Blackfriars Conference – Plenary Session XI

Hello, again! Molly Beth Seremet here, all set to liveblog this plenary session which runs from 2:30pm – 3:45pm in the Blackfriars Playhouse. This session will feature the scholarship of Abigail Montgomery (Blue Ridge Community College), Alan Armstrong (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Steven Urkowitz (American Shakespeare Center Trustee & City College of New York, emeritus), Travis Curtright (Ave Maria University), Eric M. Johnson (Folger Shakespeare Library), and Don Hendrick (Kansas State University). This plenary will also feature the acting talents of the American Shakespeare Center Touring Troupe.

Abigail Montgomery (Blue Ridge Community College) – Pull Up (Down, Over) a Chair: Gallantly Re-Staging and Re-Interpreting Key Moments in Shakespeare

Montgomery begins her paper by discussing the modern-day impulse for control and participation by the audience in the theatre. She references last season’s ASC production of Comedy of Errors, in which the gallent stools usually organized on the fringes of the stage shifted more centrally into the action.  Montgomery mentions that the rationale for this choice was historical, as gallants in the early modern period were allowed to “move their seats anywhere on the stage they liked.” Montgomery describes her experience as an audience member during this production. Though she herself was seated in the balcony, she noted the reactions of those lucky gallants who were quite literally placed into the action.

Montgomery now moves into a performance, ahving actors Jessica Lefkow, Cordell Cole and Ross Neal enact the closet scene from Hamlet.  In this scene, Cole as Hamlet ushers Lefkow’s Gertrude through the door and literally into the laps of the other scholars seated on stage. Cole forces a panelist to stand up and seats Lefkow in his place. In addition, Cole’s Hamlet kills Neal’s Polonius, who falls at the feet of the scholars seated on the other side of the panel. Montgomery notes that the scholars in close proximity to the murder as well as the dead body might well remain hyper-aware of Polonius’ presence in a way unique to this staging condition.

Montgomery then moves to an analysis of the way this sort of audience arrangement might work in the history plays. Now, we watch the Touring Troupe actors enact Henry’s deathbed scene from 2 Henry IV. Neal portrays the dying Henry while Cole’s Hal ponders the hollow crown. This scene plays out right at the feet of the panel of scholars who watch closely as Cole places the hollow crown (tiara, actually, in this staging) on his head. The scholars then witness Henry’s miraculous recovery from a close angle, leaning over Henry’s waking body. Montgomery wonders if gallants might join in the action in this sort of staging, perhaps to don the crown themselves or stay Hal’s hand. Montgomery posits that this staging arrangement might empower the audience through proximity and involvement in this scene. Montgomery also questions how this proximity might impact the empathy or pity an audience feels for characters in these morally ambiguous scenes. She asks, “for tragedy’s sins, are we in any way responsible?

Alan Armstrong (Oregon Shakespeare Festival) – Redeeming Lysimachus

Armstrong introduces his paper on Pericles, describing the play as “a match not in heaven, but in a whorehouse,” and turns the focus to performance options to make Lysimichus ‘work’ in production. Armstrong grounds this discussion in the OSF production of Pericles which closes tomorrow. For Armstrong, constructing a cohesive and satisfying narrative for Marina and Lysimachus.

Armstrong describes the difficulties OSF encountered in staging this play, brought into focus because of the inherent sexual violence and attempted rape at the core of Marina and Lysimachus story. In a staging experiment tried by OSF, the actor playing Lysimachus used the line “a private place” to force Marina onto the bed. As Armstrong notes, however, this reading of the scene stripped away Marina’s power and made it difficult for the actress portraying Marina to speak her verse lines in the scene. OSF discovered that a more effective staging of this scene relied on tension not assault.  Armstrong notes that OSF found the heart of the scene by having Lysimachus hold a respectful distance from Marina in this scene. As Armstrong explains, the key here was to “not get crunchy. Space is yout friend.”

Armstrong isolates the imagery of the scene, locating the action in a stage property: the coin purse Lysimachus carries in the scene. Armstrong notes that OSF cycled through several different sizes and styles of coin purses to help advance the narrative. In the staging OSF employs, Lysimachus digs a cion out of his purse during this scene and, while maintaining distance from Marina, tosses a coin onto the bed to ‘pay’ for her. In this way, the tension of the moment plays out effectively with a spectre and not a reality of physical violence.

Armstrong now turns to an analysis of the manner in which OSF handled the pillow and blanket called for in the reconciliation scene. For OSF, this moment became a moment in which Lysimachus could gently hand the pillow to Marina to assist Pericles.  Staging this moment in an intimate way without the need for an offstage servant to bear in a pillow and blanket and disrupt the privacy of the moment.

Armstrong posits that OSF found a staging that worked for their production and used this interpretation of Lysimachus to tell the story of Pericles they were interested in telling. After all, as Armstrong notes, Shakespeare’s word are the bones from which the story can be made.

Steven Urkowitz (American Shakespeare Center Trustee & City College of New York, emeritus) – Shakespeare Revises the Capulet Ladies: ‘That’s Well Said’

Urkowitz begins his paper with a historical background of the First and Second Quartos of Romeo and Juliet. He focuses his analysis on three key women in these texts, and the depictions of idyllic agreement between the women in these texts. Urkowitz circulates a handout showing some examples of this harmonious feminine language.

Now, actors Aleca Piper, Jessica Lefkow, and Susie Parr perform the servants scene in Q1, with Lady Capulet delegating cheery responsibilities in an amiable manner in this Q1 text. Lefkow’s Nurse silently assents to the directions she is given. Then, the actor snow demonstrate the same scene using the Q2 text, in which the languge shifts from a tone of amiable hustle and bustle to discordant frantic behavior. Piper’s Lady Capulet is bristly, Lefkow’s Nurse is snappy, and Urkowitz pushes the argument further, noting that Lord Capulet also ratchets up the interpersonal drama in this moment.

Now, Urkowitz demonstrates a similar phenomenon later in the play when the Nurse rouses Lady Capulet after her secret wedding day. The actors first perform the Q1 version of the scene, in which Lefkow’s Nurse sneaks in in advance of Lady Capulet with words of softness for Juliet – “what lamb? Lady Juliet?”

Urkowitz calls our attentions to the differences Q2 makes to this moment, noting that Lady Capulet will enter Juliet’s room unannounced. The actors work through this scene for us, with Piper’s Lady Capulet intruding upon Parr’s Juliet without LefKow’s Nurse running interference. Urkowitz notes that this variant of Lady Capulet “hammers home her dismal business.” As Urkowitz explains, Q1 Romeo and Juliet stages softness, agreement, and “a matrix of supporting women” that is conspicuously absent in the same relationships in Q2.

Urkowitz now takes us later in the play, demonstrating the manner in which both versions of Lady Capulet say a final goodnight to their Juliets. The Q1 text contains moments of maternal softness on Lady Capulet’s part, though Piper and Parr hold their physical distance from each other. The Lady Capulet of Q2, however, is stony, emotional distance paralleling the vast spatial differences between the actors.

Urkowitz posits that these significant changes in two texts of the same play reflect authorial intention and in fact, an intentional change in this milieu of the plays.

Travis Curtright (Ave Maria University) – Marina’s Forensic Discourse and Romance

Curtright focuses his paper tightly on Marina and notes that unlike other female characters in other romantic dramas, Marina is a woman who seems to save herself. Curtright clarifies that we have this impression of Marina because of her use of forensic discourse. The origin of this style of language lies in the ancient courts of law, focused on debate, persuasion, and the creation of a rhetorically sound argument.

Curtright explains that this type of argument is formed in one of two ways, which are antonyms of each other: causa honesta or causa turpis. He notes that Shakespeare steeps Marina’s language in this style of argumentation, in set debate pieces. Marina identifies her person with the causa honesta she represents, and her own cause reflects her person. Her debates turn on her opponent’s recognition of her goodness and the validity of her case. Curtright notes that Marina speaks often like a supplicant in front of a judge, establishing her own authority and goodness as evidence for her case. Further, as Pericles as judge hears Marina’s story in preparation to judge it, he in turn discovers his own daughter. Marina discloses her person by narrating the shocking and scandalous misfortunes she has survived and Pericles sees the causa honesta within her, restoring their relationship as father and daughter.

In Shakespeare’s first romance then, Curtright concludes that the miracles of restoration accompany the arts of persuasion, in an act  of “soul-bending resonance.”

Eric M. Johnson (Folger Shakespeare Library) – Using Data in Shakespeare Studies

Johnson begins his paper by introducing the idea of data as lying outside of Shakespeare’s texts, looking at the ways in which audiences interact with Shakespeare. He notes that the audience data collected does not pose security risks, as it is aggregated and in no way tied to individual audience members.

Johnson quantifies the types of data collected, noting that this can include things like book and ticket sales as well as measurements of online engagement. He uses World Shakespeare Bibliography as an example. Further, he notes the Folger Shakespeare Editions are great measures of exposure, as they are often used in classrooms. He notes that plays like Macbeth and Hamlet are the most used editions in this series, even over Romeo and Juliet. He connects this to search data from sites like Open Source Shakespeare, tracking the online Shakespeare search behavior of students who are exposed to Shakespeare in schools.

