Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Liveblogging Masterlist


Photo by Miscellaneous Media Photography

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

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

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


Photo by Miscellaneous Media Photography

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

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

A Special Note from ASC Director of Education Sarah Enloe

Blogger Bios

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Scenes from Tate’s LEAR: Scholar/Practitioner Collaboration with Tiffany Stern and Hidden Room Theatre

Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare & Performance Director Paul Menzer introduced Tiffany Stern of Oxford University to speak of her work on Tate’s Restoration Version of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”  In her brief introduction to the Hidden Room Theatre’s performance on the Blackfriars Playhouse stage, Professor Stern explained to the audience that her work includes both scholarly study as well as that of study in performance.

Nahum Tate undertook his adaptation of “King Lear” in 1681, Professor Stern informed her listeners, because he found Shakespeare’s tragedy “too tragic and upsetting” for his audience.  He removed the character of the Fool from the play for being “vulgar.”  He sanitized motivations and actions in Shakespeare’s play and “cleaned up” the verse, to make it “beautiful” in accordance with his aesthetic and puritanical values.   His version held sway on the stage over Shakespeare’s original “Lear” for one hundred and fifty years. This bowdlerized version is the one that made America take to Shakespeare in the first place, Professor Stern informed her audience.  She added jovially, “So, remember that!”

Restoration movement has a very different feel from Early Modern Theater, Professor Stern continued. It sought for an “elegant, beautiful” performance style in an effort to edify the audience. She relied upon illustrations of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century gestures, paintings and drawings for her research. The audience would get to see these gestures in practice momentarily.  Nahum Tate’s practices and his “improved” version raise a number of questions concerning adaptation, both of “Lear” and other Early Modern dramatic works as well as those of other periods and styles.

Professor Stern then introduced the Hidden Room Theatre Company in a dress rehearsal performance of Tate’s version of “Lear.” She qualified what her audience would witness presently with a kind of apologia: “This is a skeleton crew,” of the full company production, she explained, shortly before the troupe of Restoration period-costumed actors took the stage.  Each costume was elaborate and meticulous in detail, creating spectacle which, along with the Hidden Theatre Company’s recreation of mannered performances including detailed hand gestures, faithfully represented a late Seventeenth Century theatrical experience for today’s audience.

The Hidden Room Theatre Company’s performance lasted approximately forty-five minutes and included selected scenes from Tate’s “King Lear.”  Professor Stern introduced each scene, telling her audience briefly what had transpired between scenes, helping to set the stage for the next one.  After the performance concluded, there followed a ‘Meet the Actors’ session upstairs in the Cutaia Lounge.

–Bill Leavy

Blackfriars Conference 2015: Brunch and Buck Fizzes: “The Body’s Knowledge: Merging Multiple Ways of Knowing in Shakespeare’s Plays”

Following Sunday Brunch, Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen of the American Shakespeare Centerand Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare & Performance introduced Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Company to speak about what she termed as “body knowledge” in performing Shakespeare.  Professor Packer began her presentation by leading the audience of conference attendees in a breathing exercise, instructing them to engage in breathing with “the whole of your body.” She then had her audience members take their pulses and count the number of pulses per individual breath.  The most common response from individual audience members was five heartbeats per breath.  She likened that ratio to that of iambic pentameter in a line of verse. “Iambic Pentameter is an extension of what we do in our natural state,” Professor Packer informed her listeners.  “Your body is who you are.  You are impulse with an “im-” in front of (your pulse).”  She then advised her listeners, “Remember the intelligence behind every figure of speech.”

Professor Packer applied her insights to the plays overall: “The power of the story lies in what’s going on with the storyteller or with the actor,” she said.  “The line endings in a speech reveal the speaker’s psychological development.”  Perhaps in reply to Professor Tim Carroll, Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival’s keynote address conference on the subject of Iambic Fundamentalism the day before, in which Carroll stressed that in Shakespeare as in public speaking, the speaker should not, as a matter of form, stress ‘I’ or ‘me,’ Packer in contrast, gave actors the green light to hitting ‘I’ and ‘me’ in a line as long as actors also follows up those first person descriptions by hitting the active verb in the same lines in which they appear.  She also gave a key piece of advice to actors: “To hell with the operative words!”

Professor Packer then introduced ASC actors Sarah Fallon and Allison Glenzer to play a scene from “Othello.” She set the stage by discussing how Othello’s and Desdemona’s bed sheets symbolized the couple’s (interrupted) Wedding Night.  Othello and Desdemona could not consummate their marriage on their Wedding Night, she said, because Cassio’s brawl which opens the play prevented such an event from taking place.  She then directed Glenzer, playing Othello, to slap Fallon, playing Desdemona.  Fallon’s Desdemona cried out in pain when Glenzer’s Othello struck her.  Immediately, Professor Packer surveyed the audience and asked for its response to what it just witnessed.  Several members of the audience expressed that they “felt” Desdemona’s cry of pain instead of simply having heard it.  Packer explained, “The visceral response is in the body.” She continued, “You have to get to the form before you can ever get to the content, and in Shakespeare, the silences are in the audience’s body as well as those which the actors express.”  Professor Packer elaborated how Shakespeare in his later works began to shift the characters’ emotional feeling behind the words, as well as how the line of dialogue sounded to an audience. The actor shifts the thought, intellectually and emotionally, she concluded.

Bill Leavy

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Colloquy Session XVIII: Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Playhouse: The Study, the Stage, and the Classroom

This is Merlyn Q. Sell blogging Colloquy Session XVIII from the Blue Ridge Room at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel running from 9-10:15am.  This session is chaired by Bryan Herek.  The presenters are Jim Casey, Annalisa Castaldo, Sarah Enloe, Fiona Harris-Ramsby, Kate McPherson, and Rhonda Knight.

Before the session formally starts the presenters are engaged in a discussion of Lia Razak Wallace’s work presented earlier this work regarding the science of eye-contact between performers and audience.  Clearly Wallace’s ideas have generated a lot of excitement among conference attendees.

