Introducing “Kids” to Shakespeare; Part 2

In my most recent blog post, I reviewed “The Nerdy Book Club’s” December post “Ten Books to Introduce Kids (of Any Age! Adults, too!) to Shakespeare.” (And I’ll be continuing the series in my next three posts). Last time I looked at The Fool’s Girl by Celia Rees and King of Shadows by Susan Cooper. This one will look at Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and Street Love by Walter Dean Myers. The creator of the list of ten introductory books, Andi Diehn, says that both of these books can be used to introduce kids (of any age!) to Romeo and Juliet. Unfortunately, both of these books imagine poor facsimiles of Shakespeare’s star-crossed families, neither book really follows Shakespeare’s plot, and one was (dare I say it) better as a movie.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

You will rarely hear me suggest this to anyone, but you could probably just skip Marion’s book and watch the movie (the two “movie is better than the book” exceptions which prove the rule are Forrest Gump, which is a rotten book and Big Fish because the movie is just better). I guuuuuuuuess Marion’s book is like Romeo and Juliet in that there are two characters who fall in love who probably shouldn’t, because the narrator and main character of the story, “R,” is a zombie and the bad-ass, post-apocalyptic teen-rebel without a cause, Julie, is alive. Other than similar names for many of the characters, that’s really where the plot comparison ends.warm_bodies_book_cover

R > Romeo Montague

Julie Grigio > Juliet Capulet

Perry > Paris

Nora > Nurse

M > Mercutio

R is a zombie who is progressing (regressing? reversing? reincarnating?) back to being alive. He has comprehensive thought, can mumble a few syllables, can control his blood lust for brains, dreams, has memories, and, most importantly, falls in love-at-first-sight with Julie Grigio, “Julie Cab” to her friends, because she “just seemed more like a Cabernet.” Julie and R meet when R and his best friend, “M,” ambush Julie’s scavenging team and R kills Julie’s then-boyfriend, Perry, and brings her back to his home where they bond over Frank Sinatra and a sympathy to the permanently-youthed zombie children. There are other zombies that develop similar advancements to R’s, but at a slower rate. Comparatively, those that have decayed too far, known as “boneys,” focus only on recruiting and training “fleshies” to fight the living to ensure the presence and growth of the zombie population. Eventually, Julie goes back to the Stadium, a city built inside of an abandoned sports stadium, and R follows her and sneaks in. That’s about it as far as Shakespeare’s plot goes. There are a couple fun moments of similarity – when R observes Julie talking to herself about having met him and what difference does it make anyway that they’re different, and when her best friend Nora reveals that she is studying medicine to become a nurse – but nothing else.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t recommend this book as a Shakespeare substitute. However, this book does have a lot of other great themes about diversity and discrimination and how those things can cause cruelty in our world. So if you’re looking for a strange mash-up of a little more than a cliche love story and a traditional zombie thriller, than go ahead and give Marion’s book a shot. Even though the plot of this book doesn’t really collate with the plot of Shakespeare’s play, Marion created fun supplemental reading that is unexpected and imaginative.

Street Love by Walter Dean Myers

street-loveWalter Dean Myers is an important children’s author and poet who dedicated his career to creating and representing diversity in children’s lit. Myers’s website says that he was responding to the unfortunate statistic that even though about half of American children are a race other than white, fewer than 10% of children’s books published in 2013 were about minorities. His biography also claims that he has “won more awards than any author for young adults.” While Myers is undoubtably a significant and prolific presence in children’s lit and I think his works are wonderful suggestions for readers of any age, I am not sure why this book is included in this list. This stylized, blank-verse narrative has nothing to do with Shakespeare. Diehn justifies Street Love’s inclusion in her list with the blurb “Two kids from opposite sides of the socioeconomic tracks fall in love and despair at ever being accepted together. Sound familiar? Romeo and Juliet are reborn amidst the street sounds of Harlem and it’s edgy and beautiful.” To which I reply, “No… that does not sound familiar.” Mostly because while Myers gives us two teens from different socioeconomic backgrounds, Shakespeare gave us “two households both alike in dignity.” People always seem to think that Romeo and Juliet’s families were of different statuses, which is not the case. The Capulet’s have fancy parties and a daughter eligible for a Count and kinsman to the Prince. Meantime, Romeo spends all of his free-time with another royal kinsman, Mercutio. Both the Capulets and the Montagues are equally wealthy. Secondly, the families in Street Love aren’t feuding. There is a character who picks a fight with Damien (Myers’ supposed Romeo substitute), but he has no connection or relation to Junice (“Juliet”) at all.

Although I would absolutely never ever recommend this book as an introduction to Romeo and Juliet, or even as supplemental material, I would recommend it as lovely poetic narrative. Myers’ poetry is beautiful and his elegant internal rhymes make this blank-verse narrative soar. But it ain’t Romeo and Juliet.

 

Next time! Ophelia by Lisa Klein and The Cake House by Latifah Salom

 

2017 MLitt Thesis Festival Session 3

Back again for the third and final session of the 2017 MLitt Thesis Festival, 4:45pm-6:45pm.

Brooke Spatol – “I shall study deserving”: A close look at illegitimacy in Shakespeare’s England

Spatol will be using her presentation not to prove an argument, but to inform, so she opens by giving us what the argument of her full thesis is. She focuses on the isolation of bastards in a societal setting. Spatol gives accounts of the lengths parishes would go to in order to prevent bastards from ending up on their tab, including physically dragging a woman in labor over the parish line. Re-enactments of the welfare relief efforts under King James dealt more with the mothers of bastards than with the children themselves. She frames the harsh conditions for these mothers before having actors portray the end of 1.1 of King John, where the Bastard and Lady Faulconbridge discuss parentage.

She identifies the first form of isolation as domestic. Women would go to great lengths to deny their bastard children, and Spatol provides an example of a woman who had plastered her breasts to prevent lactation from giving her away. Other women would abandon their children at church’s or at wealthy men’s doors. Fathering an illegitimate child was seen as shameful and financially burdensome, but with no tests to prove fatherhood, men could more easily slip their responsibilities. Spatol connects the emotional effect of this domestic isolation to Don John in Much Ado about Nothing.

Societal shame attended bastardy in the views of Elizabethan society. Spatol discusses several historical precedents which posited bastards as proof of sin, naturally unclean, and infamous, even if later legitimized. Bastards also struggled financially, as it was difficult for parents to leave money or property to their illegitimate children, even if they wished to — and many did not wish to. Inheritance of names was also a point of dispute.

Spatol then has Chad Marriott present Edmund’s famous “Now gods, stand up for bastards” speech from King Lear as an example of an illegitimate son musing on his state. Spatol encourages us to engage with the bastard characters not as automatic villains, but as humans.

Mary Finch – Pulped Shakespeare: The Origins of Paperback Shakespeare in America

Finch begins by inviting the audience closer so that they may fondle the old books she has brought for everyone’s delight. She asserts that while mass market paperbacks have a somewhat denigrated reputation, their very accessibility may be “the first line of offense” in convincing potential audiences that Shakespeare is not hard or Old English. Finch began her research by looking into the first appearances of paperback Shakespeare in America. The initial difference between mass market and trade paperbacks was the venue in which they were sold: mass markets were sold at gas stations and other common locations, while trades were sold to universities. A series of discoveries led her to find paperbacks in America dating as far back as the 1830s.

Finch’s thesis will examine Shakespeare’s cultural place in the American 19th century as well as printing practices of that era. She notes that, despite the jettisoning of many British traits during and after the Revolution, Americans never gave up their love for Shakespeare. As Shakespeare’s popularity grew, so did the demand for accessible editions of his works — which in turn spurred greater popularity. Finch cautions that she cannot make a claim to which came first, the accessibility or the popularity.

By the 1860s, publishing was a boom industry in America — and an industry rife with espionage and back-stabbing. Finch relates the tale of Edwin Gin, an ambitious and determined young man who went from bookseller to publisher. His first publication, a Shakespeare textbook, was a passion project for him, and he intended to provide an edition ideal for teachers and students. When he updated the Hudson collection, he redesigned their format for ease of use. Finch notes that extant copies have typically been rebound and redesigned (as paperback-bound copies were unlikely to survive).

Later decades produced “library series” editions from “pirate publishers” – generally cheap both in their editing and their production. Houghton’s Riverside Library Series, however, offered a sturdy format with commentary. This had the effect of raising the standards of cheap reading. Gin went on to challenge the textbook monopoly held by the major publishers, not only with his own editions, but also by decrying the low standards of theirs. Gin’s passion for egalitarianism in publishing translated into other charitable works and activism as well, but he never lost sight of his goals of making Shakespeare accessible to the masses. He worked with a teacher, Kitteridge, whose philosophies of teaching sound remarkably similar to the mission statements of the ASC and the MBU S&P program. In 1939, the Kitteridge Shakespeare was first published, anticipating the rise of Penguin, Dover, and Folger editions that would become popular in the 1950s and 1960s. Finch finishes by crediting Edwin Gin with contributing to the ubiquity of Shakespeare in publication in America today.

Clare Boyd – None But Women

Boyd introduces her thesis by way of her love for Margaret of Anjou. In her research, she arrived at the idea that the England of Shakespeare’s histories is dependent upon the performance of gender by the monarchs. She centered her research in the Henry VI plays, positing that the plays are preoccupied with the masculinity of the monarch – or the monarch’s lack of masculine quality. She identifies four modes of femininity: idealized femininity, realistic femininity, transgressive femininity, and masculinized femininity. Boyd notes the difficulties in defining terms with a field as broad and complex as gender studies, particularly when trying to apply terms backwards in time.

In the Henry VI plays, the power of the men of England is shown as broken after the death of Henry V and the victory over the English by a French shepherdess. In 1 Henry VI, we see a “eulogy for masculinity” when the young king’s uncles dispute over the regency. Shakespeare sets Henry VI in contrast to paragons of virility and valor, such as his father and Talbot. “If the king cannot claim full masculine status, then the nation itself is in grave danger.” She notes that the word “effeminate” underscores the coding of Henry’s peace-loving qualities. Boyd suggests that Henry VI lives up not to his father’s masculine ideals, but to feminine ideals as put forth in conduct books of Shakespeare’s era. By the end of Part 1, Suffolk suggests that in order to produce a suitable heir, Henry must be matched to a woman who has the masculine qualities of valor and courage that Henry lacks. Boyd points out that though Margaret will later be mocked for unfeminine qualities, Shakespeare first paints these qualities as those which make her an ideal queen. Boyd argues that Margaret first appears, however, with the demureness and virtue expected of an ideal woman, adhering to the conduct books’ traid of ideal traits: obedience, chastity, and silence.

In 2 Henry VI, Margaret begins by performing feminine virtue before the lords of the realm, in contrast to Henry, who cannot perform the necessary masculinity. Only when alone with her now-lover Suffolk in 1.3 does Shakespeare start to show Margaret’s power and transgressive qualities, particularly when she discusses her husband’s deficiencies. “It hasn’t taken Margaret long to notice the masculine power vacuum in her kingdom.” Margaret then begins to perform the anti-ideal, showing herself to be envious, vain, vindictive, and unfaithful. By Part 3, Margaret has entirely taken over the masculine role: defending her son’s inheritance rights, the murder of Rutland,  the humiliation of York. Boyd argues that the death of Rutland is seen as more heinous than the death of Prince Edward largely because it was done at the bidding of and celebrated by a woman.

Boyd concludes by reiterating that Margaret’s transgressive womanhood takes the place of Henry’s deficient manhood. As she is not a king and a man, but a queen and a woman, she ultimately cannot succeed any more than Henry could, however. The Henry VI

Kim Greenawalt – “Say nothing; I’ll speak all”

Greenawalt distills her directing project on silent characters into two questions: “Why this scene?” and “How will this inform your thesis?” She defines her term “silent character” as a character with extended stage time who does not speak or a character who has run out of scripted lines but is still on stage. Her methodology sought to understand early modern silence, to engage with modern theatrical practices such as Viewpoints and neutral mask, and creating performance art.

Greenawalt discusses the difference between modern notions of silence as complacence to early modern perceptions of silence as falling into four types: foolish silence, eloquent silence, resistant or tactical silence, and chaotic/deadly silence. Greenawalt notes that many silences may blend various types, but that nonetheless these categories were a useful starting point for exploring a character’s silence.

Greenawalt then offers a demonstration of gestural score accompanied by music as a rehearsal practice, using five actors. After her actors move through a gestural score, she encourages them to explore the space, thinking about its architecture in particular. The actors then begin using the components of their gestural score to tell impromptu stories as they encounter each other on the stage. After the actors finish the exercise, Greenawalt discusses the process of discovery through non-verbal communication.

