Podcast Archive: 2014

2014 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2014 Spring Season

Podcast Archives: 2013

2013 Spring Season

2013 Summer and Fall Seasons

MLitt Thesis Festival 2015: Session 3

Good evening, Sarah Enloe here, taking over for Cass for the final session of the 2015 Thesis Festival. So far, the scholarship and presentations have been excellent. Looking forward to the final five. A little description of the room for those who have not attended a festival before: Down stage right, the MBC seal graces a podium made of stained oak, an extension cord runs from the discovery space to the “media cart upstage left–indicating readiness for tech support for any upcoming presentation. The house features the student body of the three class years of the MBC program, their faculty, and loved ones (as well as ASC education staff). Paul Menzer walks to the front to introduce the session: “Like an episode of COPS: Starts with nudity, ends with cursing,”

Adrienne Johnson “Leave Them ‘Naked as the Vulgar Air': A Study of the Effects of Nudity in Performance.”

Actor: Josh Williams

In a break from the previous presentations, students occupy the gallant stools stage right and left. The full paper covers the history of censorship in early modern England and concludes with the ending of the position of the Master of Revels in the 1960s, which saw the advent of nudity onstage. The nudity was not limited to London, but expanded to NYC, as well. Appreciation of the human form its most vulnerable state. Nudity can connect the actor and character. When Ms Johnson started to study this, she encountered many who wanted to share their personal experience of seeing nudity onstage, professors, actors, and audiences. The list of actors and theatres who employ the practice is long. But why bother? Why has the London stage become a “wang-addicted world”? The presentation of the actor body as a focal point directly effect the audience experience. The tradition of pageantry By showing the naked body, the production can show that the actors are more than just icons: they are human.

There is no evidence of nudity on the early modern stage. The early modern theatre practitioners were concerned with nudity, though they did not show it. The censors never legally prohibited nudity, but it was not accepted. Could Shakespeare have had nude actors on stage? “I like to think so.” In the early modern period, the Privy Council was continually called on to censor action on the stage, while the Master of Revels was in charge of censoring the text. THe establishment’s need to control content created the Patronage system, in 1572, the Privy Councils’ vagabond act created the profession of actor. The privy council’s rulings in the restoration (after 1672 Drury Lane patent) focussed less on offensive language (even considering witty language necessary). In this period,the appearance of women on stage led some to comment on the states of undress among one particular actor–Nell Gwyn–which could have been merely a pants role or could have been light, revealing clothing. The examples of ROMEO AND JULIET and ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA provide scenes that were ripe for thoughts about nakedness. Iago in OTHELLO, tempts his superior to think about the lewdness of nakedness, while in KING LEAR nudity plays a role for Poor Tom. Similarly, in TIMON OF ATHENS, nudity is a driving force in Timon’s exit from Athens.

In the scene presentation, Josh WIlliams plays a scene that suggests a choice for a production, the first time through, Josh removes his suit jacket and throws it against the wall. Ms. Johnson points out that the lines indicate that. the character wants to leave Athens his clothes, this time Josh removed his clothes gradually throughout until he is left nude at the end of the speech. Ms Johnson calls the actor back to stage so that he can participate in a discussion with the audience. After asking the audience to express their feelings, Ms Johnson is, at first, met with silence, then:

–I expected to giggle but became engrossed

–I was waiting for him to get naked

–Where in the text did you find to justify each removal? (Josh explicates that he chose shoe removal on the word cripple because he saw it as related to walking)
Q: Women’s nudity?
–More prominent
Q: Differences between stripping between and immediate clothing
–Ms Johnson wanted the suit
Q: Does pre-warning in marketing have an effect
–only one that she has looked at gives pre-warning. (One did warn about poop.) The Vollage in the 60s ran kind of nudity and theatre
Q: In the last 10 years there has been more male nudity than female, have you noticed a trend?
–not specifically

Jordan Zwick “Cardenio: A Case Study in Textual Reconstruction.”
Actors: Josh Williams, Zac Harned, Mark Pajor
This presentation will not be nearly as naked. Who here has read or seen Double Falsehood? Who here thinks it could use a little work. Greg Doran started a 12 year journey that culminated in a 2011 production. This production will use the Cardenio names, and will focus on one relationship and the actors learnings from them. The play exceeded expectations for a reconstructed text. Through interviews with cast members and the record in Doran’s book, Ms. Zwick pieced together a picture of the rehearsal room. When rehearsals began it was “complete” but Doran had a hard time seeing Stanley Well’s claim that Shakespeare’s hand was in it. Nevertheless, the room was one that welcomed editing and addition. As actors dug in, they found holes in the script, particularly in the Cardenio/Fernando relationship. In DOUBLE FALSEHOOD, the two characters do not meet until late in the text, despite textual evidence of a deep friendship before Fernando dishonors Cardenio by usurping his love, Lucinda. (actors illuminate the relationship with readings from the text). During rehearsals for the early scene in which Fernando and Cardenio discuss the loss of Lucinda, the actors decided it was falling flat and they concluded the need for a scene (one absent from both Theobald and Cervantes), Doran created one in which he tried not to sound like “early modern pastiche.” The framework he created by consulting other early modern plays was fleshed out during rehearsals. With the actors’ help, Doran was able to create a dynamic piece of theatre and gave the process and the actors credit on his title page.

Q&A
Q: In some ways a much darker TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA?
A: Closer to TWO NOBLE KINSMEN, but Doran poached from everywhere
Q: What Genre? and How much blood?
A: Romance, keeping honor in the production was important to the Spanish dramaturg kept the aim on that.
Q: Familiar with Chuck Mee/Greenblatt? Know of any process overlap?
A: Biggest difference would be the length of time, some cast members from 2003 staged reading were with it til 2011.
Q: Gary Taylor’s CARDENIO?
A: Biggest difference (wasn’t able to consult with all of the versions) is that Gary Taylor stuck with the text
Q: Spectrum between careful reconstruction to adaptations:
A: Gary Taylor, Doran, Mee
Q: Why?
A: Appeals to me as a scholar and an artist, because I appreciate the idea of the actor being a text consultant. Across the board the actors said it was most gratifying and they were proud of the production.

Aubrey Whitlock “Shakespeare of the Oppressed”

Actors: Merlyn Q. Sell, Molly Seremet
Begins with a parody of “This too too solid flesh…” You are about to witness a a transculturation (transcend a foreign tradition and create something new from a indigenous tradition). Today the presentation will be playing with Boal’s methods to question thesis presentations. Next vignette: “Speak not the speech”, an oath to trust the text. A scene by the actors debating text and playing it. One folio nut chases the other less adherent off.  Next scene: Political theatre in the form of an infomercial.  “The joker system” will allow you to take your political theatre explorations to the next level, Aubrey explains the joker is a wild card who can interact with the audience or play any character in the play. Boal argued that it could be used in any play. What do you get when you order” this system? All actors can play all characters and comes with a set of instructions:

–The protagonist can only be played by one actor and must be naturalistic and maintains the reality. The character for whom the audience feels the most empathy

–The Joker is the opposite of the protagonist, he can explain anything, speak for the playwright, and company

— chorus, and music.

Actors ask: What if the theatre company is small?

–Can still work

–Each scene can have its own style, linked by commentaries by the joker, episodes end with an exclamation, also can feature the inside story of a character and an exaltation, Boal says it can be adjusted for any need.

Next scene introduced by a poem delivered by Ms. Whitlock.

–narration summarizing Hamlet (DANES OF OUR LIVES)

–Gravedigger scene, Hamlet is accused of breaking the fourth wall, and asked what he knows about Shakespeare of the Oppressed in a good cop/bad cop routine. When asked she says she’d like to apply the Theatre of the Oppressed to Shakespeare and argues for the play to be HAMLET because Boal was “obsessed” with it. It is riddled with the meta awareness in the joker system. THe actor playing the inspector asks: Who is the presenter right now? Hamlet, the joker, Aubrey? All three.

This is an example of the melding of the indigenous to transculturation and surpassed all three forms–Boal, HAMLET, and thesis presentation. This is not acculturation, every transculturation adjusts to the needs of its audience. It belongs among the theatre world and education.

Go, make you ready.

Q&A:

Q: In applying Boal to HAMLET, you are designating roles to different characters.

A: Primary question that drove presenter to HAMLET, see it in performance would answer could involve altering text, costume designation, Hamlet seems most joker like when he speaks prose.

Q: How much can be applied to devised theatre more generally, in terms of the MFA year, will it reach beyond?

A: I do, Boal says it can be applied to any play, and you don’t have to follow all of it and his system (games, etc) can be applied broadly.

Q: Besides protagonist and joker, how are other characters designated–one protagonist? one joker? more of both?

A: Yes, any of that is possible. In the strictest, one actor playing protagonist and any actor can play any other character with the assistance of a physical mask. It is malleable, and I continue to look at it.

Q: Hoping to create a new genre of Shakespeare and the Oppressed, what is the difference between the Theatre of the Oppressed doing HAMLET and Shakespeare of the Oppressed?

A: not a new genre, but more about the transculturation (the indigenous and transculturation)

Q: Would the play follow the same text each night?

A: Up to the audience. Part of what the joker does is bringing in both questions and guidance from the audience.


Danielle Guy “Performing Bedlam: The Performance of Madness in Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi

Actors: Megan Clauhs and Ian Charles

Actors perform a scene from Slings and Arrows re: playing madness. Guidance from Stanislavsky, Mizener, Adler indicate that the Method may not have much to offer the person who needs to play insanity. And particularly not early modern insanity. In the 16th and 17th c, a doctor Napier made case studies of madness and even explained how one might play madness. He separated into temporary and long term disjointed mental states. Giving an actor Napier’s records may assist them in the presentation of madness. With readings from the Napier studies, the actor plays a scene two times, showing the difference the information can make. The steps are: character profiling, diagnosing, actor application.

The malady noted in The Duchess of Malfi, that of werewolfism, is not described in Napier’s notes. But, as it is a madness of physical change and predatory state, revealed by the transformation into his beastly state throughout the play. Presenter suggests that the actor consider the malady described as melancholy because its description well fits the character descriptions in the text, and that they play it throughout the play. Because the descriptions are helpful. Using this method helps tear down the bars of bedlam and gives access to sound comprehension and solidarity.

Q: Were the milch bats part of the raving, or were they milking bats?

A: Yep, it happened.

Q: In depth diagnosis, is there a theatre that could have done this? Contacted Farah Karim-Cooper? Interesting to find out, use that connection.

