You, O the dearest of creatures, would even renew me/with your eyes.

Snapshot of the October 12-October 17, 2014

 

Sunday: Filmed pre-show lecture and staged reading of the Menaechmi

Monday:  Shakespeare Theatre Association Executive Board Conference Call to finalize January Conference plans (secretary), finalize grant application for First Folio

Tuesday: All day retreat with Education Team, MFA production of Twelfth Night

Wednesday: Scholar interview with 9 ASC actors, host lecture, welcome visiting University group

Thursday: Comment on MFA workshop presentations, meet with British Education scholar, Marketing meeting for artistic season, train box office staff to use LCD projector,  host lecture, welcome visiting University group

Friday:​L​ed workshop with 3 ASC actors for University group, met with Globe Education Head of Learning, training on new software for Education Programs to implement this month

Saturday:Meet with ASL interpreters for upcoming show, welcome 3rd visiting University

Sunday:​Begin again

It​’​s been 5 years since I stepped into the role of Director of Education at the American Shakespeare Center.

​Each year has presented a variety of challenges and successes.  I am so proud of the work that the Education team has taken on​,​ and I am amazed by the output of such a small group of people. At our retreat this week, the reason we are able to do so much was once again made clear to me. We all believe strongly in the mission of this little company that can.

“The American Shakespeare Center recovers the joy and accessibility of Shakespeare’s theatre, language, and humanity by exploring the English Renaissance stage and its practices through performance and education.”

My first task when I took this position was to write the language for the annual brochure for Education.  I went straight to our mission and used the words there to describe each of our programs. That attention to the mission continues to be a focus of our work, so much so that our recent visitors from Shakespeare on the Road commented that we all, every department, each individual, knows what is at the heart of the work here and speaks about it in uncannily similar ways. So we know why we do this work. I think the question that tickles Education right now is how.

In my first couple of years in the job, changes in the company kept the work in Education fresh and new. Whether itwas the staffing changes brought about by the economic downturn forcing us to think in new, efficient, and creative ways, or the addition of a Managing Director with an actual ​arts management degree, who could encourage and allow growth, or the new staff in Education that growth supported, we seemed to have something new to celebrate every few months–publishing our study guides, putting out our own magazine, moving our camp to the college, adding college credit, adding a new camp for Adults, adding a summer teacher seminar, re-vamping our staged readings. Each change, and the success we experienced brought us joy and a sense of renewal.  But, each also brought more work to an already taxed team. How can we maintain our quality of programming and our commitment to the mission?

We made some inroads this week in answering that question.  We are going to be looking hard at the work we do and how we do it for the next little while.  Just because we can keep so many balls up in the air doesn’t necessarily mean we should.  As we move forward, I ask you for your help.  Tell us what comes to mind when YOU think about ASC education. It can be just one word, or it can be a paragraph.  With your help, we will continue to build on our programming and create new opportunities for many others to experience the joy that Shakespeare’s plays can bring to anyone.

“These be the stops that hinder study quite”: In Defense of Enjambment

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my current project is building a scansion workbook — a practical guide to understanding, marking, and performing meter in Shakespeare’s plays. This workbook follows a far different structure than our usual Study Guides, based on the scaffolding of language skills rather than on elements of a play’s plot, history, and staging challenges. Once we get through the basics of syllables, feet, and pentameter, we get to play with the aspects of scansion that pertain more to character and performance.

I came to scansion through Latin long before I came to it through English. Years before anyone had bothered to explain to me what iambic pentameter is, beyond perhaps a token mention of “that’s the stuff they make sonnets out of,” I was beating out the long and short vowels of Ovid, Catullus, and Horace. In my AP class, we had to recite Latin poetry aloud, which meant careful attention to the cadence of the lines. I learned a lot about elision — particularly when it comes to slurring vowel sounds together — and I learned about enjambment. One of the things my teacher hammered into my adolescent head was the concept that you don’t stop at the end of a line unless that’s actually where the thought ends. Of course, where the thought ends can be a tricky matter to determine, since Latin originally had no punctuation, and no spaces, for that matter. You either have to choose to trust the editor of your text (which I did far more readily at 16 than I do now), or else you had to figure it out for yourself through the translation. Once you made the determination, you had to put it into your voice during the recitation. Taking an unnecessary breath docked points from our grade.

