Actor-Scholar Council, 28 January 2011

This week we are focusing on the Actor-Scholar Council — Since 2007, ASC actors have met with scholars to discuss the unique experiment of the Actors’ Renaissance Season. The mission of the Council is to provide participants with the opportunity for discovery related to the process of mounting plays and performing them at the Blackfriars Playhouse, to provide participants with the opportunity to explore their overlapping areas of expertise in order to garner avenues for para-professional friendship, and to create a record of conversation for future study. Tune in to our podcasts to hear our other meetings for yourself. I’ve compiled these notes, with the help of Christina and interns Natalie and David, to bring you a comprehensive summary of last week’s discussion.

On January 28th, the Actor-Scholar Council met to discuss The Malcontent. The actors present were Ben Curns (Malevole), Patrick Midgley (Ferneze and Guerrino), Alli Glenzer (Maquerelle), Miriam Donald (Bianca and Maria), John Harrell (Mendoza), and Jeremy West (Pietro). The scholars present, drawn from the MBC MLit/MFA program, were Asae Dean, David Santangelo, Rachel Ratkowski, and Johnathan Haas. Paul Menzer, head of the Master’s program, was this session’s moderator.

The session began by questioning what the appropriate collective noun for a group of actors is. Suggestions included “an affectation,” “an arrogance,” or “a conceit” of actors. Paul then prefaced the conversation by considering the unique theatrical style of the Actors’ Renaissance Season, which exists “in stark contrast” to the rest of the artistic year. He suggested that the easiest place to begin might be with the “prosthetic personality” of the ARS — meaning the tendency, more than in the other shows of the year, to use wigs and exaggerated makeup as character signifiers. As examples from The Malcontent, Paul mentioned Ben and Jeremiah Davis in wigs, Alli’s bawd makeup, Paul Jannise’s wig and makeup combo making him look “like a powdered doughnut,” and John “in a moustache that I think can only be described as icky.” Paul asked, “Is that deliberate? Has it evolved?” and wondered if the reliance on external augmentations might be a product of the compressed rehearsal period, as a shortcut to character.

Ben spoke first, about his choice to use an auburn curly wig (the same as he has used in and in Cymbeline and in The Revenger’s Tragedy), primarily because the wig is easily removeable and reattachable for reveals. Alli commented that, for characters for whom the choices were not related to disguise, the over-the-top costumes and makeup indicated “something about the world in the play breaking down, no longer living up to something… Ever since we lost the Duke, we’ve been a society that care about the wrong things.” She also noted that, for her character, the makeup is written into the text, as the artifice of the bawd was a common theme in Jacobean dramas. As for the troubling moustache, John admitted that he was “flummoxed by the character” for a while, that he “couldn’t figure out what Mendoza’s deal was.” The moustache became a way, not only to differentiate John-as-Mendoza from John-as-gallant seen at the beginning of the play, but also to signify Mendoza as someone “trying for style but not quite ‘hip’ with style.”

Paul pressed further on the question of to what degree the creation of theatrical style is a conscious decision versus an organic growth. John commented on the freedom of being “not answerable to someone who may not match with you aesthetically.” The tendency to go towards stock-character-based interpretations, he says, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially because plays of this period “were written before the concept of stock characters came under fire.” He explained it more as a use of semiotics to convey ideas to the audience. Jeremy stated that the company discussed thematically the frivolousness of the society, and then, when they pulled costumes, they gravitated towards the opulent look of Restoration and French pre-Revolution era costumes. This contributed to what Paul called a “creeping coherence of design” that still retained “a provocative incoherency.” Miriam noted that while Patrick’s costume as Ferneze, leather pants and sunglasses, comes from a different world, it still fits in, somehow, to the overall play. In response, Patrick said that his costume makes it apparent that Ferneze is “an outsider, lascivious, like I’m a charade.” This incoherence, in Jeremy’s words, “bleeds into the acting style,” because the nature of the ARS, with actors learning from cue scripts and then putting the pieces together in rehearsal, creates “less necessity for acting style cohesion.” He notes that his character, Duke Pietro, is “kind of in the wrong play” theatrically, as a melancholic figure, which gives him the freedom to embrace a different acting style.