A: Yes, that would be awesome.

Q: Ethics of playing madness?

A: Need to know the rules before you break them. Maybe in tablework.

Q: Since any play performed today by actors will be for an audience with modern understandings, recommend modern techniques as well?

A: I believe that the audience will go along, this is more for the actor.

Q: Richard Napier is wrong about everything, using his diagnosis might be insensitive?

A: In the world of the play, it should be a consideration for understanding the social roles?

Q: What is the external expression of this?

A: The chart features some physical descriptions and are linked in my thesis, connections to the humors but didn’t have time.

Q: You referenced some characters that are not mad but performing mad, wonder if there is a different methodology or symptomatology. It sounds like your concern is that playing mad will make the actor mad, and that sounds like antitheatricalism discourse. Might want to think about the conversation to be had between those two.

Molly Harper “Stick it in your Et Cetera

Actors: Zac Harned, Ryan Odenbrett

Thanks everyone for staying through to the last one. If you are offended by dirty words, you may want to leave. Flashes O’Keefe images on screen, to begin discussion of euphemisms for “vagina” and lists some including “et cetera”, Scenes from Henry V, 12th Night, Hamlet.

Laurie Maguire’s work on the term “et cetera” discusses its substituting for a woman’s vagina.  A completely spelled out word, in the noun position. In the verb position it refers to defecating. This research agrees with Maguire and asked: What could have happened between the early modern page and stage. Shakespeare uses it two times, in Mercutio’s and Pistol’s lines. Editors believe that et cetera was a censoring mark, but Ms Harper’s research indicates no such thing. When talking about controlling obscenity, a pamphlet from 1579, inspired the reaction against theatrical obscenity.  Actors demonstrate differences between Q and F editions of two Falstaff’s lines indicating this change. Modern editors have been replacing Mercutio’s et cetera with arse to remove their view of “censorship” though the use of et cetera would be more in line if they understood it.

Performance choices (tried with Romeo and Mercutio scene)

Leave it in–say it

self-censoring-skip over it

Embedded stage directions-hand over mouth

Main concern of this presentation is with what happens to the text (with Pistol scene):

This section is titled: Why does the prose character get to keep his et cetera when Mercutio doesn’t?

Pistol’s line is repetitive in its use of euphemisms for the vagina.

Amusingly, different editions footnote the Pistol et cetera with references to Mercutio’s.

Editors are perpetuating the effect that verse can not support the bawdy use of et cetera in prose.  Examples of 20th century bawdy use appear in Ogden Nash and Edward Albee, so why are editors removing the use from verse and not prose? Theatre practitioners make decisions about character portrayal from the text, by not editing the text to fit an iambic pentameter line the editor limits potential.

 

Q&A:

Q: When did it die out as a euphemism?

A: The OED lists it as the 5th definition, it hasn’t actually gone out. But popular language? No idea. Great if rappers started to pick it up.

Q: Euphemism vs Vulgarity?

A: It would have been socially acceptable, because of its latinate origin, but it doesn’t actually work for Pistol because it would have been so well alone. Pie corner/Saddle of Beef=Prostitute. But it would have well known.

Q: What do you make of the double euphemism of et cetera and nothings with Pistol?

A: Trying to find a clever way of insinuating Doll is nothing, not useful, practical, etc. Because it may be diseased.

Q: Nothing tells you that it tells you that it belongs to a woman with comparison to a man?

A: It can serve as a continuance, a shortening, or (as with Nothing) the absence of something.

Q: Why can’t it be an appositive for two words? could be a definition?

A: Used the 2012 2HIV in which the et cetera becomes the final straw before he is kicked out (thrust down)

Thanks to all for a stimulating day.

–This session live-blogged by Sarah Enloe, ASC Director of Education

MLitt Thesis Festival 2015: Session 2

Natalia Razak Wallace: “Prolonged Eye Contact”
Razak Wallace begins by alarmingly dimming the lights on the audience in the Playhouse. She then gives a brief overview of the unique qualities of the social brain in the human animal, positing it as crucial to interpreting behavior and making decisions based upon it. She presents an example of interpreting behavior and predicting movement based on Doreen Bechtol’s imagined curled lip, which may indicate that Razak Wallace is about to get slapped. “Doreen’s curled lip does not exist in a vacuum, because it is, presumably, attached to her face.” The extension of the example illustrates how a change in eye contact, whether deliberate or unintentional, can change the interaction, forcing the social brain to work harder to determine the complexity of the given circumstances. Eye gaze directs focus and attention more strongly than other physical indicators.

Razak Wallace notes that this plays into audience contact, making an audience member acutely aware of his or her body, imagining how it must look from the outside. She posits this as a challenge to the social brain, as the brain has become aware of the body in a way that it does not expect within the bounds of the theatre. For actors in traditional, lights-off theatre, the gaze is performative. Without audience contact, “the audience is not socially available to the audience.” Lighting thus changes the essential theatre experience on both ends. Razak Wallace prefaces a scene (acted by Shane Sczepankowski and Molly Seremet) by noting that, while we here may not find observations about audience contact and performance new, it’s because our social brains have become accustomed to that interaction at the Blackfriars Playhouse. On the first run-through, the actors perform in traditional proscenium style, ignoring the audience that they cannot see; on the second run-through, they pretend awareness of the audience that they still cannot see. Both of these call upon a performative gaze with no real connection made.

The third iteration is lights-on, with audience contact. The actors’ performances change based on the visible response of the audience. Razak Wallace details the cognitive processes that audience member Linnea was undergoing without even consciously being aware of it, culminating in “the astonishing realization: I exist” — a realization extended to the rest of the audience, who consequently become aware that they, too, exist. She notes that there are other physiological responses related to sensory input and response forming a part of this process as well. Razak Wallace also details that this interaction may either be pleasant or unpleasant, depending on how one’s social brain interprets the stimuli; if pleasant, it may help make the words spoken during the eye contact more memorable, but if unpleasant, it may make the words harder to hear and comprehend. Either way, the moment is likely to be memorable, but the latter situation may not be memorable in the ways either actor or audience would hope for.

Razak Wallace concludes by stating that not all theatre is or should be social, but that it can be powerful and positive in a number of ways. She connects this to an essential quality of empathy. She states her belief that Shakespeare’s plays call for audience contact, but in order to make the most of it, “the actor must stop performing and the audience must stop observing, just for a moment, just long enough to make eye contact.”

Q&A
Q – Is the difference between having a pleasant and unpleasant experience down to your personality?
A – Yes and no. Some of it is down to how your social brain operates, but the actors can also help mitigate those circumstances. “Make eye contact mindfully, in ways that are more likely. ” She also notes that duration of contact affects how positive or negative it is.
Q – So how do you mindfully make eye contact?
A – Fit the word to the action. People like it more in comedies than in tragedies, because we want to feel good, not crazy. Don’t prioritize over relationships on stage.

Dierdra M. Shupe: “Putting a Head on Headless Rome: Titus Andronicus, the Body, and the Body Politic in Shakespeare’s Roman Plays”
Shupe begins by defining what she means by the Roman plays, a modern sub-genre of Shakespeare’s plays, but notes that many modern scholars have left out Titus Andronicus when considering this subset, ostensibly because it’s locus so early in his career disqualifies it. Shupe suggests that certain allusions and thematic elements link Titus inextricably to the other Roman plays such as Julius Caesar. 

Shupe then addresses the question of chronology: taken in orderof historical events, Shakespeare’s plays go from Republic-set Coriolanus to the 1st-century Republic/Empire shift in Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra to the imperial Titus Andronicus — not,however, the order in which Shakespeare wrote them. Shupe argues that, in terms of the body politic, Shakespeare orients Coriolanus with the knee. In Julius Caesar, the titular character is  presented as synonymous with Rome, and most of the bodily references are to blood, usually Caesar’s blood. The play begins with mentions of Pompey’s blood and culminates with a civil war wherein Rome is essentially shedding its own blood. Shupe considers Antony and Cleopatra to hold the place of the heart, with numerous references to that part — the most in any Roman play and the second-most in the canon. She connects the heart with the idea of allegiance, particularly in regard to Antony’s divided loyalties between Rome and Egypt.

Returning to Titus Andronicus, Shupe identifies the most prominent body part as the hand, referred to 47 times — usually as part of a severance. Shupe connects the idea of dismemberment to the concept of a disordered and troubled Rome. Heads play a role in the play as well, particularly in 3.1, when both severed hands and severed heads appear on-stage together. Shupe suggests that these body parts relate to the service done for Rome, later used to mock the characters in question. Shupe concludes by reiterating her assertion that Titus ought to be studied along with the other Roman plays.

Q&A
Q – Considered Cymbeline as well, since partially Roman-set, has similar body-focused imagery and themes?
A – Thesis came out of desire to look at Roman plays as a subset of history plays.
Q – Talk more about the idea of transformation of the body, connecting to performance.
A – Would like to look more at the idea of whether or not assassins appear at Caesar’s funeral with blood still on their hands.
Q – Have you found Roman plays resistant to performance linkage?
A – Haven’t found that, but haven’t found it’s even been done that much.

Meredith A. Johnson: “Shakespeare’s Problematic Prophetic Character Dreams”
Johnson examines the prophetic dreams of Clarence and Calphurnia in relation to thoughts on dream theory in early modern England and aims to connect these concepts with modern performance and exploration in the rehearsal room. She posits Clarence’s introduction to his dream as “a theatrical tool to create anticipate on-stage and in the audience,” with Brackenbury’s reactions critical to raising the stakes for the audience (acted by Patrick Harris and Merlyn Sell). Johnson instructs Brackenbury to use Clarence’s religious language to inform her next line. Noting that the prophecy is buried in a lot of dream imagery, Johnson further instructs Brackenbury to help the audience out by reacting most strongly to the prophetic elements. Clarence’s further statements speak to the ambiguity of where the dream comes from — a dead relative, an angel, or a demon. In a third segment, Johnson notes the difficulty Clarence seems to experience upon waking, and instructs Brackenbury to take further cue from that. After the discussion of hell and demons, Brackenbury ends by calling upon God to give Clarence good rest.

