2011 in Review

We’re wrapping up another year in ASC Education, and 2011 has been full of excitement and surprises.

  • Our biggest event of the year was the 6th Blackfriars Conference, held in late October. With over 150 presenters in both plenary and colloquy sessions; keynotes from George T. Wright, Scott Kaiser, Tiffany Stern, and honoree Stephen Booth; ASC productions and special late-night performances; banquets; parties; and after-parties, this year’s conference was a rousing success.
  • Our summer camps were more successful than ever. At the American Shakespeare Center Theatre Camp, six troupes across two sessions performed in an hour-long version of early modern plays (in a “Greek to me Summer”, the plays were all set in Greece); participated in master classes including stage combat, dance, music, acrobatics, and maskwork; attended academic classes in theatre history, scansion/rhetoric, classics, and source study; and visited the Blackfriars Playhouse to watch the professional Resident and Touring Troupe actors rehearse and perform in our summer season of plays. This was the first summer we offered college credit for the camp. Our Midsummer Day Camp welcomed students ages 9-12 for an adventurous week of creative play, imagination, and fantasy, culminating in a final performance of Twelfth Night. Enthusiasts of all ages came to Staunton for the second year of the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp for Adults. We’re already looking forward to the 2012 camps; applications and registrations are now open: ASCTC; MSDC; NKSC.
  • We introduced a new program in 2011: ASC Family. An ASC Family membership has many benefits, including discounted tickets, free Playhouse tours, and free admission to ASC Family events, where we bring the community into the Playhouse. In September, we welcomed musicians and artists; our next ASC Family event, “Taste of Staunton” is on January 21st and will feature local restaurateurs.
  • The ASC also hosted recitation competitions for Poetry Out Loud and the English Speaking Union. At the ESU Nationals in New York in May, Ralph Alan Cohen served as a judge, and the ASC awarded a full ASCTC scholarship to second-place winner Claire Hilton.
  • Our Study Guides, already improved in 2010, underwent another round of revisions. The new guides for Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Henry V, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, and Richard III feature an expanded Basics section, introducing teachers to methods of classroom performance and engagement with the text, including scansion, paraphrasing, acting interpretation, rhetoric, and audience interaction. I’m currently working on bringing the Basics from last year’s guides up to those standards, and then I’ll start work on the 2012-2013 guides.
  • Those Study Guides form the basis for our Teacher Seminars. This year, we added a fourth seminar, a special one-day event in August. Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall, dozens of new attendees and old friends joined us to explore methods of performance-based learning. For the second year in a row, we’ve welcomed pre-service teachers from JMU to a mini-seminar in December, we look forward to seeing them return next year.
  • We welcomed 15 Little Academes to the Playhouse over the course of the year: 2 in February, 6 in March, 2 in April, 3 in May, 1 in August, and 1 in September. That’s up from 11 in 2010, and we hope that even more teachers will choose to bring their students to us for week-long intensives in 2012.
  • If the students can’t come to us, we’ll come to them! In October, we held our first On-Site Educational Residency in Shaker Heights, Ohio. I traveled with former ASC actors Kelley McKinnon and Chad Bradford for a week with the amazing young women of the Hathaway Brown School. We presented in both English and theatre classes, and Kelley and Chad provided rehearsal coaching for the school’s production of Macbeth.
  • Our educational opportunities aren’t just limited to students; this year, we expanded our professional training programs farther than ever. We continue our long relationship with the Federal Executive Institute, providing leadership seminars, and we’ve begun to develop programs focusing on law and finance as well.
  • Apart from bringing scholars to visit us during the Blackfriars Conference, we also attended a number of other conferences in 2011. We presented to teachers and students at the Texas Educational Theatre Association in January, and that month, representatives from the Education, Marketing, and Managing departments of the ASC attended the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference in Boulder, Colorado. In February, Sarah and I presented on Shakespeare as a Primary Source at the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies’s conference in Phoenix. And in April, Ralph traveled with ASC actors James Keegan, Rene Thornton Jr., and John Harrell to the Shakespeare Association of American conference in Seattle, where Ralph presented on Falstaff and our actors presented at a workshop on Playing Shakespeare. 2012 is shaping up to be just as full of travel for the whole team, with visits planned to Sacramento, Orlando, and Boston.
  • We’re also expanding our relationships with friends across the world. Sarah and I visited the Folger Shakespeare Library in May to discuss how both companies are expanding our online resources for students and teachers. Ryan Nelson from Shakespeare’s Globe visited us to present for the MBC MLitt/MFA program and to talk about digital opportunities for education, and the conference in October further expanded that relationship with a presentation given by new Globe Managing Director Neil Constable, and Director of Research Farah Karim-Cooper on their upcoming Indoor Theatre.
  • We moved the bulk of our archives to Washington and Lee University, where our materials can enjoy greater storage space and management than our facilities could offer (So for anyone who’s visited our archives in the past, that means no more cramming yourselves into that tiny, overstuffed closet). We retain the last five years’ worth of material in the offices, but we shipped everything about shows from 1987 to 2005 down to Lexington; more sections (from Education, Marketing, Development, the Board of Trustees, and on the building of the Blackfriars) will go down in Summer 2012.
  • The MBC MLitt/MFA Shakespeare in Performance program also had a full year: an all-male production of Romeo and Juliet, dueling versions of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, a spring thesis festival, and many other events and productions.
  • We also work with the MBC Program for the Exceptionally Gifted and Honors program each fall semester. This year’s focus word was “wisdom”, and the students explored variations of that word’s meaning through scenes from As You Like It.
  • We partnered with the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind to bring workshops to their students, as well as arranging two sign-language interpreted nights of Macbeth in April — one matinee, for their students, and one evening performance open to the public, thanks to the generosity of the interpreters, Kate O’Varanese and Laurie Shaffer, from UVA who gave us the gift of their services at no cost.
  • We said goodbye to Christina Sayer Grey and welcomed Ben Ratkowski to the team. Christina didn’t leave the ASC, but shuffled over into Marketing; if you follow the ASC on Facebook or Twitter, she’s responsible for most of that content now, as well as numerous contributions to our other promotional materials. Ben took over her job as Group Sales and Academic Relations Manager, in addition to his responsibilities as ASC Family Coordinator.
  • Education Interns always provide a bitter-sweet Hello and Goodbye. Good-bye to Natalie and Liz and David. Hello to Jane, Kyle, Brenna, Kimberly, Jennifer, Angelinne, and John. We’re so grateful for the time each of you can spend with us, and we wish you all the luck in 2012 and beyond.

