Mlitt Thesis Festival 2016 – Session 3

Hi All, Sarah Enloe here, looking forward to the last session of the 2016 Mlitt presentations here at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia.  The room is filling up as students and faculty return from a break.  Looking around the room, the final five presenters prepare for one of the most nerve-wracking moments in their graduate school career with equal parts smiles, nervous pacing, with a mixture expressions on their faces. Paul Menzer welcomes all back to the playhouse and the “analog” portion of the evening (this session apparently will not use projection).

Sarah Wykowski, “Painted full of Tongues”: Embodying Liminality in in Shakespeare’s Prologue Figures

Sarah begins by explaining the style of realism that she has been trained and worked in.  She suggests that realism can work for some characters in Shakespeare’s plays, but that others, such as prologues, function in a more liminal space.

The figures, such as Chorus, do not exist in the play or the audience. Instead it is a threshold or bridge. It embodies the transition an audience undergoes, as the audience is transported into the world of the play, particularly in a world of theatre which engages in audience contact or direct address.

She introduces the ideas of Turner and his phases of rite of passage: separation, transition, and reincorporation. Liminality is likened to death, being in the wombd, to bisexulaity. The subject exists betwixt and between audience and play. The outward depiction of the liminal state varies from cultures, but share some qualities–a sexless white cloth in swaddling of babies and the dress of tribal leaders as they rise.

In early examples of a prologue, one uses a metaphor of a ship and a sea voyage, speaking of his femininity, and could relate to the transitional role of a boy actor moving beyond playing female roles. In Noh, the actor portraying women are both women/young girls, but with a mask covering only part of the face and a heightened physicality, he is both a woman and not a woman. The ideologies of Animus and Anima represent polar complements employed by the actor. At the pre-expressive level, there is an erasing of gender.

Sarah has worked with Doreen Bechtol, Thadd MacQuade, and Sarah Fallon to compose gesture for the Rumour speech from Henry IV, Part 1 to emphasize the liminality. (She performs.) Her first attempt used “jazz hands” that fought with the liminality, at this point Thadd and Doreen gave her some advice before she took it to an audition, the direction was to feel as if horses were pulling her arms in different directions, which changed the delivery in satisfactory changes, with realizations in breath that created a different story.

Brewster and Wiman discuss the early modern Prologue as an usher with amounts of authority and servitude.  Bestows, on the audience, and boasts, of himself, of authority in the speech.  In another recent role, the Bellhop in Eurydice, she found more “extra-daily” opportunities. She describes a moment in the play in which she carried the title character.  The choice, which a focus on extra-daily movement, she supported the theft of authority from the character (by way of the fates).

She suggests that finding a range of ways to play the characters who exists in the space is worthy of further study as she hopes to continue to push and pull both herself and others to think about different ways of portraying liminal characters.

Q: Menzer: Is there a way that this applies to characters who become liminal? A: Absolutely

Q: Mackey: In your first exploration, you discussed Caliban, is that still part of teh thesis? A: no, moved onto choral.

Q: Harris: Can you reflect on the character you played in Clymon and Clymenedes? A: The theme of comedy in that show creates a different circumstance, but it would be interesting to explore.

Q: Seremet: With your concept of the art body, what do you do with characters who are more divided liminal characters? A: would want to explore each individually.

Q: Thompson: does your thesis address why these characters are essential to the plays? A: not yet, but it probably should receive some attention.

Q: Cohen: I think your character in C&C was in fact liminal, with your vocal choices. Could be an early realization.

Q: Bechtol: You talked about the directional quality, I wonder if your performance changed with an audience and the thought of being a bridge.  A: It did, some audience members tried to talk and others were put off. Once you are comfortable, you can align with them in a different way from other characters.

Mark Pajor, A Tale of Two Endings: Early Modern Aglaura as a Modern Multi-Linear Narrative

Aglaura by John Suckling has been ignored by early modern scholars, remarkable since this one play has two endings. This thesis looks at a  multi-lineal narrative. It was first mounted in 1638 at the Blackfriars, and at court. Three months later, the King;s Men presented it and it changed from a bloody revenge tragedy to a bloodless comi-tragedy. In its first printing, the reader would find both endings with prologues and epilogues.

Critics, such as Squire, have dismissed the play because of its disturbing “dual” ending. Rather than a problem, Mark sees this multi-linear narrative as a positive in opposition to its most prominent critic. He lists Choose Your Own Adventure and Clue as examples of a hunger for this style of storytelling.  He suggests that the aim of rehearsal is to tell a consistent story, but that many modern day theatrical productions have followed the pattern, demonstrating that it is clearly applicable to the medium.

To illustrate the efficacy of the form, his actors will stage both ending. Mark begins with a plot summary.  The actors, at hand, begin with the original bloody version, followed by the second less violent ending. He restates the differences between them, namely that prisoners are taken rather than deaths committed.  The important item to note is the point of divergence, the cue word of “revenge stays the same, but rather than instigating a killing, it is an entrance cue for the servant character. The counterpoint, the point of convergence, are important to multi-lineal narratives for practical reasons such as managing the number of choices available, for memory reasons for the actors and playwright. It also increases thematic unity. Making their differences stand out more clearly, and remain a continuation of the same story rather than becoming two different stories entirely.  Both versions must have dramatically logical outcomes or consequences.

Aglaura succeeds with pen and paper what video games do with screens and joy sticks, with Suckling anticipating the need for logical consequences. The multi-linear narrative goes beyond traditional narrative, and opens the possibility of many more by not presenting just one.  This work could apply to King Lear’s two texts and the Shrew stories, as explored in November, and suggested possibilities for other staging possibilities.  Each adaptation acknowledges multiplicity, and creates a range of choices.

Q: Thompson: Having worked on the Shrew adaptation, I wonder in this case, how does the idea change when the audience input is not an aspect? A: Many theorists have explored this, and some consider the audience engagement question, and others do not. Could do Aglaura with audience choosing.

Q: Hamlet: How many characters die in the tragic version? A: 7

Q: Garrett: How do you put the plays in conversation with one another, all begin with one starting place and different endings, but what about with plays like the Contention, where the ending is the same but the beginning is different? A: An important quesiton, ot yet investigated.

Q: Cohen: Did you think about how Knight of the Burning Pestle fits into this idea? A: THat inspired my interest.

Clarence Finn, “These Rowsy, Ragged, Rabblement of Rakehells”: A Discourse on Several Poverty-Stricken Vagabond Characters from Early Modern Drama and Their Struggle to Survive

The vagabond characters were poor people who struggled to survive and were ostracized, Finn relates to the feelings of these characters due to circumstances in his youth. This presentation contextualizes impoverished characters and the reasons for their circumstances and how to relate it to performance today.  These characters are more than comic relief. They are historical artifacts from which audiences can learn about the impact on poverty.

Finn begins with a historical portrait, explaining that during the early modern period, the poor were mistreated by higher status individuals. Population growth and enclosure caused poverty in the period, and early modern historian William Harris describes the problem. Officials failed the poor by not providing employment and from the damage of population growth. Enclosures further hampered the well-being of the vulnerable.

Vagabonds were imprisoned, whipped, dragged behind carts; literature describes them and society’s feelings towards them (see title). Likewise, characters like Autolycus (Winter’s Tale), Moll Cutpurse (The Roaring Girl), and Skink (Look About You) demonstrate their place in the culture’s imagination.  Ryan Odenbrett portrays Autolycus with a depth of feeling, rather than comedically, to demonstrate the impact that homing in on a single line (about lack of employment leading to unjust actions) can have on the portrayal.  Kim Greenawalt and Chad Marriott play a scene from The Roaring Girl to show Moll’s place as a warrior vagabond. They show the defiant Moll who does not hesitate to resort to violence and playing dirty. Skink, a very dangerous vagabond leads him to commit murder. Gaskill discusses the meaning of murder in his book on early modern crime.  Stephan Petrowski and Glenn Thompson work with Tyler Dale to show Skink in action. Disguise heightens the danger, as Skink not only takes clothes, he takes on identity and commits crime at will.

He concludes with the thought that the possibility that careful attention to the situation of the vagabond can inform performance.

Q: Finch: Did you look at the displaced royals who become vagabonds? Q: Have not, need to manage the numbers.

Q: Grace: How do you reconcile the clear comedy in the scenes with this approach? A: the humor should happen by happenstance, rather than by forcing it.

Q: Davies: Funny can happen in discomfort, and it is interesting to think about the cruelty actors demonstrate when playing actors and how they may relate to this work? A: Will explore.

Q: Harris: Can you discuss more of what you think that society should have done to help the poor? A: the acts and laws in the period forced the poor to suffer and the longer work explores it.

Q: Johnson: The natural comedy can heighten the deeper, tragic moments.

Zac Harned, The Words Words Words Show

Begins with an apology for the lack of sex, violence, foul language, alcohol or tobacco in his work.  Describes a favorite teacher who tells the story of students exploring a poem, they are introduced, find they like it and then take it home and scream in its face to try to get at what it means. This is a metaphor for how Zac used to feel about rhetoric.  As an actor, when asked by a director what he thought a moment of anaphora might mean, he realized that he didn’t know and didn’t care, but then realized that Shakespeare’s schools and that of his actors would help a modern actor.

Through exploration of 3 devices,  the first: Catachresis. Example: “John foolishly bought a cd with out seeing the music first. ” The word hearing would logically replace seeing, its effect is to disrupt the listener. FIrst an actor must question the figure: Does the character know they did it, realize it, choose it? For the performative quality changes when one notices it, and emphasizes it. The figure does not tell an actor to perform, but gives him or her something to perform.

A classic example of repeated catechresis appears in the character of Dogberry.  The actor must choose how to play it, for instance with confidence (by dropping or raising the voice, by over enunciating, or by raising pitch) or without confidence (by questioning, searching, giving up).

Not all figures are performable, and in the case of multiple figures means the actor must choose which to play.

The other consideration is how the character hearing the catechresis responds to it. Brooke Spatel and Maddie Buttitta perform a scene from Two Gentlemen of Verona several times by way of example. Some can understand it as a pun (or paranomasia), or choose to react to it as if it is a wrong use of words.

Moving onto metaphor, by way of definition, Harned cites a tweet which he paraphrases “We get it, poets, things are like other things”.  Using the familiar text of “To be or not to be, that is the question/Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them, Harned points out the possible play of catechresis in the word “sea”. Maddie Buttitta shows several different ways to emphasize the (or de-emphasize) the word and thus the rhetorical figure.

In conclusion, terminology is important, adding to the vocabulary actors, directors, and dramaturgs own means they will more easily see the figure and deploy methods to play it; the figures are a part of the plays.  Rhetorical figures often occupy spaces of significance, and actors should have them as a tool–not to ask “what does rhetoric mean?” but “what can it mean? ”

Q: Scott: Have you looked at original pronunciation and its impact? A: yes, paranomasia can be impacted and I will be investigating.

Q: Garrett: Catechresis may be a subtextual clue? A: Yes, with reservation.

Shane Sczepankowski, Do You Bite Your Cue at Me?