Johnson then shifts to the “delightfully murky waters” of dream interpretation in Julius Caesar. Harris and Jess Hamlet enact Calphurnia’s concerns in 2.2, with Caesar’s fatalism standing in opposition to Calphurnia’s fears — which are not, in early modern thought, necessarily ill-founded. She considers them divine warning. Johnson redirects Hamlet to try the lines again as though she is stating the most simple and apparent fact. Shakespeare portrays the strength of Calphurnia’s interpretation by having Caesar, initially, cede to her wishes — though another interpretation, hinging on Caesar’s use of the word “humour”, might instead present Calphurnia as unbalanced.When Decius (Sell) enters, Caesar relates the whole of Calphurnia’s dream, which Decius then re-interprets, managing to convince Caesar to “see the image of the citizens of Rome bathing in his own blood as something positive”. Johnson points out that the dreamer herself takes no part in the interpretation, “silenced by her womanhood”. Decius then continues to wrest control of the interpretation away from Calphurnia and convinces Caesar to act against a clear prophecy.

Johnson concludes by calling for greater attention to the historical connotations of dreams and prophecies when acting plays that involve these moments, in order to make the stakes feel more engaging and immediate for the audience.

Q&A
Q – As a director, how much depends on actor’s idea of the reliability of the narrator?
A – For example, in Caesar, since the dreamer wasn’t actually reciting the dream, you can make decisions about that.
Q – So it lands on the on-stage audience’s reactions to help the not-on-stage audience to understand what’s going on?
A – Yes.
Q – Did your research indicate that the dream theory of the time and the science of the time is heavily inflected in these prophetic dreams when they show up?
A – Yes, it definitely does glimmer through in the plays. Moreso in the ways in which characters on-stage treated it. Actual content of a dream you can argue about “what water meant”, but the fear surrounding what it could mean, like, “Did a demon visit you last night?” More about the way community treated dreams as a thing.
Q – Seems like in Calphurnia exammple that you were mainly focused on fact that dream was coming from a woman and therefore insignificant. Major part of early modern thinking?
A – Yes, couldn’t avoid some gender discussion there.
Q – Any evidence of dream skepticism in research?
A – Definitely, definitely. A lot of scholarly argument over it, conditions to meet. Have to be a sinless person and not eat anything weird before you go to bed. The Church gets to decide whether you were visited by something or not. More to do with the dreamer than the dream.
Q – If you speak a dream, is it always because there’s a prophetic element to it?
A – I don’t think that’s necessarily so. I chose prophetic dreams because I thought it would be more obvious to show you how you can put a shoulder behind them and get audience to understand what’s important about them.

Patrick Aaron Harris: “From Philosopher to Quack”
The presentation opens with Josh Williams presenting the opening of Doctor Faustus, only to be interrupted in his conjuring by Harris and fellow actors Megan Clauhs, Zac Harned, Anna Lobo, and Sarah Wykowksi. Harned queries what the value in practicing is, which Harris tells us is precisely the point: practice can cue the difference between philosopher and quack. He states his intention to demonstrate that awareness of early modern magical practices can improve modern performances and audience understanding.

Harris moves to a brief history of wizardry in English literature, tracing the origins of Gandalf and Dumbledore in Merlin and other medieval romances, all as a part of tradition positioning magic in the self, channeled through artifacts, animals, or geographical locations. Harris suggests that magicians on the early modern stage might be seen as character-directors, creating imagined circumstances on stage for the delight or fear of on-stage audiences. Harris notes that good magicians rarely appear without a balancing evil force, often leading to trials of magical skill, such as those seen in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. Harris then discusses the dangers in portraying magic on-stage — popular with audiences, but under monarchs that outlawed and persecuted expressions of magic/witchcraft. As such, plays display both good and evil magicians as “outside of and disruptive to social order”. Harris offers both Doctor Faustus and The Tempest as examples of how the magicians must be eliminated or relinquish power in order to restore social norms.

Harned then introduces the concept of magicians on the early modern stage as neo-Platonism, which Harris explicates as a revived interest in the “world soul” and cosmic energy, linking the human to the divine. A scene from Doctor Faustus, where Faustus discusses his newfound devotion to “magic and concealed arts” with Valdes and Cornelius, illustrates this philosophical conversation. Harned raises the question of whether or not Faustus ought more rightly be considered a witch, given the shape his disavowal of Christianity and his enactment of rituals, which mirror descriptions of witchcraft in early modern texts. Harris argues that since Faustus is not a slave to Mephistopheles, he does not qualify as a witch. Harris also notes the neo-Platonism evident in the difference between educated and uneducated interactions with magic, with the misapprehension and lack of control of the clowns rendering them bestial.

Harned then challenges Harris to make the same case of neo-Platonism for Prospero, who in using a staff, cloak, and ethereal familiar more nearly resembles a medieval magician than an early modern one. Harris argues that Prospero’s magic derives from his books, the source of his power, even though we never see him with the books on-stage. Further, in conversation with Stephano and Trinculo, Caliban gives testimony as to Prospero’s power centering in his books. Harris further argues that magic is the most theatrical thing a playwright can put on stage, and one which allows them greater ability to discuss their own theatricality. Re-examining the early modern conceptualization of magic can help modern productions to recover this theatricality in performance.

Q&A
Q – Idea of performative language, what about performance of spells on the stage? Did companies attempt to inoculate themselves against calling a thing into being by acting it?
A – Accounts of an extra devil appearing on-stage during Faustus, audiences believed and feared.
Q – About technology, special effects?
A – Not avoided but evaded looking at that, because most of what he’s looking at is what’s embodied by the actor.
Q – What about unsuccessful conjurations (ex of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet)
A – Research has focused on lower-status clowns than Mercutio, without access to resources to learn magic. People who don’t study magic can’t do it, no matter how hard they try.
Q – Can doubling create implication that Faustus is engaged in sexual conduct with Mephistopheles, and thus involved in witchcraft?
A – Would never do that precisely to avoid drawing those connections.
Q – Connection to music?
A – That was actually initial topic. Transformed through ideas of language to the idea of book-based magic. Now focusing primarily on the kind of magic that requires extensive study as opposed to the kinds of magic that are done through occult ceremonies. Blurry lines.

Merlyn Q. Sell: “The Good, the Bard, and the Powerful Homely: Shakespeare’s Place in the Wild West Rediscovered”
The presentation opens with the impersonation of Sell by actor Megan Clauhs. The thesis discusses the role of Shakespeare in western American culture, with a particular focus on the transformation of Shakespeare in the community of Deadwood, South Dakota. In addition to saloons, gamblers, and prostitutes, Deadwood also had Shakespeare. Modern tourism in Deadwood capitalizes on it as “the wickedest town”, ignoring the significance of Shakespeare in its cultural development. The presentation then involves an “epic rap battle” between representatives of real history and the exaggerated legends, presented by Sell herself, Mark Pajor, Meredith Johnson, and Marshall Garrett.

Clauhs-Sell then moves to an examination of Deadwood legends Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, noting the difficulty in reconciling our modern views of miners and cowboys with Shakespeare-focused theatre-goers. But the historical reality was that Deadwood crowds “adored” performances of Hamlet, going on to put on their own amateur performance in 1878. Traveling performances of Othello and Richard III followed in the next few years. Amateur recitation both in private theatres, around campfires, and even in a shaving saloon was an honored cultural tradition. Newspapers also featured numerous quotations from Shakespeare as a common cultural touchstone. A Shakespeare reference also surfaced in a whiskey ad.

Clauhs-Sell points out the transition in the early 20th century towards a nostalgia for the Wild West as a lost era of adventure and exploration. Shakespeare then shared blame with women as a detrimentally civilizing influence on the Wild West — though both had worked towards the betterment the citizens of Deadwood. Clauhs-Sell gives the example of an 1880 Ladies of the Episcopal Church benefit performance of The Merchant of Venice and the creation of clubs promoting literacy. This contributed to a century-long tradition of civic service and political power by women in Deadwood, but their public events were attended by people from all segments of society. The desire to position the intellectual, cultured East against the mythologized rough and tumble West contributed to the erasure of Shakespeare as a part of Western tradition.

Q&A
Q – Way to synthesize this into modern Shakespeare education, with eye towards defeating ShakesFear?
A – In a lot of the country, people really identify with Wild West, if people thought that rough and tumble dudes with guns liked the show, they would give Shakespeare more of the benefit of the doubt. Can also help to stage and promote shows in a Wild West theme.
Q – Any references to the poetry of the cowboy?
A – Yes. Tradition to have Shakespeare in the wagon. Focused more on mining communities, because brought together almost everything we associate with Wild West except for cowboy.
Q – When did you decide to write the rap and how long did it take you?
A – It took a long time. Thanks Sir Mix-A-Lot.
Q – As Shakespeare transitioned to high culture, growing resentment toward it because it took away from image of what they wanted the West to be?
A – Yes, definitely. High culture doesn’t fit in with ideal of the mythologized West.
Q – Shakespeare mines?
A – New Mexico, there’s a town called Shakespeare, Stratford Hotel, all the mines had Shakespeare names. Though some of them also could have been names of prostitutes.

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

MLitt Thesis Festival 2015: Session 1

Marshall B Garrett: “‘Prosperous Art': Rhetorical Direction of Measure for Measure
Garrett begins by introducing a page of directing tips from “John Jory” which includes an admonition “not to do the play until you can say all the words in contemporary English”. Garrett then examines the opening lines of Measure for Measure, using actors Fred Franko, Adrienne Johnson, Aubrey Whitlock, and Jordan Zwick to note the use of hendiadys, synecdoche, metaphor, and hyperbaton, wherein the Duke obscures his meaning through the use of deliberate rhetorical devices. Garrett asserts that while scholastic attention has been paid to helping actors use rhetoric to develop character, less has been done to help directors see the same clues for performance. “Since directors must be intensively aware of structure of their plays” and since rhetoric is, in essence, structure, directors must have a keen awareness of rhetoric.

Garrett moves to discussing his production of Measure for Measure, wherein actors had varying degrees of familiarity with rhetoric, preventing the use of rhetoric as shorthand during rehearsal. The rhetoric, then, had to inform his directing. Garrett points out that, in 1.2, Claudio notes that Isabella “hath prosperous art when she will play with reason”, but that Isabella has been “rhetorically uninteresting” thus far in the play. He then notes that the figures of antithesis, chiasmus, and antimetabole are the dominant rhetorical figures in the play. Actors Johnson and Zwick demonstrate the interplay between Isabella and Angelo in 2.2, with rhetorical explication provided by Franko, and directorial interrogation spurred by Garrett. Through this interrogation, “after Fred identified the forms, we weren’t really talking about rhetoric — and yet we were talking about nothing else.” The rhetoric is a gateway to character discussions.

