Gender and Behavior in TWELFTH NIGHT

Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from the ASC Education Study Guide on Twelfth Night, available for purchase in our Gift Shop or through lulu.com as a PDF download or a print-on-demand hard copy. You’ve got til November 27th to see our current production of Twelfth Night and discover for yourself how ASC actors portray the confusions and complexities of gender and identity in the play.

Perspectives

Gender and Behavior

Twelfth Night is one of several of Shakespeare’s plays to feature a heroine who dresses as a man. At the beginning of his career, Shakespeare included a cross-dressing heroine in The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Julia dresses as a pageboy to follow her boyfriend to another city. She reveals herself at the end to stop him from marrying another woman. Julia’s disguise is a plot convenience, allowing her to travel and to observe Proteus without suspicion. Later plays push that plot device further, creating the cross-dressed woman as an object of desire. In As You Like It, written two or three years before Twelfth Night, Rosalind dresses as a boy named Ganymede to travel into the forest; when she runs into her crush, Orlando, she offers, as Ganymede, to pretend to be Rosalind so that Orlando can practice wooing. She also finds herself the object of desire of a shepherdess named Phebe. In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare presses the mismatched desire even further, having a primary character, Olivia, and making that desire a central point of conflict in the play, rather than a side joke. This creates a double-play of suggested homoeroticism; Olivia is in love with Cesario, who is actually another woman, while Orsino thinks he’s falling for a boy, who is actually a woman, who was originally played by a male actor.

Twelfth Night | American Shakespeare Center

Jessika Williams as Viola and John Harrell as Orsino in TWELFTH NIGHT. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Gender issues could prompt quite a bit of social anxiety in early modern England. Many of the anti-theatrical polemics leveled at the playing companies lamented the presentation of boys as women, particularly in romantic roles. Conversely, the idea of women usurping men’s roles suggested an upending of convention. Though a female monarch had ruled England for over forty years – and for all of Shakespeare’s lifetime – women were still considered subordinate to men, legally, socially, and religiously; even Queen Elizabeth spent much of her life pressured by her councilors to find a man to share her throne. Many pamphlets published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sought to instruct women on their “proper” place – suggesting that a great many of them had stepped outside the proscribed bounds and entered spheres typically dominated by males. Only two or three years before Twelfth Night, in As You Like It, Shakespeare has Rosalind reappear in women’s garb at the end of the play, which some scholars have suggested was a deliberate method of allaying social anxiety about her ability to resume her feminine role. Viola in Twelfth Night, like Julia in the earlier Two Gentlemen of Verona, never reappears in her “women’s weeds,” remaining in a state of gender ambiguity through the end of the play.

Twelfth Night | American Shakespeare Center

Allison Glenzer as Olivia and Jessika Williams as Viola in TWELFTH NIGHT. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Today, the definition of gender roles remains a hot-button issue. Political debates continue to challenge ideas about balance between the sexes, both socially and financially. In many ways, however, the conversation has changed from determining what one gender or the other can or can’t do to debating the very meaning of gender itself. As the 21st-century begins, advocates for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights continue to push at the boundaries of the binary gender system. In 2010, a British expatriate living in Australia became the world’s officially and legally neuter person, though some cultures of the Indian subcontinent and of Southeast Asia have long recognized the existence of a “third gender.” More recently, transgender advocates such as Laverne Cox, of Orange is the New Black fame, have raised the profile of the transgender population – which has, in turn, led to political debates over bathroom use and legally protected classes. The ongoing gender debate suggests the existence of gray areas between male and female and in the spectrum of sexual attraction – the very sort of grey area that Viola-as-Cesario inhabits.

Twelfth Night, along with the other gender-bending comedies featuring cross-dressing heroines, suggests that, in the view of society, at least, a person’s role in life is more defined by what they wear and how they behave than it is by anatomy. How does Viola challenge or affirm the idea of strictly defined roles for genders? How convincing is her disguise? Several characters tell her during the course of the play that she behaves in a way unbefitting a man, particularly when she does such stereotypically feminine things as fainting at the sight of blood. How does Viola give herself away? How much double-speak does she engage in, allowing the audience to appreciate her duality without explicitly telling other characters about it?

To explore these issues in your classroom, download these sample activities or purchase the ASC Study Guide for Twelfth Night today!