Shane begins by playing some calming music, acknowledging his place as the last in a “long two days”.  He offers to take the audience on a journey through the forest of cue scripts, and raises the question why don’t we use them? Cue scripts are documents which contain the exits and entrances, the actors’ lines, and 3-4 words they must listen for in order to speak at the proper time.  He mentions that that there are times when cues are repeated and that actors, Shanes insists, must embrace.

IC (interrupting cues) are on the table for exploration. Shortly, a scene from a cut version of Romeo and Juliet’s tomb scene, which Shane explains they developed using a rehearsal process that included approximately 2/3 to 1/3 rehearsal time directorial vs collaborative, and in which the actors engaged in personal study to learn their lines.  After the scene, Shane explains the impact of overlapping dialogue which results from IC, and suggests that the work even in this late scene of the play, could be used to explore character relationships in the very first one.

As the presentation moves on, the actors present the banishment scene which takes place earlier in the play. Then, he moves onto a set of questions for his actors. He establishes a convention of “actor brain” and “character brain”, in which the actors will move from one stool to the next to answer the questions.  Beginning with the Nurse, he asks about how the cue work informed her character development, and she answered that it helped her with the age of the nurse. Moving onto brain, she reveals that the learning of the lines was challenging, and that she kept the information learned from working in that way. Moving on the the character of the Friar, the actor answered that the rhythm of the cues was helpful in character development. And that the repeating cue for the friar reinforced the moment of urgency in both scenes. Finally, Romeo.  As an actor, he answers the question “What did you learn not to do?” He states that the hot-headed perception of Romeo is not necessarily present in the text, and the process allowed him to discover. Moving into the character chair, he discusses that the journey moving from Act III to Act V shows more of an arc with this tool.

Shane concludes by saying that early modern theatre practitioners can benefit by focusing on the repeated cues in rehearsals.

Q: Jones: Will work on repeated cues impact other repetitions? A: The aim of this work is to create a tighter ensemble and that examination may do that.

Q: Davies: would it be possible to explore repeated cues without cue scripts? A: yes, it is helpful to have the actor discover it themselves.

 

And thus concludes another Thesis festival with Paul Menzer noting the 25 presentations heard in just over 24 hours and naming every student (and pronouncing each one correctly).

MLitt Thesis Festival 2016 – Session 2

I’m Cass Morris, back again to live-blog the second session of the MLitt Thesis Festival, 3:00-5:00pm.

Kayla Blue, A Baffling Whim: Sexual Imagery in Film Adaptations of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Capulet Ball
The presentation opens with Katie Little, as Blue, watching the ball scene from the Zeffirelli Romeo and Juliet. Blue then explains that she’s watched thirty-nine film adaptations of Romeo and Juliet, and that the ball scenes in 27 of them feature phallic imagery (69%). She noticed the repeated imagery of columns (or column-like vertical structures) and drapery, tapestry, or similar materials. Blue argues that the columns and arras both call upon romantic/historic ideas and invoke sexual imagery.

Columns: have a history of tragic scenery, evoke wealth (particularly ancient money), and connote the Italian heritage to a Western audience. Blue is interested in the conscious result of many directors’ subconscious decision. Little’s Faux!Blue takes a moment to comment on adaptation: Blue moved beyond just versions of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, using Shakespeare’s own text, to include anything that self-identified as an R&J adaptation (so, things like Shakespeare in Love and Gnomeo and Juliet are on her list).

Blue notes that the stagnant features of the Elizabethan stage, as demonstrated in the presence of our own frons scenae, have been appropriated by many directors of film. Blue notes that film allows for some “minutiae” that are impossible to convey in a theatrical setting. Blue identifies key components of the ball scene: A) Moment of Initial Attraction, B) Moment of Mutual Connection, and C) Moment of First Physical Contact, followed by the shared sonnet. Romeo’s A moment is textually prescribed; Juliet does not have a corresponding A moment in text. The opening of the sonnet brings them together, and “If I profane with my unworthiest hand” is the C moment.

Blue then tells us when to look for columns, including but not limited to: entering the ball, Romeo and Juliet’s A moments, Tybalt’s promise, with servants and musicians, Romeo’s adoration speech, the moment of mutual connection, the moment of first physical contact, during the sonnet, or during the recognition of their identities. Zeffirelli uses what Blue calls the “positive” slope, moving from A to B to C, though it does break down into RA and JA. This is the most common sequence. Gnomeo and Juliet, meanwhile, has the “negative slope” – C to B to A, as the characters accidentally touch hands, then become aware of each other. Shakespeare in Love moves JA to RA to C to B. William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet moves B to A to C, as the characters first see each other through the fish tank.

Blue then notes the fourteen adaptations make use of an “in within” – a “private, interior female space” – for the lovers to have their interaction away from the party. They have, however, still “retreat to somewhere public.” The party is still going on and nearby, but allows a certain amount of privacy for the sonnet. “Romeo and Juliet are alone; the party is simultaneously adjacent and distant.” She argues that the audience understands that Romeo is entering a sacred interior space of some kind, which has some form of vaginal connotations to an audience “already stimulated by male phallic imagery… from all the columns!” She connects this to the history of theatre and the classical concern with public and private spaces. Blue parallels her list of where to look for the columns with where to look for the arras: during the sonnet. “The two scenic images together do something special” to the audience’s cognitive awareness, connecting the modern film with the Elizabethan theatre with the classical theatres.

Blue notes that scholars have considered phallic imagery so common as to have become invisible to Western culture. The statement of masculine presence is the erect phallus; Romeo is not just the “cock in the henhouse” in that he is a Montague amongst Capulets, but because he is representative of that masculine presence. She then notes that the imagery connects with Romeo’s already aroused state when he arrives at the ball; the language after he meets Juliet, however, turns gentler and more feminine. The Montague faction represents an unwelcome penetration into the Capulet space, but the arras imagery used within the lovers’ sonnet turns that unwelcome penetration into something mutual, an allowed penetration, consensual and romantic. Blue notes that Juliet chooses to engage in the sonnet with Romeo, telegraphing her own agency and sexual interest to the audience.

Blue ends by asserting that columns subconsciously stimulate sexual ideas in viewers’ minds, and when the lovers share their sonnet and kiss in an intimate, female space, the audience will bind sexual and romantic love together in their story.

Q: These are film adaptations. Are you aware that the arras has been used in this way in a theatrical staging of the play?
A: It could be, but Blue has not seen it. Cohen comments that he has never seen it played quite like that.

Q: Have you seen any correlation with whether there are columns and arrasses in 1.5 and whether or not the lovers are separated or able to connect in the balcony scene?
A: Blue hasn’t, due to needing to narrow the scope of her thesis to examining a single scene. She has noted that columns are most often re-introduced in the tomb scene.

Q: How might you take what you’ve done in terms of film and apply it to the stage?
A: Fascinatingly, “my discourse about how film can provide for certain opportunities, it also has its failures and downfalls. I would have to really think about how to stage a cinematic interpretation on a stage like this.”

Kendra Emmett-Goldwasser, Od’s F***ing Bodykins: Shakespeare as Cross-Section of the Early Modern Flux of Taboo Language
Emmet-Goldwasser begins by noting that she has been interested in swearing and censorship for several years. Applying this to the early modern period, she wanted to know which words were “bad” and why. She notes that religious words were still taking seriously and that some currently offensive words were not yet considered obscene. She moves to definitions: taboo, oaths, obscenities, and vulgarity. “Taboo” is something permanently or temporarily forbidden or inviolable in a society, something which is simple in concept but complex in reality, constantly evolving and variant between cultures. For this thesis, Emmett-Goldwasser uses it to refer to language taboos, which are, in turn, largely oaths and obscenities.

Oaths invoke God or gods as witness to a statement, such as “by God” or “by God’s wounds”. She also includes minced and abbreviated oaths, like “‘zounds!”, or “life!” or “heart!” with an understood “God’s” before them. They then became words uttered due to their evocative or provocative value. Obscenities, then, “are to be defined against oaths,” specifically words that referents to parts of the body and its effluvia, both sexual and scatological: fuck, shit, cunt, etc. These can be found both explicitly and implicitly in early modern texts. She notes that many of these, including fuck and shit, were not explicitly taboo in the early modern period. Vulgarity, for this thesis, means “words that have coarse or impolite reference” but without being the same level of taboo as obscenities. In England, at the end of the 16th and early 17th century, the taboos were shifting from religious to bodily nature.

Emmett-Goldwasser mentions that there is a physiological way to measure the body’s response to words, based on electronic impulse on the skin. Since she cannot travel back in time to test this on unsuspecting early moderns, she examines the effect of words through other means. She begins with ecclesiastical exhortations, such as various publications regarding “the abuse of swearing”. People must have continually used these words, or clerics would not need to warn against them, and the invective publications indicate that these words were still taboo. Swearing, cursing, and oaths do not seem to refer to obscenities or vulgarities in early modern parlance.

“The best way to find out what is taboo in a society is to find out what it censors,” and so Emmett-Goldwasser moves to considering what the Masters of the Revels censored out of plays of the time. Three manuscripts exist with censor marks on them, and Emmett-Goldwasser shares one from The Second Maiden’s Tragedy. It includes no examples of censored sex or sexuality, not even when a tyrant steals his love’s dead body for necrophiliac purposes. Theatrical taboos seemed to focus on religious and political means. The most pertinent instance of censorship was the Act to Restrain the Abuses of Players, which fined 10 pounds for the use of sacred or religious words, again with no mention of obscenities.

Emmet-Goldwasser then considers “print” censorship, noting that the Folio oddly minces oaths, even though the Act only applied to those spoken on the stage and that other quartos printed after the Folio retained the original oaths. She notes Gary Taylor’s argument that the altered Folio texts may, then, have been set from altered playhouse texts, adjusted to comply with the Act. To demonstrate one of her findings, she looks at Hamlet, 3.2 in its three versions. “‘Zounds” in Q1 is exchanged for “S’blood” in Q2, then disappears in the Folio.

So, if these oaths were taboo, then why did playwrights use them? Shakespeare’s plays help us to see the moment when the religious oaths were becoming less taboo and the bodily terms were becoming moreso. As an example, Mercutio’s conjuring of Romeo after the Capulet ball, with the et cetera serving not necessarily as external censorship, but perhaps as a euphemism used for the self-censorship of the word “cunt”, which does not seem to have been taboo earlier in the medieval period (particularly as it appears in a number of place names). Shakespeare puns on the word several times – “Her Cs, her Us, and her Ts” and “country matters”. Emmett-Goldwasser compares these to “fuck” and “shit”. In the 1500s, “shit” appeared in print with no sign of bashfulness or censorship. Shakespeare puns on “fuck” (or its French variant) a couple of times in Henry IVHenry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and it also appears in Ben Jonson’s Epicene, which refers to a “windfucker” — the common name for a kestrel. If the word “fuck” was taboo, it is unlikely that it would have been used so casually in another context. Emmett-Goldwasser notes that it seems to have been vulgar but not necessarily obscene nor taboo in the early modern period.