As the actors move forward, Garrett and the actors examine how the characters build upon each others’ rhetoric. In response to the question of whether to follow the stresses indicated by scansion or by rhetoric, Garrett notes that “this is an art, not a science”. Garrett also notes the points of stress between playing the rhetoric and adhering to other, more modernly-developed, acting practices. In the next section, Whitlock points out that “the most rhetorically sophisticated line so far has been Lucio’s”. Franko points out uses of zeugma, alliteration, anaphora, and the antithetical chiasmus built between Isabella and Angelo. Garrett then has the actors continue, with Franko providing pop-up rhetorical commentary overtop of them, illustrating the rhetorical density of the scene, particularly in Isabella’s implorations. Garrett points out that Isabella moves from schemes manipulating language to tropes manipulating imagination, ultimately demonstrating her verbal superiority to Angelo. Garrett suggests that rhetoric can help find two specific options for when Angelo falls in love/lust with Isabella. Garrett concludes that while rhetoric is not a perfect map to production, it “can more firmly place the approach to the play” and the choices of the actors in the script itself.

Q&A:
Q – From a practical standpoint, not possible to spend weeks on rhetoric in rehearsal. Do you have a sense as a director of how much time should be spent on it in rehearsal?
A – Actually, none. Garrett states he thinks that’s on the director to figure out before hand, informing the directoral process rather than the rehearsal process.
Q – Can you be more specific how you communicated w/ actors unfamiliar with this terminology?
A – In terms of discussing stress patterns, bring out certain words. “Avoiding the Greek words became key” when working with actors unfamiliar with them.
Q – So the idea is that you want to bring in understanding of figures being used to help with actor choices?
A- Yes.
Q – How do you communicate to actors that an epizeuxis is happening without saying “epizeuxis”?
A – Terminology of amplifying or raising stakes.
Q – Menzer asks if it’s necessary to bring authorial intent into it.
A – No. But rhetoric is an avenue into potential choices that has not been much explored in current materials.
Q – When working w/ actors totally unfamiliar to rhetoric and to Shakespeare, are there some key Shakespeare figures that I should focus on?
A – Absolutely the antithesis. Chiasmus and figures of balance. Discusses theory that “every play has its dominant figure”, can be useful in productions w/o rhetorically trained actors.
Q – Spend any time on specific figures for each character?
A – If I found it was important. In Measure, different worlds had different things that were key.

Ian A. Charles: “Instrumental Shakespeare: Case Studies in Cross Training the Singer and Poet”
Charles opens by discussing the overlaps between “the world of musical theatre and the world of Shakespeare”, particularly with regard to the musicality of Shakespeare’s verse and the issues of breath, pitch, etc that speaking it involves. He states his intention to look at the spoken vs sung words in musical theatre as compared to prose vs verse in Shakespeare. Charles hopes “to cultivate a language of actor training” that incorporates both. Charles questions American theatre’s tradition of divorcing Shakespeare training so far from musical theatre training, when he sees distinct similarities and when poetry and music have a shared heritage dating back to ancient Greece. He argues that “dramatic poetry, intended for performance” links more nearly to music than other forms of poetry, particularly with regard to thinking of both as “enhanced speech”.

Charles moves to discussing the difference between the musicality of verse and prose, with prose suggesting “less rhythm, less of an artifice”. When comparing Shakespeare to musical theatre, “verse is to song as prose is to spoken text,” and Charles suggests this leads to similar questions for actors in each genre. He also notes that Shakespeare and musical theatre can both be seen as “a push against naturalism”.

Charles moves to discussing his case studies, beginning with his observations during a LiveArts production of Les Miserables. He plays a segment conducted in 4/4, though with two separate melodies, and draws a comparison to the tempo created by iambic pentameter. Charles suggests that opera and musical theatre may be examined using “many of the same external terminology” as in Shakespeare. Charles introduces concepts from Peter Hall concerning the musicality of pentameter and its application in the rehearsal process.

His second case study examines the rare shifts from prose to verse in Much Ado about Nothing, with actor Sarah Wykowski speaking Beatrice’s verse lines at the end of 3.1. Charles notes that the discovery of love appears synonymous with the appearance of pentameter, and Josh Williams demonstrates Benedick’s failing attempts at singing later in the play. Charles then discusses how certain conventions in opera are analogous to the choices presented to actors within iambic pentameter for creating and breaking rhythm. He keys in on the need to play shifts between speech/song and prose/verse in order to bring forward the heightened nature of the emotions attached to song/verse. Rhyme further augments the unrealistic quality of speech, adding further complexity to the scale.

Charles concludes by reiterating the defined difference between normal and heightened speech in both musical theatre and Shakespeare. He intends that his full thesis, calling upon his experience in both genres, will “prompt an integrated approach for performers seeking a place in both worlds.

Q&A:
Q – Clarify that rhyming that you find in verse, beyond blank verse, is where the singing training should come into?
A – That it could come into, if you have more training in musical theatre than in Shakespeare. Looking for rhyme common ground between two genres of training.
Q – Then what do you do with blank verse?
A – Verse in general still has a beat, regularity and irregularity, knowing where you are in the pentameter, feel the ebb and flow of the line, that’s a very musical function.
Q – Beneficial in education?
A – Absolutely, b/c of inherently interactive nature of music.
Q – Found indication of extant cross-training between RSC and Broadway?
A – Not specifically, no.

Jess Hamlet: “‘A Deed Without a Name': Macbeth, Richard III, and the Regicidal Fantasies of Civil War Virginia
Hamlet begins by noting the April-focused anniversaries of Shakespeare’s birth/death and the start of the Civil War, and her thesis focuses on the intersection of these events. She looks specifically at the ways theatres in Richmond, Virginia were using Shakespeare’s works in wartime “to process their trauma”. She argues that “the constant performances of Macbeth and Richard III” in Richmond during the Civil War enabled citizens to aestheticize and legitimize their desire for removal from President Lincoln’s authority. She notes that Macbeth saw 27 performances in Richmond during the war, the most not only of Shakespeare but of any play.

Hamlet notes that the local newspapers believed that the theatres were doing “crucial, necessary, and meaningful work” during the war, at least partially by keeping the idea of removing unwanted leaders from power in the public consciousness. Macbeth was, according to one theatre, frequently requested by the citizens, including soldiers, “illustrating that servicemen and not just civilians were eager to see the story of Macbeth and his wife”.

Hamlet then shifts to President Lincoln’s own commentary on Shakespeare, wherein he stated “I think nothing equals Macbeth; it is wonderful” and found Claudius’s soliloquy superior to Hamlet’s. She suggests that Lincoln found Shakespeare “a kind of secular scripture” to help him deal with both his personal and political challenges, “both to cope with and recover from” his experience in a war-torn country. Reports from Lincoln’s last days indicate that he spent much time with his intimates discussing Shakespeare, especially the murder of Duncan in Macbeth. “The fascination here is that both Lincoln and his enemies were using the same text” to work through their feelings about the war, with a central question of casting — who was Duncan, and who Macbeth? Hamlet, through actors Fred Franko, Merlyn Sell, and Marshall Garrett, illustrates how newspapers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon criticized and challenged Lincoln and his actions.

Hamlet notes that Hamlet may have fallen behind Macbeth and Richard III in Richmond popularity because of its lack of action, with the decisive final battles indulging a sense of closure to war-weary citizens, particularly towards the end of the war. She suggests that the British origins of many Southerners may also have strengthened connections to Macbeth and Richard III that they did not feel with Danish Hamlet. Hamlet further suggests that thinking of themselves in Shakespearean terms may have helped Virginians to see their rebellion as a true revolution, returning to their origins and common cultural touchstone. This explains their dominance over plays like the Roman-set Julius Caesar, which might otherwise have seemed thematically appropriate for popularity.

Hamlet then questions the specific purpose of these performances, and provides the answer that the shows indulged their desire to “force the tyrant from his seat by war” and helped them “to purge their anxieties and doubts” about the war’s conclusion. The plays may also have helped Richmonders to place mental distance between themselves and the horrors of the war they were experiencing. She notes a potential difference in the plays’ purpose between the beginning and the end of the war. By 1864, many Southerners were hoping for a swift end to the war, even if that meant reconciliation, not wanting to see themselves as “beheaded Macbeth”. She draws a connection between the Civil War battles, audible within Richmond and visible in the form of hospitals and prison camps, and the advance on Dunsinane of Malcolm and his troops. The soldiers who saw plays in Richmond then took that experience with them back into the field, allowing them to use Shakespeare as a way to conceptualize their work and their worries. In focusing their own lives through the filter of Shakespeare, Hamlet suggests that soldiers would thus have cast themselves as Macduff rather than Macbeth. In regard to Richard III, Hamlet posits that the city of Richmond may have focused themselves on the character of Richmond, with Richard representing the North and Richmond the South, an interpretation that would seem to place Shakespeare on the South’s side. Hamlet concludes by reiterating that the production of Shakespeare in Civil War Richmond both expressed Southern regicidal desires and formed a lense through which citizens could process their experiences of war.

Q&A
Q – Americans fascination w/ Shakespeare has to deal with fact that Shakespeare is so English, how does that fit in?
A – Thinks that Confederate citizens were reaching for the English heritage and the father country, esp since seeking English and French support for the war itself.
Q – Modern-day applications for veterans?
A – Yes, “so much potential in theatre in general for a healing process”, Shakespeare especially because he writes so much about war.

Megan Hughes: “Where are all the Weddings in Shakespeare?”
Hughes will be discussing staged and unstaged weddings in Shakespeare’s canon, but begins with a clip from the Zeffirelli Taming of the Shrew, depicting the wedding of Kate and Petruchio (only described later by Gremio in the play). She notes that this was her first introduction to Shrew, and she has since found that most filmed versions invent the scene. She then interrogates why Shakespeare left this wedding off-stage. Delving into research, she discovered that there are no plays published during the early modern period that include a complete on-stage wedding. Hughes takes a moment to define the difference between a wedding (the ceremony itself, in the period based on the 1559 Book of Common Prayer) and a marriage (the lasting relationship). A third category, spousals, were vows exchanged, but which could have varying degrees of formality and binding.