Turning to Measure for Measure, Greenawalt states that she sought to create performance art that would provoke thought and emotional response from the audience in relation to characters who might not usually receive much audience attention. Greenawalt notes that different audiences at different times of day had varying responses to the visual stimuli provided by her performance art. Greenawalt hopes that her explorations and discoveries of her performance art work could help inform a director’s choices when it comes to silent characters. Her actors then demonstrate scenes from Measure for Measure using those explorative methods centered on physical performance: first rehearsing with the exaggerated gestural language, then using that gestural language to present a realistic but emotionally heightened performance.

2017 MLitt Thesis Festival – Session 2

Back from 1:45pm-4:30pm for Session 2:

Glenn Thompson – “My Voice is in My Sword”: Defining and Understanding Dramatic Violence in Early Modern Drama

Thompson’s presentation opens with a highly sneaky attempted murder by Josh Willliams, aborted when Thompson declines to engage in combat. Thompson intends to examine how violence shapes a story and how the story shapes the violence. “Entering with a sword does not constitute violence”. Thompson identifies two modes of working through stage combat: text work and rehearsal work. Text work identifies the violence on the page, and rehearsal work negotiates the enactment of the violence on the stage.

His methodology on text work begins with the simple instruction: Read the play. Thompson notes that while this may seem obvious, it is nonetheless important to return to the play and read it fresh, since even if you think you know it well, you have likely changed since you last encountered it. Thompson then notes specific questions to ask while reading to clarify the motion of bodies on stage, such as: What is the major action of each act? Who is on stage when? After reading and re-reading, then he is ready to identify the moments of violence in the play. This may include both on- and off-stage violence, as either can move the story.

After identifying all the moments of violence, Thompson then determines the specific conditions and needs of each moment and categorizes them into four types: inciting incidents, reported violence, concluded violence, shown violence. For today’s presentation, Thompson will focus on the inciting incident – specifically within Macbeth. The violent image of the “dagger of the mind” is an inciting incident because it drives the action of the play. Williams assists by enacting the speech from 1.7, as Thompson points out the various lines which imply not just violent thought, but violent action. In this speech, Macbeth “is speaking himself into action by imagining the action”.

Thompson then discusses the importance of “inciting incident” violence, noting that it is no less important than the other modes, because it sets us up for the story. This moment is crucial for creating “purposeful dramatic violence” later on.

Madeleine Buttitta – Gals Being Pals: The Moral Complexities of Shakespeare’s Status-Based Female Relationships

Buttitta begins by discussing Queen Elizabeth’s early habits of using noblewomen not only as confidantes but as her proxies and representatives. In Shakespeare’s plays, Buttitta sees a similar relationship: a woman in service who utterly devotes herself to and performs morally ambiguous deeds on behalf of her mistress. She looks particularly at the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet and Paulina in The Winter’s Tale and seeks to examine the issues of “agency and authority” at play.

Buttitta moves to a discussion of class distinction and status in the early modern period. Status-based relationships she defines as those character dynamics where one character has superior social/class status to the other. To narrow further, for this thesis, she is looking at a relationship of two unrelated women who share at least one scene, where there is  a status difference between them and one is in service to the other. She turns her attention to the relationship between Desdemona and Emilia, then to Juliet and the Nurse. Buttitta asserts that the Nurse’s concern for Juliet aligns with guides for conduct seen in writings on service in early modern England, even to the point where she counsels Juliet to give up Romeo.

Buttitta examines status markers in Paulina’s speech, noting how Paulina defines herself in relation to both Hermione and Leontes. Even when chiding Leontes, Paulina still addresses him with deference. She only chooses to call him “tyrant” when she has to defend not only Hermione but the infant daughter as well. Buttitta centers Paulina’s words as the cause of Leontes’s reformation, giving the servant considerable power in an otherwise status-driven relationship.

Buttitta moves to a discussion of early modern views of friendship which could often be exclusive of women and that a sexist bias in scholarship has shaped the study of female characters in Shakespeare up to this point. Buttitta argues, though, that female characters can have morally complex relationships worth examining from a scholastic viewpoint.

Katherine Little – The French Shades of Shakespeare’s Henriad

Little introduces the intersection of her major fields of study: Shakespeare and French. In this thesis, she focuses on the Henriad: Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2, and Henry V. She begins with an examination of Richard II as he is described by the gardener, then in his own words, as he unwittingly predicts his own fall from power, as he exists in contrast to Bolingbroke. Little argues that Shakespeare’s characterization reflects the cultural and linguistic associations of each king, with Richard representing the Norman French elitism and Bolingbroke representing the more egalitarian English mode. As such, Richard II has a distinctly different feel than the plays that follow, existing almost entirely in the privileged world of the court, with little attention paid to the populace.

Little goes on to assert that the style of the verse in Richard II is also reflective of this difference. Concerned with pomp and circumstance, a certain amount of hedonism, an elaborate language, Richard II is more aristocratic and more French — and uses a higher percentage not only of verse but of rhyming verse than do the Henry plays. She looks particularly at rhymed couplets. The Lancastrians, however, rhyme less frequently and are “more economical rhetoricians” than Richard and those of his faction.

Henry IV “looks both forward and back”, with speaking modes that are somewhere between Richard and Henry V. Henry V’s language represents the shift to English and commoner-friendly language. Little describes the IV and plays as less poetic, more action-packed. “The further the plays get from Richard II, the more prosaic they become.” As Prince Hal in 1 Henry IV, the character “has been able to divest himself of regal ceremony”; when he is king, the play contains slightly more verse — as well as French dialogue. Henry V gains credibility “from his down-to-earth Englishness”.

Little moves next to a discussion of the French-speaking scene between Katherine and Alice. She argues that the inclusion of this scene indicates that French was still a part of English heritage at this time, despite the implication that the French are only to be mocked. She also discusses how Henry attempts to draw Katherine into English-ness, even moving to the use of the English diminutive “Kate”. Katherine however, answers him in French; “Henry fails to convert her French tongue”. Little suggests that this complicates the narrative of English dominance. She also notes that Henry even sees his own progeny as half-English, half-French, thus including French in his legacy. She concludes that “no amount” of analysis can fully strip the French-ness either from the play or from England and English’s history with France and the French language.

Nick Ciavarra – That Is the Question

Ciavarra introduces that he intends to examine what he has termed “rhetorical character analysis”. He then welcomes “Jonas” to the stage to do some impressions — not very good ones, but in acknowledging that, Ciavarra notes that “Jonas” nonetheless uses repeated phrases and gestures to key in the audience in on who he is supposed to be. Ciavarra relates this to the phenomenon of parody accounts on Twitter, “capturing the sense of the person in the words, subject matter, and grammatical” representations. Ciavarra uses these examples to point out to us that: people talk differently.

Ciavarra discusses the nature of the passive voice in use in politics as a pattern of speech that we can attach to a type of “character” in real life – particularly, to politicians. He discusses several key devices attached to certain of Shakespeare’s characters, noting that “Brevity is the soul of wit” is only funny because it plays against Polonius’s established preference for macrologia, excessive wordiness.

Ciavarra moves to examining the ways that the MBU S&P program engages with rhetoric and identifies it as an “oratorical” engagement. He would like to look at rhetoric as a means of better understanding characters. This is not entirely about performing the rhetoric, but also about developing a character’s internal world. Rhetorical character analysis searches for a character’s preferred rhetorical patterns and attempts to draw conclusions based on those findings. He refers to Anna Northam’s thesis which explored the personification of certain devices.

Ciavarra then moves into a discussion of his case study of Iago. He notes the need to first identify a dominant rhetorical form. His first assumption, that Iago asked more questions than anyone else, proved statistically inaccurate, as he asks only one more than Othello. Then he qualified questions by whether or not they are rhetorical, and by that mark, Iago supercedes the other characters, particularly during moments of high persuasion. Ciavarra discusses the manipulative nature of the rhetorical questions: “If you ask a lot of rhetorical questions, you’re probably the villain. Sorry.” Tyler Dale presents Iago’s “What’s he then that says I play the villain?” twice; once, as written; a second time, with the rhetorical questions re-written as statements. Then he and Ciavarra repeat the experiment with a bit of dialogue between Othello and Iago. Through this, Ciavarra points out not only the manipulative nature of rhetorical questions, but also how they provide Iago with plausible deniability. Rhetorical questions put the “logical onus” and burden of proof on the auditor rather than on the speaker. Ciavarra concludes by asserting the importance of rhetorical analysis in an actor’s toolbox.

Elizabeth Areopagita Bernardo – When Cultures Collide: Shakespearean Remediations Today

Bernardo’s presentation opens with two examples of “remediation” – a form of adaptation that takes a work from anywhere other than the early modern period, putting it into Shakespeare’s verse forms, and creating a communication between cultures. Remediation transmutes a cultural work from one moment in time to another as well as from one form of art to another. For this thesis, Bernardo will focus on the remediations of Star Wars and Sleeping Beauty.

Bernardo notes that, like Star Wars remediator Dosher, she attempted to adhere to iambic pentameter as close as possible, with few irregularities. She also discusses the advantage of giving silent or near-silent characters in the source material more lines on stage. She employed shared lines for lovers Aurora and Philip. Bernardo also discusses using alternate verse forms, such as Dosher’s haiku-speaking Yoda or her own tetrameter-using evil fairy. She also used a chorus to sum up action that was difficult to stage (such as flying and fights).

Bernardo then comments on other conventions, such as using a sonnet to wrap up the play. She also used prose to set some characters aside from the others, as did Dosher. To demonstrate, Luke and Boba Fett engage in battle, with Fett speaking in prose to indicate his lower status; Bernardo used prose to indicate characters’ drunken state.

Bernardo advocates for remediations as a counterpoint to the cultural view of Shakespeare as hard or too highbrow. “Translating pop and geek culture into Shakespeare’s format” may help to make these forms seem more accessible, and to make them seem more like play than like work. “The desire to emulate Shakespeare’s forms and styles” hits on retrospection and introspection that Bernardo finds amazing, and she sees in it a potential to reach new audiences.

2017 MLitt Thesis Festival Session 1

Welcome to the live-blog for the first session of the MLitt thesis festival, brought to you by Cass Morris, ASC Academic Resources Manager. This session will run from 9am to 12:30pm.

Tyler Bruce Dale – Cat on a Wooden Roof: Staging Modern Theatre in the Early Modern Style

Dale begins by asking for volunteers to fill the gallant stools on-stage. His thesis examines the development of reviving early modern practices and suggests pushing the exploration further by applying those practices to plays not written for an early modern space. He has focused on three characteristics common to the early modern and postmodern theatre: site specificity, minimalism, and the revelation of artifice.

On site specificity: Dale traces the history of the term and notes its power in dissolving the hierarchy between performers and audience, gives the audience agency rather than leaving them as passive viewer. This focuses on how architecture affects performance. Minimalism fulfills a similar set of purposes: spectators become creators, “creating content in their minds” to fill out the scene before them. Dale cites the Chorus of Henry V asking the audience to “peace out our imperfections with your thoughts”. Dale focuses on the positive experience of the audience being asked to use their imaginations, resulting in “deep investment” in the storytelling. Dale identifies the revelation of artifice as the most important of these three characteristics, with particular focus on the practice of direct audience contact. This contact invites the audience to join in and collaborate in creating the performance.

Dale goes on to discuss how television became, in the 20th century, the dominant form of media in American society, thus affecting all other forms of media, including live theatre. He then challenges this thought, noting that in the past twenty years social media has overtaken television as the dominant form of media. This marks a transition from the economy of reproductive media to one of participation. Dale notes that the early modern style, as exemplified by Shakespeare’s Globe and the Blackfriars Playhouse, now exist at a crux. He asserts that the success of these theatres and others like them will depend upon their commitment to continual experimentation, including the adaptation of 20th and 21st century plays to a 16th century space. He cites the ASC’s 2016 Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, then moves into a discussion of his work on a scene from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He notes the difficulty in applying audience contact purposefully in such a situation. He contrasts the difference in naturalistic theatre, where the characters have no conception of a world outside the fiction, with early modern works which depend upon that awareness of the external audience.

Molly Seremet and Shane Sczepankowski then present a scene from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, directed by Dale for the Blackfriars Playhouse. Afterwards, Dale expresses his hope that we have seen the potential flexibility of modern plays for production in the early modern space.

William Leavy – Kill the Prisoners

Leavy begins by stating that he sought to demonstrate that Shakespeare articulated the national character of England through the actions of his characters, and he chose to focus on Henry V for its historical precedence. He focuses in on the troubling incident when Henry determines to execute his disarmed French prisoners, and he asks how an audience is meant to reconcile that action with the portrait of Henry V as a national hero.