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

After the dreaded return to school, were you ever required to distill the frenetic fecundity of your summer through the barren medium of the personal essay, struggling to capture in writing that which demands physicality, imagination, and experiential knowledge?

liablog1

Me, watching Director of Education Sarah Enloe, choosing my perfect moment to strike. Photo by Lindsey Walters | Miscellaneous Media Photography

Hi, I’m Lia Wallace. You may remember me from such ASC positions as “education artist,” “administrative financial assistant,” and “why is that intern still here?”. I’m speaking to you today from my newly acquired permanent position of College Prep Programs Manager, and I’m here to give you a retrospective on the 2016 sessions of the ASC Theatre Camp (my first as Camp Director) — or, as I like to call it: Lia Attempts to Adult, Summer Edition. What follows are things I learned, things I learned never to do again, some notable experiences, and ideas for next summer.

1. Adulthood has rules and those rules are terrifying.

The amount of existential angst over choosing a vocation is such a privileged conundrum. When I worked as a waitress, I never thought about “maximizing my professional enjoyment” or “cultivating constructive connections with colleagues.” The fact that work sucked was a given that I automatically accepted. Being in school forever was always supposed to pay off with an occupation I actually enjoyed in the field of my studies (I have three degrees in Shakespeare!) as opposed to a job I tolerated in the field of “it pays the rent.” I had been interning at the ASC for nearly five years when I was hired full time as the College Prep Programs Manager (aka Camp Director, for the purposes of this blog post) and yet I still didn’t realize that working full time for the ASC meant not working in a restaurant at all. In fact, working full time for the ASC put me firmly into the terrifyingly Real World of Adulthood.

liablog2

Staff quickly learns to grab shuteye whenever (and wherever) they can.

The Real World of Adulthood has strict rules it never explains. What are Adults supposed to wear, and when? How do Adults use Facebook? As an Adult, why is it no longer acceptable to eat ice cream for every meal? My biggest Adult fear was adjusting to a society that runs on a 9-5 schedule. I do not run on a 9-5 schedule, and forcing myself to do so is really hard — and, it turns out, not very good for me. See, I’m a late chronotype. My natural circadian rhythm causes my energy levels to rise and fall a few hours later than the “average” cycle. If left to my druthers, my job hours would be 11am – 8pm (with “lunch” somewhere around 3).

(Side note: I am not lazy – I work as hard or harder than you do. I just do it at a different time. Chronotype discrimination is real! [Editor’s Note: You ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie.])

This is probably why I was an excellent waitress and a successful graduate student. It also makes me a terrible receptionist, an unsuccessful fisher, an effective night watchman, and a really good summer camp director. Because guess who else refuses to live within the 9-5 boundaries of civilized society? Teenagers. Especially the sorts of teenagers that elect to attend a three-week residential Shakespeare theatre camp.

2. Have an Adrienne. And a Tess, if possible. Actually, a whole staff is pretty great.

liablog3

ASCTC counselors Kim Greenawalt and Mark Tucker pose outside of the Blackfriars Playhouse with Camp Life Coordinator Adrienne Johnson.

Of course, the campers didn’t universally like to live within my chronotypical boundaries, either. While I was welcome to create lesson plans or write blog updates at 2am if my heart so desired, somebody still needed to be up at 7 with the campers who liked to go running. Somebody had to set the kitchen up and make breakfast (during the first session, when the staff provided all of the food ourselves) or unlock the third-floor door to the dining hall (during the second session, when we had all resoundly learned our lesson) before 9, by which time hungry campers would usually mutiny. Running camp is a manifestly 24-hour-a-day job. I can go without sleep for a while but not forever, so that means running camp can never be a job for one person. Enter Adrienne, my Camp Life Coordinator.

