2015 Actors’ Renaissance Season
2015 Spring Season
2015 Actors’ Renaissance Season
2015 Spring Season
There’s a danger in academia, and in theatrical practice, of sometimes letting yourself get into an echo chamber. When you live and work with so many people who are all focused towards the same mission, its easy to feed off of each other’s brains and lose sight of other perspectives. This, I think, is the main reason we have conferences. (The other reason, so far as I can tell, is that it’s beneficial to one’s sanity to realize that, no, you aren’t the only one crazy enough to care with fervid passion about the placement of stage directions or punctuation marks). Leaving our home base and trekking to far-off climes can reinvigorate our own studies and pedagogical practices. Sometimes, getting out introduces new concepts. Sometimes, it reminds me that — yes, I do think the way I think for a reason, and I’m sticking to it. Both experiences are valuable.
This spring has given me a lot of opportunity along those lines. In April, Sarah and I went to Vancouver for the Shakespeare Association of America conference, an annual gathering of hundreds of scholars and graduate students from the US and beyond. The conversation is large and robust, a mix of the venerable and best-known scholars with the up-and-comers. Each year, particularly among the young guard, there’s more conversation about digital approaches to Shakespeare, about community outreach, and about how Shakespeare speaks to different diverse populations. It’s great to know that so many people are so invested in using new technology and opportunities to breathe continual life into the plays we’ve all loved for so long.
The trouble with such an enormous conference, though, is that you can often feel like you’ve missed out on a lot. There are only a few plenary presentations, and a dozen or more seminars run concurrently. I’m grateful for the thriving conference hashtag — widely proclaimed the best on Twitter — #shakeass15. Tweeting sessions not only helps me take notes for myself, it puts me in conversation with other scholars and students with similar interests — and following the hashtag helps me know what I’ve missed due to scheduling conflicts. It’s nice to have a sense of what everyone’s working on, even if I can’t get all the details. Just knowing what conversations are ongoing is an important awareness.
By contrast, the Halved Heart Academic Conference at Shakespeare’s Globe was an intimate affair. A dozen presenters, two keynotes, and an audience of roughly forty scholars and students, all focused on a single topic: friendship in early modern drama. Because of the tight focus of the conference, we all came in with even more of a shared vocabulary than early modernists typically have. There are few other places, I think, where references to Cicero, Erasmus, and Montaigne could get thrown out quite so casually, with such little footnoting. While being at a large conference can sometimes leave me feeling a bit at sea, that communal focus at Halved Heart helped me to feel immediately part of a group, welcomed and warmed. A small conference is, by its nature, exclusive, though. We shared ideas passionately and with brilliant conversation, but it’ll be harder for those ideas to keep propagating. (We had a hashtag there, too: #HalvedHeartConf, if you’d like to see what we were on about). We can each bring what we learned back to our home institutions, and I’ve made some wonderful friends I look forward to connecting with in the future, but it’s just naturally more of a closed loop than a larger conference.
In October, we’ll welcome a few hundred scholars and students to the Blackfriars Conference. We hope to strike a happy balance between the broad-reaching topics and the intimate, friendly atmosphere. Towards that end, most of our sessions are plenary. While a large conference might have only six to eight papers with no competing programming, the Blackfriars Conference has sixty-six. This allows for a wonderful exchange of ideas, where everyone gets to hear the same papers and join in the conversation. But then we also have our colloquy sessions, each focused on a single topic, to further the detailed conversations and to encourage scholars with similar research interests to connect with each other. (And yes, we’ve got an official conference hashtag, too! Follow #BFConf15 for updates as we organize and for information from the conference itself once October rolls around).
All of these conferences serve different purposes, and they’re all great in their own ways. I’m definitely looking forward to SAA 2016 in New Orleans, one of my favorite cities in the world; I hope I’ll be able to head back to London (another favorite city) for another Globe conference sometime; I look forward to welcoming all our friends to our home, here in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.