Leavy then leaps to another topic, begging the audience’s pardon for doing so: his travels in Europe. He was recently in Ghent, noted for a 12th-century castle museum which features an exhibit on torture. Currently, the exhibit has a component focusing on waterboarding. Leavy connects our current controversy over the practice to the cultural view of killing prisoners during Shakespeare’s lifetime, as either a war crime or a justifiable action.

He then moves into a discussion of English legal tradition, beginning with the Magna Carta and the concept of rule of law over the prerogative of the monarch. He compares the mandates of the Magna Carta to continental practices at the time, then discusses the resurgence of torture and other extrajudicial practices in England during the Tudor and Stuart dynasties. Leavy then brings this concept back to the crucial moment in Henry V and its historical precedence, asserting that Henry V may have relied upon the notion of “extreme circumstances” as justification for his actions. He also connects the thought of torture to the concept of violence as entertainment, such as the bear-baitings that Shakespeare’s plays had to compete with for audience.

Leavy also discusses the intended torture and murder of Arthur in King John, the “orgy of depravity” in Titus Andronicus, acts of cruelty in The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure, beatings and other cruelties in The Taming of the Shrew, Benedick’s promise to “devise thee brave punisments” for Don John in Much Ado about Nothing, and the vicious prank played on Malvolio in Twelfth Night. He then hypothesizes a mental exercise imagining the writing of Twelfth Night in the age of the Geneva Convention, which creates in Feste a clown who commits war crimes. Returning to Henry V, Leavy notes that Shakespeare has Gower and Fluellen justify the execution of the prisoners by relating the story of the French soldiers killing the “boys and luggage” — but then undercuts the effect by having Fluellen move to a comparison of Henry’s treatment of Falstaff and Alexander’s accidental murdering of his friend.

Sophia Beratta – Coin Flippery: The Study of Dramatic Determinative Variables in Shakespeare’s Canon

Beratta opens with a revisiting of prior years’ jokes regarding her physical similarity to Catie Osborn who, after a coin flip, takes over reading the thesis presentation. Beratta/Osborn notes the ubiquity of coin flips in modern society, including the NFL use of a coin flip to determine the start of games and the theatrical presentation of coin flips in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Beratta/Osborn introduces DDV: dramatic determinative variable – an element of chance to change something in the course of a production as a whole. Beratta/Osborn argues that introducing an element of chance creates excitement for audiences both familiar and unfamiliar with the plays. She cites recent examples where use of a DDV determined something about the production, such as which actors would play which parts or whether a production of Hamlet would use the quarto or folio sequence of scenes. Hamlet is a frequent subject of DDVs, perhaps because its overall story is so well known. Beratta/Osborn relates a story where bored high school students were “transported” when a DDV led to the impromptu casting of a middle aged black woman as Hamlet. The goal of the production was “to find the Hamlet in everyone”, using a diverse cast to reach the concept that Hamlet could be anyone. Beratta/Osborn also notes the use of celebrity casting to inspire this excitement in audiences.

Beratta/Osborn moves on to discussing the 2016 RSC Doctor Faustus where the lighting and extinguishing of matches determined who would play Faustus and who would play Mephistopheles. Beratta/Osborn suggests that this DDV theatricality not only heightened excitement, but also set the mood for the production that the audience was about to see. Beratta/Osborn then presents two different versions of the famous Kate/Petruchio spat in 2.1 of The Taming of the Shrew, demonstrating that DDV can necessitate alternate versions of blocking the same scene to allow for the differences in actor strength and size.

Beratta/Osborn notes the potential of DDV practices to keep return audiences interested, since they may experience a different play if they return to see the production more than once. She then presents the Hal/Hotspur fight from 1 Henry IV dependent upon a DDV that could change the ending of the play – determining whether it is Hotspur or Hal that dies. The same lines, reassigned between the two characters, can thus create an entirely different scene. Hotspur regrets Hal’s death, but finishes off Falstaff with violent rancor. The original audience, Beratta/Osborn notes, reacted with laughter — but she asserts that it came at least partly from surprise and shock. She argues that DDV can reinvigorate centuries-old plays by playing against audience expectations and reviving a sense of discovery in them.

Chad Marriott – Everyman and the Audience: An Exploration of Staging Conditions

Marriott begins, after a digression on the nature of shortening a 50 page thesis for a 25 minute presentation, with a short explication of the action of Everyman. He discusses the difference in effect upon the audience created by early modern staging conditions and 19th/20th century proscenium conditions. The audience’s reciprocal reaction is crucial to the creation of a play, and Marriott explores how the physical playing space can shape that reaction.

Marriott cautions against conflating “staging conditions” with “staging conventions”. He then discusses the notion of “sacred spaces” in theatre and suggests that early modern conventions, in eliminating the barrier between actor an audience, extends the sacred space for the actors, though not for the audience. A darkened auditorium “fixes” the sacred space within particular boundaries. Marriott then has actors present a scene from Everyman as though in a theatre with those boundaries, refraining from engaging the audience. The scene seems, even on a first watching, to have many opportunities for audience address, but the actors turn outward typically only when addressing “God” by way of the rose window at the back of the house.

Marriott discusses how an exit through the audience can make the audience feel “left behind” in the same manner as a character remaining on stage. Shared lighting creates a “varying sacred space”, and Marriott has his actors present the scene a second time, in this iteration moving through and frequently engaging the audience.

Marriott ends by advocating for the consideration of role of both actor and audience in shaping a production. Taking the audience into account when preparing a production will “increase specificity and improve the experience of the audience.”

Garrett Schwalbach – Need Advice on Starting a Theatre Company? Early Moderns Would Like to Share…

Schwalbach introduces his thesis examining the creation of a theatre company in the current economic climate. He suggests that future entrepreneurs may benefit by discarding many current common practices and instead taking inspiration from the financial underpinnings of early modern theatrical business. The dominant business model today is the not-for-profit model: a theatre company can file as a NFP by fulfilling certain requirements There are currently 1750 NFP companies. Benefits include access to grants and the tax-deductible nature of donation to these companies. Schwalbach shares graphs of income (in earnings and contributions) for NFPs for the past ten years. Expenses for these companies follow a similar rate of increase as the income. Schwalbach then relates these graph to “the profit margin” – changes of unrestricted net assets and explains the practice of endowments and the difference between restricted, temporarily restricted, and unrestricted assets.

Schwalbach moves to considering the audience: as audiences have stagnated or slightly decreased in the past ten years, NFPs have also decreased. Paid personnel at NFPs, however, have increased. He states that this is because “a non-profit has to grow”, because all money taken in must be fed back into the programming, which necessitates the presence of more administrators.

Schwalbach then shifts to examining the business practices of early modern companies such as The King’s Men. He compares their success to that of their competition. Schwalbach takes the time to explain how patronage, assets, and capital worked for these early modern companies and how the process of shareholding affected the flow of money into and out of the theatre. Shareholding had no guarantee of profit, thus investing the shareholders in the success of the company — as a result, the shareholders were often directly involved in the theatrical process. As an example, Schwalbach discusses Shakespeare’s role as a businessman, shareholding in the King’s Men to make his fortune.

Schwalbach proposes that future companies look at the idea of individual investment. He relates the early modern theatrical model to that of modern bands, whom he believes are applying this system successfully. He suggests that theatres might benefit from changing to this business model rather than continually fighting the restrictions and other challenges of NFP status. The need to meet these challenges results in higher ticket prices, which then stagnates audience growth and reduces the accessibility of theatre to marginalized groups. “When you’re doing a not-for-profit, a lot of things are out of your hands.” But, Schwalbach argues, investing in yourself gives you more control and a greater ability to produce art.

Jessi Scott – Lost in Translation: The Treatment and Disappearance of Macbeth’s Porter and Othello’s Clown from Stage to Screen

Scott opens with a knock-knock joke, a tribute to Macbeth‘s Porter: “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Othello’s clown.” “Othello’s clown who?” “Exactly.” She moves to discussing the weight assigned to tragedies versus the supposed lightness and inconsequentiality of comedies. She notes that the roles of clowns in tragedies often end up cut from performance, particularly when the play is translated from stage to film.

In examining 14 Macbeth films, Scott found that the Porter appears in nine of them, but several cut the role down to only the equivocation or only the dirty jokes portion of the scene. Othello‘s clown, however, appears far less frequently. Only Trevor Nunn’s filmed production retain the Clown’s lines. While there is humorous material, “the jokes from the script aren’t included.”

Scott notes that, two weeks ago, her thesis took a turn as she learned more about the process of film-making and how that process might relate to the decision to cut or keep the tragic clowns. She discusses the use of forced perspective in film, which can shape the story and the emotional weight of certain objects, moments, or characters. She suggests that, as the clown is often a conduit for the audience, the absent audience in film undercuts the need for and power of that character model. Scott posits this as a key challenge of film directors: “How does one engage with an audience that isn’t there?”

Scott posits that the time of cast and crew, rather than the run time of a film, may determine the presence or absence of characters or scenes. She discusses her own process of wrangling with external factors during a film shoot as an example, then shares the resulting film with the audience. Scott ends by stating that, as we need to laugh in dark times, retaining the comedy inside of tragedies is an important choice.

Allison Jones – Shakespeare for the Early Elementary Classroom 

Jones begins by noting the increasing call for teachers to introduce Shakespeare to students at younger ages, but that few resources exist for that age group (particularly those with no or low reading skills). Many approaches rely heavily on theatre games, “more a generalized exploration of theatre with Shakespeare as a handy frame”. Jones is hoping to develop activities that will center Shakespeare’s language while still calling upon young students’ sense of play.

Jones discusses the goal of the RSC to introduce students ages 5-9 (early elementary) to Shakespeare, recommending that students be exposed to Shakespeare “no later than age 11”. Jones reached out to members of the Shakespeare Theatre Association, and while many agreed that children as young as preschool or kindergarten could enjoy Shakespeare, not all have programs designed for those students. Jones believes that a focus on play is a strong avenue to follow, as it taps into the natural inclinations of children towards imagination and experimentation. She explores an extended definition of “play” and relates how Shakespeare can meet the definition even for young children. Though adults may often “play” as well, she notes that children do not share the “dismissive attitude” that many adults have towards leisure activities.

Young children are also at an ideal age for exposure to the language of Shakespeare, as their language acquisition skills are “highest until the age of 6”. Introducing children to the vocabulary and grammar of Shakespeare’s plays assists in “transforming the archaic and obsolete to the familiar” — as such, students exposed to Shakespeare early will likely not find its language as difficult later on in life.

Jones discusses her experience in leading a workshop on iambic pentameter with a group of second and third grade students. Victoria Buck assists her by demonstrating components of the workshop. Jones discusses the relation of the rhythm of nursery rhymes and the importance of patterns in children’s play to teaching Shakespeare’s meter. The students explored vocal and physical ways of enacting the meter, and Jones compares this to the typical actions accompanying the rhyme “Ring around the Rosy”. She welcomes a group of three early education students to the stage to demonstrate. Dividing a speech between students, one line apiece, exposes the entire class to a larger section of text without placing too much burden on any one student. Jones then moves to demonstrating how she related music to those lines to augment the sense of movement and rhythm.

Back at 1:30pm for Session 2!

MFA Thesis Festival 2017

Good evening! Cass Morris, ASC Academic Resources Manager, here to live-blog the 2017 Mary Baldwin University MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival. Tonight, beginning at 6:30pm, members of the Compass Shakespeare Ensemble, the 2016-2017 MFA class, will present research conducted for and during their year of company-building:

Paul Menzer begins by welcoming everyone, introducing the Compass Shakespeare Ensemble, and reminding us that the MLitt presentations begin at 9am tomorrow. Menzer stresses the unique nature of the thesis festival at MBU, designed to combat the isolating effect of thesis writing and give students the opportunity to share with and hear from “an interested and generous” audience. Each presenter will speak for approximately 7 minutes, ending with a “provocative question”, followed by a short Q&A.

Catie Osborn – Photography as Performance: Archive and/as Adaptation

Osborn begins by explaining the scholastic considerations that her work as production photographer provoked. “There is little to no research on the implications of photograph in the theatre”. She states her intent to challenge a 1956 assertion that “photographs taken during the course of production are uninteresting”. Osborn discusses two types of photographs in the theatre: marketing/publicity and archive/documentation, as well as sharing the OED definition of “adaptation”. She believes that the act of theatrical photography constitutes an adaptation of the theatrical work — the center of the Venn diagram between marketing/publicity and archive/documentation.

