MLitt Thesis Festival 2014: Session 1

Stephan Pietrowski: “Getting Dirt On-Stage: Shakespeare’s Gardens”:
Actors: Linnea Barklund, Monica Cross, Susan Scaccia, Deirdre Shupe, Jordan Zwick
Pietrowski begins by explaining that his presentation will focus on the “Definitions” chapter of his thesis, examining the difference between wild and cultivated settings in Shakespeare. He moves through several definitions, supplemented by examples from the plays, as when Orlando believes that the Forest of Arden is a desert in As You Like It, Othello’s reference to “a wilderness of monkeys,” and the “blasted heath” in Macbeth. He then examines the places in between the two extremes of cities and total wilderness — parks, fields, and forests. “Many forests are closer to wilderness on the cultivation spectrum,” Pietrowski notes, citing the range of such settings in Shakespeare’s plays. Pietrowski uses A Midsummer Night’s Dream to explicate how Shakespeare sets up expectations of the forest — in this case, familiar to the characters, but still supposedly bereft of other humans. In Macbeth, Shakespeare first establishes the permanence of a forest, then has Malcolm’s army subvert that expectation.

Fields stand in contrast to forests, open land, especially though not necessarily that used for pasture or crops; some fields are thus more cultivated than others. Pietrowski uses the example of the ladies’ lodging in the field in Love’s Labour’s Lost to explore its liminal status with regard to human civilization. Parks were, in early modern usage, more for the keeping of animals than our modern sensibility of the term, more cultivated than forests and generally under single ownership. Pietrowski relates Windsor park in The Merry Wives of Windsor to the forest in Midsummer — a place commonly known, remote yet accessible at the same time.

Pietrowski then moves to more obviously cultivated settings: orchards and gardens. The terms were occasionally used interchangeably, though orchards generally imply fruit-bearing trees, and gardens are often decorative. Pietrowski identifies differences in characters’ interactions with the environment between wild and cultivated settings. Pietrowski notes the use of gardens and orchards for eavesdropping scenes in both Twelfth Night and Much Ado about Nothing. Gardens have not only fences and boundaries, but often doors, as seen in Twelfth Night. The garden is still a semi-public space, as characters who are not part of Olivia’s household have visual access to it. The orchard and garden of Much Ado have arbors and bowers, but apparently no foliage sufficient to provide coverage for the hiding Benedick and Beatrice, as the other characters clearly demonstrate that they can see their targets. Pietrowski then brings up 2 Henry VI to demonstrate the invasion of a private garden by Jack Cade: Cade moves from the forest, where he has no food, to the brick-walled garden, but the gardener, protecting his cultivation, punishes Cade’s invasion with death.

Pietrowski concludes by previewing the rest of his thesis, which will compare the elements of safety and danger present in both wild and cultivated spaces.

Q&A: Paul Menzer notes that the idea of a “cultivation spectrum” challenges the idea that Shakespeare’s plays all take place either in the court or the country. Pietrowski answers that most of these spaces do still, broadly, belong either to the court or country binary, but that the idea of a “desert”, where there are no people, is impossible on stage (since, as Menzer notes, as soon as you bring a person on, it’s no longer a desert), eliminating part of the spectrum from production.
Q: Amy Grubbs asks how Pietrowski’s research may relate to performance. A: Pietrowski thinks it may help develop character traits with regard to feelings of safety or danger, especially on entrances to scenes. He also hopes to add context back to some of the words whose precise meaning has shifted over time.
Q: Kelly Elliott questions the idea of Caesar’s will leaving his “parks and orchards” to the people and how to instruct actors on what to do with that revelation. A: Pietrowski notes that this would shift a private space into a public space, as well as providing a place for sustenance in the orchard.
Q: Marshall Garrett asks where battlefields fit in to the research. A: Pietrowski fits them in with the heath in Macbeth.

Ashley Pierce: “Two Genders, Both Alike in Dignity: The Re-Gendering of Three of Shakespeare’s Villains”:
Actors: Josh Brown, Danielle Guy, Jamie Jager, Meredith Johnson, David Loehr, Tiffany Waters, Andrew White
Pierce’s presentation opens with two competing casts, one male and one female, both attempting to take the stage to present the thesis. Pierce notes that Shakespeare’s plays contain 840 male roles to 148 female roles, a convention which makes sense in the context of early modern drama, when female roles were played by prepubescent “Bieber wannabes”, but which is not entirely compatible with modern practice. Jamie Jager and Tiffany Waters present part of an Orsino-Viola scene from Twelfth Night, which Pierce notes that, in early modern context, this allowed the boy actor to actually portray his own gender on-stage. Jager and Waters then present a scene from Macbeth, with Jager as Macbeth and Waters as a cross-cast Banquo. Pierce notes that this cross-gender casting is what has become the norm in modern theatre, asking the audience to ignore Waters’s true gender, supplanting it with the character’s gender. Pierce then posits that re-gendering, actually changing the gender of the character, is another possibility, and she cites several recent examples, including the re-gendering of Prospero as Prospera in The Tempest and the Rogues’ re-gendering of Faustus. She then asks why there is so much resistance to the idea.