At this point, I should differentiate between Adrienne and the rest of my staff. I hired professional directors to helm each show. I also hired a bevy of counselors dedicated to assisting: they served as both ADs (assistant directors) and very hands-on RAs (resident assistants). I had an administrative intern with a staggering amount of patience regarding my inability to ask productively for help. I don’t mean to minimize their efforts; they are all hardworking, competent, delightful human beings and every one of them did excellent work this summer — but nobody ever pretended the position existed without them. I feel that in the context of a theatre summer camp, residential and artistic staff in the form of directors and counselors should be a given. After all, we have dozens of teenagers per session. I am not going to personally look after all of them 24/7, because that is crazy. And though I am loathe to give up any modicum of artistic control, I still never expected to personally and simultaneously direct the 2-4 full productions that we mount each session. I had a lot of help in those areas, and while I am incredibly thankful for that help, I also expected to have it.

liablog4

Session 2 residential staff. From left to right: Molly Cohen, Glenn Thompson, Mark Tucker, Alex Donato, Marisa Skillings, and Jessica Andrews.

You know what I didn’t expect? Everything else. Do you know how unbelievably difficult and frustrating it is to compile all the information for each session’s final performance program (including headshots of every camper, many of whom are apparently allergic to standing still), format that document and get it printed, correctly and on time, without handing over my first born child? I didn’t, either. I also didn’t expect the number of sign-up sheets we would use throughout the summer, or the fact that those don’t just appear magically when we need them. I didn’t expect our first session audition space to be suddenly unavailable due to delayed construction. I didn’t expect the carefully built schedule to need constant tweaking. I didn’t expect the sheer amount of stuff we’d need and the frequent trips to the store that resulted almost daily. I definitely didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.

 

%e2%81%aeliablog5

Adrienne looks on as I hug the breath out of Tess. Photo by Lindsey Walters | Miscellaneous Media Photography.

Adrienne compiled, corrected, and produced the programs. She made sign up sheets and schedules. She did CostCo runs, washed mountains of dishes, coordinated all the schedule changes (as well as the staff’s time off), finished the construction on the audition space, and converted all the infidels. And she did it while I slept, unaware of any problems. It didn’t hurt that she’s an early chronotype (cheerfully ready to go at 5:30 AM – but woe to any who try to keep her up past 9:30 at night), and it hurt even less that she learned the ropes of Camp Life Coordination hands-on from her predecessor Tess Garrett, who helped us with Session 1 before entrusting us to do Session 2 on our own. If any aspect of my first summer as Camp Director can be called a success, the credit is likely due to Tess and Adrienne. I frequently find myself receiving praise that should be theirs, and though I will cheerfully accept it (because who doesn’t love to be praised?), I am always aware that I owe everything to their dedicated, consistent, and tireless work behind the scenes.

 

3. Don’t attempt to solve problems you don’t understand; or, never ever force teenagers to do a staged reading of Henry VIII. Especially not twice.

2016 marks 19 summers of the ASC Theatre Camp (including YCTC sessions — the camp’s previous moniker was “Young Company Theatre Camp”) and the Education team had fomented big plans for our almost-vicennial. The idea cooked up in 2015 was that in 2016, camp would add a two-week college session in May, before the usual three-week sessions intended for high schoolers. These college campers would audition and be cast ahead of time in order to arrive off-book for a Renaissance-style rehearsal experience culminating in a performance of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s collaborative play King Henry VIII. This college session production, along with the high school session productions of Henry VI, Part 2 and King John, would unlock a significant achievement in the world of Shakespearean theatre: it would complete the canon. That means that in the 19 summers of its existence, the ASC Theatre Camp has managed to produce at least one performance of every single play (reasonably) attributed to Shakespeare. (Get out of here, Sir Thomas More, nobody invited you. You too, Arden of Faversham. And take Edward III with you!) How exciting! In anticipation of the milestone, all of the marketing materials for ASCTC 2016 proudly trumpeted this achievement by inviting potential campers to come “complete the canon at camp!”

liablog6This is all well and good, but the idea remained just that: an idea. When I began part-time work in the position in February, the only tangible developments toward this canon-completing college session were an empty Applications folder and those ambitious flyers. Cutting the college session was a difficult decision with many factors behind it — too many for me to explore now — but it had to happen. It would never have been a big deal if one little thing hadn’t needled me endlessly: without the college session, we had no camp production if Henry VIII. Without a camp production of Henry VIII, camp would not complete the canon (to my particular standards) in the summer of 2016. Not a big deal in itself — if we hadn’t put it all over our marketing material, essentially turning us into big fat canon-uncompleting liars.