Herek begins by saying that today’s colloquy is a reunion of sorts for those that attended the summer 2008 NEH Institute.  There were twenty participants that included high school and college teachers.  The focus of the five week intensive was Shakespeare in the classroom.  Participants cut Antony and Cleopatra, split it into eight parts which were rehearsed in teams with ASC actors and culminated in a tag team performance.  The rigorous schedule included classes every day in the Blackfriars and the opportunity to repeatedly see the ASC productions at the time.  The Institute enriched the participants’ teaching and even resulted in McPherson’s students began an original practices company in Utah.  Knight returned to ASC for a sabbatical later on and has continually found the actor’s renaissance season style to be particularly useful in reaching her students.  Enloe stresses that providing a time constraint and the rules of original practices explodes creativity in students.  Herek finds that introducing the idea of solving “the puzzle” of particular staging moments allows students to forget the weight of Shakespeare and comprehend one individual moment and have tools to take on the next moment.  The presenters are all in agreement that having props on hand is essential to awaking students to the possibilities of the text.  Castaldo’s student body is made up primarily of engineering students and others who are taking the class for a GE requirement and aren’t able to devote the time out of class necessary to actually attempt a full performance themselves.  However, seeing the ASC renaissance season was equally fruitful for her students in linking the page to the stage.  Casey has always been invested in close reading and a focus on the text.  He finds cue scripts to be a very valuable teaching tool, though admittedly that is greatly dependent on the students.  There is a consensus among the panelists that performance in the classroom frequently fails but when it is successful it opens up the text in unique ways.

Herek stresses the significance of the pre-show music in a production.  During the Institute Herek had championed the participants to include a music pre-show in their production as well.  He’s continued to champion the pre-show with his students by not allowing them to stew backstage before performance.  He finds that the pre-show sets an environment that is key to connecting Shakespeare to things that are more familiar to his students.

McPherson and her students also took Shakespeare into the juvenile justice system.  Her students cut the scripts down to sixty minutes and they were then performed by the incarcerated boys.  McPherson and her students had to overcome the boys’ reluctance to cross-gendered casting but they frequently saw some really wonderful moments.

Herek mentions Ralph Alan Cohen’s book as being necessary as a touchstone to recall what they experienced so intensely at the Institute.  McPherson found the experience to be as exhausting as the conference but five times as long.

Casey points out the growth in his scholarship since the Institute and how it provided a focus for his work and created valued connections within the group.  McPherson shares that her first published article grew out of the work at the Institute.  Castaldo is currently working on a book about magic on the early modern stage and she has found that she is now able to include questions of staging in that work.  Enloe mentions the habit of “reading for the stage” is created by working within performance.

McPherson finds that her work has become infinitely more collaborative since this intensive.  Enloe reminds the group how impossible it would have been to complete the Institute’s tasks individually and that collaboration was a requirement to succeed.  Herek agrees that collaboration is also key to his work.  He also stresses the value of the network that was created by the Institute and how warm the extended Blackfriars community has been.  Casey agrees that he had previously found it very difficult to collaborate but since the institute he has published two collaborative articles and has many other collaborative projects in the work.

Enloe says they only had two days to cut Antony and Cleopatra, which Herek found it very difficult.  There was a lot of dissension within the groups regarding the cut.  Castillo says she ultimately took their script and cut it herself so that decisions were made by the deadline.  The cut had to follow ASC’s rules regarding cuts: 1. Liposuction not amputation. 2. Can’t cut entire scenes. 3. Can’t cut entire characters.  Herek  walked away from the process with a greater understanding of the purpose of comedy within tragic plays.  He finds that the comedy is also a great hook for students as well.  Enloe correctly guesses that he worked with  ASC actor John Harrell in the intensive.

Knight recalls a session taught by Roz Knutson wherein they were tasked with writing a scene based solely on the title of a lost play.  These scenes were eventually performed.  In this instance, Knight found that again it was important to trust the people that had the idea and make a decision.  Everyone agrees that once a decision is made you can move forward much easier.

Castaldo has found the tools learned at the Institute is particularly empowering for students, especially those who are afraid of Shakespeare.  The original practices staging, the cue scripts, and a specified end goal has given the students control of the work instead of merely reading.  Casey points out how it also awakes for students the idea that there are multiple solutions to any staging problem.

Enloe requests some more information as to what the pedagogical purpose of exercises like Knutson’s might be.  Knight found that the exercise allowed them to apply the knowledge they already had of original staging practices.  It provided an outlet for creativity and made students aware that there are many plays we no longer have.  Herek says that these techniques have become a model he uses when discussing teaching.  Enloe suggests that these types of exercises do more than simply teach Shakespeare, they also teach collaboration and creativity.  There are many skills required in a renaissance style production are applicable in many avenues outside of performance and Shakespeare.  Casey concurs, noting that these skills are the exact things currently being sought by employers.

Colloquy Session XIX: Staging Questions with Actors

Good morning everyone, Liz back here for the last time this year to live-blog Colloquy Session XIX: Staging Queeestions with Actors. Live blogging of this session will run from nine to ten fifteen in the morning on the Blackfriars Playhouse Stage. The chair for this session is Cassie Ash. The presenters are Rebecca Bailey and Julia Griffin. Actors for this session are part of the American Shakespeare Center Dangerous Dreams Tour Tim Sailer, Cordell Cole, Jessica Lefkow, Chris Bellinger, Andrew Goldwasser, and Aleca Piper.

Ash welcomes everyone and thanks them for their presence this morning. She introduces Griffin and Bailey and hands the stage to Griffin.

Griffin says that standing on the stage is amazing and talks about AC Badley’s amazing Shakespearean Tragedy. She talks about note thirty one, “He has no children.” This refers to Macduff’s line in Macbeth. This could refer to Malcolm who, having no children, can announce this deed, to Macbeth who has no child, so Macduff cannot take adequate revenge, or to Macbeth who if he has children would not ask for Macduff’s children to be killed. There is debate that Macduff could not say this to Malcolm because that would be a direct retort and rude. In Shakespeare’s play, Macduff expresses both grief and vengefulness is future lines, so the challenge is to try to decide which emotion influences the line, “He has no children.” For an actor, this is difficult because an actor must make a choice.

Griffin states that she believes, as Bradley, that the line refers to Malcolm. She then introduces that the actors will perform the scene in three ways: with Macduff being heartless, as a direct retort to Malcolm, and as a reference to Macbeth. Goldwasser as Macduff, Cole as Rosse, and Sailer as Malcolm jump up to do the scene three times.

Griffin states that she does not know how the actors do what they do, to which Goldwasser replies, “At nine A.M.” Griffin states that she expected to have to ask questions to clarify the differences between each staging, but acknowledges that the actors did a great job. She states that Goldwasser put more anger when directing the line to Malcolm than she expected. Griffin then turns to the audience and asks what they noticed. Purcell, in the audience, states that Macduff’s lines following all seem to make more sense if Macduff directs the line to Malcolm – especially since Macduff “was cross” with Malcolm earlier in the scene. Purcell states that this session showed him how all three interpretations can work to make a different show.

Griffin then reads an interpretation by a novelist.

