Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 24 February 2012

A few notes and points of interest from the world of Shakespeare studies this week:

  • London’s Globe Theatre has awarded its first PhDs to Sarah Dustagheer and Penelope Woods. These women are both friends of the OCS: Woods presented on audience studies at our 2009 Blackfriars Conference, and Dustagheer observed an Actors’ Renaissance Season, giving presentations to the MBC MLitt/MFA program on the differences between playing the Globe and playing the Blackfriars Playhouse. Congratulations to them both, and to the Globe for enacting this joint degree-awarding venture with Queen Mary, University of London, and King’s College London.
  • The new “Shakespeare’s Sisters: Voices of English and European Women Writers, 1500-1700” exhibit at the Folger Library challenges the notion that early modern women didn’t write (or, as Virginia Woolf famously asserted, that, if they did, they must have been driven mad by the frustrations of it). The exhibit celebrates such notable female authors as Veronica Franco, Lady Anne Clifford, Lady Mary Wroth, the Mancini sisters, Aemilia Lanyer, Aphra Behn, Susanna Centlivre, and (my personal favorite early modern woman) Lady Mary Herbert. If you can’t make it to DC to see the exhibit in person, selections from it are also available online.
  • This week, the OCS welcomes alumni from Dartmouth College for a weekend of entertainment and scholarship. Peter Saccio, the Leon D. Black Professor of Shakespearean Studies at Dartmouth College, was the editor of A Mad World, My Masters for the Middleton Complete Works. Saccio gave a public lecture last night, detailing some of the textual oddities of the script and what that can mean for the stage, and will give several private lectures to the Dartmouth group throughout the weekend.
  • Education Week featured an article on the challenge educators face when attempting to tie their lesson plans to Core Curriculum Standards. “Their current materials fall short, and there is a dearth of good new ones to fill the void.” OCS Study Guides (now available on lulu.com!) feature not only guidelines for fulfilling Virginia’s Standards of Learning, but also the U.S. Core Curriculum Standards.

As a final note, remember that you still have a few days to get in your nominations for the 2012 Shakespearean March Madness. I’ve already heard support for Hotspur, Cassius, the Duke of Cornwall, and Richard II. Pitch your pick for this no-holds-barred brawl here.

"The pancake bell rings, the pancake bell! Tri-lil, my hearts!": Shrove Tuesday in Early Modern England

Nowadays in America, we know today — the day before Ash Wednesday, 41 days before Easter — as Mardi Gras, a festival of extravagance and delight, with traditions passed down to us from the French and Italians. From the bayou to Rio, the Carnival season ends in a triumphant celebration of life and laughter, with parades, parties, fantastic costumes, throwing of beads, and yes, some degree of inebriation.

But for Shakespeare and his contemporaries in late-16th century England, this day was something different: Shrove Tuesday. And on Shrove Tuesday, you ate pancakes. Why pancakes? Because they involved many of the rich foodstuffs — sugar, fat, flour and eggs — whose consumption was restricted during Lent (which Anglicans still observed, despite the break with the Catholic Church). It was also a day to gorge yourself on meat and drink, to clear the larders of all those things you couldn’t eat during Lent and couldn’t afford to let spoil in the meantime.

This tradition is the subject of several scenes in Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday, where the apprentices of the City of London look forward to a great feast:

Firk: I’ll lead you to victuals, my brave soldiers. Follow your captain. Oh, brave! (Bell rings). Hark, hark!

All:
The pancake bell rings, the pancake bell! Tri-lill, my hearts!

Firk:
Oh brave! O sweet bell! O delicate pancakes! Open the doors, my hearts, and shut up the windows. Keep in the house, let out the pancakes. Oh, rare, my hearts! Let’s march together for the honor of Saint Hugh to the great new hall in Gracious Street Corner, which our master the new Lord Mayor hath built.

Ralph:
Oh, the crew of good fellows that will dine at my Lord Mayor’s cost today!

Hodge:
By the lord, my Lord Mayor is a most brave man. How shall prentices be bound to pray for him and the honor of the Gentlemen Shoemakers! Let’s feed and be fat with my lord’s bounty.

Firk:
Oh, musical bell still! Oh Hodge, o my brethren! There’s cheer for the heavens: venison pasties walk up and down piping hot like sergeants, beef and brewis comes marching in dry fats, fritters and pancakes comes trolling in in wheelbarrows, lemons and oranges hopping in porters’ baskets, collops and eggs in scuttles, and tarts and custards comes quavering in in malt shovels.

Enter more prentices.


All:
Whoop! Look here, look here!

Hodge:
How now, mad lads, whither away so fast?

First Prentice:
Whither? Why, to the new great hall. Know you not why? The Lord Mayor hath bidden all the prentices in London to breakfast this morning.

All:
O brave shoemaker! O brave lord of incomprehensible good fellowship! Hoo, hark you, the pancake bell rings.

Cast up caps.


Firk:
Nay, more, my hearts: every Shrove Tuesday is our year of jubilee, and when the pancake bell rings, we are as free as my Lord Mayor; we may shut up our shops and make holiday. I’ll have it called Saint Hugh’s holiday.

All:
Agreed, agreed! Saint Hugh’s holiday!

Hodge:
And this shall continue forever.

All:
Oh brave! Come, come, my hearts! Away, away!

Firk:
Oh, eternal credit to us of the Gentle Craft! March fair, my hearts. Oh, rare!

As someone who has had the “oh, rare!” honor to play Firk in a production of The Shoemaker’s Holiday (directed by Casey Caldwell back in 2010, as part of his MFA), I can verify that this scene only works if you embrace its jubilant madness entirely — much in the spirit of Shrove Tuesday or its modern descendents. You have to let the good times roll over you and indulge thoroughly in the exuberance — and there’s something marvelously freeing about giving yourself over to that on stage.

But, as a scholar, I enjoy what this scene tells us about the historical celebrations: Firk gives a detailed menu, listing what the prentices can look forward to at their feast; the ringing of the bell to announce the holiday has historical precedence; and the freedom to “shut up shop” for the afternoon is likewise chronicled elsewhere. Dekker thus provides social historians with a glimpse into Shrove Tuesday’s place in the religious and celebratory calendar of early modern England. The tradition lives on — pancakes are still a typical Shrove Tuesday meal in many Anglican and Lutheran communities, and several cities in England still hold pancake races on the holiday.

So — Who’s up for some pancakes?

2012 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival: Session 2

Good morning, scholars — We’re back again, bright and early, for Session 2 of the MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival. This session runs from 9:30am to 12:00pm.

Clara Giebel: “Playing Paper”

Giebel’s presentation begins with an interesting tableau: Katy Mulvaney, Linden Kueck, and Amanda Noel Allen on-stage, crafting — rather than, as we might expect, sitting on the gallant stools holding scripts. Giebel explains that sometimes a tradition should be broken “just because there’s something we’d rather do,” and that she hopes their presence will provide a meaningful counterpoint to her ideas.

She moves into discussing the typical structure and tropes of fairy tales, and she shares illustrations from some classic fairy tales via a Powerpoint presentation. She explains that these images are not only beautiful but “look right to our eyes”, with conventional tropes reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts. She expands the idea further, referring to how Disney’s fairy tale movies often open with the frame narrative of books, giving images of pages turning before the animation begins. Giebel explains these frame devices as important because of the “time of textual transmission” we currently exist in. The movement of page to screen, first scene from books to movies, is now prominent in the idea of moving from books to e-readers. She demonstrates various “skins” and covers for e-readers which attempt to recover the tangible and visual elements that are lost in the transmission to digital text. She posits that the two most important elements lost are the paper itself and the “codex”, or non-textual visual information, which she demonstrates through a reading of “The Monster at the End of This Book” and through a consideration of pop-up books, which “glory in the paper-ness of paper”. Giebel talks about the importance of sound, smell, and texture to the experience of reading, and relates those concepts to ideas of crafting.