In conclusion, censorship seemed concerned more with blasphemous language, as evidenced by the Act. “Oaths still held taboo, and some obscenities were not yet obscene.”

Q: Did you notice how comparatively blasphemous was Shakespeare?
A: Emmett-Goldwasser has looked a little at the contemporaries, but mostly focused on Shakespeare due to scope. Oaths are present, but he complied after the 1606 act.

Q: If words like “fuck” and “shit” weren’t taboo, then why only playfully pun on them?
A: Emmett-Goldwasser feels this is an indication of her thesis that the taboo was shifting; those words might not have been quite as appropriate even though not explicitly taboo.

Q: In “windfucker” to “windsucker”, can you argue against the typesetting?
A: “I wondered about that.” Her thesis posits that it could’ve been a mistake or a matter of convenience.

Davies: One final question — Where was Grope-Cunt Lane? I’ve decided to go there.
Menzer: Thank you, Kendra. See me in my office, Davies.

Megan Clauhs, Her Mother Hath Many Times Told Me So: Innogen and Silence in Much Ado about Nothing
Merlyn Sell opens, as Clauhs, opining that Innogen in Much Ado doesn’t speak because she’s a ghost character, and therefore a ghost, without lines. Clauhs then interrupts to correct. There are two kinds of ghost characters: seen and unseen. Seen ghosts enter in stage directions but never speak, nor are spoken to; unseen ghosts, like Rosaline in Romeo and Juliet, who is referred to often but never appears on stage. Clauhs then argues that Innogen ought not be considered a seen ghost character, as there are lines within the play that do refer to Innogen, at least as Hero’s mother, though her name is never spoken.

Clauhs then presents the opening scene of Much Ado about Nothing with a silent Innogen included. Any mention of her paternity must acknowledge her, if she is on stage. Clauhs then considers places where seen ghost characters get left out of the staging — usually when productions cut servants and attendants due to the constraints of cast size, a practice which does not affect the plot or the audience’s experience of the play. She argues that Innogen, the only married woman in the play, cannot be excised as easily. Clauhs puts forward the idea that, with few exceptions, married women do not talk in comedies, and even Hero is more talked-about than talking. Clauhs points out that even Beatrice stops talking after her mouth is stopped, presumably with a kiss, suggesting that the happy ending requires the silence of the female characters.

Clauhs argues that the Messina of Much Ado is one of Shakespeare’s most misogynistic settings, illustrated both by Leonato’s vitriol (absent in the source material), Claudio’s indifference, and the propensity of cuckold jokes in the play. Clauhs notes that some modern productions have given lines from other characters to a speaking Innogen. She believes this would have raised questions for an early modern audience that it does not for a modern audience. “Just because Innogen is silent in the text doesn’t mean she has to stay silent forever.”

Clauhs stresses the importance of retaining Innogen, particularly as a married woman in the world of a play which focuses on female virtue and chastity, and argues for undoing the editorial choice of Theobald which got carried forward into future editions.

Q: If Innogen is an important part of the play in her silent presence, what does her absence after 2.1 say?
A: The full thesis argues that her absence is the mistake, not her presence. Other characters lack entrances but speak lines within scenes.
Q: What scenes do you think she should be in that she’s not?
A: “My thesis is evolving every day. I’m starting to believe that she should replace Ursula.”

Q: Clarification regarding what defines “happily” married women.
A: Conflict, such as Adriana, indicates an unhappy marriage.

Q: If Shakespeare did intentionally only put Innogen in 1.1 and 2.1, then why is she there?
A: Shakespeare needed a married woman there to be the butt of a cuckold joke.

Q: Is there anything to tie in the possible alternate pun on musical noting in the title?
A: “I hadn’t even thought of that. I was more interested in the vagina joke.”

Q: I wonder if there’s an inverse proportion to sad men. Is there a feminization of Don John the bastard, as if he’s being told to shut up? He does speak a lot but not in public.
A: Clauhs doesn’t think so, “but no offense, I don’t care about men in this thesis.”

Paige Hammock, “Hear My Soul Speak”: Experiential and Atemporal Shakespeare through Music
Hammock considers the musical supplements to the early modern scene, including plays, masques, dancing, bear-beating, “adult dancing”, and even work. “Music was and is a foundation of cultural stability.” Music was an integral part of the early modern theatre transaction, and today can be used as a bridge between what seems archaic and what is familiar. Hammock underscores the ability of music to influence and suggest emotion, as well as to cross temporal boundaries. Examples of music assisting theatrical transaction include those at the Globe in London and here at the Blackfriars Playhouse. Hammock mentions particularly the foreign language productions of the Globe to Globe project, where music told a story that the audiences could follow.

Hammock compares the Globe’s typical use of music, only when called for in the script and at the end with a dance, to the Blackfriars Playhouse’s use of music before the show and during the interlude, which may tell the audience something about what they are about to see. “Music can help clarify and set boundaries for the meaning that the production and the audience will create together.” At the Globe, initial music serves as a signal that action is about to begin; she provides an example from the 2013 Macbeth, wherein the tones of bagpipes serve to silence the audience as well as setting the scene, before transitioning into warlike drum beats. “At the very least, the intro music draws the attention of the audience through sheer volume.” Such abrupt starts seem typical at the Globe, creating an aural boundary with immediate audience awareness. The production ended with a musical salute and a dance. While the jig may be discordant with a tragedy, Hammock suggests that the music and dance signals the end of the play in the same way as the call for applause in other plays. Music then, reminds audience to both pay attention to and to leave the play: an absolute beginning and a clear ending. “Transaction started; transaction completed.” Hammock also notes the ability of music to establish patterns and to signal transitions within a play, such as the music in The Tempest. She plays a clip from the Globe’s 2012 production, during Ferdinand’s initial entrance.

By contrast, the musical scene at the Blackfriars Playhouse “is a bit difference.” Here, the actors perform modern music during the pre-show and interval, often suggesting, as Jim Warren puts it, “something about the play.” During the touring days, it was used as a mood-setter, mediating between what an audience might expect and introducing them “to a potentially less stuffy version.” For example, the use of U2’s “Love is Blindness”, frequently used as an LGBTQ anthem, helped ease the way into Marlowe’s Edward II. Hammock suggests that the interval’s inclusion of “You Shook Me All Night Long” was perhaps more tongue-in-cheek, serving to highlight the play’s melodramatic elements. This, Hammock argues, becomes a different kind of transactional allowance, giving the audience permission to feel that the relationship between the King and Gaveston, while real, is also overly dramatic.

Hammock then considers the 2014 ASC production of The Comedy of Errors. The pre-show and interval music “semeed to take the painfully obvious and making it obviouser,” highlighting the absurdity of the entire play. The opening “Hey Brother” by Avicii has an obvious connotation, in the twins. The long-lost twins and wronged twins find a theme in Three Dog Night’s “One is the Loneliest Number”, and the falsities and mistaken identities get the same treatment in the interval’s “Little Lies” by Fleetwood Mac. All of these, Hammock says, comment on the play’s own absurdity. She also considers the cover of Cake’s “Never There”, which transitions into the door-keeping scene, and Weird Al Yankovic’s “I Think I’m a Clone Now.” The latter is both humorously self-referential during the play and an echoing reference to the original song, “I Think We’re Alone Now”. Hammock argues that there is a cognitive dissonance between hearing modern music on the early modern stage, perhaps creating competing “winks” to the audience, “a lot for the audience to process.” She expresses concern that this may break the transaction between theatre and audience. Another example was the interlude song and dance to “Me and My Shadow” by Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.  In comparison, Hammock feels that Weird Al cover might have pulled the audience too far out of the play, while the Sinatra/Davis cover created a stronger sense of the world of the play.

Concluding, Hammock states that music can define boundaries and enhance the theatrical transaction. “Music is used not as an alternative language, but as an additional one.”

Q: Have you thought about the difference between recorded sound and live?
A: Yes; initially Hammock wanted to have the music in her presentation performed live.

Q: You’ve pretty skillfully hacked the layers of something like the Weird Al song; is the atemporality something that comes out of that?
A: Usually when you come to a show, you can make the connection between the song and the play you’re about to see, but the Weird Al song seemed to add too many layers for the audience to then think about.

Q: You mentioned a bit about the audience’s attention to the song, and that got me thinking of how I frequently cannot hear the lyrics of the song thanks to the noise of the audience. How does that ability or inability impact the audience’s experience?
A: Hammock does talk about that some in the actual thesis. It’s not necessarily meant to serve as an essential component of the play. There’s still an aural connection to something happening on the stage, even if you’re not trying to ascribe meaning or listening to the lyrics.

Q: Thoughts on the use of modern music like at the Blackfriars Playhouse versus historical music like at the Globe?
A: Hammock is looking at the variant experiences that creates, without necessarily saying that one is a better choice than the other.

Q:Do you get the same atemporality when productions take early modern lyrics and set them to modern music?
A: It can have that effect.

–This session live-blogged by Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager

MLitt Thesis Festival 2016 – Session 1

Good morning! Cass Morris, back again to live-blog the first session of the 2016 Thesis Festival, 11:30am-2:00pm.

ASC Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen welcomes us, then Dr. Paul Menzer notes that this is just the start of a week of exciting MBC Shakespeare & Performance events.

Justine Mackey, “This Dog, My Dog”: Shakespeare and Man’s Best Friend
The presentation opens with dueling dogs: a lovely (adoptable!) pitbull called Duchess, actor Clarence Finn in a dog suit, and an invisible dog on a leash presented by Tyler Dale, all attempting to present Crab from The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

Mackey comes out and introduces herself and her actors, and Jocelynn Joy Murphy presents the “moon” speech from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, first with Duchess as “this dog”, then a second time with a stuffed dog. Mackey explains how she came to this topic, then notes that theatre still struggles with the choice to use live dogs, whether trained for performance or not, as opposed to prop or imaginary dogs.

“Performing animal” typically refers to an animal trained to do tricks for entertainment value, but Mackey believes that considering non-performing animals in theatre has value as well. A live dog can not only provide an interesting challenge for the actor, but can also create satisfying emotional experiences for the audience — and perhaps find a non-performing dog a forever home. Dogs, Mackey notes, need no special training in order to behave as a dog on stage. She moves to a consideration of various references to dogs in Shakespeare — there are over 2300 references to animals in Shakespeare, and the most-referenced animal is the dog.

This makes sense to Mackey, as humanity’s relationship with dogs goes back thousands of years. She provides a visual of cave paintings involving dogs. “Shakespeare was continuing a longtime theme that began thousands of years before him.” Mackey comments that outdoor theatre, such as the nearby Oak Grove, always contains the potential for unintended animal participation, as when frogs hop on stage. In this case, it can be a distraction for both actor and audience. Even intended animals can be a distraction, however, as their unpredictability can draw focus. Mackey sees this as a chance to heighten excitement. Dogs were, even in the early modern period, “an easy and accessible animal to work with on stage.” Mackey also ties this to the modern age, with the prevalence of animal-related videos on the internet, particularly with regard to the compassion that animals have for each other and for humans, and in turn, the compassion that we feel for them.

