Wake-up Workshop: “If This Were Played Upon A Stage”

Good Morning and Welcome to the 2nd day of the 2013 Blackfriars Conference, its Ashley Pierce again. I will be live blogging the 2nd ever Wake-up Workshop, “If This Were Played Upon A Stage” presented by ASC Director of College Prep Programs Kim Newton. This session took place from 8:00 to 8:45 AM on Thursday October 24th at the American Shakespeare Center.

As Newton welcomed the attendees to the 2nd day of the conference and explained what it was she did for the ASC, she welcomed one of her previous camp interns who was kind enough to come this morning. She then explained that this particular workshop would be pertaining to embedded stage directions in Shakespeare’s plays. Further explaining that like the previous day, this is a chance for the attendees to get an idea of what it is the program offers in the way of education workshops, Newton explained how each time she presents a workshop she likes to bring a fresh piece of work to the session. With that in mind she wished to talk to the group about how embedded stage directions help the attendees students and actors.

As Newton asked for a volunteer, she handed a gentleman a piece of text from Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” which was a particularly long stage direction. She then asked the group to explain what we learned from that stage direction, with a member of the audience saying “particular action is dictated by stage direction.” Other conclusions included information about the world of the play, costumes, and props. This then brought about the idea of if this stage direction was intended for the audience or the reader. Newton made the correlation between Stoppard’s stage directions and Shakespeare’s, saying that Shakespeare’s are not nearly as long or descriptive.

Newton then offered a selection from “Pericles Prince of Tyre” by William Shakespeare, a scene in Tyre with four actors present. She asked for four volunteers to join her on stage, and then arranged them on stage. The volunteers then began a reading of the scene to start to discover the embedded moments in this scene, moments like Helicanus dropping to his knee, Pericles dismissing the Lords present on the stage and Pericles having Helicanus rise and then sit. Newton then asked the volunteer actors if there was any written stage directions in this scene, to which there were none. Moving forward they were then asked if there were any embedded stage direction, to the which the rising and sitting was brought up for discussion. A participant mentioned that this moment could be a joking moment, which then led to the question of Helicanus’s age and less joking since he is in the presence of a king. Another embedded stage direction moment came from Helicanus in the form of a description of one of the Lords present on stage. One of the big things that was discovered was that the actor playing Pericles must listen to his fellow actor to obtain the needed information from the scene as it pertains to movement. It was with a bit more discussion that an audience member came to the thought that stage directions, embedded as well as explicit, dictate status on stage. 

In respect of time Newton then brought Act 3 Scene 4 from “Macbeth” she wished to explore to discover and show embedded stage directions. Making a quick disclaimer, Newton explained this is a cut version of the script; the attendees then went around the room to read a line each. After the read through Newton explained how there were many of the same types of embedded stage directions as with the scene before, this time with a greater number of actors. The important thing to note is the discovery of when Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo and when he is talking to the other actors in the room. Also the directions for the other Lords in the scene as well as for the ghost of Banquo are embedded within the scene.

As the time wrapped up Newton asked those who attended to please continue to think about embedded stage directions and how it can help their actors and students to understand the scenes and characters better.