Giebel then brings her ideas around to the early modern period, looking at the history of textile handwork, particularly with regards to gender assignations of various tasks such as embroidery and knitting, seen as female tasks both in the early modern period and in the 21st century. She notes, however, that these tasks no longer have the same cultural significance, thanks to mass marketing — similar to the fading essentialism of paper in books.

Teachers, parents, and the media, as Giebel points out, teach fairy tales to children, but particularly to girls, emphasizing the female character “as the object of other characters’ acts and desires”, not as the agent. She notes that Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well both draws on and inverts these fairy tale tropes, featuring not just one, but several active women. Helena has to mangle her own sentences to try and fit herself into the expected passive role. All’s Well is “a fairy tale, but a problematic one… a deliciously messy one” in contrast to the neat, happy endings of Disney’s fairy tales. Giebel has worked with Linden Kueck to design a paper-based set for All’s Well That Ends Well based on these concepts, particularly as an exploration of the gender issues at play. She ends by foregrounding the need to examine, in this concept of textual transmission and shifting gender roles, what we want to keep from the past and what we want to move on to — a world where we can both read blogs on our cellphones, but also enjoy the texture and physical reality of paper, “where boys can learn embroidery and girls can be the king”.

Brian Maxwell: “The First Generation: The Dawn of American Shakespeare”

Maxwell’s presentation begins by interrogating our awareness, in the American Shakespeare Center, of the history of Shakespeare in America. Actors Jarom Brown, Brian Falbo, Rebecca Hodder, and Zach Brown assist by taking on the personas of various 19th-century American Shakespearean actors. Maxwell contrasts the various acting styles of these historical actors: Forrest, Cushman, Booth (Edwin, not his infamous brother), and Jefferson. Forrest represents the emotional style, requiring the actor to give himself over entirely to the affect of the character. Maxwell notes that this style was incredibly popular in the first half of the nineteenth century in America and drew in the working-classes to the theatre. By contrast, Booth and Jefferson display the style which became popular in the second half of the century. This style was a “launching point for Stanislavski’s method”, praised for its naturalism, but less popular with those of the working classes seated in the galleries and a bit too far from the gaslit stage to appreciate the nuances.

Maxwell then encourages Forrest and Booth to dueling monologues. The contrast, with Forrest’s bombastic style and Booth’s understated delivery, makes plain the differences between the early and late methods. Maxwell credits both styles as important to American theatrical heritage. He also posits that these actors, others like them, and their companies gave America cultural credit on the world stage. He shares a 1902 video of Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle and an 1890 wax cylinder audio recording by Edwin Booth.

Daniel Kennedy: “From Place to Space: The Abstraction and Diminution of Hell on the Renaissance Stage”

Kennedy begins by coaxing us all into singing “Happy Birthday” to Christopher Marlowe. He then discusses the OCS Actors’ Renaissance Season production of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, and the dismay of the actors when, each time they revealed the painted-plywood hellmouth, the audience chuckled. Kennedy sketches out the history of the hellmouth, with its roots in medieval representations of Biblical stories. Early illustrations envisioned “an open pit” to invoke Hell; later a volcano, initially considered appropriate for its fiery and sulpherous nature, but later rejected as too passive; later the heads of beasts, particularly dragons. He positions the evolution in relation to attempts to convert the Danish pagans of north England: “Now, if I know Vikings, at least one of those bad motherf*ckers has walked out of a volcano. I don’t think any have walked out of a dragon’s mouth.” Clearly, this imagery would have had a resonance for the England-occupying Danes.

The hellmouth became a convention of the morality plays, an intricate construction, but one which, Kennedy notes with some dejection, audiences found “amusingly wonderful” rather than terrifying or awe-inspiring. He shows an illustration of the stage mansions of Valenciennes, the elaborate decorated carts used for these plays. He notes that, while the hellmouth itself disappeared, the opposition of Heaven and Hell remained prominent. While the structure of the medieval stage mansions positioned Heaven and Hell in horizontal opposition, the early modern audience was conditioned to think of up, the balcony or “heavens”, as good and down, through the trap, as bad. The stage pictures became less religious spectacle, less a stylistic presentation, and more an interpretation of inner struggle.

Kennedy moves on to a discussion of the various texts of Doctor Faustus, noting that the A text, earlier published, lacks elements present in the later B text, considered the version closer to Marlowe’s intended play. The stage direction “Hell is discovered” indicates that, reminiscent of the medieval morality plays, Hell must be visibly represented on the stage. Where, however, remains ambiguous. Kennedy presents it first as revealed in the discovery space, drawing on the image of a dragon’s head gaping open to consume Faustus; then a second time, using the trap. In the second version, the Bad Angel’s description becomes more critical to feeding the audience’s imagination as the means for invoking Hell, rather than an actual stage depiction. Kennedy notes that while Shakespeare never directly calls for a hellmouth as Marlowe does, he still visually invokes the concepts of Hell, demons, and the afterlife in several plays (Hamlet, Macbeth, 1 and 2 Henry VI). He suggests that the accepted convention of the trap as Hell can inform the interpretation of the ghost of Hamlet’s father; if he enters from the trap, the audience may assume him as a demonic figure. He also relates the concept to certain resonances in Macbeth to the idea of the Harrowing of Hell, particularly as relevant in the Porter scene.

Elizabeth Rentfro: “For I Am She: The Development of Margaret of Anjou in Performance”

Rentfro’s presentation opens with a presentation from Richard III, with most of the cast (Liz Lodato, Brian Falbo, Mel Johnson, Dane Leasure, Deb Streusand, Jessica Schiermeister, Stephanie Tschetter, Kelly Elliot, and Rachel Ratkowski) on-stage, and Rentfro, as Margaret, moving in from the audience. Following Margaret’s intrusion into the body of the scene, Rentfro details her experience having played Margaret in both full productions and staged readings across the “Margaret canon” of Henry VI, Parts 1-3 and Richard III. She prefaces that the presentation will work through the scene with a few breaks for her to explain her exploration as a self-evaluating performance study.

As they progress through the scene, Rentfro notes that while Margaret harbors special hate for Richard III and is the first person to see him for what he is, she also feels a kinship with him due to some of their inherent similarities. Likewise, she sees a reflection of herself in Elizabeth, the “poor painted queen” she mocks. Rentfro moves on through Margaret’s exit, leaving the Yorkists behind to “muse why she’s at liberty”. She then relates her experience to that of Sarah Fallon, someone else who has seen Margaret all the way through her arc. She notes the experience as fairly rare, since so few companies perform the full tetralogy.

Jared Fair: “The Grieving Parent in Shakespeare and the Early Modern English Children’s Epitaph”

Fair begins by positing the opinions of Laurence Stone as to the emotional distance between parents and children in the early modern period, which he views as necessary due to the high child mortality, depicting these parents as detached and unemotional even upon the death of a child. Fair juxtaposes this with the ideas of David Cressy, who claims that early modern people were deeply emotional and loving, with a great capacity for tenderness both in their families and their communities. Cressy uses diaries and letters as examples that early modern people experienced intense emotions upon the death of a loved one.