You can see photos from these events on the ASC Facebook page. If you joined us in 2011, take a flip through and reawaken some memories. If you didn’t make it to Staunton, then hopefully the pictures will inspire you to join us in 2012!

So what’s ahead for ASC Education in 2012? More access to more people. We hope to reach more students and educators than ever — that means more classes coming to matinees, more young adults at ASCTC, more pre-teens at Midsummer Day Camp, more grown folks at No Kidding Shakespeare Camp, more attendees at our Teacher Seminars, more educators downloading Study Guides, more groups coming in for leadership seminars and other professional training opportunities, more podcasts featuring our actors and education artists — more of you getting to do more with us.

I hope everyone has had a lovely and safe holiday season, and that we’ll be seeing you in the coming months. The Actors’ Renaissance Season ramps up in just a few days, providing a wonderful opportunity to witness firsthand the marriage of research and scholarship with theatrical practice — so come see us soon!

Remembering Bernice Kliman and H. Gordon Smyth — A Special Message from Ralph Alan Cohen

Bernice Kliman and H. Gordon Smyth, two important friends to the ASC, died last week. They didn’t know each other, and they would be surprised to find themselves being remembered together in this piece. In truth, they were about as different as two good people can be. Gordon, a retired executive with Dupont, was a quiet and reserved man, the kind of upright citizen you expect to meet at the Rotary Club and have as a deacon of your church. Bernice was a retired professor from Nassau Community College, and the kind of gleefully uninhibited New Yorker you’d expect to see at a protest march with Bella Abzug.