We move on to Bailey, who focuses on embodying the humors using Laban technique. She introduces the four humors: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. She hopes to find an approachable method to use these early modern ideas through modern techniques that many actors are familiar with.

Bailey states that she chose Laban’s movement because he focused on both performance and everyday life. She believes that this will help actors perform the movements of everyday people. She will work with the actors on weight, time, space, and flow. She will have the actors choose along the continuum of Laban to help create characters to make the humors embodied for actors today. She clarifies and further explains the continuum upon which the humors and exist and which actors can access.

Bailey states that we will work on Viola and Falstaff, who are both closely connected to the humors. Lefkow jumps up to portray Viola, who is represented as sanguine with an excess of blood, which is hot and moist and connected to air. Bailey wants to look at Laban’s elements and the elements connected to the humors. She tells Lefkow that Viola is flexible, light, sustained, and free. She encourages Lefkow to embody these choices in her movement and voice. Lefkow them performs Viola.

Bailey then asks Lefkow to perform Viola with the opposite choices on the continuum, with a direct, strong, quick, and bound Viola, to see if the interpretation fights the text. Lefkow jumps right to it.

Purcell asked to have Lefkow perform Viola as melancholy. Another scholar in the audience states that he prefers the second choice for Viola, due to Viola’s first scene in the play’s text.

Bailey has Lefkow be direct, bound, sustained, and strong as a melancholy Viola, per Purcell’s request. Lefkow jumps in and restarts, acknowledging that she must start in a different place and that she has not had her coffee yet this morning. Purcell states that this is the Viola that he likes because this Viola was bittersweet, and he sees Twelfth Night as a bittersweet play. Ash jumps in to state that she enjoys how Lefkow’s third melancholic performance helped illustrate the quoting of another character in the same humor.

Bailey introduces Bellinger as Falstaff. Falstaff is referenced as a phlegmatic character. For example, Hal states that Falstaff sleeps until noon, but phlegmatic characters’ hours started at three in the afternoon. Thus, many humoral elements are explained within the text. Phlegm is connected with water, which is flexible, strong, sustained, and free. Bellinger then gets up to perform a Falstaff monologue.

Bailey then chooses to the stage the monologue again with Bellinger playing the opposite choices as Falstaff: direct, light, quick, and bound. Bellinger takes the direction and performs.

Cass Morris then points out that the main element that she feels is set for Falstaff is time. She feels that Falstaff must be sustained and not quick, but that the other elements seem flexible.

In response to a scholar’s comment, Bailey acknowledges that characters gravitate towards a certain humor, rather than playing the humor all of the time. Ash jumps in to point out that the flow element is about the ability to change into motion or non-motion in performance, rather than constantly moving or not moving.

Goldwasser points out that even within the line, an actor can change any of the elements. He also points out that each element can also describe either space, movement, or voice – or any other aspect of performance.

Bailey acknowledges that this staging session will help her to see the overlaps or exclusivity of the humors and the different elements.

Lefkow explains her personal thoughts on Laban and the humors. She believes that Laban is a great method to use and believes that ever actor is different and will use the technique differently and have different viewpoints.

Another scholar points out that different elements like water and earth take on different forms, like ice, vapor, rock, and soil. She wonders how these can inform the actors and their choices.

Griffin takes the stage again to look at IV.iii. from Julius Caesar. She wants to look at this scene to see if this scene is a textual error that was not supposed to repeat the news of Portia’s death, that Brutus must have this conversation again because of Massala, or that Brutus benefits from revealing the new of Portia’s death twice. Griffin has Goldwasser (Brutus), Cole (Massala), and Sailer (Cassius) come perform the scene with each of the three interpretations for the audience.

The actors speak about what they liked and found easier to perform. Bellinger questions if Cassius can support Brutus in all of these interpretations, especially given Cassius’ character in the play.

Griffin believes that the first staging of this scene allows Brutus to be a sympathetic character. The actors then ask questions to Griffin.

Ash ends the session by thanking the actors and presenters.

Thank you all for allowing me to be your live blogger this week – it was a blast!

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Colloquy XVII: Teaching Shakespeare as an Integrated Process

Heidi Snow of Principia College chaired the colloquy session on pedagogy which included presenters Chrissy Calkins Steele, also with Principia College, and Alicia Huber, an independent scholar.  Three Principia students, Anna, Kelsey and Nathalie would be presenting their papers, Professor Snow informed her session participants, and she also announced her  intention to open up the floor to expand the conversation to encompass everyone in the room.

Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare & Performance alumna Alica Huber was the first to present after the Chair’s introduction, discussing how pedagogy relates to a subject she teaches to undergraduates, Theater History.  She told the session’s group that she meets many faculty members at the university where she is an Adjunct Professor who are skeptical of the need to teach Theater History.  She then projected a slide which read, “Theater History: We can Do Better.  Let’s science on pedagogy.”  She related a personal anecdote of a student show she directed which, although a modern play, incorporated elements of classical Greek Tragedy.  She expressed her student actors’ antipathy towards the subject she teaches even though, she noted, they enjoyed performing in the play.  She researched through Rosetta Stone the subject of adult pedagogy, the science of how adults learn.  She recommended three books, the first of which was Ken Bain’s, “What the Best College Teachers Do.”  Daniel Willingham is the author of the second book she recommended, “Why Students Don’t Like School?”  The third book Huber named was,  “The Absorbent Mind” by Maria Montessori.  “We teach Theater History via the traditional “Sage on the Stage” model,” or, fact dissemination, which is largely ineffective and is not engaging, she contended.

“The process is what’s interesting,” Huber continued: “Pull back the curtain on the process.”  How do Theater History teachers and educators find engaging and thought-provoking questions to begin with? she asked.  The student, she explained, may not know much history, theater history or in general, but they usually know something about theater itself.  She begins teaching her course by asking her students, “What is theater?”  Huber then read a paper from one of her students she had taught who expressed in her answer that in thinking about her definition of theater, as she wrote her paper, the student began to ask herself deeper questions, and ultimately confessed that the more she thought about it, the less and less sure she knew what theater was.

Textbooks, Huber explained, contain “received expertise.”  She projected then a slide reading, “We must empower our student to become experts.”  How do we know what we know? she asked.  Much of our understanding of Early Modern Theater is from the attempted reconstruction based on what little evidence still exists today.  She then recommended, “Let’s not learn history, let’s learn to be historians.”  Evidence comes first.  She teaches history with such evidence including texts, physical evidence which she presents to her class in the form of photos of Hellenic Theater at Epidaurus, and she also utilizes movie clips to help frame her textbook chapter readings.  She encourages her students to challenge what they read in the textbook after she has presented them with historical evidence in the classroom.