Hughes then identifies “three plausible restrictions” that may explain the lack of completed wedding ceremonies on-stage: socio-cultural, legal, and literary/dramatic. Socio-cultural reasons could have included reverence for the real ceremony and a level of discomfort in seeing it play-acted between two males on stage. Hughes notes that, since the prevailing thought in early modern England was that speaking the words themselves enacted the union, this may have caused superstitious audiences to fear the on-stage speaking of those words as perhaps resulting in the unintended marrying of the two actors. Educated audiences, however, would have recognized the invalidity of such a union, both on the grounds of the gender of the persons involved and the lack of appropriate ritual. Hughes suggests that plays may have chosen to stage espousals rather than weddings to avoid this anxiety, however. Hughes then notes the variations in Taming‘s wedding that might, to a certain mode of thought, rendered Kate and Petruchio’s wedding invalid — and, if staged rather than described, might have verged on sacrilege and alienated the audience.

Legal restrictions “would have been much more serious in repercussions”. Hughes notes the blurry line between law, ecclesiastical law, and common law during this era in England. A prohibition against enactments of the rituals in the Book of Common Prayer, intended to guard against Catholic rituals, might also have netted in the actions in theatres. Hughes suggests that censorship by the Master of the Revels may also have played a role in keeping weddings off-stage, as playing companies would not have wanted to risk offending church or state and thus losing prestigious opportunities to perform for Queen Elizabeth.

Finally, Hughes discusses the literary and dramatic reasons for keeping a wedding off-stage, which would have been self-imposed by playwrights. She suggests that Shakespeare found that “by restricting the audience’s view of a scene, he could more strictly control their interpretation of that scene.” Actors Marshall Garrett, Ryan Odenbrett, and Stephan Pietrowski then act the Taming scene where Gremio relates the story of the wedding. Hughes notes that Lucentio and Tranio stand in for the audience, feeling scandal on the audience’s behalf. She concludes by declaring that, while it is impossible to determine which restrictions were most significant, socio-cultural, legal, and dramatic restrictions all played a part in keeping weddings off-stage.

Q&A
Q – Any difference between plays set in English vs plays set in Catholic countries?
A – Still medial and interrupted, doesn’t seem to be change in the interruption or avoidance that she’s found so far.
Q – Considering clandestine marriages something different from proper weddings?
A – Would classify that as espousal, not as a wedding, as wedding needs the ceremonial language and the right place and time. Clandestine weddings also generally take place off-stage between scenes, move the plot along, hidden from audience as well as from other characters.
Q – Time and place so important to creating an actual wedding, wouldn’t it be impossible to have a real wedding in a play b/c those would never be correct?
A – Yes, that’s what arguing – but superstition still surrounded just saying the words.
Q – Along those lines, As You Like IT
A – Yes, definitely.
Q – How might you take your research into the rehearsal room?
A – Definitely in raising the stakes in certain scenes. Ex: Celia’s “I will not say the words”, not wanting to initiate. Priest in Much Ado forced to jump to the end, disorders the ceremony.

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

MFA Thesis Festival 2015

Sarah E. Blackwell: “‘Corrupter of Words': A Rhetorical Cut of Twelfth Night
Blackwell opens with an introduction to the concept of cutting texts for performance, noting that most directors will attempt to preserve iambic pentameter but may not pay as careful attention to preserving rhetorical structures. Blackwell notes that while repetition seems an easy sort of rhetorical but notes that, in rehearsal, those cuts became troublesome. As a demonstration, she tells the famous “Knock knock” banana/orange joke, with alterations pointing out that cutting rhetorical devices of repetition can harm both the set-up of a joke and audience comprehension of the scene. Blackwell notes the cuts made to a scene between Viola/Cesario and Feste, particularly the repetitions of “sir” that offer actors a lot to play with. Blackwell asked her actors to try and play the scene with the emotional clues that the deleted rhetoric would have provided; Rebecca Wright (Viola/Cesario) and Nicola Collett (Feste) play the scene. The absence of the repetition makes for a “a one-sided battle of wits”. Blackwell concludes by asking directors to keep rhetoric in mind when cutting scripts because “when you ignore the rhetoric, you ignore Shakespeare.”

Nicola Collett: “‘I am not that I play': Seeking Identity through Music in an Appalachian Twelfth Night
Collett discusses the considerations and the challenges she encountered when developing the musical choices for Turning Glass’s production of Twelfth Night, including the complex and disputed definition of “folk song”. One of her sources made the “not entirely grounded in reality” claim that Appalachian dulcimer music chains back to both Shakespearean productions and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; Collett underscores the problem of conflating the Appalachian dulcimer with its predecessors, but enjoys the idea of positioning the production’s music as part of a larger tradition. She then discusses the adaptability of folk music. Collett gives examples of one tune receiving different lyrical treatments in different times and locations. The adaptability of music, Collett noticed during Twelfth Night, seems to echo the adaptability of certain characters, particularly Viola. Collett argues that this adaptability is what makes Viola “worthy of Orsino’s service” and capable of restoring health to the community of Illyria. By contrast, Feste is less rooted in one tradition.

Amy W. Grubbs: “‘The Great Divide': How Turning Glass Shakespeare Navigates the Actor/Audience Divide”
Grubbs begins by stating the common theatrical concept that performance is dependent upon a divide between actor and audience, and states her intention to interrogate three different audience roles: the audience as tourist, the audience as participant, and the audience as generator, on a scale of passivity to activity. “A blurring of the line is in fact often productive” and has helped Turning Glass in creating their shows. She discusses their deliberate blurring of the lines in The Winter’s Tale and in Romeo and Juliet; in the latter, the actors remained on-stage throughout the show, becoming supplementary audience members for scenes they were not in — in a position to watch the audience as well. Grubbs argues that this “reminded the audience that they were participants in our creative community” and positioned actors and audience as watching the same thing: the play itself. Grubbs feels that idea of community was particularly important in Romeo and Juliet, a play so concerned with a broken community. “The staging, therefore, reflects the themes of the play.” Turning Glass’s Twelfth Night, performed in local schools, began with a distinct divide, the students in their native environment, the company as strangers. Towards the end of the play, however, they conscripted a student to portray an officer and a teacher to portray a priest; though coached beforehand, the audience-actors still needed verbal and physical guidance during the show — and their own actions could chance the scene considerably. Grubbs states that this transformed the theatrical experience and “heightened our awareness” of performance for the cast, and that the blurring of actor/audience lines created “an entirely new community” during each performance. She concludes by asserting that the blurring is not “deadly to performance” but a potential benefit.

David Loehr: “Some Have Theatre Thrust upon ‘Em”
Loehr asserts that Shakespeare dually recognized life as having theatrical elements and theatre as being necessary to life, and argues that “Shakespeare uses Malvolio to critique anti-theatricalism and puritanism”. He notes Maria’s description of Malvolio as “a kind of Puritan”, not necessarily a man with firm piety. Loehr notes that Malvolio’s fantsies of marrying Olivia reveal that “for a Puritan, he seems awfully concerned with the material and the sensual.” Malvolio’s objections to revelry mirror the objections raised in anti-theatrical polemics of the early modern era, and Loehr examines some of the specific vocabulary that draws this connection. Loehr then connects this to Malvolio’s conception of identity, that he wants everyone else to stay in their prescribed places and clearly defined roles while he alone changes (hopefully in advancement) — which places Malvolio in a particularly difficult position in a play with such shifting identity issues as Twelfth Night, as Loehr illustrates through Malvolio’s difficulty in describing/defining Cesario. Despite his moralistic attitude towards revelry, he rarely invokes religion in his objections, which Loehr suggests sets him apart from the anti-theatricalists, not one of them. Loehr argues that Malvolio is, essentially, theatrical himself, and discusses this in relation to his difficulty in smiling and his immersion in his later performance in front of Olivia. “In the end, neither of Malvolio’s roles bring him the wealth and power that he desires,” and Loehr suggests this informs his vengeful attitude at the end of the play, both anti-theatrical and a spurned actor at the same time — and thus “a hypocritical fraud”.

Nora Manca: “To Try a Queen”
Manca sets her presentation up as “All Is True: A game show that starts with a lie and ends with laughter”, hosted by Loehr — a pseudo-Jeopardy skit designed to illustrate the similarities between Henry VIII‘s Katherine of Aragon and The Winter’s Tale‘s Hermione. Manca explicates her assertion that The Winter’s Tale was written for the Blackfriars Theatre in the same way that Henry VIII was, calling upon the audience’s historical memory of the space as a courtroom.

Sarah Martin: “A Queen City Comedy: A Chaste Maid in Cheapside at the Blackfriars Playhouse”
Martin begins by discussing the appeal of city comedies to the Jacobean audience, offering a view of themselves on stage, rather than the more remote figures of kings and queens. Middleton showed his audience to themselves by displaying the places, peoples, and ideologies of early modern London in his plays. Martin examines the gossip and funeral scenes in Chaste Maid, noting them as representations of common community experiences. Martin suggests that the transition from Elizabeth to James helped to spur the creation of domestic experiences on the stage, a way of reflecting a changing world and revealing the hypocrisy of early modern English society from the relatively safebounds of the stage. The gossips scene “demonstrates the chaotic and unstable atmosphere of London” in 1613. Martin notes that the early modern home had a public nature that may seem strange to modern sensibilities, and that christening parties made public and communal the essentially private act of childbirth. The party becomes a conversation on social status, material wealth, and neighborly one-up-manship, and Martin sees similar social stakes at play in the act of theatre-going. Martin argues that the gossips scene is an example of “how Middleton cast London in his play”.

Emma Patrick: “‘I wear your (great-great-great) granddad’s clothes': Original Practices, Secondhand Clothes, and Historical Reconstruction in Turning Glass Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
NB: Emma Patrick is snowed-in in Lexington and will not present this evening.

Ashley Pierce: “‘Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned': Playing Tybalt and Friar Lawrence”
Pierce begins with a caveat about the fine line between appreciation and obsession, particularly as relevant to her continual interest in the character of Tybalt — a character she played this year with Turning Glass, doubled with Friar Lawrence. “It is their respective challenges that truly set them apart” — Tybalt is physically demanding, not just with three of four fights, but also in the tight physicality. Lawrence, by contrast, Pierce characterizes as intellectually demanding. Pierce then delivers a sidebar on the gender issues raised by various casting approaches, noting that the extreme casting of Romeo and Juliet with six actors sometimes made the gender of actor and character indistinct, allowing the audience to determine their own ideas on the gender of the character. Pierce asserts that the audience’s role in creating character is thus critical.

