Lunch and Learn: Masters of the Space (Crystal and Rusher)

Hello! It’s me, Mary Finch, one last time to live-blog today’s Lunch and Learn session presented by Ben Crystal and Warren Rusher of Passion in Practice.

“I love space. I’m fOCSinated by, what I would call, an original practice space.” – Crystal

What is an original practice space? It is a space with a similar dynamic to the space that Shakespeare’s actors would have used. These spaces are becoming more common, with pop-up Globes and container Globes; there’s a growing fOCSination with these spaces.

Crystal’s fOCSination began with the language and the meter, going to see shows at the RSC as a child and asking his father about the actors aren’t moving. Crystal thought “surely there must be a way to marry” movement and voice-work. That fOCSination grew to include an interest in ensemble work, similar to how Shakespeare’s company must have worked–the group equivalent to the similarity of the Folio and the Blackfriars.

Crystal plans to demonstrate some of the practices and disciplines he uses with his company to explore how the space can effect the work the company does.

This first example is similar to Viewpoints work, which always uses music.

Crystal turned on some instrumental music, and using a bamboo stick, Rusher began in a neutral standing position balancing the stick on his finger, and then began walking across the stage. When the stick falls (which it will as this is not a balance exercise), he will catch it, hold, and reset, and continue walking with eyes fixed on the top of the stick.  Crystal then demonstrated as well. They do this “for hours” as a litmus test for tension that needs to be released to facilitate fluid movement.

The next exercise involved Crystal and Rusher traversing the space together, each with their own bamboo stick. This forces the actors to begin listening to each other as well.

The Passion in Practice shows are never blocked, “for better or for worse” (Crystal) and instead relies upon the relationship between the actors on stage.

As a tactile society, productions sometimes use touch without considering status or exclusivity. So Passion and Practice uses what Crystal calls the “Sphere of Contact,” which is approximately two arm length’s apart and is inclusive. Using the sticks as a measure of closeness, creating limits of proximity, far and near. Pressing the sticks between their hands, they demonstrated dynamics of power, depth, nearness, speed, and height.

Dropping the sticks, they presented “Push, Pull, Yield, Resist” by standing palm to palm, showing the different dynamics of tension. They then dropped their hands and did the same exercise using only visual cues.

“It’s a question of tuning into each other and listening to each other” (Crystal).

Turning specifically to the architecture, Crystal began acknowledging the lighting, the stage shape, the pillars, the gemoetric shapes within the space. The spaces can make more sense of the plays, such as in Twelfth Night works better in a traverse space illustrating how not everyone on stage could see all the characters.

Marking out the smaller dynamics of the Wanamaker playhouse, the presenters then used smaller sticks to compensate for the more intimate structure. They also have to compensate for different lighting–they use candles, sometimes different candles for different productions and different locations in the playhouse.

They discovered that the strongest point to stand is not where it traditionally falls in a proscenium stage. It depends upon the lighting, the pillars, and the ability to see the audience which flanks three sides. At the Wanamaker, being too far downstage makes communing with those near the upstage area was difficult, and was actually a very intimate location. Therefore, upstage was more powerful and more public.

The traditional stagecraft is flipped on its head in spaces like the Wanamaker playhouse. Transposing proscenium shows to original practice spaces is very difficult for that reason.

How can we adapt to these spaces to improve our original practice playing in these spaces?

Without the scholarly work, actors and directors would not be able to take the original practice stage craft work forward. Scholarship makes a perfect marriage for actors and original practice ensemble and production work.

Blackfriars 2015 – Staging Session with Tina Packer and James Lochlin

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

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

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

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

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

Blackfriars Conference 2013 – Staging Session IV

This is Cass Morris in for Staging Session IV (which Conference Intern Erica Campbell, sitting beside me, has dubbed “the intravenous staging session”). This session features three 25-minute presentations by Paula Baldwin Lind, Mariko Ichikawa, and Kelli Shermeyer, moderated by Sally Southall from Thomas Dale High School. I will be live-blogging from 2:30 to 3:45pm.

