Blackfriars Conference 2013–Colloquy Session #2: Methods I, Pedagogy and the “Renaissance Run”

Hello Everyone, my name is Clare and I will be blogging for the 2013 Blackfriars Conference Colloquy II. This colloquy is presided by Greg Fiebig and the presenters are Craig Edwards, Kendra Emmett, Katie Wampler, and Jeremy Fiebig.

 

 

G Fiebig: I chose to use the Renaissance Run (Ren run) as a means to start rehearsals for a Shakepeare in Performance class working on Much Ado About Nothing. My son, Jeremy has done extensive research on the method and employed it in his work as a theater director.

This is a case study, which looks at the twelve man doubling group, limited rehearsal time, lack of director, and other period staging practices.  I cast myself as Don Jon, and the first watchman.

Looking back on the experience, we often view Ren run as a flipped classroom, (not using fact based knowledge towards a production, but learning by doing).  There are four major aspects of the flipped classroom.  1) Students arrive off book with a paraphrase, so they have experience before the class. 2) Students have an incentive to work hard.  These students had a contract, and had to perform after a week.  3) Instructors assess student understanding through conversation rather than tests. 4) Students learn through problem solving in performance.  Students worked in acting, directing, theater management, and literature.

 

J Fiebig: I used a rehearsal process similar to that of the American Shakespeare Center (ASC) Renaissance Season (about 5 weeks rehearsal with 2 weeks Ren style, and no director) as a device for the Sweet Tea Shakespeare Company.  In particular, we will looked at Romeo and Juliet.  Contracts with the actors made them sharers in the production.

 

G Fiebig: On the question of acting, what is the learning outcome or objective you want students to learn in an acting class?

 

Wampler: I want students to create and pursue character objectives.  Also, I work on the idea of presence on stage and productive moments of breaking the fourth wall.

 

J Fiebig: I want them to look at the ability to solve problems on their own.  I want them to look at how to prepare a text, to understand how to deconstruct early modern texts, and how to find embedded stage directions connecting to tactics/objectives.

 

G Fiebig: How does this Ren run model help actors accomplish those learning objectives/outcomes?

 

Wampler: Objectives orient towards the other characters on stage and interacting with the audience.

 

G Fiebig: Kendra played Beatrice, and continually wanted feedback. What did you get from me and how did you manage and achieve these outcomes?

 

Emmett: As an actor, you look to your director for feedback and guidance.  Even though we discussed that you would not be a director, you put forth the model, so you remained an authority. The response I got was “If I don’t like what you are doing, I will let you know,” therefore, I had to trust what I was doing and keep doing it with the knowledge that if something was wrong we would address it. There was a lot of problem solving we had to do on our own.

 

G Fiebig: Did you grow as an actor?

 

Emmett: Yes, I learned to come to rehearsal with multiple ideas to play with moments, or multiple ideas for tactics and how to test them.  I might only get to try one or two before I perform it.  I had to come with multiple options to solve the moments, and I had to have those ready.

 

G Fiebig: How does this confront the idea of the lazy actor?

 

J Fiebig: In the Blackfriars, I get a high on the space and the way that it works.  I come out thinking that the process will make good actors, but I do need good actors to make the process work well.  I need actors who are dedicated, but there is a definite value which I am still seeking to define.

 

G Fiebig: The model appears to become better over time. Having done it twice, does the process become better and does it make better theater?

 

J Fiebig: I would like to use the model again, I do not know if my actors would like it.

 

G Fiebig: What is the place of the director and how does it help with pedagogy? I had to teach students to act and what entrance and exit conventions are, etc. So I directed act 1, and Kendra did act 2 last minute, and we delegated the responsibility of the point person for each act from there.  However, there is also an individual who has to make acting decisions. How much influence in the casting and the audition process effects the production?

 

J Fiebig: It is true that a good deal of directing is choosing the best cast. I found that my role became that of a coach to make sure that actors did not freeze up, and continued to make choices.