Solution! I thought. Camp always features a mid-session performance of some sort, usually a showcase of scenes with elements of music, dance, and combat, though the format had never been definitively set. How about we do a staged reading of Henry VIII? It can have all the benefits of a full (hour-long) production with a professional director without any additional line memorization! I hired two more directors, crossed “canon completion?” off my list, and promptly moved on to the next task. I also congratulated myself on being so clever.

liablog7

Session 2 H8 director Patrick Harris teaching his cast some choreography, or leading the campers in a robust round of applause in response to my aforementioned cleverness? You be the judge.

I didn’t think about how hard it would be for campers to “showcase” any sort of talent while holding scripts in hand. I didn’t think about how Henry VIII, with its baffling plot, unusual character development, and relentlessly plodding grandiose speeches, might be ill-suited to the staged reading medium. I definitely didn’t think about the logistics of putting all of the campers into one play — in their main shows, the cast size is between 10-13 — with only a director, no assistants or stage managers, and with every camper required to attend all 20 hours of rehearsal. It was hard enough for the twenty-one campers in session 1, and it only got harder for the thirty-eight of them in session 2.

liablog8

Session 1 H8 director Merlyn Q. Sell in rehearsal with her cast.

Credit where credit is due: directors Merlyn Sell and Patrick Harris each did an excellent job with the impossible task I gave them. Some of the campers enjoyed the experience, and in many ways, we all benefited from the experience. But in the terms of the goals we want this mid-session show to accomplish, I failed miserably — though I definitely learned a valuable lesson. Let’s just say that ASCTC 2017 will look mighty different in this regard.

4. I am definitely in the right job.

Running camp was hard.

liablog9

Me again, leading a rhetoric workshop for campers in Session 2.

Frustrations and anxiety and fear were ever-present: the fear of failure, the anxiety of ineptitude, the frustration of incompetence.

I messed up a bit in some ways and messed up a lot in others. I never got enough sleep. I often felt like I was failing my staff, failing my campers, and failing their parents. Many times throughout the summer I wondered whether the reward of succeeding at my Real World job and legitimizing my Adulthood status would be worth the day-to-day struggles of being responsible for the world of camp. It’s a world that doesn’t make much sense, filled with impressive and impressionable young artists who look to you for guidance while their concerned parents question everything you do. Camp doesn’t care that you haven’t slept in 32 hours — if you turn your back on those impressive and impressionable young artists, you’ll turn back around to find them 40 feet up in a tree. With sleep deprivation, impostor syndrome, and no formal job training (outside of the five years of interning and three degrees in Shakespeare), I often felt as though I was being held hostage in the world of my own creation by the drunken toddlers I had invited to populate it.

Fortunately, as it turns out, that is exactly the kind of world in which I thrive. For all their tree-climbing and H8-hating, every single one of the fifty-nine campers I worked with this summer gave me countless reminders of why it is I love what I do with such a suffering, with such a deadly life, that in existing without it I would find no sense. I would not understand it. The campers come to Staunton to learn what I love to teach. They have no settled judgments, no points to prove, no professional agendas they need to forward. They come to explore things I know in a way I’ve forgotten, and it’s a joy and a privilege to explore with them.

liablog12

Session 1 campers rehearsing a scene from Henry VI, Part 2.

They asked tough questions. They tried new things boldly and with full spirit — or, sometimes, with only a small amount of coaxing. Sometimes they would burst into song as a group, often while following me through the streets of Staunton to wherever the next activity would be taking place, suddenly giving me my own theme song (usually “Bohemian Rhapsody”). They told me how camp changed them for the better, how they’ll never forget it, how they can’t wait to come back — and they thank me for that, as if their journey of self-discovery is somehow my doing. They are worth every sleepless night spent squinting at convoluted budget spreadsheets and questioning my self worth as a human being due to my inability to correctly calculate credit card fees.

I love what I do. Had frenetically enthusiastic, late-chronotype, generally bewildered Young Lia known that the Real World included jobs like running the ASC Theatre Camp, I think she would have been a lot less trepidatious about stepping into that Real World. I have a lot to learn — and that’s okay. I had fifty-nine amazing teachers this summer, and I can’t wait to learn whatever the campers at ASCTC 2017 will undoubtedly teach me.