Paula Baldwin Lind, Universidad de los Andes, Santiago: “‘Let me enjoy my private’: Representation and Performance of Private Spaces and Privacy in Shakespeare”

Baldwin’s presentation concerns Shakespeare’s management of the idea of private space through several methods, including actors’ movements, manipulation of props, and actors’ voices. She begins with an example from Twelfth Night 3.4, demonstrating “the notion of privacy on-stage”. René Thornton Jr. as Malvolio has his personal space thoroughly invaded by Toby Belch (Tim Sailer), Maria (Lee Fitzpatrick), and Fabian (Gregory Jon Phelps). Baldwin notes that Malvolio’s wish for privacy refers not only to wanting to be left physically alone, but to his inner self — his peace of mind. She cites the work of three French scholars on the idea of space and what defines it, particularly looking at what transforms a “place into a space”, based on the experiences and movements of those inhabiting it. The Blackfriars Playhouse stage is, itself, a place — but the movement of the actors imbues it with identity of a particular space, whether that be a bedroom, a kitchen, a battlefield, etc.

Baldwin then discusses the shaping of material space within the home (a private space). She speaks to the ideological connotations of interior spaces in the home, which were not initially necessarily distinct from public spaces. In the 1660s, the very idea of privacy was sometimes viewed with suspicion. The neutrality of the early modern stage, empty and unornamented but for a couple of doors, “enabled the dramatist effortlessly to whisk the spectator through a succession of illusions, covering, if he chose, the entire physical world.” She does note, however, that some early modern plays do include some set pieces and props, but she believes these to be contributing to the construction of space, not replacing the actors’ and audience’s imaginative role. She hopes to illuminate the benefit of examining spatial perspective for teachers and directors.

Stating a desire to first examine “the private as opposite or complementary to the public”, Baldwin notes the variant definitions of being “in public” in early modern plays. Even private conversations may occur in public spaces, allowing for “private microspaces”. As an illustration, she has the OCS actors present part of 1.5 from Romeo and Juliet: a crowded scene with several instances of those private microspaces. Romeo (Dylan Paul) and Juliet (Tracie Thomason)’s private moment is intruded upon by the Nurse (Fitzpatrick). Capulet (Thornton Jr.) then re-asserts the public identity of the space. Baldwin invites the auditors to interrogate what it is that defines the privacy — the fact that the actors move downstage, that they drop their voices, etc.

Baldwin then moves on to consider the privacy or publicity of the household. She has Fitzpatrick, Thomason, Sailer, and Emily Brown present a scene from Coriolanus, where the ladies have a conversation inside a house — intimate but not truly private, thanks to the observing presence of Sailer’s servant. Baldwin questions if we feel the women are at home, what makes us identify the space in that way, do the stools contribute to that, or the activity of sewing? How does the topic of their conversation affect the perception of the space? Or, the fact that all speaking characters are female?

Baldwin concludes by noting that patterns can shape space, and that Shakespeare manages it in variant ways. He may call attention to it in dialogue, or else by contrast with another type of space. Spaces “are neither containers nor definers of characters or actions”. Rather, the actions transform places into spaces.

Mariko Ichikawa, University of Tohoku, Japan: “A Pet Variant: ‘Enter to/at the door'”

Ichikawa seeks to examine the difference a preposition can make to an entrance. She believes that the difference between entering entirely or remaining within the frame of the door can reveal something about the character’s state of mind or else about the conditions of the stage. She notes that entering “to/at the door” can be used to allow a very few characters to represent a crowd. Ichikawa further argues that the conditions of some scenes may imply an entrance to/at the door, even if the script does not explicate that in a stage direction . She asks the auditors to consider how this staging device works in an early modern space, particularly with regards to the variant sight lines experienced by different audience members. Ichikawa points out that anyone sitting in the gallery above the stage would have no way of seeing entrances to/at the door, and that those in the galleries on the sides might have only a partial view. This would then rob those audience members of the chance to appreciate the staging convention.

Ichikawa then calls upon the OCS actors to perform four passages indicating such entrances to/at the door. In the first, from Fletcher’s The Captain, Fitpatrick and Brown are visible on-stage; Paul and Josh Innerst remain within the doorway. The second, from Fletcher and Massinger’s The Little French Lawyer, features Phelps on-stage, coming to Chris Johnston, remaining in the doorway. Both appear to be calling to more people who are off-stage and, thus, invisible. Johnston then stands in for multiple other persons. The third, from Beaumont and Fletcher’s Cupid’s Revenge, has four actors, clustered in the doorway, representing an entire crowd. Finally, from Hamlet, Phelps as Laertes enters, while his followers remain within the doorway.

