Wake-up Workshop: “A Certain Text”

Good morning and welcome to the first session of the 2013 Blackfriars Conference. My name is Ashley Pierce, and I will be live blogging the first session, a Wake-up Workshop “A certain text” with Natalia Razak that took place Tuesday October 23rd 8:00 to 8:45 AM. This is the first ever Wake-up Workshop with the American Shakespeare Center and Blackfriars Conference, as part of the education program within the ASC, dealing this morning with scansion. This is a means to showcase what the education program brings to schools.

Razak invited 11 of this morning’s gathering to join her on stage, asking them to sit upon the gallant stools located on the stage. She had the volunteers each take a syllable from Shakespeare’s line “To be or not to be; that is the question…” from Hamlet. Coupling up the volunteers into pairs, she had the person to the right of each pair sit down while the second person stood, to emphasis the iambic pentameter. She then had the group go through the line, saying their syllable to show the stressed and unstressed syllables. Then moving the topic onto the feminine endings, she asked the group what this could infer on the line. Some answers were, disoriented, questioning, hesitation, weak, etc, with Razak adding that she did not think she “has cracked the feminine ending.” The next step was to do this same exercise, with the quarto version of this same text, “To be or not to be; ay there’s the point…” Going through the same process, this time highlighting the trochaic stresses, Razak noted that this makes it a discovery. She then asked the group to try this again without stressing the “ay” to see if it is more an internal shift, making Hamlet more of a thinker, showing how this experiment/exercise can teach as well as play with Shakespeare’s text. The workshop then moved into a speech of Biron’s from Love’s Labour’s Lost. Razak gave the attendees a copy of this speech and had them each read a line, in a “read around.”

Razak then talked about how the ASC actors will scan and paraphrase their lines before the first rehearsal to help put everyone on the same page, so the director knows what the actors think and can see if it is what they are thinking as well. This is to ensure that the actors know exactly what they are saying and to make sure the audience knows as well. Razak then asked the attendees to locate a pen, asking them to take a couple of moments and paraphrase the line they had previously read. Due to time constraints, she then asked if anyone had a paraphrase they were proud of or had a difficult time with that the group could explore; unfortunately not everyone could read what they discovered. One attendee mentioned that “time” was a hard word to paraphrase, saying that she came up with chronology, Cronus, hours. Showing that some words were difficult to find a new word for since it was so tied into our common language. Razak then moved forward to look at mid-line breaks, caesuras, with the group, to trouble why a character would pause in the middle of a line. She asked how this feels when reading and hearing this harsh break in the line, as well as talked about how this effects the breath control of the actor speaking the line.

As an attendee said when you have to take a breath it takes the person out of a thinking place and moving them into a feeling place. Attendees left this workshop with this thought to ponder as they moved on to the next session of the day.