 

G Fiebig: What, as a company member, did you learn about directing from stepping into that role?

 

Emmett: I was also taking a directing class at the time, but this was my first chance to direct (this class started before the others). I was a complete novice. For this style, I became a “traffic cop.”  It was the biggest piece of what we had to do for the second day of work.  The process began with looking at entrances and exits; then we sorted out where the actor needed to be.  Mostly it was organic, in that actors figured it out for themselves.  We only stopped if we had a problem in the flow.

 

G Fiebig: Her act also had the masquerade which was chaotic. It was interesting getting to watch them figure it out and being able to make them figure it out.  The end result was something about which I had no previous concept, including the music used. Was there some directing taking place in the absence of the director during the Ren run?

 

J Fiebig: Yes, the actors sort out a person to take the lead in each situation (often things like Hamlet having to direct Rozentcranz and Guildenstern).  I had a lot of teachers who wanted to take control of the chaos and fix it.  The major explosions of the process came from too many people wanting to take control.

 

G Fiebig: After the performance of Much Ado, I got pages of directors’ notes from audience members, and I had to choose which to acknowledge and send forward to the actors.  There were moments where I did not like what I was seeing on stage, which was frustrating for me as a teacher, director, and audience member. There was one particular instance in which I felt that I had to step in.

 

G Fiebig: What is the literary take away from a Ren run rehearsal process?

 

Edwards: I wanted to look at the objectives.  I wanted students to locate, identify, and interpret literary devices and how they convey meaning in a macro and micro sense on stage.  I also want my students to be able to interpret the literary devices visually. I wanted my students to be able to see both rehearsals and productions.  I am particularly interested in symbolism, and how a symbol can have multiple meanings on stage.  (Students often have a one-to-one correlation with symbolism).  I saw Alli Glenzer able to interpret a speech (I don’t remember which) in which she physically interpreted a repeated idea four or five different ways, and I want my students to be able to see those multiple possibilities and the ways they can realize these ideas.

 

J Fiebig: I think there is a desire to play the ambiguity here at the ASC rather than looking at is as an option. The rehearsal process is about negotiating which of the options to pursue and how it affects the other characters in the scene.  There is comfort in allowing the audience or the reader to choose what the ambiguity means rather than trying to have the actor solve it. As a result, the performances are more conversational, and less essays.

 

G Fiebig: There is ambiguity in the way they play the text as well as how to read the text. You allow students to do their own cutting, and some of the actors at the ASC are allowed to do the cutting.  How does that play into the pedagogical or learning outcome?

 

J Fiebig: The reason for this model is less to engage in a conversation about literary choices, and more about opening up clearer acting choices for the actors, it is more about performance time and clear story telling.  We do have literary conversations and I do insist on certain lines which will not be cut.  In Romeo and Juliet, we had to replace Juliet, and the first Juliet made several of her own cuts, and the second one wanted to make different cuts which was difficult for Romeo.  There is also a conversation about cutting famous lines.  But this is all less of a literary focus.

 

G Fiebig: We talk about original practices as conventions of theater (such as the ASC use of a bell for an intermission signal).  There are certain ideas which an audience must be taught, and certain objectives for what we teach the audience.  What are the learning outcomes for the audience members and how does the Ren Run methodology allow us to active that?

 

Wampler: We want to entertain and educate audience members.  How do we do that so that they know what to expect? Your expectations of the experience effects the experience itself.  So how can you prepare the audience for a certain experience in order to help them get the most? We look at marketing (the ASC does podcasts) we want to let them know that the lights will be on, so they do not expect the quiet of a black out over the audience.

 

G Fiebig: What do we do when we get them there? How do we teach an audience that audience interaction is okay, and can be good? You talk about circles of energy, how can you use that to connect to the audience?

 

Wampler: Circles of energy range from introvert to overbearing an audience member.  We need to look at where the audience members fall with these circles of energy and how they will react and respond to audience targeting.