Now, Johnson describes a workshop he participated in in which theatre professionals explored data sets and possible integrated uses for data of theatrical audiences and readers. Using a group of data sets, the researchers determined that Macbeth has vastly more readers than Twelfth Night and yet the data supports the fact that the number of commerical productions of each play has actually been about even. Johnson then notes that data can be used to provide concrete reasons why plays that are considered ‘less good’ like Timon are in fact, less good. Johnson also mentions the possibility of using aggregate data to determine which genre makes audiences drink the most here at the American Shakespeare Center (spoiler: it’s the history plays).

Don Hendrick (Kansas State University) – Catherine vs. Henry: The Rematch

Hendrick starts his play with provocative statement, “Woman. Love me. They love the way I interpret Shakespeare.” From there, he jumps into his paper looking at the wooing of Catherine not as her defeat but as her victory. He notes that in recent film adaptations including the Hiddleston Hollow Crown interpretation stage a scene in which it takes longer and longer for Catherine to give in to Henry’s advances. Hendrick asks the audience if this is a trend we want to see more of and if we would like to eventually see a version of the scene in which Henry loses. The women in the audience cheer!

Now, Hendrick notes that Shakespeare has a propensity for “f**king with the Jacks in his plays in favor of his Jills.” Hendrick jokes that every turning over a new leaf by a Shakespearean male is like peeling an onion “again and again until nothing is left.” Hendrick then states that Shakespeare allows Jack to get Jill but only with the help of one of two distortions. He terms these distortions subtraction and addition.

Now, the actors take over to demonstrate. First, Neal and Cole demonstrate a moment of locker room banter between the men about Catherine that gets quite graphic. The audience laughs heartily at the naughty bits, proving Hendrick’s point that this bawdy moment will complicate an audience’s acceptance of this particular Jack getting the aforementioned Jill.  Hendrick notes that this moment often cut in performance as a result to clear the way for Henry and Catherine eventual relation.

The actors now demonstrate the additive strategy Hendrick names, using music in the wooing scene between Henry and Catherine. In adding music, Catherine is wooed both by Henry’s words and the soft, romantic music.  The music stops and starts throughout the scene, coming back in on moments of agreement between the two characters, allowing Catherine’s objections to cut through the silent moments. Cole’s Henry and Lefkow’s Catherine demonstrate the scene aptly while Neal provides music on the guitar. Hendrick pauses the scene right before the kiss and roars at the warning thunder heard in the playhouse.

Now, Hendrick asks the actors to demonstrate the scene again, with Catherine in charge. Here, there is no music and the scene hovers mostly in serious territory. Lefkow’s Catherine is stern, making Cole’s Henry work that much harder to both make himself appealing and understood to her.

Hendrick notes that, due to time constraints, he will end there but hints that he had planned to have Lefkow’s Catherine present the epilogue of the play and also hints that he had asked her to play it pregnant. He ends there, however, just missing the bear!

And that’s a wrap on another terrific sessions of scholarship and artistry.  It was my pleasure to spend another plenary session with you. Hope you’ll join us here for the rest of #bfconf15!

-Molly

Paper Session X

Good afternoon, Liz here to live blog Paper Session X! This blog will be updated live from one to two fifteen this afternoon. The moderator of this session is Ann Jennalie Cook of Vanderbilt University. This plenary includes presentations by Maryam Zomorodian of the University of Notre Dame, Katherine Mayberry of Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company and Grand Valley State University, Nova Myhill of New College of Florida, Michael M. Wagoner of Florida State University, and independent scholar Adam Miller-Batteau.

Cook begins by applauding for the Masquerade Ball tonight. She then introduces the presenters.

Maryam Zomorodian – ‘As if the Personator were the man Personated’: Theatricality in Ford’s Perkin Warbeck

Zomorodian clarifies that this presentation focuses on John Ford’s The Chronicle History of Perkin Warbeck. She gives a brief history of Warbeck and his connections with Richard II and his ultimate deposition for King Henry VII. Ford used The True and Wonderful History of Perkin Warbeck from 1614 and a 1622 story of Perkin Warbeck as base texts to learn the history for the story. Even with base texts, Ford deviates from his predecessor texts by not portraying  Warbeck as a deceitful performer or pretender to the throne. Instead, Ford has his Warbeck be a performer under scrutiny and judgment, but in how persuadingly he plays the royal prince. Zomorodian describes Warbeck as the quintessential performer, but with constancy and virtue. She points out that Warbeck does not seem to have hidden motives or a confession of confirmed guilt. Warbeck is a good actor who goes to his death “without another chronicle than truth.” Zomorodian states that Warbeck seems constant and virtuous in his portrayal until death.

At the time that Ford wrote Perkin Warbeck, history plays were out of fashion. Ford saw his play as a part of growing history tradition of history as a theatrical account. This historical theatrical account was not to be read about, but rather found through the actors themselves discoursing. This places the historical account always in the present, always happening.

With the rise of print culture, personation clearly had a peculiar quality. Zomorodian speaks of a unique live-ness of theatre in print – inferior, however, to live theatre. For example, Thomas Nash compares English heroes entombed in books to those alive on stage. Zomorodian points out Keegan’s performance in ASC’s Joan of Arc to see Talbot fresh bleeding every night in performance – occurring live each night before the audience’s eyes. Thomas Heywood, likewise, looks with wonder on actors performing fresh each time too. Zomorodian mentions that anti-theatrical writers of the time also talk about deception and moral corruption in stage work and scripts; however, she points out that critics would judge printed plays and staged plays differently.

Zomorodian speaks of the double act of personation in an actor playing a character who acts, as the actor portraying Warbeck does in Perkin Warbeck. She states that Warbeck seems like a tragic hero with courage redefining his execution. Warbeck gives a rousing speech before his dramatic death, and then Henry VII comes out onto the stage to conclude the play. Zomorodian states that Henry VII seems to be the lesser man and tediously efficient in comparison to Warbeck. This ending, she says, is similar to the ending of Antony and Cleopatra when the tragic lovers are dead and the efficient Caesar takes the stage.

Zomorodian ends with the statement that Ford saw his dramatic interpretation of history in Perkin Warbeck as a defense of the genre and a defense of the legitimacy of theatre to see past, reviving the history play tradition.

Katherine Mayberry – Architecture and Peformance in The Comedy of Errors

In 2010,Twin Lake, Michigan built a model of the Rose Theatre for performance. This stage is smaller than the Globe that stands today and entrances for the audience on the ground floor. The recreation is primarily for a classroom and performance space for the students who participate in summer camp in the theatre. After performances, Pigeon Creek Shakespeare collects polls from the audiences about their experiences. When not at the Rose model, Pigeon Creek tours in the Twin Lake area.

Audience members noted an increased awareness of the public nature of several scene at the Rose. The actors felt this as well, which Mayberry speaks to. An actor states that he played more to individual audience members while on tour than when on the Rose stage, due to increased distance from the audience. The actor portraying Angelo noted a gestural difference in the touring space that indicated individuals who responded to his contact. In contrast, on the Rose stage, the actor felt his gesture became more public and general towards the audience. Actors also found it easier to confide in the audience in the touring space over the Rose stage. The actors saw the touring space audience as a more theatrical audiences.

People often describe the Rose as intimate and many audience members felt the eye contact that the actors gave to them. Audience members in the touring space felt that the visibility of other audience members could be distracting. Some audience members indicated that viewing other audience members seemed purposeful at the Rose, rather than accidental at the touring space. Many audiences also claimed that the performance at the Rose felt more “special.”

Mayberry acknowledges specific variables that played into these records. For example, it was rainy during the outdoor Rose performance. She also acknowledges differences in the marketing of the two performances, which also possibly had an effect on the audience responses. However, direct contact clearly does have different effects in different spaces, and Mayberry hopes that these recordings will continue into the future.

Nova Myhill – Fashion, Commerce, and Family: Audience and Authority in The Kight of the Burning Pestle

What drew audiences to the second Blackfriars Theatre? Myhill suggests that the story drew audiences in – anyone with six pence to spend. The Knight of the Burning Pestle focuses on the social homogeneity of the Blackfriars audience. The performance would most affect the stage-sitters, especially by the characters that join them upon the stage. Myhill states that George and Nell can suggest optional ways that the audience and the actors may react

Myhill points out that ASC actress Allison Glenzer opens the shows by stating that those seated on the stage are better dressed and more handsome than other spectators. She states that by pushing the gallant stools on our Blackfriars Playhouse makes those on gallant stools a part of the audience space. Myhill then has ASC actresses Stephanie Halladay Earl and Allison Glenzer to perform as the boy actor and George within the playing space to thee plenary presenters on the stage. ASC actress Abbi Hawk joins in from the audience as Nell and crawls onto the stage with audience help.

