Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Hamlet Conversations

Christina Sayer Grey here for the last presentation of the 2011 Blackfriars Conference. It’s been a lot of fun to live-blog for you all this week. Enjoy!

Ralph announces that this panel was suggested by Rene Thornton, Jr.

Moderator: Matt Davies

Hamlets: Khris Lewin (2005 at the Blackfriars), Benjamin Curns (2007 at the Blackfriars, Actors’ Renaissance Season, Q1), James Ricks (2001 at the Blackfriars), John Harrell (2011 at the Blackfriars), and Thadd McQuade (1995 with SSE, also played Hamlet in the German MFA project)

Matt says that the purpose of this panel is to talk about what it means to play Hamlet here versus playing him elsewhere. This panel will be in the format of an extended talkback.

Contest: Best Collective Noun for a Group of Hamlets (the best one I’ve heard, A Sulk of Hamlets)

Q: Why do you think that Hamlet chose you?
T.M.: I think that’s a question for the directors.
J.H.: I think I’m a Polonius, but I never saw Hamlet on my path. It was always something for other actors to do, so I never paid much attention to it. I never thought I would play it and I never thought I wanted to. The Hamlet you see now is what I, personally, see the play to be from a very virginal perspective.
B.C.: It was my 2nd Renaissance Season. I had had really terrific parts in the first season, but I wasn’t carrying any of the plays. When I heard they were planning to do the Q1, but I didn’t know what that meant. I just asked to have my mind floated along in the pool of names, just to consider me. My understanding of Hamlet is that its unique in that the lead character has a scene with every other member of the company.
M.D.: Hamlet is interesting because Hamlet is the only character who really knows what’s going through the whole play.
K.L.: First gig out of college. I was 21 and I was the understudy for Hamlet. I remember sitting at the first rehearsal, and the guy playing Hamlet seemed too old to play Hamlet to me. That’s when I felt that Hamlet chose me. And then when I finally played him for real, at 33, that miraculously felt like the perfect age.
J.R.: That sense of being chosen – “why is this happening to me?” and using that. You get to have a relationship with everyone else onstage with you.

Q: Why is this role considered the testing ground for actors? What is with the prestige? Does it deserve its reputation?
B.C.: Of course it does. It demands of the actor a lot of different things. You have to build relationships with every other in the play and, in this space, build a relationship with the audience. And, you’re in 90% of the play. That, in a way, makes it easier. You don’t have time backstage to get nervous.
J.H.: Shakespeare as a cultural figure seems to get lucky sometimes, but the thing about Hamlet as a great part makes me, as an actor, way more self-conscious about performance than I’ve been in any other part. And that’s a big factor in the part, too. The role and the actor ramify in that part. It doubles the experience.

Q: Which is the character that you, as your Hamlet, most connected with?
J.H.: Horatio, which surprised me.
K.L.: It’s amazing – I really felt a special connection with all of the characters at different times.
B.C.: For me, it was the ghost, hands down. Shakespeare writes this amazing scene – “I know you have a million lines before and after this scene, but in this moment “‘list.'” The ghost gives the best pieces of advice to the actor playing the role in this speech. The ghost has so much to say, and Hamlet is required, in that moment, to listen.
J.R.: The ghost, as well. We really played with tenderness in that scene. The audience, though, was the relationship I paid the most attention to. I tried to befriend them as much as I could.
T.M.: It’s much more for me about the actors playing the roles than a particular character on paper. Horatio, though, is an enormous challenge. What is he doing there except to act as a witness and a fellow audience member. The room can alter it quite a bit, of course.

Q: Hamlet’s Theatricality – for Hamlet the audience becomes a major character that he has to deal with. How much did the audience become a mirror for you, playing at the Blackfriars?
B.C.: It made the role way easier. If I had to do it in the dark, I’d find the role much more challenging. “To be or not to be” – the inclusivity of the pronouns.
J.R.: I found it liberating and very comforting. We miss a huge opportunity when we put up that 4th wall. To that extent, the role becomes the actor.

Q: Hamlet can, in some ways, be an isolating part, but in this space, he’s never alone in a very obvious way.
J.H.: I’ll buy that.

K.L.: To the other Hamlets, how did you use the house for soliloquizing? Stagecraft-wise?
J.H.: I started by doing the “too, too solid flesh” speech in the DSR corner. That first speech is nerve-wracking and that acted like a security blanket almost.
K.L.: From center stage, that first speech made me feel like an insect under a microscope.
B.C.: That speech is a place where you feel like you’re being judged as an actor as well as the character.

Q: How have Original Practices affect your develop of the role? What was the relationship of O.P. to your Hamlets?
B.C.: OP version of special effects. How can we use “magic doors” and sound cues for the ghost? Ostensibly, the scene calls for five people, but it’s really an all-call for the supernatural elements.
K.L.: I did Hamlet two years later in a traditional theatre, we had lights and fog, etc. Was there a precedent for using mist?
Lauren Shell (from the gallery): Yes.
J.H.: I like how this kind of space…the advice to the players – making this really advice to Hamlet from himself. It made for a very interesting little puzzle when relating to the role and this space.

Q: Hamlet wasn’t a Blackfriars play, it was a Globe play. Hamlet ribs the groundlings and some scholars have said that it make him an elitist. Are there groundlings in this space?
J.H.: You are being ruthlessly upstaged by the players. There are always people who are WAY more interested in the dumbshow than in anything Hamlet says.
T.M.: In this space, the groundlings are above in the gallery. It’s very tangible, that split and it’s very exciting. Different communities/audiences on different levels.

Q: In this space, does Hamlet then throw the “groundling” lines up rather than down?
J.H.: I always pick the one person on the stools who isn’t paying attention because there is one, inevitably.

Q: A show of hands for who has or is about to play Hamlet – What’s the experience watching someone play Hamlet in this space?
A (Justin): It seems like such a wonderfully intimate venue. It’s enclosed and you can feel like the audience is always so close.
Q: And you did your Hamlet in a graveyard?
A (Justin): We started in a 19th-century opera house and I felt it was harder to reach the audience in that space than it was outdoors.
A (Daniel): This space is quite similar to the Winedale space. It’s surrounded by audience on three sides. You can touch/get in the face of someone in the front row. It allows you to connect very personally with the audience members, convince them that they’re the person about who you’re talking.
A (Bob): Outside in central Texas. It’s very hot. The challenge of the role is less about the lines than just the physical exercise involved in performing the role. At Winedale, audiences are constantly fanning themselves and shifting around. It makes it impossible for the actor to stay still the whole time. Added to the manicness of the character.

Q: In “all occasions,” there is a passage – “will and strength and means…” 26 consecutive monosyllabic words, begins and ends with a caesura. So, basically – pause, 26 monosyllables, pause. Have you thought about what that’s all about?
J.H.: The leaden ratio – that speech happens at the moment the audience most palpably wants Hamlet to shut up. And, you are out there saying something that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Q: Act – motive, intention, and performance. If you apply that concept to what Hamlet is saying –
J.H.: If he just changed to the past-tense “If I HAD cause and will…” it would make so much more sense.
T.M.: I think that the thing is what Mamet called the ‘Kitten monologue’ – someone grinding the play to a halt with a jarring, nostalgic moment. It’s like a play-sized caesura. It’s a different flavor for Hamlet. He can misrepresent himself to himself, self- deception. I think it’s an interesting moment that, if you’re looking for fluidity, continuity, and rationality, it’s clear why it gets cut, but it can be a moment where Hamlet and Fortinbras can suss out the differences in their characters.
K.L.: I didn’t do it here, but I did it elsewhere. And it’s interesting – it’s the last big speech, it’s the only one not at the castle. And it’s the turning point after which he acts – he deals with R&G, he gets involved with pirates, he gets his revenge. He becomes this sort of action hero-y character offstage.
J.H.: And, I found it incredibly easy to memorize.

Q: Offstage – why do you think Hamlet goes to Ophelia’s closet and what it he trying to do there?
J.H. [laughs]: What are they generally trying to do there?
B.C.: If you believe that he goes there directly after the ghost scene, he goes there to tell the person he trusts the most, but when he gets there, he remembers he’s sworn to secrecy and so stands there in silence. He hopes to find a support system, but can’t.
K.L.: It’s one of those near misses. Like, if only that servant could read and didn’t have to ask Romeo…
J.R.: Jim had us rehearse that scene to get a reference point.

Q. In this particular theatre, we’re willing to join you on an imaginative journey, do you think it matters how old Hamlet is?
J.R.: Modern audiences certainly relate to college Hamlet and his buddy Horatio. I think it assists their understanding.
K.L.: It is such a wonderful role, and I want to see all kinds of different Hamlets. I want to see Hamlets of all kinds.

Q (Maxim): If you could give yourself advice as you were playing Hamlet, what advice would you give?
B.C.: Ask for help. In a season with no director, I was really fortunate to have Rene as Horatio and he set aside time to sit with me as I worked the soliloquys. Rather than feeling like you have to carry the show, take in as much information and feedback as possible.
J.R.: I would tell myself…give myself permission to fail. I came in with a lot of preconceived notions and couldn’t allow myself to let them go.
M.D.: It brings up the thought – is this the sort of role you should really play twice?
J.H.: I wish I could have been able to relax about it.