Mara Ann Massingill Sherman: “Children and No Riches”
Sherman begins by delivering an anti-spoiler alert, declaring Turning Glass’s determination not to reveal the plot of a 400 year old play before performing it. She then moves on to her thesis, examining the intersection of fertility, class, and religion in A Chaste Maid in Cheapside. First, she discusses the eponymous maid and her neighborhood, challenging the common assumption that the title is an oxymoronic joke. Cheapside was, while commerce-oriented, not particularly noted for prostitution (in contrast to other locations like Turnbull Street). Sherman asserts that finding a chaste maid in Cheapside should be no more odd than finding “a virgin on Wall Street” — an odd but not necessarily contradictory juxtaposition. The title does, however, tell the audience that this is a play about: female sexuality, London, commerce, and “really stupid jokes” — as Sherman explicates through an exploration of the paronomasia of chaste/chased. Sherman then moves to discussing the Allwits and the confusion of paternity, marital arrangements, and the economy of fertility. Sherman notes that Middleton uses the Allwit plot to “strength the connection between bourgeois marriage and prostitution.” Finally, Sherman moves to the Kixes, discussing the tendency of modern productions to cast the Kixes as middle-aged, perhaps to explain their seven years of childlessness, a choice that Sherman asserts “misses the point”, and that their infertility is more related to economy.

Rebecca Lynne Wright: “‘Prone to weeping': An Exploration of Crying in Performance”
Wright begins by cautioning the upcoming MFA class to considering the blood and tears the endeavor could cause — not from the travails of graduate school hardships, but within the plays themselves. She discusses the physical effects on an actor of “weeping, crying, or lamenting”. Wright has her fellow company members provide examples of tears called for (or at least mentioned) within Shakespeare’s plays. “Emotions which come naturally in life are exposed and exploited in theatre”. Wright discusses her interest in the connection between the language used to describe emotion and what actors are actually supposed to do. She notes that weeping may not be visible to the audience even if enacted, and wonders what the advantage is to working up real tears on stage if the audience may not be able to appreciate them, and if simulating weeping better allows an actor to focus on things like scansion and rhetoric. She intends to interrogate this question further.

Q&A

For Pierce: Questioner asks if she’s recieved any audience feedback regarding the ambiguity of her character’s gender.
Pierce responds that, post-show, she has gotten some questions, mostly from friends and family, about if the role was re-gendered or not.
Ralph Cohen follows up by asking if her experiences with The Winter’s Tale may inform both her thesis writing and her revisiting of the character during the upcoming festival of shows.

For Grubbs: Questioner asks how the explicit casting of the audience affects the audience’s role, and if it leads to a “centaur state” of performer and audience simultaneously.
Grubbs: Responds that she’s going to steal that term. She’s referred to it as having switched roles, notes that some critics think that means it’s not theatre anymore, but she wants to explore the “both/and” mixture.
Follow-up: Questions how venue affects the blurring of lines, if lines were more set in more proscenium-like spaces.
Grubbs: Initially, yes, but engaging early modern practices quickly helped blurring the lines. Notes that depth of audience affects the ease of blurring. Manca adds that “children were much more receptive to being drawn in than adults were”.
Cohen follows up asking how/if it affects comprehension of play. Grubbs thinks initial appreciation is related to seeing someone they know, but that it might cause more careful attention. Blackwell shares anecdote that teacher who seemed unsure turned into a ham because she knew she would be observed.

For Wright: Asks if commentary on mourning split along national lines.
Wright: Most of research has not been British/American divide but discussion of duration, how long someone is meant to mourn, what’s appropriate, and difference between “then and now”.

For Sherman: Interested in limits of female fertility, how it will play out in company almost entirely of women?
Sherman: Had worried that having both Allwits and Kixes portrayed by female actors would create an unintentional commentary on lesbian relationships and procreation, but they do have a male-bodied figure for one of those roles, and Whorehound being portrayed by female.

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

‘Poison hath residence and medicine power': The Placebo Effect vs the True Cure in Teaching Shakespeare

The friendly throwback app Timehop has let me know that on this week several years ago, I was in Sarah Enloe’s Pedagogy class, desperately trying to make my thoughts on teaching coalesce into an educational philosophy. I settled on a statement about the value of education for its own sake, rather than as a means to an end — a somewhat radical philosophy in a capitalist society, and even moreso in a troubled economy like ours has been during my formative years. But I stand by it. Education isn’t only worth the salary it brings you. An educated citizenry benefits society in so many ways. We need people who are curious for curiosity’s sake, who listen critically and analyze the information they receive rather than merely accepting what they see at face value, who have a command of language, who want to explore the world around them. A teacher, of whatever subject, ought to foster these desires and talents.

Little Academe students poring through text for clues for performance

Little Academe students poring through text for clues for performance

I still hold that idea dear to my heart, but over the past few years, I’ve learned that high-minded philosophy about education means little without a solid plan for practical application. As such, I’ve come to focus a lot more on the how of education than on the why. My philosophy there has a lot to do with making sure teachers have self-supporting tools to crack open Shakespeare’s plays.

When the ASC advocates getting students up on their feet while studying Shakespeare, we mean that students should get to explore scenes, make choices, make mistakes, discover new opportunities. What a lot of other approaches mean by “getting students up on their feet” is that you should play games in the classroom. Games which divorce Shakespeare’s words from their context. Sometimes games that would be appropriate for drama class warm-ups, but which don’t actually teach anything about Shakespeare. That approach yields to a prevalent attitude in some education spheres that learning should be fun, therefore if you’re having fun, you’re learning. But that doesn’t necessarily follow. A teacher’s job isn’t just to make the classroom fun. You could play games all day, let your students watch YouTube videos in every session, or tell them to surf Tumblr, and they would all find that fun, but it wouldn’t be educational. A teacher’s job is to make learning fun for the right reasons — the joy of discovery, the empowerment of agency. That’s a deeper and more lasting “fun” than the quick fix of a quirky game.

Those text-diminishing methods also sell students short. The “bits and chunks” approach, removing Shakespeare from its context and ignoring the fact that the words are instructions for actors, tells students that Shakespeare is, as many of them fear, too hard for them. That they’re not smart enough. That they won’t get it unless it’s dumbed down. And I really have no patience for that implication. I’ve watched 10th-graders, some of whom were English-language-learners, delightfully murder Caesar, understanding perfectly what was going on, once we started looking at embedded directions and thinking about the stage. I’ve seen 7th-graders make exciting, active choices about how to embody the Witches in Macbeth. I’ve seen AP students change their entire conception of Richard III based on a revealed twist of rhetoric. Students don’t need their Shakespearean meat cut into small bites for them — they’re more than capable of tearing in, tooth and claw, with the guidance and support that a confident teacher can give them.

That leads me to another big problem with the quirky-games pedagogical approach: While easily modeled by the right sort of person to the right sort of audience (say, a charismatic and engaging workshop leader at a conference with a willingly captive audience of educators), it isn’t always easy to apply in a classroom. Teachers will have fun taking part in a demonstration, but if they’re not getting the underpinnings and meta-teaching moments along with that demo, they’re not getting the structural support that will help them once they go back home. As such, if they try the activities they witnessed at a conference or seminar but they don’t go over well in the classrooms, the teachers are inclined to blame themselves. It’s easy to see how that could get really discouraging really fast. After all, it worked when the specialists did it, so if my students aren’t responding, then it must be my fault. And that makes me deeply sad. I hate to think of teachers getting discouraged and, perhaps, giving up.

Teacher Seminar participants exploring a scene

Teacher Seminar participants exploring a scene

All of that is why I call it that method the teaching placebo effect. The patient — or teacher — convinces him- or herself that it’s working because it feels good in the short term. Unfortunately, it’s not a real cure. It’s not improving anything, for the teachers or the students, in the long run. At ASC Education, we aim to give teachers a toolbox — not a prize-pack of gimmicks. Approaching Shakespeare’s texts through a combination of wordcraft and stagecraft allows us to give teachers both solid ground to stand on and the flexibility to engage in a world of exploration. When we do create game-like activities (some of which have been hugely popular in classrooms), they’re text-based, character-based, and stage-based. We make sure that teachers know what to do, how to do it, and why it’s beneficial — all of our seminars and materials are geared not just towards flash-in-the-pan excitement, but towards a deeper understanding and a sense of personal ownership, the things that will foster a lasting love of the material. Students absolutely have fun playing with Shakespeare this way — and they are absolutely learning, too.

But, in the words of LeVar Burton, you don’t have to take my word for it. Here are some testimonials from our teachers:

  • “It helps level the playing field as each student can refer specifically to the text to back up opinion.”
  • “The workshop was an extraordinary experience, not only because of the primacy of play as performance (rather than as a script that students sit and read), but because the process brings to vivid life the best teaching practices available.”
  • “I learned so much from one exercise about discovery, blocking, embedded cues, playing with the script to find answers, etc.”
  • “I am impressed with how comprehensive the Study Guides are.  Such a valuable treasure trove of ideas and the materials needed are ALREADY created, the greatest boon to busy teachers.”
  • “I find the performance techniques really valuable as another vehicle for textual analysis — deciding how a character might move or speak a specific line can really help students conceptualize the traits of that character.”
  • “My students LOVE reading Shakespeare and cheer when it’s time to ‘push back the tables’ and act.”
  • “I have been attending ASC teacher workshops for the past eight years, and every time I attend, I am sure to learn something that is fascinating and of great educational value when it is incorporated into my lessons.  Whether it is learning strategies for getting students up on their feet to perform the text, exploring historical connections to the text and Shakespeare’s time, or the myriad of other strategies that ASC personnel use to breathe life into the texts, the workshops have proved be exhilarating and rewarding for both teacher and students.”
  • “They are excited about starting Shakespeare next semester instead of dreading it.”
  • “Almost everything I do in the classroom with my Shakespeare teaching now comes from you guys. My students LOVE Shakespeare and get excited from the moment they see the classroom re-arranged.”

And even better, some testimonials from students:

  • “I learned so much about different styles of writing and the way characters talk in Shakespeare, and why that is.” — 7th grader
  • “I really liked the rhetoric workshop and finding the secrets in the characters’ lines.”  — 8th grader
  • “I genuinely enjoyed every lecture we had. Everything taught was incredibly interesting and something I want to carry with me.” — high school student
  • “I learned things about Shakespeare that I wasn’t even aware existed” — ASCTC Camper
  • “I found every master class and rehearsal useful to my overall theatre education in some way. Not only were lectures fun, they were packed with new and important information.” — ASCTC Camper
  • “This is without a doubt, my favorite spring break trip to date. I spent time with a fantastic theater family, learned more about Shakespeare than I could have anticipated, and got to watch professional actors do their stuff.” — Little Academe college student
  • “I really liked learning how to dissect the text and figuring out how to best use the natural rhythm of the text.” — Little Academe college student

The best thing about this approach is that it’s self-perpetuating. If you know how to work with the building blocks of Shakespeare, you can pick up any piece of text and make it exciting. It’s why I’m now incapable of holding a bit of text in my hand without starting to beat out the meter or searching it for prominent rhetorical figures. It’s why I can use embedded stage directions and audience contact to make a workshop out of any scene that a group requests to work with. It’s why teachers tell us that their students are now excited to apply meter and rhetoric not just in their Shakespeare units but throughout their classes, on everything from Beowulf to Dickinson to Ginsberg.