People learn by doing, Huber continued. Students learn to become critics in her class.  She stated she is committed to learning in a studio space: How can teachers create an environment in which the students themselves can make discoveries?  “Discovery is the best teacher,” she explained.  Huber comes from a background rooted in laboratory research, referring to her work with Rosetta Stone while she completed her M.Litt degree. She conducts experiments in her class with masks.  She informed the members of the session, that Chinese Theater Works, NYC, and The Greek Theater at Randolph College, in addition to The Blackfriars Playhouse, also incorporate original practices.  We must remember that Theater History is a narrative because people love stories, she stated in conclusion.

The Chair next proceeded to discuss the study abroad program she and her colleague Chrissy lead, “Shakespeare’s England”  The course includes seven-and-a-half weeks of students engaging in research at the Globe Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, and also with the Lake District.  The course proceeds with another seven-and-a-half weeks on campus where students put on a full play.  The campus course students take are, Cultural Studies, Acting Shakespeare, Shakespeare in England, History of English Drama, and Voice for the Actor.  Students create artistic journals.  Professor Snow called upon her student Anna to display her artwork which she produced in class.  Her student Anna also displayed the theater program she worked on.  Professor Snow stated she uses Wordsworth Trust for teaching primary source material.  She said that she has her students conduct research at the British Museum as well, including making use of the Museum’s Rare Book Room.  Two weeks at the Globe follow this research, and there students learn movement, work with the text, and learn about costumes.  And of course, Snow, informed the group. students also view Globe productions.  Her students then design what they are going to teach as schoolteachers to their pupils.

Anna next presented her paper, “How to Handle Old Books and Papers,” providing the student perspective.  She wrote an in-depth dramaturgical paper on jailers in “The Winter’s Tale” which she researched at the British Museum.  Her paper addressed the question, “How does the jailer’s depiction in Shakespeare’s play vary from what we know from recorded evidence about how jailers behaved in real life?”

Next to present her paper was Kelsey, a Senior at Principia, who played Paulina in the student production of “The Winter’s Tale”  She read what she’d written about her experience at The Globe and of the Birthplace Trust.  The latter resource is the recipient of the Royal Shakespeare Company archives.  “There isn’t one answer,” she said she learned.  Shakespeare’s Globe Education Center Director Michael Gold immerse the students in Shakespeare’s language.  “Why the play’s character might be off-balance, she explained, “iambic study reveals clues to such characters.”

Nathalie, also a Principia student who went through the same Shakespeare course with her fellow actors Anna and Kelsey, read her paper on her course experience.  All three students then performed a scene from “The Winter’s Tale,” demonstrating for session attendees how much they had learned in the study abroad course.

The Chair then concluded the session by opening up the floor for questions.

Bill Leavy

Blackfriars Conference – Plenary Session XI

Hello, again! Molly Beth Seremet here, all set to liveblog this plenary session which runs from 2:30pm – 3:45pm in the Blackfriars Playhouse. This session will feature the scholarship of Abigail Montgomery (Blue Ridge Community College), Alan Armstrong (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Steven Urkowitz (American Shakespeare Center Trustee & City College of New York, emeritus), Travis Curtright (Ave Maria University), Eric M. Johnson (Folger Shakespeare Library), and Don Hendrick (Kansas State University). This plenary will also feature the acting talents of the American Shakespeare Center Touring Troupe.

Abigail Montgomery (Blue Ridge Community College) – Pull Up (Down, Over) a Chair: Gallantly Re-Staging and Re-Interpreting Key Moments in Shakespeare

Montgomery begins her paper by discussing the modern-day impulse for control and participation by the audience in the theatre. She references last season’s ASC production of Comedy of Errors, in which the gallent stools usually organized on the fringes of the stage shifted more centrally into the action.  Montgomery mentions that the rationale for this choice was historical, as gallants in the early modern period were allowed to “move their seats anywhere on the stage they liked.” Montgomery describes her experience as an audience member during this production. Though she herself was seated in the balcony, she noted the reactions of those lucky gallants who were quite literally placed into the action.

Montgomery now moves into a performance, ahving actors Jessica Lefkow, Cordell Cole and Ross Neal enact the closet scene from Hamlet.  In this scene, Cole as Hamlet ushers Lefkow’s Gertrude through the door and literally into the laps of the other scholars seated on stage. Cole forces a panelist to stand up and seats Lefkow in his place. In addition, Cole’s Hamlet kills Neal’s Polonius, who falls at the feet of the scholars seated on the other side of the panel. Montgomery notes that the scholars in close proximity to the murder as well as the dead body might well remain hyper-aware of Polonius’ presence in a way unique to this staging condition.

Montgomery then moves to an analysis of the way this sort of audience arrangement might work in the history plays. Now, we watch the Touring Troupe actors enact Henry’s deathbed scene from 2 Henry IV. Neal portrays the dying Henry while Cole’s Hal ponders the hollow crown. This scene plays out right at the feet of the panel of scholars who watch closely as Cole places the hollow crown (tiara, actually, in this staging) on his head. The scholars then witness Henry’s miraculous recovery from a close angle, leaning over Henry’s waking body. Montgomery wonders if gallants might join in the action in this sort of staging, perhaps to don the crown themselves or stay Hal’s hand. Montgomery posits that this staging arrangement might empower the audience through proximity and involvement in this scene. Montgomery also questions how this proximity might impact the empathy or pity an audience feels for characters in these morally ambiguous scenes. She asks, “for tragedy’s sins, are we in any way responsible?

Alan Armstrong (Oregon Shakespeare Festival) – Redeeming Lysimachus

Armstrong introduces his paper on Pericles, describing the play as “a match not in heaven, but in a whorehouse,” and turns the focus to performance options to make Lysimichus ‘work’ in production. Armstrong grounds this discussion in the OSF production of Pericles which closes tomorrow. For Armstrong, constructing a cohesive and satisfying narrative for Marina and Lysimachus.

Armstrong describes the difficulties OSF encountered in staging this play, brought into focus because of the inherent sexual violence and attempted rape at the core of Marina and Lysimachus story. In a staging experiment tried by OSF, the actor playing Lysimachus used the line “a private place” to force Marina onto the bed. As Armstrong notes, however, this reading of the scene stripped away Marina’s power and made it difficult for the actress portraying Marina to speak her verse lines in the scene. OSF discovered that a more effective staging of this scene relied on tension not assault.  Armstrong notes that OSF found the heart of the scene by having Lysimachus hold a respectful distance from Marina in this scene. As Armstrong explains, the key here was to “not get crunchy. Space is yout friend.”