Fair presents (through actors Jarom Brown and Dr. Julie Fox) epitaphs from the early modern period, which demonstrate the emotions felt by parents upon the death of a child. These epitaphs imagine sleep as a death, which Fair suggests as a coping mechanism to soften the blow. They also suggest that “death is not the end, that life continues for the child.” He presents an epitaph written by Ben Jonson on the death of a child actor, the first epitaph to so commemorate an actor. Jonson also wrote an epitaph when his own daughter died at 6 months and when his son died in the plague of 1603. Fair points out that Jonson describes himself as possessed by his own emotions; the epitaph serves as method to “loose” the bonds that hold him in thrall to grief. Fair then moves to considering Shakespeare’s experience with a child’s death, particularly in the proximity of the composition of King John to the death of his son Hamnet. Constance’s grief “is anticipatory”, upon Arthur’s disappearance. Fair argues that if Hamnet suffered an illness rather than a sudden death, Shakespeare’s own emotions may have informed this sense of anticipatory dread. He notes that Constance sinks into a suicidal depression, haunted by her son’s image, reminded of him everywhere. She later dies “in a frenzy”, inconsolable. Fair links this depiction of dramatic pain to Shakespeare’s personal experience as a parent.

For the rest of the Festival, see these posts:
Session 1
Session 3
Session 4

2012 MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival: Session 1

Good evening, all. Tonight and tomorrow at the Blackfriars Playhouse, twenty-three students from Mary Baldwin College will give presentations on their MLitt and MFA projects. These presentations are a required portion of the thesis project for all candidates. The OCS education team will be live-blogging throughout the both days of the event. The first session runs this evening from 6:30pm-9:30pm.

With his characteristic wit, Dr. Paul Menzer opens by apologizing for scheduling this event during that great Sunday ritual, but reminds us that Downton Abbey re-airs on Thursdays. He also notes the infeasibility of sharing chicken wings and airing misogynistic commercials between presentations.

Amy Bolis: “Color-Conscious Shakespeare: A Dramaturgical Investigation of ‘Othello’ and Its Legacy

Bolis begins by noting that, in Othello, the word “Moor” appears more times than Othello’s actual name; she then moves on to a list of the “contradictory characterizations” of the title character contained within the play. She then probes the “problematic construction of blackness” within the play, questioning what role Othello should hold in modern theatre. The problem, as she notes, is further complicated by the divergent opinions of those in the field; her actors Brittany Fauzer and Katy Mulvaney read from such opinions throughout the presentation. She uses the example of Patrick Stewart’s photo-negative production, but notes that such a production encourages white audiences still to sympathize with the white man, experiencing only the fear of losing their own privilege. She notes that, for the remainder of the presentation, she will focus on Harlem Duet by Djanet Sears.

Harlem Duet is an Americanized prelude to Othello, set in Harlem during the 1990s, with flashbacks linking different moments of black experience in American history. She foregrounds four questions: 1) What is the relationship between non-white theatre practitioners and the Shakespeare canon? 2) Given lack of roles for non-white characters, how can modern companies approach these plays? 3) Where do actors of colours reside within the realm of Shakespeare performance? 4) Given Harlem Duet‘s critique, what is the legacy of Othello?

Fauzer presents a monologue from Harlem Duet by Billie, Othello’s first wife, where she discusses her decision to poison his handkerchief. Through this story, Sears gives the handkerchief a tangible history, positioning it as an heirloom that “holds the ancestry of generations” through slavery and emancipation, rather than as a magical object of ambiguous origin. Fauzer also presents a statement from Sears on the need to integrate the black narrative into the theatrical world. Bolis concludes with the thought that, “Adaptation has allowed for a different dream of Othello,” one that allows for a shifting of the play’s legacy.

David Ashton: “Staging the Censored Text”

Ashton’s presentation explores the question of “How do you stage a censored text?”, focusing on the most obviously altered sections of George Chapman’s 1608 The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles Duke of Byron. Actors Amanda Noel Allen and Brian Falbo present an altered scene, where characters report on a conversation involving Queen Elizabeth and French politics. The alternations make the scene noticeably awkward. Ashton suggests that, while theories exist as to the reason for the alteration, none seem plausible. He looked to production history for possible illumination.

Ashton relates his methodology to that of Genevieve Love, exploring the theatrical impact of absences and voids for those early modern plays which have no strong performance record. He posits the notion of “fantasy performances” suggested by those absences, which may be a means of recovering the pre-censored version. Ashton claims that Act Four allows for at least three “fantasy performances” using the extant text as sole source, a fourth informed by historical context, and a fifth from textual criticism. Actors Maxim Overton, Melissa Tolner, Allen, and Falbo present Ashton’s various possibilities.

The fourth version draws from the historical context of the play’s censorship, which Ashton details; Chapman apparently wanted his plays printed and fought for their restoration. Chapman’s history suggests that he was likely involved in the printing of the plays, often overlooking proofs before they went to print, and that he thus authorized leaving the 1625 reprint unchanged from the 1608. Moreover, Ashton posits that statements from Chapman suggest that he believed readers could fill in the gaps on their own, that “a reader’s mind is capable of imagining moments of theatrical effect.” This fourth version of the scene, then, is a conflation of the extant texts with what Chapman assumed his readers could fill in, the shade of an original performance. Ashton’s suggested fifth version takes critical context into account, a methodology he believes most likely as a way to “stage the censored text”, an exercise both in edition and creation.

Elizabeth Lodato: “From Alehouse to Household: Women in Service in Early Modern Drama”

Lodato begins by having the audience close their eyes and imagine being in a 16th-century alehouse; she suggests that we, as she would have months earlier, probably conjured a romanticized vision of a warm, happy tavern populated with cheerful folk. The reality, she notes, was somewhat darker, as alehouses were often dens of criminal behavior, including prostitution, money-lending, thievery, and fugitive-harboring. She then posits that alewives suffered more complaints and condemnation because of the economic threat they posed to working men, suggesting considerably anxiety about a female-dominated trade.

Lodato’s presentation examines depictions of alewives in both dramatic and non-dramatic literature, with the aid of actors Stephanie Tschetter, Angelina LaBarre, and Elizabeth Rentfro. The popular depictions, Lodato argues, grossly dominated over the actual faults of the trade, often along themes of uncleanliness. She notes the odd juxtaposition of positive statements on an alewife’s congeniality and sociability with the insults regarding unsanitary brewing conditions and dishonesty of practice. She then moves to noting the difference in depiction of alewives in early modern plays, where the women are less often gross caricatures of slovenliness, and more amiable comedic characters, “full of malaprops and earnest”. She suggests that the plays present male hosts as far more dishonest characters than their female counterparts. Lodato pulls examples from the anonymous Every Woman in Her Humour and Heywood’s Fair Maid of the West. The latter particularly displays a virtuous woman defending her reputation against bullies and cheats. Lodato finished by summarizing the sexist depiction of alewives in popular literature and its connection to male anxiety over female independence, and her desire to further investigate the evolved role those characters hold in early modern theatre.

Kimberly Lenz: “‘What’s in a Name?’: Proper Name as Performance Clue”

Lenz opens by commenting on the attraction of the idea of demonic possession in the entertainment industry. She relates the idea of the power of a proper name to expel a demon to the notion of characters in a play using a proper name to exercise power over another character. She uses The Maid’s Tragedy as her example, noticing the frequency with which other characters use Amintor’s name, particularly by those characters who are manipulating his fate. Lenz notes that there seemed to be an epidemic of demonic possession and exorcism in England in the 16th and 17th century. Some men won great fame as exorcists, though often fell from grace and were exposed as frauds; popular awareness of the phenomenon found its way into plays such as The Devil is an Ass (scenes presented by James Byers, Mel Johnson, Joshua Brown, and Justine Mackey).

Lenz describes that her project aims to explore the applicability of the idea of the power exercised through use of proper names. She admits that the results are in no way quantifiable, but that they are nonetheless valuable. Her actors present an exploration of a scene from King Lear. Lenz notes that she is developing rehearsal techniques based around this idea and intends to explore the idea further.

