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).