Staging Session II: Auditory Worlds Onstage: Hearing, Overhearing, Eavesdropping, and Stage Whispers – Blackfriars Conference 2013

Good afternoon from Clare at the Blackfriars! I will be blogging on the second staging session of the 2013 Blackfriars Conference.

Staging Session II: Auditory Worlds Onstage: Hearing, Overhearing, Eavesdropping, and Stage Whispers

With little to no practice, the ASC residence cast and their facilitators will work through complicated staging situations. Please see: Staging Session II Handout

Moderator: Sara Vazquez, ASC stage manager

1. Much Ado Masked dance: Conducted by Walter Cannon and Nova Myhill (Much Ado About Nothing 2.1)

2. Eavesdropping in Measure for Measure: Gayle Gaskill (Measure for Measure, 3.1)

3. Public vs Private speech in Hamlet: Laury Magnus (Hamlet, 3.2)

1) Myhill and Cannon will look precisely at the moments of hearing and non-hearing, and how the scene changes when characters over-hear, and when they fail to over-hear each other.  They also want to gives special attention  to the way that masks which usually give individuals power over each other, or render each other powerless. The actors will first play the scene all masked and then time with only the men in masks.

The first time the actors played the scene, they all danced and only the head couple spoke to each other.  The other actors were not distracting themselves from hearing, but also did not appear to react much to the head couple. They were all masked.

The second time, the women wore no masks and again only by the two interlocutors heard the conversations.  Each couple broke off from the dance to their individual conversations after they spoke to each other in the dance for their own private conversations. The women also played the scene as having more agency over the men who are unable to answer for themselves when the women confronted them about themselves while the women enjoy displaying their wit.

2) Differing editions of Measure for Measure have the duke and the provost exit in a scene 3.1., or stay on stage and eaves drop during the conversation in which Isabella confesses to her brother that she must sleep with Angelo to save her brother’s life. Does the duke upstage the other actors if he is seen overhearing the actors?

The first time, the duke and the provost left and then the duke reappeared listening from the balcony. Claudio’s initial support of Isabella’s chastity gave the duke in comfort, but at Claudio’s first request for Isabella to save him by sin, the duke rushed out of the balcony and reappeared later to stop the two from their argument.

The second time, the duke and the provost remained on the apron of the stage, downstage left, and listened to the conversation,  The duke even inserted a few non-verbal auditory reactions. He then chooses a specific instance to insert himself. His motivation for reappearing appeared to change.

3)Just before the play within the play, Hamlet is playing the harlequin which keeps him from culpability while simultaneously insulting the characters (possibly without their realizing they are being insulted). The actors have their hearing visible by their onstage reactions, and the actors are free to respond as they will to the speech. This scene has an elaborate architecture of seeing and hearing.

The first time, the scene began with Hamlet putting on a harlequin disguise for the sake of the court. Before the play, the characters who were not interlocutors played mostly sock and disgust regarding Hamlet’s words, but little reaction to the dumb show, and were not watching each other watch the play, with the exception of Hamlet on a diagonal downstage of them and able to see them.

The second time, Hamlet did not put on a disguise and appeared in earnest, acting more like the typical Romeo character, and when he was speaking with one individual, the others broke off to have their own private conversations which allowed Hamlet to comment on people without the subjects of the comments aware he was speaking of them. This staging also allowed the actors to watch each other watch the play and each others’ reactions to the play. During the break in the play, when the characters comment on the play, Hamlet got up and pulled characters to the side to have conversations with them about the play and direct specific ideas toward them. This allowed him to be much more manipulative and direct in his comments, but lead to some discontinuity when other characters commented on the individual conversations.

The audience was divided on the positioning of the duke. Many felt that his position on the apron of the stage found it difficult to see him and divided their attention.  There was also a lot of debate on whether or not the Duke, or Isabella and Claudio should be the focus of the scene.   Most of the staging today used dumb show conversation to indicate not listening.  They also talked about the difficulty of having to listen for cues while also pretending not to listen.  The actors posed the example of Malviolio reading the letter in 12th Night.  In this scene the actor must be extremely aware of where the other characters are hiding, and how they are reacting to his speech so that he does not look at them, while simultaneously pretending to be oblivious. The actors stated that the presence of the provost was difficult.  They also stated that it is particularly difficult to find ways of NOT doing something (such as not listening).  They said that in Hamlet it can be difficult for the King and Queen to not see the play and then be startled, but by having Hamlet pull people to the side created more for them to respond to.  In Much Ado, the actor playing Claudio (Chris Jonston)  found that the private conversations gave him more to use as an actor when he watched Pedro and Beatrice flirting.  The actor playing Benedick (Ben Curns) found that it was frustrating to play a stupid Benedick.  This comment opened the question of whether or not the women are masked.  Textual evidence suggests that women could be masked or not without working against the text. One of the actors raised the question of what constitutes the harlequin character, how it should be played, and how the scholars present would have liked to see the responses and actions of the characters on stage for the Hamlet scene. They also asked if there is something that the other players should be doing.  Another question was the way to play NOT hearing, in any way other than doing something else, or being distracted.  The scholars were hoping to achieve a “sneak attack” by Hamlet on Claudius. Some audience members felt the private staging of the Hamlet scene was much more powerful than the public version of the staging.  Audience members also requested what a good balance could be between the public and private versions of the scene.  The scholars and actors found it difficult to map who hears what lines. The private version placed an interesting highlight on the lines about the chameleon.  Hamlet (Dylan Paul) found that the public version trapped him in a type, whereas in the private version he felt able to play tactics and work individually on specific people. Everything needs to be based on deciding what story the production wants to tell and what is the best way to tell the story they have.