AJ Sclafani: “Distancing Techniques in Modern Early Modern Playhouses”

The presentation opens with the inimitable Dane Leasure giving a version of the traditional pre-show Playhouse-opening speech, Maria Hart giving out tickets for a raffle, and Dan Stott giving the actor’s pre-show speech on our staging conditions. Jessica Schiermeister then enters in an approximation of Sclafani’s sartorial style and takes the podium. Sclafani eventually reclaims the stage and notes that his project looks at the paratextual material of the Blackfriars Playhouse.

He discusses how some of the paratextual material, such as the posters for the shows, emphasizes to the audience that they are about to see actors in a play. He suggests that posters containing the actors’ faces, actors’ names, photographer’s name, and title of the play, but not the name of character portrayed, leads the audience to focus on matters other than the actor’s representation of the role. He moves on to the pre-show speech, which he states positions the audience as an observer of the customs of the Playhouse. He notes that some aspects of the pre-show have become vestigial, while others (asking for donations and asking audience members to turn off cell phones) has reversed the effect of the speech, originally designed to integrate unfamiliar audiences into the unique conditions of OCS productions. He argues that, especially in the context of “problem” plays, distancing techniques transfer the creation of synthesis onto the audience.

Monica Cross: “Modern Adaptations of ‘Hamlet'”

Cross begins by noting the proliferation of adaptations in the MLitt/MFA program within the past few years, and declares her intent to examine how adaptations comment on their source material. She looks at several adaptations of Hamlet from the 1990s and 2000s: Fortinbras, by Lee Blessing (1992), Claudius, by Ken Gass (1993), Something’s Rotten, by Michael Burdick (2003), and 12 Ophelias (a play with brokensongs), by Caridad Svich (2004). She focuses in this presentation on Fortinbras and Something’s Rotten (with scenes presented by Clara Giebel, Linden Kueck, Celi Oliveto, Stephan Pietrowski, and Shane Sczepankowski), the latter of which was presented in a one-act version at the 2011 Blackfriars Conference.

Something’s Rotten follows the reactions of the the gravediggers to the play and its aftermath, taking fragments from Hamlet‘s language. Shifting the focus from court life to commoners “breaks the Aristotelian model”, particularly with such prominent speeches as “To be or not to be”. Burdick’s reimagining breaks the concept down into ideas of being an aggressor or being a victim, as represented by the two gravediggers’ divergent opinions. It also examines the concept of different kinds of death. Fortinbras, by contrast, features the titular character trying “to manipulate the story of Hamlet to suit his own purposes”. This play breaks traditional modes and the fourth wall equally, having characters comment on their own situations. One character actually gets a hold of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and becomes engrossed, suggesting, as Cross notes, that even the characters in the play find the original superior to the adaptation. Cross positions her interest in these plays in particular for what they have to say about the role of adaptation as a form of commentary.

And that’s it for tonight — We’re back at 9:30am tomorrow (Monday, February 6th) for a full day of presentations.

For the rest of the Festival, see further posts:
Session 2
Session 3
Session 4

OCS Education in 2012-2013

The announcement is officially out, the Facebook Jeopardy game is complete, and that means I can share OCS Education’s plans for the upcoming year. If you’ve missed the information elsewhere, here’s the American Shakespeare Center artistic line-up for 2012-2013:

Summer
The Merchant of Venice
The Lion in Winter, by James Goldman
The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Fall
Cymbeline
King John
The Merchant of Venice
The Lion in Winter, by James Goldman
The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Holiday
A Christmas Carol
Santaland Diaries
, by David Sedaris
The 12 Dates of Christmas, by Ginna Hoben

Actors’ Renaissance
Julius Caesar
The Country Wife
, by William Wycherly
Henry VIII
The Custom of the Country
, by Francis Beaumont & Philip Massinger
Two Noble Kinsmen

Spring/Tempt Me Further Tour
Twelfth Night
Love’s Labour’s Lost
The Duchess of Malfi
, John Webster

What does this mean for Shakespeare Education at the OCS? For a start, throughout the year, we’ll be offering Student Matinees of The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Cymbeline, A Christmas Carol, Julius Caesar, Henry VIII, Twelfth Night, and Love’s Labour’s Lost. To complement these opportunities to bring your students to the Playhouse, I’ll be preparing brand-new full-length Study Guides for The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Twelfth Night, as well as revising (and, quite possibly, adding to) last year’s Julius Caesar guide. I will also produce mini-guides for Cymbeline, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and Henry VIII.

We will, again, have four Teacher Seminars in the 2012-2013 season. On August 10th, we’ll be looking at that perennial curriculum favorite, Romeo and Juliet (for which I will also be producing a full-length Study Guide), where both the construction of the language and the complex interplay of comedy and tragedy provide many opportunities for exploration. Our Fall Seminar, September 14th-16th, will focus on The Merchant of Venice and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I’m excited to tackle the challenge of these two off-kilter comedies, from the racial tensions in Merchant to the troubled ending of Two Gents. Both plays are full of emotionally charged moments, opportunities for audience contact, and clever, fast-paced language, all of which make wonderful fodder for teachers. As we did in 2011 with The Comedy of Errors, we will be linking these non-curriculum plays with their more-frequently-assigned cousins, in order to provide teachers with the greatest opportunity to incorporate staging with study. We also champion these plays as ideal for teachers who are tired of always retreading the same material. The Merchant of Venice and The Two Gentlemen of Verona will provide intrepid educators with a new, invigorating approach to Shakespeare’s word- and stagecraft.

Our Winter Seminar, February 2nd-3rd 2013, will focus on Julius Caesar, a play I can never get enough of and can’t wait to return to. That play features so prominently two of my favorite things to talk about: rhetoric and audience contact. Those two elements define Caesar for me, more than anything else, and they provide wonderful avenues for making the play exciting for students. Our Spring Seminar, April 12th-14th 2013, will focus on Twelfth Night: frothy fun with some dark undercurrents. I look forward to reawakening some of the same topics I’ve looked at in As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors, and Much Ado about Nothing — twins, gender-bending, gulling, etc — as well as exploring the role of music on the early modern stage.

Throughout the year, we’ll continue to hold our lecture series, on select Wednesday and Thursday nights, prior to the evening shows. We’ve moved the timing of these events to 5:30pm, which will allow attendees enough time to go get a quick bite or a drink at one of downtown Staunton’s fabulous eateries before the show begins. I’m pleased to announce that this year, we will have both a Dr. Ralph Presents lecture and an Inside Plays workshop for every play in the Fall, Actors’ Renaissance, and Spring Seasons. We’re especially pleased that this will allow us to offer audiences some more insight into the shows which are enjoying their Blackfriars Playhouse premieres in 2012 and 2013. See the schedule on our website for more information.

Our Staged Reading series also continues in 2012-2013, with four dynamic titles: the anonymous Edward Ironside (October 28th), an early English chronicle play full of patriotic glory, violent energy, and inventive language; George Chapman’s An Humorous Day’s Mirth (November 4th), where jealous husbands, absurd courtiers, lapsed Puritans, and lustful monarchs collide; Aphra Behn’s Restoration hit The Rover (March 24th, 2013), a quick-witted and wickedly wanton comedy where a group of amorous English exiles revel their way through Naples; and The Insatiate Countess (April 28th, 2013), by John Marston and collaborators, a play of merry widows, virtuous wives, and subverted theatrical conventions. We’re in the process of making some exciting changes to how the Staged Readings operate, and we’ll have more information on that for you as the year progresses.

And, of course, summer 2012 will be full to the brim with camps for Shakespeare enthusiasts of all ages. OCSTC Session 1, June 17th-July 8th, tackles Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, and John Lyly’s Gallathea, while Session 2, July 15th-August 5th, takes on Much Ado about Nothing, 1 Henry VI, and Francis Beaumont & John Fletcher’s A King and No King. Our Midsummer Day Camp for ages 9-12, July 9th-13th, moves from the light-hearted comedies of the past few years to the high-octane thriller, Macbeth. Finally, the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp for adults, June 25th-29th, will explore Movement — both the movement of the actor on stage and the movement of plays from one playhouse to another and out on the road.

