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.