Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Colloquy Session I: Staging Choices

Greetings: Charlene V. Smith here, live blogging  from the Tyson Center, Colloquy Session I: Staging Choices, which runs from 2:30pm to 3:45pm. Jemma Levy is the chair for this session and the presenters are Matthew Carter, Annette Drew-Bear, Andrew Harvey, Donald Hedrick, Claire Huber, Claire Kimball, and Angelina LaBarre.

This colloquy is about staging choices; Levy points out that the papers are eclectic, dealing with choices from a number of different angles.

Carter’s paper is about the use of weapons as indicators of characters in Romeo and Juliet, specifically looking at outsiderness and ethnicity. His argument is that since modern audience will no longer recognize the ethnicity attached to stage combat and weaponry, we need to identify these differences in other ways, possibly through costume. Levy asks how using costume to indicate ethnicity is different from what already happens through costume design. Carter suggests that costume designers may need to look more into combat and weapon based visual signifiers. Spanish style fighting was cut-centric instead of stab-centric, for example. Another example: Capulet calls for his long sword, implying an older style of fighting, which an early modern audience would have recognized as inappropriate for the fight. The participants discuss what information an audience may or may not recognize through modern or early modern weapons. Carter says he is convinced that a modern audience is more finely tuned to costume design than weaponry technology.

LaBarre’s paper explores the question of stage management in the early modern theatre through her experience as a member of MBC’s MFA in Shakespeare and Performance 2012-2013 company, Roving Shakespeare. She investigates different terms that were present during the early modern era that may have been equivalent to a modern day stage manager and the responsibilities of these positions. For example, medieval prompters would be placed in the center-front of the stage and would prompt not only lines, but also movements with the use of a guiding stick. Later the stage manager domain shifts to backstage due to greater spectacle and increased technology. Levy points out even today a stage manager’s duties can vary greatly from production to production and director to director, musing that the shifts in terms and definitions historically continue for that position to this day. Hedrick asks about how the hierarchy of these positions have shifted over time. LaBarre points out that the high status of the book keeper in the early modern theatre stems partially from the fact that the book keeper had access to the play’s full text.

Drew-Bear wrote on the staging of evil in Lust’s Dominion (possibly written by Thomas Dekker). Drew-Bear refers to the character of the machiavellian Moor (Eleazar) as a playwright, and LaBarre, connecting to her paper, suggests that he might actually be more of a book keeper. Drew-Bear’s paper explores the metatheatricality of Eleazar and his text. Lust’s Dominion has a play-within in which Eleazar sets up the staging and tells the actors what to do in a pseudo-rehearsal. Drew-Bear points out that Eleazar is quite self-conscious in his use of theatrical terms. Levy asks whether there is an implication that Eleazar is performing the role of villain, as opposed to actually being a villain. Drew-Bear thinks it is more accurate that Eleazar is revealing in the role of villain as opposed to suggesting that he is, at heart, someone else.

Kimball’s paper argues that we should re-embrace The Bloody Banquet as a prime example of Jacobean revenge drama and identifies elements in the play that would be appealing to a modern audience. Kimball is fascinated by the fact that this play contains so many theatrical elements and yet modern companies are unfamiliar or uninterested in this play. She loves both the gore and violence, but also the number of staging repetitions that are set up in the play. For example, the play contains a pre-banquet in addition to the titular banquet. Kimball says part of the viability of the play can be found in the title. An audience is expecting to see a bloody banquet, an expectation which is frustrated by the inclusion of a first banquet that isn’t the bloody one. Carter asks how Kimball would recommend situating this play to make it marketable. Kimball suggests linking it with other violent or Jacobean pieces such as Titus Andronicus or The Duchess of Malfi. (As possibly the only person in this room other than Kimball to have read this play, I heartily support her recommendation to stage it!)

Harvey’s paper is on Julius Caesar, arguing that Brutus exemplifies Aristotle’s definition of the Noble Man and is the moral center of the play. With that line of thought, Caesar’s ghost cannot be a manifestation of Brutus’ guilty conscience. Levy asks what journey this leaves the actor playing Brutus and Harvey says he sees the character as static and as one that doesn’t have a journey. As a staging choice, Harvey suggests having Caesar’s ghost come from the trap, indicating to an audience that he is a malevolent spirit.

Hedrick’s paper looks at Henry V’s wooing scene with Katherine as part of a larger work on the arousal of monarchs in history plays. Hendrick questions how arousal might be played. He provides a scale of options: 1. Do nothing physically, using only the language of love. 2. A la Laurence Olivier, saddle up close to your acting partner. 3. Monty Python approach, with a wink wink, nudge nudge to the audience or let the other actors react to or point out the arousal. 4. the Lysistrata method. Hendrick points out that James was against the use of codpieces in costumes. He asks how we point out the possible subversiveness / comic effect of an aroused monarch for a modern audience? LaBarre suggests that both comedy and violence lives in all these choices. Levy asks at what point would an audience member be removed from the play and miss moments as they process a large prosthetic or a naked appendage. Carter points out that the Princess in Henry V is body-centric while learning English, which might suggest something about how she would react to a possible erection.