Mackey calls attention to the dual experience of placing a non-performing animal next to a performing actor, noting that it also brings up some ethical concerns. She seeks to place the theatrical use of non-performing dogs in line with other considerations of the relationship between dogs and humans. As an example, she speaks of the experiment of bringing a dog into the classroom, which improved both performance and attendance. Mackey ties this to the economic success of having a live dog in the ASC’s 2012 production of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, as the marketing for that show let the audience know they could expect to see a live dog on stage.

“Putting a dog on-stage will immediately trigger some response to the audience.” Mackey’s observation is aptly timed, as Duchess makes some cute noises, eliciting coos from the audience. She returns to the ASC’s 2012 Two Gents, where over 13 weeks, with 13 different dogs, 9 of those adoptable dogs found homes from audience members. She then discusses the challenge for the actors: having to quickly get accustomed to a new animal, and to get the animal accustomed to them. “The dog truly becomes a symbol of the improvised.” The actor and director could not block the dog, “but rather familiarized the dog with the stage and the actors.”

She shares some experiences from Ben Curns, who played Launce in that production, including the instinctive acting that the second dog, JR, seemed to demonstrate on-stage. Another dog, Jed, was noisier, likely to cry or whine any time the attention on the stage diverted away from him. She relates that, despite some mishaps and challenges, Curns nonetheless felt that the project was more a success than not.

“Seeing an animal on-stage next to a performing human” stimulates certain things for the audience. According to an ASPCA study, nearly half of all Americans own a dog, and more know someone who does, augmenting the connection that audience members feel with a dog on stage. A live dog on stage changes the way the audience experiences the moment. Mackey notes that Thadd McQuade believes that having a live dog on stage causes a “friction of reality”, which may provoke the audience to think about why the dog is there — particularly in plays like The Two Gentlemen of Verona, where a dog is not explicitly called for. She then speaks to the backstage effect of having a dog in a performance. McQuade’s dog was “miserable backstage” because the dog could sense a level of distress in the actors as they focused on their work, which in turn distressed the dog.

Mackey hopes that her work can help change the way that scholars focus their exploration of live animals on stage. As Mackey discusses the lasting impression that an animal can have on the audience, Duchess sneezes adorably. Mackey concludes by underscoring the long history that live animals have in performance, then states her belief that the live dog generates more connection with the audience, generates more revenue, and enhances the overall theatrical experience.

Q: Is there any sort of consent issue when it comes to using animals in performance?
A: There are organizations that work with regulations on performing animals, more for Broadway and film.

Q: What are the runner-up animal references in Shakespeare?
A: Second was birds, third was horse. Cat was low, and a handful were only answered once, like shark, squirrel.

Q: How does the dog not know that it’s not witnessing real conflict on-stage?
A: There can be a correlation; one dog reacted just to the word “kick”, which suggests that they do pick up on the on-stage dynamic.

Q: Did you get into the history of circus?
A: “I’m digging more into that now and how that has changed, even more recently.”

Molly Seremet, Cyborging Hamlet: A Tabletop Engagement
Seremet opens by referring to Harold Bloom’s assertion of Shakespeare’s singularity, his ability “to write the human.” This line of thinking suggests that Hamlet, then, is a “field sketch” of an entirely new kind of life. Seremet ties this to the idea of a human “that has not yet been,” figuring the conflict between heart and head for future hands that engage with the text. “A man from the future, caught up in the concerns of the past.” Seremet then presents a counterpoint argument from Degrazia, who also engages with the idea of interiority, but suggests that this positions Hamlet as dated, not modern. Defining Hamlet by that interiority only works if you divorce him from his reality; his contemporaries would have understood him in relation to contextual concerns such as land, patrimony, and inheritance. “In order for Hamlet to appear modern, the premise of the play had to drop out of sight.” Trying to make Hamlet’s self-reflection too modern ignores that he exists in a historical set of expectations and influences.

Throughout these discussions, Tyler Dale, on stage, manipulates a series of seemingly unrelated props.

The attempt to “assume modern ownership” of Hamlet ignores his and the play’s reality, and says more about our modern desires than about the play and character. Seremet suggests that the tension between Bloom’s and Degrazia’s interpretations is fascinating because it challenges our definitions of what is “modern”. Seremet proposes that we move away from questions of “what makes Hamlet modern” and instead consider that he has moved beyond modernity and moved into a post-modern idea of humanity, “an emblem of the post-human subject.”

Seremet then directs our attention to Dale as he wordlessly performs a card trick.

Seremet discusses the position of the cyborg in human understanding, then ties the ideas of Hamlet to that definition. Hamlet “as a character symbolizes a kind of human that few can emulate.” He is both “abundantly familiar” yet distant. “In cyborg fashion, Hamlet the character manages to hold us at arm’s length” as he performs humanity. We should consider that he represents not the human, but “a possible human,” an “actant”. He has the ability to act, but chooses not to, and “through the act of non-acting, becomes an actant.”

Seremet suggests that “Hamlet can be seen as a placeholder for the human,” stuck within his story, “an object occupying the subject position.” She argues for the replacement of Hamlet with an unpredictable object, to “shift the character”, which she hopes will re-ground Hamlet within his own text. Seremet refers to the mechanic terms that the play uses in reference to Hamlet. “Hamlet’s actant state can be framed in cyborg terms,” caught between the no man’s land between technological and human. Seremet relates this to the concept of “thingification”, examining the relationship between the animate and inanimate.

Seremet concludes by suggesting how we can capture the cyborg metaphor in theatrical practice, particularly by drawing attention to “thing-power”, thinking beyond the life-matter binary. In theatrical terms, an object remains a prop; an object-cyborg with thing-power, however, could become active rather than passive — a shift in perception, away from how we might use objects to considering how objects already use their thing-power on us. Seremet hopes to challenge the primacy of the human in theatrical practice.

Q: Any connection to the previous presentations, regarding the dogs?
A: Parallel tracks. Animals are different in that they do possess more outward agency.

Q: How does this relate to definition of “property”? What happens when the agency is reversed?
A: “In order for an object to cross over into cyber-territory, it has to act on us.” The difference between a prop and a object-cyborg is whether or not the thing has its own agency.

Catie Osborn, Contextualizing the Sword: Titus Andronicusand Early Modern Performance
Osborn begins by discussing how Raiders of the Lost Ark relates to Titus Andronicus, specifically the moment where Indiana Jones shoots the swordsman rather than engaging with him, because Harrison Ford had dysentery at the time. Osborn wondered how the cultural connotations of each weapon affects the audience’s perception of this as a humorous moment or not. “Does this become a symbol of colonialism and white oppression? Does Indiana Jones become the bad guy? Or, what happens when we understand the story behind the story? … It wasn’t colonialism, it was diarrhea.” Which brings us, Osborn notes, to Titus Andronicus, “famously shit on over the centuries.”

She wants to attempt to illustrate that the rampant violence is not demonstrating Shakespeare as an inexperienced and bloodthirsty playwright, but rather a commentary on cultural violence of the time. Her thesis examines the moments in Titus when a weapon appears and connects them to the early modern audience’s perception of those weapons.

Osborn presents the Peacham drawing from Titus, which illustrates a scene that never happens in the play — so how much can we really learn from it? She looks particularly at Aaron’s sword, not only incongruous in the supposed scene of imprisonment and pleading, but also at odds with the textual description of his weapon as a scimitar (important because the word choices centers Aaron as “exotic other”). Titus, meanwhile, seems to have spear, even though the text describes him as having a sword.

The play, Osborn notes, opens with a call to arms, specifically, to swords. Titus Andronicus, though not a historical Roman story, nonetheless connects to the cultural ideas of Rome prevalent in early modern England. Even without Latin, an early modern reader had access to Roman ideas and stories through English translations of Plutarch and others available in print. Shakespeare opens with a conflict between patricians and plebeians, but because the play has no specific time period, the audience cannot exactly know why either party appeals to each group of citizens. Osborn also remarks that, in Shakespeare’s England, Rome had alternate connotations, thanks to early modern Rome representing the corruption of Catholicism; this may explain some of Titus‘s atrocities, including the literal killing of messengers.

Titus combines familiar references to Rome into something vicious and brutal. Osborn highlights the important influence of Seneca on the text. A juxtaposition exists between the Roman and early modern ideas of vengeance; for the Elizabethans, vengeance belonged to God, and personal revenge was punishable by law. Titus, then staged “an Elizabethan anxiety” about the possibility for personal vengeance to spiral out of control. Osborn connects the 1594 publication of Titus to another text in the same year, which commented on the negative effect that vengeance had upon the revenger – specifically, visions and apparitions, such as that which Tamora visits upon Titus in the play.

Osborn shares a deeper consideration of just who gets murdered in Titus and why, positing it as both a dual morality play and a revenge tragedy. This becomes important when taken along with the religious conflicts of the time. Both Catholics and Protestants, though, would have been familiar with the story of Cain — and the admonition of God that any one who visited vengeance upon him would have it returned to them sevenfold. Osborn points out how many instances of violence in Titus are about brothers and that the “sevenfold” plays out within the play. Actors Sophia Beretta and Chris Moneymaker perform a scene between Chiron and Demetrius, which references their rapiers — a weapon which Osborn states was recognized as “contentious” by the early modern audience. The sword was associated with tradition and honorable warfare, while rapiers were weapons of personal vengeance. Fencing manuals commented on the dueling culture of the period, particularly with regard to the “daring” language that Shakespeare has the Gothic brothers emulate. Osborn points out that Chiron and Demetrius are doing something doubly illegal, both with regard to dueling and to wearing live steel in a royal court (illegal under Henry VIII). The scene, then, explains dueling culture and then tension between new and old styles, “hidden masterfully in a bevy of boner jokes.”

Q: How did the idea of the scimitar register at this moment historically?
A: There’s a notion of “otherness” present in Titus, which carries over into the culture at large — that of a mystical East.

Q: How does the research you’ve done translate to other plays?
A: This actually started with the Wars of the Roses, which ended up being just a little bit too much, because there was so much going on historically and culturally. “I thought Titus was a good test case,” but she wants her research to be something that readers can apply to whatever play they’re working on.

Q: Did you arrive at a sense of “rapiers are always this, swords are always this” in regard to their cultural connotations?
A: Youthful spirits, irresponsibility, people willing to fight in the streets = rapiers; Fancy people, high status people, those with traditions and responsibilities = swords “is generally how it splits across the entire canon.” Chiron and Demetrius are a good example.
Q: Did that link with military vs personal?
A: “That’s a great question; I’ll let you know!”

Ryan Odenbrett, Exit Crying Murder: A How-To Manual for Statistical Shakespeare Analysis
Odenbrett begins by stating that his thesis began as a desire to state Shakespeare’s intention in creating a pattern with the “murdered and escaped” characters in 3.3 and 4.2 of Macbeth, but that the project spiraled into “the Death Sheet”, a catalog of all the deaths in the Shakespeare canon. “I wanted to prove one point, but instead and accidentally, I made something better.” He hopes that this will enhance the Shakespeare community’s ideas about death on stage and that it will be able to inform performances.

