Blackfriars Conference 2013 – Staging Session IV

This is Cass Morris in for Staging Session IV (which Conference Intern Erica Campbell, sitting beside me, has dubbed “the intravenous staging session”). This session features three 25-minute presentations by Paula Baldwin Lind, Mariko Ichikawa, and Kelli Shermeyer, moderated by Sally Southall from Thomas Dale High School. I will be live-blogging from 2:30 to 3:45pm.

Paula Baldwin Lind, Universidad de los Andes, Santiago: “‘Let me enjoy my private’: Representation and Performance of Private Spaces and Privacy in Shakespeare”

Baldwin’s presentation concerns Shakespeare’s management of the idea of private space through several methods, including actors’ movements, manipulation of props, and actors’ voices. She begins with an example from Twelfth Night 3.4, demonstrating “the notion of privacy on-stage”. René Thornton Jr. as Malvolio has his personal space thoroughly invaded by Toby Belch (Tim Sailer), Maria (Lee Fitzpatrick), and Fabian (Gregory Jon Phelps). Baldwin notes that Malvolio’s wish for privacy refers not only to wanting to be left physically alone, but to his inner self — his peace of mind. She cites the work of three French scholars on the idea of space and what defines it, particularly looking at what transforms a “place into a space”, based on the experiences and movements of those inhabiting it. The Blackfriars Playhouse stage is, itself, a place — but the movement of the actors imbues it with identity of a particular space, whether that be a bedroom, a kitchen, a battlefield, etc.

Baldwin then discusses the shaping of material space within the home (a private space). She speaks to the ideological connotations of interior spaces in the home, which were not initially necessarily distinct from public spaces. In the 1660s, the very idea of privacy was sometimes viewed with suspicion. The neutrality of the early modern stage, empty and unornamented but for a couple of doors, “enabled the dramatist effortlessly to whisk the spectator through a succession of illusions, covering, if he chose, the entire physical world.” She does note, however, that some early modern plays do include some set pieces and props, but she believes these to be contributing to the construction of space, not replacing the actors’ and audience’s imaginative role. She hopes to illuminate the benefit of examining spatial perspective for teachers and directors.

Stating a desire to first examine “the private as opposite or complementary to the public”, Baldwin notes the variant definitions of being “in public” in early modern plays. Even private conversations may occur in public spaces, allowing for “private microspaces”. As an illustration, she has the ASC actors present part of 1.5 from Romeo and Juliet: a crowded scene with several instances of those private microspaces. Romeo (Dylan Paul) and Juliet (Tracie Thomason)’s private moment is intruded upon by the Nurse (Fitzpatrick). Capulet (Thornton Jr.) then re-asserts the public identity of the space. Baldwin invites the auditors to interrogate what it is that defines the privacy — the fact that the actors move downstage, that they drop their voices, etc.

Baldwin then moves on to consider the privacy or publicity of the household. She has Fitzpatrick, Thomason, Sailer, and Emily Brown present a scene from Coriolanus, where the ladies have a conversation inside a house — intimate but not truly private, thanks to the observing presence of Sailer’s servant. Baldwin questions if we feel the women are at home, what makes us identify the space in that way, do the stools contribute to that, or the activity of sewing? How does the topic of their conversation affect the perception of the space? Or, the fact that all speaking characters are female?

Baldwin concludes by noting that patterns can shape space, and that Shakespeare manages it in variant ways. He may call attention to it in dialogue, or else by contrast with another type of space. Spaces “are neither containers nor definers of characters or actions”. Rather, the actions transform places into spaces.

Mariko Ichikawa, University of Tohoku, Japan: “A Pet Variant: ‘Enter to/at the door'”

Ichikawa seeks to examine the difference a preposition can make to an entrance. She believes that the difference between entering entirely or remaining within the frame of the door can reveal something about the character’s state of mind or else about the conditions of the stage. She notes that entering “to/at the door” can be used to allow a very few characters to represent a crowd. Ichikawa further argues that the conditions of some scenes may imply an entrance to/at the door, even if the script does not explicate that in a stage direction . She asks the auditors to consider how this staging device works in an early modern space, particularly with regards to the variant sight lines experienced by different audience members. Ichikawa points out that anyone sitting in the gallery above the stage would have no way of seeing entrances to/at the door, and that those in the galleries on the sides might have only a partial view. This would then rob those audience members of the chance to appreciate the staging convention.