Q: Is it difficult, as Hamlet, to be directed? Since it’s such a dominating part?
T.M.: Not at all. I think I would have been a lot more at sea if I hadn’t had Ralph as the director. The director can be a very useful pressure to create a clear form. Otherwise, the part could just spill everywhere.
J.H.: The best directors at least give you the illusion of ownership. I feel that I can answer for everything I’m doing on the stage.
J.R.: I felt that Jim was an ally and really helped in fleshing out each of those relationships, one by one.
B.C.: It’s great to be asked a lot of questions. As to ownership, the answer is yours. A good director won’t tell you the answer but encourage you to ask the question.

Q (Paul Menzer): To Ben, could you talk about doing the Q1, a Hamlet that is familiar and so different.
B.C.: I always thought that “there’s the point” would get a giggle because it’s jarring. But, the Q1 feels like the difference between an action film to an arthouse film.
K.L.: It’s just so exciting to have that feeling.
T.M.: The German translation version is structured differently even from Q1, but there are still recognizable bits. And those were the moments where the audience could get onboard with something familiar before something strange and jarring happened. Hamlet is in our cultural consciousness and there are a lot of people who may not know the play well enough to be jarred greatly by the differences.

Q (Casey Caldwell): On the subject of Folio and Q1, what is it like working with a play that has different, somewhat competing versions?
B.C.: Simply, I ignored all the other versions.
K.L.: I had a fifty email exchange with the director that was like a bargain – bartering lines. I did miss some stuff that wasn’t there, but how long do you want to make the evening? Every line can help you as an actor.
J.H.: We worked from the Oxford and Jim had done the cut. And, usually I’m a bargainer, but in this case, I just went with it. I only asked for one line back. And then, trying to learn the Q1 sequence was very confusing. I had learned Hamlet’s path one way and that was Hamlet. So, learning that different version of the character was cool.

Q (Rene): Is there a part of Hamlet that you don’t like?
J.H.: Osric. I don’t understand why he’s there and I don’t think I ever will.

Q (Tom Berger): When you offer a conflated version of Hamlet, that doesn’t exist. It’s a 19th century play.
J.H.: It’s really a 21st-century play. We’ve taken these pieces and played with them more.
T.M.: But, it only matters if you’re trying to authorize it in some way. In the playing of it, does it really matter?
K.L.: It adds to the mystery of what is this Hamlet.

Collective nouns: A Procrastination, A Prevarication, A Bedlam

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session XI

Hi! I’m Julia, I’ll be liveblogging Paper Session XI from 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

Moderator: Tom Berger, Saint Lawrence University

“Lyke unto a right weather woman”:
Prophecy and Performance in William Percy’s Mahomet and His Heaven

Daniel Keegan, University of California, Irvine

Keegan’s main purpose in discussing Mahomet and His Heaven was to show that the play is worth studying by students of Renaissance drama, although perhaps not worth performing. He showed that the Weather Woman element is an important key to the theme of hybridization in the play, a theme that is important to understanding characters within the play, and also to understanding Islam.

The Canonical Bard:
Ninagawa Yukio’s Attempt to Dismantle the Altar of Shakespeare in Japan

Sara Boland-Taylor, University of Illinois

Boland-Taylor presented Ninagawa as an interesting Japanese director who struggled against the way his countrymen viewed and performed Shakespeare as a pageant of Western culture. In his work, he made great strides in owning Shakespeare, using such creative tactics as setting The Tempest in a rehearsal at a prison, which eliminated the need for extraneous elements (such as blond wigs) that otherwise were considered necessary for performance of Shakespeare plays. Ninagawa crossed the ancient with the avaunt-garde in an attempt to embrace Shakespeare, and encouraged his audiences to do the same.

Rousing the Audience in the Sleep-Walking Scene:
Lady Macbeth as Faustus Figure

Anne Gossage, Eastern Kentucky University

Gossage posited the idea that instead of a crazy or asleep Lady Macbeth, she should wake up during the sleepwalking scene, so that her hysteria and anxiety are not from false visions but from the realization that the reality she fears is her reality; she has not dreamed it. Gossage also showed Lady Macbeth as a vice character, descending through the pit at the end of the scene while the Doctor and the Gentlewoman watch as the good and bad angels from above.

“I Have Given Suck:”
The Maternal Body in Sarah Siddons’ Lady Macbeth

Chelsea Phillips, Ohio State University

Phillips discussed the career of Sarah Siddons, who in the 18th century performed many of Shakespeare’s female roles while pregnant with her various children. Phillips focused on Siddons’ portrayal of a pregnant Lady Macbeth, because this choice in particular highlighted and transformed many of the references in Macbeth to children and motherhood, and also brought the subject of Banquo’s children’s succession to the throne to an interesting question.

“Dearer than a friend”:
The Satire of Relationship Dynamics in The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Cass Morris, American Shakespeare Center

While many productions try to rush past the awkward ending of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, or somehow correct for its strangeness, Morris suggests leaving the troubling moment as it is. She believes that Shakespeare was deliberately bringing to light the problems with the classical model of a divinely inspired male friendship, and she showed in her paper that Proteus and Valentine are following that model perfectly. Morris suggests that Sylvia’s silence after the attempted rape and after Valentine’s offer of her to Proteus is so far out of character that she could only be doing it on purpose to draw attention to the strangeness of the situation.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session X

Hello – Charlene V. Smith here, welcoming you to Saturday afternoon of the 2011 Blackfriars Conference. I’ll be liveblogging Paper Session X from 2:30pm to 3:45 pm. The session is moderated by Farah Karim-Cooper from the Globe Theatre, and the presenters were assisted by Mary Baldwin MFA actors A. J. Sclafani, Linden Kueck, and Angelina LaBarre.

Annalisa Castaldo, Widener University
“Here sit we down…”: The location of Andrea and Revenge in The Spanish Tragedy

Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy opens with the entrance of the Ghost of Andrea and the figure of Revenge, and presumably they both remain onstage for the entire play. Castaldo mentions a footnote in an essay by Barry Adams pointing out Scott MacMillian’s assertion that the characters would have appeared on the main platform of the Rose in full view of the audience.

Castaldo suggests that this set up is a ridiculous waste of two actors and stage space. Castaldo compares the play to Taming of A Shrew, where Sly, onstage for entire play, repeatedly interacts with the action. In contrast, Andrea and Revenge sit still, pretend that the actors cannot hear them, speak only to each other during breaks in the action. Andrea and Revenge act more like a modern audience than an early modern audience.

Other plays of the time suggest interaction form audience, so Castaldo wonders if an non-interacting Andrea and Revenge located onstage would have in fact been distracting to the audience. With that thought, Castaldo wonders how might the characters have moved around the stage? Where would they have been?

In the very first scene, Revenge says, “Here sit we down, to see the mystery.” In an indoor theatre, they could take gallant stools. But there is no evidence that the Rose had seating onstage. Would stools have been preset? Would the actors have carried them on with them? Castaldo thinks these options seems unlikely. These problems can be solved if the characters enter above.

Further evidence for this idea comes in 3.2, during Hieronimo’s famous “O Eyes, No Eyes” soliloquy. His speech is interrupted by a letter which falls from above. The letter comes from Bel-imperia, so it would make sense that Bel-imperia drops it from her balcony. However the stage direction from the printed text is ambiguous: “a letter falleth” suggesting instead a supernatural element. Castaldo argues that Revenge drops the letter, which he can do so from above.

Castaldo also points out the stage direction that appear between acts three and four, “enter Ghost.” The previous action upsets Andrea and Castaldo says the “enter” indicates that Andrea appears onstage and shouts up to the sleeping Revenge, who is still above.

Castaldo ends her presentation with a strong recommendation that the ASC produces The Spanish Tragedy, a statement that is met with enthusiastic applause from the audience (much of it, admittedly, mine).

Jeanne McCarthy, Georgia Gwinnett College
The Two Blackfriars Theatres: Discontinuity or Contiguity?

E.K. Chambers conjectured that both Blackfriars theatres were located in the same place in the monastery. Later scholars have imposed great difference between the two theatre on what McCarthy calls “slim evidence.” Scholars have come to view the first Blackfriars as inferior in location, size, and ambition, a failed attempt that was corrected with the second. McCarthy suggests this comes from a selective reading of the evidence.

Many scholars push first Blackfriars into northern end of the upper floor in the old buttery. This conclusion is based on misunderstandings of audience access, room size, and roof height. Documents from the period speak both of divided rooms and also one great room, suggesting a mutability of space. McCarthy points out evidence authorizing the removal of walls.

McCarthy argues that the desire of scholars to seek a permanent purposed built theatre in the Blackfriars is anachronistic. The documents are evident, instead, of a fluid, transformable sense of space.

Joe Falocco, Texas State University – San Marcos
“What’s in a Name?”: Defining an Appropriate Nomenclature for Elizabethan/Original Practices/Early Modern/Renaissance/ Shakespearean Staging

Since late 19th century, theatre practitioners have sought to emulate the staging conditions of Shakespeare’s playhouse. Falocco’s paper investigates what we should call this movement. Early incarnations were known as Elizabethan Revival. This causes problems, the chief of which is the name Elizabethan is historically inaccurate. Early Modern is more accurate, but few people outside of English departments know what that means. Falocco says that calling the movement Renaissance Staging would avoid these pitfalls, but unfortunately would cause tension with disgruntled medievalists.

