Blackfriars Conference 2013–Paper Session #3

Good morning everyone! Sarah Martin here to liveblog the third paper session of the Conference. Our session’s moderator is Louisa Newlin from the Folger Shakespeare Library and features papers from Jeremy Fiebig, Davey Morrison Dillard, Kimberly West, Heidi Cephus, and Michael Wagoner. Amy Rodgers, from Mount Holyoke College, was unable to present her paper, “Choreographing Shakespeare” due to illness.

Jeremy Fiebig, Fayetteville State University/Sweet Tea Shakespeare/The Shakespeare Standard

“Actors’ Renaissance Rehearsal as Actor Training: A Case Study”

Fiebig began his paper with a question: “does the Actors’ Renaissance Season (ARS) model produce better prepard actors?” Fiebig decided to use the ARS model with his company, Sweet Tea Shakespeare. Fiebig’s initial results showed that, yes, the ARS model does produce better prepared actors when he entered the first day of rehearsal and found a cast who was completely off-book. As the rehearsal schedule went on, however, Fiebig found that the stresses of using the ARS model led to some interpersonal conflict and morale problems. Fiebig stated that the best benefit of using the ARS model was the incorporation of a “sharer” model akin to the the practices of early modern theatre companies. Fiebig argued for the ARS model as a pedagogical tool which shifts the focus on students from “what can you do” to “how can you be?”

Davey Morrison Dillard, The Grassroots Shakespeare Company

Stressing Audience Interaction: Soliloquy as Dialogue in Richard III

Actor: Mary Baldwin College MFA student Charlene Smith

Dillard began his presentation with a re-enactment of the Grassroots Shakespeare Company’s production of Richard III as Mary Baldwin College MFA student Charlene Smith performed Richard’s soliloquy from Act 5, scene 5. Smith first performed the soliloquy without any audience interaction and then again where all of Richard’s questions were directed to the audience who were invited to respond vocally to each one. Dillard argued that the audience’s vocal influences the direction of the scene and called this, “a sort of Elizabethan choose your own adventure”. Dillard stated that actor/audience interaction can transform the text and create meaning that may not be apparent in a reading or performance that lacks such audience interaction.

Kimberly West, Cumberland School of Law

“Shakespeare and the Law”

Law professor Kimberly West uses Shakespeare’s plays to teach courtroom skills to future lawyers.  She said that she always begins with The Merchant of Venice because of its famous courtroom scene. West analyzed Shylock’s failure to gain a pound of Antonio’s flesh as the result of a faulty bond. West detailed what exactly voided the  bond between Shylock and Antonio that led, ultimately, to Portia’s ability to save Antonio.

Heidi Cephus, University of North Texas

“The Thundering Audience in King Lear”

Cephus argued that the storm in King Lear represents the audience’s judgment. She stated that the audience becomes the storm in Lear and is “responsible for judgment” in place of the king. Cephus argued that the storm is a consequence of Lear’s refusal to weep and passes the judgment that Lear cannot pass himself. She explained that rain represents the audience’s tears as Lear commands that the storm (or the audience) go on to destroy the world of the play and that it is the audience’s role as the storm that, “transforms the actors into the characters”. For Cephus, the storm is no mere special effect, but the process by which the audience creates the play they are watching.

Michael Wagoner, Florida State University

“Imaginative Bodies and Bodies Imagined in Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Fletcher and Massinger’s The Sea Voyage

Actors: Sarah Blackwell, Kelly Elliot, Liz Lodato, Riley Steiner

Wagoner began his presentation with an explanation of the process of “extreme casting”: doubling so extensive that actors must change character without leaving the stage. Wagoner explored how extreme casting affects the process by which actors and audience create character. His example from The Tempest had actors Sarah Blackwell, Kelly Elliot, Liz Lodato, and Riley Steiner use only voice and physicality to demonstrate character difference whereas his example from The Sea Voyage asked the same actors to use costume and prop signifiers. In the example from The Tempest, actress Riley Steiner changed her vocal pitch and accent from that of an old man with a deep voice, to a high-pitched, nasal, and ethereal voice when she switched characters from courtier to spirit. In his example from The Sea Voyage, actress Kelly Elliot showed her character changes through the presence or absence of a hat. When Elliot removed her hat, she changed character, but another actor held Elliot’s empty hat to show that Elliot’s first character had not left the scene. Wagoner explained how, in the first example, the audience does not see a visible absence of the first character but recognizes the character change through the vocal and physical modulation. In his second example, the audience learns that the abandoned signifier, in this case a hat, showed the audience that the non-speaking character was still onstage, but the actor was now playing another character. Wagoner then discussed how the extreme casting process provides links between audience, actors, and characters. For example, casting the courtiers as the spirits in The Tempest constantly reminds the audience the the courtier is also a spirit and vice versa. This practice, Wagoner argued, highlights the audience’s experience of performance.