His database illustrates topics including but not limited to: the ratio of Shakespeare death plays to non death plays, identification of on and off stage deaths, frequency of deaths within plays, how deaths take place, how they are discovered, chronological placing of death within a play, etc. Odenbrett carefully notes that he refrains from placing authorial intent upon the patterns that the database suggests.  “In short, Exit Crying Murder uses statistical Shakespeare analysis to examine the deaths in the canon.” Odenbrett comments that this is particularly apt in the year in which we are recognizing the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and refers to performances taking place across the globe that are performing all of Shakespeare’s deaths.

To start, he describes the phenomenon of charting Shakespeare’s deaths, beginning with an infographic that circulated the internet in 2013. Odenbrett suggests that the analytical human brain finds something satisfying in “this synthesized information in the way of visual images”. He challenges them, however, on the grounds of being inaccurate, and then presents his own table of the chronological compilation of every death in the canon (recorded from the First Folio).

Odenbrett then shares his “rules for admittance” for including a death in his compilation: that the character must appear on stage, be mentioned as dying on stage, or have appeared in a prequel work (the “Falstaff rule”). Looking at his chronology, Odenbrett points out that Shakespeare averaged one “death play” per year, and that he favored death plays over non-death plays by a factor of roughly two to one. He then shares his own pie chart displaying how many of the total deaths take place in each play. Most of the deaths take part in the tragedies, then the histories, then just two deaths in comedies. Early in Shakespeare’s career, most of the deaths took place in histories, but later in his career, he produces eight death plays in a row. However, the histories tend to have more deaths per play (6 in tragedies vs 8.1 in histories). The deaths in tragedies are also mostly on-stage, whereas more deaths in histories take place off-stage.

Plotting all the on-stage deaths into a line graph indicates a negative correlation over time — more deaths earlier in his career than later. Odenbrett speculates that that may have indicated his competition with Marlowe in the first few years. His last five plays have zero on-stage deaths, “as though he got tired of trying to drag carcasses off-stage”. A trend line of off-stage deaths indicates nothing useful by itself, as there is no discernable pattern, but when compared with the on-stage trend line, it seems that his plays alternate between high on-stage and high off-stage deaths.

Odenbrett uses Macbeth as a case study, intending to highlight the play’s irregularities when it comes to on-stage deaths. “Of the Death plays which feature more onstage deaths than offstage deaths, Macbeth possesses the lowest percentile at 57%.” Only Macbeth and Richard III die in stage directions, speaking nothing after their fatal wounds are received, “as though they didn’t deserve it.” Macbeth is also one of only two plays where a child dies on-stage — only 1.2% of all of Shakespeare’s deaths. Odenbrett argues that killing Lady MacDuff on-stage diminishes the rarity of that death. He mirrors this scene with Fleance’s escape and Banquo’s on-stage death, drawing attention to linguistic similarities between Banquo and Lady MacDuff.

Odenbrett “remains confounded by the amounts of data I’ve yet to explain to you” and hopes that the crash-course will encourage us to use statistical data when examining staging questions in the future.

Q: Is that death sheet going to be available?
A: Yes, it will be!

Q: The reason you excluded Two Noble Kinsmen was because of the collaboration?
A: Yeah, even though he most likely wrote the death of Arcites, but because it’s the most contested play and because it only happens in the stage direction.

Q: Is this information supposed to be just for study or to tell future productions whether or not to stage certain deaths?
A: The purpose is to give productions an informed choice.

Q: What is behind the popularity of the impulse to turn death into data?
A: Not sure “why they do it with death”.

Joshua Williams, Tactical Acting: A Foundational Approach to Actor Training through Stage Combat
Williams begins by stating that every actor has their own method of approaching acting, regardless of training, because of each actor’s individual background, psychological state, etc. Most schools of acting agree on one thing, however: conflict. “The basis of all acting is the physicalization of conflict” by bodies moving through space and time. Williams notes that the past few decades have seen a trend of moving towards privileging scansion and rhetorical devices, at least in the realm of Shakespeare studies, over more physical acting training.

Williams argues that many forms of training often neglect the whole-body concepts that are most accessible particularly for young actors, as well as sacrificing the specificity of intention and the tension between two actors. “The principles at the core of stage combat are the same as those of acting.” Combat foregrounds “the one against the other”, the most basic and savage source of drama. He thinks that combat should be the first skill taught to young actors, as through it, they can learn much about blocking, tension, expression, and specificity. Combat also helps young actors to understand the importance of “stakes” in any given scene. In a fight sequence, “what is ‘at stake’ is life itself.” This also forces young actors to listen to each other, both vocally and with their bodies. Combat, then, “teaches all of the most important lessons in acting.”

Tyler Dale and Melinda Marks assist Williams in demonstrating his methods. He begins with “conflict-style games”, including but not limited to tag, hide and seek, etc. One of the most useful that he found was tug-of-war. Combat there “has been shifted and reduced to its most basic concepts”, that is, two figures moving forward and back. Williams notes the ease of attaching storytelling to the back-and-forth. Marks and Dale demonstrate, attaching tugs and slips to certain words. Williams points out that this also involves breath, eye contact, etc. Partners can “tell the story of struggle” without actually exerting power over each other. Stage combat, Williams notes, “is not about winning”, but about working with a partner to sell the story.

Dale and Marks then demonstrate the basic footwork of advances, retreats, and passes can work in armed combat — pretty much the same footwork as in a game of tug of war. The tension between two fighters creates an unbroken line of tension between the actors, much like the literal line of the rope in tug-of-war. Williams notes that this tension can also apply to rhetorical conflict in the plays. In his future consideration, he intends to pursue that frame further, physically embodying verbal argument. For example: “In a normal scene, without combat, who ‘strikes’ first?” Who draws blood, who retreats, who gains power over the other? “The primary goal of this work is to serve as the basis for an actor training regiment.” His thesis outlines a theoretical conservatory program along these lines.

Q: How do you rectify the required falseness of the aggression in combat with the often-encouraged realness of the emotions in actors?
A: “I mean, it’s all acting.” Williams doesn’t see acting as generating “real” emotions. “That’s not what I’m interested in.” He performs actions.

Q: You’re claiming that your method is easier to train an actor in?
A: “No. I think it’s better.”
Q: So what makes it better than a traditional Stanislavski approach? Why is your terminology better?
A: “In my personal experience, having come up in a method-influenced environment, I never felt like it was enough to connect to the text.” Williams point to the need to connect with a partner and to connect points of action with the story.

Q: Wondering if the lines of tension correspond with Head-Heart-Gut-Groin zone theories?
A: “I have never felt as confident in the idea of physical zones for certain types of expression.” Williams says he wants to find ways of being eloquent in different areas. In terms of the idea of learning the ultimate stakes first, it would give more room to explore along the lines of those zones.

Q: How would you approach the concept of teaching physical neutrality to an actor?
A: “I think you go to another method.”

This session live-blogged by Cass Morris, ASC Academic Resources Manager

MFA Thesis Festival 2016

Welcome! From 6pm-8:30pm tonight, I, Cass Morris, shall be live-blogging the presentations given by the members of Sweet Wag Shakespeare, the 2015-2016 MBC MFA company.

ASC Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen begins with a brief introduction, then passes it off to Dr. Paul Menzer, who welcomes us all to the “annual opportunity for our students to share their work with the entire community.” Each presentation will be 10 minutes with a brief Q&A; a 10 minute recess will follow Maria Hart’s presentation.

Natalia Razak Wallace, “Your Brain So Tempered”: This Is Your Brain on the Company Model
“The ability to move an audience emotionally is theatre’s prime directive,” Wallace states, then moves on to defining the goals of the MFA company model. She states that she hoped to study the neurology of emotion, hopefully “explaining why we feel how we feel when we feel things”, then to apply that to the experience of creating and performing shows. Then she explains why that was a terrible idea for a thesis.

While the neurology of eye contact was fairly clear-cut, the neurology of emotions is poorly understood and harder to explain. Wallace also states that even if she could find a “neuro-hack” for why we feel these things, she would “both revolutionize and destroy theatre.” Instead, she hopes that her findings will speak to the company model and perhaps help those approaching this project in the future.

1) It takes many variables to create emotions, both mental and physical. Humans are born with certain emotional responses, but can only access most feelings through living. “If I have never been in love, how will I recognize it when it comes?”

2) We can manipulate these variables somewhat to manufacture some parts of the emotional experience. Wallace uses an example regarding the biological expression of laughter from the Wags’ current rehearsal process. Manufacturing the physical effect of happiness, laughing, can in some cases contribute to actually creating a feeling of happiness.

3) Positive affects are better than negative affects. Good emotions tend to generate more good emotions, and visa versa. For the Wags, this has had a positive effect, as the company members got along and were generally people more inclined to make the best of situations. Wallace also notes that more challenging experiences create a stronger group affect. Positive emotions also help people to remember experiences, even challenging ones, more positively. “To make sure, we should make something really traumatic happen to the group early in the process: Maybe a devised piece in the first month?”

4) Emotions are contagious. Wallace notes that, in the case of the Wags, this means you have a group of company members who cannot keep a straight face anytime anyone says the word “but”. (The company members proceed to prove her correct by giggling from the Lords’ Chairs).

“Is this useful for future MFA companies? I don’t know.”

Q: Are there any direct actions that can come out of this?
A: The group check-ins help to release any negative emotions, as well as making group members aware of each others’ emotional states. Wallace notes that you can check . Wallace states that the first MFA company, the Rovers, are all still very close friends, and they also used check-ins.

Q: Did having journeymen enter the group (non-MFA company members taking part in a show) change the dynamic?
A: Yes, since one of the key variables in a group affect is the composition of that group. But if a group already has a strong affect, new members are more likely to “adopt that affect” than to change it.

Q: You talked about conflict being negative group affect. Can you think of any examples where conflict ended up moving the company into positive group affect?
A: The words “positive and negative become problematic”, because you can have positive group conflict — if the people taking part are still respectful of each other.

Molly Harper, “Devise with Me”: Devising with Shakespeare
Harper begins with a parable regarding the making of broth for cooking. The devised piece is the broth which will flavor the cooking for the rest of the MFA company’s year. This challenge, which Wallace referred to, involves sticking the company members in a hot room, tossing them ingredients, roasting, then simmer and serve.

“Devising is difficult when most of the participants in the room don’t understand what devising is or how it works.” She uses her personal example of the character of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, connected to the theme of Rumor — a foil to crookbacked Richard, connected to the theme of Ambition. Wallace considers them the heart of the broth for her scene — something to “roast”, to condense and bring to the forefront. They were then redirected to move their scene to a smaller space and to make choices that were more confrontational with one another. “The scene wasn’t really working if you’re actively avoiding conflict and tension.” They found contrasting tempos of movement and overlaying the speeches, rather than taking turns, heightened the tension. “I watched audience members squeeze against walls to get away from us.”

She addresses the slow simmer: tension, both between the characters on stage and within an actor’s body. “The fight to control one’s body was the greatest take-away for myself.” Harper speaks of the challenges involved with “the constant battle to keep tension in my body” as she worked through the scene with Wallace. That tension is what creates meaningful emotional responses, and thus a more satisfying story for the audience.