Osborn asserts that the photographer working during a performance becomes a storyteller in their own right. She presents some “not at all staged” examples of “That Nice Chris Moneymaker” — one photograph showing him as alone and isolated, another from a different angle showing the actor surrounded by the theatrical audience in universal lighting. The use of photos then becomes “an adapted act”. She also shares examples of photographs that photoshopped together figures from different productions in order to market a show.

Considering the potentially infinite record of production, given the storage capabilities modern technology provides, Osborn questions how to best curate those photographs for archival. She suggests that a production must “include the photographer in the production process”. Osborn states her belief that, by including the photographer in the process, it would be possible to create a record of performance that would allow someone to experience the performance through the archives.

She poses the question: “What is lost in these performances? What is gained?”

Kelley McKinnon – “We know what we are, but know not what we may be”: Engaging a Student Audience in Self-Discovery through the Mechanism of Interaction

“If you’ve spent five minutes with me, you probably know several things:” that she has a loud laugh, that she has Opinions, and that she loves to learn. She goes on to note that another five minutes will expose that she asks personal questions and loves working with students to help them learn. “There is nothing in the world that is better to men than watching a light bulb turn on” in someone’s head. McKinnon states her belief that nothing can replace the value of a personal connection between student and teacher, and she cites a viral video of a North Carolina teacher who invented a different secret handshake for each of his students, noting that his attendance and test scores seem to correlate positively with that practice.

McKinnon notes the importance of “reversing the expectation” for students of Shakespeare, fighting against the ingrained belief many have that Shakespeare is hard and that they’re not smart enough for it. Her thesis is based around how she approaches an educational tour from a director’s point of view with the goal of taking over/changing the world. “My approach as a director is to put the systems in place to build self reliance through connection.” This applies both to her cast and staff and to the audience. For student audiences, “the clarity of storytelling” is always at the forefront, but she believes a further step of personalization can be vital, particularly when interacting with under-served audiences.

McKinnon goes on to explicate why she uses Shakespeare to “change the world”, particularly by working with inner city students, with benefits including but not limited to: explorations of tyranny, nonconformists, and violence, “wrapped up with a bunch of dick and fart jokes”. Treating Shakespeare not as something inaccessible and privileged but as something that is for them augments the experience and can, she believes, be life- and thus world-changing. She finishes by asking: “Who is my audience for this?”

Joshua Richard Williams – “We will perform in measure, time, and place”: The Qualitative Effect of Spatial Architecture on Stage Combat Choreography

Williams specifies that he is looking at the development of stage combat in a touring process and how that does and doesn’t impact the performance itself. Last summer he engaged in training and certification with the American Society of Fight Directors. He discusses the concept of “violence as spectacle” that CSE explored in its touring production of Macbeth. His considerations include examining the ways in which the dimension and orientation of a performance space, and how differences in that in touring locations may change the storytelling. For his thesis, he focuses on the opening fight which establishes the violence of the play: involving eight of ten cast members, several entrances and exits mid-bout. He notes that the paratextual fight “serves as an introduction for the audience” to the play itself.

Williams then walks through the “bloody soldier” interchange from 1.2, pointing out five details which inform the physicality of the fight. While not explicitly called for in the text, these lines allow a director and fight director to make choices about the story they wish to present to the audience. In CSE’s production, it was an opportunity to show Macbeth as a fighter surrounded by violence, continually attacked from behind, instilling a sense of wariness, distrust, and betrayal. The actor playing Banquo appears to save Macbeth twice, establishing their relationship. The fight also introduces Malcolm and foreshadows the appearance of the Weird Sisters.

Williams notes that they blocked the show for two different conditions: Blackfriars-style, with use of a backstage space, and an on-stage presentation, where the actors are all in chairs and visible throughout the production. He notes that this second set-up presented challenges, and goes on to discuss one example in depth, where the company had “a lane of perhaps five and a half to six feet in width and eleven or twelve feet in length” to perform in. Williams thinks this was probably the most challenging space to work in, but also the most illuminating.

His question asks the audience for sources on found spaces for performance or dance. “What is the difference between a performance space and a theatre? What can one do that the other one cannot?”

Justine R. Mackey – “So hung upon with love”: Examining Physical Intimacy with Compass Shakespeare Ensemble

“My work… explores the many ways in which physical touch or the lack thereof” tells a story and communicates emotion. Mackey’s thesis examines touch as a means of communication in performance. She notes that, for her, physical touch ended up being a recurring theme in her roles across the CSE season (Lady Macbeth, the Courtesan in The Comedy of Errors, Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Jacquenetta in Love’s Labour’s Lost). “When I refer to physical intimacy, I don’t always mean sexual or lustful touching.” Her definition covers everything from simple familiarity to passionate interaction.

Mackey cites research from the Touch Research Institute which “prove the healthy benefits of touch,” noting that touch appears to be vital not only to human interaction but to individual health. She moves on to discussing how CSE explored the process and potential of touch in their ensemble work. To foster positive energy and the sense of community they would need for their MFA year, one early exercise involved verbally complimenting each other. Mackey took the benefits of this exercise forward into the idea of physical intimacy. Osborn and Odenbrett demonstrate another exercise from the character exploration of Troilus and Cressida, creating a powerful gestural score for two characters who long to touch but are pulled apart by external forces. From this, Mackey decided to focus on how bodies travel and intersect.

Mackey ends by asking us all to close our eyes and re-imagine the process of experiencing their devised show back in September, then asks the audience to share their most memorable experience from that evening.

Clarence Joseph Finn – “Methinks you are my glass and not my brother”: An Experience of Playing the Identical Dromio Twins with One Actor Body in The Comedy of Errors

Finn begins by stating that his thesis focuses on the challenge of playing two characters in one body and the effect that it has had on his body image. He notes that, as a result of bullying earlier in life, he had never engaged in physical training, as he had never seen the point. Entering this program changed his perspective, and he particularly notes the Viewpoints exercises taught by Doreen as teaching him to think well of his body on stage.

Working through the Dromios was his greatest challenge, made moreso by the fact that this performance was part of CSE’s already highly-doubled small scale production. He had to develop different markers for each Dromio. Finn then walks us through his process of developing them, beginning with voices: he started with Linklater choices for finding each Dromio’s voice, then moved into using Laban to marry those vocal choices to physical choices. One Dromio was lighter and quicker; the other low and heavy. He then moved on to behavioral gestures drawn from Viewpoints training. Finn also notes that the relationship each Dromio has to his respective Antipholus further informed his own physicality and spatial relationship. With the help of Sczepankowski and Odenbrett, Finn demonstrates the difference in his two Dromios.

His question: Is there a clear and distinct physical difference, and how might he further develop the physicality to make that clearer?

Molly Beth Seremet – “This is and is not Cressida”: Resisting Anthropocentrism in the Shakespeare of Things

Seremet begins “in the negative space” between the thesis she’ll actually be working on and the thesis she can no longer write. She intended to build upon her MLitt thesis, but notes that the exploration of the conflation of “person” and “thing” has become profoundly uncomfortable in our current political climate. While she’s still fascinated by the cyber-potential of becoming-human value in objects, but she is concerned about the inverse: making an object of a human. Seremet uses several examples from the past month, including the Oklahoma bill turning a woman into a “host” and the interaction of the “nuclear football” with guests at the “Winter White House”.

She goes on to note that the thesis she would like to write isn’t entirely hers to tell, given her own privilege and societal status, and she draws a connection to the “no-place” that Cressida exists in. Seremet hopes to continue elevating the object while also interrogating  the view from her position of privilege. She hopes to connect Cressida’s experience to the current immigrant/refugee crisis and with her own family history of displacement. She discusses her need to “focus on the real and the material in this era of alternative facts”.

Her question: What are the ethical responsibilities of a theatrical and art-making practice in the year 2017? And, in unpacking object-based feminism, how can the voice of the object be viewed through the mechanism?

Zac Harned – Arguing with Myself: Body Building Stories

Harned begins by describing his experience as a rifleman as a metaphor for the various components necessary for success in the small scale production. He will address the roles he played in the small scale production of Troilus and Cressida and how rhetoric informed his physical choices.

“Shakespeare’s characters cause plot by action,” whether that action is implied in what they say or more explicit when they stab someone. “All acting choices are based in necessity.” He keys in on the idea of rhetoric as the art of persuasion, and “art” being, essentially, an action of making something; thus, “rhetoric is the making of getting what you want” — which could also serve as a definition of acting. Harned discusses his discovery that rhetorically-informed performances are not, themselves, a style of acting — so “why should an actor give a damn?” He asserts that without engaging the rhetoric, an actor misses the opportunity for intellectual depth and aesthetic appeal.

Harned continues that “most people approach Shakespeare with a doctrine,” and that almost every doctrine that says “yes” to something says “no” to something else. His focus on scansion and rhetoric is not meant to be dogmatic, but he asserts that rhetorical knowledge enables an actor to be faithful to the story of a character. Harned asks the audience if they can see ways in which this approach is inaccessible to actors.

Ryan Odenbrett – A Face “full of O’s”: An Examination of Ecphonesis in Berowne’s Dialogue

Odenbrett connects his MFA thesis to his MLitt thesis on statsitical analysis. He believes echphonesis (the exclamation) is perhaps the most easily identifiable rhetorical figure. What, he asks, does the use of ecphonesis inform us about a character? He focuses on a line of Rosaline’s, accusing Berowne of having “a face full of Os” — rather than interpreting this as a reference to smallpox scars or syphilis blisters, he wondered if she referred to his exclamatory tendencies.

The process of documenting the use of ecphonesis was “monotonous, but not difficult”. Berowne uses ecphonesis 23 times in the play, 18 of those in 4.3 alone. 11 of those take place after he confesses to having written his love sonnet. 92% of his exclamations occur in verse. Odenbrett runs through a breakdown of the syntactical placements of these instances of ecphonesis. Odenbrett then created a table of the total ecphoneses used in all of Love’s Labour’s Lost. Costard comes in second with 11 instances.

Odenbrett then wanted to know if Berowne uses ecphonesis more than anyone else in the canon — but he believes not, as Love’s Labour’s Lost only has 68 instances (in 12th place), while Romeo and Juliet comes in first with 146. He intends to compare Berowne to other male characters in Shakespeare’s comedies. He asks what information we feel that ecphonesis gives an actor about a character.

George R Kendall – Directing Shakespeare in Intimate Performance Space and the Brechtian V-effekt 

Kendall begins by connecting his work to Mackey’s and Williams’s, as it deals with physicality and physical space. He interrogates the nearness to or distance from the audience in various theatrical approaches, looking particularly at the use of two “intimate spaces”: blackbox theatres and studio spaces. He notes that the Blackfriars Playhouse, while not fitting into either of those categories, still constitutes an intimate space. Kendall characterizes a component of intimacy as the “shared space” of actors and audience which enhances the emotional experience of the audience.

Kendall then discusses the practice of direct address and how it fits into the use of intimate performance spaces. Though it breaks the flow of the action, it does so in a way that is not an obstruction in these spaces. Kendall contrasts the intimacy of direct address in the Blackfriars Playhouse and similar styles to the alienation of the audience and distancing of emotional involvement intended by Brecht.

Kendall states his belief that directors should be very aware of the production space when deciding up on their approach to a play, particularly with an eye towards audience address. The more intimate the theatre space, the more personal that audience interaction can become; direct address has a less profound effect in a large proscenium theatre where much of the audience is physically further from the actors. Kendall questions: What have those of you who are actors discovered about intimate performance space? and How comfortable or uncomfortable are you as an audience member with an actor who addresses you?

Melinda Marks – A Labour Saved: How I Learned to Get Along with Love’s Labour’s Lost

Marks, who was the dramaturg for Love’s Labour’s Lost, also cut that script, and her thesis examines the practical process of cutting, what she cut, and how she decided to cut it. She admits up front that she strongly dislikes this play, which makes telling us about cutting it an intellectually interesting challenge. Since this cutting was for CSE’s “Ren season show”, the show styled after the ASC’s Actors’ Renaissance Season, Marks notes that the dramaturg’s role then becomes complicated, as they have no director’s conceptual parameters for either guidance or restriction. Marks notes the difference between creating a product “faithful to” someone else’s concepts and creating a product with the particular goals of the CSE Ren season show. She both had to rely upon subjectivity and had to combat her own distaste for the play in order to create a coherent script that would be interesting for both actors and audience.

After cutting the play, Marks went through all her cuts and made notes on her reasons for them. This allowed her to distinguish between objective and subjective cuts. She also color-coded these cuts for ease of analysis. She describes her role not only as dramaturg, but also as the editor of her own dramaturgical thought process.

Marks asks what we think would be a valuable quantitative or qualitative addition to this process?