Does this approach take a little more time and effort on the front end than simply playing a game, removing Shakespeare’s words from their context? Yes. But the benefits are exponentially more rewarding. Teach a student a theatre game, and you’ll entertain her for a day. Teach her the tools of playmaking, and you’ll enrich her for a lifetime.

ASC Education wants to share these methods with as many teachers as possible. They’re the underpinnings of all of our Study Guides, they’ll be the focus of our Summer Teacher Seminar: Shakespeare’s Toolbox, and they’re what we showcase on the road, both through the workshops of the ASC on Tour and ASC Education’s appearances at conferences worldwide. We invite all teachers of Shakespeare to join us in this approach, empowering and explorative, uniting our philosophy with the practical reality of the classroom.

Pirates and Pentameter

Recently, as I prepared to write my paper for the upcoming SAA seminar Playhouses and Other Early Modern Venues, I pulled out the binder of material I collected at one of my first Shakespeare-specific ventures, The Rose Playhouse Institute at Shakespeare and Company. When, as a second year teacher, I won the NEH award to study for the summer with the team of Educators in Lenox, Massachusetts, my most vivid Shakespeare experiences were all from high school, community theatre, and my own attempt to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream with my high school students in Texas (let’s just say the special effects were brilliant–trees flew!).  At that time and until I started graduate school, this binder was my biggest link to Shakespeare; in it, I placed everything I thought I needed to direct and to teach Shakespeare. Opening it yesterday took me on a journey back to a time when teaching Shakespeare was harder than it needed to be and I felt like I was winging it constantly.  Don’t get me wrong; the folks at Shakespeare & Company gave us a lot of good information. I learned so much about voice, a lot about taking the text out of context (to help dissolve some fear — my feelings about that I will get to shortly), Elizabethan dance steps, and lessons on tying today’s theatrical practices to Shakespeare (given circumstances, motivation, all the Stanislavsky and Method stuff).  What I didn’t find is anything that cracked the plays, and Shakespeare’s genius, open for me.

Like most high school teachers, I began teaching Shakespeare after experiencing it only in high school classrooms in which we sat and read every. single. word. of the play aloud. Now, I loved that. But I know now that that method of teaching will not work for every student and does a disservice to the author and to the rich material these works contain. Material to mine, figure, construe, and, eventually, apply.  Methods that we want students using when they graduate and pursue further study, careers, and life in general. By the time I reached the status of classroom teacher, however, I had never been introduced to them. Not in high school, not in college, not in community theatre, and not, sadly, at my Institute. I found the tools that help to expand the text in the professional practice at the American Shakespeare Center and in the Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare and Performance Program, both places where we work hard to introduce them to every student and every teacher who crosses our threshold.

My time at the Rose Playhouse Institute was valuable in many ways. It helped shape me as a person; it gave me confidence at a time when I sorely needed it; it supplied me with life-long friendships that I treasure. What it did not teach me how to do is to plumb Shakespeare for meaning.  Instead, sort of like with the recent TEDed video, Why Shakespeare loved Iambic Pentameter, I got a false sense that I knew stuff that mattered. My kids could do text lay-ups, create a sculpture garden of Shakespeare moments, but they couldn’t dig down into a passage, they couldn’t wrestle with the ins and outs of why it mattered. It’s not that the stuff that matters is so difficult, or so hard to teach; it’s that we don’t give it to our future (and present) teachers so that their students can experience the joy of discovering Shakespeare themselves.

In most “on your feet” or “performance-based classroom activities,” the material dodges the matter. It steers clear of looking at too much text (might scare the kids), at text in context (we don’t perform like that anymore), at using the tools Shakespeare’s actors used (they are dead, so they must not be very good).  When, however, we have the ability to study plays across the canon with techniques that take very little time to grasp but that astronomically expand the possibilities for students’ ownership of the text, we are opening the world — and not just the world of just of Shakespeare and literature — to them.  Through this, we say to them: you are good enough, smart enough, and talented enough to get and play with this revered text.

As an example, we worked on The Taming of the Shrew the last weekend in January with teachers from several states and disciplines. Cass looked at rhetoric (I know, surprise!) and early modern courtship as it relates to the play; I, ostensibly, looked at textual transmission (how the play changes from edition to edition) and acting in the play within the play. I say “ostensibly” because I ended up looking at scansion, rhetoric, second person pronouns, and stage directions. Why? Because once you see those things, you can’t un-see them.  Or, to say it another way, once you know their value, scenes and entire plays take on a depth of possibility that students who don’t know them can’t see.  It doesn’t take long to say de-DUM 5 times, or to walk around like a pirate (why a pirate? are we really encountering that many pirates that we use that as our “easy way” into Iambic Pentameter? I digress) but it can make a world of difference in looking at a scene if students know that actors use it as a clue to character and understanding.  Cass has already shared a textual variants activity with you from our study guide, but I would like to dig into that beast a little deeper and show you the things we couldn’t help but talk about last weekend.

TamingSnippetAt right is the page showing different versions editors made of the same passage in 2.1 (by the way, I pulled 9 editions to consider the stage directions in 4.1 and found that every single one constructed them differently — thus painting a different Petruchio). Look at the first 14 lines Petruchio speaks in this passage — ha! another thought, this is 14 lines, the length of a sonnet, but, I digress (again).

Marry so I mean sweet Katherine in thy bed:

And therefore setting all this chat aside

then in plain terms: your father hath consented

that you shall be my wife: your dowry greed on,

And will you, nill you, I will marry you.

Now Kate, I am a husband for your turn,

For by this light, whereby I see thy beauty,

Thy beauty that doth make me like thee well,

Thou will be married to no man but me.

Enter Baptista, Gremio, Tranio

For I am he am born to tame you Kate

And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate

Conformable as other household Kates:

Here comes your father, Never make denial

I must and will have Katharina to my wife.

As we discovered in last Friday’s teacher seminar session, this passage’s stress patterns and use of the informal second person pronoun lends some weight to the argument for the stage direction remaining where the folio places it, and thus, not moving it as later editions do (though, I am pleased to acknowledge that the Arden 3, edited by Barbara Hodgdon, leaves it and other important stage directions from the Folio, in 4.1 for instance, in tact).  It is somewhat unusual, and always revealing for an actor/student, when a pronoun falls in a stressed place. Here, we see four to six pronouns in the stressed position in just 14 lines. Moreover, the nature of the pronouns changes from the informal to the formal to the informal and, finally, back again (the second return to formal coming when the Folio signals the return of Kate’s father).  After we noted all of these things in the group (and pulled our collective hair out with the scansion of the first line–trochee, iamb, iamb, trochee (elision), weird feminine ending? or, entirely trochaic with a catalectic final foot?), we played with it. We made some big choices with the pronoun shifts, trying distance in the formal uses and closer proximity in the informal. We tried being really formal, with Petruchio kneeling the first time he uses the formal pronouns and then transitioning into a more intimate exchange in the informal.

In short, we looked at the text for what clues it could provide. We considered easily identifiable traits like beat and pronouns to create playing choices. We didn’t give just one line; we didn’t gloss over the challenges of the scene. We talked about playing possibilities. We gave the text back to the students (teachers in this case) to make of it what they wanted to. Returning the authority to tackle text is how we roll, and we do it by showing all of the details that are too often not taught but make the text accessible.

Sarah Enloe
Director of Education

PS: For an in-depth guide to exploring those possibilities in the classroom, join us on August 7th for the Summer Teacher Seminar: Shakespeare’s Toolbox.

Wandering through Wordles, Part the Fourth — What’s in a speech prefix?

In Study Guides created or revised since Spring 2012, I’ve removed the boring-if-classic Shakespeare head that we used to have as the frontispiece and replaced it with something more visually interesting and more directly related to our activities: a word cloud of the full play. As I’ve discussed before, because words appear larger when they appear in the text more times, word clouds can be a great way to mine the text for information about vocabulary, repeated ideas, and the focus of certain scenes, so it’s great to open the Study Guides with a teaser for that tool.

I pick a shape that somehow speaks to the play itself and I dump the full text into Tagxedo. I like Tagxedo for these because you have a lot more artistic flexibility than you do on Wordle.net. You can choose from a wide variety of fonts, upload your own image to serve as the silhouette, toy around with colors, and generally customize the image to your preferred specifications. (Wordle.net, however, gives you more precise information about the frequency of the words, and sometimes can create a crisper image — each has its benefits). Here are a few examples:

FullWordle-Hamlet AYLI-WordleFull

CaesarFullText Wordle-FullText-TwoGents

Wordle-FullText2 WordleCover-Mac

Now, unlike the clouds I create for the first 100 lines, these frontispiece clouds retain stage directions and speech prefixes, partly, I confess, because it would be too much trouble to edit them all out, but partly because it’s pretty neat to see which characters speak the most (or, at least, the most times, if not necessarily the most lines). Ross’s prominence in Macbeth is pretty interesting, and Celia speaks more than you might initially guess, considering how conspicuously silent she is during a few key scenes between Rosalind/Ganymede and Orlando.

This week, I’ve started revising the Much Ado about Nothing Study Guide from ARS 2012 — one of the last ones to go up before I started creating the new frontispieces — so I had to create a new cloud for it. There’s always a bit of finessing to do — picking the right shape, the right font, playing around with the maximum word count, adjusting the weight that frequencies are given, so that the final image is both meaningful and aesthetically pleasing. What struck me on this one, though, was Hero’s name:

Wordle-Full

Hero’s name, there below Benedick and Beatrice, appears not in uppercase but in regular type. (The same is true for “Caesar” f you look back up at the Julius Caesar Wordle, above). The cloud generator chooses to capitalize or not based on the frequently of the word — it’s why “prince” is all lowercase but “God” isn’t. All the speech prefixes are in capital letters in the text I pull from for this purpose, so character names almost always appear entirely in uppercase. Not so with Hero, though. Her name is spoken more times in the play than she actually speaks, and so it isn’t in caps.