Pierce points out that while both leading and secondary roles have seen prominent re-gendering, few villains have seen re-gendering. Her question aims to find out why these roles “seem impervious” to re-gendering. Josh Brown and Danielle Guy then present competing Iagos; then David Loehr and Meredith Johnson present competing Shylocks. Pierce discusses some of the varying physical and vocal choices that the actors discovered while rehearsing these scenes. Pierce also notes the difficulties in changing a female body and voice to imitate a male body and voice, and that re-gendering lifts this burden from an actor.

Pierce then addresses the potential accusation that this trade is unfair, asking men to “give up” the villain roles. She clarifies that she doesn’t intend that “men give up the villain roles forever”, but rather that she hopes productions will keep a more open eye with regard to casting. Her two casts “negotiate” a trading of roles, a male Paulina for a female Antigonus. Pierce expresses her hopes that this might — “and get a few more female actors jobs in the process”.

Q&A: Ralph Cohen asks Pierce to explicate some of the practical research she did through scenework. Pierce notes that in re-gendering Tybalt, a lot came down to the embodiment of violence and fight scenes, and that re-gendering Iago created a lesbian relationship in Othello.
Q: Rebecca Hodder asks if the difference in the fight had as much to do with gender as with body type. A: Pierce notes that, yes, the male and female actors had different body types to begin with, but indicates that the relationship between Tybalt and Capulet still seemed to alter based on gender, not physical body type. She acknowledges a need to find ways to control for those differences.
Q: Patrick Harris questions her nod towards female-to-male regendering and how it might affect other forms of non-traditional casting. A: Pierce acknowledges that it opens up a lot of other issues as well, and speaks to the need to make sure that female-to-male role re-gendering not become comedic.

David Loehr: “Shakespeare’s Theatrical References”
Actors: Marshall Garrett, Celi Oliveto, Aubrey Whitlock
Loehr’s presentation opens with the famous the “Seven Ages of Man” speech from As You Like It, then addresses the various ways in which Shakespeare refers to theatrical practices within his plays. Loehr dismisses the use of the term “metatheatricality”, in keeping with dominant views within the SAP program. He posits that Shakespeare “used theatrical references in reaction to the world around him”, not simply poetically or because he lived and worked within a theatrical setting. Loehr notes that Shakespeare’s view of theatre actually contains some similarities to the anti-theatrical polemics popular in the early modern era, but that while he acknowledged its complexities, he did not see it as an evil to be eliminated, but a necessary “reflection on humanity”. Loehr’s cast then move through several quotes throughout history regarding opinions on theatre as detrimental, unproductive, or even satanic. These address not only the vice and sloth which theatre supposedly encouraged, but also the “gender anxiety” attendant upon it. Loehr identifies “a great deal of mistrust” about theatre in Shakespeare’s time.

Loehr moves on to examination of Hamlet’s “rogue and peasant slave” speech, positing that Shakespeare presents Hamlet as simultaneously condescending towards and jealous of the actor’s position. He notes that Hamlet’s mockery of actors is, in fact, being spoken by an actor, perhaps causing the audience to question the Hamlet-actor’s investment in his role as much as Hamlet questions the actors within the world of the play. It also comments on the ability of theatre to “transcend social boundaries”, as the actor, though occupying a common, even despised role in society, can emulate all layers of society. Loehr then discusses the “Seven Ages” speech, characterizing it as less “a picture of beautiful life” than popular thought often believes it, a cynical depiction of life as mere entrances and exits, lacking individuality in their proscribed roles. He relates this speech to the theatrical reference in Macbeth’s “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech, where Macbeth “condemns life in theatrical language.” He presents this as a “nihilistic” view, noting that it reduces both life and theatre to empty noise.

Loehr suggests that Shakespeare seems to posit that theatre can comment on cause-and-effect in life. He uses the complex role of Rosalind in As You Like It as an example, with the multiple layers of acting and playing commenting on each other. Their supposed marriage in 4.1 further blurs the boundary between reality and pretend. Loehr then moves to discussing plays-within-plays, the most explicit method of theatrical reference within Shakespeare’s plays. His actors read from the rehearsal scenes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both exhibiting theatrical practice, but also poking fun at some of the suppositions made by anti-theatrical polemics. Loehr concludes by placing Shakespeare’s views in opposition to the anti-theatrical polemics, viewing it as a necessary mirror to life, demonstrating life both at its best and its worst, and as such, “belongs as part of our lives”.