Bernice first raised a family of four sons with her husband Merwin on Long Island and then began a remarkable career as a Shakespearean. At the Folger Shakespeare Library, she was the first reader at her desk when the library opened at 8:45 and the last one there when it closed at 4:45. After hours, she was the ringleader in getting the other scholars together for plays, concerts, lectures, and – especially – parties where there was dancing. She was a wonderful dancer and my memory of parties at the Folger Guest House and at Tom Berger’s Malone Society Dances at the Shakespeare Association of America always feature Bernice tearing up the dance floor in her colorfully patterned stockings – imagine Ruth Gordon doing a damned good Tina Turner imitation and you’ll be pretty close to what I remember.

Bernice didn’t like snobs and she was suspicious of the establishment, but she loved upstarts and underdogs – she was one – so she was immediately drawn to the work of the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express. A good show was all the credentials she needed in a Shakespeare company. At the Folger she became a vocal proponent of the SSE, and, when we offered our first teacher seminars (at the Dayton Learning Center), she was our featured visiting scholar (thanks to the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and our first ever grant). Later she brought us up to Long Island to do shows and workshops at at her college. She was one of those people’s whose high regard for our work made me know we were on the right track, and her remarkable enthusiasm put a favoring wind in our sails. Her great work, The Three-Text Hamlet, gives a side-by-side-by-side look at the three versions of the play, and is one of the indispensible books for a Shakespearean scholar. She did me the honor of letting me use an advanced manuscript for my production of the play in 1995.

By contrast, Gordon’s support was not so much moral as financial – generously so. At his funeral, the minister talked about the story in Luke of the Good Samaritan, and pointed out that loving your neighbor meant extending the idea of “neighbor” even to strangers. In a way, that’s what Gordon did with us. I don’t think he cared that much about Shakespeare, but he and Mary Beth wanted to support young minds – their foundation sends deserving young people to college – and he cared about Mary Baldwin College and knew we were important to Cynthia Tyson and then to Pamela Fox.

I remember, during board meetings, his quiet dismay at our first attempts to be a sound business. I remember his dry comments and his pointed questions. I fancy, too, that he had a glint of amusement in his eyes, the kind of glint your father had while you were explaining to him why you needed a larger allowance. Whatever his misgivings may have been about our start-up, upstart Shakespeare company, it was Gordon who agreed to assure the mortgage our late, great Bruce Campbell had arranged for the Blackfriars.

Gordon and Bernice – the businessman-philanthropist and the scholar-teacher – so unlike one another except in their devotion to the idea that learning enriches, were part of our foundation. We are saddened at losing them. We celebrate their friendship and we owe their memories the best work we can do.

‘Much Ado About Nothing’ Study Guide Now Available!

At last! I get to share the Study Guide for my very favorite play, Much Ado about Nothing. As I noted in a previous post, I’ve enjoyed this one tremendously, and I’m already super-excited about getting to work through these activities with attendees at our Winter Teacher Seminar.

Shakespeare Education: Much Ado about Nothing Study GuideHere is a ten-page preview for your enjoyment. This Study Guide includes the following activities:

  • The Basics: Getting your students on their feet, working with iambic pentameter, paraphrasing, exploring rhetoric, and turning your classroom into an early modern stage.
  • Line Assignments: A way to give your students ownership over a small section of text, which they will use in further language-based activities and staging explorations.
  • Too Wise to Woo Peaceably: Benedick and Beatrice are one of Shakespeare’s finest couples, witty and brilliant and endearing. Better than all of that, however, they’re both fantastically smart — and in this activity, your students will explore the rhetoric of their scenes and discover how Shakespeare uses their language to show the audience that they deserve each other and belong together.
  • Perspectives: Slanderous Tongues. Much Ado about Nothing‘s plot revolves around an issue that your students experience every day in high school life: rumors. Your students will examine the language of slander in Much Ado and will relate Hero’s unfortunate situation to their own lives. What words hurt the most? On what basis can a girl’s reputation become ruined? How is reputation different from a male perspective?
  • Dogberry: Before malapropism was malapropism, it was something else entirely. From everlasting redemptions to odorous comparisons, your students will discover the comic gold that is Dogberry’s creatively mistaken vocabulary.
  • The Gulling of Benedick and Beatrice: Your students will explore the staging requirements of two of the play’s best comic scenes, when Benedick and Beatrice each hear their friends conspiring against them. Where can you hide the eavesdroppers so that the audience can see their reactions — critical to the success of the scene — without breaking the imaginative fiction that allows Benedick and Beatrice to believe that their gullers are unaware of their presence? These scenes take advantage of early modern staging conditions in creative ways, and working through them will get your students thinking actively about thrust staging, universal lighting, and audience contact.
  • Staging Challenges: Kill Claudio. Shakespeare’s plays rarely fit neatly into the categories of comedy and tragedy that we’ve created for them, and a key example of this in Much Ado about Nothing is the moment when Beatrice challenges Benedick to prove his worth to her by killing the man who dishonored her cousin. Through active staging, your students will explore different potential interpretations of this scene and will determine which version they feel tells the best story.
  • Textual Variants: The earliest printed versions of Much Ado about Nothing have several textual oddities — oddities which reveal that this play may be more closely related to Shakespeare’s original manuscript than any other in the canon. Activities on speech prefixes and stage directions will walk your students through an examination of the transmission of text in early modern London.
  • Production Choices: A guide to producing a 1-hour version of the play in your classroom.

If you would like to purchase a downloadable PDF of this or any other ASC Study Guide, just visit our website. I’m already well into work on the Study Guide for Richard III — the last for this artistic year! After which, my plan is to bring the 2010 set up-to-date with the modifications we introduced for the 2011s, and then I will start work on 2012.

How did I get here?

Do you ever take a look around you, and ask yourself: “Now, how did I get here?” I found myself doing that a lot during the last week of October. The question wasn’t the kind of thing that wakes you in the middle of the night in a cold sweat (though in the weeks leading up to October 25, there were plenty of those). Rather, it was a query of wonder. As I stood in the Blackfriars Playhouse October 25-30, I felt as though I had super-glued rose-colored glasses to the bridge of my nose and couldn’t shake that amazing feeling that comes when one is surrounded (at home, no less) by dear friends (new and old), excellent conversation, amazing scholarship, and the joy of the work of two years coming to fruition in a beautiful way.

Ah, the Blackfriars Conference 2011.

My parents have a difficult time understanding me when I say “I won’t be really available for a few weeks, the conference is coming up.” What, exactly, could be keeping me so busy? To be fair, when we were separated by only 90 miles, as opposed to the 1300+ that divide us now, my life was pretty hectic. In my occupation as a high school Theatre teacher, teaching five classes daily, producing six shows a year, with set-building, costume construction, tech rehearsals, I was never as consumed as I am when Conference time rolls around in the odd-numbered year. It’s different, a different kind of busy – an all-consuming, all-anticipating, all-energizing, and yes, all-exhausting kind of feeling that builds for 24 months and culminates in a week of shared excitement, with faces both new and familiar. And the joy of overhearing as the answer to “How did you get here?” not “Bus, train, car,” but “I heard about it from…” or the even more gratifying “I come every time, wouldn’t miss it.”

My first conference was at its third incarnation in 2005, when I was in my first year in the Masters Program at MBC. Two months into the program, and I found myself in the same room with the authors of my textbooks and all of the articles I was looking up in Shakespeare Quarterly.

Why, hi there, Russ MacDonald (*RUSS MACDONALD?!?!?*). Oh, you’re from Texas, too? How nice to meet you!

Well, hello Tiffany Stern (*TIFFANY STERN!!!!*) I love that skirt.

