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.