It’s almost hard to believe that here we are in January 2012, already planning for April 2013, but that’s the way of it. The whole education team is looking forward to a full and fabulous year — we hope you’ll be joining us for these explorations into early modern staging.

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits — ‘Anonymous’ Edition

As I’m sure you’ve all noticed, a movie came out last week which, despite its risible nature, seeks to ruffle feathers in the world of Shakespeare studies. Many scholars would rather not dignify the nonsensical issue with a response (not to mention our reluctance to give Emmerich more free publicity), but the matter has pressed itself sufficiently that the community has responded. If Anonymous realized its own fictional nature and were not attempting to masquerade its inventions as fact, perhaps we wouldn’t have such a problem, but because Emmerich has taken to the media, smugly pronouncing himself the savior of truth, and because Sony has begun distributing supposedly “educational” packets to high schools (I’ve seen them; they’re alarmingly misleading and ethically irresponsible) — those conditions provoke the defense that Shakespeare deserves. The kid gloves have come off, and rather than dancing delicately around the issue, many scholars have attacked the issue head-on and free of hedging. I submit here, for your perusal, a smattering of the reviews and opinions published in response to the Anonymous absurdity.

  • James Shapiro, author of Contested Will, took to the New York Times in defense of Shakespeare: “Promoters of de Vere’s cause have a lot of evidence to explain away, including testimony of contemporary writers, court records and much else that confirms that Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him. Meanwhile, not a shred of documentary evidence has ever been found that connects de Vere to any of the plays or poems.”
  • The Times also has a piece by Stephen Marche, which not only disapproves of the attempt to portray the film as educational but also derides the conspiracy theory in general: “No argument could ever possibly sway the Oxfordian crowd. They are the prophets of truthiness. ‘It couldn’t have been Shakespeare,’ they say. ‘How could a semiliterate country boy have composed works of such power?’ Their snobbery is the surest sign of their ignorance.”
  • An editorial in the Washington Post sought out opinions from James Shapiro, the Folger’s Michael Witmore, and eminent period scholars Eric Rasmussen and Stephen Greenblatt.
  • Simon Schama advises, simply, “Don’t buy it” in regards to Emmerich’s spurious claims. “None of which would matter very much were there not something repellent at the heart of the theory, and that something is the toad, snobbery—the engine that drives the Oxfordian case against the son of the Stratford glover John Shakespeare. … The real problem is not all this idiotic misunderstanding of history and the world of the theater but a fatal lack of imagination on the subject of the imagination. The greatness of Shakespeare is precisely that he did not conform to social type—that he was, in the words of the critic William Hazlitt, ‘no one and everyone.'”
  • A public radio commentary fights the idea of privilege attached to the Oxfordian theory: “I could never stand before a class of high school students and tell them that great writing, and a deep understanding of humanity can only be achieved by the educated elite.”
  • Woman About Town links the “controversy” to other conspiracy theories. “It was only as the centuries passed and Shakespeare’s work began to be seen as the pinnacle of artistic achievement that it was that ‘doubts’ emerged. And the biggest reason appears to have been plain old-fashioned snobbery and frustrated romantic yearnings.”
  • Jonathan Hobratsch for the Huffington Post presents 10 reasons why Shakespeare is Shakespeare.
  • Slate.com has a movie review, complete with podcast, demonstrating that even objective reviewers with no dog in the fight find the whole premise absurd. The podcast is particularly interesting for what the reviewers have to say about the relationship of modern actors to the conspiracy. Another article on the same site asserts the need to defend Shakespeare: “To remain silent in the face of stupidity this blatant is to acquiesce to a kind of culture-destroying ugliness. … Most of all, I hate the way they pride themselves on the vain, mendacious conceit that they’re in on a grand historical secret deception that only they have the superior intelligence to understand. It’s an insult to everyone else’s intelligence if they’re taken seriously.”
  • James Ley challenges Sony’s choice to promote the fictional movie as educational: “There is something pernicious about the way Anonymous is being promoted. The ‘teach the controversy’ strategy, beloved of those whose arguments are on the wrong side of the evidence, is now apparently so normalised that an implausible work of speculative fiction can be brazenly offered as an exercise in historical revisionism and an educational tool.”
  • Skeptical Humanities also challenges the movie presenting fiction as fact: “So, no, Anonymous is NOT just a movie: it is a huge propaganda machine that wants desperately to sway viewers and students.”
  • Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson, from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, have written an e-book which they’ve made freely available. Shakespeare Bites Back synopsizes the argument nicely and also advocates that we stop using the term “anti-Stratfordian” and begin calling a spade a spade with the term “anti-Shakespearean”. Additionally, Edmondson and Wells discuss the issue in a short podcast, Wells has a piece in the Telegraph, and a series of posts from back in June demonstrates that Shakespeare solidly wins the debate.
  • Finally, the Utah Shakespeare Festival solicited responses from a number of scholars and practitioners from Shakespeare institutions around the country. When they asked the OCS for our thoughts, Sarah was kind enough (and brave enough) to let me reply — so if you want to know what I personally think about the issue, my argument is encapsulated there in a 500-word essay.

I’m also in the process of finally reading Shapiro’s Contested Will, which Simon & Schuster sent to me for a review, so hopefully I’ll be able to post that soon. It’s also worth noting what several of the scholars who’ve weighed in have pointed out: this conspiracy is not something that dominates the field of Shakespeare studies. It is a distraction from real work. As entertaining as it sometimes is to spork a ridiculous fiction, I think we’ll all be quite pleased when the movie flops (as it’s reportedly doing), the hype dies down, and we can go back to arguing about the finer nuances of scansion, pedagogical technique, and the merits of Q1 Hamlet.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session X

Hello – Charlene V. Smith here, welcoming you to Saturday afternoon of the 2011 Blackfriars Conference. I’ll be liveblogging Paper Session X from 2:30pm to 3:45 pm. The session is moderated by Farah Karim-Cooper from the Globe Theatre, and the presenters were assisted by Mary Baldwin MFA actors A. J. Sclafani, Linden Kueck, and Angelina LaBarre.

Annalisa Castaldo, Widener University
“Here sit we down…”: The location of Andrea and Revenge in The Spanish Tragedy

Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy opens with the entrance of the Ghost of Andrea and the figure of Revenge, and presumably they both remain onstage for the entire play. Castaldo mentions a footnote in an essay by Barry Adams pointing out Scott MacMillian’s assertion that the characters would have appeared on the main platform of the Rose in full view of the audience.

Castaldo suggests that this set up is a ridiculous waste of two actors and stage space. Castaldo compares the play to Taming of A Shrew, where Sly, onstage for entire play, repeatedly interacts with the action. In contrast, Andrea and Revenge sit still, pretend that the actors cannot hear them, speak only to each other during breaks in the action. Andrea and Revenge act more like a modern audience than an early modern audience.

Other plays of the time suggest interaction form audience, so Castaldo wonders if an non-interacting Andrea and Revenge located onstage would have in fact been distracting to the audience. With that thought, Castaldo wonders how might the characters have moved around the stage? Where would they have been?

In the very first scene, Revenge says, “Here sit we down, to see the mystery.” In an indoor theatre, they could take gallant stools. But there is no evidence that the Rose had seating onstage. Would stools have been preset? Would the actors have carried them on with them? Castaldo thinks these options seems unlikely. These problems can be solved if the characters enter above.