–Lia Wallace
ASC College Prep Programs Manager

liablog13

Session 1 Final Group Shot – Photo by Lindsey Walters | Miscellaneous Media Photography

Guest Post: Thou Art Translated: Magic and Meaning in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

During the month of June, ASC Education is featuring the shows of our 2015-2016 Artistic Year in a series of guest posts!

A Midsummer Nights’ Dream appeared in our 2015 Summer-Fall Season. Lia Fisher-Janosz is a forensics coach and drama teacher at the Overbrook School in Nashville, Tennessee.


Thou Art Translated: Magic and Meaning in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by Lia Fisher-Janosz

How are magic and meaning made? Why are magic and meaning made? The answers to these questions stand at the center of Shakespeare’s magnificent play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the search for the answers was (at least in part) what the American Shakespeare Center’s 2015 production and a related Fall Teacher’s Seminar were about.

MIDSUMMER-60

Gregory Jon Phelps as Nick Bottom, 2015. Picture by Lindsey Walters.

Our search took us directly into the text itself, as one might guess.  It is in many ways a triune entity; in its one world are three, those of the would-be thespians or “rude mechanicals,” the court and the lovers, and the fairies.  When the boundaries between these three worlds start to cross and blur, magic has either just occurred or is about to do so; at the very root of this phenomenon is not a what, but a where—the wood.

With Director of Education Sarah Enloe and Academic Resources Manager Cass Morris leading us into the forest and back again, we started on the first day by considering the concept of actors playing actors and some insights that can be gleaned (and even some insults that can be gleeked) from the characterizations of the “hard-handed men.”  Next, we explored the traditions associated with courtship and match-making in the Elizabethan era, and we found our perspectives and assumptions somewhat challenged. From there, on the second day, we went on to explore how Shakespeare wrote, and with what purpose (tetrameter=magic!).  Finally, our journey culminated in a visit with Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, the ASC’s founder and Director of Mission, and also the director of the ASC’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which we had the distinct pleasure of seeing later that afternoon.  Dr. Ralph’s direction gave a nostalgic nod to the charm and delight of cinema’s earlier days—magic-within-magic-within-magic, via movies-within-plays-within-plays.  He explained why he made some of the choices he did, but also focused on the prevalence and importance of invisibility in directing and teaching Dream (and in the play itself), and upon what he believes is the “heart of his [Shakespeare’s] mystery,” Titania’s speech about her votaress.

If you thought to read of everything we listened to or learned or loved, know that I will not be the one to fetch and deliver to you such trifles and rich merchandise; for as Walt Whitman wrote:  “Not I, not anyone else can travel that road for you, you must travel it for yourself…You are also asking me questions and I hear you, I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself.”  I give just a glimpse, and tantalizing it is, to my way of thinking.

MIDSUMMER-56

John Harrell and Sarah Fallon as Oberon and Titania, 2015. Picture by Lindsey Walters.

Ah yes, thinking!  The workshops and performances held at the American Shakespeare Center make you think; they literally provoke thoughts not previously stirred and rouse the imagination from slumber into waking dream.  In this instance, I was prompted into a positively frenetic tarantella of ideas during the ride home from Staunton, one that included, among other things: impressions of Helena, Hermia, and Hippolyta each being a face of the Triple Goddess, for how could it be coincidental that all three names begin with the same letter, also the letter with which the name of a goddess of the moon commences? (the moon, which happens to be mentioned more in A Midsummer Night’s Dream than in any other Shakespearean play); the notion of the entire play being a “dream sequence,” sprung forth from one of Bottom’s fantastical nocturnal illusions; and theories about who the changeling boy really is, and the arrival at the decision that he must be one and the same as that boy who’s perjured everywhere: Love.  Whether or not any of these perceptions hold any weight or water is irrelevant; the point is that they were inspired in the first place.  Dr. Ralph mentioned during the course of our discourse that the play “is about the great gift of the theatre.”  Inextricably linked to this gift is another, freely given by Shakespeare and by the ASC and indeed by all who participate in the theatrical experience, and this is the gift of inspiration, and of communal magic.

Now I’ve touched that standing center stone and found that what’s in hand is gold.  So, what were and are the answers to those questions, then?  How are magic and meaning made?  In sooth, I know only what I myself think the answers are.

