Staging Session 1 Wednesday 10/23/2013

Good afternoon everyone.

This is Molly Zeigler, MBC MLitt/MFA student, here to live-blog Staging Session 1 (10/23/2013) at the 2013 Blackfriars Conference.  This Staging Session is being presented at the Blackfriars playhouse.

Session Moderator: Doreen Bechtol, Mary Baldwin College

Presenters: 

Douglas King, Gannon University

Brett Gamboa, Dartmouth College: Dramas of Disclosing: Some Intrusions of Actor and Stage

James Loehlin, The University of Texas at Austin: Comic and Tragic Eavesdropping Scenes in Shakespeare 

Performers:

Ben Curns, Lee Fitzpatrick, Josh Innerst, Gregory Phelps, and Rene Thornton, Jr.

These Staging Sessions are an opportunity to explore how staging, architecture, and physicality impact interpretation and performance. Today’s scenes are being presented ‘on the fly,’ with little preparation (a fact infusing the session with a certain energy and a sense of immediacy). There are future Staging Sessions scheduled.

Presenting first is James Loehlin from the University of Texas at Austin. Loehlin’s work is focused on eavesdropping scenes in the plays. Loehlin suggests viewing the representation of eavesdropping in Early Modern drama as “concentric rings” of communication – consider eavesdropping in Troilus and Cressida and in Love’s Labour’s Lost (namely the four young men and their sonnets).  Of special interest are the examples of eavesdropping where one character believes himself to be hiding and listening effectively, but in reality his location and activity are well known to other characters in the scene and this fact is exploited for maximum impact.

First, the comic eavesdropping: Act 2, scene 3 of Much Ado About Nothing, the garden of eavesdropping (Benedict hides, he thinks, unbeknownst to others).  The scene is played beautifully by Ben Curns, Josh Innerst, Gregory Phelps, and Rene Thornton, Jr.  By exploring different versions of the same scenario (with Benedict being the focus, with the others being the focus, with Benedict hiding in plain sight, etc) we can begin to see how the act of eavesdropping impacts the performativity of the piece.

Eavesdropping and its representation pose intriguing questions: Who benefits from hearing certain things here?; Who needs to hear what at this moment?; Why does this character hide at this moment?; What does this ‘hidden’ activity mean to the overall story?

Second, the tragic eavesdropping: Act 4, scene 1 of Othello, Iago and Cassio talking about Bianca while Othello eavesdrops (and mistakes the conversation for being about Desdemona). The scene is explored by Ben Curns, Josh Innerst, and Rene Thornton, Jr. In this examination close attention is paid to proxemics (spatial relationships between actors, between actors and audience) and to auditory concerns – how much does Othello hear, how much does he need to hear?

It is interesting to see how the staging of eavesdropping, and the considerations and choices that may be made, can alter and direct perception of character, plot, story, tragedy, and comedy. (And how much freedom there may be in a given text to represent eavesdropping.)

Presenting second is Brett Gamboa from Dartmouth College. Gamboa is presenting his work: Dramas of Disclosing: Some Intrusions of Actor and Stage.  Gamboa is exploring the line between actor and character and how they are both represented on stage.

Assisted by Ben Curns, Lee Fitzpatrick, Josh Innerst, Gregory Phelps, and Rene Thornton, Jr. several scenes from several works (including Othello and Hamlet) are explored.

We are looking, here, for the interesting and obvious mix of the actor and the character being performed.  At times, and supported by production histories and texts, a character may present aspects of the performer while the inverse remains true for the majority of the time.  Consider when characters ‘forget’ lines (Hotspur, Polonius), it is an act that many actors encounter and in its performance the line between expression of action and action itself is blurred.  Consider, as well, when characters suffer falls or other injury within the play and the concern expressed by other characters may represent concern between actors. It is also interesting to consider the impact of the playing space. In King Lear when a blind Gloucester is being led up a ‘hill,’ he his not being led up a hill, rather the ‘ground’ is as flat as a stage.

Conventions can limit and shape a performance – these conventions are used by Shakespeare and by actors in production after production. Consider the feather in front of a dead Cordelia’s face – it will stir.  Stage and character conventions help continue and shape a character’s body of representation.

The mingling of reality and the reality of the play and the ‘reality’ sought by the characters as played by the actors makes for an interesting blending of representation and meaning.

Presenting third is Douglas King from Gannon University.  Starting off with a performance of the wonderful back and forth between Katherine and Petruchio in Act 2, scene 1 of The Taming of the Shrew (delivered with great enthusiasm by Lee Fitzpatrick and Gregory Phelps), King’s work explores the relationship between speech, language, and physical representation.  The scene was performed several times paying attention to the relationship created between Katherine and Petruchio as expressed by words and by physicality.

Is there value in refraining from physicality, even when the text seeks to create it? Is there value in creating an enhanced sense and use of physicality?

The scene from The Taming of the Shrew was performed with a pronounced distance between Petruchio and Kate and with an undeniable closeness (resulting in a playful dance between Fitzpatrick and Phelps that ended with them swooning together over a fallen stool – quite to the delight of the audience).  Merit and meaning were found in both versions.  A distance between the leads creates a tension while the closeness exploits any tension allowing it to overcome the characters (and the actors) in an expression of intensity.  It’s interesting to consider how choices regarding physicality and the demands of the text can come together to shape meaning.

We had fun this afternoon.  The audience perched about the Blackfriars hung easily, almost wantonly, off the snippets of performance and text which were mingled just so on the golden stage. The Staging Sessions’ use of the Blackfriars Stage and actors makes for some fascinating and fleshed out scholarship. See you at the next one.