Academic Resources Manager
Tomorrow is the deadline for would-be presenters to submit abstracts for our biennial Blackfriars Conference. Predictably, the flood gates have opened in the last week, and my inbox has brimmed with innovative and exciting suggestions for possible explorations. I continue to be amazed at the community of people (myself included) who work for Mr. William Shakespeare, nearly 400 years after the guy died. But more than that, I am delighted by how these abstracts shape my thinking and appreciation not just for the man (the guy I often refer to as my boss) but also for the community members who I am pleased to call colleagues.
…and more. We will announce the results of the selection process in May; til then, keep your eyes peeled — and see how many things you can find in your life that relate to Shakespeare and his contemporaries.
ASC Director of Education
The Valley’s trying hard to break through the chill into more spring-like weather, but at ASC Education, though, we’re already thinking ahead to summer! I just wanted to take a moment to showcase three chances that teachers have in June, July, and August to learn new techniques for invigorating their classroom exploration of Shakespeare.
June 22nd-26th, we’ll be up at JMU in Harrisonburg leading a Content Teaching Academy. Sarah and I are tremendously excited about this, as it’s a chance for us to squeeze a full model Shakespeare unit into a single week. Using Julius Caesar as an example text, we’ll go through all the building blocks of scansion, rhetoric, staging conditions, audience contact, and more, and then we’ll use those as a scaffold for exploring characters and performance choices, as well as the ideas of theme and tone that your students will be expected to address in standardized tests. Attendees are eligible for 30 hours of professional development credit, and for an extra fee, can receive three hours of university graduate credit from JMU. This is really an incredible deal — nowhere else are you going to get such value in such a short time. Learn more and register now!
Teachers are also invited to attend the week-long No Kidding Shakespeare Camp, July 20th-24th. This year, we’ll be exploring the theme of Social History, looking at the cultural, religious, economic, and interpersonal aspects of the early modern world that shaped Shakespeare and his playmaking, through special lectures from Ralph Alan Cohen, Mary Hill Cole, and Steven Urkowitz. Through these sessions and the workshops led by ASC Education staff, teachers can earn 20+ hours of professional development credits. We’ll also have our usual festive schedule of rehearsal observations, field trips, a cast party, and of course you’ll get to see the shows of the ASC Summer Season. Here are just a few of the ways that past participants have described NKSC — If these entice you, registrations are open through the ASC website.
If you can’t make a week-long commitment, never fear! We’ve got a single-day Summer Teacher Seminar on August 7th. This year, the Summer Seminar will focus on Shakespeare’s Toolbox — the basic components of his texts that allowed him and his actors to create their plays. We’ll be going deep and narrow into not just the mechanics but the application of meter, rhetoric, and Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions, so both teachers new to ASC methods and our frequent flyers will find valuable insights. This is, in some ways, an expansion of what we’ll be teaching during the Shakespeare Association of America Conference in Vancouver later this week — but here, we’ll be on our home turf with more workshop hours to devote to giving you all the tools you need to make Shakespeare a hit in your classroom. Register now to join us in August!
We’re absolutely thrilled that we have so many opportunities to engage with teachers in the coming months. We want to put the lessons learned on-stage at the Blackfriars Playhouse into as many classrooms as possible, because we know that these methods change the way students experience and think about Shakespeare. As one of our frequent seminar attendees says, “My students LOVE Shakespeare and get excited from the moment they see the classroom re-arranged.” Get your students eager to rush to your class, and spend some time with us this summer!
Stop by soon and get all these insights into the shows of the Actors’ Renaissance Season and the Method in Madness Tour for just $5!
As has become traditional in March, I’m using the excuse of the upcoming Ides to expound my feelings on (and love for) Julius Caesar.