The words magic and imagination share the same ancestors:  the (Old) Persian maguš, the Greek magikē, and the late Latin magica, which refer to those mysteries that are part and parcel of the art of the magi, or sorcerer.  Magic and meaning related to it are created by and in the human mind, birthed by the imagination and the intellect, which bring about the enchantment and understanding within and without.  In the case of Shakespeare’s plays, and those who perform and watch them, the enchantment and the making of meaning occur through the written and spoken word, and the spell is mutually cast.  Why are the magic and meaning made?  To paraphrase Dead Poets Society’s John Keating:  we make them because we are members of the human race.  We simply must.

James Joyce—himself an admirer of Shakespeare who loved the Bard’s “radiance of language”—wrote that “we’re all fools in God’s garden.”  We are all just as foolish—and as wise—in Shakespeare’s woods, and a little bit of Nicholas Bottom lives in each of us, Everyman that he is.  If this be true, then it’s we who are translated, transformed utterly by the magic that is worked on us and in us by this play.  Better still, we aren’t lost in translation, but found.

Guest Post: The Real Magic of ‘The Tempest’

During the month of June, ASC Education is featuring the shows of our 2015-2016 Artistic Year in a series of guest posts!

The Tempest appeared in our 2016 Actors’ Renaissance Season. Patrick Midgley is an actor who has worked with the ASC both in residence and on tour, a personal trainer, and a director who just opened his first show at Hoosier Shakes.


The Real Magic of The Tempest
by Patrick Midgley

At the 2015 Blackfriars Conference, Jeremy Lopez began his presentation with a refreshingly abrupt thesis: “Really good stuff happens in Act Three, Scene One.”

The audience burst into applause.

But Dr. Lopez was not satisfied.  If you assert that Shakespeare follows any kind of rule, you’re in for trouble, and Dr. Lopez knew this.  Shakespeare writes in iambic pentameter, sure, and that’s a fixed and regular pattern: a rule for writing.  But when Shakespeare breaks his rules — or follows someone else’s, seemingly inexplicably — that’s when the really really good stuff happens.  He takes rules, genres, and styles and transforms them into something new, something entirely his own.  Something sublime.

So Dr. Lopez’s presentation began by examining the exceptions to the “Good-Stuff-In-Three-One” Rule.  He looked at plays like Othello, where in 3.1 a clown — heretofore unnoticed, and conspicuously out of place — enters and cajoles the audience into making bonfires.  Antony and Cleopatra served as another exception: there, 3.1 is a rather unremarkable scene starring Ventidius, Silius and a dead Pacorus in which the two living characters debate the merits of remaining unremarkable when you’re under the employ of remarkable men.  In As You Like It, you’d expect to find Jaques’s “All the world’s a stage” speech, but instead you find a discordant scene between Duke Frederick and Oliver, in which the Duke commands Oliver to find Orlando and bring him to court, dead or alive.  Dr. Lopez suggested that 3.1s that aren’t “really good” are worth considering, because they often serve as the world in which the play could or should exist: the calm and rational 3.1 between Cleomenes and Dion, for example, which starkly contrasts Leontes irrational, tyrannical court.

But what about the 3.1s that don’t challenge Dr. Lopez’s rule?  The ones where “really good stuff” really does happen?  As I sat listening to Dr. Lopez’s presentation, I recalled all the 3.1s that I had experienced at the American Shakespeare Center.

During the 2011 Hamlet, I sat backstage and listened to John Harrell deliver Shakespeare’s most famous speech: “To be, or not to be”.  During the 2014 Macbeth, I played the First Murderer to James Keegan’s daunting Thane and agreed to murder Banquo and his son Fleance.  And most recently, in the 2015 Midsummer, I stood behind a curtain in the musicians’ balcony, twirling a whirligig while Rick Blunt’s Puck ambushed the Mechanicals’ rehearsal.

Henry V’s 3.1 begins with “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more, / Or close the walls up with our English dead!” In Love’s Labour’s Lost, Berowne discovers, to his horror, that he is head over heels in love, and in Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice realizes the same.  In The Merry Wives of Windsor’s 3.1, Falstaff finds a way to use a buck basket as a getaway vehicle.  King Lear’s 3.1 is the storm.  If you’re going to fall in love, take an impossible risk, or give a great speech, 3.1 is the place to do it.