The term Original Practices has gained some popularity recently, though there has not been complete agreement over what these practices are. This term has been associated strongly with Mark Rylance’s tenure at the Globe and the New American Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta. Theatre historians, however, have pointed out the Globe’s ahistorical use of the yard for entrances, exits, and processions. At the Shakespeare Tavern, the audience is seated in front and does not surround the playing space. Nor does the tavern consistently employ universal lighting.

Jim Warren, Artistic Director of the American Shakespeare Center, told Falocco that everyone used to refer to Shakespeare’s staging conditions. Falocco suggest Shakespearean Staging as a viable alternative to these other terms. However he admits that this terms shortchanges Shakespeare’s contemporaries and also causes confusion, as every production of Shakespeare play is in some sense Shakespearean staging. But, Falocco argues, the benefits of name recognition might outweigh these drawbacks.

Ann Jennalie Cook, Vanderbilt University and Sewanee School of Letters
Light and Heat in the Playhouses

Cook begins her presentation by noting that even in our original practices productions we don’t fully realize the influence of light and heat in the early modern period. The availability of light regulated activity in the early modern period. Torches and candles were expensive. Whatever happened at night involved spending money.

It was, additionally, really cold most of the time. The period was consistently colder than temperatures have been in the 20th century. Weather conditions caused permanent snow on Scottish hill tops and frequent storms brought rain and crop destruction. The Thames River froze solid at least eleven times during the 17th century.

1601 was the coldest summer in 2,000 years. The weather, like the light, had monetary implications. During the period, the price of fuel climbed steadily. Clothing was also expensive and shoes were a necessity, not a luxury.

Both factors of heat and light affected season attendance and governed activities in the playhouses. Cook wonders how often performances were curtailed or canceled due to weather? How many groundlings remained shivering until the end of the performance? To sit out of the rain and weather in an outdoor playhouse cost more money. Indoor playhouse likewise had a higher cost of admission.

Considering these elements will help us understand the plays better, Cook argues. Shakespeare’s text clearly makes references to weather, season, and time. A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place at a time of year where the light and weather allow for lovers to sleep on the ground, and for rude mechanicals to rehearse in the woods. “Sleeping in mine orchard,” as mentioned in Hamlet, was only possible for a limited period of the year. Looking at the season and the school schedule at Wittenberg, Cook suggests that Hamlet would have been at Elsinore when his father died. Cook states that the action of the plot of Hamlet begins in early September and “the days thereafter grow steadily colder.”

Nova Myhill, New College of Florida
“The Concourse of People on the Stage”: An Alternative Proposal for Onstage Seating at the Second Blackfriars

Ben Jonson’s prologue to The Devil is an Ass is concerned with the physical restraints the stage-sitters put on the actors. Thomas Dekker makes similar observations about the behavior of these audience members in his plays. The Blackfriars recreation we are currently sitting in allows for eighteen occupants of Lord’s Chairs in box like area, behind a half wall, and places twelve gallants stools on stage. This Blackfriars recreation follows scholarly opinion that assumes a small numer of spectators onstage. Andrew Gurr, for example, restricts the number to “as many as ten.”

Myhill asks what would happen if we stopped looking at Jonson and Dekker’s descriptions seen as satiric exaggerations. What if we maximize the possible number of onstage audience members rather than minimizing it? This thought brings up two areas of inquiry: how many stage-sitters were there, and where would they have been located.

Myhill tells about a strage law case in 1609 where a theatre employee was accused of receiving 30 shillings a week for the stools on the stage of the Blackfriars unknown to everyone else. Myhill states a cost of six pence per stool, extrapolating that according to the case, sixty people hired stools. Were there enough already onstage that sixty more would have been unnoticed?

One scholar has proposed that there were no boxes at the second Blackfriars, simply side seating, though an illustration from the time shows that there were. Myhill proposes that perhaps the boxes were located at the rear of the stage, allowing for more spectators on the stage itself.

Myhill ends by pointing out that the estimates of ten stage sitters, or even twenty to thirty, that scholars suggest can not produce the effects mentioned and bemoaned by Jonson and Dekker.

Lauren Shell, University of Virginia, Technical Direction MFA program
Lighting Effects in the Early Modern Private Playhouses

Shell states that we must realize that lighting design is not a modern concept. It began as early as the ancient greek and roman theatre, where plays called for torches brought onstage for certain moments. Here at the Blackfriars recreation we assume an even wash of light onstage and through out the house, but Shell argues that lighting effects were more nuanced that that and points out that text of the early modern plays we study suggest lighting effects.

Shell then discusses evidence of lighting effects in books and manuals from the 17th century. Some of these manuals provide instructions for how to achieve these effects. Shell then demonstrates her own models of possible early modern lighting machines.

First is a device whereby lit candles have covers over them. These covers are attached to ropes and can be lowered and raised, effectively dimming and increasing the level of lighting. Proof exists of such a device being used in court masques, so it seems probably that the same device could have been employed in private playhouses. Shell points out the difference between the stage directions “as if groping in the dark” and “a darkness comes over the place.” These directions are not the same. The first deals with perceived darkness; the second, actual darkness.

Shell then demonstrates how colored lighting would have been created by placing containers of colored liquid in front of candles, the forerunner to modern day gels. Shell then shows a device where candles are surrounded by microreflectors that could be swung open and closed, creating a sudden burst of light.

Inigo Jones and Ben Jonson first collaborated on The Queen’s Masque of Blackness. Jonson’s text contains verbose descriptions of stage effects, including lighting effects. Future masques that Jonson worked on do as well. These effects, when employed in the private playhouses, brought the sophistication of court to the common man.

Blackfriars Conference 2011- Staging Session IV

Hi, Deb Streusand here. This afternoon I’ll be liveblogging Staging Session IV at the Blackfriars Playhouse from 1:00pm to 2:15 pm.

Seeing Ghosts: The “sensible and true avouch of mine own eyes.”
Kate McPherson, Utah Valley University and Freddie Harris, University of Utah

McPherson recounts a recent talkback conversation, after a performance of the ASC’s current production of Hamlet, concerning why Horatio, Marcellus, and Barnardo can see the Ghost but, later, Gertrude cannot. She discusses the unpredictable behavior of the Ghost in the context of Early Modern playing conditions. ASC actors Daniel Burrows, Allison Glenzer, Patrick Midgley, Chris Johnston, and Rene Thornton perform Act 1, Scene 1 as they have staged it in the current production. Harris reminds us how central the Ghost is to the play as a whole, and describes how this Ghost represents a stage innovation, a more complex and humanized Ghost, no longer in the conventional Senecan mode. Harris discusses the Ghost’s split into three separate apparitions during the “‘Tis here. ‘Tis here. ‘Tis gone” portion of 1.1. She explains that this behavior is typical of an Early Modern ghost, and suggests that Early Modern audiences did see Hamlet as a ghost story. She describes how some nineteenth century productions used multiple Ghosts. The actors experiment with staging the scene differently, with Barnardo and the others entering from the house, and an invisible Ghost, whose paranormal nature is represented primarily by the actors’ reactions, with the addition of one of the stage doors slamming at its exit. Harris explains that this version of the staging is intended to emphasize the ghost story element of Hamlet, creating an atmosphere that is as paranormal and terrifying as possible. She asks, “how can the unseen ghost convey the dread of those dark nights?” and posits what we have just seen as the answer. Discussing the idea of staging multiple ghosts, she rejects the hypothesis that elaborate special effects are required to stage the scene this way. She recounts a story recorded by an Early Modern monk of a man who encounters a shape-shifting ghost. Making the Ghost invisible to the audience in the first scene, in order to stage a shape-shifting, multiple Ghost, is justified because of the Ghost’s later ability to choose not to be visible to Gertrude, Harris argues. McPherson discusses the dependence of the believability of the Ghost on the actors’ gestures. She clarifies that she is not proposing that Early Modern companies would have used an invisible Ghost, but that this staging is a method of creating the same reaction in a modern audience that the Early Modern audience would have experienced. She describes the “personation” style of Early Modern acting and discusses how contemporary actors might have portrayed their fear of the Ghost. Reminding us of the play’s metatheatrical nature and its preoccupation with acting as deception, she argues that this play, more than any other, depends on the participation of our imagination. She asks, “how do we get at the heart of an Early Modern play” in a modern Original Practices production? Using an invisible Ghost allows us to get past a modern audience’s cinematic expectations and achieve a powerful emotional effect in the audience.