Q&A: Clare von Rueden asks if Loehr has noticed a changing attitude towards theatre across Shakespeare’s plays. A: No, he hasn’t noticed that.
Q: Scott Campbell questions the anti-theatrical tracts saying that theatre removed people from god, relating it to Stephanie Howieson’s presentation on supernaturality, and where the assumption of sinfulness in theatre came from. A: Loehr agrees that, yes, they seem to believe that the action is inherently sinful. Campbell clarifies, asking if the polemics state that theatre happened at the same time as theatre, literally taking one audience away to another activity. Loehr’s answer is: sometimes.
Q: Doreen Bechtol asks about the modern-day voices of anti-theatrical prejudice. A: Loehr says that he addresses this in the conclusion of his thesis, relating specifically to arts funding and to objections to plays based on content.

Sarah Martin: “Reconstructing the History Play”
Actors: Josh Brown, Megan Manos
Martin opens by noting how author Howard Brenton teases the audience with an awareness of historical reality in his 2010 play Anne Boleyn. Megan Manos presents the opening monologue, which Martin notes as establishing Anne’s relationship with an audience, and specifically a 21st-century audience. Martin addresses the idea that we are, currently, in the middle of a “Tudor renaissance” of our own, given both scholarly and popular focus on and fascination with the Tudor era. She chose to focus her interrogation on Anne Boleyn because it was a new play, focused on the past, performed in a re-construction of an early modern space.

Martin then moves through a brief history of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, particularly as “creating a space for theatre, not re-creating it”. She argues that the play Anne Boleyn is an equivalent of the architectural endeavor of the Globe, stemming from history, but also attached to modern sensibilities. Anne Boleyn, commissioned  specifically for the Globe, premiered in the same year as Hilary Mantel’s book Wolf Hall, the finale of Showtime’s The Tudors, and the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age, as well as acting as a sequel to Shakespeare and Fletcher’s Henry VIII. The difference is that the central character “is aware that she is dead, and wishes to tell her story” — thus aware of the audience and of the gap in time between them, though she does view them as “demons of the future”. Manos and Josh Brown then present a scene where Anne’s ghost and King James I have a conversation regarding James’s commissioning of the King James Bible. (Anne dismisses James, too, as a demon, with demon thoughts). Through it, Brenton has Anne “remind the audience of their role in the creation of performance”.

Martin posit’s that Anne Boleyn‘s performance forms “a near perfect parallel” between the construction of the building and the play, both products of the 21st-century, yet inspired by history: “Grounded with the present, with an eye on the past”. Martin notes ongoing interest in the Tudor era, with tv series Reign, another award-winning book by Mantel, and the adaptation of Mantel’s novels for the stage. She suggests that theatres like the Globe have an interest not only in resurrecting Shakespeare’s plays, but the Tudor-era world.

Q&A: Matt Davies begins by discussing the Anglo-American interest in Tudor history, noting that Hollywood has had that fascination at various periods. He understand why the Brits would “have this romantic, nostalgic vision” of the era, he asks what the American interest is? A: Martin admits there’s something strange, yet not, about that fascination. She notes that American culture also has a more recent fascination with the Edwardian era, and that perhaps it has to do a lot with periods that are easy to glamorize.
Q: Dane Leasure questions if Martin intends to look at the Blackfriars Playhouse as well as the Globe, particularly with regards to Menzer’s The Brats of Clarence. A: She has not yet, but plans to. (Menzer chimes in to note that “Anne Boleyn is a very, very good play.”)
Q: Charlene Smith asks what Martin makes of the Wanamaker theatre both moving towards and away from its historical origins, using candle-lighting, but naming itself after a 20th-century personage. A: Martin admits that that’s interesting. Menzer explicates the history of the name from Inigo Jones through to the donation that requested them to name it the Wanamaker. Cohen notes that their promotional materials continue to draw a connection to the Blackfriars.
Q: Sarah Enloe asks if she’s looked at the “non-authentic” reconstructed theatres or is sticking to “authentic” reconstructions. A: For now, for the purposes of the theatre, she is limiting herself to the “authentic” theatres.
Q: Clare Von Rueden asks about the conflict between production and marketing when it comes to originality vs reconstruction. A: Martin hasn’t thought about that yet, but might, and thanks Von Rueden for the suggestion.
Q: Melissa Huggins discusses the Rose excavation site and their exhibition space, which has hosted both early modern and newly written works and suggests it as an alternate avenue for exploration.