Further evidence for this idea comes in 3.2, during Hieronimo’s famous “O Eyes, No Eyes” soliloquy. His speech is interrupted by a letter which falls from above. The letter comes from Bel-imperia, so it would make sense that Bel-imperia drops it from her balcony. However the stage direction from the printed text is ambiguous: “a letter falleth” suggesting instead a supernatural element. Castaldo argues that Revenge drops the letter, which he can do so from above.

Castaldo also points out the stage direction that appear between acts three and four, “enter Ghost.” The previous action upsets Andrea and Castaldo says the “enter” indicates that Andrea appears onstage and shouts up to the sleeping Revenge, who is still above.

Castaldo ends her presentation with a strong recommendation that the OCS produces The Spanish Tragedy, a statement that is met with enthusiastic applause from the audience (much of it, admittedly, mine).

Jeanne McCarthy, Georgia Gwinnett College
The Two Blackfriars Theatres: Discontinuity or Contiguity?

E.K. Chambers conjectured that both Blackfriars theatres were located in the same place in the monastery. Later scholars have imposed great difference between the two theatre on what McCarthy calls “slim evidence.” Scholars have come to view the first Blackfriars as inferior in location, size, and ambition, a failed attempt that was corrected with the second. McCarthy suggests this comes from a selective reading of the evidence.

Many scholars push first Blackfriars into northern end of the upper floor in the old buttery. This conclusion is based on misunderstandings of audience access, room size, and roof height. Documents from the period speak both of divided rooms and also one great room, suggesting a mutability of space. McCarthy points out evidence authorizing the removal of walls.

McCarthy argues that the desire of scholars to seek a permanent purposed built theatre in the Blackfriars is anachronistic. The documents are evident, instead, of a fluid, transformable sense of space.

Joe Falocco, Texas State University – San Marcos
“What’s in a Name?”: Defining an Appropriate Nomenclature for Elizabethan/Original Practices/Early Modern/Renaissance/ Shakespearean Staging

Since late 19th century, theatre practitioners have sought to emulate the staging conditions of Shakespeare’s playhouse. Falocco’s paper investigates what we should call this movement. Early incarnations were known as Elizabethan Revival. This causes problems, the chief of which is the name Elizabethan is historically inaccurate. Early Modern is more accurate, but few people outside of English departments know what that means. Falocco says that calling the movement Renaissance Staging would avoid these pitfalls, but unfortunately would cause tension with disgruntled medievalists.

The term Original Practices has gained some popularity recently, though there has not been complete agreement over what these practices are. This term has been associated strongly with Mark Rylance’s tenure at the Globe and the New American Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta. Theatre historians, however, have pointed out the Globe’s ahistorical use of the yard for entrances, exits, and processions. At the Shakespeare Tavern, the audience is seated in front and does not surround the playing space. Nor does the tavern consistently employ universal lighting.

Jim Warren, Artistic Director of the American Shakespeare Center, told Falocco that everyone used to refer to Shakespeare’s staging conditions. Falocco suggest Shakespearean Staging as a viable alternative to these other terms. However he admits that this terms shortchanges Shakespeare’s contemporaries and also causes confusion, as every production of Shakespeare play is in some sense Shakespearean staging. But, Falocco argues, the benefits of name recognition might outweigh these drawbacks.

Ann Jennalie Cook, Vanderbilt University and Sewanee School of Letters
Light and Heat in the Playhouses

Cook begins her presentation by noting that even in our original practices productions we don’t fully realize the influence of light and heat in the early modern period. The availability of light regulated activity in the early modern period. Torches and candles were expensive. Whatever happened at night involved spending money.

It was, additionally, really cold most of the time. The period was consistently colder than temperatures have been in the 20th century. Weather conditions caused permanent snow on Scottish hill tops and frequent storms brought rain and crop destruction. The Thames River froze solid at least eleven times during the 17th century.

1601 was the coldest summer in 2,000 years. The weather, like the light, had monetary implications. During the period, the price of fuel climbed steadily. Clothing was also expensive and shoes were a necessity, not a luxury.

Both factors of heat and light affected season attendance and governed activities in the playhouses. Cook wonders how often performances were curtailed or canceled due to weather? How many groundlings remained shivering until the end of the performance? To sit out of the rain and weather in an outdoor playhouse cost more money. Indoor playhouse likewise had a higher cost of admission.

Considering these elements will help us understand the plays better, Cook argues. Shakespeare’s text clearly makes references to weather, season, and time. A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place at a time of year where the light and weather allow for lovers to sleep on the ground, and for rude mechanicals to rehearse in the woods. “Sleeping in mine orchard,” as mentioned in Hamlet, was only possible for a limited period of the year. Looking at the season and the school schedule at Wittenberg, Cook suggests that Hamlet would have been at Elsinore when his father died. Cook states that the action of the plot of Hamlet begins in early September and “the days thereafter grow steadily colder.”

Nova Myhill, New College of Florida
“The Concourse of People on the Stage”: An Alternative Proposal for Onstage Seating at the Second Blackfriars

Ben Jonson’s prologue to The Devil is an Ass is concerned with the physical restraints the stage-sitters put on the actors. Thomas Dekker makes similar observations about the behavior of these audience members in his plays. The Blackfriars recreation we are currently sitting in allows for eighteen occupants of Lord’s Chairs in box like area, behind a half wall, and places twelve gallants stools on stage. This Blackfriars recreation follows scholarly opinion that assumes a small numer of spectators onstage. Andrew Gurr, for example, restricts the number to “as many as ten.”

Myhill asks what would happen if we stopped looking at Jonson and Dekker’s descriptions seen as satiric exaggerations. What if we maximize the possible number of onstage audience members rather than minimizing it? This thought brings up two areas of inquiry: how many stage-sitters were there, and where would they have been located.

Myhill tells about a strage law case in 1609 where a theatre employee was accused of receiving 30 shillings a week for the stools on the stage of the Blackfriars unknown to everyone else. Myhill states a cost of six pence per stool, extrapolating that according to the case, sixty people hired stools. Were there enough already onstage that sixty more would have been unnoticed?

One scholar has proposed that there were no boxes at the second Blackfriars, simply side seating, though an illustration from the time shows that there were. Myhill proposes that perhaps the boxes were located at the rear of the stage, allowing for more spectators on the stage itself.

Myhill ends by pointing out that the estimates of ten stage sitters, or even twenty to thirty, that scholars suggest can not produce the effects mentioned and bemoaned by Jonson and Dekker.

Lauren Shell, University of Virginia, Technical Direction MFA program
Lighting Effects in the Early Modern Private Playhouses

Shell states that we must realize that lighting design is not a modern concept. It began as early as the ancient greek and roman theatre, where plays called for torches brought onstage for certain moments. Here at the Blackfriars recreation we assume an even wash of light onstage and through out the house, but Shell argues that lighting effects were more nuanced that that and points out that text of the early modern plays we study suggest lighting effects.

Shell then discusses evidence of lighting effects in books and manuals from the 17th century. Some of these manuals provide instructions for how to achieve these effects. Shell then demonstrates her own models of possible early modern lighting machines.

First is a device whereby lit candles have covers over them. These covers are attached to ropes and can be lowered and raised, effectively dimming and increasing the level of lighting. Proof exists of such a device being used in court masques, so it seems probably that the same device could have been employed in private playhouses. Shell points out the difference between the stage directions “as if groping in the dark” and “a darkness comes over the place.” These directions are not the same. The first deals with perceived darkness; the second, actual darkness.

Shell then demonstrates how colored lighting would have been created by placing containers of colored liquid in front of candles, the forerunner to modern day gels. Shell then shows a device where candles are surrounded by microreflectors that could be swung open and closed, creating a sudden burst of light.