“Remembrances of Yours”: Properties, Performance and Memory in Shakespeare’s Hamlet 3.1
Kathryn Moncrief, Washington College

Moncrief reminds us of the play’s fascination with memory, citing a plethora of references to it, and specifically emphasizes its concern with the consequences of forgetting. She ties this theme to the play’s prominent props, especially Hamlet’s tables, Ophelia’s flowers, and Yorick’s skull. Her presentation turns on the question of what exactly Ophelia gives to Hamlet in 3.1 of the Folio version. She remarks that given the specificity of the other props tied to memory, it is notable the text is not specific about Ophelia’s remembrances. Providing a detailed gloss on “remembrances,” she emphasizes the theme of gifts, as Ophelia later calls these “rich gifts,” in contrast to the love-gifts that Claudius uses to win Gertrude. Moncrief provides a few other examples of courtship gifts in Shakespeare, such as Desdemona’s handkerchief, and discusses the convention of love-tokens in the Early Modern Period. She draws our attention to the handout she has provided, which reproduces several portraits of Early Modern ladies holding what may be love-gifts, along with a picture of a poesy ring. She explains the significance of the poesy ring, and reminds us of Hamlet’s mention of “the posy of a ring” during the Mousetrap scene. Poesy rings contained a short message whose meaning was sometimes difficult to interpret, which is appropriate to Hamlet. She returns to her previous question–what are these remembrances, and how do we stage this moment? The handout reproduces stills from several recent movie versions, which Moncrief illuminates by reading the list of props used as remembrances in each movie, as well as in several other productions. She proposes that we draw on the Early Modern significance of trading love-tokens and what it would mean to remember as we work on different ways of staging this scene. Moncrief asks the audience to make suggestions for staging and reminds us of important questions about the staging, such as whether Hamlet accepts or rejects the returned remembrances, reminding us how the props take on a stage presence of their own. First, ASC actors John Harrell and Miriam Donald play the scene as they do in the version of the current production which uses the First Quarto order of events, with the prop they use, a small bundle of letters. Hamlet accepts the bundle in this staging of the scene. Next, Moncrief shows us the contents of a box of props she has brought for the audience to choose among, including a bunny puppet and a varsity letter jacket. The audience chooses to make Ophelia carry every prop, while wearing the jacket. Moncrief asks Harrell, as Hamlet, to accept the props. The bunny puppet plays a prominent role in the scene that follows. Hamlet returns all the props to Ophelia before the first “get thee to a nunnery,” then retrieves one of the books to read about women’s falsehood, then taking a bundle of flowers to kiss at “those that are married already, all but one”–kiss–“shall live.” Moncrief asks Donald what she would do with all props once left on stage. Donald replies, “hold it. Get it off stage.” Next, Moncrief requests that the actors do the scene with Hamlet refusing to take the props. The actors use a single book and a pile of letters. Refusing the props, Harrell portrays a more remote, calm, amused Hamlet. Moncrief requests that Hamlet first take and then abuse the props, which this time consist of a stuffed kitten and the pile of letters. Harrell asks the stuffed kitten “are you honest?” before throwing it into the audience. He scatters and tears the letters, prompting Donald to portray a humiliated and annoyed Ophelia. Harrell slips some of the letters down into the trap, and even eats them! Finally, the actors perform the Folio version of the scene, which most conference-goers have not yet seen, because it was the Quarto version that the actors performed on Thursday night.

A questioner asks about whether anyone has used a glove as a “remembrance,” given the prevalence of glove imagery with love in the other plays. Moncrief replies that she has found no record of such a use in a modern production so far.

ASC actor Rene Thornton asks Harris and McPherson about when they would have the Ghost appear, if it were invisible in the first scene, and what it would be like when he appears. They talk about multiple ways of staging, and how one might use an invisible Ghost even during the scene when he is speaking.

An audience member mentions the 2001 First Quarto ASC production of Hamlet at the first Blackfriars Conference, in which Hamlet read the letters they used as “remembrances” in the scene where he speaks to Polonius about his reading matter.

A question for the actors: Do Hamlet and Ophelia love each other? Harrell discusses how the props might demonstrate different degrees and aspects of love. Moncrief describes the Mark Rylance Hamlet in which Ophelia took off her jewelry and returned it. Donald talks about the version of the scene in the First Quarto, in which she can only give Hamlet back the ring she is wearing and the letter Polonius just has read, which feels less manipulative to her than giving him more props, which she would have had to go collect.

Questioner Steven Urkowitz discusses the textual differences in the First Quarto version of this scene, and asks whether Harrell had incorporated the less aggressive Hamlet of that version into his characterization. Harrell replies that he has researched that version of the scene, but chosen not to incorporate it into his characterization directly, since that is not the text they are using for the current production.

Question for the actors: How frequently do they come in from the audience, as they did in one of the versions during Harris and McPherson’s presentation? Chris Johnston describes their frequent use of this tactic on tour, referring to a recent touring production of Hamlet in which the actors made this choice.

An audience member discusses the benefits of an invisible Ghost in the first scene, which heightens the epistemological stakes–what should we believe about the Ghost, especially in 1.2?

ASC actor Daniel Kennedy, who portrayed the Ghost in a recent touring production, mentions that they never portrayed the Ghost as he is described, that is, in full military armor, and how if we did see him in this way, seeing terror in such a martial figure would create great fear in a Christian audience.

A questioner asks how we can replicate the impact that the Ghost would have had on an Elizabethan audience for the modern audience. McPherson discusses the possibility of using sound effects for the Ghost. Another questioner cites a production that used a naked, ghastly figure for the Ghost, and asks what the implications of such a staging might be. Harris asserts that at the time, people did not doubt the existence of ghosts, making contemporary audiences fairly radical different from a modern audience. The questioner mentions Hamlet’s statement that “the spirit that we have seen may be a devil.” McPherson expands on the religious implications of the devil’s appearing in this form.

Sally Southall of Thomas Dale High Center for Performing Arts moderates this session.

Tiffany Stern Keynote

Hi, I’m Julia, I’ll be liveblogging Tiffany Stern’s Keynote from 10:30-11:15 today.

Tiffany Stern – University College

Dr Stern gave a talk in three parts about fairs in England and their relationship to theater of the period. First, she discussed some of the differences and similarities between Early Modern theater and fairs. Fairs were highly sanctioned, approved by both the local government and the private aristocracy, and they had their own internal legal system including courts, and juries made up of booth-holders. Theaters of the time could only wish to be as legitimized as the fairs. On the other hand, both theaters and fairs were places of entertainment and commerce, and they tended to attract a certain low-life stratus in the form of pickpockets, and prostitutes. The second part of her talk covered several references to fairground activities within Early Modern plays, including trained monkeys who played dead and came back to life if certain names were evoked, (as Romeo is conjured by the name Rosaline), a performer called an “interpreter” who narrated puppet shows (Hamlet could interpret if he could see the puppets dallying), as well as several references to shadow puppets (“life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player..”). The third part of her talk went further into Early Modern puppetry, as puppetry was the one form of theater allowed to remain open during the Interregnum in England. Stern also showed how certain of Shakespeare’s characters developed a new life as puppets in future hodgepodge works.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session IX

The snow is falling, but the conference continues apace! Undaunted by the precipitation, we’re back for Plenary Session IX, moderated by Marc Connor from Washington and Lee University. I’m Cass, and I’ll be live-blogging from 9am to 10:15am.

Iska Alter, Hofstra University, and William B. Long, independent scholar: “Love’s Labour’s Lost Once, Love’s Labour’s Lost Once Again: What Happens When Plays Move House”

Alter opens by stating that they intend to demonstrate that, in addition to text, actors, costumes, sets, and the other typical components that contribute to a play’s meaning, the theatrical space also contributes to its effect. Long takes over, discussing a theory that Love’s Labour’s Lost is the precursor of the modern “college comedy”, characterizing the King of Navarre and his friends as “frat boys” in a recent Globe production. He notes that critics who saw the production at the Globe and those that saw the production on tour came to the same conclusion, but noticed other discrepancies. Long believes these differences were due to the difference in the space.

Long cites several contributory factors to the different effect in different spaces: the size of the performance space itself, the relationship of actors to audience, and the movement of actors in the space. Long details the space he and Alter saw on tour, a proscenium with a fully-seated audience. Though the stage provided opportunities for the actors to leave the stage and engage with the audience, Long believes that the effect fell flat. At the outdoor Globe, the “complex geometry” allowed for greater audience engagement, with the audience member “shifting and swerving” to keep up with the verbal sparring between characters. He also details the “almost physical equality” between actor and spectator when an actor changed levels, moving from a standing position to a crouching or recumbent position, which would place him on eye-level with the groundlings in the pit.

Alter takes over to discuss the differences created by light and sound, and how those factors contributed to the “raucous and bawdy” atmosphere. The indoor space attempted to emulate sunlight, but Alter felt that the conceit only “reinforced the artificial”. She discusses the difficulties presented by the ambient sounds at the Globe, but suggests that those were less distracting than the reverberations of actors’ voices in the indoor space. She concludes by saying that scholars ought to examine more frequently what happens when a play written for one space moves elsewhere.

Christine Parker, Victor Valley Community College: “Thomas Middleton’s Use of the Gallery Space”

Parker proposes that Middleton uses the gallery to highlight characters who act with moral depravity. She prefaces her consideration with reference to A Game at Chess, a black pawn (representing a corrupt Jesuit) spouts Latin from the upper space, “in an attempt to inflame anti-Catholic sentiment”. She concedes that Middleton does use the gallery for the usual conventional reasons, but that, more often than other early modern playwrights, he uses the space thematically. She cites The Changeling, where corrupt characters often occupy the space; also in The Witch, Women Beware Women. Parker connects this use with a reversal of expectations; corrupt rather than romantic, and elevating characters who would not typically be given status by rank.