Shane Michael Sczepankowski – The Story of the Storytellers

Sczepankowski informs us that his project is “like a thesis… but it isn’t. But it is.” As a response to a challenge from Paul Menzer to write a contribution to the MFA book that was more than an academic paper. As such, he is working on a play reflective of CSE’s mission statement. He is creating “a soft re-telling of the ‘Shane’anigans that have transpired” during the CSE year; his adaptation of Macbeth responds to and parodies CSE’s process of creating their school touring show. The director appears as Hecate and the “salty actors” as the Witches, among other correlations.

Sczepankowski posits this play as a sort of archival compilation, retelling the process of CSE’s experience. In a scripted scene, Tyler Dale expresses concern that Sczepankowski is skirting his responsibilities as an S&P student; Sczepankowski admits that this is an unusual approach, but believes that it will reflect the unique and meaningful experiences of the CSE journey.

His question: What makes a successful adaptation and what makes an absolutely miserable one?

Introducing “Kids” to Shakespeare

Since 2011, four grade-school teachers have been reading and reviewing children’s, juvenile, and young adult fiction and nonfiction, and then collectively writing about it on really fun interactive blog called “The Nerdy Book Club.” They say that all it takes to be an “honorary member” of “The Nerdy Book Club” is a love of books. My favorite thing about the site, is their book awards system. Every December, the four teachers, as well as their students and fans of the site, get the chance to nominate their favorite books published that year. They all then discuss the pros and cons, and the four teachers narrow down the nominees. Everyone has the month to read anything they haven’t already and, finally, vote. They announce the winners in the last few days of December. Some of the categories that you can nominate are Picture Books, Chapter Books, Graphic Novels, Poetry, Non-Fiction, among others. Finalists have included a vast range of popular titles like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy, and Mo Willems very successful Pigeon books. Another great feature of the site are the handy “Top Ten Lists.” Each list focuses on a specific topic or type of book or reader, to suggest similar titles they may enjoy. Examples include “Ten Fiercely Fabulous Female Heroines,” “Beyond Santa and Frosty: Meaningful Books for the Season,” and “Top Ten Books to Give to Adolescent Boys who say they ‘Hate Reading.’”

Recently, a friend of our Education Department brought to our attention one of the site’s December lists, “Ten Books to Introduce Kids (of Any Age! Adults, too!) to Shakespeare.” Before I review this post, I should point out that the top ten lists on the site aren’t all recommended by the four teachers who operate the blog. This one was created by an associate editor at Nomad Press named Andi Diehn. That being said, I still decided to read all ten books and look at them as an “introduction” to Shakespeare.

Diehn introduces the post with this lovely little description (her words on the left, my comments on the right);

When I was about 12 years old, I decided to read A Midsummer Night’s Dream. My mom was impressed. We went to the library and picked it up, along with Hamlet, just because, and I carried them home with a reverence… Okay, so at age 12, Diehn tried to read A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the hopes of graduating to Hamlet, “just because.” Great! What a good start! She notes that her mom was “impressed” with her “reveren[t]” book choice and provides a seemingly happy (and routine) memory of them going to the library to pick up these plays. So we get the idea that Diehn is a young reader and her mother supports that hobby by taking her to the library. Since her target audience (i.e. people who read blogs like the Nerdy Book Club) is probably made up of young readers, this is a great hook to support their budding hopes of learning about Shakespeare.
But…what were these words? This wasn’t even English, was it? I didn’t understand any of it. Within a page or two of Midsummer, I was done, discouraged, disappointed. I didn’t even attempt Hamlet. Shakespeare, I decided, wasn’t for me. Which she instantly destroys with her own example of what she sees as a failure to read successfully heightened poetry at 12. She expertly defines in her youth “this wasn’t even English” and decides that she was “done, discouraged, and disappointed” and after two pages of struggling she concludes that Shakespeare wasn’t for her.
It wasn’t until about five years later, when a high school English teacher got up in front of the class and performed the “To be or not to be” soliloquy with passion and total commitment that I was willing to give it another shot. And with daily read alouds, a steady stream of footnotes, discussions about plot, symbolism, history, and character, I fell in love. THANKFULLY she was re-inspired by a passionate high-school teacher that encouraged her to “give it another shot.” It took her five years to try “daily read alouds, a steady stream of footnotes, discussion about plot, symbolism, history, and character” which made her fall in love with Shakespeare.
The good news is, we don’t actually have to wait that long to enjoy Shakespeare. Actually, we enjoy him a lot more than we realize. Not only did he add more than 1,700 words to the English language, he also provides the foundations for countless books, movies, songs, TV shows, and blogs.

If you’re looking to inspire a love of Shakespeare in a kid of any age, check out these young adult novels. They’re the gateway to a lifelong connection with the greatest English writer of all time.

But apparently her experience of having a good teacher who supported her learning a difficult playwright was “waiting too long” and thankfully we don’t have to “suffer” like Diehn did. Instead she suggests reading 10 books NOT by Shakespeare, just books about Shakespeare or books that hint at Shakespearean themes, characters, and plots and THAT will make him interesting enough to foster “lifelong connection with the greatest English writer of all time.”

Her top ten include;

    1. The Fool’s Girl by Celia Rees
    2. The Loser’s Guide to Life and Love by A.E. Cannon
    3. Ophelia by Lisa Klein
    4. Street Love by Walter Dean Myers
    5. Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet by Paula Marantz Cohen
    6. Illyria by Elizabeth Hand
    7. The Cake House by Latifah Salom
    8. Something Rotten by Alan Gratz
    9. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
    10. King of Shadows by Susan Cooper

Don’t get me wrong now; I am all for inspiring the youths (adults, too!) to read Shakespeare. But I have a crazy idea to introduce students to Shakespeare: you could give them (wait for it)…………………… Shakespeare. I was ten years old when I first read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so don’t tell me it’s impossible. What made the play so accessible at ten for me and what made it so accessible for Diehn in high school are the exact same thing, and I would suggest that age has nothing to do with it. We both had great teachers: someone who was passionate about the story and about making sure their students understood that they could understand Shakespeare. I see this during our workshops and summer camps with students of all ages (5 years old to 95 years old), so don’t tell me young children and young adults can’t get it because “it isn’t even English.” What made Diehn follow what was happening in the plays was “daily read alouds, a steady stream of footnotes, discussion about plot, symbolism, history, and character.”

I’m not saying reading Shakespeare for the first time is as easy as reading young adult and juvenile historical fiction that introduces themes and plots from the plays, but reading the actual play should never be dismissed as “too difficult” or “discouraging” or impossible. There is a fundamental difference between a smart young reader trying to understand heightened rhetoric and poetry alone (no matter how supportive their parents may be of their hobby) and having a passionate person to lead group discussion about plot, symbolism, history, character. Lastly, I’m not even sure why Diehn suggests this method to introduce Shakespeare since it isn’t even what happened to her. She didn’t read a historical-youth-fiction piece that made her love it, she had a great teacher that made her love it.

All of that being said; I still decided to read these ten books, because while I do think most people can learn Shakespeare by reading Shakespeare, that isn’t to say historical fiction isn’t a great genre that fans of the plots of the plays can still enjoy. Rather than using these as introductions, I would suggest pairing them with the plays on which they are based and reading them as supplemental material for fun. I’ve been reading two at a time, so here are my thoughts on the first two that I tackled.

The Fool’s Girl by Celia Rees

the-fools-girlCelia Rees has been a youth writer since 1993 and is best known for her book Pirates! Although I have never read her other books, I have heard of Pirates! and remember it being on the suggested reading shelves of my library when I was in middle school. I dove into The Fool’s Girl feeling excited for the most part. The book jacket summary gave me just a little bit of skepticism because of its seemingly “historical” take on a possible origin story for the play Twelfth Night. I picked up on some “Shakespearean” names like “Violetta” (similar to Twelfth Night’s Viola) and Stephano (a character in The Tempest, not Twelfth Night). The jacket also alluded to other themes and characters from Twelfth Night; namely Malvolio, Feste, and the kingdom in which they all live, Illyria. The historical and magical realism started to blend when the jacket hints to “holy relics,” the “Forest of Arden” (from As You Like It, not Twelfth Night),  and William Shakespeare as an actual character in the story. I was mostly intrigued to see how these things would all blend together as Rees’s story unfolded.

Essentially, Rees took Malvolio’s final line from the play, “I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you” (5.1), and imagined what that revenge might look like. Rees’s story details the plight of the children that result from the double marriage that ends the play; Orsin (instead of Shakespeare’s Duke “Orsino”) marries Viola and they produce Violetta, and Viola’s twin brother Sebastian marries Countess Olivia and they produce Stephano. Essentially, Viola goes missing and Duke Orsin begins to study witchcraft (popularly frowned upon in this retelling) and loses his grip on reality. This weakens his hold on his kingdom, and he is usurped by a cruel Sebastian, not the loving, impromptu man of Shakespeare’s play, but rather a jealous brother who is disappointed in his title as Count and in his Countess’s love for his sister (the two ladies are best of friends and he spends little time with his wife). Violetta and Feste flee to London and meet William Shakespeare, they enlist his help and he writes Twelfth Night based on the stories Violetta shares with him. Stephano also made it safely out of the ruined kingdom of Illyria, the two cousins reunite in London and work together to overthrow the evil Malvolio and evil Sir Andrew.

There are a lot of other small allusions to other plays that will only be meaningful to readers who know what they’re looking for. For example; they go to the Forest of Arden (near Stratford instead of in France) and there is a character named Robin Goodfellow who plays tricks on people and scurries around the forest (of Arden).

The book is also extremely heavy-handed in its religious themes and undertones. The whole feud between Malvolio and every other character (it seems) is that they aren’t devout enough. It becomes his personal goal to convert everyone or kill them in the process. His main plan of attack is stealing an ancient religious artifact from Illyria which he plans to travel the world with in order to persuade the faithless. As if forced conversion isn’t a heavy enough religious plot for a YA novel, Rees makes the Illyrian artifact the gift of myrrh that had been given to Christ at birth. Violetta says that the artifact is the reason for Illyria’s existence and Rees lays it on thick;

The golden reliquary , studded with gems and cunningly wrought by the goldsmiths of Byzantium, holds one of the most sacred relics in Christendom: the gift of myrrh offered to the Infant Jesus by the magus Caspar. The precious substance is contained in a small silver-lidded cup of great antiquity, set with precious stones and still containing the myrrh used to anoint the body of Our Lord. (pg 72)

Because Rees is so careless and universally inclusive in her blending of Shakespearean plots and themes, her constantly heavy-handed religious language is an odd opposition.

However, her appreciation of Shakespeare is sweetly encouraging. She describes his character as kind and smarter than everyone else; “He began to have an idea. It came to him complete, all of a piece. That was what made him different from other men” (pg 163).

King of Shadows by Susan Cooper

Susan Cooper is an English and Welsh writer known for her blending of mythological, king-of-shadowslegendary, and folktales with contemporary stories, times, and plots. Although King of Shadows is one of her later books, she uses the same time-traveling devices in this book. In King of Shadows, American Nat Field travels to London in 1997 with a boys’ acting troupe and their director, Arby, to perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream in repertory with Julius Caesar in the newly constructed recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe. On their first day there, Nat gets sick and goes to bed with a high fever. When he wakes up he has been transported to 1599 and will be playing with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Shakespeare’s playing company, in the new Globe. Luckily, he is a “new member” to the company so it doesn’t matter that no one recognizes him. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men are also doing A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Nat is to play the same part he was going to play with Arby’s troupe, Puck. The other Nat Field (famous boy actor from the Blackfriar’s Boys) is in-turn transported to 1997 and (thankfully) can be treated for the bubonic plague with simple antibiotics. For the most part both performances go well and present-day Nat gets to be in both of them, however, high-jinks ensue. The big reveal comes right at the end when Nat and his friends realize why and how the switch happened. The realize that if past-Nat had performed with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men instead of present-Nat, William Shakespeare would have gotten the plague and died in 1599.

“‘It was 1599, Nat,’ Rachel said. ‘Shakespeare was only in his thirties, he wrote most of his greatest plays after that. If he’d acted with Nathan Field instead of with you, he’d have caught the plague and died.. If you hadn’t gone back in time, William Shakespeare would have died’” (pg 173).

Their director “Arby” confirms this and reveals his name is actually “R.B,” his initials – “Richard Babage.” The fun idea is that if you say “Richard Burbage” with a British accent, it kind of sounds like “Babage.” Although Cooper never officially confirms that Arby is supposed to be Richard Burbage (who Nat meets when he time travels), she heavily suggests that Arby knows about the time-traveling and may have caused it at the end of the book.