This raises what I think is a pretty interesting question about the play: What does it mean to be more talked about than talking? How much agency does Hero get to have? Just being aware of the dichotomy between speaking and being spoken of might help a production and an actor make important choices — and a word cloud can help bring that concept from the abstract into concrete representation.

–Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

Finding Shakespeare in ‘Serial’

In November, I read a blog post by Mike Godsey, a California teacher who became so frustrated by teaching Shakespeare to his students that he decided to ditch the world’s most prolific playwright, structuring his English class instead around Serial, the recent hit podcast spinoff of NPR’s This American Life.

Serial is a 12-part podcast in which listeners hear part of a single story told week by week – in a serial format. The first season featured a journalistic investigation of a 1999 Baltimore murder case. Hae Min Lee, a popular student at Woodlawn High School, disappeared after school one day. Police found her body in a park several weeks later. The cause of her death was manual strangulation. A jury found her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, guilty of her murder. As the podcast reveals, however, the evidence against Adnan was scant. Along with the podcast, the Serial website provides digital copies of various pieces of evidence, timelines, maps, and call logs.

I came across Mr. Godsey’s post while I and the rest of our ASC Education team were attending the National Council of Teachers of English conference in Washington, DC. We were surrounded by thousands of English teachers, hundreds of whom were clambering for resources and professional training in how to revitalize their love of teaching Shakespeare, while also finding methods for reaching their students on a different level – a level that would engage them as much as Serial intrigued millions of attentive weekly listeners.

My reaction to the post was one of both delight and disappointment. My husband and I dedicated our Thursday evenings to Serial, turning our living room into a classic radio-listening den à la the days of FDR’s fireside chats. I was delighted that another teacher had found in Serial the same qualities that I admired in the podcast and had taken steps to introduce his students to the riveting journalism of Sarah Koenig and her producers. I didn’t go one day without wondering whether Adnan was innocent, if we would hear more about Jay’s testimony during the next episode, or if an entirely new twist would surface from the legal team’s research at the University of Virginia, just 40 minutes from our own Blackfriars Playhouse.

What disappointed me, however, was that this teacher did not seem to make the connection that we love Serial because we also love Shakespeare. Shakespeare may not have been a journalist trying to solve a twisted murder case, but he knew how to keep an audience’s attention through the swelling drama of his tragedies and the laugh-‘til-you-burst scenarios of his comedies, and the true-to-life circumstances when tragedy and comedy collide. Ira Glass might not be a fan, but we certainly owe all due credit to the playwright from Stratford for the drama craze that is so ingrained in our culture and modern media.

Mr. Godsey outlined 8 reasons behind his syllabus overhaul:

  1. The teacher (me) doesn’t know how the story ends
    Whenever I teach a novel for the first time, the students believe they might be answering my questions and solving problems in original ways. No matter how much I fake it, however, they can tell when I’m teaching Hamletfor the eighth straight year. TeachingSerial is even better than teaching a book for the first time – the story is literally not finished yet, so they know I don’t know the answers.
  2. The non-fiction “murder mystery” genre makes it more conducive to problem-solving
    We want our students to be critically thinking problem solvers, and Reading Standard 7 of the Common Core State Standards specifically asks students to combine multiple sources to solve a problem or question. “How much should we believe Jay’s story?” is an interesting, real-life question that could literally be solved; student engagement with this question is much higher than, say, “Should Hamlet listen to his father’s ghost?”

Any well-prepared teacher will know the ending of the story they are teaching, but knowing the end of the story is not the same as knowing the answers to questions about the story. Students may respond positively to questions about Serial that they can explore on their own by listening to the podcast: “How does Serial expose the flaws of our justice system?” or “What possible motives does Sarah propose to explain the inconsistencies of Jay’s testimonies?” Teaching students to mine the text for clues, like actively listening to the podcast, will empower them with the tools they need to decipher questions about the play without the teacher having all the answers.

When students encounter Shakespeare for the first time, they have just as many opportunities to make new discoveries and to propose original solutions to the play’s problems as their teacher does. Teaching Shakespeare using his original Staging Conditions allows students and teachers to examine the text in ways that demand innovative solutions and problem-solving strategies. Your students will surprise you every time they start to reevaluate characters based on subtle shifts in Shakespeare’s verse, or when they propose five different ways to stage the first scene of Hamlet after they learn to recognize embedded stage directions. Our co-founder and Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen has been teaching Shakespeare using these methods for over 40 years and still makes new discoveries about the plays he teaches.

  1. Serial is hip and fresh
    My students really, really don’t care about what a dead critic thinks about Hamlet’s sexual feelings for his own mother, but they definitely take notice when women are tweeting about how they’re looking for men who have an opinion on Adnan.
  2. My students’ opinions might actually matter on social networking sites. Or in my class. Or in real life
    Nobody on the internet really cares about their thoughts on Hamlet’s suicidal tendencies, and after eight years, I frankly don’t either (I’ve pretty much heard them all). But in this case, there’s a good chance they can blow my mind by uncovering a clue, and even a (very small) chance that their research could help bring justice to an imprisoned man.

If you think Shakespeare isn’t hip and fresh, think again. The teens that come to the ASC Theatre Camp would certainly convince you otherwise. “The Hollow Crown” BBC series is still drawing attention even three years later, with over 11.3k followers on Twitter. Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch are two heartthrobs getting international acclaim for their Shakespeare performances, and even Johnny Depp is developing a new TV series based on Shakespeare’s plays.

Students’ opinions about Shakespeare absolutely matter, and encouraging students to share their opinions with others is key to developing their critical discussion skills and self-confidence. Pair up with a class at another school that is covering the same play and use Tumblr or Google Communities to inspire student discussion and interaction; have your students send Shakespearean actors and scholars questions about their work through Twitter; create a Pinterest board for your next production and let your students post and share their design inspirations and dramaturgical research. Your students will be delighted to see when others start reposting their Tweets or sharing their Pins.

  1. The multimedia aspect encourages (requires) the students to synthesise information from a variety of sources
    Yes, I know we can watch Shakespeare on YouTube and make models of the Globe Theatre, but this does not compare to Serial‘s collection of documents and photos. Not only does this multimedia aspect really help with the state standards and 21st-century skills, it’s just a good time. Maps, call logs, Google Maps, handwritten letters…it’s fantastically fun and totally engaging. Today we put the Google Maps street view on the big screen and “drove” the exact route that Adnan allegedly took from his school to Best Buy. Creepy, but engaging. Speaking of which…
  2. They actually listen to the story
    Sorry, but the kids these days are not doing the homework like we imagine we did when we were in high school. Their SparkNotes (on their phones) are in their pockets at all times. Even at university, my friend (an English professor) says that students are watching the movie on their iPads while he lectures on Much Ado About NothingIn this case, the students say “Wait, Mr Godsey. Can you play back that last 10 seconds?” about every 10 minutes.

Shakespeare’s plays are inherently multimedia-based. Shakespeare’s actors used cue scripts, containing only their character’s lines and the few words before them. This technology required that actors had to synthesize information about their own characters and the action of the play by listening to other actors. When your students have to listen to their fellow classmates for plot information, character development, and staging clues, suddenly, class is much better than a movie or podcast. Show your students that Shakespeare’s plays were meant for performance, and you have a cacophony of sources from which they can create the story themselves – cue scripts, doubling charts, props, costumes, and musical instruments; Each element is a piece of the puzzle that your students must decipher together, and they must listen to each other during the process.

  1. It’s easier to teach the state standards with Serial
    Not only can I justify the use of Serial as a primary text, but the podcast actually helps the students learn these fundamental skills more efficiently than most traditional texts, especially longer novels.
  1. The state doesn’t really care if the students read Shakespeare
    I don’t know if this is hyperbole or understatement, but it’s how I feel right now. Serial does not teach anything about iambic pentameter, English history or the Renaissance, but none of these things are tested on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) exam, the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE), the SAT or any other test they might take outside my class. Generally speaking, we’re being asked to teach the skills rather than the content (said to be easily accessible in 2014). More specifically, there is no school-wide, district-wide or state-mandated test that has a single question about a particular piece of literature. “To be or not to be?” is not a multiple-choice question that has any place on a state-mandated test, and nobody seems to care; I’m not even sure I do. As long as I teach students to read well and think critically, they can read Shakespeare on their own time.

I agree that Serial can provide a fresh approach to teaching the critical analysis and close reading skills required by some standardized tests; however, Shakespeare stands the test of time, and his inclusion in the Common Core Standards is a testament to the influence of his works across all areas of modern literature and drama. Even Sarah Koenig recognizes the significance of her podcast’s parallels to Shakespeare:

I read a few newspaper clips about the case, looked up a few trial records. And on paper, the case was like a Shakespearean mashup — young lovers from different worlds thwarting their families, secret assignations, jealousy, suspicion, and honor besmirched, the villain not a Moor exactly, but a Muslim all the same, and a final act of murderous revenge. And the main stage? A regular old high school across the street from a 7-Eleven.

-Sarah Koenig, Serial, Episode 1 Transcript

If you are inspired by Serial and want a way to tie it to your class, I propose a hybrid unit that integrates Serial with Shakespeare. The story of Hae Min Lee’s tragic death invokes the story of Othello more than any other. Hae Min, like Desdemona, was a well-liked young woman who found herself in a controversial relationship with a man whom society deemed to be an outsider. Adnan and Othello are the exotic “other,” accomplished and admired by their communities, yet doomed to suffer through their own tragic endings.

Questions for your class to consider as they listen to Serial and read Othello might include:

  • How do characters in Othello refer to Othello’s otherness? What sets Othello apart from the Venetians? Do the same descriptions apply to Adnan? In what ways are Othello and Adnan similar to and different from one another?
  • If you were a juror on a case in which Othello was being tried for Desdemona’s death, what sentence would you give him? What would Iago’s charge be? Would you be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Iago was involved in Desdemona’s murder? Who would be your witnesses?
  • Review the Timeline and People Map on the Serial website. Make a timeline for the events in Othello and a People Map to show the characters’ relationships. Compose a brief explanation for your group’s choices based on information available in the play. Insert quotes from the text in your timeline and People Map.
  • Read Shakespeare’s source for Othello, Cinthio’s “Un Capitano Moro.” What evidence surrounding Desdemona’s death changes in Shakespeare’s play from this story? How would the difference between these endings change your verdicts for Othello or Iago? Discuss these changes in relation to the evidence presented in Adnan’s case.

–Kim Newton
Director of College Prep Programs