Inigo Jones and Ben Jonson first collaborated on The Queen’s Masque of Blackness. Jonson’s text contains verbose descriptions of stage effects, including lighting effects. Future masques that Jonson worked on do as well. These effects, when employed in the private playhouses, brought the sophistication of court to the common man.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session IX

The snow is falling, but the conference continues apace! Undaunted by the precipitation, we’re back for Plenary Session IX, moderated by Marc Connor from Washington and Lee University. I’m Cass, and I’ll be live-blogging from 9am to 10:15am.

Iska Alter, Hofstra University, and William B. Long, independent scholar: “Love’s Labour’s Lost Once, Love’s Labour’s Lost Once Again: What Happens When Plays Move House”

Alter opens by stating that they intend to demonstrate that, in addition to text, actors, costumes, sets, and the other typical components that contribute to a play’s meaning, the theatrical space also contributes to its effect. Long takes over, discussing a theory that Love’s Labour’s Lost is the precursor of the modern “college comedy”, characterizing the King of Navarre and his friends as “frat boys” in a recent Globe production. He notes that critics who saw the production at the Globe and those that saw the production on tour came to the same conclusion, but noticed other discrepancies. Long believes these differences were due to the difference in the space.

Long cites several contributory factors to the different effect in different spaces: the size of the performance space itself, the relationship of actors to audience, and the movement of actors in the space. Long details the space he and Alter saw on tour, a proscenium with a fully-seated audience. Though the stage provided opportunities for the actors to leave the stage and engage with the audience, Long believes that the effect fell flat. At the outdoor Globe, the “complex geometry” allowed for greater audience engagement, with the audience member “shifting and swerving” to keep up with the verbal sparring between characters. He also details the “almost physical equality” between actor and spectator when an actor changed levels, moving from a standing position to a crouching or recumbent position, which would place him on eye-level with the groundlings in the pit.

Alter takes over to discuss the differences created by light and sound, and how those factors contributed to the “raucous and bawdy” atmosphere. The indoor space attempted to emulate sunlight, but Alter felt that the conceit only “reinforced the artificial”. She discusses the difficulties presented by the ambient sounds at the Globe, but suggests that those were less distracting than the reverberations of actors’ voices in the indoor space. She concludes by saying that scholars ought to examine more frequently what happens when a play written for one space moves elsewhere.

Christine Parker, Victor Valley Community College: “Thomas Middleton’s Use of the Gallery Space”

Parker proposes that Middleton uses the gallery to highlight characters who act with moral depravity. She prefaces her consideration with reference to A Game at Chess, a black pawn (representing a corrupt Jesuit) spouts Latin from the upper space, “in an attempt to inflame anti-Catholic sentiment”. She concedes that Middleton does use the gallery for the usual conventional reasons, but that, more often than other early modern playwrights, he uses the space thematically. She cites The Changeling, where corrupt characters often occupy the space; also in The Witch, Women Beware Women. Parker connects this use with a reversal of expectations; corrupt rather than romantic, and elevating characters who would not typically be given status by rank.

She moves back to consideration of A Game at Chess, Middleton’s play which was banned for religious and political reasons, partially for fear it would lead to anti-Catholic riots. She describes several politically controversial scenes which place devious or low-ranked characters in the gallery space. She thinks that the black pawn’s position in the gallery was “an incendiary device”. MBC actors present a short portion of the scene, and Parker states her belief that the intimidating effect of the Latin preached “as though from a puplit” would have been inflammatory in the original performance.

Amy R. Cohen, Randolph College: “Grand Scope and Human Scale: How Size Matters”

Cohen begins by jocularly confessing that she “betrayed her father” by choosing classical studies over early modern, due to the fOCSinating considerations presented by Euripedes. She comments on Aristophanes’s opinion of Euripedes and Euripedes’s response to criticism, also comparing Euripedes’s use of low-status characters to the typically high-status concerns of Aeschylus and Sophocles. She then moves to the practical circumstances of performance space which contribute to a play’s success, comparing the large outdoor Theatre of Dionysos to the small indoor Blackfriars Playhouse. She shows a Greek-style mask, large and thus easily seen,. Cohen cautions that “our actors can look like children, or tadpoles, or bobble-heads”, especially if an outdoor performance moves into an indoor space. She thinks that, in an indoor space, it takes the audience twice as long to begin ignoring the masks in favor of the performance. The size, she thinks, reflects in the characters as well as in the masks, that plays written for an enormous space requires characters “of mythological proportion”, and that those large characters may feel awkward in a smaller indoor space. The smaller space “requires characters on a more human scale, however noble or royal they may be”.

The difference in the spaces leads to the differences in the plays written for them. Cohen also believes that this leads to Shakespeare’s success in mixing high and low characters, “where Euripedes sometimes fails”. The comic characters in Shakespeare “enhance, rather than diminish” the effect, even of deeply tragic plays. She anticipates that further exploration will reveal more about why Greek tragedies are the way they are, how that large scale affects the audience, and how it is successful in an appropriate space. In the “reach out and touch you” scale, she would like to speculate: Whether the size of the theatre is one of the circumstances of performance that allowed for the inclusion of low-status characters even in tragedy. She finishes by admonishing that early modern scholars remember, when discussing how their playwrights improved on the ancients, “that: we’re bigger than you.”

Jennifer Low, Florida Atlantic University: “Perspective and Painterly Technique in Jacobean Staging”

Low presents an aspect of art history relevant to early modern staging, first noting the visual parameters of an indoor space like the Blackfriars Playhouse. She posits that Dutch painting of the period was appropriate for use of the discovery space, as the techniques of Dutch painting used same frames, perspectives, and architectural settings which have a similar effect as that the audience experiences in an indoor early modern theatre. She speculates on the visual pictures created by scenes in The Changeling, discussing the delayed revelation of the visual, which augments both the audience’s anticipation and their shock. MBC actors present the crucial scene of Beatrice-Johanna’s mutiliation and death in two different ways: entering through the stage right door, or revealed through the discovery space.

Low argues that the tableau is more effective when using the discovery space. This would also provide opportunities for props and set pieces that could have “filled out” the image within the discovery space — such as a bed, or a medicine cabinet (to augment the medical and pseudo-medical themes in the play). She posits that Beatrice-Johanna’s revelation is then an invasion into other characters’ attempts to restore rationality and normalcy. Low suggests that the original production tied the emotional experience to the optical experience, which would be stronger with the discovery space staging. The discovery space also offers an opportunity to present different sights in foreground and background (relating again to the Dutch painters’ techniques).

Melissa Aaron, Cal Poly Pomona: “Play It Again, Hal: The 1605 Revival of Henry V

Aaron relates the story of the 1605 revival of Henry V, which had to compete with the spectacles of James’s court and the inventions of Inigo Jones. She positions the play in relationship to the company’s financial state at the time of the first performance and at the time of the revival, arguing that material concerns could very well affect play creation and selection. The turbulent financial state of England at the time encouraged dependence on royal patronage, which led to a different concern: “How do you avoid becoming a fully-owned subsidiary of King, Co.?” Aaron examines the repurposing of plays for both the new space of the Blackfriars Playhouse and for the expansion of royal patronage, using the example that, if you get your hands on a bear suit, you find an excuse to use it (and our in-house bear demonstrates). Playing companies were also affected by new outbreaks of plague from 1603-1609; playhouse closures also enhanced dependence on the king’s beneficence.

Aaron then traces the fortunes of the King’s Men from 1603 to 1605, both the closures of the theatre and the court performances and attentant payments given by the king. She notes that Othello and Macbeth were written in this period, and also that The Merry Wives of Windsor seemed to be a favorite for royal performances. She suggests that, by the Christmas season 1605, the King’s Men desperately needed a new play that Queen Anne had not yet seen. Henry V, with its dependence on imagination over theatrical spectacle, performed on January 7, follows a day after the performance of The Masque of Blackness, an elaborate spectacle. Aaron speculates that the King’s Men were reducing, reusing, and recycling, using plays that had originally been in the same seasons together, economizing even in the face of Jonesian competition. The acquisition of the Blackfriars Playhouse allowed the King’s Men to go back to a more independent company, less directly attached to royal patronage.