Armstrong isolates the imagery of the scene, locating the action in a stage property: the coin purse Lysimachus carries in the scene. Armstrong notes that OSF cycled through several different sizes and styles of coin purses to help advance the narrative. In the staging OSF employs, Lysimachus digs a cion out of his purse during this scene and, while maintaining distance from Marina, tosses a coin onto the bed to ‘pay’ for her. In this way, the tension of the moment plays out effectively with a spectre and not a reality of physical violence.

Armstrong now turns to an analysis of the manner in which OSF handled the pillow and blanket called for in the reconciliation scene. For OSF, this moment became a moment in which Lysimachus could gently hand the pillow to Marina to assist Pericles.  Staging this moment in an intimate way without the need for an offstage servant to bear in a pillow and blanket and disrupt the privacy of the moment.

Armstrong posits that OSF found a staging that worked for their production and used this interpretation of Lysimachus to tell the story of Pericles they were interested in telling. After all, as Armstrong notes, Shakespeare’s word are the bones from which the story can be made.

Steven Urkowitz (American Shakespeare Center Trustee & City College of New York, emeritus) – Shakespeare Revises the Capulet Ladies: ‘That’s Well Said’

Urkowitz begins his paper with a historical background of the First and Second Quartos of Romeo and Juliet. He focuses his analysis on three key women in these texts, and the depictions of idyllic agreement between the women in these texts. Urkowitz circulates a handout showing some examples of this harmonious feminine language.

Now, actors Aleca Piper, Jessica Lefkow, and Susie Parr perform the servants scene in Q1, with Lady Capulet delegating cheery responsibilities in an amiable manner in this Q1 text. Lefkow’s Nurse silently assents to the directions she is given. Then, the actor snow demonstrate the same scene using the Q2 text, in which the languge shifts from a tone of amiable hustle and bustle to discordant frantic behavior. Piper’s Lady Capulet is bristly, Lefkow’s Nurse is snappy, and Urkowitz pushes the argument further, noting that Lord Capulet also ratchets up the interpersonal drama in this moment.

Now, Urkowitz demonstrates a similar phenomenon later in the play when the Nurse rouses Lady Capulet after her secret wedding day. The actors first perform the Q1 version of the scene, in which Lefkow’s Nurse sneaks in in advance of Lady Capulet with words of softness for Juliet – “what lamb? Lady Juliet?”

Urkowitz calls our attentions to the differences Q2 makes to this moment, noting that Lady Capulet will enter Juliet’s room unannounced. The actors work through this scene for us, with Piper’s Lady Capulet intruding upon Parr’s Juliet without LefKow’s Nurse running interference. Urkowitz notes that this variant of Lady Capulet “hammers home her dismal business.” As Urkowitz explains, Q1 Romeo and Juliet stages softness, agreement, and “a matrix of supporting women” that is conspicuously absent in the same relationships in Q2.

Urkowitz now takes us later in the play, demonstrating the manner in which both versions of Lady Capulet say a final goodnight to their Juliets. The Q1 text contains moments of maternal softness on Lady Capulet’s part, though Piper and Parr hold their physical distance from each other. The Lady Capulet of Q2, however, is stony, emotional distance paralleling the vast spatial differences between the actors.

Urkowitz posits that these significant changes in two texts of the same play reflect authorial intention and in fact, an intentional change in this milieu of the plays.

Travis Curtright (Ave Maria University) – Marina’s Forensic Discourse and Romance

Curtright focuses his paper tightly on Marina and notes that unlike other female characters in other romantic dramas, Marina is a woman who seems to save herself. Curtright clarifies that we have this impression of Marina because of her use of forensic discourse. The origin of this style of language lies in the ancient courts of law, focused on debate, persuasion, and the creation of a rhetorically sound argument.

Curtright explains that this type of argument is formed in one of two ways, which are antonyms of each other: causa honesta or causa turpis. He notes that Shakespeare steeps Marina’s language in this style of argumentation, in set debate pieces. Marina identifies her person with the causa honesta she represents, and her own cause reflects her person. Her debates turn on her opponent’s recognition of her goodness and the validity of her case. Curtright notes that Marina speaks often like a supplicant in front of a judge, establishing her own authority and goodness as evidence for her case. Further, as Pericles as judge hears Marina’s story in preparation to judge it, he in turn discovers his own daughter. Marina discloses her person by narrating the shocking and scandalous misfortunes she has survived and Pericles sees the causa honesta within her, restoring their relationship as father and daughter.

In Shakespeare’s first romance then, Curtright concludes that the miracles of restoration accompany the arts of persuasion, in an act  of “soul-bending resonance.”

Eric M. Johnson (Folger Shakespeare Library) – Using Data in Shakespeare Studies

Johnson begins his paper by introducing the idea of data as lying outside of Shakespeare’s texts, looking at the ways in which audiences interact with Shakespeare. He notes that the audience data collected does not pose security risks, as it is aggregated and in no way tied to individual audience members.

Johnson quantifies the types of data collected, noting that this can include things like book and ticket sales as well as measurements of online engagement. He uses World Shakespeare Bibliography as an example. Further, he notes the Folger Shakespeare Editions are great measures of exposure, as they are often used in classrooms. He notes that plays like Macbeth and Hamlet are the most used editions in this series, even over Romeo and Juliet. He connects this to search data from sites like Open Source Shakespeare, tracking the online Shakespeare search behavior of students who are exposed to Shakespeare in schools.

Now, Johnson describes a workshop he participated in in which theatre professionals explored data sets and possible integrated uses for data of theatrical audiences and readers. Using a group of data sets, the researchers determined that Macbeth has vastly more readers than Twelfth Night and yet the data supports the fact that the number of commerical productions of each play has actually been about even. Johnson then notes that data can be used to provide concrete reasons why plays that are considered ‘less good’ like Timon are in fact, less good. Johnson also mentions the possibility of using aggregate data to determine which genre makes audiences drink the most here at the American Shakespeare Center (spoiler: it’s the history plays).

Don Hendrick (Kansas State University) – Catherine vs. Henry: The Rematch

Hendrick starts his play with provocative statement, “Woman. Love me. They love the way I interpret Shakespeare.” From there, he jumps into his paper looking at the wooing of Catherine not as her defeat but as her victory. He notes that in recent film adaptations including the Hiddleston Hollow Crown interpretation stage a scene in which it takes longer and longer for Catherine to give in to Henry’s advances. Hendrick asks the audience if this is a trend we want to see more of and if we would like to eventually see a version of the scene in which Henry loses. The women in the audience cheer!