Conversation turned next to the masque at the end of the play. Asae asked how those stylistic choices worked with the masque, which had, in the Jacobean period, its own distinctive set of conventions. John’s answer was to go for something incongruous to the rest of the play, something “inescapably a different world.” Ben stated that the masque is yet another layer added to the levels of artifice in the play: “Marston seems to be saying that your job as a thinking human needs to be to see what’s underneath. This play seems to say, rather than slaughter everybody in your way, the harder job is to get them to fix themselves.”

Consideration of the masque segued into a question posed by one of the ASC’s followers on Facebook, Clifford Garstang, who wondered how the actors deal with the requirements of such a complex scene without a director. John stated his belief that it’s “a misnomer to say ‘undirected,’ they’re self-directed.” The actors are open to input from each other, but “also totally comfortable ignoring each other.” Particularly for the complex scenes, though, it’s helpful to know that someone is keeping an eye on business. For the masque in particular, Alli noted, they “all knew it needed to happen,” particularly since dialogue occurs during the masque, adding another degree of challenge. As Alli was not primarily involved in the masque, had studied the pavane, and had music to choose from, she took charge of that scene. The repeatable nature of the pavane made it easy to learn and to plug into the scene, and the movement of the dance, allowing different couples to come to the forefront at different times, made it a good choice for highlighting dialogue. During the ARS, as Ben noted, the actors tend to choose “crazy stuff” when dance is called for, such as the swing dancing in Romeo and Juliet or the hip-hop in The Changeling. With that in mind, “the craziest thing we could do is a period pavane.”

The pavane choice generated a lot of conversation. John noted that a prevalent idea exists that “that style of dance is lame,” which Jeremy thought is because it gets associated with boredom and which Paul thought grew out of the use of pavane-style dances in theatre and film as “a short hand for a kind of restriction.” The reality, however, the actors discovered to be quite different. “Dancing it is a lot sexier than you would think it is,” Miriam said. “There’s a lot more warmth than I had anticipated.” Ben stated that “the grace of the dance is deceptive to what is happening.” The actors also thought there’s a lot to be said for the stage picture that the pavane creates, with eight people on a stage as intimate as the Blackfriars’s.

Paul next brought up the “gestural vocabulary” of the ARS. John responded that he thinks it’s more of a different “floor pattern vocabulary” which he seeks to “really deliberately destroy.” He used the example of the “quincunx” (think of the five on a die) which is easy to “flop” into. Ben talked about how thinking about these stage pictures makes him consider the difference between lays written for the Blackfriars as opposed to plays written for other spaces. Plays like The Malcontent, Paul noted, feel more like chamber-pieces, “at home in the Blackfriars.” On the other hand, Look About You, which the actors are currently rehearsing, in Ben’s opinion “probably had a much bigger space, probably had pillars to hide behind.”

Paul commented on The Malcontent as a play that “excites an audience expectation that’s not satisfied… which is blood.” MFA student Glenn Schudel, who assisted John in cutting the script, commented that the play is “not what it promises to be,” and Asae questioned the difficulty created when the play holds out so long on providing important characters. Mendoza only appears at the end of the first act, and Maria, much-discussed but little-seen, comes in much later on. When Asae asked how the actors gave presence to those parts when the characters were so absent, Ben replied that it had been a problem, and that they had revisited Maria’s first scene after the preview performance. “I guess the answer is we’re not done,” Miriam added, speaking to the ability in the ARS to respond to what’s not working and fix troublesome bits over the course of the season.

Wrapping up the discussion, Paul asked what audiences should be looking for in Look About You. John suggested that the discussion on style might be even more relevant after Look About You goes up, as it relies even more heavily on typed characters and overexaggerations. Jeremy suggested that audiences look for the incongruities. “I knew nothing about this play coming into it,” he said, but working through the play has given him the idea that the anonymous play may have been a collaboration between two or more authors.

The next Actor-Scholar Council, focusing on Look About You, will be recorded for podcast on February 11th, featuring John Harrell (Skink), Chris Johnston (Redcap), Miriam Donald (Lady Marian), Jeremiah Davis (Prince John), and Paul Jannise (Henry II and Block).

Imprimis: Link and Tidbits, 28 January 2011

Our links this week focus in large part on how the humanities should be handled: what emphasis to put on them, what skills they provide, and how we can use technology to teach them.