Myhill points out that George draws attention to himself by satirizing gallant behaviors on the stage by taking everything one step further. Nell, in comparison, stands apart from the stage-sitters by her sex. Through her husband’s financial authority and her maternal authority over the boy players, she is further set apart from the stage-sitters. She more often talks to her fellow stage-sitters and asks them to experience the same play that she does. Myhill has the actresses perform another scene to illustrate this.

The chance to take an interval is usurped in the play as well. The intervals, used to light the candles. The intervals are dominated by George and Nell, which Myhill illustrates through another scene with Hawk, Glenzer, and Earl.

Myhill runs out of time and is chased off by a bear, which Cook states is a “joy.”

Michael M. Wagoner – Scene Breaks and Interstitial Time in King John

Wagoner starts, stating that his has thirteen minutes to present, but that we may experience the time differently, called “subjected time.” He likens this to the two hours traffic of the stage that, while literally being two hours, is subjectively felt by changes in plot and audience emotions. He turns to the scene break between acts II and III in King John. He states that the act breaks are not likely authorial and these scene would have been continuous. Glenzer (playing Constance) and Hawk (playing Phillip) do this scene for the audience.

Wagoner explains that Constance in this scene is urgent and that we do not register a change in time; the action seems continuous. Phillip here states that the sun stays in the court, as if time stopped. Phillip has an immobility of time as Constance has an immobility of space, sitting on the ground. The staging without an emphasis of passage of time indicates the erasure that Constance so desires. Phillip’s movement forward contrasts this. Wagoner states that modern productions do not use a break just as the early modern theatre would do because the moment comes too soon for the traditional single interval.

However, originally another scene divided these scenes. This scene calls for Constance to remain seated on the stage. The scene break could indicate that the scenes are meant to be continuous, but divided by the interrupting scene. Wagoner has Hawk and Glenzer do the scene again, but rather than continuously, Glenzer as Constance stays on the stage crying as Hawk as Phillip leaves the stage to re-enter for the interrupting speech. This is palpable for the audience and creates a sense of scenic time not created by a continuous scene. Wagoner states that Constance’s name even indicates her propensity to stay still and in place.

Wagoner is then chased off by the bear.

Adam Miller-Batteau – Shakespeare at Summer Camp: Balancing Process and Product at Stagedoor Manor

Miller-Batteau states that many teachers focus on the process, rather than the product. He states that both should be valued and focused upon. At Stagedoor, a training center, rather than a camp, allowed Miller-Batteau to see how process and product can both be valued.

Miller-Batteau enumerates the number of performances put on by Stagedoor, which originally he felt got in the way of the process by performing so much. He noticed actors falling back on old habits and coming to realizations right before performance. Still, performance is necessary as a part of theatre education and the educational process.  Miller-Batteau questioned how to balance the process to prepare for performances and the energy for performance week.

Miller-Batteau states that the new practice of students using cue scripts forces the students to learn and get up on their feet with the show nearly immediately. Miller-Batteau has one-on-one text sessions with his students to make sure that everyone understands their words and creates a rapport with the students. Then, he brings the students together to be up on their feet to create the ensemble during the play which introduces the play as a play in performance. Miller-Batteau states that this allows him to be a teacher, rather than a director. Miller-Batteau also invites administrators and outside eyes to see the performances because outside eyes allows for more views and helps the students learn about performance for an outside group, rather than for just each other.

Miller-Batteau closes by with a statement by another teacher at Stagedoor that the students rely on the teachers to focus on the process. This stuck with him. Miller-Batteau reads that many directors and theatre artists see their art as a constant exploration and ever-evolving process. Ultimately, he offers no conclusions, only curious musings and questions.

Lunch and Learn: Masters of the Space (Crystal and Rusher)

Hello! It’s me, Mary Finch, one last time to live-blog today’s Lunch and Learn session presented by Ben Crystal and Warren Rusher of Passion in Practice.

“I love space. I’m fascinated by, what I would call, an original practice space.” – Crystal

What is an original practice space? It is a space with a similar dynamic to the space that Shakespeare’s actors would have used. These spaces are becoming more common, with pop-up Globes and container Globes; there’s a growing fascination with these spaces.

Crystal’s fascination began with the language and the meter, going to see shows at the RSC as a child and asking his father about the actors aren’t moving. Crystal thought “surely there must be a way to marry” movement and voice-work. That fascination grew to include an interest in ensemble work, similar to how Shakespeare’s company must have worked–the group equivalent to the similarity of the Folio and the Blackfriars.

Crystal plans to demonstrate some of the practices and disciplines he uses with his company to explore how the space can effect the work the company does.

This first example is similar to Viewpoints work, which always uses music.

Crystal turned on some instrumental music, and using a bamboo stick, Rusher began in a neutral standing position balancing the stick on his finger, and then began walking across the stage. When the stick falls (which it will as this is not a balance exercise), he will catch it, hold, and reset, and continue walking with eyes fixed on the top of the stick.  Crystal then demonstrated as well. They do this “for hours” as a litmus test for tension that needs to be released to facilitate fluid movement.

The next exercise involved Crystal and Rusher traversing the space together, each with their own bamboo stick. This forces the actors to begin listening to each other as well.

The Passion in Practice shows are never blocked, “for better or for worse” (Crystal) and instead relies upon the relationship between the actors on stage.

As a tactile society, productions sometimes use touch without considering status or exclusivity. So Passion and Practice uses what Crystal calls the “Sphere of Contact,” which is approximately two arm length’s apart and is inclusive. Using the sticks as a measure of closeness, creating limits of proximity, far and near. Pressing the sticks between their hands, they demonstrated dynamics of power, depth, nearness, speed, and height.

Dropping the sticks, they presented “Push, Pull, Yield, Resist” by standing palm to palm, showing the different dynamics of tension. They then dropped their hands and did the same exercise using only visual cues.

“It’s a question of tuning into each other and listening to each other” (Crystal).

Turning specifically to the architecture, Crystal began acknowledging the lighting, the stage shape, the pillars, the gemoetric shapes within the space. The spaces can make more sense of the plays, such as in Twelfth Night works better in a traverse space illustrating how not everyone on stage could see all the characters.

Marking out the smaller dynamics of the Wanamaker playhouse, the presenters then used smaller sticks to compensate for the more intimate structure. They also have to compensate for different lighting–they use candles, sometimes different candles for different productions and different locations in the playhouse.

They discovered that the strongest point to stand is not where it traditionally falls in a proscenium stage. It depends upon the lighting, the pillars, and the ability to see the audience which flanks three sides. At the Wanamaker, being too far downstage makes communing with those near the upstage area was difficult, and was actually a very intimate location. Therefore, upstage was more powerful and more public.

The traditional stagecraft is flipped on its head in spaces like the Wanamaker playhouse. Transposing proscenium shows to original practice spaces is very difficult for that reason.

How can we adapt to these spaces to improve our original practice playing in these spaces?

Without the scholarly work, actors and directors would not be able to take the original practice stage craft work forward. Scholarship makes a perfect marriage for actors and original practice ensemble and production work.

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Tim Carroll Keynote Address – Confessions of an Iambic Fundamentalist

Hi, everyone! Molly Beth Seremet, eager to live-blog this morning’s keynote address. We are pleased to welcome Tim Carroll (The Shaw Festival) for his keynote address titled Confessions of an Iambic Fundamentalist. This keynote address takes place in the Blackfriars Conference from 10:30am – 11:30 and is sponsored by John Attig.

American Shakespeare Center Director of Mission Ralph Cohen begins with an introduction of our keynote speaker, Tim Carroll. He reminds us of Carroll’s Tony-award winning production of Twelfth Night and lists an impressive list of directing credits that span the world. Cohen jokes that a close look at Carroll’s resume might make us wonder if in fact this man can keep a job. Cohen of course then reminds us that Carroll is the new Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival. Cohen now introduces the provocative title of “TC’s” keynote and lets the assembled crowd know that here at the American Shakespeare Center, we are allies in the cause of Original Practices, leading to a rousing cheer of “Amen!” from the crowd. Now Cohen launches into an impassioned defense of our shared love for iambic pentameter and lets him know that, “we welcome you’re confession, Brother Carroll… in your witness against the demon trochee. Cohen asks for a “righteous Blackfriars welcome for TC” and begs him to “please come speak to [his] flock!”

Carroll begins with a wry comment: “Well, that’s the sort of welcome every performer dreads!” He then tells us that this is first time in the Blackfriars Playhouse and mentions that he thinks it is even more lovely than the Wannamaker. On that note, he now introduces his speak, sharing that his nickname of “iambic fundamentalist” was given to him by the RSC. Carroll gives us a sense of his background, mentioning that he came across Barton’s series Playing Shakespeare at the age of 18 on his way to Oxford and connected with that sense of linguistic ‘horse whispering’ that the series deals in. Carroll explains that this exposure shaped his university career, though he is a classicist by trade, leading him to direct five productions in his time at Oxford. Now, Carroll confesses that while he still agrees with Barton’s ideas, he disagrees with Barton’s approach. Carroll now moves to a discussion of Barton’s methodology of marking scansion, using stressed and unstressed markings to find the offbeats in the text. Now, Carroll says he distrusts this method because it relies on trusting actors, much to the amusement of the assembled crowd.