Ichikawa asks if the audience is able to distinguish between polite attitude in a character remaining within the doorway and the actions of a rabble off-stage. Then she asks if presenting one or two actors in the doorway is convincing? Last, would we accept this staging device in-performance? The answers to all appear to hinge on the work the actors do both to coordinate their movements and to insinuate the presence of others off-stage.

Kelli Shermeyer, University of Virginia: “Director v. Author: Who Owns The Changeling?”

Shermeyer begins that she knows her title is potentially problematic, and she explicates that she wants to investigate whose artistic interpretation is the one that should dominate staging choices, or if perhaps a combination is necessary. She is interested in the staging of the relationship between Beatrice-Johanna and De Flores in The Changeling. She asks the actors first to work through the scene (The Changeling, 3.4) on their own, then she will offer some redirections. Johnston presents De Flores, Thomason Beatrice-Johanna. Pursued by De Flores, Beatrice-Johanna finds herself forced into a corner of the stage, eventually with no recourse but to step off of it in order to get away with him.

When the actors finish the scene, Shermeyer asks the actors what they think their motivations are. Johnston notes that, in De Flores’s world, he sees himself as attempting to convince her and as offering her a love-token. Thomason, on the other hand, feels a desire to “wrap up the deed and be done with him”. Shermeyer offers them slightly altered objectives: that De Flores is just trying to get Beatrice-Johanna to sleep with him, and that Beatrice-Johanna feels both revulsion and attraction. She moves Beatrice-Johanna to a starting position at the downstage right corner, and De Flores to up-left. A few lines in, Shermeyer asks Johnston to try it again with a more sinister tone, then specifies a stressing of the subjunctive qualifiers in his lines — “I could have hired a journeyman at this rate, and my own conscience might have slept at ease.”

Shermeyer directs and controls De Flores’s motions towards Beatrice-Johanna, giving him a specific moment to start advancing on her. She also offers Thomason the direction to “try and pull” more direct meaning out of De Flores. She also refocuses Beatrice-Johanna on De Flores by taking away one of her asides. Partway through the scene, she allows Beatrice-Johanna a moment upstage of De Flores, then has De Flores force physical intimacy on her — which she first enjoys, then breaks away from. Shermeyer notes that he should “be creepily in her space”; Thomason concurs that “that’d be good”. This allows Beatrice-Johanna to push him away disdainfully on “Why, ’tis impossible thou canst be so wicked.” Shermeyer also encourages more sarcasm through Beatrice-Johanna’s next lines, which has some payoff in De Flores’s reply: “Push, you forget yourself: A woman dipp’d in blood and talk of modesty!” Another alteration amplifies the sexual attraction element of Beatrice-Johanna’s feelings.

Shermeyer finishes by explicating her intentions. She feels that the text creates “some really awkward moments” that require a director to go in and make some alterations. She thinks that some of the typical actors’ exercises for creating backstories are useless in this play, particularly since the characters reveal themselves so often through asides, leaving little that needs to be created. She thinks this, in turn, negates the idea of a dark love story between Beatrice-Johanna and De Flores.

Q&A Session:

Q for Ichikawa: Can you clarify your thoughts on the door size? Ichikawa says she suspects our doors in the modern Playhouse may be somewhat larger than those in the original Blackfriars. Further, smaller doors might mean that only one person could stand within comfortably. Thomason agrees, saying that it would allow fewer people to represent a crowd. Baldwin puts in that, since the early modern audience was used to creating so much by hearing rather than by sight, the idea of sound off-stage representing a crowd would be an easy imaginative leap for them to make.

Q for Shermeyer, asking her to clarify if she is or is not supporting an idea of a love story. Shermeyer absolutely is not. Thornton Jr. notes that there may be something compelling about De Flores even if it isn’t “love” — and Thomason agrees. Shermeyer also brings up the idea that Beatrice-Johanna might be as young as 14, though she is never portrayed that way on-stage, and that her innocence in what her provocations might lead to can say a lot.

Staging Session III

Beth Burns

Skyping Shakespeare: The Hidden Room’s International Collaboration on Rose Rage

Berns enters and has a screen in front of the discovery space broadcasting an image of Skype, she explains how she brought over British actors to the stage to audition, cast and rehearse a show. Berns advocates blocking via video conference although she does stipulate that they do not choreograph fights over Skype.

Why do people hesitate to work with people far away?

An actor referred to as Lawrence heads to the downstage back of the space.

An actor referred to as James then calls us on Skype and says “Hello everyone in America” the sound is adjusted.

They turn off the Skype camera and get back to Lawrence.

Three men come on from upstage, Lawrence from off stage reads his lines while one actor enacts his blocking in front of the audience.

After the actor silently embodying Lawrence trips over a cord we pause and then Lawrence asks for a few different stage pictures which Burns directs them in.

Now Lawrence is announced to have arrived in the states from the UK and Lawrence enacts the blocking he learned over Skype.

Berns remarks that Lawrence incorporated everything that Jude (the body double) suggested.

Lawrence goes onto explain how he found some of the choices Jude very interesting,and they influenced his interpretation of the scene.

Then Berns and James play a game where she had him stare into her eyes where he saw them on the screen and then give a similar gaze into the camera to show the audience the difference.

Lag is important to manage.  One has to mitigate the lag as much as possible through tech and practice

Actors naturally find a rhythm that works with lag.

Daves and James an(suit) d another man act a scene together across Skype until James phone goes of, but then they continue, when James wants to make eye contact he looks directly into the camera

James says fairwell and is turned off

Dr. Davies, who was an actor in the original project, tells a story about making noise in the kitchen while rehearsing over Skype his father came in and asked how many people were on his computer and he replied “About thirty-five”

Berns puts on a scene with half international actors and half from the states to show off the results of the Skype rehearsal project.

The blocking was well defined, all the actors seemed certain of where they were supposed to be when, no one was upstaged and they were able to interact very naturally and had clearly had sufficient rehearsal.

Robert Matney the tech designer meantioned that theater practitioners are usually luddites. We present a live, real alternative to other entertainment.

We need to retain what is precious about live theater but it is important to overcome luddite tendencies and if you use technology to your advantage you can fold and flatten the world. It is worth the extra effort to be able to rehearse with people on the other side of the world.

 

Kim Carrell

Variants in the Quarto and Folio texts of Richard the III

Textual veriants

Carrell explains that in the Quarto and Folio Richard the III have a lot of small differences, different names, and punctuation differences one speech 12 lines shorter but in Act one, Scene two there is one other massive difference…

Three actors take stage and start the Richard III and Lady Anne scene from the 1597 Quarto. Everything goes as expected and at the end when Anne leaves and Richard says he’ll take her but only or a short time, the audience barely reacts at all.  We are not sure he has won Anne as thoroughly as he thinks he has.

Now they perform the folio.

I Q1 Richard offers her a ring and delights at the way it looks on her finger, when they get to this point in the Folio she offers him the ring first and then he silently gave her a ring and had the same line admiring the way it circles her finger. The reaction of the audience was quite noticeable, and the actors related to each other much more sympathetically for the rest of the scene. The shock was much greater then, after she left and he callously said the same dismissive lines, because we had just seem what looked like a marriage ceremony or at the very least an engagement and he was already making it clear that his vows of love were lies.

Carrell said he came to the idea when he was in an unrehearsed cue script production as Richard III and performed this very scene, he thought he knew what to expect, but when she offered him the ring (which he wasn’t expecting) it really changed the scene.

Carrell asks audience what they think.

MFA student Kelly Elliot says that the moment when Anne offers ring makes Richard’s later speech a much bigger reaction.

Carrell advocates taking advantage of the many sexual jokes. Whitefriars, where Richard says he is going next was red-light district of London.

One little switch makes such a huge difference, so it is really worth it to check the differences between texts.

 

Julia Nelson

Modern audiences are used to proscenium staging, movies, privacy, technology, and less human contact. Early Modern audiences had no privacy, and theater was a communal space where space and light were shared.

So, why would Shakespeare and his contemporaries encourage a rowdy audience to participate in the show with audience asides and soliloquies where the actors directly address the audience and ask them questions?

In places like sports stadiums and Rocky Horror Picture Show modern audiences still get rowdy, shout, and in the latter case (but we hope not the former) throw things at the stage.

Rick Blunt performs Falstaff’s Honor speech. Julia asks him to try if first in the “first circle Stanislavski” style and ignore the audience.  Julia asks the audience to talk back and heckle Blunt.

The audience heckles Blunt while he desperately tries to do his scene and ignore the audience.  The audience got so loud it was difficult to hear Blunt whose character was having an internal discussion. Someone even threw a wadded up piece of paper at him.

The second time Julia asked Blunt to engage the audience as much as possible.

Blunt responded to every shout out and really connected with his audience, the speech with the question and answer format made much more sense the second time around. The audience never got as rowdy as they had the first time, by interacting with the, Blunt was able to keep them in check. Audience interaction was a form of crowd control.

If the play was a disaster on first performance and authors weren’t usually paid until second or third performance.

Nelson explains that the first was similar to modern staging where actors are encouraged to not acknowledge the audience. She then opened the floor to questions and comments.

The actor from the previous scene, known as Lawrence, had been doing Trinculo as audition speech then got the role and then at first performance an overly talkative audience member started interacting with him duringa sene:

L:  What have we here a manor fish?

A: Fish!

L: A Fish. Dead or alive?

A: Dead!

The interaction calmed the unruly audience member down and worked well with the scene.

Another audience member pointed out that we police the audience using the lights, when the audience can see each other they are much more likely to interact. What allows us to hoot and holler is that were sharing the same pool of light.

Staging Session II: Auditory Worlds Onstage: Hearing, Overhearing, Eavesdropping, and Stage Whispers – Blackfriars Conference 2013

Good afternoon from Clare at the Blackfriars! I will be blogging on the second staging session of the 2013 Blackfriars Conference.

Staging Session II: Auditory Worlds Onstage: Hearing, Overhearing, Eavesdropping, and Stage Whispers

With little to no practice, the OCS residence cast and their facilitators will work through complicated staging situations. Please see: Staging Session II Handout

Moderator: Sara Vazquez, OCS stage manager

1. Much Ado Masked dance: Conducted by Walter Cannon and Nova Myhill (Much Ado About Nothing 2.1)

2. Eavesdropping in Measure for Measure: Gayle Gaskill (Measure for Measure, 3.1)

3. Public vs Private speech in Hamlet: Laury Magnus (Hamlet, 3.2)

1) Myhill and Cannon will look precisely at the moments of hearing and non-hearing, and how the scene changes when characters over-hear, and when they fail to over-hear each other.  They also want to gives special attention  to the way that masks which usually give individuals power over each other, or render each other powerless. The actors will first play the scene all masked and then time with only the men in masks.

The first time the actors played the scene, they all danced and only the head couple spoke to each other.  The other actors were not distracting themselves from hearing, but also did not appear to react much to the head couple. They were all masked.

The second time, the women wore no masks and again only by the two interlocutors heard the conversations.  Each couple broke off from the dance to their individual conversations after they spoke to each other in the dance for their own private conversations. The women also played the scene as having more agency over the men who are unable to answer for themselves when the women confronted them about themselves while the women enjoy displaying their wit.

2) Differing editions of Measure for Measure have the duke and the provost exit in a scene 3.1., or stay on stage and eaves drop during the conversation in which Isabella confesses to her brother that she must sleep with Angelo to save her brother’s life. Does the duke upstage the other actors if he is seen overhearing the actors?

The first time, the duke and the provost left and then the duke reappeared listening from the balcony. Claudio’s initial support of Isabella’s chastity gave the duke in comfort, but at Claudio’s first request for Isabella to save him by sin, the duke rushed out of the balcony and reappeared later to stop the two from their argument.

The second time, the duke and the provost remained on the apron of the stage, downstage left, and listened to the conversation,  The duke even inserted a few non-verbal auditory reactions. He then chooses a specific instance to insert himself. His motivation for reappearing appeared to change.

3)Just before the play within the play, Hamlet is playing the harlequin which keeps him from culpability while simultaneously insulting the characters (possibly without their realizing they are being insulted). The actors have their hearing visible by their onstage reactions, and the actors are free to respond as they will to the speech. This scene has an elaborate architecture of seeing and hearing.

The first time, the scene began with Hamlet putting on a harlequin disguise for the sake of the court. Before the play, the characters who were not interlocutors played mostly sock and disgust regarding Hamlet’s words, but little reaction to the dumb show, and were not watching each other watch the play, with the exception of Hamlet on a diagonal downstage of them and able to see them.

The second time, Hamlet did not put on a disguise and appeared in earnest, acting more like the typical Romeo character, and when he was speaking with one individual, the others broke off to have their own private conversations which allowed Hamlet to comment on people without the subjects of the comments aware he was speaking of them. This staging also allowed the actors to watch each other watch the play and each others’ reactions to the play. During the break in the play, when the characters comment on the play, Hamlet got up and pulled characters to the side to have conversations with them about the play and direct specific ideas toward them. This allowed him to be much more manipulative and direct in his comments, but lead to some discontinuity when other characters commented on the individual conversations.

The audience was divided on the positioning of the duke. Many felt that his position on the apron of the stage found it difficult to see him and divided their attention.  There was also a lot of debate on whether or not the Duke, or Isabella and Claudio should be the focus of the scene.   Most of the staging today used dumb show conversation to indicate not listening.  They also talked about the difficulty of having to listen for cues while also pretending not to listen.  The actors posed the example of Malviolio reading the letter in 12th Night.  In this scene the actor must be extremely aware of where the other characters are hiding, and how they are reacting to his speech so that he does not look at them, while simultaneously pretending to be oblivious. The actors stated that the presence of the provost was difficult.  They also stated that it is particularly difficult to find ways of NOT doing something (such as not listening).  They said that in Hamlet it can be difficult for the King and Queen to not see the play and then be startled, but by having Hamlet pull people to the side created more for them to respond to.  In Much Ado, the actor playing Claudio (Chris Jonston)  found that the private conversations gave him more to use as an actor when he watched Pedro and Beatrice flirting.  The actor playing Benedick (Ben Curns) found that it was frustrating to play a stupid Benedick.  This comment opened the question of whether or not the women are masked.  Textual evidence suggests that women could be masked or not without working against the text. One of the actors raised the question of what constitutes the harlequin character, how it should be played, and how the scholars present would have liked to see the responses and actions of the characters on stage for the Hamlet scene. They also asked if there is something that the other players should be doing.  Another question was the way to play NOT hearing, in any way other than doing something else, or being distracted.  The scholars were hoping to achieve a “sneak attack” by Hamlet on Claudius. Some audience members felt the private staging of the Hamlet scene was much more powerful than the public version of the staging.  Audience members also requested what a good balance could be between the public and private versions of the scene.  The scholars and actors found it difficult to map who hears what lines. The private version placed an interesting highlight on the lines about the chameleon.  Hamlet (Dylan Paul) found that the public version trapped him in a type, whereas in the private version he felt able to play tactics and work individually on specific people. Everything needs to be based on deciding what story the production wants to tell and what is the best way to tell the story they have.

Staging Session 1 Wednesday 10/23/2013

Good afternoon everyone.

This is Molly Zeigler, MBC MLitt/MFA student, here to live-blog Staging Session 1 (10/23/2013) at the 2013 Blackfriars Conference.  This Staging Session is being presented at the Blackfriars playhouse.

Session Moderator: Doreen Bechtol, Mary Baldwin College

Presenters: 

Douglas King, Gannon University

Brett Gamboa, Dartmouth College: Dramas of Disclosing: Some Intrusions of Actor and Stage

James Loehlin, The University of Texas at Austin: Comic and Tragic Eavesdropping Scenes in Shakespeare 

Performers:

Ben Curns, Lee Fitzpatrick, Josh Innerst, Gregory Phelps, and Rene Thornton, Jr.

These Staging Sessions are an opportunity to explore how staging, architecture, and physicality impact interpretation and performance. Today’s scenes are being presented ‘on the fly,’ with little preparation (a fact infusing the session with a certain energy and a sense of immediacy). There are future Staging Sessions scheduled.

Presenting first is James Loehlin from the University of Texas at Austin. Loehlin’s work is focused on eavesdropping scenes in the plays. Loehlin suggests viewing the representation of eavesdropping in Early Modern drama as “concentric rings” of communication – consider eavesdropping in Troilus and Cressida and in Love’s Labour’s Lost (namely the four young men and their sonnets).  Of special interest are the examples of eavesdropping where one character believes himself to be hiding and listening effectively, but in reality his location and activity are well known to other characters in the scene and this fact is exploited for maximum impact.