Enjambment means, quite simply, that the thought or sentence continues past the end of the line. Here’s an example from Macbeth (click to expand):

Enjamb1

Now, this speech is a goldmine of information when it comes to both scansion and rhetoric (elisions! stressed conjunctions and pronouns! antithesis!), and my markup is far from the only potential choice in many of those lines. For the purposes of this conversation, however, just look specifically at those little right-pointing arrows. Each of those indicates an enjambed line. Many of them, as you can see, then lead to caesuras — those mid-line breaks — and many involve feminine endings, a final unstressed eleventh syllable tagged on to the end of a pentameter line.

Compare that to something like this speech from Richard II (click to expand):

Enjamb2

It’s one of the most rhetorically dense passages in Shakespeare — but not a single enjambed line. I could make an argument for ignoring the comma at the end of line for, after “head”, perhaps, and enjambing that line, but all the others are very clearly end-stops. They vary between full-stops, like periods, and partial stops, like commas, but in this passage, there is a sense that each line completes a thought or clause of some sort, even if the sentence continues. On the whole, Shakespeare’s later plays are more enjambed than his early ones — but you can certainly find end-stops in Macbeth, Othello, Coriolanus, and The Tempest, just as you can find enjambed lines in the Henry VIes, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of the Shrew. Plays which are heavily rhymed, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are more likely to have more end-stops as well, as enjambment tends to obscure the rhyme.

Enjambments and end-stops are one of the topics I’ll be covering in this new workbook. As I’ve been researching and discussing the process, however, I’ve run across the doctrine — apparently far more dominant, at least in some spheres, than I’d ever imagined — that an actor should take a brief pause at the end of each line of iambic pentameter, whether or not the punctuation and sentence structure make that indication. I’ve heard it justified as “the way the verse works” — which ignores the fact that enjambment is, itself, part of how the verse works, a conscious choice by an author to go on rather than to create a break. I’ve also heard that it’s necessary, because ten syllables is about how much an actor can say with one breath — which seems not only to undervalue the lung capacity of actors, but to ignore the playable value of that breathlessness, should it occur.

This is a weird concept to me. How can you ignore enjambment like that? Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that punctuation alone is unreliable, what with the variant preferences of typesetters. From my explorations of the Folio and quartos, however, it’s generally pretty clear where a line is end-stopped versus enjambed, even if the precise nature of the stop as a period, semicolon, colon, or question mark might be up for debate. Even where you can’t trust the punctuation, you can also figure out where a thought terminates or turns. (Rhetoric can help here, too, by identifying shifts in focus or alterations to a pattern).

End-stopped lines and enjambed lines operate differently. If you pause indiscriminately, you lose the crucial information that the enjambment gives you — that breathless, rushing quality which is a character clue and a clue for performance. Pausing at the end of each line in that speech of Macbeth’s doesn’t just interrupt the flow of thoughts — potentially obscuring comprehension of an already-difficult bit of text — it also misses out on something critical about Macbeth himself. The entire speech is, after all, about his attempt to squish time together and “jump the life to come,” to get to the end without pausing at the middle. It makes sense that, metrically, he’d be rushing, eliding, and running ahead of himself. His cadence transmits emotional information.

One of the comments that the ASC most frequently gets from our audiences is that our plays are accessible, easy to understand. I believe part of the reason for that lies in enjambment. Our actors speak their lines with attention to scansion and stressed syllables, but also as though they are… sentences. Things that people would actually say, in the manner they would actually say them. Enjambment is a part of pentameter. I have to think that our actors’ acknowledgement of that piece of the pattern, following a thought through to its natural end rather than carving it into bits, contributes to our audience’s ease of understanding. So, when it comes to the ASC Scansion Workbook, we’re going to promote what’s worked here at the Playhouse and in our classrooms: pause when the thought indicates you should, not just because you’ve said ten syllables and need a break.

What were you taught? What do you use in practice or teach others? Can you hear a difference when listening to Shakespeare in performance?

–Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager

Beating the Audition Blues: How Collaborative Auditions Reinforce Ensemble-Building

The ASC Theatre Camp kicks off each summer session with a group audition held on the second day of camp. Over the years, our audition process has evolved so that even our shyest campers walk away from their audition feeling confident and proud of their performance. Key factors to the success of our audition process, and why it is such a hit with students who attend ASCTC, include a balance between solo performances, group activities, and structured redirection. While this process certainly does not completely alleviate all of the “audition blues”that students might have, the collaborative nature of the audition helps students to feel included and appreciated, not isolated or judged. If you are looking for a different way to engage your students during an audition, consider these activities to boost ensemble building from day one of your rehearsal process.