She moves back to consideration of A Game at Chess, Middleton’s play which was banned for religious and political reasons, partially for fear it would lead to anti-Catholic riots. She describes several politically controversial scenes which place devious or low-ranked characters in the gallery space. She thinks that the black pawn’s position in the gallery was “an incendiary device”. MBC actors present a short portion of the scene, and Parker states her belief that the intimidating effect of the Latin preached “as though from a puplit” would have been inflammatory in the original performance.

Amy R. Cohen, Randolph College: “Grand Scope and Human Scale: How Size Matters”

Cohen begins by jocularly confessing that she “betrayed her father” by choosing classical studies over early modern, due to the fascinating considerations presented by Euripedes. She comments on Aristophanes’s opinion of Euripedes and Euripedes’s response to criticism, also comparing Euripedes’s use of low-status characters to the typically high-status concerns of Aeschylus and Sophocles. She then moves to the practical circumstances of performance space which contribute to a play’s success, comparing the large outdoor Theatre of Dionysos to the small indoor Blackfriars Playhouse. She shows a Greek-style mask, large and thus easily seen,. Cohen cautions that “our actors can look like children, or tadpoles, or bobble-heads”, especially if an outdoor performance moves into an indoor space. She thinks that, in an indoor space, it takes the audience twice as long to begin ignoring the masks in favor of the performance. The size, she thinks, reflects in the characters as well as in the masks, that plays written for an enormous space requires characters “of mythological proportion”, and that those large characters may feel awkward in a smaller indoor space. The smaller space “requires characters on a more human scale, however noble or royal they may be”.

The difference in the spaces leads to the differences in the plays written for them. Cohen also believes that this leads to Shakespeare’s success in mixing high and low characters, “where Euripedes sometimes fails”. The comic characters in Shakespeare “enhance, rather than diminish” the effect, even of deeply tragic plays. She anticipates that further exploration will reveal more about why Greek tragedies are the way they are, how that large scale affects the audience, and how it is successful in an appropriate space. In the “reach out and touch you” scale, she would like to speculate: Whether the size of the theatre is one of the circumstances of performance that allowed for the inclusion of low-status characters even in tragedy. She finishes by admonishing that early modern scholars remember, when discussing how their playwrights improved on the ancients, “that: we’re bigger than you.”

Jennifer Low, Florida Atlantic University: “Perspective and Painterly Technique in Jacobean Staging”

Low presents an aspect of art history relevant to early modern staging, first noting the visual parameters of an indoor space like the Blackfriars Playhouse. She posits that Dutch painting of the period was appropriate for use of the discovery space, as the techniques of Dutch painting used same frames, perspectives, and architectural settings which have a similar effect as that the audience experiences in an indoor early modern theatre. She speculates on the visual pictures created by scenes in The Changeling, discussing the delayed revelation of the visual, which augments both the audience’s anticipation and their shock. MBC actors present the crucial scene of Beatrice-Johanna’s mutiliation and death in two different ways: entering through the stage right door, or revealed through the discovery space.

Low argues that the tableau is more effective when using the discovery space. This would also provide opportunities for props and set pieces that could have “filled out” the image within the discovery space — such as a bed, or a medicine cabinet (to augment the medical and pseudo-medical themes in the play). She posits that Beatrice-Johanna’s revelation is then an invasion into other characters’ attempts to restore rationality and normalcy. Low suggests that the original production tied the emotional experience to the optical experience, which would be stronger with the discovery space staging. The discovery space also offers an opportunity to present different sights in foreground and background (relating again to the Dutch painters’ techniques).

Melissa Aaron, Cal Poly Pomona: “Play It Again, Hal: The 1605 Revival of Henry V

Aaron relates the story of the 1605 revival of Henry V, which had to compete with the spectacles of James’s court and the inventions of Inigo Jones. She positions the play in relationship to the company’s financial state at the time of the first performance and at the time of the revival, arguing that material concerns could very well affect play creation and selection. The turbulent financial state of England at the time encouraged dependence on royal patronage, which led to a different concern: “How do you avoid becoming a fully-owned subsidiary of King, Co.?” Aaron examines the repurposing of plays for both the new space of the Blackfriars Playhouse and for the expansion of royal patronage, using the example that, if you get your hands on a bear suit, you find an excuse to use it (and our in-house bear demonstrates). Playing companies were also affected by new outbreaks of plague from 1603-1609; playhouse closures also enhanced dependence on the king’s beneficence.

Aaron then traces the fortunes of the King’s Men from 1603 to 1605, both the closures of the theatre and the court performances and attentant payments given by the king. She notes that Othello and Macbeth were written in this period, and also that The Merry Wives of Windsor seemed to be a favorite for royal performances. She suggests that, by the Christmas season 1605, the King’s Men desperately needed a new play that Queen Anne had not yet seen. Henry V, with its dependence on imagination over theatrical spectacle, performed on January 7, follows a day after the performance of The Masque of Blackness, an elaborate spectacle. Aaron speculates that the King’s Men were reducing, reusing, and recycling, using plays that had originally been in the same seasons together, economizing even in the face of Jonesian competition. The acquisition of the Blackfriars Playhouse allowed the King’s Men to go back to a more independent company, less directly attached to royal patronage.

Peter Kanelos, Loyola University Chicago: “Ghost in the Machine?”

Kanelos interrogates why we, late-modern, have the originalist impulse to gather in an early modern space and re-create early modern productions. He wonders if it’s a romantic impulse, a nostalgic fit — then suggests the opposite, that “this enterprise, while it appears retrograde, is actually an intently post-modern one”. He traces the impulse back to William Pole in the late 19th-century, who aimed to correct misconceptions about Elizabethan stagecraft that had developed over the past centuries. Kanelos positions this idea in relationship to Stanislavski’s theories of acting, developing at the same time and, Kanelos argues, stemming from the same conditions and desires. He discusses the period’s concerns with authenticity and the inwardness of character. “For all three, language and action are opaque, in need of literary analysis.” It was the actor’s duty to probe beneath the language for the true meaning. The 20th century, he says, created a widening gulf between artistic performance and academic analysis.

Kanelos then discusses how the post-modern ideas relate more to what seems true of the early modern plays: that there is nothing beneat the surface of the text, that everything about the character is there, in the words. “Early modern theatre created the illusion of inwardness.” He says that we have reached an opposite of Stanislavski’s principles.

Kanelos is then cut off by the bear, complete with a bear cub.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session VIII

Hello, again. This is Christina Sayer Grey back for a second live-blogging session. This time, I’m covering Plenary Session VIII from 4:00-5:15pm on Thursday, October 28.

Moderator: Alice Dailey, Villanova University

Year of the Actor-Scholar: The Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s Canon Completion Project
Kristin Hall, Atlanta Shakespeare Company

2010/11 Season – performing the 4 remaining plays (Henry VIII, The Two Noble Kinsmen, Edward III, and Timon of Athens) attributed to Shakespeare that they had not yet performed. Performed as a long-term repertory ensemble, and included Edward III in the defining of the canon.

Started as a desire to document the process. Two points arose – Attribution of authorship and modern attempts to honor E.M. staging.

Outline of O.P. choices made by Atlanta Shakes – direct address and engagement with a visible audience. Shallow thrust stage that evokes rather than re-creates an E.M. stage. Costuming not intended as replicas, instead, intended to evoke. Actor created soundscapes. Apprentice/Journeyman system. Resistance to director-imposed readings.

Ensemble members – many of whom have worked together for up to 15 years. Actors relied on their experience to differentiate between Shakespeare’s words and the words of their collaborators. The actors themselves defined what they considered the “Shakespeareness.” Actors unanimous in attributing the plays based on the ease of line memorization – Shakespeare is, according to the actors, easier to memorize than other playwrights.

Timon of Athens stretched the company’s O.P. stance. The duplicitous characters all wore masks, in a piece that could be described as “concept” Shakespeare.

Double Falsehood performed in the style of a melodrama or telenovela. The actors determined that they didn’t think Shakespeare had a hand in Double Falsehood, based on their experience with Shakespeare’s concretely attributed plays.

Theatre of the Damned
Arlynda Boyer, Florida State University

Thomas Middleton’s morality in his plays – a rupture between his personal religion and the void of morality in his plays. “Agonizingly amibiguous.” Middleton was a Calvinist – Calvin does not tell his followers that they are members of the elect. A true, devout Calvinist could never be sure of salvation for themselves or others.

Middleton refuses to judge his characters because he does not believe in the certainty of salvation. Predestination – social standing has no standing with God. Calvin presents a belief system that ignores the strict social structure of the period, leading to the idea of amorality.

Moll Frith – the moral center of the play The Roaring Girl. A radical revision of the real-life Mary Frith. Middleton and Dekker suggest that this societal monster is a good person, perhaps better than the “normal” people who judged her. Their presentation of Moll challenge the assumptions of morality made by the audience.