“The final product was a delicious performance — which you may see again in the upcoming Sweet Festival of Wags!” The broth, she notes, ties the entire course together. The ideas, themes, and words enriched and condensed throughout the devised process ended up coloring those in the other plays in their year. Their actions began with examining Shakespeare’s text, but they then had to find ways to physicalize those concepts. “I believe that the devised show is an integral part of the S&P MFA model” because it helps to bring their studies out of the realm of the mind and more into the realm of the body, “thereby creating richer and more present performances.”

Q: To continue the metaphor, how do you avoid the adage that too many cooks spoil the broth?
A: “Hmm. That’s a good one.” Harper uses an example of, if there’s too much cayenne, you can cut it with yogurt or oregano — so if you’ve got one cook that’s too prone to cayenne, you can balance it out with cooks that like yogurt or oregano. Harper then ties it to Wallace’s ideas about a positive atmosphere.

Q: What ways have you found to continue uncovering these tensions?
A: Harper discusses that she’s focusing a lot on the tension between the upper and lower body — and the challenge created in dealing with a torn meniscus when working with that! She then discusses an exercises that Doreen Bechtol does with a pole, where two actors have to keep a literal physical connection between them.

Meredith A. Johnson, “These Indeed Seam, for They Are Actions That a Man Might Play”: A Humorous Thesis on Costume Design and Character Embodiment in Hamlet
Johnson begins by discussing the connection between early modern humourism and modern psychology and “how the physical manifestation of bodily humours in costume pieces” interacts with character choices and performance. The presentation will focus on Claudius, played by Patrick Harris, and Hamlet, played by Ian Charles.

(This live-blogger notes that there are a number of delightful sewing-related puns that she is not typing quite fast enough to catch)

Johnson provided the cast with single-page humour-based character profiles during their first read-through, meant to be examined alongside the script, in the hope that references and connections might be easily visible. She translated the concepts into costume pieces, relying largely on humoural colors and fabric weights.

During the costume parade, she discovered that “my humoural concept should not visually compete” with the show’s overall minimialistic, high-tech concept. So, she revisited her designs, re-imagining in how the humours might manifest in the costumes. “There is a fine line between serving the process and serving the product, and in that liminal space, I found a fine lining.” Literally — in the lining of the garments.

Johnson, with the aid of Charles and Harris, shows these to the audience, noting how the colors both tie the characters to each other and reflect their humoural balances — or imbalances. The actors then had the choice to find out where they could reveal those inner linings during the natural course of the show.

Harris speaks about how this helped him to think about Claudius’s tension and stress, particularly because: “my choler was located in my collar.” During the play, he first fidgets around his throat, then exposes the choler within the collar. Charles speaks to “playing with opening a button, but letting it be a subconscious thing” inspired by an emotion.

Johnson believes this gave the actors an intriguing new concept to work with, “without interfering with or muddying the aesthetic of the production.” Charles speaks to the consideration that actors then can carry over to other performances: what is the character hiding?

(Ralph: So are there any questions you’d like to be unraveled, any points to tie up?)
Q: How did you avoid stereotyping?
A: It was more about the fluctuation of the humours — which came from working with the actors, to see where they felt the most choleric. Johnson speaks to it being a state of flux, something to activate or de-activate.

Q: You talked about how this created better communication with the audience. Any insight on how that was still readable to the high school audiences?
A: “I actually intended to do the opposite — I think it enriched the performances and made the storytelling more clear.” Johnson notes that that terminology was never introduced to the audience; it was all visual.

Q: In a play where Hamlet literally wears the color of his humour on his sleeve, did you ever think about the fact that the other characters have a surface humour and then the inner humour?
A: Oh, absolutely.

Q: So how would you dress Claudius externally?
A: Phlegmatic, which it is — calmer, more pulled together.

Q: Did you choose colors linked to the humour historically or that would evoke that humour emotionally in the audience?
A: Historically.

Merlyn Q. Sell, Suit the Word to the Actor
Sell begins by stating that for adaptation to function as adaptation, it requires some participation from the audience, that they be able to conceive the similarities and differences from the original text. Actors will shape how the audience experiences those text. For this presentation, she will focus on the function of direct Shakespeare quotations in the staged reading of her One Woman Town.

Quotations can work in two ways: the first is simplest, where characters are performing Shakespeare. The second function, in Shakespeare as well as in One Woman Town, indicates madness. “The disjointed functions of a troubled mind” manifest as quotations, disjointed from their surroundings. The Old Man in One Woman Town utters quotations that are only tangentially related to the conversation he’s taking part in. “The response is not easily interpreted.” Sell is unsure whether or not it is important for the characters or audience to recognize the quotations; they add something of an “easter egg”, but without that awareness, the disjointed nature of his speech is still apparent.

The playwright can define meaning of the quotations via the surrounding context, but the actors also help to shape an audience’s understanding. Shakespeare as a form of ethos, a figure of memory — a character knowingly quoting Shakespeare, even if they don’t specifically reference him. This can function to align the character with Shakespeare’s authority. As example: the “wonder-tonic” salesman in One Woman Town, where Shakespeare seems to give “a celebrity endorsement”. In subtler context, it can draw a connection for the audience, who may associate the quote with a particular emotion or memory. A figure of distance — “a character may find themselves free to say what they really mean only when clothing themselves in Shakespeare’s words.” A character can speak words, as when Jane quotes Goneril, with a different intention than the Shakespeare character’s. This depends on the characters understanding that those words are a quotation. In instances where that is ambiguous, it muddies the understanding; Sell offers potential examples from One Woman Town. Sell also includes moments where the characters are unknowingly quoting, where a script quotes “to ingratiate itself” with an appreciative audience.

Sell discusses how she will revisit these quotations for the re-mounting of the staged reading in the upcoming festival, as well as for future production. For the play to survive outside the audience that will appreciate the inside jokes, “Every line must serve the story.”

Q: What constitutes “failure”, what’s the metric by which a quotation might be found wanting in the script?
A: If the only purpose it serves is to highlight the playwright and not the play itself.
Q: Which playwright?
A: “Me.”
Q: How do you judge that?
A: Sometimes it’s a grey area, and those can be left to the actors to interpret. Sometimes “I know very clearly, I’m just doing nudge-nudge, wink-wink, aren’t I clever, and those can clearly go”.

Q: Do you think in your paring down, you’ll reserve the quotations for certain characters?
A: The Old Man will keep all of his. Some characters would know Shakespeare, so it’s logical for them. Others have mangled Shakespeare, which may still have a function.

Q: You mentioned the role of the audience in adaptation. Would you perform that show for a more general audience?
A: “I would like to perform it for other audiences. As it currently stands, it requires revision to be performed that way.” Sell notes there are currently references that don’t serve the play’s actual story.

Q: Was part of the project related to your MLitt thesis about the prevalence of Shakespeare in the Wild West?
A: It’s definitely where it generated from.

Q: Where the character has mangled the Shakespeare, do you think that’s the character hiding behind it, or discovering it, or remembering it from seeing a Shakespeare show go through town? What did you mean by that?
A: Sell thinks the specifics of some of that could be left to the actor.

Aubrey Whitlock, Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Butts: Puppeting As You Like It
Whitlock begins by discussing the nature of a small-scale production, which may require one actor to play multiple characters on stage at the same time. Some previous companies have used either costumes or audible signifiers to indicate the change between characters. Whitlock references Jeffrey Chips’s thesis, which discussed change of costumes as a kind of puppetry; Sweet Wags took this a step farther, casting only three actors to play all the parts in As You Like It and using literal puppetry in the show.

Whitlock identifies three phases of working with the puppetry: Phase One: Delineating the puppet hierarchy; Phase Two: Working w/ signifiers and body parts; Phase Three: Rehearsal, mishaps, and re-evaluation. Choosing body part puppets was not only practical, but tied to the “hipster aesthetic” embraced by the production.

The hierarchy allowed the cast to answer two questions: who claims the actor’s body, and who gets the pieces? (“That’s really gross”). Sell, from the sidelines, shares her instructions to her actors. Whitlock notes that dominance was generally determined by the size of the role and importance in storytelling. Some characters would always need to inhabit the actor’s body (Orlando, Rosalind, Celia); others would only ever be a part. Based on that, they workshopped where, how, and when the other characters could appear. They had to explore how much expression they could . Angular parts of the body provided natural ridges that could approximate nose-like structures; softer parts were more difficult to anthropomorphize “but also far more hilarious”.

Her own hierarchy broke down thusly: Orlando and Dennis, full body; Duke Senior, half of the body; Touchstone, a clown’s nose and mustache Phoebe, on the thigh; Audrey, the bum; the Forest Lord: on one hand. Whitlock proceeds to done all of these costumes before resuming her thesis.

Through rehearsal, they found it impossible to embody more than two characters simultaneously, as they lost mobility. Eventually, the cast realized that the technical skill necessary was “far beyond what we could master in six weeks”. In re-evaluation, they dropped the concept of puppetting secondary characters and returned to other methods, such as stepping between characters. Only one did survive: Adam, which Adrienne Johnson demonstrates. He was always a fully-puppetted character, never one that she had to switch between fully embodying and puppetting.

The exploration of puppetting, however, still helped the actors to inform their physical choices when they moved to fully embodying those characters. Whitlock discusses examples from her own performance: such as Audrey, previously the butt, who turned into someone whose butt was always the first part of her to enter the scene.

She ends with this advice: “Don’t try to totally re-invent the wheel. BUT – do seek for new and interesting ways to approach the small-scale challenge.”

Q: Discuss more of the process of how the puppets continued to haunt your physical process.
A: Uniformity of posture became particularly important. Silvius, who had been a thigh-and-knee puppet, became a knock-kneed character. Charles the wrestler went from just being a bicep to having a bicep-centric signature gesture.

Q: If you had enough puppetry experience, would that be a lucrative experience?
A: “It would certainly be fun trying.” Whitlock notes that more time and specific training would have made that easier. “I don’t know how to make my butt expressive and articulated from the upper half of my body.”

Q: How much merit in the idea of puppetting empty spaces?
A: When it’s clear, it’s effective, but not what we chose to do.

Patrick Aaron Harris, Look at This F*cking Thesis: Modern Counterculture in Sweet Wag Shakespeare’s As You Like It
Harris begins with a disclaimer that this thesis includes strong language and internet memes; viewer discretion is advised.

His thesis examines how early modern “deviant counterculture” might manifest in Shakespeare’s plays and how to engage modern audiences with historically deviant social identities — specifically here, the hipster counterculture. So why is it called “Look at This F*cking Thesis”? Harris invites us to travel back to 2003, when counterculture was presumed dead — and then the hipster revival came, leading eventually to the 2010 creation of the website “Look at this f*cking hipster”, a visual critique designed to mock and expose hipsters. This, Harris believes, demonstrates that “hipsters, to this day, occupy a very precarious cultural position in our society.” On the one hand, they tend to be forward-thinking trend-setters, particularly in economic and environmental concerns. On the other hand, they are often accused of misappropriating cultural identities and of turning important movements into fads, placing the need to be cool above everything else. Harris quotes his mother when she was admonished for not shopping at Whole Foods: “Get off your locally-sourced, recycled-from-the-old-world-forest soapbox.” They are also accused of contributing to gentrification.