At the ASC, we have another Actor-Scholar Council today, this time on The Malcontent. Paul Menzer, head of the MBC MLitt/MFA program, will be moderating, and our attending actors today are Ben Curns (Malevole), Patrick Midgley (Ferneze and Guerrino), Alli Glenzer (Maquerelle), Miriam Donald (Bianca and Maria), and John Harrell (Mendoza). There’s still some time to ask us a question on Facebook if you’d like to hear it in the podcast.

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 20 January 2011

This week in Shakespeare: the Stratfordian defense, using technology to open up new avenues for learning, and promoting literature in education.

  • Bardfilm is on a mission, and we’d like to support it. In an attempt to show why anti-Stratfordians are, tragically, misinformed, the blog takes on first the Oxfordian conspiracy, then the Marlovian, then produces a list of resources for anti-anti-Stratfordians. Sarah says: Thank you for this reasoned critique of the argument. Cass says: I hope I see the day these anti-Stratfordian arguments get quashed once and for all, because it’s just sad, really. I do still think the Marlovian conspiracy would make a great movie, but the trouble is, if it got made, more people would believe these theories than already do.
  • Following up from the past few weeks of the Huck Finn censorship controversy, the Shakespeare Standard has an op-ed on why using sanitized texts is teaching a lie.
  • Remembrance of General Education Past. Sarah says: A lovely personal argument for the values of humanities courses.
  • Stolen Shakespeare Folio on Display in Cardiff. Cass says: I confess, when I first read the headline, my immediate thought was, “Wow, that takes a lot of nerve.” But no — it’s a Folio that was stolen but was then recovered, which makes far more sense.
  • Another idea about using technology to enhance the study of Shakespeare – this article on “Gadgets for Small Businesses” also includes an interesting Shakespeare-related use, specifically, the ability to read a scene and then, at a touch, being able to pull up several different versions of that scene in performance.
  • Touting the philosophy we whole-heartedly believe in, this British blog advocates actually seeing the plays you study.
  • And finally, for a little international flavor (following up after our last post), a refreshing take on the value of literature and its place in the school day… in China. “They were jumping up and down, telling the other kids what they read, and why others should read it. Every kid was dying to talk.” Would that all classrooms could have that energy!

I hope everyone’s had a lovely week. At ASC Education, we’re getting ready to hold our first Actor-Scholar Council of the year today, discussing The Comedy of Errors — stay tuned for the podcast of the event, which should be available sometime next week.

International Shakespeare

The past week has given me several occasions to consider Shakespeare in an international context. On Friday, we had visitors from the International Leaders in Education Program, who are currently spending a semester at James Madison University, come down to the playhouse for a tour, a couple of workshops, and a production of The Comedy of Errors. The group was wonderfully diverse — Morocco, Kenya, Senegal, India, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Brazil, that I can remember. Most were teachers of English in their home countries, and most had been introduced to Shakespeare at the university level. What surprised me, though, was the selection of plays that foreign students receive the most exposure to: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and… The Merchant of Venice, of all things. Those were, far and away, the three that most of our visitors had had experience with, regardless of which country they came from. The choice surprises me because The Merchant of Venice tends to be a play, because of the culturally prejudicial difficulties presented by the text, that American schools don’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole. You’ll get the occasional brave teacher, of course, but on the whole, we shy away from it here. It made me curious as to why that play has so much appeal in other countries.

More broadly, however, talking with these teachers piqued my curiosity about teaching Shakespeare outside of the US, the UK, and other English-speaking nations. What is Shakespeare like when taught to those learning English as a second (or third, or fourth) language? What is a production of a Shakespeare play like when presented in a country where English isn’t the primary language? I wonder if foreign students approach Shakespeare with more or less trepidation than American students often do. Are the “thee”s and “thou”s that so intimidate modern students more or less of a problem? I suspect the concept might come easier in those countries whose languages still retain the formal and informal pronouns. I’m curious what challenges might arise as well — would they be the same as we face in American classrooms, or entirely different?