Traveling on Prospero’s Island
Darlene Farabee, University of South Dakota

Characters’ relationship to the physical location. None of the characters’ say that they are lost and do not know where they are. The seem unconcerned with their survival now that they’ve arrived on the island.

Colonialist allegory – some characters have to be ignored to make this work. Ferdinand, for example, never interacts with Caliban. Stephano and Trinculo ignore Caliban’s position as a source of information about the island. They concern themselves with how they came to land, but not about what to do now that they’re there. (Natasha Solomon, Daniel Burrows, and Patrick Midgley perform the scene)

The audience travels through a narrative plotline that reverses at 3.1 (the betrothal between Ferdinand and Miranda). The appearances of characters mirror each other with 3.1 as the hinge point.

Exeunt in Place of Blackouts: Some problems staging 21st-century plays in a 16th-century playhouse
Katy Mulvaney, Mary Baldwin College

How would 21st playwrights treat their plays differently if constrained by the limitations and standards of E.M. playhouses. Different tactics are required when using universal lighting. Some playwrights follow the standards established by E.M. playwrights and some come up with new solutions.

In Extremis, was not written for the Globe, but did not require significant changes in order to be performed there. Actors Natasha Solomon, John Basiulis, and Daniel Burrows perform a scene intended to end with a slow fade blackout. In the Globe version, the scene ends with one character exiting prematurely and then added lines to get the other two characters offstage.

Anne Boleyn – the influence of theatrical reconstruction allowed the playwright to create new solutions to the problems that arise in universal lighting. Anne Boleyn remains onstage continuously as a fixed point around which characters revolve – entering and exiting around her.

Innovation in a reconstruction theatre. Could characters in E.M. plays have remained onstage during transitions from scene to scene?

Staging Amorphus’ Face-Painting Scene in Jonson’s Cynthia’s Revels
Annette Drew-Bear, Washington and Jefferson College

Cynthia’s Revels, a children’s company play. Described by critics as “impossible to stage” and “dull.” Is the face-painting scene in 5.2 stageable? The scene is part of a series wherein Jupiter challenges Amorphus’ to a series of court adornment challenges to mock the rituals. The scene asks onstage, in-play onlookers as well as audience members to judge the challenge. The scene incorporates actual cosmetic recipes in the description in the scene.

Actors Natasha Solomon, Daniel Burrows, John Basiulis, and Patrick Midgley perform a scene where characters get haircuts and make-up applied.

“Mocking Life”: Staging Monuments in The Winter’s Tale
Brian Chalk, Manhattan College

E.M. English had a tendency to build memorial monuments prior to the death of the person memorialized. What can E.M. monuments teach us about how Hermione might have looked in The Winter’s Tale and how did Shakespeare use the memorial monument tradition?

Shakespeare tells the audience that Leontes plans to build a monument and visit it daily. Their inscription is about Leontes’ mistake, not Hermione’s and Mamillus’s virtues. Paulina’s statue, however, does not memorialize Mamillius, too. Leontes memorializes his family in a way that reveals how he related to them, not how they were as individuals.

The purpose of Leontes’ tomb stands into direct contrast to the examples that E.M. Englishpeople would have seen in London. Those tombs often showed examples of the still-living anticipating their reunion with the person memorialized.

Shakespeare, in Othello and Cymbeline, compares a sleeping character with a recumbent memorial statue. Tombs almost always showed recumbent or kneeling figures, not full-standing figures. Leontes hopes to freeze time with his memorial, but that, of course, is impossible.

Blackfriars Conference 2011- Staging Session III

Hi, Deb Streusand here. This afternoon I’ll be liveblogging Staging Session III at the Blackfriars Playhouse from 2:30 pm to 3:45 pm.

Staging Banquo’s Ghost
Nicole Ricciardi, Monmouth University

Ricciardi describes the particular interest of Macbeth 3.4 and the question of “to see or not to see the ghost”–which is scarier for the modern audience? Also, how do we see this scene in terms of actor-audience relationship? She discusses modern productions that make use of stillness, contrasting them with those that use paranormal movement and activity. James Keegan, John Harrell, Gregory Phelps, Miriam Donald, and Chris Johnston perform the scene in stillness and with an invisible ghost. The audience finds a surprising amount of humor in this version of the scene. Ricciardi asks Keegan, who played Macbeth, for his reaction. He describes making the choices of how to imagine the ghost in terms of making choices for an actor who is not there. Ricciardi discusses the insights this version of the scene can provide about purpose of this scene in terms of the play’s structure, specifically as an echo of the dagger, which we also do not see. She considers that it does not take the story where it needs to go, however, and requests that Rene Thornton join the scene as the Ghost, first as a silent and unexpected visitor and then as summoned by Macbeth. Before the actors perform, Ricciardi asks, “why a ghost? Why Banquo? Why does he come back twice?” She describes the second visit as necessary to help the audience move through a progression in its relationship with the actors. After the actors perform the silent and unexpected visit, Ricciardi reminds us that we are looking for the answer to “why twice,” positing that in terms of the progression from the dagger, this experience spurs Macbeth on to the next murder. The actors discuss why Macbeth seems to see that the table is full but not to see Banquo at first, and ways of staging this phenomenon to make it believable. An audience member asks about Sarah Siddons’ innovation of having Lady Macbeth see the ghost as well, wondering if anyone else has done the same. Ricciardi does not believe so. She discusses having Macbeth appear to conjure and then dismiss the dead with the Ghost’s second visit, using the toast to Banquo as the summons. If Macbeth is showing this power of conjuration and dismissal off to the audience, he is working with them within the relationship that the dagger soliloquy establishes between actor and audience, and advances it to a necessary step for the progression of this relationship. An audience member brings up the implications of exactly when Banquo leaves the second time. The actors perform the conjuration version of the scene, wherein Macbeth summons the Ghost for his second visit. In closing, Ricciardi draws our attention once more to the crucial question of how this scene moves the story forward, and how we can stage its paranormal nature for the modern audience.

Rehearsal of Philaster 4.5
Lois Potter, University of Delaware

Potter describes seeing Actors’ Renaissance Season rehearsals this spring and wanting people at the Blackfriars Conference to be able to see the process. She decided to stage for the conference a rehearsal of one scene from the beginning using cue scripts, and chose Philaster, which the actors will perform as part of the Actors’ Renaissance Season this coming Spring, with Gregory Phelps in the title role. Potter briefly summarizes the plot and the present situation before the actors perform. The actors first read through the lines to see how they will fit together, pausing to make sure they understand what they are saying, and sometimes to enjoy the humor of the lines. They work on figuring out who is talking to whom and when. Next, they stage the scene. Miriam Donald, today playing Arethusa, discovers that she needs a stick to serve as a sword for Philaster, and finds a pencil for the purpose. John Harrell and Rene Thornton discover that a line of James Keegan’s includes embedded stage directions for them, specifying where they should look. Thornton amuses the audience by taking some time to figure out that he is speaking to Chris Johnston on one line. The actors discuss the differences between this workshop and the rehearsal process, explaining that they would ordinarily have done a read-through beforehand, and one actor would have cut the play for performance, so that he would have greater knowledge of it. The actors discuss the textual aspects of their process, responding to a question about when they do and do not use cue scripts. John Harrell describes his process for cutting Philaster, saying that he was not able to make cue scripts because he could not obtain a good electronic edition of the play. The actors discuss the experience of their improvised blocking in this workshop and the questions they need to answer to make things move more smoothly next time. They chat with the audience about how they make their different conceptions of the blocking fit together, and what actors do while other actors are speaking. Harrell describes how his cutting process involves a lot of envisioning how to make the play work for the company on a practical level. He tells the audience about how important it is for ASC actors to be good readers and to think carefully about genre. Phelps discusses the importance of understanding the whole story when acting any given scene, “to play honestly to everything that happens, and not throw it away.” An audience member asks about the creative potential of keeping mistakes that actors make in rehearsal, and Harrell confirms that this type of choice happens frequently in the Actors’ Renaissance Season. An audience member asks about how much the Renaissance Season has revolved. Donald describes initial struggling over who was going to act like a director, making decisions about the play as a whole, but that this approach did not work, and that as they have started to make decisions about individual scenes instead of the whole play, the process has become much more effective. The actors reminisce about the amusing aspects of everybody’s trying to be director in the first Renaissance Season. An audience member asks about whether Ralph Cohen or Jim Warren (the co-founders of the American Shakespeare Center, who often direct the plays when it is not the Renaissance Season) are involved in this process at all. The actors explain that Warren takes care of casting, and is able to pass a very occasional veto on a choice the actors have made, but other than that, the actors have total autonomy. The audience and actors chat about the experience of learning to do things this way. Chris Johnston describes his learning process, and how Phelps helped him work with the difference between “your problem,” an actor’s individual difficulty, and problems that affect the company as a whole. He describes how the actor playing the largest role typically ends up organizing rehearsals for practical reasons.

Moderator Terry Southerington encourages questions for both presenters.

Question for Harrell and Phelps (playing lords who could not see the Ghost) about the Banquo scene: What changed for you having him visible and not visible? Harrell says he finds it more helpful to have someone there so that he knows where not to look. An audience member comments that having a ghost gives the audience more things to track, and different ways of reading the lords’ not knowing what is happening. Phelps discusses the value of the lords’ being inconspicuous, and how having Banquo present draws the audience’s gaze to the lords, making it more difficult for them to ignore what is happening.