“But Patrick, what do hipsters have to do with Shakespeare?” Theatre, Harris states, of any time period, is a vehicle for culture and counterculture. During the early modern period, “many regarded public theatres with suspicion and abject hatred”. He speaks specifically of the performance of Richard II that became involved with the Essex Rebellion. Harris then turns to consideration of As You Like It, quoting director Merlyn Sell’s supposition that as the actors inhabited both male and female parts, the audience would have to question and interpret issues of gender, and that this also fit with the often gender-fluid hipster aesthetic. Harris then shares pictures of the characters in their performance of As You Like It, specifically focusing on Rosalind and Celia’s transition from the court to the forest: “Their choice to dress below their socio-economic status, despite escaping to the forest with a bounty of gold and jewels,” is emblematic of the hipster aesthetic.

Harris closes by stating that he hopes this peek into their concept will encourage us all to think about the relationship between theatre, culture, counterculture, and how we embody those things.

(Matt Davies: I feel so uncool up here)
Q: What is the official culture that hipsters are being counter-culture to if hipsterism is on the rise in culture?
A: “I devoted about 60% of my thesis to explaining that.” Harris draws the line at what is supported by social and government institutions and what contraverts that. There is a grey area. “Hipsterism seems to only be preoccupied with not being mainstream.”

Q: When Rosalind and Celia buy the farm in Arden, that is literal gentrification. Can you talk about that?
A: “For hours.” Harris notes that this changes the economy of the forest, as they pay for land that they’re not going to work, creating a complicated socio-economic relationship.

Maria Hart, Character Gesture in War of the Roses: Using Movement in the Small Scale Touring Model
Hart begins with a disclaimer regarding the title: the lecture is more about the framework for her work than specifically on War of the Roses. She then confesses to a pedagogical pitfall: that she tends to default to teaching the way she was taught; instead, reflective thinking regarding the development of a skill set is more productive, and she wants to apply that to the development of the small scale touring model. She notes that institutional memory allows her to ask three questions: Where did we come from, where have we been, and where are we going?

Since 2010, the program has been involved in an ongoing discussion about “extreme casting”, stemming from Jeffrey Chips’s thesis and the arrival of Matt Davies to the faculty, coming from an extreme doubling company. Though not a new technique nor new to the program, 2010 was pivotal to the role of extreme casting within the program, as it then became a staple of the MFA model. The change in terminology to “small scale” allows for more flexibility in interpretation.

Hart worked with Chips during her first semester at Mary Baldwin and connected it to other productions she had experienced at El Paso Kids and Company. Her awareness better prepared her to take on 10 roles in Katy Mulvaney’s Henry IV x 4. Hart notes that the program’s continued work on these shows is creating a set of alternate rules and methods. Nothing in the scaffolding of program skills directly prepares the MFA company for putting together the small scale performance; rather, they learn both by observation of previous years’ shows and through the trial and error of their own in rehearsal.

The actors must operate within a distinct set of rules in order for the storytelling to remain clear to the audience. Hart then delineates the variant rule sets used by the Sweet Wags’s As You Like It and War of the Roses. While the methods were different, both involved intense physicality. Hart describes the process as one of developing a “physical score” that went along with the verbal script. “The genre also requires an intense sense of ensemble” because the actors are so reliant upon each other for the various components of that physical score. Hart also describes the importance of precise motion, physical virtuosity, and mitigated ego.

Her future work will focus on the transitions, physical tension, stage business, character gesture, and vocal points in War of the Roses. She hopes to then describe a set of solutions for shifting from character to character.

Q: The small scale touring show has generated the most institutional memory; why do you think it might be that this show has generated that body?
A: Hart believes that relates to the ability to define it. Other shows are based more upon a traditional model given to them — the Ren style show derives from the ASC’s Renaissance season, the educational show derives from the ASCTC shows, but the small scale is out of those pre-defined molds.

Q: Interested in the idea that each actor is a storyteller, expand further?
A: Hart views this as a sort of reincarnation of the idea of the Greek chorus.

Q: How small can small go whilst retaining the ensemble?
A: That’s a hard definition. “We know that Kate Norris can do a one-woman show, so is she an ensemble within herself?” Hart discusses the importance of having an outside eye as director even in a one-person show.

(And now, a ten-minute interval)

As we resume, Garrett opens by getting everyone to sing “Happy birthday” to Matt Davies.

Marshall B Garrett, Revisionist History (Plays)
Garrett begins by referencing Hall’s condensation of the 3 Henry VIes and Richard III into one show, wherein Hall begs forgiveness for the heresy of cutting and changing Shakespeare’s words. “We can perhaps forgive the founder of the RSC for having a flair for the dramatic… and the passive voice.” Garrett notes that companies have been adapting Henry VI for centuries, though everyone seems mortified by their own temerity in doing so. Garrett and Harris created their own adaptation, and Garrett argues that this is the same sort of re-imagining that Shakespeare himself did, as evidenced by the variant quarto and Folio texts of these plays.

To convince us of the merit of the quarto texts, Garrett draws our attention to a handout provided to attendees (and which he will perhaps be good enough to provide a digital copy of to this live-blogger for inclusion here). The two versions prepare the audience for the next play in different ways: either preparing for the death of Rutland or for the mirroring of fathers and sons.
(ETA: Garrett.ThesisFestHandout1; Garrett.ThesisFestivalHandout2)

Garrett then turns to considering the quarto’s use of “pull” versus the Folio’s “pluck”. Though using the quarto as a base text, they determined to transpose in the Folio’s “pluck”, as it seemed a distinct revision. “Pull” is a less distinct word, and interesting for examination largely in those places where it changes to “pluck” in the Folio. Their choices “highlighted action over lament”, and, for an audience that has seen the Temple Garden scene, “pluck” has a stronger connotation later on than “pull” does.

Q: Difference between “deliberately unstable” and “deliberately revised”?
A: “I’m not really using them distinctly; that was sloppiness on my part”. He does note that there may be something to examine in the actors available in the different companies that Shakespeare was working with at various points in his career.

Q: Did you find that having worked on the cutting, things that happened in the show that would have changed your cutting?
A: They did make a couple of cuts pretty late in the process. “One thing I would have done” related to the choice to highlight the feuding rather than the familial, where he would have made the pluck/pull substitution throughout.

Jess Hamlet, “Kicks Her and Exit”: Staging Violence in The City Nightcap
Hamlet begins by describing the high volume of “kicks” in The City Nightcap, noting that this presentation will focus on the first two kicks in the play and their relation to early modern ideas of gender roles. The first, “Kicks her and exit, she weeps” may at first seem quite specific, but leaves a lot of room for interpretation. The kicked character, Abstemia, also receives a second kick from Lorenzo at the end of Act One (“kicks her, she swoons”). Hamlet argues that, in a tragicomedy, these kicks contribute to the tragic nature of the play and should be interpreted as such by performers and audience.

She also notes the importance of distinguishing whether these kicks are the same or different. She finds opportunity in the kick being the same, despite Abstemia’s escalated reaction to the second: “he considers her to be a possession, a piece of chattel.” Abstemia’s variant reaction may come from heightened emotional pain in the second instance. Hamlet notes that if her reaction comes from physical pain rather than emotional pain, a production may choose to make the second kick more violent. Patrick Harris and Maria Hart then demonstrate the Wags’s staging of the stage direction. This could be textually supported, as a character then accuses Lorenzo of being “too violent”.

Hamlet then discusses Jacobean notions of appropriate conduct in marriage. Violence against husbands was treason, but wives were subject to “appropriate correction” and were thought to be improved by suffering, encouraged to suffer in silence in the promise of spiritual reward. Though Abstemia does not verbally object, Hamlet argues that Davenport makes her passively eloquent.

Hamlet also points out that the people in this play “kick downward”, sending a message of inferiority and disgust to those being kicked. “In choosing to kick rather than slap or hit, the men are telegraphing” that their victims deserve nothing better than that part of the body most in contact with dirt, mud, and shit. Hamlet suggests that stage directions could be better examined for character clues, and those who do so “may be surprised to find new avenues into the play’s meat.”

Q: How often is the kick that of a higher person to a lower person?
A: Hamlet looked only at the kicks in this play, not at the 40ish in the rest of the canon of early modern drama.

Q: Follow-up: How many of those kicks are against women?
A: “That’s the next step.”

Q: Does the theatrical space (such as lights-on in the Playhouse) affect the audience’s experience of these kicks?
A: Hamlet is interested in how spectator relationships affect the experience; ie, if one audience member sees another being uncomfortable, does that change how the first audience member feels? She thinks this may be different in a larger space such as the Globe, as opposed to the intimacy in the Blackfriars Playhouse.

Q: How do you think the location of where the kick is received on the body may change the perception?
A: Abstemia is already down, both physically and in the marriage, “so that… sends a message. And not one I agree with!”

Q: So how does that relate to other kicks, where they are standing?
A: “Well, in the Turk kick, because he’s a man, he automatically gets more equality even though he is socially inferior. The gender gives him agency.”

Q: Relating to the idea that, when you take a dead body off-stage, if it’s the hand last, it’s tragic, if it’s the feet last, it’s comedic, that the foot is a comedic body part. Is there a connection there?
A: “I would point you to YouTube and groin kicks.” Hamlet thinks less so in The City Nightcap, that only one kick might border on comedy and it comes so quickly on a non-comic kick that it’s hard to separate the two.

Ian A. Charles, The Ur-Melody: Awakening Character and Place in Sweet Wag Shakespeare’s Cymbeline
Charles discusses his role in creating music for Cymbeline: sound designer, music director, and composer. Drawing from his background in musical theatre, he looks at the idea of melody-as-theme, but notes that he must consider what music in theatre is meant to accomplish: to cue transitions, establish patterns, underscore particular moments. Music can thus shape character and place in performance. He then discusses the leit motif, a repeating pattern that gains meaning through association with characters and moments. He uses West Side Story as an example. “I’m drawn to the idea that a central theme” can illuminate something “genetic to the play”.

His argument for this thesis is that they can accomplish something similar in Cymbeline, giving the music “an almost rhetorical power”, using leit motifs as signifiers. How, then, does a composer begin? The temptation is to go to the romantic themes of Cymbeline and Postumus, but Charles suggests that there is more of a heartbeat in redemption and reconciliation. He also notes that many characters could only get away with the things that they do in a romance. Charles then ties this concept to ideas of music itself having the power to be redemptive and soul-lifting.

Charles then shares some of his compositions thus far: the initial music “must be unresolved, maybe even discordant” thanks to the unsettled state of things at the start of the play. He demonstrates a few variants that different characters might have to illustrate how they subvert, twist, or change the main theme. Charles discusses how these might relate to the textual instances of music in Cymbeline as opportunities to inject the redemptive leit motif in different ways, possibly with “something as simple as tempo”.