 

J Fiebig: To me, this seems like a new convention in which I wonder if we are teaching people to respond in a particular way because they are trained at other events how to be audience members, and I wonder how audience members can react new ways. There is something about performance, because if it is just Shakespeare that we love, we would read it at home. 

 

G Fiebig: The idea of new and familiar conventions raises the question if there is anything new.  Shakespeare had to create a different kind of place for a different kind of event for what his audience members would experience.  The audience has to agree on the proper channels of reaction to a given situation.  In every performance, we have to teach the audience and they have to learn how to respond to things. One of the things we use for audience pedagogy is marketing.  We need to persuade people that the performance is something they want to be a part of, and that they want to come.  What is the marketing/theater management aspect of the Ren run?

 

J Fiebig: People need a reason to come to a play.  For many people, the fact that Shakespeare is “important” is a part of it.  For my company, the Shakespeare aspect, the outdoor aspect, the homespun aspect, the food and drink, the beautiful people and animals in the performance are all attractions.  The artist in me struggles with the idea that the performances are strictly pedagogical, and with the idea that what we are doing is branding and marketing. I like to look at the idea of value instead, and the idea of building value. I like to look at where we go to get values.

 

G Fiebig: How does that balance with theater management?  Our ticket sales were dismal in terms of the project.

 

Wampler:  The biggest marketing technique is “word of mouth.” We had students sit by the cafeteria and call out to people about the production.  We could have a great performance, but still few people came.  Being able to engage in the performance is really beautiful, and it is sad when we cannot share it.

 

J Fiebig: We found that taking pieces of the production to the community and performing in a different space and made it reach to a larger range of people.  We found that the Ren model caught attention and interested people.

G Fiebig: We performed in lots of different places which made the performances and the audience response unique.

 

Wampler: One of the performances was particularly interesting because a lot of people passing through, (including small children who came to watch) and were interested in the world we were able to create.  Kids do not like to sit quietly, and they do not always learn the audience conventions we create in interactive theater. The interaction and the world are a huge part of the process.

 

J Fiebig: The idea that it is cheap theater is not always applicable.  Sometimes the cheapest show to produce is much better.

 

G Fiebig: The Ren model turns the classroom upside down. We tried to look into it, are there any questions we can clarify?

Audience member: How do you balance the circles of energy and direction?

Wampler: I have to coach individually and make them repeat it until they get into the proper circle, the students can feel it and can identify it, and find which one best creates the relationship with the other characters and the audience.  See also, Patsy Rodenburg on body, breath, and voice. (see links http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ub27yeXKUTY and http://patsyrodenburg.com/PatsyRodenburg.com/Home.html).

Audience member: what lead you to the decision to rehearse in multiple different spaces?

G Fiebig: I chose to do so because I knew we would be performing in different spaces, and wanted to build into their experience the ability to adapt to environment.

J Fiebig: I wanted to do that as a marketing technique (we did not have a large marketing budget).  The press release about our traveling practice attracted media attention as well.  Another reason is to allow the actors and audience to have potential access to liquor and coffee.  In addition, different places have different aesthetics and different tones which allow different parts of the text to emerge. Having the actors encounter lots of things that are not part of a pristine environment allows them to grow in their ability to respond to each other and the environment (and become accustomed to inoculate particular distractions), it is also helpful for responding to a live audience.

Audience member:  I have seen that characters can embrace and use the environment as part of the performance, so why inoculate?

J Fiebig: Some things have to be ignored because the character has a larger concern. You have to choose what to inoculate for a clearer and more effective performance.

Emmett: Often embracing the moment becomes comic and you have to balance the meta-theatrical and the tragic.

J Fiebig/audience member: there are moments when meta-theatrical are used to intensify rather than for comic effect

G Fiebig:  Placing new actors in a new environment gives actors more to respond to.

J Fiebig: We also found that it can create more intimate moments between the actors when they have to hold the environment at bay.