Then, over the weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to Globe Education’s Ryan Nelson, who is their digital media guru. He told me about the Globe’s 2012 project, which will be presenting all 38 plays in the Shakespeare canon in different languages, by companies from around the world . The project is part of the Cultural Olympiad leading up to London’s hosting of the Olympic Games (see the Globe’s press release or Twitter hashtag #Globe2012 for their updates). I’ll be so interested to hear how this project goes. Will curiosity drive audiences in to see a familiar play in an unfamiliar language? How easy would it be to follow along? I have to confess my own deficiencies here — I never learned a spoken foreign language. One year of French did me in, but I wonder if my many years of Latin would help me understand an Italian Julius Caesar or a Spanish Henry VIII. Knowing the source, and having that background to the Romance languages, would I be able to keep up in some fashion? It would be fascinating to find out — and if I somehow end up in London in the spring of 2012, I’ll certainly try to find out.

The idea of performing Shakespeare in languages other than English brings up its own interesting point. At the ASC, we believe that the heart of Shakespeare’s works lives in his text in performance, and we talk so frequently about his mastery with the English language — how many words he added to it, how freely he played with grammatical expectations, how deft a wordsmith he was. What is it about his mastery that can transcend that language, to continue to have appeal in Italian or Portuguese, in Urdu or Maori? And do other cultures perceive different messages from his plays than those of us in an English, Western background do? As Sarah discussed back in October, there’s a lot to consider when translating Shakespeare into another language.

I’d be interested to hear if any of our readers have had experience with Shakespeare in a foreign language, or have seen a production of one of Shakespeare’s plays presented in English in a country where English isn’t the dominant language. How is it different from Shakespeare in the US or the UK?

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 14 January 2011

For reasons unknown, the Authorship Controversy seems to have been rearing its hideous head on the Internet this week, along with more connections to Shakespeare sprouting out of the Huck Finn controversy, and the continuing debate over the worth of teaching literature.

  • To start with, from last weekend’s Shakespeare Theatre Association Conference, our managing director, Amy Wratchford, blogged about Shakespeare’s relevance and about the value of discussing Shakespeare on Twitter.
  • This blogger equates being a Stratfordian to being a stroke victim. Cass says: If you’re not quite sure what to do with that (or can’t decide to whom that’s most insensitively offensive), you’re not alone.
  • The I Love Shakespeare blog defends the Stratfordian cause rather sassily, noting that the only way other theories make sense is if you “fudge the historical record with airy fiction.”
  • And then this article refutes the anti-Stratfordians, but then overshoots and goes into the “Shakespeare as a secret Catholic” theory.
  • An op-ed in the Washington Post theorizes that educators can’t be reformers.
  • The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles is putting Hamlet on trial, with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy presiding. Sarah says: We did that!
  • A writer for NPR uses the Huck Finn censorship controversy to expound his thoughts on why Shakespeare needs translation. Sarah says: Oh, no. Interesting that he uses the word “bowdlerized” in his discussion, since that man is roundly criticized for doing exactly what this author proposes. The quote he uses from Measure for Measure: “Of government the properties to unfold / Would seem in me to affect speech and discourse / Since I am put to know that your own science / Exceeds, in that, the lists of all advice / My strength can give you,” is, as in most of Shakespeare’s “hard language,” offering a tremendous number of clues to the actor and reader about what kind of character this is. When we look at Shakespeare as performance-based literature, the “hard stuff” becomes a tool for discovering insights about characters and playable moments. It becomes its own translation when staged.
  • Gilbert, Arizona is cutting literature from its high school curriculum. Sarah says: This came across my Google Alerts just moments after Cass posted our “book wish list.” A very scary tenet is working in Arizona, apparently. It seems they think kids need to read more non-fiction (and less Shakespeare) in order to become better prepared for the business world. Wonder if they realize how much business theatres generate, or how hungry people are for innovative, creative, and critical thinkers. They are doing their students a deep disservice. Cass says: And not just stage theatres — movies, books, and musicals generate how many billions of dollars in revenue each year? Not to mention how important it is to examine the stories a culture tells about itself and what they say about who who we are, who we’ve been, and who we want to become.
  • Finally, check out this review of James Shapiro’s Contested Will. Sarah says: And then come see us discuss the book at the Charlottesville Public Library on April 15th.

Here at ASC Education, we’re finishing the week on a rather busy note — a pair of workshops this afternoon, and then a board meeting tomorrow. Hope you all have had a good week and have a great weekend!