ASCTC Auditions 2014

Counselors teach campers a song during the 2014 ASC Theatre Camp auditions.

At the ASC Theatre Camp, directors want to see not only how our young actors will perform on their own but also how they will interact with others in the rehearsal room. For this purpose, our auditions include collaborative exercises, and all actors perform for each other. Everyone stays in the room and becomes an audience member, even if only one person is performing. This “lights on” approach to our auditions mirrors the staging conditions that the campers will experience during their final performance festival. Actors and audience members share the same pool of light at the Blackfriars Playhouse, which allows them to share the world of the play. Collaborative auditions also imbue the campers with a sense of mutual trust and respect even before they learn each others’ names.

Audition Prep

Students arrive having memorized 10 lines of a Shakespeare monologue. We provide a thorough online guide to assist the campers in preparing their monologue text, including scansion notation, rhetorical analysis, and paraphrasing. Once at camp, the students have an audition workshop during which they review their monologue text with a camp counselor and then perform in front of a small group of their fellow campers. The monologue performances are only a small section of our audition process, yet taking the time to ensure that the campers are prepared helps them to feel supported even before the audition day.

The Song

At the audition, campers participate in a group warm-up followed by a singing exercise. This past summer, our counselors led the campers in a round, which they sung in chorus and then in parts. The tune fits to the text of Hamlet’s letter to Ophelia:

Doubt Thou The Stars Are Fire - Round

Campers first listen to the counselors sing the round and then repeat the tune after them. After everyone learns the lyrics, the counselors lead the round sections with each successive group starting after the first phrase of the song, “Doubt thou the stars are fire.”

The song exercise helps to alleviate several audition anxieties that teens often face: No one has to be the first to perform. Everyone starts out with the same amount of information, and the focus of the casting directors is on the group as a whole. This structure also permits those who are nervous about singing solo the chance to feel comfortable singing in a group.

Campers’ Take on the Song

The song leads to the first collaborative exercise. In groups of three to four, campers must refashion the song into a different musical genre, such as country western, opera, jazz, or rock n’ roll. They create their own choreography, and incorporate any additional musical instruments that they bring with them to the audition. This activity allows the directors to see the campers’ ability to improvise and to practice choreography, as well as giving them the opportunity to note who can play a musical instrument. Their willingness to try something new and to commit to a performance that they have helped to shape is what matters most.

Dumb Shows

The second exercise introduces text from the plays, from which the campers create a dumb show. Shakespeare uses dumb shows, or silent pantomimic stories, in several of his plays including Hamlet and Pericles. Counselors choose six to ten lines from each of plays and read them aloud to their groups. The campers must then tell a physical story inspired by the images and emotions reflected in those lines. The dumb shows last no longer than 3 to 5 minutes each. During the time that they are devising their shows, the directors rotate to each of the groups and observe the campers’ work and interactions with each other. Counselors guide the devising process by reading the text aloud and by making blocking suggestions so that all campers remain visible to the audience.

Monologues

Following these two activities, campers have generally released some anxiety about performing their monologues. The feeling in the audition room is usually one of enthusiasm, elation, and excitement from the fun of creating theatre together. This is an excellent place to begin the monologue performances because the students are already primed to support one another with smiles and cheers. Each camper must also practice “slating”, or saying their name and the play title from which they chose their monologue.

Re-Directions

After each camper has the opportunity to perform once, directors and their assistant directors re-direct the campers to perform a second time. Campers come to the stage in pairs to receive their re-direction situation. Situational re-directions allow the two actors to interact with each other instead of focusing on any critique about their own individual performance. Re-directions can of course address individual performance critiques in constructive ways. Re-directions can be silly, imaginative, and playful. The campers perform the situation using the text of their monologues as dialogue. Students who are less comfortable with this type of improvisation tend to respond positively to having a scene partner and to being able to rely on performing text that they have already memorized.

The re-directions get the entire room laughing, sometimes to tears. The campers clearly feel in their freest, most creative mode. All those feelings of what auditions used to be – stressful, isolating, and competitive – have given way to confidence, team-spirit, and excitement about what the next three weeks will hold as they continue to collaborate on their plays. The audition is truly transformative, both for the campers and for those of us lucky enough to watch.

-Kim Newton, Director of College Prep Programs