Colloquy Session XIX: Staging Questions with Actors

Good morning everyone, Liz back here for the last time this year to live-blog Colloquy Session XIX: Staging Queeestions with Actors. Live blogging of this session will run from nine to ten fifteen in the morning on the Blackfriars Playhouse Stage. The chair for this session is Cassie Ash. The presenters are Rebecca Bailey and Julia Griffin. Actors for this session are part of the American Shakespeare Center Dangerous Dreams Tour Tim Sailer, Cordell Cole, Jessica Lefkow, Chris Bellinger, Andrew Goldwasser, and Aleca Piper.

Ash welcomes everyone and thanks them for their presence this morning. She introduces Griffin and Bailey and hands the stage to Griffin.

Griffin says that standing on the stage is amazing and talks about AC Badley’s amazing Shakespearean Tragedy. She talks about note thirty one, “He has no children.” This refers to Macduff’s line in Macbeth. This could refer to Malcolm who, having no children, can announce this deed, to Macbeth who has no child, so Macduff cannot take adequate revenge, or to Macbeth who if he has children would not ask for Macduff’s children to be killed. There is debate that Macduff could not say this to Malcolm because that would be a direct retort and rude. In Shakespeare’s play, Macduff expresses both grief and vengefulness is future lines, so the challenge is to try to decide which emotion influences the line, “He has no children.” For an actor, this is difficult because an actor must make a choice.

Griffin states that she believes, as Bradley, that the line refers to Malcolm. She then introduces that the actors will perform the scene in three ways: with Macduff being heartless, as a direct retort to Malcolm, and as a reference to Macbeth. Goldwasser as Macduff, Cole as Rosse, and Sailer as Malcolm jump up to do the scene three times.

Griffin states that she does not know how the actors do what they do, to which Goldwasser replies, “At nine A.M.” Griffin states that she expected to have to ask questions to clarify the differences between each staging, but acknowledges that the actors did a great job. She states that Goldwasser put more anger when directing the line to Malcolm than she expected. Griffin then turns to the audience and asks what they noticed. Purcell, in the audience, states that Macduff’s lines following all seem to make more sense if Macduff directs the line to Malcolm – especially since Macduff “was cross” with Malcolm earlier in the scene. Purcell states that this session showed him how all three interpretations can work to make a different show.

Griffin then reads an interpretation by a novelist.

We move on to Bailey, who focuses on embodying the humors using Laban technique. She introduces the four humors: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. She hopes to find an approachable method to use these early modern ideas through modern techniques that many actors are familiar with.

Bailey states that she chose Laban’s movement because he focused on both performance and everyday life. She believes that this will help actors perform the movements of everyday people. She will work with the actors on weight, time, space, and flow. She will have the actors choose along the continuum of Laban to help create characters to make the humors embodied for actors today. She clarifies and further explains the continuum upon which the humors and exist and which actors can access.

Bailey states that we will work on Viola and Falstaff, who are both closely connected to the humors. Lefkow jumps up to portray Viola, who is represented as sanguine with an excess of blood, which is hot and moist and connected to air. Bailey wants to look at Laban’s elements and the elements connected to the humors. She tells Lefkow that Viola is flexible, light, sustained, and free. She encourages Lefkow to embody these choices in her movement and voice. Lefkow them performs Viola.

Bailey then asks Lefkow to perform Viola with the opposite choices on the continuum, with a direct, strong, quick, and bound Viola, to see if the interpretation fights the text. Lefkow jumps right to it.

Purcell asked to have Lefkow perform Viola as melancholy. Another scholar in the audience states that he prefers the second choice for Viola, due to Viola’s first scene in the play’s text.

Bailey has Lefkow be direct, bound, sustained, and strong as a melancholy Viola, per Purcell’s request. Lefkow jumps in and restarts, acknowledging that she must start in a different place and that she has not had her coffee yet this morning. Purcell states that this is the Viola that he likes because this Viola was bittersweet, and he sees Twelfth Night as a bittersweet play. Ash jumps in to state that she enjoys how Lefkow’s third melancholic performance helped illustrate the quoting of another character in the same humor.

Bailey introduces Bellinger as Falstaff. Falstaff is referenced as a phlegmatic character. For example, Hal states that Falstaff sleeps until noon, but phlegmatic characters’ hours started at three in the afternoon. Thus, many humoral elements are explained within the text. Phlegm is connected with water, which is flexible, strong, sustained, and free. Bellinger then gets up to perform a Falstaff monologue.

Bailey then chooses to the stage the monologue again with Bellinger playing the opposite choices as Falstaff: direct, light, quick, and bound. Bellinger takes the direction and performs.

Cass Morris then points out that the main element that she feels is set for Falstaff is time. She feels that Falstaff must be sustained and not quick, but that the other elements seem flexible.

In response to a scholar’s comment, Bailey acknowledges that characters gravitate towards a certain humor, rather than playing the humor all of the time. Ash jumps in to point out that the flow element is about the ability to change into motion or non-motion in performance, rather than constantly moving or not moving.

Goldwasser points out that even within the line, an actor can change any of the elements. He also points out that each element can also describe either space, movement, or voice – or any other aspect of performance.

Bailey acknowledges that this staging session will help her to see the overlaps or exclusivity of the humors and the different elements.

Lefkow explains her personal thoughts on Laban and the humors. She believes that Laban is a great method to use and believes that ever actor is different and will use the technique differently and have different viewpoints.

Another scholar points out that different elements like water and earth take on different forms, like ice, vapor, rock, and soil. She wonders how these can inform the actors and their choices.

Griffin takes the stage again to look at IV.iii. from Julius Caesar. She wants to look at this scene to see if this scene is a textual error that was not supposed to repeat the news of Portia’s death, that Brutus must have this conversation again because of Massala, or that Brutus benefits from revealing the new of Portia’s death twice. Griffin has Goldwasser (Brutus), Cole (Massala), and Sailer (Cassius) come perform the scene with each of the three interpretations for the audience.

The actors speak about what they liked and found easier to perform. Bellinger questions if Cassius can support Brutus in all of these interpretations, especially given Cassius’ character in the play.

Griffin believes that the first staging of this scene allows Brutus to be a sympathetic character. The actors then ask questions to Griffin.

Ash ends the session by thanking the actors and presenters.

Thank you all for allowing me to be your live blogger this week – it was a blast!

About bitsybetsy

Shakespeare and Performance graduate student.