Blackfriars Conference — Planning, Call for Papers, and Early Registration

As the new year starts, the education department is getting ready to gear up our preparations for the 6th Blackfriars Conference, which will be held October 25th-30th, 2011. Our special Google calendar for the event is already filling up with deadlines and scheduled meetings, and we spent hours of our last education department workday coming up with to-do lists and project ideas. This project is both exciting and a little intimidating for me — I was still a student in the MLitt program during the 2009 Conference, so I only saw a little bit of the work that goes into making the Blackfriars Conference one of the best venues in the world for discussing early modern theatre. I’m in awe of my colleagues Sarah and Christina, knowing now how much they handled for the 2009 conference, and I’m looking forward to stepping up to the challenge myself. I’ll be documenting the progress of our preparations on the blog and on Twitter, so those of you following along will hear quite a bit about it between now and the end of October.

One of the primary focuses of the Blackfriars Conference, which sets it apart in many ways, is the relationship between scholarship and practice. How does one inform the other? How can we put research into play on the stage? What can staging, especially in an early modern space like the Blackfriars, teach us? We have a lot of ongoing dialogue at the ASC about this relationship and about how to improve the lines of communication between scholars and actors. A trouble that Sarah tells me has come up in the past, though, has been an under-representation of practitioners at events like the Blackfriars Conference. One of our goals for this year is to figure out why that happens and to determine how to fix it — What can we do to encourage more practitioners to engage in this conversation? If you have any ideas, we’d love to hear them. The Blackfriars Playhouse is not a museum, and the Blackfriars Conference is not solely a congregation for academics. Our space is a living tool for us, and we learn so much from the production of plays there, and some of the most exciting and thought-provoking sessions that I witnessed from the 2009 conference came from practitioners, examining staging choices or audience response. Because we know there is so much to be learned from the plays as performance, we hold staging sessions during the conference, where interested parties can use our actors, in the Playhouse, to examine a variant direction, a staging choice, or another crux that can only be thoroughly examined by bringing the words to life, rather than by reading them on a page. Last year’s staging sessions were so successful that we’ve added time for a few more this year, and we’re looking forward to seeing what challenges our presenters want to explore.

Here is our call for papers and abstract submission form. We’re looking for papers on audience contact, meter and rhetoric, rehearsal, playhouse conditions, visual design, history, architecture, Shakespeare’s relation to politics, the playing companies of early modern England, or other topics exploring Shakespeare’s words and his world in new and exciting ways. We’ll also be holding breakout roundtable sessions on shared language in the actor/scholar conversation, producing non-early-modern plays in early modern spaces, pedagogy, the economics of playing, Shakespeare and the web, props, politics, dramaturgy in practice, onstage silences, music, and prologues and epilogues. We accept submissions from college professors, high school teachers, theatre practitioners, graduate students, independent scholars — anyone with something thoughtful and exciting to say about Shakespeare, his contemporaries, his plays, or his world.

Conference Registration is now open — register by May 31st to get the special early rate. Please note that early registration has no effect on paper selection — but, by no means do you have to submit a paper to attend our conference. We hope to see attendees from all over the country, from many different disciplines relating to Shakespeare studies.

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 7 January 2011

Quite a few links for you this week, since we took a break from posting them over the holidays.