As absurd as this plot is, I actually kind of liked this book. It was cute if nothing else. And what was really fun about it was that a lot of the stage devices and plots that Nat gets to experience in 1599 are historically accurate. There are several ideas that aren’t confirmed and there is no historical evidence to support them, but I love that Cooper imagined possible technical ideas. And lastly, there are only two “historical” things that are straight-up wrong. Here are examples of these;

CORRECT!

  1. A huge pet-peeve of our co-founder, Ralph Alan Cohen, is when actors enter and exit through the house. There is no evidence to say that this happened and more probably would not have because of the cost of acting company’s costumes. They wouldn’t have risked wearing precious and expensive fabrics past groundlings. When Nat tries to use the blocking his present day director gave him in rehearsal in 1559 and exit through the house, William Shakespeare has something to say about it; “‘Can I go through the house?’ ‘Through the house?’ Shakespeare said. I pointed into the auditorium. ‘No, no,’ he said firmly. ‘That is for clowns, and not clowns of my liking. Thy place is the stage’” (pg 72).
  2. Cooper accurately describes the use of a plot (in both 1599 and 1997) and a 1599 book-keeper; “As usual, there were constant nervous visits to the ‘plot,’ the list of entrances and exits that hung near the stage in the tiring-house, and whenever Master Burbage came offstage he made a beeline for the book-keeper, a small bespectacled man… with the play’s text on his lap” (pg 88).
  3. Although there is no historical evidence to support the idea that Shakespeare’s actors used audience contact, we’re like 99% sure they did. At the very least, we find that at our Blackfriars Playhouse today, making eye contact with an audience member is one of the most common and most meaningful original staging conditions in our tool belt. Nat finds this to be true in 1599 as well; “I fixed my eyes on one man near the front… and said everything right to him. It was a perfect eye contact; he was gaping at me, fascinated” (pg 93).
  4. We also know that Shakespeare’s company produced many plays in repertory in a very short amount of time, and Nat notices that “…there simply wasn’t time to rehearse so much” (pg 178).

NOT CONFIRMED BUT FUN IDEAS!

  1. There isn’t a lot of evidence about the technical aspects that went into special effects at early modern playhouses. However, Cooper imagines some creative solutions to create smoke and fog, war sound effects, and bird song in her novel;
    1. “… fireworks were being set off onstage in a sequence of huge bangs, and clouds of smoke from a crude smoke machine being puffed out from a backstage bellows, for the battle effects, and Pistol grabbed my arm” (pg 92).
    2. “…blowing a little pipe into a bowl of water to make the sounds of birdsong; burning rope in a metal pot, to make smoke that could be puffed with a bellows across the stage…” (pg 115)

WRONG!

  1. Cooper’s worst offense is careless and irresponsibly switching between “thee” and “you.” Just like in French (tu and vous) and Spanish (tu and usted), English used to have formal and informal personal addresses (thee and you).  Although this has fallen out of practice today, it isn’t difficult to grasp the concept. And once you understand it, the ShakesFearful idea of “thee” in the plays becomes much less daunting. “Thee” is the informal, and was used to address people you were close to and people of a lower status than you. Alternatively, “you” was formal and was used to show respect and to address nobility or people of a higher status than you. Cooper not only has no regard for people’s’ statuses in her novel, she frequently will switch between “you” and “thee” in the same speech, implying that there is no difference. Instead, she appears as if she is just trying to sound “Elizabethan” and it is inaccurate and uninformed; “‘Thou needst none. I have found a way in. Come.’ Roper glanced at me maliciously. ‘Unless your Paul’s Boy has no stomach for it, of course’” (pg 64).
  2. The final completely made up event is still a fun plot device and they do the same thing in Shakespeare in Love, so we can’t fault Cooper too much. The Queen comes to the playhouse. Queen Elizabeth would have never come to a public playhouse, let alone in 1599 when she was in her late 60s. However, her attendance at Dream is a pretty fun idea and it means that present-Nat gets to meet her. So that’s pretty cool.

Overall, these books weren’t great. And I would never use them to introduce students to Shakespeare. However, it might be fun to pair them with the plays that they draw the most from and read them as supplemental reading (The Fool’s Girl with Twelfth Night and King of Shadows with A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Especially King of Shadows. It was pretty cute and had a lot of fun history in it, The Fool’s Girl was too fanciful, too heavy-handed, and the attempt at historical “sounding” language was often more difficult to follow than simple text.

 

Next time! Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and either Ophelia by Lisa Klein or Street Love by Walter Dean Myers (whichever of the two gets to the library first).

“To try eloquence, now ’tis time”: Virtues and Vices of Rhetoric

Last week, in less than twenty-four hours, our country had the opportunity to experience two important political speeches: President Obama’s farewell address and Donald Trump’s opening statements to the first press conference he has held since last July. Both were prepared statements, though both appeared to involve some measure of ad-lib. Since President Obama’s farewell address was much longer, I chose to examine only a segment of it, of comparable length to Mr. Trump’s opening statement.

By the Numbers
Complexity and elegance in speech are not necessarily about sentence length or vocabulary level: they’re really more about variety. Does the speaker vary syntax? Does the speaker demonstrate a grasp of language’s fluidity and flexibility? Does the speaker use a wide or narrow range of descriptors? As Shakespeare knew, these traits create a character who is verbally facile and engaging. Going too far with them, however, can create a ridiculous character, such as Holofernes:

This is a gift that I have, simple, simple; a foolish extravagant spirit, full of forms, figures, shapes, objects, ideas, apprehensions, motions, revolutions: these are begot in the ventricle of memory, nourished in the womb of pia mater, and delivered upon the mellowing of occasion. But the gift is good in those in whom it is acute, and I am
thankful for it.

The gift is in knowing how to apply language deftly, which is not the same as the oratory onslaught that defines much of Holofernes’s speech. Then there are characters like Dogberry, who reach for verbal greatness but somewhat miss the mark:

LEONATO
Neighbours, you are tedious.

DOGBERRY
It pleases your worship to say so, but we are the poor duke’s officers; but truly, for mine own part, if I were as tedious as a king, I could find it in my heart to bestow it all of your worship.

LEONATO
All thy tediousness on me, ah?

DOGBERRY
Yea, an ’twere a thousand pound more than ’tis; for I hear as good exclamation on your worship as of any man in the city; and though I be but a poor man, I am glad to hear it.

Bless.

Some hard facts on President Obama’s speech segment:

  • 1393 words long, featuring 583 unique words (words used only once in the speech) (42% of the whole)
  • 869 of those 1393 words were monosyllabic
  • 202 had more than three syllables
  • His longest word was “responsibility” (six syllables)
  • His ten most commonly used words (excluding grammatical words like “the”) were I’ve, us, years, just, should, own, Americans, young, because, and up.
  • His Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level was 9th, with a Reading Ease score of 57.

Some hard facts on Mr. Trump’s speech:

  • 1365 words long, featuring 401 unique words (29%)
  • 877 of those 1365 words were monosyllabic
  • 7 words had four or five syllables, and none more than five
  • His ten most commonly used words (excluding grammatical words) were: going, very, lot, we’re, news, will, think, great, because, and veterans.
  • His Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level was 7th, with a Reading Ease score of 67.

Visualization
To help you get a sense of the “feel” of those numbers, I include two word clouds below, one for each speech. (These clouds also omit, as word clouds typically do, common grammatical words such as “the”, “a”, “with”, “on”, etc. I have, however, opted to include “and”, “that”, “very”, “our”, and “us” in both, as their usage seems to exceed commonality in a significant way).

wcobama

Word Cloud of President Obama’s farewell address segment

wctrump

Word Cloud of Mr. Trump’s press conference opening statement

By the Rhetoric
(Be ye warned: there are Greek terms within. But fear not! I promise to define all of them)

If you’re interested in the full rhetorical mark-up of each speech, according to our R.O.A.D.S. to Rhetoric, I’ve appended those at the bottom of the post (with apologies for my handwriting). I’ll just hit a few highlights to discuss overall patterns.

President Obama, as I’ve noted before, is prone to auxesis, the arrangement of a series. In fact, he may be slightly over-prone to it; sometimes his series nest within each other and stretch beyond the set of three that’s most harmonious for a listener.

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His other commonly used devices include:

  • isocolon, repeated sentence structure
  • antithesis, the arrangement of contrast
  • diacope, the repetition of a key word after intervening matter.

These devices often interweave and support each other. Look at the following snippet, where the arrangement of a series coincides with repeated structure:

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When we hear language used this way, whether consciously or not, we recognize the intention behind it. No one speaks like that accidentally. Auxesis and isocolon support each other particularly well: our brains appreciate parallel sentence structure on an almost subconscious level, and when that overlaps with the creation of a list, the speaker can carry us along with his story more easily. President Obama also often uses one device to segue into another — notice how, above, the use of “creed” at the end of his series carries through to his summarizing statement, which in turn shares syntactical similarity with the series. Compare these interwoven patterns to those in Richard II’s speech as he capitulates to his deposition:

I’ll give my jewels for a set of beads(1),
My gorgeous palace for a hermitage(2),
My gay apparel for an almsman’s gown(3),
My figured goblets for a dish of wood(4),
My sceptre for a palmer’s walking staff(5),
My subjects for a pair of carved saints (6)
And my large kingdom for a little grave(7;1),
A little little grave (2), an obscure grave(3)

The most commonly used rhetorical devices across Mr. Trump’s speech are:

  • epizeuxis, the immediate or near-immediate repetition of a word
  • polysyndeton, where use of conjunctions creates run-on sentences
  • ellipsis, the absence of key words or phrases, often in the form of unfinished thoughts
  • parelcon, the insertion of redundant or superfluous words such as “very”.

Consider the following segment:

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At first glance, the markup of Mr. Trump’s speech appears more rhetorically dense than President Obama’s, but it is worth noting that rhetoric is not always only about the words. Often, it is also about the delivery of those words, particularly in matters of emphasis, specificity, and intention. Silva Rhetorica discusses this when examining stylistic vices:

Every dimension or aspect of style has vices associated with it, and every vice has a corresponding virtue. Indeed, the very same locution may in one sense be regarded as exemplifying a stylistic virtue, and in another, a vice.

It is helpful to understand that all figurative language alters the normal meaning or arrangement of words to some degree. When figurative language is apt for a given context and purpose, it is eloquent and effective (and thus exemplifies one or more of the virtues of style); when figurative language is not apt for a given context and purpose, it is ineloquent and ineffective (and thus exemplifies one or more of the vices of style).

This distinction often becomes important in regard to devices of repetition, because the speaker’s affect lets the listener know whether the repetition was chosen or unchosen. Chosen repetitions can run the gamut of sounds, words, phrases, and structure. Consider, as I’ve noted before, the repetition of structure in Brutus’s funeral oration, or Antony’s repetition of phrases in his — or look at Edmund in King Lear, musing on the word legitimate:

Well, then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land:
Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund
As to the legitimate: fine word, legitimate.
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper:
Now, gods, stand up for bastards.

Edmund repeats the word to draw a contrast between the status it confers and his own bastardy. It is hard to imagine an actor performing these lines as though Edmund were not choosing that word in each instance, particularly since he uses with slightly different context each time, and “fine word, legitimate” indicates that he is thoroughly aware of the word’s weight and power.

Unchosen repetitions fall into the category of stylistic vices, including battalogia, the continual unnecessary reiteration of the same words, phrases, or ideas; tautologia, the unnecessary repetition of the same idea in different words; and homiologia, tedious or inane repetition. These devices might tell us much about a speaker’s overall verbal intellect or about their current emotional state. Consider Othello, overwrought with jealous suspicion:

Lie with her? lie on her? We say lie on her, when they belie her. Lie with her: that’s fulsome. Handkerchiefconfessions: handkerchief. To confess, and be hanged for his labour. First, to be hanged, and then to confess: I tremble at it. Nature would not invest herself in such shadowing passion without some instruction. It is not words that shake me thus (pish): noses, ears, and lips: Is’t possible? Confess?handkerchief? O devil.

Immediately after this, Othello “falls into a trance”, elucidating that he is not in control of his physical self, and his words indicate that he is likely not in control of his intellectual and emotional selves, either. Those “lies” early in the speech might or might not be an intentional riff on the word, but the whorling repetitions of “handkerchief” and “confess” seem to have no definable pattern. They are disjointed thoughts to which Othello cannot seem but help to return.

Other stylistic vices involve figures of addition, such as:

  •  perissologia, the vice of wordiness
  • pleonasm, the use of grammatically superfluous words
  • periergia, over-use of words or figures of speech
  • bomphiologia, self-aggrandizing exaggeration.