5943895140_43286861df_oBut there was one 3.1 that transformed the way I look at Shakespeare and acting more than any other scene.  It was one of the most terrifying and rewarding scenes I’ve ever played because it was one of the simplest.  All I had to do was look a beautiful girl in the eye and convince her that I loved her with all my heart, soul, mind, and body.

There’s nowhere to hide in a scene like that.  You’re either true or false.

That particular 3.1 was in The Tempest.

The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s later plays, probably his last solo effort, and it falls into a category that modern scholars call Romances.  The ASC has staged two of Shakespeare’s Romances at the Blackfriars Playhouse  in the last two years: Pericles, starring Greg Phelps in the title role, and The Winter’s Tale, starring James Keegan as Leontes and Abbie Hawk as Hermione.

If you saw either of those plays, Shakespeare’s “rules” for a Romance will be familiar to you.  First, there is a potentially tragic event introduced early in Act 1: remember the threat of Antiochus’s “public war or private treason” in Pericles, or Leontes’ sudden fit of jealousy in The Winter’s Tale.  So something bad happens.

Don’t worry!  The “something bad” gets tied up by Act 5, but there’s a hitch: it all hinges on a very, very unlikely act of forgiveness or reunion between family members.  Remember how impossible it seemed that Thaisa (Sara Hymes) and Pericles (Gregg Phelps) could ever be reunited?  She had presumably died in childbirth and then been cast into the ocean in a sealed coffin, only to be resurrected by Cerimon’s magic, and then hidden away as a priestess in Diane’s temple in Ephesus.  But somehow, thanks to the gods’ (eventual) kindness and Pericles’s silent strength, the two find each other once again.  And then there’s Leontes, perhaps most unlikely of all: he has to  first forgive himself and then be forgiven by his best friend, his wife, and his daughter for an unforgivable act of tyrannous cruelty.  The reward for his redemption comes through Paulina’s patient magic — or,to put it another way, through her potent art.

So while you might guess that the “Romance” plays are more about the young lovers, they’re actually more focused on redemption and reconciliation.  In fact, the real heroes of the Romances are older characters like Paulina and Pericles whose superpowers are patience and endurance.  And while you might guess that because Shakespeare wrote Romances later in his career, he’d be more likely to ignore classical plot structures, Shakespeare seems to become more interested in structure as he matures.

Both Pericles and The Winter’s Tale challenge the audience to keep up with an almost impossible structure.  In Pericles, Shakespeare swiftly cuts across Antioch, Tyre, Tarsus, Ephesus, Pentapolis, and the Mediterranean Sea (got all that?).  And in The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare swiftly cuts across sixteen years just a few lines–and you’re encouraged to go with it by none other than the living embodiment of Time Itself.

Neither of these gambles sounds like something that “should” work on stage.  But they do, beautifully so, and the reason is twofold: (1) Shakespeare trusts your imagination to do the work, and (2) Shakespeare is the greatest playwright the world has ever seen.

Those two things are probably related.

The Romances are as vast as a human lifespan.  It’s as if, late in his career, Shakespeare was beginning to fit the enormity of human life to the endless possibilities presented by a theatre of the imagination.  He was celebrating the fact that the theatre could do anything with the help of an audience–fly across the world or resurrect the dead, for example– and suggesting that the perhaps the most important thing we can do is to learn to forgive each other.

The Tempest mostly follows the rules of the Romances.  It’s a play about monsters and magic, storms and shipwrecks, the savagery of nature and the ultimate power of forgiveness.  There’s a musical fairy who can turn himself into fire and lightning, a cast-away court of conspiracists, drunk clowns, and a dance party hosted by goddesses.  With all that magic and splendor and supernatural ceremony, can you imagine how incredible 3.1 must be?  It’s Shakespeare’s big finale, and the stage is set for the most miraculous scene ever seen.  And here’s how it starts:

Enter FERDINAND, bearing a log.

Not quite what you were expecting, is it?

5943901856_aec2e13c9d_o

The Tempest’s 3.1 is a quiet, sincere love scene between Miranda and Ferdinand.  In the exact center of the play — its very heart — the clouds part, the monsters hide, and even the most mighty magician in the whole world has to sit quietly and watch.  Two young people who think they might love each other encounter each other, alone for the very first time, and tell each other how they feel.  They talk about what they’re afraid of.  They talk about what they hope for.  And they talk about how beautiful the other one is.

