallel stories of Imogen’s changing roles through the play and the views of Cymbeline’s court and, thus, British power. Without Imogen’s feminine participation, the mOCSuline influences cannot establish themselves as dominant in the narrative of Britain. Her example of forgiveness motivates others, and her acceptance of her deposition allows the mOCSuline nationality, in the person of her brother, to take over.

Q: Curious how this might impact her work on playing Imogen?
A: Since the play is still in production, she has been observing other actors’ work more than directly discussing it with her fellow actors. She’s interested in finding the moments of “value” and making sure they stand out.

Q: Any thoughts about other plays that relate to the Matter of Britain, such as King Lear?
A: Not yet!

Q: How did you arrive at this metaphor of Imogen as Britain?
A: Johnson had been reading an article about the origins of feminine power and when and how it shifted, then defined it further in discussion with Doreen Bechtol.

–This session live-blogged by Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Liveblogging Masterlist

29_Friday-Afternoon-Paper-and-Staging-Sessions

Photo by Miscellaneous Media Photography

Wednesday, 10/28
Wake-Up Workshop: Cue Scripts
Colloquy I: Audience and the Actor
Colloquy II: History Plays
Colloquy III: Cultural Appropriation
Colloquy IV: Bilingual Shakespeare
Colloquy V: Asides and Villiany
Colloquy VI: Shakespeare’s Life and Times: Contributing Context
Welcome and Keynote Address: Paul Prescott: The Life, Adventures, and Opinions of Sam Wanamaker
Plenary I: Lars Engle, Alice Dailey, Amy Grubbs, Richard Priess, Tiffany Stern, James Keegan
Plenary II: Anthony Patricia, Stephen Purcell, Nick Hutchison, Jess Hamlet, Sid Ray, Catherine Loomis
Plenary III: Jeanne McCarthy, Ann Thompson, Kerry Cooke, Shannon Kelley, Sarah Neville, Paige Reynolds

Thursday, 10/29
Wake-Up Workshop: ROADS to Rhetoric
Plenary IV: Jesse Chu, Lauren Shepherd, Sarah B T Thiel, Claire Bourne, Claire Kimball
Keynote Address: Ayanna Thompson: Reading Backwards from Morrison to Shakespeare: Desdemona/Othello
Lunch and Learn: Meet and Drink with MBC Shakespeare and Performance
Plenary V: Elizabeth Sharret, Jeremy Lopez, James Seth, Nell McKeown and Stephanie Donowho, William Proctor Williams, Peter Kanelos
Plenary VI: Amanda Zoch, Bob Jones, Dan Venning, Melissa Aaron, Patrick Midgley, Matt Kozusko
Staging Session: Caroline Latta and Kevin Quarmby

Friday, 10/30
Wake-Up Workshop: Textual Variants
Colloquy VIII: Practical Rhetoric
Colloquy XIII: Magic in the Early Modern Stage
Colloquy XIV: Political Wisdom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Antony and Cleopatra, The Winter’s Tale, and 1 Henry VI
Colloquy XV: Mediating Music in Middleton’s The Witch
Keynote Address: Gina Bloom
: Every Body Can Act: Reclaiming Histrionic Gesture through the Digital Theatre Game Play the Knave
Honorific for Barbara Mowat
Plenary VII: Joseph Stephenson, Patricia Wareh, Katherine Schaap Williams, Peter Hyland, Julie Simon, Gretchen Minton
Staging Session: Tina Packer and James Loehlin
Plenary VIII: Neil Vallelly, Holly Pickett, Musa Gurnis, Marie Knowlton, Adam Zucker, Jennifer Holl

32_Friday-Afternoon-Paper-and-Staging-Sessions

Photo by Miscellaneous Media Photography

Saturday, 10/31
Wake-Up Workshop: Audience Contact
Plenary IX: Danielle Rosvally, Niamh O’Leary, Zoe Hudson, Thomas Ward, Genevieve Love, Spencer K Wall
Keynote Address: Tim Carroll: Confessions of an Iambic Fundamentalist
Lunch and Learn: Masters of the Space
Plenary X: Maryam Zomorodian, Katherine Mayberry, Nova Myhill, Michael Wagoner, Adam Miller-Batteau
Plenary XI: Abigail Montgomery, Alan Armstrong, Steven Urkowitz, Travis Curtwright, Eric M. Johnson, Don Hedrick

Sunday, 11/1
Colloquy XVII: Teaching Shakespeare as an Integrated Process
Colloquy XVIII: Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Playhouse: The Study, the Stage, and the Classroom
Colloquy XIX: Staging Questions with Actors
Brunch and Buck Fizzies: The Body’s Knowledge
Scenes from Tate’s LEAR: Scholar/Practitioner Collaboration with Tiffany Stern and Hidden Room Theatre

A Special Note from OCS Director of Education Sarah Enloe

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