Take Fluellen, for example:

Fortune is painted blind, with a muffler afore her eyes, to signify to you that Fortune is blind; and she is painted also with a wheel, to signify to you, which is the moral of it, that she is turning, and inconstant, and mutability, and variation: and her foot, look you, is fixed upon a spherical stone, which rolls, and rolls, and rolls.

Is that run-on sentence deliberate or accidental? I have no idea. It’s a choice for the actor to make, and it’s going to create a different character depending on which way it goes. Is Fluellen rambling, absorbed in his own musings and oblivious to the effect on his listeners? Or does he use those conjunctions and parentheticals intentionally, so that no one interrupts him, thus keeping him in control of the scene? Either choice could be correct, but much depends upon the delivery.

More rhetoric is not necessarily better rhetoric. 
We’ve looked before at Claudius’s rhetorically dense and nigh-incomprehensible speech in 1.2 of Hamlet, which I think is as good an example as any in Shakespeare of the maxim that density of rhetoric is not necessarily a virtue. It may be overblown — the vice of macrologia refers to excessive wordiness in an attempt to appear eloquent — or simply inept, as in aschematiston, which may refer to either the unskilled use of figures of speech or starkly unornamented language. As with so many things in life, in speaking, balance is key, lest the speaker turn a virtue into a vice.

Full rhetorical mark-up of President Obama’s speech segment

Full rhetorical mark-up of Mr. Trump’s speech

23 reasons why the ASC should never have performed BBAJ – and why it’s a blessing that we did anyway (#15 will knock your socks off!)*

Amy Wratchford, Managing Director of the American Shakespeare Center, was in the midst of a presentation to my MFA class about the administrative side of “arts administration” when she dropped the bomb that exploded my worldview. I remember it vividly: it was May of 2015, I was knitting, the room was too hot, all of my classmates were bouncing slowly up and down on the exercise balls the group had silently consented must replace all chairs, and Amy was so very excited to confide in us that in the American Shakespeare Center would be opening its 2016 Summer/Fall season with a production of the rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

I distinctly remember Amy punching the air with a self-satisfied “yes!” as everything I ever knew or loved crumbled into dust around me.

This should probably go without saying, but we’re the American Shakespeare Center, not the American Shakespeare-and-also-the-occasional-uncannily-well-timed-modern-rock-musical Center.

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Does anything about this say “Shakespeare” to you?

Admittedly, no, we don’t exclusively perform Shakespeare. But we’ve been open for more than 25 years (performing in the Blackfriars Playhouse for 15), mounting between 16 and 18 productions a year since we added the Actors’ Renaissance Season in 2005, and Shakespeare only had a hand in 38 surviving plays. We would be super bored if we only performed Shakespeare. And anyway, isn’t “Shakespeare” less the name of a specific playwright than a generic phrase referring to a vaguely Renaissance-y time period? You see “Shakespeare” in the name of the company and it basically goes without saying that we also perform the works of his contemporaries: Marlowe, Middleton, Beaumont, Fletcher – sometimes even Beaumont and Fletcher because let’s face it, they all collaborated anyways. And even if they didn’t, it’s all iambic pentameter at the end of the day. “Shakespeare and his contemporaries” opens the door to many plays, but Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson ain’t one of them.

Okay, yes, I will also concede that we perform works that do not fit into even my loose definition of “Shakespeare.” We perform Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol every year — but show me a theatre that doesn’t. We’ve performed Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac twice, once in 2007 and again in 2014, but we used the Anthony Burgess translation both times — which puts Rostand’s rhyming French Alexandrine verse couplets into the very Shakespearean rhyming English iambic pentameter couplets — which makes it basically Shakespeare. Yes, we’ve done Tom Stoppard’s 1964 adaptation Rosencrantz & Guildernstern Are Dead, but we did it in repertory with Hamlet, so that hardly counts. Okay, fine, we’ve even done a “rock musical” before – the 2014 smash hit Return to the Forbidden Planet, but every line of dialogue in that play not set to the tune of a jukebox musical number originally came from Shakespeare. And I’m pretty sure George Bernard Shaw and Shakespeare were actually the same (undead) person (which explains Arms & the Man) and everybody knows that Shaw was a huge admirer of Oscar Wilde (Importance of Being Earnest) which is arguably similar in style to Wittenburg by David Davalos who just so happened to be in an off-off-Broadway play with Kevin Bacon! Wait, what are we talking about?

 

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Oh, right – WHY WOULD WE DO THIS?

The actual criteria for deciding which shows we’ll perform at the Blackfriars Playhouse is less about a certain author or time period and more about identifying plays that work in our space — that is, that work with Shakespeare’s staging conditions. Will the play work on the merits of its words alone, sans sets or lights or soundscapes on a bare, universally lit thrust stage? Can it be done unplugged, with live sound cues and acoustic instruments? Does it include natural opportunities for contacting the audience? Does it allow for continuous flow of action — the Aaron Sorkin “walk and talk” — where actors in a new scene enter while speaking even while the previous scene’s actors are exiting? Does it have opportunities for actor doubling? How about cross-gender casting? Can it be done in “two hours traffic of the stage”? If the answer is yes to most or all of those questions (as it is for the aforementioned plays), then it deserves at least a fair trial on our stage. If it works super well, we might do it again (see: Cyrano, Importance of Being Earnest) and if it doesn’t… well, at least we tried?

I’m assuming this “why not try?” philosophy was behind the decision to stage Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and let me tell you why we should not have tried. First – no, it can’t work on the merits of its words alone because roughly 74% of its words are expletives (and 40% of statistics are made up on the spot). No, it can’t be done unplugged – it is a rock musical written for electric guitars and strobe lights, not Patrick Earl with a fake microphone backed by Chris Johnston on a cocktail drum kit. Any potential moments of audience contact would be forced upon the play, not built into it — because Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was not written with a visible audience in mind. It has huge, cumbersome sets that wouldn’t even fit inside our building, let alone allow for a continuous flow of action. Also, it’s a terrible play, and a musical to boot.

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Look at this! It is such a musical!

No, I had never seen it or read it, but that’s not the point. Did I mention I hate musicals?

I wasn’t rooting for the play to fail so much as I had already accepted the inevitability of it doing so. I made doomsday predictions about having to leave Staunton, towing along my three degrees in Shakespeare while searching for somewhere else to work, because this disastrous production would cost us all our subscribers and close the ASC’s doors for good. I went to the dress rehearsal in gloomy spirits, bracing for the impact of a trainwreck.

A dress rehearsal is never a true indication of the quality of a production, but nevertheless, I was confused when what I saw didn’t suck. I wrote that off as a fluke and remained pessimistic during previews. But they didn’t suck either, and then all of a sudden the play was open and running and not only did it not suck, it rocked. And not only did it rock — it sold. And not only did it sell — it worked. Prolific theatre reviewer Eric Minton of Shakespeareances.com wrote in his review that “In fact, the Blackfriars aesthete singularly enriches the quality of Timbers’ and Friedman’s piece,” which in its Broadway form took place on “a cluttered hodge-podge” of a set. “Scenic designer Donyale Werle’s inspiration seemed to have come from watching a Disney Bear Jamboree while sipping on an Andro-laced LSD cocktail,” Minton quips, citing his own review of the original production.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson | American Shakespeare CenterIn comparison, the ASC set includes a giant flag, a desk, some stools, the actors and their instruments, and “the couple of dozen audience members sitting on ‘gallants’ stools’ on either side” of the stage, who, Minton notes, also “serve as props.” We told this story of our American history the way Shakespeare would have had to: unplugged and universally lit. As a result, BBAJ at the Blackfriars Playhouse took on all the best qualities of Shakespeare’s history plays. The production was not just a retelling of past events but a shrewd commentary on current ones, speaking as much about the insane political climate of today as it ever did about the insane political climate in and for which it was written (in the case of BBAJ, the 2008 Presidential Election). In short, it worked, and not by a slim margin… which meant both that Amy had been super right and I had been super wrong.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson | American Shakespeare CenterI can admit that now, because being so completely and utterly wrong about BBAJ at the Blackfriars Playhouse is one of the most refreshing things that has ever happened to me. It reminds me of something ASC co-founder and Director of Mission Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen likes to say: we think we’re smarter than the Elizabethans because we’re alive and they’re dead. We turn the last 400 years of knowledge into a weapon against our ancestors, always using the modern to re-examine the historical, as if being alive makes us more qualified than they to discuss issues of humanity (which, spoiler alert, haven’t changed in 400 years because evolution doesn’t work that fast).

Theatre in general, and Shakespeare in particular, has always provided a robust playground for this sort of recasting. In between the writing of Othello and today, we invented and dissolved the African American slave trade, for example. Shakespeare knew nothing about it, nor America’s resultant (and persistent) systemic racism, but try reading Othello without acknowledging what we know now. Rinse and repeat for The Merchant of Venice with the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, or Taming of the Shrew with suffrage and misogyny — we are always looking at the past through the tinted window of the present. This not “bad” or “wrong” but it is limiting and laborious. By painstakingly applying 400 years of technology and criticism to his texts in a bid to somehow suddenly “understand” them on some sort of nonexistent (but super enlightened!) level, we are always working for Shakespeare.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson | American Shakespeare CenterBloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at the Blackfriars Playhouse allowed Shakespeare to work for us, instead. The production offered up a new understanding of our present by staging it through the lens of the past — and I mean that literally. By using Shakespeare’s staging conditions, we discovered poignant moments of actor-audience contact that both didn’t (and couldn’t) exist in the original staging of BBAJ. At the Blackfriars Playhouse, those moments allowed (and sometimes even forced) audiences to identify personally with the play’s subject matter. Those moments cut through the expletives and dance numbers to create keen satire out of what would otherwise be merely gratuitous shock-jock humor with the occasional catchy hook. The conditions of the production brought out the best of the play itself, the hard questions and the moral ambiguities we’ll never escape, no matter who’s President. I watched this play affect audience members profoundly and personally, the way Shakespeare’s plays often do, the way that makes them discuss the whole thing over dinner for hours and years afterwards.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson | American Shakespeare CenterBloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at the Blackfriars Playhouse proved that using Shakespeare’s staging conditions is not just a way, as our mission says, to “recover the joy and accessibility of the Renaissance stage” (emphasis mine) but also to discover the new and potentially hidden joys and accessibilities of the modern stage. The plays written for this staging conditions are not the only ones that thrive within them. Shakespeare’s plays can and do thrive superbly when performed in modern staging conditions – The Blackfriars Playhouse is not the only theatre to ever stage a successful, enjoyable, provocative, delightful production of a Shakespeare play. That’s not what the American Shakespeare Center does, but that doesn’t mean we think others shouldn’t. Modern explorations of Shakespeare making use of advanced modern technology are valuable and necessary for what it can teach and show us about Shakespeare and ourselves. We exist to provide that modern exploration of Shakespeare making use of early modern technology in the form of our staging conditions – which, of course, teaches us more about Shakespeare and ourselves. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was a modern exploration of a modern play through the use of early modern technology, and in this singular and very unexpected instance, that exploration led us to profound new discoveries about this modern play that turned it into the captivating, convivial, thought-provoking theatrical event it never quite managed to be before.

The fact that we stand a good chance of discovering something magical when applying the same staging conditions to a wide variety of theatrical genres means that the Blackfriars Playhouse ultimately has no limit on its repertoire. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at the Blackfriars Playhouse shattered the limits of what we can do with (and learn from) Shakespeare’s staging conditions. I guess Amy was right to be excited, after all.

Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson | American Shakespeare Center— Lia Wallace

*No, this isn’t a list. Dashed expectations are what you get when you click on clickbait.

Top photo by Michael Bailey.
All other photos by Lindsey Walters | Miscellaneous Media Photography.

 

Solo Loqui

I feel it prudent to begin this post with: I am not a mathematician. I’m a writer. We try to keep me away from numbers. Almost everything I know about statistical analysis, I learned from Mythbusters. I am, quite explicitly, in charge of words for ASC Education.

But sometimes, what you need is data.

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No, not that Data.

I’ve been working on a Study Guide for the Henry VI plays, and when pulling text for an activity on audience contact, I noticed… there are almost no soliloquies in 1 Henry VI. Almost no moments where the actor is alone with the audience. Huh. So, I tweeted about it. Then ASC actor Tim Sailer let me know that, from what he’d seen of Coriolanus, there were almost none in there, either.

Weird. Two relatively little-performed, and dare I say? little-loved plays, both with such low quotient of soliloquies. This got me wondering: is there a pattern to that? Are plays with more soliloquies generally better-received? My instinct said yes — but my instincts have been wrong before. I needed data to find out for sure.

Methodology
Diving into this, I had to do two things: tally up the soliloquies per play and find out if my perception of the plays’ popularity was close to the mark.