Question for the actors: For how long have they been doing Renaissance-style runthroughs of shows that they will later work on with a director? Dr. Cohen answers that the ASC has been doing so since at least 1995, and that when they were first starting to do the Actors’ Renaissance Season, their experience with the Renaissance runthroughs made them confident that the actors would be able to do well without a director.

Question for the actors: When do you start using props, doing fights, etc.? Donald answers that they start using props as soon as possible, but fighting requires more preparation. In response to another audience question, the actors explain how they find their own props and then make them fit together, and how they differ in their approaches to finding costumes.

Question for John Harrell: How did the Spring 2011 Actors’ Renaissance production of Look About You come together? Harrell discusses the importance of costumes for plays involving disguise, and how for that play, they used costumes quite early in the rehearsal process.

Question about fights: How does the choreography work? Phelps mentions the actors’ varying levels of experience and how they affect the process.

Question for Ricciardi: How does the phenomenon of doubling with a character who dies early on affect the reaction to ghosts, since in either case we see an actor who “died” returning? She describes the importance of timing and the choices that are made about how to portray the Ghost. Thornton mentions how Falstaff haunts Henry V, and an audience member talks about the role of Will Kemp’s departure in determining Falstaff’s absence and how it is handled in the play.

Terry Southerington of Mary Baldwin College moderates this session.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session VII

This is Cass Morris, back yet again, this time for Plenary Session VII, moderated by Janna Segal, newest addition to the teaching team at Mary Baldwin College’s MLitt/MFA graduate program. I’ll be blogging from 1:00pm to 2:15pm.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a session involving technology, held in a re-construction of a sixteenth century theatre, the session starts a bit late due to technical difficulties.

Denise A Walen, Vassar College: “The Performance History of Rhetorical Strategies in 3.4 Much Ado about Nothing

Walen prefaces Much Ado as an unusual play, in that it features two scenes comprised entirely of female characters. In one of those, 3.4, the women prepare for Hero’s marriage. Walen notes that this scene is often reduced or cut entirely from production. As early as 1674, “revised” prints of the play excised nearly half of the scene. Walen argues that “a sense of prudish propriety” led to the elimination of the bawdy jokes in the scene. Walen shares visuals of the scene not only as printed, but as manually adjusted for performance by actors or in promptbooks, with much of the scene crossed out. Towards the end of the production history, Walen notes that Kenneth Brannaugh shot the scene for his 1993 movie, but ultimately left it on the cutting room floor, dismissing it as “too frustrating”.

Walen argues that both the length and the placement of the scene indicate its importance. The scene of innocence, where Hero is ignorant of the forces working against her, augments the tragedy of Claudio’s rejection. The scene also shows Hero exhibiting some interesting characteristics, contradictory to her public persona of meek, dutiful daughter. The scene also helps recuperate Margaret’s character, demonstrating that she has no malice and that her part in the plot is, as Leonato later notes, unintentional. Walen suggests that the scene is most revelatory about Beatrice, showing a more vulnerable side of her character — engaging the audience on her behalf just before the key turning point with Benedick in the church.

Walen walks briefly through the pathos, ethos, and logos of the scene, linking its importance to its rhetorical function. “Shakespeare makes its rhetorical construct essential to the female characters.”

Nathan Jerkins, Penfold Theatre Company / Hidden Room Theatre: “Frame Characters: An Actor’s Approach to the Original Practices Movement”

Jerkins wonders aloud “What am I doing here?” — specifying that he asks that, not for lack of enjoyment, but in astonishment at himself for presenting at an academic conference. He thanks the ASC and the conference attendees for being willing to let an actor take part in the conversation.

He points out that modern actors cannot approach original practices entirely devoid of modern techniques and training, and wonders how we can take those necessarily modern actors and apply them to early modern plays and methods. He thinks the answer may lie in the “frame character”, as in the Induction of The Taming of the Shrew. He thinks, rather than trying to ingrain our modern actors with anachronistic sensibilities, that we should take advantage of actors’ extant strengths. He suggests the idea of a creating a “frame” character who can guide an actor through discovering a role. He thinks this would also circumvent the stresses involved in needing a “dramaturgical referee” to pull directors and actors back when they have “gone too far astray”.

Andrew Phillips-Blasenak, Ohio State University: “The Materiality of Shakespeare’s Companies”

Phillips-Blasenak examines some of the successes of early-modern-style acting companies, including the ensemble and repertory setups. He suggests that, while this style may be enjoyable for an actor, it also presents problems for an actor’s career, as the prolonged nature of repertory and ensemble work. It encourages innovation in company structure and performance space, but . He will look at how Michael Boyd of the Royal Shakespeare Company attempted to navigate these problems, both in building the actor-audience relationship and in creating a sensible ensemble in the company, especially in regard to the reinvention of the material and physical space.

Phillips-Blasenak looks at the structure of the RSC as a company, where the personnel of the company did not change when the space did. The actors who come in, then, though working with directors who were new to them, were thus working with directors who did not necessarily use the new space in a way that augmented the actor-audience relationship. Phillips-Blasenak gives examples from two past performances which he believes were alienating, rather than engaging. Boyd has also instituted a policy of hiring actors for 2.5 year contracts, with the aim of building a consistent ensemble. Phillips-Blasenak particularly examines this practice in the recent history cycle completion project. “The company was able to adapt and work as an ensemble as they adapted to a variety of roles.” The following year, hiring the directors first and then the actors led to an experience that appeared to be confusing and frustrating for the actors, as the directors could ask wildly different things of the actors. The ensemble nature also broke down, with certain actors getting nearly all lead roles and others only supporting roles — for, Phillips-Blasenak stresses again, two and a half years.

Phillips-Blasenak then runs through an overview of the ASC’s style of ensemble-building, audience engagement, and rotating repertory. This structure “provides many of the material challenges that fulfill the goals of Michael Boyd’s intentions.” Phillips-Blasenak suggests that this is more satisfying for the actors, and may be the reason why ASC actors are more willing to return to this company rather than take their skills elsewhere.

Megan Lloyd, King’s College, and Beth Brown, University of Rio Grande: “‘Is this a dagger which I see before me?’: Choreographing Props on the Early Modern Stage”

Lloyd begins by interrogating the tangibility and necessity of props in early modern plays. She uses examples first from ‘Pyramus and Thisbe” to show that Quince is concerned with the material issues behind stage performance. Lloyd suggests that today we, like Quince, are concerned with stage authenticity — and she gives examples from particularly spectacular Shakespearean performances. The early modern stage, on the other hand, relied on the imagination, not just for sets, but for props as well. Lloyd wonders if, today, we use props that the early modern audience did not see or expect to see, suggesting that our modern concern with realism may lead us to consider some props essential. James Keegan and Miriam Donald Burrows present two scenes from The Tempest to illustrate the questionable necessity of Prospero’s iconic staff. On the second run, the actors perform without the staff. While it may help the actor conjure magic, illustrate age, or otherwise demonstrate character, Lloyd argues that the text does not require it; the text does not even mention it until the very end of the play. Lloyd believes that “a staff gets in the way” of Prospero’s emotions.

Brown considers the necessary props for Hamlet, giving the example of the trail of actors who must handle the cup that ultimately poisons Gertrude. She highlights the necessity of thinking about who must handle any prop that appears on-stage. Ben Curns and Miriam demonstrate “what happens when Ophelia has too much to handle”. Miriam attempts to negotiate letters, books, and a small box, which she has to half-juggle. The second run shows “an unencumbered Ophelia”.

Sid Ray, Pace University: “Sticky Shakespeare: Testing Action as Eloquence”

Ray examines “stage business: the unscripted activities of an actor for effect”. She positions the popularity of the term and action in the 20th century, derived from improvisational theatre. She gives an example of Patrick Stewart’s Macbeth assembling a sandwich while giving instructions to the murderers — illustrating the difference between the character’s humanity and his growing monstrosity. She also mentions Ian McKellen’s Richard III performing all activities one-handed, drawn from clues in historical references and in the text. Both examples, Ray argues, convey more information to the audience about the character. Ray draws a line between stage business and “schtick”, which she categorizes as distracting, unnecessary, and without character revelation or illumination.

She suggests that Shakespeare’s plays indicate need for stage business, even though the term was not popularized until much later. One of the best examples is Lady Macbeth’s hand-rubbing, which has no stage direction, but is implicit in the gentlewoman’s dialogue. During the Restoration, actors may have developed “schtick” which then got passed down to the next actor inheriting the role. Ray believes that stage business has become risky business, particularly with determining whether or not an action is justified, as well as determining “how much is too much”.

Ben Curns and James Keegan perform an expository scene from The Winter’s Tale twice, once in a reserved style, second with more stage business spectacle. In the first, they simply sit at the edge of the stage to talk. In the second, they unpack a breakfast of Golden Grahams (complete with milk) and proceed to eat it while they talk. While it does give Camillo a physical reason for “Beseech you” — asking for the milk — it also slows the actors down and somewhat distracts from the words. Ray notes that she left the choice of stage business to Ben and James; they rejected wrestling, rolling cigarettes, or playing cards. Ray asks, whether or not we enjoyed the first or second version better, that teachers consider using stage business in classrooms as a way of interrogating the needs of a scene.