This year, I want to riff off of a really excellent post about the play from what might seem like an odd source: The Tor Blog. Tor, for those who don’t know, is a sci-fi fantasy publisher, an imprint of Macmillan (one of the Big 5 Publishers). The author of the piece is Chris Lough, who usually blogs about superheroes. If that all strikes you as strange, it really shouldn’t. I’ve long suspected a large overlap between fans of Shakespeare and fans of genre fiction. If you love language, great storytelling, and captivating characters, you’ll rarely find better than you find in sci-fi and fantasy novels, so it’s quite natural to me that many people who love one also love the other.
What delights me so much about this post is the unbridled enthusiasm Lough expresses for Caesar. It’s just so refreshing! I usually hear about people approaching this play with great trepidation or with weary resignation, and that so depresses me, because, as long-time readers of this blog know, I think there’s so much there to unpack and rejoice in. And Lough hits on so much of it. He calls Caesar “a visceral and fast-paced epic,” “tightly plotted,” and, most tellingly, “a blockbuster.”
These are the things I’ve always loved about Caesar. I’ve long said it should share renown with Macbeth as a high-octane thriller. I know teachers struggle to get students to see that awesome energy, though. Many educators have trouble feeling the love themselves. So why? What is it that gets in the way?
Well, for one thing, it’s about the most Dead White Guys Making Speeches you can get, and that can be off-putting from a distance. Of all the famous Dead White Guys Making Speeches in history, these are about the most famous. Not without reason! The men are culturally important and the speeches are fantastic. But it can cause a not-unreasonable knee jerk reaction for students who are tired of being buried under such viewpoints. For female students, particularly, there are few immediately apparent avatars. The women in the play are scarcely better than non-existent. Calpurnia mostly exists to have her (perfectly rational) fears brushed off and ridiculed, and while Portia gets some great language, her apparent instability and desperation don’t make her the best of role models. (And then she disappears after 2.4). So there are some instinctive barriers to get past when it comes to encouraging students to empathize with the characters.
The other, I suspect, is that it’s given as a tonic. It’s a mandatory part of most high school curriculi, where it looms like a precariously placed boulder over the syllabus. Dr. Ralph talks about this in the opening of the Caesar chapter of ShakesFear and How to Cure It, envisioning a Shakespeare who dreams of the future industry built up around him and is bitter about it:
…[Will] woke up grumpy. His work, his words, his ideas were going to be a major industry and make strangers rich. It was more than he could stand. How could he stop or at least limit the damage? He thought all day, and then he had a brilliant idea. He would write a play without comedy and without sex, full of long and serious speeches, and he would make that play about an historical event and famous personalities so pivotal to western history that every public school in the English-speaking world would put it into the curriculum. Students would first be introduced to his work with this play, and the result would be that they would never want to read or see another work by William Shakespeare in their lives. In this way, he would assure that a large majority of the modern world hated him and thus reduce to a fraction the profit others would make off his works. That evening he started writing Julius Caesar.
Actually Julius Caesar is a wonderful play; it’s just the wrong one to use for teaching teenagers a delight in Shakespeare. Like you, however, I have to teach it, and the first time I stood in front of a class trying to get them interested in hubris, tragic flaws, and dramatic irony, I felt more and more as if the class was looking at me through soundproof glass. At the end of the hour, I told them I wanted a rematch.
The challenge, then, is for teachers to find the joy in the play themselves and then to communicate to students. I’ve had great luck in classrooms by exploring the embedded stage directions around killing Caesar and the fun you can have with blood. Once you hook them with that, you can get them excited about the gorgeously manipulative rhetoric, the really warped sense of ego all of these guys seem to have, and the conversations about personal and political power we’re still having today. That’s when you can start seeing Julius Caesar as the tightly-plotted blockbuster we ought to consider it.
Academic Resources Manager
2014 Actors’ Renaissance Season
2014 Spring Season
2014 Summer and Fall Seasons
2013 Spring Season
2013 Summer and Fall Seasons
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?
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?
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: 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
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: 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: 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
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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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 – 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