  • Just in time for the new semester, a list of Top Ten Tips for Studying Shakespeare. Sarah says: A good collection of recommendations.
  • A blog entry proposes approaching Shakespeare in the classroom more like a rehearsal. Cass says: A lot of the techniques here are similar to the ideas we build into our study guides. The more alive and active the text feels, the more the students get the idea that they’re working on something real, the easier it is to comprehend.
  • Can you judge a production company by their Romeo and Juliet? This blogger thinks so.
  • This workshop announcement from the University of Sheffield brings up a great point about the intersection of the literary and theatrical worlds. Cass says: The announcement also points out why we have the Romantics to blame for the idea of Shakespeare-as-literature-only (and I always like it when I have more reasons to blame the Romantics for things).
  • Addressing Shakespeare’s relevance, a professor at West Virginia University has written a paper linking Shakespeare to law school.
  • “Bringing the Bard behind Bars in South Africa”: With one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, South Africa has begun exploring new ways to rehabilitate offenders — and, as it happens, turning them into actors might be just the thing.
  • An opinion piece in The Washington Examiner critiques the NEA’s Poetry Out Loud competition. Cass says: We support Poetry Out Loud at the ASC — we even host one of the competitions — because we firmly believe in the value of reading verse out loud, but this article still makes some interesting points, particualarly regarding the competition’s selection bias towards modern poets over the more metrically regular verse of previous centuries. It’s not often these days that someone takes up in favor of stricter verse against free verse, so I’m pleased to see that.
  • An article in favor of technology as the future of education. Cass says: The author favors giving classrooms over to computers as entirely as possible, with teachers merely “facilitators” rather than actual instructors. I can’t help but feel that he’s missing something. I’m all for more focused use of technology in classrooms, but a computer can’t inspire, it can’t make something great for you — and a computer, no matter how well you program it, will never be 100% prepared for all of the questions and surprises that can arise from students. That human element is always going to be necessary.
  • Along those lines, here are a couple of articles debating one school district’s decision to bring iPads into the classroom. Interestingly, both articles use Shakespeare as an example. Cass says: I feel a little torn about this. I think the best argument in favour of the iPad (or other similar devices) is the textbook thing — great to cut down on paper, great to get rid of the weight in backpacks — and electronic devices offer so many more opportunities. You wouldn’t have to conform just to the standard textbooks used by the state. Teachers could choose for themselves what texts they wanted students to have access to. And it would also allow easier access to some of the great educational web resources that are out there. On the other hand, though, I feel more and more like more money should be put into the actual teaching at schools. Money to train teachers, to teach teachers, to give them the tools, rather than just using technology as a crutch. And, hey, maybe even money to pay teachers what they deserve someday. I also find it interesting how often Shakespeare is the catch-all for “education.”
  • And speaking of Shakespeare-as-litmus test, he’s also been brought into the recent controversy over a decision to publish a sanitized Huck Finn. Apart from the more generic Bowdlerization accusation, some commentators have opined that changing words for understanding is one thing; changing them for political-correctness is quite another. Even author Neil Gaiman got into it on Twitter, saying, “It’s public domain, so you can make Huck a Klingon if you want, but it’s not Mark Twain’s book.” Cass says: This is an interesting controversy for me, because it asks that question we frequently have to ask when cutting plays for performance: When have you changed so much that it’s no longer the author’s original work? Only the most stalwart of purists would say that you can’t change a single word (a tough argument to make, particularly in cases where we have quarto editions different from the First Folio). But when have you gone too far? If you cut 20 words? 20% An entire character? An entire scene? All the naughty words? Is it still Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice if you tone down the anti-Semetic language? Is it still Shakespeare’s Othello if you sanitize the references to Moors?
  • On the more light-hearted side of things, a man is re-enacting Will Kempe’s famous Nine Days Wonder, planning to morris dance from London to Norwich, to raise money for a community vegetable garden. Cass says: To my English friends, please, I beg you, if anyone sees this, post the video.
  • Hot on the heels of Miramax announcing Shakespeare in Love 2, we’re now hearing about the possibility of Shakespeare in Love: The Play.
  • Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the ASC has a considerable staff contingent attending the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference in Colorado. If you (like me) aren’t there but wish you were, follow the hashtag #STAA11 on Twitter. Our own Amy Wratchford and Sarah Enloe, as well as Richmond Shakespeare’s Grant Mudge, have been diligently Tweeting.

Enjoy your weekends!

"But give me leave to try success": Goals and Achievements from 2010 to 2011

Yesterday, I served as the recorder for the ASC’s strategic planning meeting, which meant I had the privilege of listening in on several of our department heads and board members as they decided how we want to most focus our company’s efforts. Between that and the expected slew of New Year’s Resolutions I’ve been seeing around the Internet, I’ve been thinking a lot about goals and planning. I’ve been with the ASC for just over six months now, so this seems as good a time as any to look back and see what I’ve done so far as a part of the ASC Education team.