Carroll tells us that on his first professional productions of Shakespeare was Julius Caesar. He shows us some text from the tent scene of the play and mentions that it is one his personal favorite scenes across the canon. He calls out a moment in rehearsal in which the actor playing Brutus stressed all of his personal pronouns (Must I budge? Must I observe you?) instead of scanning the line to find and use the operative words. He describes the process of working through this with an actor who suggested that scansion “is a choice.” The audience chuckles knowingly.

Now, Carroll turns to a look at text from 2 Henry VI, exposing the same issue. Carroll explains that in real life in public speaking scenarios, we generally do not stress personal pronouns and then when we get onstage, we forget. Carroll implores the assembled crowd to not seek him out after the keynote to claim that “i’m sure I do it instinctually.” Carroll then says, “No, you don’t, which is why I’m talking about it.” Then, he uses a delightfully naughty word which I shan’t print here… but it was a jolly good one!

Carroll likens the debate over the uses and need for solid scansion strikes a sour note for him, and likens it to choral or operatic singing. In those forms, debates over singing an F when the score calls for an A would be silly. He suggests that this should be considered similarly in Shakespearean terms, because “the verse knows best.”

Now, Carroll begins a close reading of the text from the Julius Caesar tent scene. In his reading, he shows how proper scansion makes the important and story-telling words in the passage “pop.” Carroll marks this scene as a pivotal one in the development of his ideas. In working on this play early in his career, he begin to think that the model of working to understand a play before scanning it is a backwards endeavor. Carroll shares a story of a professor who used to teach a play for a few weeks before teaching  a unit on the play’s verse structure. When flipping the pedagogical approach, however, the professor found that teaching the play’s verse for two weeks first dispensed with the need to then teach the play; the students already understood the play as a result of cracking the play’s verse code.

Now, Carroll shifts to a discussion of why scansion matters in theatrical practice. He states that his desire to rely on a play’s scansion comes out of a desire to remove forced vehemence, one of actors’ favorite performance strategies. Carroll demonstrates the way that stressing personal pronouns incorrectly adds an inappropriate and untoward level of force to the language. This artificiality works against the performance, showing us prisoners of our own habits. Instead, Carroll asks us to trust the verse instead of our preconceived notions about what language does.

Carroll now has us look at a passage from As You like it, in which Rosalind actors clutch for anything that sounds extreme, “that sounds like it’s a BIG DEAL!” Carroll points out that directors share the blame for this phenomenon in a constant push to “raise the stakes.” In contrast, Carroll describes his own directing process in which he often asks actors to lower the stakes, “to solve the problem quickly and get out in time for an early tea.” He asks us to consider the way that this approach softens a mad clutching for anything that sounds vehement or forceful in the language.

Carroll now looks at the ways words like “too” “so,” and “all.” He explains that actors will naturally gravitate towards these words because they feel “big.” Carroll demonstrates, however, the infrequency with which these words actually appear in stressed positions in the line, and urges us to consider the resonance gained by using these words as springboards for the important (properly stressed) words in the line. He points out that stressing words like “so” in phrases like “it’s SO nice to see you” actually suggests insincerity and phoniness in place of real connection.

Carroll reiterates that “the verse knows best” and says that now, this is his working mantra. He uses the Rosalind’s line “who might be your mother?” as an example. He demonstrates a sassy reading of the line, letting “who might be YOUR mother” ring through the Blackfriars Playhouse. Carroll admits that this sort of snappy reading sometimes connects with schoolchildren in matinee audiences, but qualifies that this forced connection isn’t bringing audiences into the beauty and functionality of the language. He employs a further example from Hamlet to leverage his argument as well, demonstrating the ways that a simpler, less forced reading of the “my father” passage of the closet scene allows Hamlet to parrot Gertrude’s rhythms and throw them back at her in a useful and effective way.

Carroll now moves to a look at line endings and mid0line breaks. He leverages examples from The Winter’s Tale to show the way that stressing the last word of the line allows us to hear a character get an idea. Carroll introduces us to another of his mantras to actors which is to “wait until the last possible second to get that idea. How long can it take for the idea to drop in?” He allows us to hear the natural urgency that this tactic brings out in the play’s language. He also discusses mid-line breaks as well, urging actors to consider each mid-line break as an opportunity for another actor to try to “grab the speaking stick.”

Carroll exhorts, “let us try to speak iambically until it kills us.” He mentions that he is very nearly at the point of asking actors to say words like “faMISHD’ly,” because he explains that he has never really felt that this iambic approach goes too far for an audience’s ears. Carroll shares an anecdote in which an audience member saw Carroll’s production of Richard III which employed these approachs to language, and the patron sought out a box office staffer to ask what other productions in the season were being done in “modernized language.” Thus, rigorous use of Shakespeare’s verse structure pleases our modern aural sensibilities.

Now, we turn to trochees. Though trochees exist, Carroll asks his actors to consider returning to the iambic structure as early as possible after the displacement of the trochee.  He suggests activating the second syllable of the word to work back into the iambic structure. Carroll says that one question he is asked frequently is if he expects 100% adherence to the verse in his productions and he explains that he does, because he knows he will never get it. If he insists on 100%, he gets 70%. For him, this approach opens up productive conversations in the rehearsal room with skilled practitioners who already have thoughts on the matter. As Carroll concludes, he says that a foundational question in his directing practice is “what are we doing about the verse?”

Now, we move to some questions from the assembled audience. A scholar asks Carroll to clarify his position on vehemence, asking if that means vehemence is forbidden in his productions. Carroll clarifies that he means that he asks his actor to “not try to be vehement. Vehemence isn’t a choice.” He further explains his position on trochees, stating that he urges actors to not decide something is a trochee. As Carroll states, “Soldier, there are no trochees for you. If a trochee happens to you, however, we’ll deal with it then.”

The keynote concludes with warm applause and cheers throughout the playhouse. Thanks for following along on our blog! I will return to the blog for this afternoon’s plenary session. It has been a pleasure to share this keynote with you!

-Molly (@moxymolly)

 

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Plenary Session 9

Hello! It’s Mary Finch one last time to blog this Halloween morning plenary session, going from 9:00-10:15am and moderated by Terry Southerington from Mary Baldwin College.

Danielle Rosvalley, Tufts University
Before the Circus Came to town: Big Data, Barnum, and the Bard

Rosvalley began by calling to mind the classic images of circus attached to the name “Barnum.” However, Rosvalley was surprised to find that Barnum boasted of producing Shakespeare, namely The American Museum and Lecture Hall, purchased in 1861. The largest exhibit was the “Moral Lecture Room”—a theatre—which presented performances twice a day. Barnum attracted crowds that normally disdained theaters for their moral depravity.

When the museum caught fire in 1868, Barnum came under attack, specifically for the moral depravity of the Lecture Room. In a defense of his not-theater, Barnum asserted that when he performed Shakespeare he did it with the utmost care, and removed all vulgarity.

From this account, Rosvalley has since reconstructed the performances that Barnum put on at his theater. Data so far shows that only just over two percent of Barnum’s productions were penned by the Bard. Compared to other contemporary theaters, his claim seems absurd.

If Barnum was not producing Shakespeare, what was he producing? Rosvalley displayed a graph, where Shakespeare does not break the top 100 most common plays at Barnum’s Museum; at other contemporary theaters, one of Shakespeare’s plays does break the top twenty, and even top ten. By claiming the recognizable name of Shakespeare, Barnum claimed legitimacy without compromising morality.

This information about what production Barnum produced, Rosvalley is putting into a database where individuals can browse the plays and the evidence of their production. The Bear interrupted the production as Rosvalley was downloading an facsimile from the database.

Niamh O’Leary, Xavier University
The Ends of Sex: Bedroom Deaths in Jacobean Drama

O’Leary, for the sake of brevity, will be focusing on The Maid’s Tragedy looking at female agency within these bedroom death scenes. O’Leary asserts that these scenes can challenge the sexist and victimization of women in culture.

Contemporary performances can highlight women’s frustration with the sexual economy to reimagine the scene. Evadine is “a frustrating character but also a frustrated character.” She is surrounded by men—kings, mentors, and beyond—who have verbally and physically harass her sexually. In Act 3, scene 1, we see Evadine shyness might not be from the ideal of humble quiet wife but from a disgust and distaste for the male gaze. Nevertheless, Evadine is having an affair with the King. While men see it has women’s susceptibility to temptation, it might be a smart, ambitious, political move—a morally neutral move.

Most touchingly, Evadine is completely alone, surrounded by only serving women who are not confidants. By act 4, several men have threatened to kill her and she wonders at her isolation during her soliquoy. With all of this, her decision to use her body to gain control. But beyond just a body, she uses her logic, her reason, and her will to carry through her intention to kill, despite the King’s protestations.

Looking back to the mask from the second act, we can see a parallel between the events later on in the play. O’Leary was interrupted during her final remark s by the Bear.

Zoe Hudson, University of Kent
The Everyday Life of Shakespeare’s Earliest Document Reader

In Richard Stonely’s diary, on Tuesday, the 12th of the June, 1593 he recorded his purchases including Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, making him one of Shakespeare’s first readers.

Looking at the diary from an interdisciplinary approach, Hudson has analyzed Stonley’s diary as a rich source for those trying to recreate life from 16th century London. Despite the dramatic events during Stonely’s life, his diary has not received much research or attention. During his work, Stonely interacted with the powerful and the average, making this a rare glimpse into Elizabethan life.

Within his diary, we can read about family dynamics, clothing purchases, and wedding traditions. When Stonely was imprisoned, he even recounts a brawl at the prison dinner table.

The diary entries combine the emotional, political, and social curiosity that surrounds our growing interest in historically informed theater practices. These manuscripts must be research holistically, as “relatable narratives” that can reveal meaningful information about Stonely’s England.

Thomas Ward, United States Naval Academy
Shouts, Slogans, and Political Consent in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus

The voicing ceremony is scene is part of the world of civic ritual that Coriolanus does not belong, but also reminiscent to parliamentary elections in Early Modern England. Coriolanus challenges this ritual and focuses on the practical force of martial law.

Accounts of EM election rituals recount the vehemence of the shouting for candidates. This “a [name]” construction was part of a war cry, making these interactions an intersection between the civic and the martial. For instance, in Henry VI part I we see soldiers call “A Talbot” in the wars as a war cry.

The overlap comes from the tradition of heraldry, which clarified social hierarchy: a main goal of elections. The danger existed that these cries might get out of control, challenging the power the elections were supposed to legitimize. Ward recounts several historical accounts of people denouncing or complaining about rioting and shouting. These cries revealed factions, and certain slogans were outlawed.

In some plays, such as Hamlet, we see crowds attempt to vote a king by shouts and riots: “Chose we Laertes shall be King!” The war cry and election shout are closely related.

Going back to Coriolanus, we see Caius cheered and shouted for after the battle as indicated by the Folio stage directions. In response, Caius asks “Make you a sword of me” again embodies the connection between war cry and election shouts.

Genevieve Love, Colorado College
The Crookbackt Prodegie

“Happy Halloween!” We might see scary things, such as bunchbackt toads. Where did these monstrous things come from? Why are they deformed and how?

Richard Gloucester reaches from a descendant uniqueness, saying “I am myself alone” even though he does have a brother. The metaphorical reading of Richard’s deformity renounces his devious acts, as well as the problems within the text. How are both the man and the text deformed?

The problems for Richard and True Tragedie reflect an issue with origins and accounts. Richard was born both too early and too late, unsettling his temporal situatedness. Not only was her mobile in time in Elizabethan England, but also in contemporary context as shown by the current modes of interpretation through the lens of disability.

The text itself also has a debated text, with varying narratives about how the text might have been “unfinished, sent before its time.” How does this text fit within the time narrative of publication?

True Tragedie contains more lines about the lack of a father, as one of the differences between the text and the Folio.

“In his likeness to his textual brother, Richard is never alone.”

Spencer K. Wall, University of Utal
Where is Leontes? Text and Stage as Sites of Jealousy

Wall presents the question about where the motivation for jealousy comes from within the text, which does not give much time or explanation for Leontes behavior. Drama has its own tricks for showing that more narrative time has passed than the stage time relates. Shakespeare uses Time to tell the audience that time has passed, but does not use such dramatic devices for Leontes’ fall into jealousy. There are no cues that more time has passed than the audience has scene.

However, there is a moment in the scene when Leontes’ appears to be absent. Although present in the scene, Leontes must ask how Hermione’s petition went. He is absent from the conversation, if not the scene, and must be staged.

One choice, could be to physically distance him from Hermione. This raises the question as to why he does not hear the conversation, and what is distracting him. MBC Shakespeare and Performance MFA actors presented the scene (Patrick Harris, Molly Harper, Maria Hart). This difference in Leontes’ attention makes him afraid of either what he saw, or what he missed.

The scene could also be staged with Leontes’ remaining near the conversation and still raises the question about why he is distracted. The choice to distance Leontes (physically and mentally) changes the character’s fall into jealousy.

 — Mary Finch
MLitt Student at MBC Shakespeare and Performance

Wake-Up Workshop: Audience Contact

Hello everyone! Liz here to start off the morning with the Wake-Up Workshop on Audience Contact! Live-blogging of this session will last from eight to eight forty-five in the morning. Natalia “Lia” Razak Wallace, ASC Education Artist, Mary Baldwin College Master of Fine Arts candidate, and Sweet Wag Shakespeare member, leads this session.

Wallace asks if everyone saw at least one show in the Blackfriars Playhouse. “We really like the audience,” she smiles. She talks about the space informing the performance – including the lights that stay on during the show, the audience surrounding the actors on three sides. She expresses her dislike of messy audience contact, which she calls “the wash”, and states that this dislike led to her thesis on eye contact with the audience. Wallace states that the best way to contact the audience is to face them.

Wallace then transitions and gives different categories for audience contact in early modern drama. She brings up a scholar to perform a scene from The Merchant of Venice to display the first form of audience contact – casting the audience. She and the scholar perform the scene between Portia and Nerissa from II.i. in a proscenium-style, directly on the same plane and facing each other on the stage. Now, Wallace gives the scholar some whispered directions and performs the scene again. This time, she and the scholar point to scholars in the audience, naming them as the suitors mentioned in the scene. The audience laugh more and accurately portray their parts this time around, due to the actors’ engagements with them. “Mocking people in reality is way more fun than mocking abstractions,” Wallace states to explain why making contact with individual audience members in this scene makes it so much stronger. Due to the continuous action and lack of lighting and stage changes at the top of a show on the early modern stage, casting the audience in early scenes commonly occurs to help bring the audiences into the world of the play. The audience cannot be cast the audience as any characters that appear in the play. Wallace states that everyone has one or two reactions to audience contact, which is either positive or negative.

Wallace calls the second allying. Humans are naturally convincing, so we want people to be on our sides. She mentions that Iago is one of her favorite characters because he spends so much time explaining himself to the audience. The audience will give support to characters that ask for audience support, which occurs with many different characters across many different plays. Wallace then grabs another audience member and has them read some lines from Richard III from the end of I.ii. She explains that this is a great example of character allying. Richard loves to share and the text wants to be shared, so the text begs for the actor to ally with the audience in this moment to convey why he is correct. Wallace says that states of emotion are contagious and that when we see someone do any action, our neurocortex actually has a part of us do that action as well. An audience member asks about Ben Curns’ interpretation of Richard as seduced by convincing others and explaining his handiwork to the audience.

The third form of audience contact is asking the audience a question or to seek information. Wallace gives an example of Polonius in the ASC’s Hamlet, where Polonius took the question, “What was I about to say?” to an audience member. Many audience members thought that the actor went up on his line, when he was really including them in the world of the play.

Wallace briefly explains the difference between audience contact and audience connection. Audience contact is an action that can be practiced without people in the room. This is in contrast to audience connection, which relies on the audience member’s reaction to the contact that occurs.

The fourth form of audience contact is using the audience as the object. This makes the audience an example, rather than a specific character. She exemplifies this through the discovery of an audience member with a drink in their hand and generalizing them as like “all drunk men.”

Wallace then has everyone look at a scene from Henry VI, Part I. She then asks for her two volunteers to play Suffolk and Margaret for the scene. She then states that the fifth form of contact is talking to your scene partner, because relationship between characters must be established before contact with the audience can be meaningful. Wallace reminds the group that there was no verisimilitude on the Elizabethan stage. She points out the odd nature of Margaret standing onstage silent for several minutes while Suffolk confides in the audience. Wallace specifically points to the Margaret line, “Why speakst thou not?” as evidence for audience contact on the Elizabethan stage. Suffolk talked for a while and the audience is aware of this, because they are privy to it. Yet Margaret’s line indicates that she has not heard any of these words. This evidences that the audience was Suffolk’s point of contact during the scene. Wallace quickly wraps up the workshop by  wondering how the Margaret/Suffolk scene could work without audience contact.

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Plenary Session 8

Mary Finch here! I will be the live-blogger for this session running from 5:00-6:15pm and moderated by Tyler Moss from The Shakespeare Forum.

Neil Vallelly, University of Otago
Way-making at Shakespeare’s Globe

This paper deals with two questions: What do we mean when we say we make or way, and why does that matter? Vallelly, began to answer these by discussing the opening of the Same Wanamaker playhouse, as well as the knew foyer at Shakespeare’s Globe. While lots of scholarship deals with what happens within in the theater not much has dealt with the semiotics outside of the theater space.

During research about light, Vallelly realized he had to begin by looking at the outside of Wanamaker, because that is where the theater experience begins. Theaters are not stagnant locations, but a imporant house in the midst of way-making. Vallelly distinguishing way-making from going as a process, rather than a means to an ends. Vallelly invoked Tim Ingold to describe theater as a knot; something that exists at a location, but also extends behind the single instance. He then pointed out that from above, the Globe even looks like a knot. The openness of the theater also calls to mind the relationship between the theatre and the world around it. Audiences are constantly reminded that the theater experience does not edge of the property, and the outside can constantly intrude into the theater from above.

In contrast, the enclosed space of the Wanamaker does not allow such easy permeation, severing the thread from the knot. When the Globe and Wanamaker exchanged performances of Julius Caesar, the annex was a common space for crowds from both theater. For the Globe, the use of the annex smoothed the transition from public to private, making the distinction impossible. In the Wanamaker, the transition was less smooth, and the pre-show events were separated by the requirements to take seats and adjust eyes to new lighting.

As audiences come together, we should consider the threads that come together.

Holly Picket, Washington and Lee University
Silence and the Music of the Spheres in Pericles

Much like how only Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo, directors must consider if audiences can hear the music that Pericles hears during the play. Music appears more frequently in this play; more than in any other play. The music also fulfills an important role, especially during the revelation. While some stage direction call for music, the quarto contains no such directions.

Picket plans to test the effects of the differing stagings using ASC actors (Tim Sailer, Andrew Goldwasser, and Patrick Poole).

At this point in the play, Pericles is at the end of his journey and has lost his wife and daughter. Silence has deepened his despair, rather than given him peace. In returning to speaking, he uses musical vocalization before the oral epiphany that only he can hear.

The actors played the scene once with music and then once without. Picket proposed that the audible music would connect audiences more with Pericles, while removing the music would do the opposite. Within the text, music has a range of meanings, from the holy to the wicked, throughout the text. In the beginning, music features in the incestuous and luxurious speeches, but later it function as a means of revival, either hard or smooth. It could also be religious, alluding the both the religious practice of the Greeks, or the Christians. Overall, music can release and transform throughout the play.

Musa Gernis, Washington University
The Privy in Public

How was  understanding at the Globe felt, as well as thought? To answer this, Gernis examined A Game at Chess by Thomas Middleton, which centers on a chest game and Gondomar, a ruler with a sore on his rear end which requires a chair with a hole in the center.

“When a toilet is brought on stage, there must be farts.” Looking at this scene, and the requirement of a commode on stage, Gernis says it requires a blatant treatment the scatological humor, rather than anything subtly ironic or allusive.

The scene was staged with ASC actors and many whoopie cushions.

This scene, which contains some of the scariest and most political moments of the play, is re-contextualized when the fart jokes are acknowledged. Gondomar cannot stop his mouth “or his sphincter.” His bodily functions alienates the audience, and the pawn-character. As the play continues, the Blank Knight loses his sway and control.

“Seated on the chair of ease, he becomes the butt of the joke.”

Maria Knowlton, Utah Valley University,
May Rites and Midsummer Offerings

Knowlton opened by discussing the similarities and differences between the Elizabethan holiday calendar and contemporary holidays. She detailed the typical activities that accompanied each passing season, many of which included courtly performances by the London theater companies.

Patronage protected companies politically, but was not hugely profitable from a financial standpoint due to the cost of costumes and props to stage productions. The high cost of properties forced companies to reuse and recycle, as well as find ways to fund their companies. Harsh weather did not deter new theaters from being built throughout London.

According to Henslowe’s receipts, new plays had higher attendance. Rotating plays and using season productions, companies lent some stability to their business practices. Re-using plays allowed companies to recycle properties, as well as built anticipation within their audiences as they looked forward to the seasonal shows.

In Shakespeare’s case, we can see a pattern similar to the one revealed by Henslowe’s diary. The plays have similar themes and events, if not direct temporal repetition. This affords a look into historical and contemporary habits of audiences.

Adam Zucker, University of Massachusetts
Love’s Labour’s Lost and the Pedagogy of Incomprehensibility

“The central text for Shakespeare’s relationship to school room tactics.” Scholars have used this text to prove that Shakespeare went to, and excelled at, grammar school well enough to construct the satire in Love’s Labour’s Lost. This logic has a lot of assumptions, most of which never hold up under scrutiny. We know that Shakespeare wrote about things he did not know, sculptures coming to life or exotic islands for instance.

What evidence do we use to create Shakespeare’s evidence? We want to see his brain as a mirror of our own. Perhaps if we can learn enough the way he learned it, we can be like him.

Scholars Barnes and Baldwin seemed to think that Shakespeare had no interest in formal education, beyond what he wanted or needed to be a successful playwright. Zucker does not wish to completely disagree, but present alternate lenses of understanding.

For instance, can we appreciate the Latin jokes within LLL without knowing Latin? Obscurity and difficulty was a problem felt by audiences of the sixteenth century, and therefore modern editors and scholars should not try to remove all confusion. Zucker than led an experiment where the audience read words allowed, leading up to honorificabilitudinatatibus. A word where the meaning is less important than the context surrounding it; a character proving that he can say a long silly sounding word.

Jennifer Holl, Rhode Island College
Name-Dropping and Theatrical Branding in Greene’s Tu Quoque

Holl begins with the ambiguity around the use of the word “brand” in Sonnet 111. Names can be used outside of the control of the figure they represent.

Holl asserts that Shakespeare’s name was used to sell a range of products, whether he wrote them or not, as support she invoked Tiffany Stern and accounts of Will Kempe complaining of ballad makers using his antics and name.

Name-dropping on stage, Holl argues, functions as a counter-product of the written use of name. There are instances where the name is absent (such as Hamlet complaining of Will Kempe) and more explicit use of names. John Cooke’s The City Gallant provides an example of name-dropping as a commodified sign as a means of publicity. The stage was a place to promote plays, actors, and upcoming events outside of immediate performance.

In the scene, the actor drops his own name within the scene, in a moment of amusing metatheater. The drama is disrupted the draw attention to the actor beyond the character and alert audiences to popularity of the actor. The humor only works if the actor is well known by the audience. This entices audiences to become aware of what is happening in order to get the “in joke” and find more such moments.

The success of the play might have depended upon the success of the actor, as shown by the re-naming of the play “Greene’s Tu Quoque” after a humorous moment within the play. His name, like Shakespeare’s, became public property and “a brand-name in itself.”

— Mary Finch
MLitt Student at MBC Shakespeare & Performance

bfc15, BFConf15, blackfriars conference, research and scholarship, american shakespeare center

Blackfriars 2015 – Staging Session with Tina Packer and James Lochlin

This is Merlyn Q. Sell, at the Blackfriars Playhouse once again, blogging now about today’s staging session featuring Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Company, James Lochlin of University of Texas – Austin, and the ASC actors. This session is moderated by Sarah Enloe. The actors will be working scenes from Antony and Cleopatra based on suggestions from conference attendees. There was only one suggestion from attendees so Packer turned to the actors asking if there are portions of the current ASC production that they are stuck in and would like to work with in this session. The actors wisely demur. From the house, Dr. Matt Davies inquires about how actors can stage a broken heart. Packer says that is a moment that will be worked later. James Keegan finally responds to Packer’s request for problematic moments with a particular line of Antony’s that repeats the word “well”. Packer does admit that this staging session won’t be able to accommodate an attendees request to investigate raising Antony aloft, a moment that’s of particular interest after Bob Jones’ paper yesterday. Actor Rick Blunt offers up two moments wherein Enobarbus speaks to characters who are not on stage.

Staging begins with the first scene of the play. After the actors run through the scene as it is currently being performed, Packer explains her belief that the first scene provides first an explanation of how the world views Antony and Cleopatra and is immediately followed by the truth of the situation. Lochlin echoes the idea of two frames of reference competing for the audience’s focus and belief. The typical reception of the play seems to be about the tragedy of Antony – that he fails to keep his position through this relationship.

The actors next take on the scene where Antony chooses to fight by sea. As Packer points out, this scene can be problematic as Antony must know he is less likely to win by sea than by land but he makes that decision anyway. This scene holds the line Keegan had mentioned earlier. Packer initially talks to Sarah Fallon and asks that she portray Cleopatra not like Cleopatra the seductress, but as though she is trying to prove in this moment that she is as capable a military strategist as the men in the room. Packer then asks Keegan to support Cleopatra in this and that his decision is made because he’s prioritizing her wants. The redirect does immediately alter the blocking. The audience responds favorably to this stronger Cleopatra. The change seems to give Keegan more to play in the moment as well, both placating his soldiers and supporting Cleopatra. Keegan and Packer disagree a bit about whether the idea of Cleopatra as a general in this scene is consistent with Cleopatra’s flight from the battle later on. Eventually the disagreement seems to boil down to whether or not Antony’s ultimate allegiance lies with Cleopatra or the army. The spirited debate highlights the great deal of thought both have put into the role and their passionate defense of their positions is invigorating.

Next the group approaches the Enobarbus moment previously requested by Rick Blunt. Packer suggests that Enobarbus is in love with both Antony and Cleopatra. Packer directs Blunt to consider when he has done something he knows was stupid, and keep this in mind to understand that Enobarbus completely understands why Antony and Cleopatra have made their mistakes. Blunt ultimately interprets this direction as Enobarbus experiencing disappointment in people he loves dearly. When running the scene again, Blunt’s performance is decidedly more emotional and this Enobarbus is not the stoic soldier seen previously. Certainly it is a different performance, which most of the audience seems to respond to favorably, thinking those choices set up Enobarbus’ death in a more believable way. Packer asks Blunt to perform his final speech, keeping in mind the work that was just done. Almost immediately Packer takes Blunt back to further investigate the word “life”. Packer states that she is not yet believing that Enobarbus wants to die. Blunt responds, “I didn’t know I wanted to die.” He goes back to the top of the speech again and Packer stops again and asks Blunt to pay a little more attention to specific words. Packer commends Blunt bravery in taking the direction and working the speech in front of an audience. Lochlin commends Blunt’s final run at the speech as adding the layers and intensity without simply being bigger. Blunt seconds that, and adds how much work and preparation is required by an actor to be able to access an authentic feeling in each performance. Packer agrees and cautions that actors taking on this challenge have to exercise their skill in order to be able to recreate these performances in an authentic and safe way. The trap is always that an actor can be come indulgent and in Packer’s words do the “wanky, wanky, wanky thing”. Packer feels that the authentic presentation of feeling is an integral part of the creation of empathy between actors and audience. Packer cautions against an approach that disregards the empathic nature of theatre. Packer argues whole-heartedly for actors that embrace the pathos of the story and don’t become distracted by the logos of the work.

This session provides a lot for attendees (and no doubt the actors as well) to consider. As the floor is opened to the audience one attendee finds a way to unite the scholarship on this play with the work we’ve seen today. Does the play champion the love-based story of Antony and Cleopatra over the rational politics of Caesar? Packer suggests that Shakespeare wrote a string of lovers where men and women have equal agency and that that equal agency is the key to success in these relationships and potentially politics as well.

Blackfriars 2015 – Honorific: Barbara Mowat

This is Merlyn Q. Sell blogging this year’s Honorific from the Blackfriars Playhouse. The honorific will be starting a little later than originally scheduled at 1:20.

Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen begins the honorific by reminding us of the beginnings of the ASC as the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express and the support that endeavor received from scholars centered at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Cohen shared Stephen Booth’s glowing 1992 review of Shenandoah Shakespeare Express’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Barbara Mowat was the editor who printed that review and has continued through her work to make Shakespeare’s works available and inviting to everyone.

Inspired by Mowat’s work, Cohen and Sarah Enloe invite a panel of scholars to audition ASC actors with Mowatt’s Folger Shakespeare Library editions as a guide for performance. The first actor to step up to the plate is Chris Johnston. Given elaborate direction to awake some of the archaic terms in his speech, Johnston admirably performs the verb “flapdragon” to the delight of the crowd. Abbi Hawk is the next to take the stage. Ann Thompson directs Hawk to communicate to the audience the importance of Saint Martin’s Day – right down to the date, November 11th. Rick Blunt is next with a Puck speech. Paul Menzer asks Blunt to pay particular attention to playing the size of fairies that are small enough to “lurk in gossip’s bowls”. Blunt achieves this by adopting a “monstrous little voice”. Tiffany Stern takes on James Keegan’s Leontes, specifically requesting more detail in his description of Hermione’s hand play with Polixenes. Keegan gamely tackles that and the suggestion that his reference to his brows might be a reference to cuckold’s horns. Sarah Fallon performs Cleopatra. The panel requests that Fallon sing or hum to evoke the music of the spheres that she claims is in Antony’s voice. Patrick Midgeley is next with a bit from Florizel. Tiffany Stern suggests that the piece may be bettered if it was performed “a bit more nude”. Next we saw John Harrell performing Oberon. Mary Hill Cole suggests there needs to be more specificity with the words vestal virgin and its connection to Queen Elizabeth. Gregory Jon Phelps accepted a redirect to his Caesar monologue with a focus on geography and geneology. Allison Glenzer gives the panels a monologue from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Glenzer attempts to integrate the notes to make clear that “chiding” is a type of barking and that the hounds of Sparta were known for their hunting ability. Renee Thornton Jr has the luck (misfortune?) to receive direction via punctuation. Patrick Earl’s Hamlet seems inspired by the previous actors’ notes. The panel determines their work is done.

Cohen reads a letter from Bruce Smith, which praises Mowat’s good judgement, diligence, and tact. Cohen then calls Mowat’s co-editor, Paul Wurstine, to the stage. Wurstine stresses the breadth of Mowat’s scholarship. Mowat takes the stage to a standing ovation. Mowat recalls her first exposure to Shenandoah Shakespeare Express and the unbelievable growth from that point to today’s 2015 Blackfriars Conference. Mowat receives her own honor by graciously expressing her admiration for Cohen and the amazing work of the American Shakespeare Center. Cohen stresses that Mowat has modeled the integration of scholarship and performance, and the ASC was built on her example.

Blackfriars Conference – Plenary Session VII

I’m Molly Beth Seremet and I am so pleased to be back, live-blogging this afternoon’s incredible plenary session! This session takes place on the Blackfriars stage and is starting a bit late due to some technical difficulties earlier in the day.  We will be getting under way at 2:20pm and will run until approximately 3:30pm. Amy Cohen of Randolph College moderates this session, with scholars Joseph Stephenson (Abilene Christian University), Patricia Wareh (Union College), Katherine Schaap Williams (New York University – Abu Dhabi), Peter Hyland (Huron University), Julie Simon (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), and Gretchen Minton (Montana State University).

Joseph Stephenson (Abilene Christian University) –“Kill Claudio” and What Followed: When a Woman Asks Her Man to Kill His Best Friend 

Stephenson begins his paper by recommending that we all check out Folger Digital Texts online, harkening back to last session’s honorific for Barbara Mowat. Now Stephenson moves into an introduction of that “little known” text Much Ado About Nothing. He introduces us to American Shakespeare Center touring troupe actors Jessica Lefkow and Chris Bellinger who perform the post-wedding scene from the play for us, portraying Beatrice and Benedick respectively. Lefkow delivers the climactic line “Kill Claudio!” and Bellinger chuckles. Lefkow leaves the stage, leaving Bellinger to puzzle over her departure. Stephenson takes over, reminding us that this line in question in often played for laughs, turning Benedick’s textual “ha?” into more of a “ha! ha! ha!” Stephenson calls the actors back to the stage and ask them to play the seriousness of the line, in a similar manner to that used when ASC actor Sarah Fallon played Beatrice did in 2009. The actors do so, playing this moment in the scene for broke. Lefkow and Bellinger achieve a moment of seriousness in this quick exchange.

Stephenson now moves into a discussion of the significance of this moment in the broader play, calling on notions of homosocial and heterosocial interaction in the play. Further, Stephenson puts a finger on this “Kill Claudio!” moment as the hallmark of this play’s tragi-comedic plot. He compares this moment to Fletcher as well.

Now, Stephenson turns to an investigation of Marston’s Dutch Courtesan. He first asks to consider Beatrice in this play, who is a bit more like Hero in Shakespeare’s text. He also calls our attention to Marston’s more Beatrice-like character, Crispanella. Lefkow performs a Crispanella monologue for the crowd, aptly demonstrating Crispanella’s bawdy and pleasantly rude language and Beatrice-like character. Stephenson connects Crispanella’s language to Beatrice, having Lefkow demonstrate some of Crispanella’s dirty jokes, including my favorite – “I slept on my back last night… and had the strangest dreams.”

Stephenson now moves to a scene from The Dutch Courtesan, featuring a different character, Franchesina. Now, Lefkow and Bellinger perform this scene for us, in which Francesina is propositioned. Bellinger swears his service to Franchesina and the scene includes a passionate kiss and a debate over the potential of love at first sight and a promise of death for Franchesina’s enemy.

Stephenson examines the way that rhetoric of this scene in Dutch Courtesan practically demands a laugh, as compared to the potential for serious ambiguity in the similar moment in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Stephenson points out that variations in this scene can be found in other plays including Massinger’s Parliament of Love. 

The Bear enters, just as Stephenson brings up the subject of male-female duets, in a nice moment of art imitating life.

Patricia Wareh (Union College) – Courteous Performers and Audiences in Love’s Labour’s Lost

Wareh begins her paper by reminding us that in the early modern period, social expectations for courteous behavior were real and influential on a theatre-going audience. In this way, playwrights incorporated the familiar language of courtly interaction into their plays and also reached out to audiences through tropes of social performance. According to Wareh, early modern plays demonstrate apt use of exposed and implied courtly behaviors and relationships.

Wareh refers primarily to Castiglione’s manual of courtly behavior, and asks us to consider how much the behavior of the men in Love’s Labours Lost demonstrates the failures of the titular love’s labors. Wareh points out that the men’s choice to dress as Muskovites signals a failure in Castiglione’s eyes. As Castiglione points out, masquerade entails a necessary distance between performer and costume – in short, there is no pleasure in a prince playing a prince, doing in sport exactly what he should be doing in good earnest.  By pretending in sport to be true lovers, Wareh urges us to remember that it becomes very hard to take their performance of love seriously in the play at large. Thus, theatre and courtship are closely aligned in Love’s Labours Lost, though as Wareh jokes, the wooing men should not worry about brushing up on their Castiglione.

Now, Wareh turns to questions of authenticity, considering the tug between actor and disguise, player and played, in the course of the play’s action. She advises that the onstage audience of the play is encouraged to watch the action of the play but also to watch the larger audience watching them. Wareh suggests that courtesy factors in here in the behavior of the audience as well, in addition to considering the ways in which the characters act courteously in their enacting. The play as a whole delights in exposing the efforts behind courtly behavior, reinforcing the parallels between onstage and offstage audiences, and the success of the courtly play in satisfying (both) audiences. By pretending to stage a failure of a play, Wareh argues that Love’s Labours Lost succeeds in staging Castiglione’s conceptions of courtly behavior in a manner that delights an audience in all its self-deprecating pleasure.

Katherine Schaap Williams (New York University – Abu Dhabi) – Characterizing Monstrosity

Schaap Williams begins her paper by quoting Trinculo and Stephano’s first 10 lines regarding Caliban in The Tempest, including extreme repetition of the word “monster.” Schaap Williams questions this exchange, putting pressure on exactly what Stephano and Trinculo see when they look at Caliban.

Schaap Williams argues that the monstrous body and monstrosity are often used as ways into reading disability back into the early modern canon, as an analogue. The spectacle of the extraordinary body becomes especially vexed in these texts. Schapp Williams considers the technology of the actor’s body to ask how might the early modern stage challenge our assumptions regarding the performance of the monster on the early modern stage. For Schaap Williams, staging monstrosity through the technology of an actor’s body risks removing the distance that is required for wonder’s emergence.

Schaap Williams refers to an account of Merlin’s birth, in which his monstrosity body and precocious birth asks us to think about the utility of his body within our conceptions of the monstrous body. In this account, Merlin will not be silent and his body cannot be interpreted in our usual interpretive frames. Now, Schaap Williams considers a similar example in an early modern play in which Timothy is described as a spectacle, an extraordinary sort of half-human, half-fish, “my feet made flounders.” As Schaap Williams indicates, however, poor Timothy is actually a human suffering from the very human malady of a hangover. In fact, his monstrosity lies in stage props that lend him alterity, while at his core, he is human.

Schaap Williams now turns to an investigation of the monstrous body as a site of appropriation. She calls our attention to Stephano and Trinculo’s desires to exhibit or charge people to look at Caliban’s monstrous body. When a body is described as monstrous, it is necessarily a site of replication in a dramatic context.  As Schaap Williams points out, theatre technology is one of embodiment and therefore, monstrous bodies are made through actor bodies, night after night. The character described as monstrous is an opportunity for the making of bodily difference in time.

Peter Hyland (Huron University) – Stumped: Alarum for London and Henry V

Hyland begins his paper by calling our attention to the first staging of Alarum for London in 1599 and suggests that it is probable that Shakespeare would have had an interest in this play, though he was very unlikely to have had a hand in its writing). Hyland describes the play’s plot, depicting the cruelty of the Spaniards during the seige of Antwerp and the unlikeability of the play’s victims, and suggests that the play may have been written as a warning for English citizens.

Hyland notes that the play has little performance history until the past decade, much of which focuses on the play’s character of Stump, leading to readings surrounding portrayal of disability and prosthesis. Due to the potentiality of these readings, Hyland posits Alarum for London as a potential prosthetic companion to Shakespeare’s Henry V.  Hyland calls our attention to the passage in Henry V in which the King pledges atrocities at the French gates. As Hyland suggests, this instance from Shakespeare’s text serves as a neat summary of the full plot of Alarum for London.

Hyland now moves to descriptions of atrocities in Alarum, including deaths of innocent women, children, and blind men whose lives cannot be saved by impassioned pleas. In this play, the slaughter of innocents is staged in the manner that Henry threatens in Henry V.  Hyland now explores moments in both plays in which characters count the lives lost on both sides of both wars, finding analogous moments in both plays.

Now, Hyland introduces the character of Stump, who in his first appearance in the play, does not speak but is instead referred to by other characters as he limps across the stage. He then exits, not to appear for several scenes. Hyland points up the significance of allowing an audience to take in a disabled character’s body before the character is able to speak. Hyland than describes Stump the solider as a representation of something more than human, indicating that perhaps the actor playing Stump might also double for Time earlier in the play. Further, Hyland indicates that Stump’s rage is the play’s rage; Stump is forced into martial violence but manages to never lose his magnified humanity.

The Bear appears and takes Hyland’s paper!

Julie Simon (Oregon Shakespeare Festival) – Interpreting Shakespeare: Literal versus Figurative Translation

Simon begins her presentation with a message of congratulations for the American Shakespeare Center on their recent receipt of a grant for research on sign language interpretation of Shakespeare’s plays. Simon then segues into her paper, introducing her background as a sign language interpretation and foregrounding her interest in translating Shakespeare’s language into American Sign Language.

She introduces four challenges to sign language translation. First, implcit vs. explicit language. Here, Simon argues that an interpreter must know all possible readings and meanings of phrases, concepts, and words and then make clear choices in the moment of interpretation to get the emssage across to the audience. She mentions that American Sign language relies heavily on active voice while the English spoken language makes heavy use of passive voice, especially when a speaker wishes to conceal who is doing the action. Further, Simon notes that an ASL interpreter can sign two phrases simulataneously, one with each hand, while spoken English is a linear language.  She points up the inherent difficulty in signing comedy, in which an interpreter must not give away so much information as to get to the punchline before hte end of the joke.

Now, Simon turns to the notion of sign selection. She describes choices made regarding concepts of money. A character of high social status might indicate that they have a lot of money by signing a bag of money, which a lower status character might sign a coin or two in their hand. In this way, the sign itself adds layers of meaning for a deaf audience that enrich the world of the play.

Simon’s third point relates to humor in translation, especially with regard to double entendre and bawdy language in Shakespeare’s text. She points out that many signs for bodily functions may actually be readable to all audience members and not only those who know sign language and the audience laughs with recognition at this complication. Simon also discusses the challenges posed by double casting and “twinning” in Shakespeare’s texts, indicating the challenge posed to interpreters in keeping everyone straight.

Simon then moves to an exploration of prose versus verse. She mentions that it is possible to show meter and rhyme in sign language with repeated gestures, though the specific beat count cannot be performed without sacrificing meaning. Simon also calls attention to the particular needs of a deaf audience, who need both a clear view of the stage and the interpreter.

To help interpreters, Simon suggests providing interpreters with accurate copies of the play’s text and inviting them into rehearsal as early as possible. She further reinforces that interpreters share the same goals as directors and actors: to make plays understandable and enjoyable to the largest audience possible.

Gretchen Minton (Montana State University) – ‘A Quant Piece of Beauty’: Dressing Up Gloriana’s Skull

Minton begins her paper reminding us of the scene in The Revenger’s Tragedy in which Vindici uses the skull of his dead fiancé to enact his revenge. Minton draws a comparison between Vindici and Hamlet, likely both played by Burbage on the early modern stage, stating that we read Vindici as already dead when the play begins.

Minton now reminds us that the stage directions in The Revenger’s Tragedy indicate that the skull is ‘wrapped up in tires’ and also at one point, enters masked. Minton questions how possible it might be that this skull might be mistaken for and/or read as a beautiful (presumably alive) courtesan. Minton refers to a moment in the text in which the skull is referred to as a “quaint piece of beauty” in consideration of the aesthetic quality of stage props, even the grotesque ones.

Now, Minton calls on actor Jessica Lefkow to demonstrate. Lefkow and Bellinger enact a portion of the text, using Minton’s skull prop. This skull wears a mask that suggests skin, has long flowing auburn hair, and a blank cloak that covers Bellinger’s arm. Bellinger removes the mask and wig from the skull’s “face” and an audible gasp courses through Blackfriars. This unmasking reveals a rotted skull, which Bellinger touches tenderly throughout the scene. This unmasked skull lends special resonance to the lines regarding hiding madness “in clothes.” At times, Bellinger strokes the skull gently and concludes the speech by re-masking the skull as well.

Minton discusses the historical difficulties in staging this skull “wrapped in tires.” She discusses ways in which famous productions work to ’embody’ Gloriana, including using an actor’s own legs or a beheaded teddy bear to stand-in for the missing body. Minton asks us to consider what the staging of this skull signifies for an audience and the larger resonance in the space of theatrical performance itself. As Minton indicates, Vindici gives the skull an identity and a memory by dressing it up and endowing it with gendered trappings. Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy foregrounds a theatrical property much in the way theatre itself uses objects to conjure collective memory, making “a thing of no thing.”

And that’s a wrap for another glorious session of Shakespearean scholarship. It has been a true pleasure to blog this session and I hope you will continue to join us for the rest of the conference. Keep reading!

-Molly (@moxymolly)