Now, Hendrick notes that Shakespeare has a propensity for “f**king with the Jacks in his plays in favor of his Jills.” Hendrick jokes that every turning over a new leaf by a Shakespearean male is like peeling an onion “again and again until nothing is left.” Hendrick then states that Shakespeare allows Jack to get Jill but only with the help of one of two distortions. He terms these distortions subtraction and addition.

Now, the actors take over to demonstrate. First, Neal and Cole demonstrate a moment of locker room banter between the men about Catherine that gets quite graphic. The audience laughs heartily at the naughty bits, proving Hendrick’s point that this bawdy moment will complicate an audience’s acceptance of this particular Jack getting the aforementioned Jill.  Hendrick notes that this moment often cut in performance as a result to clear the way for Henry and Catherine eventual relation.

The actors now demonstrate the additive strategy Hendrick names, using music in the wooing scene between Henry and Catherine. In adding music, Catherine is wooed both by Henry’s words and the soft, romantic music.  The music stops and starts throughout the scene, coming back in on moments of agreement between the two characters, allowing Catherine’s objections to cut through the silent moments. Cole’s Henry and Lefkow’s Catherine demonstrate the scene aptly while Neal provides music on the guitar. Hendrick pauses the scene right before the kiss and roars at the warning thunder heard in the playhouse.

Now, Hendrick asks the actors to demonstrate the scene again, with Catherine in charge. Here, there is no music and the scene hovers mostly in serious territory. Lefkow’s Catherine is stern, making Cole’s Henry work that much harder to both make himself appealing and understood to her.

Hendrick notes that, due to time constraints, he will end there but hints that he had planned to have Lefkow’s Catherine present the epilogue of the play and also hints that he had asked her to play it pregnant. He ends there, however, just missing the bear!

And that’s a wrap on another terrific sessions of scholarship and artistry.  It was my pleasure to spend another plenary session with you. Hope you’ll join us here for the rest of #bfconf15!


Paper Session X

Good afternoon, Liz here to live blog Paper Session X! This blog will be updated live from one to two fifteen this afternoon. The moderator of this session is Ann Jennalie Cook of Vanderbilt University. This plenary includes presentations by Maryam Zomorodian of the University of Notre Dame, Katherine Mayberry of Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company and Grand Valley State University, Nova Myhill of New College of Florida, Michael M. Wagoner of Florida State University, and independent scholar Adam Miller-Batteau.

Cook begins by applauding for the Masquerade Ball tonight. She then introduces the presenters.

Maryam Zomorodian – ‘As if the Personator were the man Personated’: Theatricality in Ford’s Perkin Warbeck

Zomorodian clarifies that this presentation focuses on John Ford’s The Chronicle History of Perkin Warbeck. She gives a brief history of Warbeck and his connections with Richard II and his ultimate deposition for King Henry VII. Ford used The True and Wonderful History of Perkin Warbeck from 1614 and a 1622 story of Perkin Warbeck as base texts to learn the history for the story. Even with base texts, Ford deviates from his predecessor texts by not portraying  Warbeck as a deceitful performer or pretender to the throne. Instead, Ford has his Warbeck be a performer under scrutiny and judgment, but in how persuadingly he plays the royal prince. Zomorodian describes Warbeck as the quintessential performer, but with constancy and virtue. She points out that Warbeck does not seem to have hidden motives or a confession of confirmed guilt. Warbeck is a good actor who goes to his death “without another chronicle than truth.” Zomorodian states that Warbeck seems constant and virtuous in his portrayal until death.

At the time that Ford wrote Perkin Warbeck, history plays were out of fashion. Ford saw his play as a part of growing history tradition of history as a theatrical account. This historical theatrical account was not to be read about, but rather found through the actors themselves discoursing. This places the historical account always in the present, always happening.

With the rise of print culture, personation clearly had a peculiar quality. Zomorodian speaks of a unique live-ness of theatre in print – inferior, however, to live theatre. For example, Thomas Nash compares English heroes entombed in books to those alive on stage. Zomorodian points out Keegan’s performance in ASC’s Joan of Arc to see Talbot fresh bleeding every night in performance – occurring live each night before the audience’s eyes. Thomas Heywood, likewise, looks with wonder on actors performing fresh each time too. Zomorodian mentions that anti-theatrical writers of the time also talk about deception and moral corruption in stage work and scripts; however, she points out that critics would judge printed plays and staged plays differently.

Zomorodian speaks of the double act of personation in an actor playing a character who acts, as the actor portraying Warbeck does in Perkin Warbeck. She states that Warbeck seems like a tragic hero with courage redefining his execution. Warbeck gives a rousing speech before his dramatic death, and then Henry VII comes out onto the stage to conclude the play. Zomorodian states that Henry VII seems to be the lesser man and tediously efficient in comparison to Warbeck. This ending, she says, is similar to the ending of Antony and Cleopatra when the tragic lovers are dead and the efficient Caesar takes the stage.

Zomorodian ends with the statement that Ford saw his dramatic interpretation of history in Perkin Warbeck as a defense of the genre and a defense of the legitimacy of theatre to see past, reviving the history play tradition.

Katherine Mayberry – Architecture and Peformance in The Comedy of Errors

In 2010,Twin Lake, Michigan built a model of the Rose Theatre for performance. This stage is smaller than the Globe that stands today and entrances for the audience on the ground floor. The recreation is primarily for a classroom and performance space for the students who participate in summer camp in the theatre. After performances, Pigeon Creek Shakespeare collects polls from the audiences about their experiences. When not at the Rose model, Pigeon Creek tours in the Twin Lake area.

Audience members noted an increased awareness of the public nature of several scene at the Rose. The actors felt this as well, which Mayberry speaks to. An actor states that he played more to individual audience members while on tour than when on the Rose stage, due to increased distance from the audience. The actor portraying Angelo noted a gestural difference in the touring space that indicated individuals who responded to his contact. In contrast, on the Rose stage, the actor felt his gesture became more public and general towards the audience. Actors also found it easier to confide in the audience in the touring space over the Rose stage. The actors saw the touring space audience as a more theatrical audiences.

People often describe the Rose as intimate and many audience members felt the eye contact that the actors gave to them. Audience members in the touring space felt that the visibility of other audience members could be distracting. Some audience members indicated that viewing other audience members seemed purposeful at the Rose, rather than accidental at the touring space. Many audiences also claimed that the performance at the Rose felt more “special.”