Ichikawa then calls upon the ASC actors to perform four passages indicating such entrances to/at the door. In the first, from Fletcher’s The Captain, Fitpatrick and Brown are visible on-stage; Paul and Josh Innerst remain within the doorway. The second, from Fletcher and Massinger’s The Little French Lawyer, features Phelps on-stage, coming to Chris Johnston, remaining in the doorway. Both appear to be calling to more people who are off-stage and, thus, invisible. Johnston then stands in for multiple other persons. The third, from Beaumont and Fletcher’s Cupid’s Revenge, has four actors, clustered in the doorway, representing an entire crowd. Finally, from Hamlet, Phelps as Laertes enters, while his followers remain within the doorway.

Ichikawa asks if the audience is able to distinguish between polite attitude in a character remaining within the doorway and the actions of a rabble off-stage. Then she asks if presenting one or two actors in the doorway is convincing? Last, would we accept this staging device in-performance? The answers to all appear to hinge on the work the actors do both to coordinate their movements and to insinuate the presence of others off-stage.

Kelli Shermeyer, University of Virginia: “Director v. Author: Who Owns The Changeling?”

Shermeyer begins that she knows her title is potentially problematic, and she explicates that she wants to investigate whose artistic interpretation is the one that should dominate staging choices, or if perhaps a combination is necessary. She is interested in the staging of the relationship between Beatrice-Johanna and De Flores in The Changeling. She asks the actors first to work through the scene (The Changeling, 3.4) on their own, then she will offer some redirections. Johnston presents De Flores, Thomason Beatrice-Johanna. Pursued by De Flores, Beatrice-Johanna finds herself forced into a corner of the stage, eventually with no recourse but to step off of it in order to get away with him.

When the actors finish the scene, Shermeyer asks the actors what they think their motivations are. Johnston notes that, in De Flores’s world, he sees himself as attempting to convince her and as offering her a love-token. Thomason, on the other hand, feels a desire to “wrap up the deed and be done with him”. Shermeyer offers them slightly altered objectives: that De Flores is just trying to get Beatrice-Johanna to sleep with him, and that Beatrice-Johanna feels both revulsion and attraction. She moves Beatrice-Johanna to a starting position at the downstage right corner, and De Flores to up-left. A few lines in, Shermeyer asks Johnston to try it again with a more sinister tone, then specifies a stressing of the subjunctive qualifiers in his lines — “I could have hired a journeyman at this rate, and my own conscience might have slept at ease.”

Shermeyer directs and controls De Flores’s motions towards Beatrice-Johanna, giving him a specific moment to start advancing on her. She also offers Thomason the direction to “try and pull” more direct meaning out of De Flores. She also refocuses Beatrice-Johanna on De Flores by taking away one of her asides. Partway through the scene, she allows Beatrice-Johanna a moment upstage of De Flores, then has De Flores force physical intimacy on her — which she first enjoys, then breaks away from. Shermeyer notes that he should “be creepily in her space”; Thomason concurs that “that’d be good”. This allows Beatrice-Johanna to push him away disdainfully on “Why, ’tis impossible thou canst be so wicked.” Shermeyer also encourages more sarcasm through Beatrice-Johanna’s next lines, which has some payoff in De Flores’s reply: “Push, you forget yourself: A woman dipp’d in blood and talk of modesty!” Another alteration amplifies the sexual attraction element of Beatrice-Johanna’s feelings.

Shermeyer finishes by explicating her intentions. She feels that the text creates “some really awkward moments” that require a director to go in and make some alterations. She thinks that some of the typical actors’ exercises for creating backstories are useless in this play, particularly since the characters reveal themselves so often through asides, leaving little that needs to be created. She thinks this, in turn, negates the idea of a dark love story between Beatrice-Johanna and De Flores.

Q&A Session:

Q for Ichikawa: Can you clarify your thoughts on the door size? Ichikawa says she suspects our doors in the modern Playhouse may be somewhat larger than those in the original Blackfriars. Further, smaller doors might mean that only one person could stand within comfortably. Thomason agrees, saying that it would allow fewer people to represent a crowd. Baldwin puts in that, since the early modern audience was used to creating so much by hearing rather than by sight, the idea of sound off-stage representing a crowd would be an easy imaginative leap for them to make.

Q for Shermeyer, asking her to clarify if she is or is not supporting an idea of a love story. Shermeyer absolutely is not. Thornton Jr. notes that there may be something compelling about De Flores even if it isn’t “love” — and Thomason agrees. Shermeyer also brings up the idea that Beatrice-Johanna might be as young as 14, though she is never portrayed that way on-stage, and that her innocence in what her provocations might lead to can say a lot.