Jeremy Lopez, University of Toronto: “All the Fletcher Plays”

Lopez suggests that it’s difficult to see the Fletcher canon, especially in conjunction with his many collaborators, “as a jungle, rather than as so many terrifying trees”. He breaks them down by titles: those titled for women (such as The Island Princess), those titled for men (such as The Noble Gentleman), those titled with proper names (such as Sir John van Olden Barnavelt), possessively titled plays (such as The Maid’s Tragedy), idiomatically titled plays (such as A King and No King), plays titled for places (such as The Laws of Candy), with specific examples of plot from each category.

Lopez categorizes the plays as at once familiar and strange, with a combined sense of recollection and insubstance. He looks at several of the plays which may help determine “what is not a Fletcher play, and what is”. He finishes with a claim that the Fletcher plays “preserve traces of what they might otherwise have been, or what they might otherwise have liked to be.”

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Scott Kaiser Keynote

Hello, all! Cass here again to live-blog the Scott Kaiser Keynote Address from 10:30 to 11:15am on Friday, October 28.

Ralph introduces Kaiser by discussing his delight in discovering Kaiser’s book, Shakespeare’s Wordcraft. He says, though, that by removing the classical Greek and Roman terms for rhetorical devices in an attempt to make the topic more accessible, “you have underestimated the appeal to word-nerds”. He half-jokingly suggests, along with his grad students, that he consider reinstating those terms in the second addition. Ralph thanks Kaiser for joining us on behalf of “all the other word-nerds here”.

Acting Shakespeare’s Wordcraft
Scott Kaiser, Oregon Shakespeare Festival

Kaiser prefaces his speech by introducing his assistant actors, Dan Kennedy and Doreen Bechtol. He’ll be talking today about “how to act Shakespeare’s figures of rhetoric” by demonstrating how he works with them in rehearsal. Kaiser defends his choice by stating that the classical terms are almost always an impediment for actors — that his book “is primarily not a scholarly book, but a book for actors and actors-in-training.”

Of vital concern to the actor working with rhetoric is “to illuminate the figure to the audience through voice and body.” He begins with the “speech measure”, using a quote from Stanislavski to explain his meaning: to break down a speech by thought patterns in order to get to the meaning and to make the speech more graceful in form and content. A speech measure, then, is a moment for a choice, “a unit of sense that contains one inhalation, one operative word, one focal point, one image, one action, one moment of human behavior.” He then invites Dan and Doreen up to work through some examples.

Dan: “Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius.” Kaiser calls this one parcel of text, bookended with ‘Cassius’. Doreen: “I see you what you are; you are too proud.” Kaiser calls this two speech measures, pointing out Doreen’s inhalation between the two phrases. Dan: “Seems, madam? Nay, it is. I know not seems.” Kaiser delineates this as three speech measures, connected by the “seems” on either end, with “is” as a fulcrum in the middle. Doreen: “Come weep with me, past hope, past cure, past help.” This Kaiser identifies as four speech measures, but notes that this is not necessarily the only choice — but that it may “illuminate ‘past’ in a different way.” Dan: “Oh Helen! Goddess, nymph, perfect, divine!” Kaiser points out that this line mostly comes out as one exhalation, and asks Dan to try it again as five speech measures. Kaiser points out that this then differentiates each speech measure, automatically conferring greater emotional variety to the line.

Kaiser then moves on to finding the “operative word” — the one word in the measure that is key. It can be created through pitch, volume, or duration. Dan: “What lusty trumpet thus doth summon us?” Kaiser asks Dan to pick one word to make the operative; he chooses “trumpet”, using volume and pitch to key it. Kaiser has him try again, this time with “summon” — he helps Dan out by giving him the incipient action, having him imagine the actual trumpet before delivering the line. Kasier points out that he “stacked the deck” against Dan by giving him a line full of schwas — and that holding that vowel “would make it Transylvanian”.

Dan: “One woman is fair; yet I am well; another is wise; yet I am well; another virtuous; yet I am well.” Kaiser identifies this as three measures, and says he heard three operative words from Dan’s first reading: one, wise, and virtuous. He redirects Dan to make the new word in each phrase the operative: fair, wise, and virtuous. You then hear the operative word “build in a staircase”. Kaiser points out where Dan held his breath during the line, rather than inhaling as he could have to break it into 6 measures.

Doreen: “I’ll tell you who time ambles withal, who time trots withal, who time gallops withal, who he stands still withal.” Four measures, and Kaiser points out the different operative verbs. Doreen used what Kaiser calls “a Ted Wright ladder”, with a build of three and then a drop in pitch for the fourth. He has her do it again, this time bringing the “tell” down so that it doesn’t overwhelm the “amble”.

Kaiser then examines “focal points” — a visual target, “at which you can inhale, towards which you can ascend your energies”. Doreen: “Husband, I cannot pray that thou mayest win. Uncle, I needs must pray that thou mayest lose. Father, I may not wish the fortunes thine. Granddam, I will not wish thy wishes thrive.” Kaiser asks Doreen to try it again without breaking into new measures at the commas. The result is “greater drive; it could not bear all those breaks.”

Dan: “Put out the light, and then put out the light.” The focal point changes between the candle and the sleeping Desdemona. Kaiser states, “It’s the movement of the focal point that makes the figure work.”

Doreen: “Thy deed, inhuman and unnatural, provokes this deluge, most unnatural.” Kaiser says she’s working with two focal points, which he calls “panning and scanning” mid-measure. He suggests that each measure should have a single focal point for greatest clarity on the stage. He wants the first part to focus on Richard, the second to focus on the body. “The reason I coach this way is because, if your eyes are darting back and forth,” the meaning can be lost, especially for audience members farther form the stage.

Dan: “Boldness be my friend! Arm me, audacity, from head to foot!” Kaiser says that Dan’s focal points slipped around. Kaiser points out the figure of personification, that Dan is literally talking to Boldness and Audacity, not to himself — he asks Dan to choose a focal point for each. Finding a specific point for each brings the emotion forward more clearly and makes the point easier to arrive at for the audience; Kaiser points out, “I didn’t tell him what to imagine. I just asked him to structure it in a way that would be clear to the audience.”

Kaiser then moves to the “image” — a complete mental creation, which invokes the imaginative aspect of all five senses. Doreen (as Constance in King John): “Grief fills the room up of my absent child, / Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me, / Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words, / Remembers me of all his gracious parts, / Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form; / Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?” Kaiser thinks it communicates more clearly the depth of her despair when she doesn’t shift her focal point; he asks her to try it again with one single focal point, letting the pressure build up there. Kaiser explains this as finding a single focal point and adding a new layer to it with each measure. “The inesntiy of that single focal point… is so strongly communicated by a single focal point that you understand what all the men are talking about when they call her crazy.”

Next: actions — played in pursuit of objectives against obstacles. Each measure should have one and only one. Dan: “Fool, of thyself speak well. Fool, do not flatter.” Kaiser asks Dan to encourage himself in the first measure, then admonish himself in the second. He further examines the shift, particularly with regard to where the inhalation is positioned and where it comes from — “from his imagination” rather than from the text.

Doreen: “Sweet, sweet, sweet Nurse, tell me, what says my love?” Kaiser says that Doreen has made this three measures, and suggests that the second measure tends to have the same emotion as the first. He asks her to find three wildly different things to play in the three measures (and comments that this tactic is typical of thirteen-year-old girls).

Kaiser then adds the idea of subtext to the lines, which he calls “the realization.” Dan: “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” Kaiser has Dan break that into two measures, asking Dan to realize in the middle, at the comma, that he’s now going to die without having accomplished his goals. “The figure is illuminated by the realization at the comma in the middle of the line,” by the reversal of emotions that the active silence causes — “a moment of human behavior that is atextual.”

Doreen: “Seeming, seeming! I will proclaim thee, Angelo; look for’t.” Kaiser suggests that Doreen realize the depth of Angelo’s corruption at the comma between the two “seeming”s. Kaiser points out that the repetition requires a variation in delivery, discussing the reasons why people repeat themselves.

Finally, Kaiser comes to decisions, a different type of subtext. Dan: “She sees not Hermia. Hermia, sleep thou there, and never mayest thou come Lysander near.” Kaiser suggests the first focal point be on the audience, and that he then make the decision “to leave Hermia there, by herself, unguarded, in the dark.” Dan’s callous deliberation makes the decision hysterically funny, and Kaiser suggests that seeing the choice happen is what makes that humorous for the audience.

Doreen: “What if this potion do not work at all? Shall I be married then tomorrow morning? No, no, this shall forbid it.” Kaiser points out that Doreen has several focal points operating, talking to herself but also indicating the dagger that she will use to kill herself. He asks her to make a decision between the two “No”s. Kaiser notes that this speech complicates delivery, because it layers the decision on top of multiple actions, moving from measure to measure.

Kaiser wraps up by saying that effective theatre lives in these decisions, “not in when the giant neon apple flies down out of the ceiling.”