Mayberry acknowledges specific variables that played into these records. For example, it was rainy during the outdoor Rose performance. She also acknowledges differences in the marketing of the two performances, which also possibly had an effect on the audience responses. However, direct contact clearly does have different effects in different spaces, and Mayberry hopes that these recordings will continue into the future.

Nova Myhill – Fashion, Commerce, and Family: Audience and Authority in The Kight of the Burning Pestle

What drew audiences to the second Blackfriars Theatre? Myhill suggests that the story drew audiences in – anyone with six pence to spend. The Knight of the Burning Pestle focuses on the social homogeneity of the Blackfriars audience. The performance would most affect the stage-sitters, especially by the characters that join them upon the stage. Myhill states that George and Nell can suggest optional ways that the audience and the actors may react

Myhill points out that ASC actress Allison Glenzer opens the shows by stating that those seated on the stage are better dressed and more handsome than other spectators. She states that by pushing the gallant stools on our Blackfriars Playhouse makes those on gallant stools a part of the audience space. Myhill then has ASC actresses Stephanie Halladay Earl and Allison Glenzer to perform as the boy actor and George within the playing space to thee plenary presenters on the stage. ASC actress Abbi Hawk joins in from the audience as Nell and crawls onto the stage with audience help.

Myhill points out that George draws attention to himself by satirizing gallant behaviors on the stage by taking everything one step further. Nell, in comparison, stands apart from the stage-sitters by her sex. Through her husband’s financial authority and her maternal authority over the boy players, she is further set apart from the stage-sitters. She more often talks to her fellow stage-sitters and asks them to experience the same play that she does. Myhill has the actresses perform another scene to illustrate this.

The chance to take an interval is usurped in the play as well. The intervals, used to light the candles. The intervals are dominated by George and Nell, which Myhill illustrates through another scene with Hawk, Glenzer, and Earl.

Myhill runs out of time and is chased off by a bear, which Cook states is a “joy.”

Michael M. Wagoner – Scene Breaks and Interstitial Time in King John

Wagoner starts, stating that his has thirteen minutes to present, but that we may experience the time differently, called “subjected time.” He likens this to the two hours traffic of the stage that, while literally being two hours, is subjectively felt by changes in plot and audience emotions. He turns to the scene break between acts II and III in King John. He states that the act breaks are not likely authorial and these scene would have been continuous. Glenzer (playing Constance) and Hawk (playing Phillip) do this scene for the audience.

Wagoner explains that Constance in this scene is urgent and that we do not register a change in time; the action seems continuous. Phillip here states that the sun stays in the court, as if time stopped. Phillip has an immobility of time as Constance has an immobility of space, sitting on the ground. The staging without an emphasis of passage of time indicates the erasure that Constance so desires. Phillip’s movement forward contrasts this. Wagoner states that modern productions do not use a break just as the early modern theatre would do because the moment comes too soon for the traditional single interval.

However, originally another scene divided these scenes. This scene calls for Constance to remain seated on the stage. The scene break could indicate that the scenes are meant to be continuous, but divided by the interrupting scene. Wagoner has Hawk and Glenzer do the scene again, but rather than continuously, Glenzer as Constance stays on the stage crying as Hawk as Phillip leaves the stage to re-enter for the interrupting speech. This is palpable for the audience and creates a sense of scenic time not created by a continuous scene. Wagoner states that Constance’s name even indicates her propensity to stay still and in place.

Wagoner is then chased off by the bear.

Adam Miller-Batteau – Shakespeare at Summer Camp: Balancing Process and Product at Stagedoor Manor

Miller-Batteau states that many teachers focus on the process, rather than the product. He states that both should be valued and focused upon. At Stagedoor, a training center, rather than a camp, allowed Miller-Batteau to see how process and product can both be valued.

Miller-Batteau enumerates the number of performances put on by Stagedoor, which originally he felt got in the way of the process by performing so much. He noticed actors falling back on old habits and coming to realizations right before performance. Still, performance is necessary as a part of theatre education and the educational process.  Miller-Batteau questioned how to balance the process to prepare for performances and the energy for performance week.

Miller-Batteau states that the new practice of students using cue scripts forces the students to learn and get up on their feet with the show nearly immediately. Miller-Batteau has one-on-one text sessions with his students to make sure that everyone understands their words and creates a rapport with the students. Then, he brings the students together to be up on their feet to create the ensemble during the play which introduces the play as a play in performance. Miller-Batteau states that this allows him to be a teacher, rather than a director. Miller-Batteau also invites administrators and outside eyes to see the performances because outside eyes allows for more views and helps the students learn about performance for an outside group, rather than for just each other.

Miller-Batteau closes by with a statement by another teacher at Stagedoor that the students rely on the teachers to focus on the process. This stuck with him. Miller-Batteau reads that many directors and theatre artists see their art as a constant exploration and ever-evolving process. Ultimately, he offers no conclusions, only curious musings and questions.

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 fascinated 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 fascination with these spaces.

Crystal’s fascination 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 fascination 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 Conference 2015 – Tim Carroll Keynote Address – Confessions of an Iambic Fundamentalist

Hi, everyone! Molly Beth Seremet, eager to live-blog this morning’s keynote address. We are pleased to welcome Tim Carroll (The Shaw Festival) for his keynote address titled Confessions of an Iambic Fundamentalist. This keynote address takes place in the Blackfriars Conference from 10:30am – 11:30 and is sponsored by John Attig.

American Shakespeare Center Director of Mission Ralph Cohen begins with an introduction of our keynote speaker, Tim Carroll. He reminds us of Carroll’s Tony-award winning production of Twelfth Night and lists an impressive list of directing credits that span the world. Cohen jokes that a close look at Carroll’s resume might make us wonder if in fact this man can keep a job. Cohen of course then reminds us that Carroll is the new Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival. Cohen now introduces the provocative title of “TC’s” keynote and lets the assembled crowd know that here at the American Shakespeare Center, we are allies in the cause of Original Practices, leading to a rousing cheer of “Amen!” from the crowd. Now Cohen launches into an impassioned defense of our shared love for iambic pentameter and lets him know that, “we welcome you’re confession, Brother Carroll… in your witness against the demon trochee. Cohen asks for a “righteous Blackfriars welcome for TC” and begs him to “please come speak to [his] flock!”