And over there is Stephen Booth, George Walton Williams, Roz Knutson, Leslie Thomson, Alan Dessen. And some friends no longer with us, Bernice Kliman, Arnie Preussner, and Barbara Palmer, whose absence we have felt with sorrow since our last parting.

I knew, in that moment at my first Early Arrivers’ party, that this place was special. What other grad program gives its students the opportunity to network on their home turf? In this case, the turf of the Blackfriars playhouse, always a space of generosity and intimacy and, for one week in October on odd-numbered years, a space of enviable scholarship and flourishing ideas. How was I lucky enough to get here?

My previous conference experiences were all in my undergrad discipline, Theatre Arts. Those conferences featured more workshops than papers, more seminars than presentations, more off-the-cuff speaking than formal delivery. It was a shock to my system to see people reading from a lectern on the stage. But then, the ASC actors arrived. Their contributions linked the two worlds as no other glue or bridge could. They are proof that seeing is the quickest path to believing, whether one needs to be shown a character or helped to understand a presenter’s thesis. In the years since my first conference, it has been my privilege to work with those talented actors to improve interactions between presenters and their actors, to improve communication, to improve the general affect of the conference. We’ve come a long way, and though I know we still have some way to go toward a perfect system, the coming-together of actors and scholars in the way the Blackfriars Conference encourages makes me exclaim: how did I get here and how long can I stay?

In 2007, 2009, and again in 2011, the Conference gave me the opportunity to work along side my mentor, and, I am glad to say, my friend, Ralph Alan Cohen. When I took over from Sarah Pharis (aka Sarah #1) in 2007, I had big shoes to fill. Sarah’s organizational structure — her daily work flow chart is still the basis for everything that happens behind the scenes — made it possible for me to step in and to help Ralph to achieve his goals: good papers, good friends, good food, good times. It’s not as easy as it sounds. This year, I began to think of it as akin to planning a 6 day party for 250 of my dearest friends. Each hour of each of the 16 hour days just needs to be scheduled with events, food, drink, and plays. I’d just need to contact each of the 100+ presenters, the 50 grad students, the 15 actors, the 5 caterers, and the 5 venues to give them individual instructions for each minute of that time, get the invites and the publicity out, and then make sure everyone feels pampered and loved while they are here. Not so hard. It’s not, really.

Not this year, anyway. For the first time since my 2005 conference (when I was merely a volunteer), I had a full team in place and on board so early with planning and strategizing, that I actually got to watch my friends, both presenters and actors, in every session, and I watched the rest of my friends in the audience enjoying every minute.

How did I get here? Well, for that, I have loads of people to thank. Ralph, for trusting, the ASC actors and artistic staff for being so generous and sharing their talents in the highlight event of each day, Cass, Ben, Christina, Asae, Kim, Anne, bear wrangler Brian, Clara, Paul (Menzer and Rycik), the entire admin staff at ASC, the wonderful box office staff, the artistic staff and actors for making each session and evening performance memorable, the MBC students who exceeded their colleagues at past conferences in both volunteering and contribution of scholarship. They made it look (and feel) easy, and I am tremendously grateful.

Some highlights for me at the 2011 conference included:
• The delicious food at the early arrivers’ party.
• Stephen Booth’s paper on Shakespeare and Audiences.
Go Dog Go, as devised and performed by Chris Johnston, John Harrell, Jeremy West, Dan Kennedy, Greg Phelps, Miriam Donald, and James Keegan.
• Hearing about the new Indoor Theatre in London from Neil Constable (Heck, meeting Neil Constable).
• Bill Gelber’s ‘ A “Ha” in Shakespeare….”
• Ben Curns sleeping onstage (as directed) in Casey Caldwell’s paper (and then using lightening quick reflexes not to knock over the 100 champagne glasses set behind the curtain as he exited).
• Chris Barrett.
• Joe Ricke and Jemma Levy in a morning session to rival all others.
• George T. Wright and James Keegan’s mutual admiration discussion.
• Finding out “Why are there no blowjob jokes in Shakespeare” from Matt Kozusko.
• Beth Burns and the Hidden Room.
• Stuart Hall’s participation, thanks to Brett Sullivan Santry.
• Natasha Solomon and Dan Burrows acting in Bob Hornback’s Renaissance Clowns paper.
• Seeing our Conference Attendees see John Harrell’s Hamlet.
• Our late night shows (wow).
• William Proctor William’s experiment.
• Seeing ASC actors at every paper session (even the EARLY ones).
• Watching worlds come together in Scott Kaiser’s keynote.
• The bear(s).
• Talking teaching.
• Tiff.
• Colloquies.
• Insights on our space in session X.
• The Banquet.
• Doreen Bechtol in everything she did, but especially Lady M as played by Sarah Siddons (pregnant).
• Hamlet Conversation.