For my purposes of counting up lines, I had to define precisely what I meant by “a soliloquy”, and what I arrived at was this: an actor alone with the audience, neither responding to nor being responded to by any other on-stage/in-scene character. So, if you’re on-stage with a corpse or a sleeping body, you can soliloquize — so long as you’re not addressing said corpse or sleeper. What I’m interested in is that dynamic between actor and audience, where only one performer is actively influencing the audience — so I place no litmus test of content upon it. I am as willing to take expository soliloquies as emotional ones, and indeed, they often overlap. I did make note of what kind of soliloquy each was (with full admission that this is a subjective judgment on my part): functional/expository, introspective/emotional, or comic/musical. This percentage of the whole, I refer to henceforth as the “soliloquotient”. (It’s also worth noting that I was going off of the Norton Shakespeare’s versions of the play, so that involves quarto/Folio conflation in some instances. I recognize that there might be valuable differences to discover there, but, alas, I could only devote but so much time to this particular bee in my bonnet.)

As for determining play popularity, 281 individuals were kind enough to answer a survey on the subject. Admittedly, this sample set is drawn from people within one to three degrees of separation from me and the ASC, so it’s naturally people more inclined to like Shakespeare than, perhaps, the general populace. But I was actually okay with that. Because I wanted to compare more popular to less popular plays, the opinions of people who had only seen, say, Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be less valuable to me.

So what did I find out?

Broadly? My assumption was totally wrong! The data utterly cut the knees out from my hypothesis, but that’s okay. I still learned a lot. As we so often tell students in our workshops, sometimes you have to be wrong in order to figure out something right — and this rabbit hole definitely lead me to some interesting observations.

The Soliloquotient
To start with, my perceptions of which plays were the most soliloquy-heavy were not spot-on. Richard III and Much Ado about Nothing were both lower than I expected; The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Timon of Athens were significantly higher. A few of the oddities are almost entirely due to Choruses; if I altered my definition of a soliloquy to remove those (thus basing soliloquies only on characters within the play), then Pericles drops from a chart-topping 13.71% to a mere 1.63%; even Henry V drops from 10.33% to 3.27%, leaving the Boy’s short soliloquy and Henry’s “ceremony” speech as almost the only character-driven soliloquies in the play. Romeo and Juliet, though, suffers a much smaller drop — from 7.69% down to 6.75%. But, for the sake of number-crunching, we’ll stick with my initial definition and keep in the Choruses.

The average soliloquotient is 4.82% per play — though the median is lower, 3.95%. A standard deviation of 2.87% indicates that the bulk of the plays fall between 1.08% and 6.82%. Only one play, Coriolanus, falls below that 1.08% mark, but 9 fall above 6.82%. Macbeth, Cymbeline, 3 Henry VI, Romeo and Juliet, and Timon of Athens are all between one and two standard deviations out (between 6.82% and 9.69%), while Henry V, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Pericles are all above two standard deviations out (greater than 9.69% soliloquies). Here’s a histogram to visualize the spread of soliloquotients across the plays:

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Looking just at that data, it would seem that a high proportion of soliloquies is at least as likely to make a play hated as loved. But let’s dig further:

Popularity
My instincts about the plays’ popularity were largely borne out. Twelfth Night, Much Ado about Nothing, Hamlet, and Macbeth top the charts whether I took the simple average of reported enjoyment (on a scale of 1-5, where 1 was “I loathe this play” and 5 was “I love this play”) or whether I looked at the percentage of respondents who rated the play “above the fold” — ie, a 4 or a 5. Charts of both are below, and while they’re not wildly different, to measure a play’s loveability, I prefer the “above the fold” version (and its partner, “below the fold”, those plays with a significant number of respondents rating a play “dislike” or “loathe”), both because it smooths out the variance in how many people have seen which plays and because it distinguishes between plays that are really liked or loathed versus those which people just feel neutral about.

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Fully 22 plays land with more than 60% of respondents “above the fold”. Most of those are fairly expected: Richard III, Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1 Henry IV, The Winter’s Tale, and Henry V round out our top ten, and of those, all but Winter and Henry V get more than 75% in the top two boxes. I’m not wholly surprised that Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar don’t get quite as much enthusiasm, considering those are often plays served as tonics to students (and plays that are, I believe, pretty easy to screw up), but they still come in at a respectable 70% and 67% above the fold.

The most-hated plays are pretty expected, too. Because this was a sample of Shakespeare enthusiasts, only a few plays had more than 15% of responses in the bottom two boxes: Merchant of Venice (17.24% dislike or loathe), The Two Gentlemen of Verona (18.86%), All’s Well That Ends Well (21.43%), The Taming of the Shrew (22.14%), Troilus and Cressida (22.3%), The Two Noble Kinsmen (22.86%), The Merry Wives of Windsor (27.91%), Timon of Athens (29.01%), and Henry VIII (30.58%). Some very early plays and some very late (and co-authored) ones, as well as a smattering of those with significant issues for modern feminists. Merry Wives is the only real surprise there, and I’d be curious to know what about that comedy falls so flat for many viewers.

A rating of 3 marked a play as “neutral or mixed feelings” — and King John, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Henry VIII top that list, all with over 45% in the middle box. I find it interesting that some of the most hated plays are also the ones with the most mixed feelings. The same is not true of the best-loved: the top six there are the lowest six in the neutral category.

Cheeringly, perhaps, there is no play that no one loved: two people marked even Henry VIII in the very top box. There’s also, however, no play that no one hated: 2 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI, 1 Henry IV, and Richard III all got precisely one “loathe” vote.

Revelations
But there are a few fun surprises. What’s Richard II doing in a relatively high position when I look at the “above the fold” data? That play isn’t what we’d call “popular” — it’s one of the least-frequently-seen in this survey. But people who do see it? Seem to love it. It comes in at a respectable 65.76% above the fold, and only 8.15% below.And that makes a kind of sense, particularly when you remember that Shakespeare wrote it the same year he wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet. Something in the language seems to resonate with those who get exposed to it on stage.

Richard II is also fascinating for what its soliloquotient reveals about the play. It’s very, very light on soliloquies — until you hit Act 5 and Richard’s massive 77-line beast of a heart-to-heart with the audience. Looking at it as data, not just as scenes, helped me to realize that until that point, Richard is never alone. Literally never. He is a king who always has someone on hand. His entire life is a public performance — and then it’s all stripped away.

Once I noticed that trend, I started finding similar patterns in some other plays. Antony and Cleopatra are never alone together. Cleopatra is never alone at all. Timon starts out never alone, like Richard, but then spends a significantly larger portion of his play in isolation. Hal/Henry’s only soliloquies of any length are “I know you all” in 1 Henry IV and then “general ceremony” in Henry V; Falstaff gets the bulk of the audience’s time in the Henry IV plays. Hamlet starts off, as you would think, with a lot of time with the audience — but hands that privilege off to Claudius for most of acts three and four, and no one soliloquizes in act five. Twelfth Night, All’s Well That Ends Well, and The Two Noble Kinsmen are the only plays where the women soliloquize more than the men (though Helena and Hermia put in a good showing in Midsummer — Puck and Bottom just barely edge them out, and Juliet would win Romeo and Juliet if you take out the Choruses; she certainly has more time alone with the audience than Romeo does).

Conclusions
So, all in all, this data gave me a lot of fun information to turn over in my brain, and I expect I’ll return to some of it in future ponderings; but, it turns out, there is really no correlation between soliloquotient and a play’s likeability. Note the following charts:

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If anything, a higher soliloquotient — those over 2 standard deviations away from the norm — seems to hurt a play far more than help it. Even creating secondary versions without Choruses and other non-character commentaries didn’t change much — the line would tilt up a very little, but nothing significant.

There does seem to be something of a “sweet spot”, though, as you can see from the clustering: the most-loved plays all have a soliloquotient between 3.5% and 7%. Plays above or below that don’t make the mark — but that’s not really determinant evidence, since not all plays within that sweet spot do land in the top tier of popularity and love-ability.

If I were to continue this experiment, I’d try to focus it more narrowly — specifically, to find out if people are more favorably inclined towards shows they’ve seen in the Blackfriars Playhouse or another theatre with universal lighting and direct audience contact. Take Timon of Athens, for example: this is among the least-loved plays in the survey, but anecdotally, I know that people who saw it on our stage with Rene Thornton Jr. in the title role absolutely loved it. Can one strong performance change an audience member’s outlook on an entire play? Does the soliloquotient matter more in a theatre with universal lighting?

My instinct and hypothesis on both is yes — and perhaps someday I’ll have the data to back that up!

“I witness to the times that brought them in”: 2016 Year in Review

If the internet is any judge, a lot of people will be really glad to see 2016 out the door. Political turmoil and celebrity deaths have taken their toll, expressed in hashtag memes like #SayByeto2016inagif and #wtf2016. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been anything to celebrate, and in ASC Education, 2016 had quite a few high notes!

Most excitingly, we officially welcomed Lia Wallace and Adrienne Johnson to the Education team! Both are recent graduates of Mary Baldwin University’s Shakespeare and Performance MLitt/MFA program. Lia began work with us way back in 2012 as an intern, then became an Education Artist, and is now our College Prep Programs Manager, overseeing the ASC Theatre Camp. Adrienne has previously served time (like Director of Education Sarah Enloe also did, back in the day) as personal assistant to Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen, and she is now our Camp Life Coordinator as well as the ASC Company Manager, responsible for the upkeep of the Playhouse and other properties. You can read about their transitions into these positions here on the blog: Lia and Adrienne.

61Big events this year included the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp trip abroad: Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords. For ten days, Ralph, Sarah, MBC Professor Mary Hill Cole, and I shepherded a fantastic group of 22 Shakespeare enthusiasts around England and Wales. In the Cotswolds, the moors of York, and the fens of Cambridge, we wandered through history, discovering the world as it would have been familiar to Shakespeare and his audiences. To catch up on those adventures, check out the NKSC16 tag.

05fbdda7-86d4-48d4-9aab-11cac67d650b2016 also saw the publication of two all-new Study Guides, in addition to updates to several volumes. The Tempest and King Lear were on the Student Matinee line-up for the first time in my tenure, giving me the opportunity to dive into two of Shakespeare’s best-beloved works. We’re celebrating with a flash sale on those two guides, so nab yours before 5pm today to save 20% on these shiny new volumes!
Buy King Lear or The Tempest ASC Study Guide.

13087333_10104284381621743_4879776445061724543_nIn April, we commemorated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a block party that spanned downtown Staunton. Hundreds came to enjoy the food and wares offered by over two dozen merchants, and children of all ages got to experience mini-workshops and Shakespeare-themed craft activities, delivered right in front of the Blackfriars Playhouse. You can see pictures from that event here.

We also partnered with UVA’s Special Collections Library as it housed a traveling copy of the First Folio, offering workshops in Charlottesville in April, ahead of the Folio’s arrival, and in October, when the tome was on-site.

In December, we had a Staged Reading in a new format as a special event: rather than having one group perform a 90-minute show, four groups came from across the Shenandoah to put on four shorter shows, all demonstrating how English drama has marked the Christmas holiday throughout the centuries. With a mummery from Shenandoah Governor’s School, a mystery play from Shenandoah University, a vaudevillian masque from Spectacle and Mirth, and a Victorian-style pantomime from Stuart Hall, we filled the Playhouse with mirth and laughter for a festive night at the start of the holiday season.

And, as ever, we had a year’s worth of Student Matinees, Little Academes, and other workshops. In the 2015-2016 school year, we welcomed over 11,000 students from 284 schools, homeschool groups, and other organizations, and we have already had 142 groups join us so far in the 2016-2017 school year. We also welcomed International Paper back for their fifth Leadership Program, and we’re looking forward to seeing them again this spring.

So what’s forthcoming in 2017? More of everything: matinees of The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, and Much Ado about Nothing; all-new study guides on Love’s Labour’s Lost, the Henry VI plays, and Sense and Sensibility (that’s right! I’m taking on Austen for the adaptation that will be on the 2017-2018 tour); Leadership Programs on-site at the Playhouse and at the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville; visits from the Road Scholars; the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp back in Staunton to explore the theme of Shakespeare and art; ASC Theatre Camp 2017, featuring 1 Henry IV, Titus Andronicus, and The Sea Voyage in Session 1 (June 18-July 9) and King Lear, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and The Knight of the Burning Pestle in Session 2 (July 16-August 8); and, of course, since it’s an odd-numbered year, the Blackfriars Conference (Oct 24-29) will welcome hundreds of scholars and students to celebrate Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

Happy New Year from all of us at ASC Education! We hope to see you soon, whether at the Playhouse or out on the road.

Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager