The Playhouse Insider

I’m in the process of finalizing the premiere edition of The Playhouse Insider, the magazine that the ASC is producing, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell the Internet something about it. It looks fantastic, and I pretty much can’t wait to get it out into the universe for public consumption. I’m so excited about this project and the opportunities it’s going to have to grow in coming years.

We’ll be putting this publication out twice a year, in December to preview the Actors’ Renaissance Season, and in June to preview the Summer and Fall Seasons. Our goal for this magazine is to provide the readers with a look into different experiences of early modern theatre at the Blackfriars Playhouse. We’ve solicited articles from ASC actors and artists, from renowned scholars, and from members of the ASC community, and as a result this first issue has so much quality material. Whether you’ve been coming to ARS shows since they began in 2005, will be joining us for the first time in 2011, or are just interested from the far-ranging Internet, there will be so much in this magazine for you to enjoy.

Our artists’ contributions include a brief history of the ARS. I’m really glad we got this into print, because up until now, there hasn’t actually been any codified explanation of just how the ARS came to be. Now we’ll have it all set out for our own institutional records, and the information will also be available to any scholars or patrons who are interested in how experiment. If you’re unfamiliar with the Actors’ Renaissance Season, the basic concept is this: after years of adhering to Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions, the ASC wanted to push further and experiment with Shakespeare’s Rehearsal Conditions, putting on plays the way the King’s Men and other companies in the 16th- and 17th-centuries would have: without a director, working from cue scripts, making costume and prop and music decisions on their own, and setting their own rehearsal schedules. I think the ARS shows have so much energy and spirit — they’re just electrifying to watch — and it all comes out of the drive and ingenuity of the actors.

Those actors contributed to our artistic-focused articles. One is an in-depth conversation with veteran actor John Harrell, who has not only been an actor in every ARS so far, but who also has a hand in cutting the scripts for the season. Harrell talks about his process cutting scripts, the fun in working with unusual texts, and what he’s looking forward to tackling as an actor in the 2011 ARS. We also have veteran actors Rene Thornton, Ben Curns, and Chris Johnston sharing some of their favorite moments from Ren Seasons past. In both of these interviews, the articles make it so easy to see the actors’ enthusiasm for the ARS. They really seem to delight in the ownership of the plays that this season gives them, and they revel in the freedom to let their creativity take over.

We’re also excited and privileged to have some great articles from our scholastic community. Carole Levin, the Willa Cather Professor of History and Director of Medieval and Renaissance Studies at the University of Nebraska, contributed an article on the anonymous play Look About You, which meshes high history, low comedy, and lots of disguises. The play takes place during the reign of Henry II and features a young Robin Hood. Levin’s article examines the play in relationship to the rest of the Robin Hood saga and to other plays of the early modern period set during the reigns of the early Plantagenets. Carole gave me something great to think about in viewing this play as a sort of prequel to Shakespeare’s King John, which I’ll definitely be giving thought to in my continuing exploration of how early modern plays reflect the English sense of national identity. Continuing on the history theme, Glenn Schudel, an MFA candidate at the MBC program for Shakespeare in Performance and a dramaturgical intern for the ASC, provides us with a look at the “unlikely heroes” of Henry VI, Part 3: Margaret and Richard. Schudel considers their treatment within the play and the historical maligning of their characters in his examination of these two marginalized figures. His writing is witty and elegant, making for an article that is both informative and fun to read. The last scholastic contribution is my own, which I mentioned back in October, looking at Adriana (from The Comedy of Errors) and the tradition of Shakespeare’s wives. Though The Comedy of Errors, an early play, has its share of flaws and, plot-wise, is definitely among the least original of Shakespeare’s plays, you can see in it, and particularly in Adriana, the seeds that will continue to grow through the rest of his career. All three of these articles demonstrate the kind of educational insight that we prize here at the ASC, offering readers a glimpse into the intellectual intrigues surrounding these quirky plays.

For the last division of the magazine, we have the contributions from audience members and observers. Director of Education Sarah Enloe shares her experience working with A Trick to Catch the Old One with our No Kidding Shakespeare Camp for adults. The camp participants did a read-around of the play back in the summer, and Sarah talks about the insights gleaned from working through an unfamiliar text. We also have a great piece for anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes workings of the ARS, written by Rhonda Knight, Professor of English at Coker College, who spent the 2010 Ren Season observing rehearsals. She got to watch the construction of the plays in action, and her article is like a mini-documentary of the process. Finally, Cheryl and Mark Keeler, two of our regular patrons, explain why it is their family loves the ARS season so much. Their piece expresses the effervescent joy that I know so many of our audience members feel when watching Ren Season shows.

All in all, I’m ridiculously pleased with how attractive the magazine has turned out. The layout is accessible and inviting, and the pictures really capture the frenetic energy and wild creativity of the Ren Season. My favorite picture, from one of my favorite almost-leapt-out-of-my-seat-with-excitement moment from the 2010 ARS, is on page 21 — but I don’t want to ruin the surprise by telling you all what it is.

I’ll be posting again early next week, when the magazine will be available in the Playhouse box office and free-of-charge online. I’m so looking forward to putting this out so I can hear what everyone else thinks about it.