Peter Kanelos, Loyola University Chicago: “Ghost in the Machine?”

Kanelos interrogates why we, late-modern, have the originalist impulse to gather in an early modern space and re-create early modern productions. He wonders if it’s a romantic impulse, a nostalgic fit — then suggests the opposite, that “this enterprise, while it appears retrograde, is actually an intently post-modern one”. He traces the impulse back to William Pole in the late 19th-century, who aimed to correct misconceptions about Elizabethan stagecraft that had developed over the past centuries. Kanelos positions this idea in relationship to Stanislavski’s theories of acting, developing at the same time and, Kanelos argues, stemming from the same conditions and desires. He discusses the period’s concerns with authenticity and the inwardness of character. “For all three, language and action are opaque, in need of literary analysis.” It was the actor’s duty to probe beneath the language for the true meaning. The 20th century, he says, created a widening gulf between artistic performance and academic analysis.

Kanelos then discusses how the post-modern ideas relate more to what seems true of the early modern plays: that there is nothing beneat the surface of the text, that everything about the character is there, in the words. “Early modern theatre created the illusion of inwardness.” He says that we have reached an opposite of Stanislavski’s principles.

Kanelos is then cut off by the bear, complete with a bear cub.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session VIII

Hello, again. This is Christina Sayer Grey back for a second live-blogging session. This time, I’m covering Plenary Session VIII from 4:00-5:15pm on Thursday, October 28.

Moderator: Alice Dailey, Villanova University

Year of the Actor-Scholar: The Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s Canon Completion Project
Kristin Hall, Atlanta Shakespeare Company

2010/11 Season – performing the 4 remaining plays (Henry VIII, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Edward III, and Timon of Athens) attributed to Shakespeare that they had not yet performed. Performed as a long-term repertory ensemble, and included Edward III in the defining of the canon.

Started as a desire to document the process. Two points arose – Attribution of authorship and modern attempts to honor E.M. staging.

Outline of O.P. choices made by Atlanta Shakes – direct address and engagement with a visible audience. Shallow thrust stage that evokes rather than re-creates an E.M. stage. Costuming not intended as replicas, instead, intended to evoke. Actor created soundscapes. Apprentice/Journeyman system. Resistance to director-imposed readings.

Ensemble members – many of whom have worked together for up to 15 years. Actors relied on their experience to differentiate between Shakespeare’s words and the words of their collaborators. The actors themselves defined what they considered the “Shakespeareness.” Actors unanimous in attributing the plays based on the ease of line memorization – Shakespeare is, according to the actors, easier to memorize than other playwrights.

Timon of Athens stretched the company’s O.P. stance. The duplicitous characters all wore masks, in a piece that could be described as “concept” Shakespeare.

Double Falsehood performed in the style of a melodrama or telenovela. The actors determined that they didn’t think Shakespeare had a hand in Double Falsehood, based on their experience with Shakespeare’s concretely attributed plays.

Theatre of the Damned
Arlynda Boyer, Florida State University

Thomas Middleton’s morality in his plays – a rupture between his personal religion and the void of morality in his plays. “Agonizingly amibiguous.” Middleton was a Calvinist – Calvin does not tell his followers that they are members of the elect. A true, devout Calvinist could never be sure of salvation for themselves or others.

Middleton refuses to judge his characters because he does not believe in the certainty of salvation. Predestination – social standing has no standing with God. Calvin presents a belief system that ignores the strict social structure of the period, leading to the idea of amorality.

Moll Frith – the moral center of the play The Roaring Girl. A radical revision of the real-life Mary Frith. Middleton and Dekker suggest that this societal monster is a good person, perhaps better than the “normal” people who judged her. Their presentation of Moll challenge the assumptions of morality made by the audience.

Traveling on Prospero’s Island
Darlene Farabee, University of South Dakota

Characters’ relationship to the physical location. None of the characters’ say that they are lost and do not know where they are. The seem unconcerned with their survival now that they’ve arrived on the island.

Colonialist allegory – some characters have to be ignored to make this work. Ferdinand, for example, never interacts with Caliban. Stephano and Trinculo ignore Caliban’s position as a source of information about the island. They concern themselves with how they came to land, but not about what to do now that they’re there. (Natasha Solomon, Daniel Burrows, and Patrick Midgley perform the scene)

The audience travels through a narrative plotline that reverses at 3.1 (the betrothal between Ferdinand and Miranda). The appearances of characters mirror each other with 3.1 as the hinge point.

Exeunt in Place of Blackouts: Some problems staging 21st-century plays in a 16th-century playhouse
Katy Mulvaney, Mary Baldwin College

How would 21st playwrights treat their plays differently if constrained by the limitations and standards of E.M. playhouses. Different tactics are required when using universal lighting. Some playwrights follow the standards established by E.M. playwrights and some come up with new solutions.

In Extremis, was not written for the Globe, but did not require significant changes in order to be performed there. Actors Natasha Solomon, John Basiulis, and Daniel Burrows perform a scene intended to end with a slow fade blackout. In the Globe version, the scene ends with one character exiting prematurely and then added lines to get the other two characters offstage.

Anne Boleyn – the influence of theatrical reconstruction allowed the playwright to create new solutions to the problems that arise in universal lighting. Anne Boleyn remains onstage continuously as a fixed point around which characters revolve – entering and exiting around her.

Innovation in a reconstruction theatre. Could characters in E.M. plays have remained onstage during transitions from scene to scene?

Staging Amorphus’ Face-Painting Scene in Jonson’s Cynthia’s Revels
Annette Drew-Bear, Washington and Jefferson College

Cynthia’s Revels, a children’s company play. Described by critics as “impossible to stage” and “dull.” Is the face-painting scene in 5.2 stageable? The scene is part of a series wherein Jupiter challenges Amorphus’ to a series of court adornment challenges to mock the rituals. The scene asks onstage, in-play onlookers as well as audience members to judge the challenge. The scene incorporates actual cosmetic recipes in the description in the scene.

Actors Natasha Solomon, Daniel Burrows, John Basiulis, and Patrick Midgley perform a scene where characters get haircuts and make-up applied.

“Mocking Life”: Staging Monuments in The Winter’s Tale
Brian Chalk, Manhattan College

E.M. English had a tendency to build memorial monuments prior to the death of the person memorialized. What can E.M. monuments teach us about how Hermione might have looked in The Winter’s Tale and how did Shakespeare use the memorial monument tradition?

Shakespeare tells the audience that Leontes plans to build a monument and visit it daily. Their inscription is about Leontes’ mistake, not Hermione’s and Mamillus’s virtues. Paulina’s statue, however, does not memorialize Mamillius, too. Leontes memorializes his family in a way that reveals how he related to them, not how they were as individuals.

The purpose of Leontes’ tomb stands into direct contrast to the examples that E.M. Englishpeople would have seen in London. Those tombs often showed examples of the still-living anticipating their reunion with the person memorialized.

Shakespeare, in Othello and Cymbeline, compares a sleeping character with a recumbent memorial statue. Tombs almost always showed recumbent or kneeling figures, not full-standing figures. Leontes hopes to freeze time with his memorial, but that, of course, is impossible.

Blackfriars Conference 2011- Staging Session III

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

Staging Banquo’s Ghost
Nicole Ricciardi, Monmouth University

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

Rehearsal of Philaster 4.5
Lois Potter, University of Delaware

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

Moderator Terry Southerington encourages questions for both presenters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terry Southerington of Mary Baldwin College moderates this session.