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2012 Actors’ Renaissance Season

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Podcast Archives: 2011

2011 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2011 Spring Season

2011 Summer and Fall Seasons

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 4 February 2011

This week brought us scholarship through Twitter, a new podcast from the ASC, enlightening research on Shakespeare’s world, and the ongoing debate about the humanities in education.

  • I had a blast during #AskShakespeare Day. This idea, cooked up by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, brought scholars from all over the world together to answer questions about Shakespeare posed on Twitter. It was so wonderful to see how many people out there cared enough to ask questions about Shakespeare, and I got to trade ideas with some great scholars. We did see the authorship question pop up a few times, and plenty of people wanted to ask scholars and practitioners what our favorite plays and characters are, but we also encountered a range of other questions, some with concrete answers, but many that invited speculation: What race was Othello, really? Why do people talk about Hamlet having an Oedipus complex? Did Shakespeare pursue his own publication? What’s the most gruesome scene in an early modern play? (Votes went to the heart-on-a-knife in ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore and the head-bashing in Tamburlaine — both of which you’ll be able to see at the Blackfriars next year!). What’s the most underrated of Shakespeare’s plays? How would the plays have been different if women had been allowed on the stage? The whole experiment was so entertaining and a real intellectual rush. I think we should do it once a month. Of course, I’m happy to answer questions any day of the year — just ping @ASC_Cass.
  • The first Actor-Scholar Council podcast is up and waiting for you to listen to it. Greg Phelps, Tyler Moss, Sarah Fallon, John Harrell, Chris Johnston, and Jeremiah Davis joined a panel of scholars to discuss The Comedy of Errors. We’ll be recording the Council session on Look About You next week.
  • If you’re within easy traveling distance of Staunton, be sure to see Shannon Schultz’s directing project, an all-male version of Romeo and Juliet, on February 7th and 8th. The Staunton Newsleader interviewed Shannon about the project. (Please note that the Newsleader article has the performance time wrong: the show will start at 8pm both nights).
  • “Hellraising Antics of Shakespearean Actors Revealed”: The London Telegraph has posted an interesting article on what recent research has revealed about the theatrical world in which Shakespeare lived. Kidnappings, riots, thefts, vandalism, all brought to light courtesy of the new Early Modern London Theatres database.
  • If you still haven’t read James Shapiro’s Contested Will, here’s another review praising it as “an entertaining reappraisal of Shakespeare’s enduring fascination and a conspiracy story worthy of play by the great man himself.”
  • Dale Salwak of Citrus College, CA, shares his approach to getting his students to love Shakespeare. Cass says: I agree with a lot of what he has to say — that students say they hate Shakespeare because they really hate the way it’s been taught, that you don’t need to waste time teaching the plot, that it’s okay for art to make demands of the audience — but I still think he’s missing some key elements. His approach remains very page-based, with the augmentation of audio recordings. There’s so much to be gained by teaching the plays as plays and making the students take on the responsibilities and decision-making of actors.
  • And, because no edition of Imprimis would be complete without some links discussing the value of the humanities in education: How Liberals Killed the Liberal Arts, and The Humanities in America: An Endangered Species?

Imprimis will be on hiatus next Friday, as I will be at the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies Conference in Phoenix, along with Sarah and intern Liz, so you’ll get a double-issue on February 18th. Sarah and I will be Tweeting from the conference as well, and I’ll be posting about it when we get back.

Actor-Scholar Council, 28 January 2011

This week we are focusing on the Actor-Scholar Council — Since 2007, ASC actors have met with scholars to discuss the unique experiment of the Actors’ Renaissance Season. The mission of the Council is to provide participants with the opportunity for discovery related to the process of mounting plays and performing them at the Blackfriars Playhouse, to provide participants with the opportunity to explore their overlapping areas of expertise in order to garner avenues for para-professional friendship, and to create a record of conversation for future study. Tune in to our podcasts to hear our other meetings for yourself. I’ve compiled these notes, with the help of Christina and interns Natalie and David, to bring you a comprehensive summary of last week’s discussion.

On January 28th, the Actor-Scholar Council met to discuss The Malcontent. The actors present were Ben Curns (Malevole), Patrick Midgley (Ferneze and Guerrino), Alli Glenzer (Maquerelle), Miriam Donald (Bianca and Maria), John Harrell (Mendoza), and Jeremy West (Pietro). The scholars present, drawn from the MBC MLit/MFA program, were Asae Dean, David Santangelo, Rachel Ratkowski, and Johnathan Haas. Paul Menzer, head of the Master’s program, was this session’s moderator.

The session began by questioning what the appropriate collective noun for a group of actors is. Suggestions included “an affectation,” “an arrogance,” or “a conceit” of actors. Paul then prefaced the conversation by considering the unique theatrical style of the Actors’ Renaissance Season, which exists “in stark contrast” to the rest of the artistic year. He suggested that the easiest place to begin might be with the “prosthetic personality” of the ARS — meaning the tendency, more than in the other shows of the year, to use wigs and exaggerated makeup as character signifiers. As examples from The Malcontent, Paul mentioned Ben and Jeremiah Davis in wigs, Alli’s bawd makeup, Paul Jannise’s wig and makeup combo making him look “like a powdered doughnut,” and John “in a moustache that I think can only be described as icky.” Paul asked, “Is that deliberate? Has it evolved?” and wondered if the reliance on external augmentations might be a product of the compressed rehearsal period, as a shortcut to character.

Ben spoke first, about his choice to use an auburn curly wig (the same as he has used in and in Cymbeline and in The Revenger’s Tragedy), primarily because the wig is easily removeable and reattachable for reveals. Alli commented that, for characters for whom the choices were not related to disguise, the over-the-top costumes and makeup indicated “something about the world in the play breaking down, no longer living up to something… Ever since we lost the Duke, we’ve been a society that care about the wrong things.” She also noted that, for her character, the makeup is written into the text, as the artifice of the bawd was a common theme in Jacobean dramas. As for the troubling moustache, John admitted that he was “flummoxed by the character” for a while, that he “couldn’t figure out what Mendoza’s deal was.” The moustache became a way, not only to differentiate John-as-Mendoza from John-as-gallant seen at the beginning of the play, but also to signify Mendoza as someone “trying for style but not quite ‘hip’ with style.”

Paul pressed further on the question of to what degree the creation of theatrical style is a conscious decision versus an organic growth. John commented on the freedom of being “not answerable to someone who may not match with you aesthetically.” The tendency to go towards stock-character-based interpretations, he says, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially because plays of this period “were written before the concept of stock characters came under fire.” He explained it more as a use of semiotics to convey ideas to the audience. Jeremy stated that the company discussed thematically the frivolousness of the society, and then, when they pulled costumes, they gravitated towards the opulent look of Restoration and French pre-Revolution era costumes. This contributed to what Paul called a “creeping coherence of design” that still retained “a provocative incoherency.” Miriam noted that while Patrick’s costume as Ferneze, leather pants and sunglasses, comes from a different world, it still fits in, somehow, to the overall play. In response, Patrick said that his costume makes it apparent that Ferneze is “an outsider, lascivious, like I’m a charade.” This incoherence, in Jeremy’s words, “bleeds into the acting style,” because the nature of the ARS, with actors learning from cue scripts and then putting the pieces together in rehearsal, creates “less necessity for acting style cohesion.” He notes that his character, Duke Pietro, is “kind of in the wrong play” theatrically, as a melancholic figure, which gives him the freedom to embrace a different acting style.

Conversation turned next to the masque at the end of the play. Asae asked how those stylistic choices worked with the masque, which had, in the Jacobean period, its own distinctive set of conventions. John’s answer was to go for something incongruous to the rest of the play, something “inescapably a different world.” Ben stated that the masque is yet another layer added to the levels of artifice in the play: “Marston seems to be saying that your job as a thinking human needs to be to see what’s underneath. This play seems to say, rather than slaughter everybody in your way, the harder job is to get them to fix themselves.”

Consideration of the masque segued into a question posed by one of the ASC’s followers on Facebook, Clifford Garstang, who wondered how the actors deal with the requirements of such a complex scene without a director. John stated his belief that it’s “a misnomer to say ‘undirected,’ they’re self-directed.” The actors are open to input from each other, but “also totally comfortable ignoring each other.” Particularly for the complex scenes, though, it’s helpful to know that someone is keeping an eye on business. For the masque in particular, Alli noted, they “all knew it needed to happen,” particularly since dialogue occurs during the masque, adding another degree of challenge. As Alli was not primarily involved in the masque, had studied the pavane, and had music to choose from, she took charge of that scene. The repeatable nature of the pavane made it easy to learn and to plug into the scene, and the movement of the dance, allowing different couples to come to the forefront at different times, made it a good choice for highlighting dialogue. During the ARS, as Ben noted, the actors tend to choose “crazy stuff” when dance is called for, such as the swing dancing in Romeo and Juliet or the hip-hop in The Changeling. With that in mind, “the craziest thing we could do is a period pavane.”

The pavane choice generated a lot of conversation. John noted that a prevalent idea exists that “that style of dance is lame,” which Jeremy thought is because it gets associated with boredom and which Paul thought grew out of the use of pavane-style dances in theatre and film as “a short hand for a kind of restriction.” The reality, however, the actors discovered to be quite different. “Dancing it is a lot sexier than you would think it is,” Miriam said. “There’s a lot more warmth than I had anticipated.” Ben stated that “the grace of the dance is deceptive to what is happening.” The actors also thought there’s a lot to be said for the stage picture that the pavane creates, with eight people on a stage as intimate as the Blackfriars’s.

Paul next brought up the “gestural vocabulary” of the ARS. John responded that he thinks it’s more of a different “floor pattern vocabulary” which he seeks to “really deliberately destroy.” He used the example of the “quincunx” (think of the five on a die) which is easy to “flop” into. Ben talked about how thinking about these stage pictures makes him consider the difference between lays written for the Blackfriars as opposed to plays written for other spaces. Plays like The Malcontent, Paul noted, feel more like chamber-pieces, “at home in the Blackfriars.” On the other hand, Look About You, which the actors are currently rehearsing, in Ben’s opinion “probably had a much bigger space, probably had pillars to hide behind.”

Paul commented on The Malcontent as a play that “excites an audience expectation that’s not satisfied… which is blood.” MFA student Glenn Schudel, who assisted John in cutting the script, commented that the play is “not what it promises to be,” and Asae questioned the difficulty created when the play holds out so long on providing important characters. Mendoza only appears at the end of the first act, and Maria, much-discussed but little-seen, comes in much later on. When Asae asked how the actors gave presence to those parts when the characters were so absent, Ben replied that it had been a problem, and that they had revisited Maria’s first scene after the preview performance. “I guess the answer is we’re not done,” Miriam added, speaking to the ability in the ARS to respond to what’s not working and fix troublesome bits over the course of the season.

Wrapping up the discussion, Paul asked what audiences should be looking for in Look About You. John suggested that the discussion on style might be even more relevant after Look About You goes up, as it relies even more heavily on typed characters and overexaggerations. Jeremy suggested that audiences look for the incongruities. “I knew nothing about this play coming into it,” he said, but working through the play has given him the idea that the anonymous play may have been a collaboration between two or more authors.

The next Actor-Scholar Council, focusing on Look About You, will be recorded for podcast on February 11th, featuring John Harrell (Skink), Chris Johnston (Redcap), Miriam Donald (Lady Marian), Jeremiah Davis (Prince John), and Paul Jannise (Henry II and Block).

Imprimis: Link and Tidbits, 28 January 2011

Our links this week focus in large part on how the humanities should be handled: what emphasis to put on them, what skills they provide, and how we can use technology to teach them.

At the ASC, we have another Actor-Scholar Council today, this time on The Malcontent. Paul Menzer, head of the MBC MLitt/MFA program, will be moderating, and our attending actors today are Ben Curns (Malevole), Patrick Midgley (Ferneze and Guerrino), Alli Glenzer (Maquerelle), Miriam Donald (Bianca and Maria), and John Harrell (Mendoza). There’s still some time to ask us a question on Facebook if you’d like to hear it in the podcast.

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits, 20 January 2011

This week in Shakespeare: the Stratfordian defense, using technology to open up new avenues for learning, and promoting literature in education.

  • Bardfilm is on a mission, and we’d like to support it. In an attempt to show why anti-Stratfordians are, tragically, misinformed, the blog takes on first the Oxfordian conspiracy, then the Marlovian, then produces a list of resources for anti-anti-Stratfordians. Sarah says: Thank you for this reasoned critique of the argument. Cass says: I hope I see the day these anti-Stratfordian arguments get quashed once and for all, because it’s just sad, really. I do still think the Marlovian conspiracy would make a great movie, but the trouble is, if it got made, more people would believe these theories than already do.
  • Following up from the past few weeks of the Huck Finn censorship controversy, the Shakespeare Standard has an op-ed on why using sanitized texts is teaching a lie.
  • Remembrance of General Education Past. Sarah says: A lovely personal argument for the values of humanities courses.
  • Stolen Shakespeare Folio on Display in Cardiff. Cass says: I confess, when I first read the headline, my immediate thought was, “Wow, that takes a lot of nerve.” But no — it’s a Folio that was stolen but was then recovered, which makes far more sense.
  • Another idea about using technology to enhance the study of Shakespeare – this article on “Gadgets for Small Businesses” also includes an interesting Shakespeare-related use, specifically, the ability to read a scene and then, at a touch, being able to pull up several different versions of that scene in performance.
  • Touting the philosophy we whole-heartedly believe in, this British blog advocates actually seeing the plays you study.
  • And finally, for a little international flavor (following up after our last post), a refreshing take on the value of literature and its place in the school day… in China. “They were jumping up and down, telling the other kids what they read, and why others should read it. Every kid was dying to talk.” Would that all classrooms could have that energy!

I hope everyone’s had a lovely week. At ASC Education, we’re getting ready to hold our first Actor-Scholar Council of the year today, discussing The Comedy of Errors — stay tuned for the podcast of the event, which should be available sometime next week.