First, the comic eavesdropping: Act 2, scene 3 of Much Ado About Nothing, the garden of eavesdropping (Benedict hides, he thinks, unbeknownst to others).  The scene is played beautifully by Ben Curns, Josh Innerst, Gregory Phelps, and Rene Thornton, Jr.  By exploring different versions of the same scenario (with Benedict being the focus, with the others being the focus, with Benedict hiding in plain sight, etc) we can begin to see how the act of eavesdropping impacts the performativity of the piece.

Eavesdropping and its representation pose intriguing questions: Who benefits from hearing certain things here?; Who needs to hear what at this moment?; Why does this character hide at this moment?; What does this ‘hidden’ activity mean to the overall story?

Second, the tragic eavesdropping: Act 4, scene 1 of Othello, Iago and Cassio talking about Bianca while Othello eavesdrops (and mistakes the conversation for being about Desdemona). The scene is explored by Ben Curns, Josh Innerst, and Rene Thornton, Jr. In this examination close attention is paid to proxemics (spatial relationships between actors, between actors and audience) and to auditory concerns – how much does Othello hear, how much does he need to hear?

It is interesting to see how the staging of eavesdropping, and the considerations and choices that may be made, can alter and direct perception of character, plot, story, tragedy, and comedy. (And how much freedom there may be in a given text to represent eavesdropping.)

Presenting second is Brett Gamboa from Dartmouth College. Gamboa is presenting his work: Dramas of Disclosing: Some Intrusions of Actor and Stage.  Gamboa is exploring the line between actor and character and how they are both represented on stage.

Assisted by Ben Curns, Lee Fitzpatrick, Josh Innerst, Gregory Phelps, and Rene Thornton, Jr. several scenes from several works (including Othello and Hamlet) are explored.

We are looking, here, for the interesting and obvious mix of the actor and the character being performed.  At times, and supported by production histories and texts, a character may present aspects of the performer while the inverse remains true for the majority of the time.  Consider when characters ‘forget’ lines (Hotspur, Polonius), it is an act that many actors encounter and in its performance the line between expression of action and action itself is blurred.  Consider, as well, when characters suffer falls or other injury within the play and the concern expressed by other characters may represent concern between actors. It is also interesting to consider the impact of the playing space. In King Lear when a blind Gloucester is being led up a ‘hill,’ he his not being led up a hill, rather the ‘ground’ is as flat as a stage.

Conventions can limit and shape a performance – these conventions are used by Shakespeare and by actors in production after production. Consider the feather in front of a dead Cordelia’s face – it will stir.  Stage and character conventions help continue and shape a character’s body of representation.

The mingling of reality and the reality of the play and the ‘reality’ sought by the characters as played by the actors makes for an interesting blending of representation and meaning.

Presenting third is Douglas King from Gannon University.  Starting off with a performance of the wonderful back and forth between Katherine and Petruchio in Act 2, scene 1 of The Taming of the Shrew (delivered with great enthusiasm by Lee Fitzpatrick and Gregory Phelps), King’s work explores the relationship between speech, language, and physical representation.  The scene was performed several times paying attention to the relationship created between Katherine and Petruchio as expressed by words and by physicality.

Is there value in refraining from physicality, even when the text seeks to create it? Is there value in creating an enhanced sense and use of physicality?

The scene from The Taming of the Shrew was performed with a pronounced distance between Petruchio and Kate and with an undeniable closeness (resulting in a playful dance between Fitzpatrick and Phelps that ended with them swooning together over a fallen stool – quite to the delight of the audience).  Merit and meaning were found in both versions.  A distance between the leads creates a tension while the closeness exploits any tension allowing it to overcome the characters (and the actors) in an expression of intensity.  It’s interesting to consider how choices regarding physicality and the demands of the text can come together to shape meaning.

We had fun this afternoon.  The audience perched about the Blackfriars hung easily, almost wantonly, off the snippets of performance and text which were mingled just so on the golden stage. The Staging Sessions’ use of the Blackfriars Stage and actors makes for some fOCSinating and fleshed out scholarship. See you at the next one.