2010 Achievements

  • New study guides. When I came on in June, I took this project over from Christina, who had already started us down the new road. These guides were my first project at the ASC, and I’m ridiculously proud of them — they’re so much more directed towards our mission than the earlier generations of guides were, and they’re designed to help teachers get the students on their feet so they can explore the plays as they were meant to be experienced.
  • The Playhouse Insider. This is a huge thing, because we’ve never done something quite like this before. I’m so pleased with how it turned out — the articles are great (thank you, contributors!), the layout is beautiful, and there’s so much room for growth.
  • Growth of the blog — That’s right, this blog. We now get almost 900 hits a month, and that average is rising all the time. So thanks for reading, everyone! I’m so glad to have you all here.
  • Increased confidence in leading workshops, seminars, etc. I’ve gone from basically shadowing Sarah to feeling capable of developing and leading workshops on my own, and it’s been a blast. Whether it’s talking to high school students or retirees in the Road Scholars program, I make new discoveries each time I have the opportunity to share Shakespeare with a new group.
  • Tracking web mentions of the company. This project is ongoing, but I’ve been using Google Alerts to let me know whenever someone out there in the ‘tubes is talking about the American Shakespeare Center and the Blackfriars Playhouse. It’s been fascinating to see where we get mentioned (it’s a great way to keep track of our touring troupe, for one thing!), and it’s also made sure that I get to see what people are saying about us in blogs and reviews from outside the Shenandoah region.
  • I’ve learned how to use Google Docs. This program has made such a huge difference to how education has been able to build documents, refine language, and otherwise communication.
  • Twitter presence. Brand-new for the ASC this year, the whole education department got on Twitter back in the summer. I currently have 53 followers from all over the US and the UK, and the whole experience has been wonderful so far.
  • Facebook growth — Together with the marketing and development teams, we’ve seen steady and significant growth in our “likes” and followers on our Facebook page over the past six months. I use Facebook a lot to redirect to our website or to this blog, and it’s definitely increased traffic.

Not bad for six months, I think. I’m feeling particularly pleased because so many of the projects under my purview contribute to one of the company’s main strategic goals, of enhancing our company’s visibility in the world at large. ASC Education had a great year overall in 2010 — our summer programs were nearly at capacity, we had thousands of students in for school matinees, our seminars and Little Academes all went so well — the whole department has a lot to celebrate.

So, with those things achieved, or at least put into action, where do I want to be by this time next year? Here are my professional goals for my work in ASC Education in 2011 — things I’d like to improve on, expand, or achieve.

2011 Goals

  • 6 new study guides in enhanced format. With help from the rest of the education team, I’ll be building guides this year for Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry V, Richard III, Much Ado about Nothing, and Julius Caesar, and ideally, I’d like them all in the spiffy format our Othello guide was in this year.
  • Online resources for students. Our study guides, as they are, are geared towards teachers; we’d like to re-purpose some of those activities and to build some new projects that we can put out on the web to help students who are looking for resources on Shakespeare.
  • Expand The Playhouse Insider. I’m so excited about this project, and I want to make it even better in 2011. More articles, more world-class scholars as contributors, and, hopefully, a wider readership.
  • Read the Complete Middleton. Okay, this goal isn’t strictly professional, but I’ve had the Middleton Complete Works since last Christmas, and I’ve only cracked it open a few times. This year, I want to read as many of his plays as I can — especially since the ASC has started producing so many of them.
  • More Twitter followers — I’d love to break 100, at the least.
  • Continued growth of blog popularity — Since we went from practically zero to 900 views per month in just the last five months of last year, I’m going to aim for 2000 views a month by the end of 2011.
  • Use all of these social media connections to further relationships with other Shakespeare organizations, both in the US and internationally.
  • Host a successful Blackfriars Conference. This is obviously far from my sole responsibility, but ASC Education will be busy with this through much of the year. I want the conference to run as smoothly as possible, for all of our visiting scholars and other participants to enjoy themselves, and for everyone to learn a little something and come away with some new ideas.

I think it’s going to be a great year. We in ASC Education have so many exciting plans and things we want to make happen, and we definitely have the drive to get to our goals. I love working with Sarah, Christina, Doreen, and our interns, and I’m looking forward to getting to know the interns that will be starting in January, as well as newest team member Tom, who’s recently come on to help with our summer programming.

How about you folks? Any Shakespeare-related resolutions? I know there are several reading challenges floating out on the Internet, or maybe you’ve set a personal goal. Share, if you have — I’d love to hear about it!