Music can also usher in a new location. Charles gives examples for royal Britain, rural Wales, and Rome. Jupiter’s intervention might also provide changes and even resolution to the theme. Charles notes that what we’ve heard today is still a work-in-progress and liable to change as they continue through rehearsals. He hopes that this redemptive “ur-melody” will help them find other motifs to illuminate the characters and story.

Q: Is there a period aesthetic that’s pairing with the redemptive theme that’s in line with the concept of the play?
A: Charles shares what he’s considered, though he hasn’t landed on anything. He’s explored Celtic music, much of which he found very upbeat and flexible, but he realized that he has to be able to “let go of Celtic persay, if I want it to be able to be something otherworldly”.

Q: Have you explored the ways in which the story can be told differently by playing the same leit motif on different instruments?
A: Charles notes that they are playing with the instruments and vocals in rehearsals. He wants to capitalize on the vocal strengths of the company.

Q: A question about the specific moment where the brothers question whether they should sing because their voices are breaking.
A: “I’m really excited to get to that scene” particularly since both actors “are stellar singers”.

Adrienne Johnson, Imogen as Britain: Foreign Threat in Cymbeline
Johnson opens by stating that the princess Imogen is a vehicle for the themes of sexual conquest, love, and family bonds, moving through the plot in different roles. Her identity is defined by the men who desire and seek to control her. “All of these men, whether violently or tenderly, seek to desire Imogen at some point in the play.” Johnson notes that the possessive language seeks to objectify Imogen, but suggests that Imogen also illustrates the threats to Britain’s court. Her identity and the various claims on it are then a metaphor for the vulnerability of the British crown. Johnson positions this in relation to the masculine narration of the British myth.

Johnson gives examples of Shakespeare’s use of feminized language in reference to the British body politic, where England is often described as a bloody, bruised, broken woman, ravaged by various wars and strife. In Cymbeline, the men involved consistently fail at protecting and defending the female body they seek to control and which they descriptively place value upon. Johnson notes the vocabulary used to refer to Imogen of “that of exchange”, where the audience is continually reminded that she is property. Imogen later relates her own worth to that of the land she will someday own.

Johnson further suggests that both Imogen and the Queen provide foils to the idea of masculine nationality, at opposite ends of the moral spectrum. Imogen reinforces the patriarchy through her consent to the domestic role. Johnson states that her full thesis looks at the parallel stories of Imogen’s changing roles through the play and the views of Cymbeline’s court and, thus, British power. Without Imogen’s feminine participation, the masculine influences cannot establish themselves as dominant in the narrative of Britain. Her example of forgiveness motivates others, and her acceptance of her deposition allows the masculine nationality, in the person of her brother, to take over.

Q: Curious how this might impact her work on playing Imogen?
A: Since the play is still in production, she has been observing other actors’ work more than directly discussing it with her fellow actors. She’s interested in finding the moments of “value” and making sure they stand out.

Q: Any thoughts about other plays that relate to the Matter of Britain, such as King Lear?
A: Not yet!

Q: How did you arrive at this metaphor of Imogen as Britain?
A: Johnson had been reading an article about the origins of feminine power and when and how it shifted, then defined it further in discussion with Doreen Bechtol.

–This session live-blogged by Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager

#YayHamlet: What Shakespeare and Broadway’s Biggest Hit Have to Do with Each Other

A few weeks ago, when I was participating in the “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” event at the Alden Theatre, the panel took a question from a man who complained that students today don’t understand Shakespeare because their language skills just aren’t up to the task, that they can’t process the complexities of vocabulary and syntax, and that modern English has degraded in quality and variety.

Now, while I have many problems with the state of modern education, I nonetheless felt compelled to stand up on behalf of my people, the young’uns (never mind that I’m on the verge of no longer sharing a generation with high schoolers). Modern English is no less complex than Shakespeare’s early modern English — in fact, in many ways it’s become more flexible and facile. Students are perfectly capable of using language in elaborate ways. They’re just not used to Shakespeare‘s elaborate ways.

How do I know this? Because the media that modern teenagers consume has linguistic intricacies of its own. Yes, they may text in hieroglyph-like emojis, but the English language is vibrant in the medium closest in modern culture to the playhouse in the 16th-century: their music.

The example that I had at the tip of my tongue, because it’s been so dominant in my brain since fall, was Hamilton.

HamiltonYorktownvictory

If you don’t know what Hamilton is — well, it is, empirically, one of the biggest things to happen to theatre in years — perhaps in a generation. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton, “the ten dollar Founding Father without a father”, has utterly taken both the theatrical and musical worlds by storm. If you need a primer, the cast performed the opening number during the Grammys last night.

So why, apart from my own obsession with the show, do I draw this parallel?

Rhetoric.

(Come on — If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you had to suspect that would be the answer).

It’s not just that Manuel is a linguistic genius. It’s that he’s a linguistic genius in many of the same ways that Shakespeare was, and the one I’m going to focus on in this post is the use of rhetoric to create character.

One of the reasons Shakespeare stands above his contemporaries is that he had such a great ear. His characters have individual voices. They don’t all speak in the same patterns, but rather, he defines each speaker by particular quirks and habits — just as we speak in everyday life. Miranda does the same thing.

Take the character of George Washington. This is a man with a clear idea of what needs to be done, and that shows in his rhetoric. He’s prone to anaphora, the repetition of beginnings, both of words and of sounds (alliteration). For example, in “Right-Hand Man”:

We are outgunned
Outmanned
Outnumbered, outplanned

He returns to this same pattern later in “Stay Alive”:

Provoke outrage, outright
Don’t engage, strike by night
Remain relentless till their troops take flight…
Outrun
Outlast
Hit ’em quick, get out fast
Stay alive till this horror show is past

He’s also prone to isocolon, parallel structure, in short, simple patterns like the imperatives we see above, and nearly every line in “History Has Its Eyes on You” begins with an “I + [verb]” statement. These rhetorical patterns underscore Washington as someone straightforward, focused, and solid. (Incidentally, the out- prefix has another interesting connection to Shakespeare, as noted in the Oxford English Dictionary: “True compound verbs in out- are those in which the sense of surpassing, exceeding, or beating in some action is conveyed, as in outdo , outlive , outbid , outnumber , outface , and the various extensions of these. These are of later origin: a very few (e.g. outlive, outpass, outrun) appear during the 15th cent.; they increase gradually during the 16th cent. (outproffer = outbid, and outcry, out-eat, outgo, outrhyme, outride, outrow in Palsgrave), and become numerous only c1600, being freely and boldly employed by Shakespeare, who is our earliest authority for many of them, including the curious group typified by ‘to outfrown frowns’, ‘to out-Herod Herod’.”)

The verbiage of Miranda’s Angelica Schuyler, meanwhile, is all over the rhetorical map. She’s brilliant, but with an intense urgency — her mind fires at a million miles an hour, and her speech patterns show it. Take the following example from “Satisfied”:

I remember that night, I just might
Regret that night for the rest of my days
I remember those soldier boys
Tripping over themselves to win our praise
I remember that dreamlike candlelight
Like a dream that you can’t quite place
But Alexander, I’ll never forget the first
Time I saw your face
I have never been the same
Intelligent eyes in a hunger-pang frame
And when you said “Hi,” I forgot my dang name
Set my heart aflame, ev’ry part aflame, this is not a game

There’s so much going on here. First, the “I remember” is anaphora, which makes your brain actually focus more on what happens afterwards. And then in the first stanza it’s combined with mesodiplosis, repetition in the middle, with those “that night”s. But then “dreamlike candlelight like a dreamis antimetabole, a specific form of chiasmus, that A-B-B-A structure. And then we end with some epistrophe, repetition at the end of a phrase, in the “aflame” clauses. And throughout we’re getting this antithesis contrast between the past and present tense in the verbs she uses.

So what you get is this bobbing effect, in and out of reality, in and out of memory, in and out of what was and what could have been. But it still ties up and ties together in the progression (dare I say auxesis?) of the kinds of repetition from beginning to middle to end, because Angelica ultimately has that kind of grip on herself. Her mind may race, but she has control of it.

AngelicaSchuylerintenseorinsane

Her sister Eliza Hamilton nee Schuyler, by contrast, Miranda presents as a natural storyteller. There’s so much parallelism in her words, both within songs:

Tryin’ to catch your eye from the side of the ballroom
Everybody’s dancin’ an the band’s top volume
Grind to the rhythm as we wine and dine
Grab my sister and whisper “Yo, this one’s mine”
My sister made her way across the room to you
And I got nervous thinkin’ “What’s she gonna do?”
She grabbed you by the arm, I’m thinkin I’m through,
Then you look back at me and suddenly I’m helpless!
[…]
Two weeks later in the living room, stressin’
My father’s stone-faced while you’re askin’ for his blessin’
I’m dyin’ inside as you wine and dine
And I’m tryin’ not to cry ’cause there’s nothin’
That your mind can’t do
My father makes his way across the room to you
I panic for a second thinkin’ we’re through
But then he shakes your hand and says “Be true”
And you turn back to me, smilin, and I’m helpless!

and across the entire show:

Oh, let me be a part of the narrative [“That Would Be Enough”, Act 1]

I’m erasing myself from the narrative [“Burn”, Act 2]

I put myself back in the narrative [“Who Lives, Who Dies Who Tells Your Story”, Finale]

This creates a sense of romanticism, someone who weaves the narrative even as she’s living it, as well as keying in on Eliza as someone who tries to make sense of things. She thinks more linearly than her frenetic husband. But it also ties in beautifully with one of the show’s ultimate messages: Eliza is the one “who lives, who dies, who tells [Hamilton’s] story”, as the final number gorgeously declares. Of course she is — it’s been there in her rhetoric all along.

You’ll notice that, in all of this, I haven’t actually touched the rhetoric of the character of Hamilton himself. There’s honestly just too much. That would be a small thesis all on its own. Nor have I talked about Lafayette’s journey from barely constructing sentences in English to spitting some of the fastest and most gorgeous chiasmus in the show, or how Miranda uses these rhetorical differences to help the actors playing different characters in each act (Lafayette/Jefferson, Mulligan/Madison, Laurens/Philip, Peggy/Maria) — much the same way that doubling works in Shakespeare. I could spend months dissecting Hamilton‘s rhetoric and still not squeeze it all out, just as I’ve spent that kind of time on Julius Caesar, as I could on any of Shakespeare’s plays, and yet still have so much to explore.

Hamilton is ridiculously popular with exactly the age bracket that our lecture attendee was so concerned about — students whom he presumed have worse language skills than prior generations. My argument is that their skills are every bit as good. Hamilton‘s popularity proves it. They can and do revel in complex patterns and verbal intricacies. Our job as teachers of Shakespeare is just to help them re-tune their ears. Anyone who can understand and enjoy Hamilton can understand and enjoy Shakespeare. Miranda’s patterns have a lot in common with Shakespeare’s, but they’re still configured differently — so we just have to help them use what they already know, what they already do intuitively, in a different way.

HamiltonLafayettehighfive

–Cass Morris
ASC Academic Resources Manager

*PS: Why “#YayHamlet”? Here’s why.