And so, a little over a month past the last day of the conference, I have a little time to reflect. A little time to look around at the people I work with, the place I work for, and thank heavens that, however it came to be, I landed here.

What will you remember?

Too Wise to Woo Peaceably

The Much Ado about Nothing Study Guide should be ready soon (and I hope I’ll have a 10-page preview for you on Monday), and I just have to say, I’m enjoying this one more than probably ought to be allowed. I’m enjoying it so much, in fact, that I couldn’t wait until the release to tell you what a good time I’m having.

Much Ado about Nothing is my favorite play, and this has never been a secret to anyone who knows me. It was not the first Shakespeare play I read, but it was the first one I saw in performance, at the age of 12, in the little theatre in the basement of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. From that night on, it was all over for me. Much Ado had won my heart, and nothing since has had any power to tempt it away.

There’s a lot that’s good in this play — the satire of courtship between Claudio and Hero, the insidious villainy of Don John, the overconfident antics of Constable Dogberry — but for my money (and I suspect for many others’ as well), this show is all about Beatrice and Benedick. They are both the head and the heart of the story, the greatest wits and also the characters who demonstrate the most tremendous emotional depth. I think theirs is the most emotionally real of all of Shakespeare’s love stories, not least because it’s a more mature affair than many others. Benedick and Beatrice have loved and lost and hurt before; Beatrice tells us this flat-out, though Shakespeare tantalizingly never elucidates the circumstances of their shared past:

DON PEDRO
Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of

Signior Benedick.


BEATRICE
Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave
him use for it, a double heart for his single one:
marry, once before he won it of me with false dice,
therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.

I like this glimpse of backstory not only for the magnificent potential for emotional nuance that it gives performers, but also because it provides Beatrice and Benedick with a more solid foundation on which to build a relationship. If they only fall in love with each other because their friends trick them into it, that would make them fairly shallow people, and it would not inspire a lot of hope for a successful future — but if the love is already there and just needs to be rekindled, that paints a much brighter picture.

I’ve been working on an activity that I just can’t wait to test out with the participants of our Teacher Seminar in February, examining the progression of their relationship through an analysis of how they use language. Shakespeare shows the audience, so clearly, that these two are meant for each other. No one else in the play uses language quite the way they do. For all the banter, quips, and Beatrice and Benedick are the only two who so consistently take each others‘ words, fire them back across, and set up for the next volley.

The rhetoric shows us not only how smart they are — and these two characters are some of Shakespeare’s most verbally intelligent creations — but how well they work together. At the beginning of the play, those shared words and mimicked rhetoric are part of the battle, a game of one-up-manship they play with each other. By the end of the play, however, Beatrice and Benedick are using those same figures in a completely different way; instead of combating each other, they’re working together, building off of each others’ words instead of trying to tear each other down. There’s still an element of challenge there — essential, I think, to their relationship — but it’s no longer with the end goal of destruction. Beatrice and Benedick prove themselves a delightfully matched pair. From the “gay couples” of Restoration comedy to the comedies of manners in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the “screwball” comedies of the 1930s and 40s, and the sitcoms of today, their legacy is certainly a magnificent one.