Carroll begins with a wry comment: “Well, that’s the sort of welcome every performer dreads!” He then tells us that this is first time in the Blackfriars Playhouse and mentions that he thinks it is even more lovely than the Wannamaker. On that note, he now introduces his speak, sharing that his nickname of “iambic fundamentalist” was given to him by the RSC. Carroll gives us a sense of his background, mentioning that he came across Barton’s series Playing Shakespeare at the age of 18 on his way to Oxford and connected with that sense of linguistic ‘horse whispering’ that the series deals in. Carroll explains that this exposure shaped his university career, though he is a classicist by trade, leading him to direct five productions in his time at Oxford. Now, Carroll confesses that while he still agrees with Barton’s ideas, he disagrees with Barton’s approach. Carroll now moves to a discussion of Barton’s methodology of marking scansion, using stressed and unstressed markings to find the offbeats in the text. Now, Carroll says he distrusts this method because it relies on trusting actors, much to the amusement of the assembled crowd.

Carroll tells us that on his first professional productions of Shakespeare was Julius Caesar. He shows us some text from the tent scene of the play and mentions that it is one his personal favorite scenes across the canon. He calls out a moment in rehearsal in which the actor playing Brutus stressed all of his personal pronouns (Must I budge? Must I observe you?) instead of scanning the line to find and use the operative words. He describes the process of working through this with an actor who suggested that scansion “is a choice.” The audience chuckles knowingly.

Now, Carroll turns to a look at text from 2 Henry VI, exposing the same issue. Carroll explains that in real life in public speaking scenarios, we generally do not stress personal pronouns and then when we get onstage, we forget. Carroll implores the assembled crowd to not seek him out after the keynote to claim that “i’m sure I do it instinctually.” Carroll then says, “No, you don’t, which is why I’m talking about it.” Then, he uses a delightfully naughty word which I shan’t print here… but it was a jolly good one!

Carroll likens the debate over the uses and need for solid scansion strikes a sour note for him, and likens it to choral or operatic singing. In those forms, debates over singing an F when the score calls for an A would be silly. He suggests that this should be considered similarly in Shakespearean terms, because “the verse knows best.”

Now, Carroll begins a close reading of the text from the Julius Caesar tent scene. In his reading, he shows how proper scansion makes the important and story-telling words in the passage “pop.” Carroll marks this scene as a pivotal one in the development of his ideas. In working on this play early in his career, he begin to think that the model of working to understand a play before scanning it is a backwards endeavor. Carroll shares a story of a professor who used to teach a play for a few weeks before teaching  a unit on the play’s verse structure. When flipping the pedagogical approach, however, the professor found that teaching the play’s verse for two weeks first dispensed with the need to then teach the play; the students already understood the play as a result of cracking the play’s verse code.

Now, Carroll shifts to a discussion of why scansion matters in theatrical practice. He states that his desire to rely on a play’s scansion comes out of a desire to remove forced vehemence, one of actors’ favorite performance strategies. Carroll demonstrates the way that stressing personal pronouns incorrectly adds an inappropriate and untoward level of force to the language. This artificiality works against the performance, showing us prisoners of our own habits. Instead, Carroll asks us to trust the verse instead of our preconceived notions about what language does.

Carroll now has us look at a passage from As You like it, in which Rosalind actors clutch for anything that sounds extreme, “that sounds like it’s a BIG DEAL!” Carroll points out that directors share the blame for this phenomenon in a constant push to “raise the stakes.” In contrast, Carroll describes his own directing process in which he often asks actors to lower the stakes, “to solve the problem quickly and get out in time for an early tea.” He asks us to consider the way that this approach softens a mad clutching for anything that sounds vehement or forceful in the language.

Carroll now looks at the ways words like “too” “so,” and “all.” He explains that actors will naturally gravitate towards these words because they feel “big.” Carroll demonstrates, however, the infrequency with which these words actually appear in stressed positions in the line, and urges us to consider the resonance gained by using these words as springboards for the important (properly stressed) words in the line. He points out that stressing words like “so” in phrases like “it’s SO nice to see you” actually suggests insincerity and phoniness in place of real connection.

Carroll reiterates that “the verse knows best” and says that now, this is his working mantra. He uses the Rosalind’s line “who might be your mother?” as an example. He demonstrates a sassy reading of the line, letting “who might be YOUR mother” ring through the Blackfriars Playhouse. Carroll admits that this sort of snappy reading sometimes connects with schoolchildren in matinee audiences, but qualifies that this forced connection isn’t bringing audiences into the beauty and functionality of the language. He employs a further example from Hamlet to leverage his argument as well, demonstrating the ways that a simpler, less forced reading of the “my father” passage of the closet scene allows Hamlet to parrot Gertrude’s rhythms and throw them back at her in a useful and effective way.

Carroll now moves to a look at line endings and mid0line breaks. He leverages examples from The Winter’s Tale to show the way that stressing the last word of the line allows us to hear a character get an idea. Carroll introduces us to another of his mantras to actors which is to “wait until the last possible second to get that idea. How long can it take for the idea to drop in?” He allows us to hear the natural urgency that this tactic brings out in the play’s language. He also discusses mid-line breaks as well, urging actors to consider each mid-line break as an opportunity for another actor to try to “grab the speaking stick.”

Carroll exhorts, “let us try to speak iambically until it kills us.” He mentions that he is very nearly at the point of asking actors to say words like “faMISHD’ly,” because he explains that he has never really felt that this iambic approach goes too far for an audience’s ears. Carroll shares an anecdote in which an audience member saw Carroll’s production of Richard III which employed these approachs to language, and the patron sought out a box office staffer to ask what other productions in the season were being done in “modernized language.” Thus, rigorous use of Shakespeare’s verse structure pleases our modern aural sensibilities.

Now, we turn to trochees. Though trochees exist, Carroll asks his actors to consider returning to the iambic structure as early as possible after the displacement of the trochee.  He suggests activating the second syllable of the word to work back into the iambic structure. Carroll says that one question he is asked frequently is if he expects 100% adherence to the verse in his productions and he explains that he does, because he knows he will never get it. If he insists on 100%, he gets 70%. For him, this approach opens up productive conversations in the rehearsal room with skilled practitioners who already have thoughts on the matter. As Carroll concludes, he says that a foundational question in his directing practice is “what are we doing about the verse?”

Now, we move to some questions from the assembled audience. A scholar asks Carroll to clarify his position on vehemence, asking if that means vehemence is forbidden in his productions. Carroll clarifies that he means that he asks his actor to “not try to be vehement. Vehemence isn’t a choice.” He further explains his position on trochees, stating that he urges actors to not decide something is a trochee. As Carroll states, “Soldier, there are no trochees for you. If a trochee happens to you, however, we’ll deal with it then.”

The keynote concludes with warm applause and cheers throughout the playhouse. Thanks for following along on our blog! I will return to the blog for this afternoon’s plenary session. It has been a pleasure to share this keynote with you!

-Molly (@moxymolly)