MIRANDA
Do you love me?

FERDINAND
O heaven, O earth, bear witness to this sound
And crown what I profess with kind event
If I speak true! if hollowly, invert
What best is boded me to mischief! I
Beyond all limit of what else i’ the world
Do love, prize, honour you.

MIRANDA
I am a fool
To weep at what I am glad of.

This is real magic.  No spell in Prospero’s book or magical feat performed by Ariel can make these two people fall in love and begin the long, hard, wonderful journey of a shared life.  It’s up to them.  They choose it.

Of all Shakespeare’s magnificent, brilliant, and bottomless 3.1s, this is my favorite.  When I played Ferdinand to Miriam Donald Burrows beautiful, feisty, sincere, and hilarious Miranda in 2011, I had only to look her in the eye and speak the truth to her.  It reminded me that acting in Shakespeare’s plays can be an expression of our noblest selves.

Shakespeare has always made me want to be a better person and reminded me of what is most important in my life.  I hope you’ll come back this winter and see two new people play Ferdinand and Miranda.  I’ll be playing the sea monster and not the prince for this go-around.  I hope you’ll love it.  Because, after all, really good stuff really does happen in 3.1.

Guest Post: Delightfully Ridiculous: Recovering the Joy in ‘Midsummer’

During the month of June, ASC Education is featuring the shows of our 2015-2016 Artistic Year in a series of guest posts!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream appeared in our 2015 Fall Season. Kate Powers is a director who has worked with the ASC multiple times; her most recent project was directing Twelfth Night at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility. This article first appeared in the 2015 Summer-Fall edition of the Playhouse Insider.


Delightfully Ridiculous: Recovering the Joy in Midsummer
by Kate Powers

When Artistic Director Jim Warren first invited me to return to the ASC to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the 2011-2012 Almost Blasphemy Tour, my heart broke just a little because I love Love LOVE working at the ASC, but I was not especially keen to direct this particular play.

Midsummer is notoriously easy to stage badly; actors and directors frequently get sucked into a misapprehension that if they just put all those rhyming couplets to work, it will be funny.  Midsummer is nearly all in rhymed couplets, which means two successive lines of verse where the final words rhyme with one another.

6426997723_75d53b5270_oIt looks like this.  Better yet, read this aloud to yourself so you can hear it:

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.  (1.2)

Or,

The King doth keep his revels here tonight;
Take heed the Queen come not within his sight;  (2.1)

In fact, if the actors do hit all those rhymes as hard as they can, they fairly quickly stop making any sense, in part because they very often also fall into one steady rhythm once they set their sails toward all those rhymes.  The actors start playing the gist of the speech, rather than fighting for what they want, line by line, word by specific word.  Then they have to create a lot of stage business to cover the fact that they don’t completely understand what they are saying, and before anyone realizes it (indeed, no one may ever realize it), the audience is laughing in spite of Shakespeare rather than with Shakespeare.  Directors also often decide that the way to create fairy magic is to use a lot of glitter instead of using the language that Shakespeare gives to the Fairies themselves.

I’ve seen many mediocre productions of the play where the actors bang mercilessly on the rhyme, slaves (not collaborators) to the iamb; where Titania and Oberon declaim rather than act; where Puck is just odd without paying attention to the clues in the text.  John Barton, director and brains behind the BBC Channel 4 Playing Shakespeare series, said, “Blank verse is probably the very centre of the Elizabethan tradition and perhaps the most important thing in Shakespeare that an actor .  .  .  needs to get help from.” As I dove headlong into my preparation and research, I discovered that there were certain speeches or moments in the play that I couldn’t recall ever seeing staged to my satisfaction.  These moments of disappointment became the kernel of my approach to directing the play.  I was determined to revivify these moments, to make them active, to make them cohere and, yes, jump.

As I worked with the actors playing Titania and Oberon to eschew magical, breathy, glitter-infused Liv Tyler / Middle Earth declamation in favor of using their heightened language as well as their full voices to passionately pursue what they want from one another, to fight like hell for what they want, as I collaborated with the actors playing the four lovers to discover how each character uses the language differently to achieve their desires, as we all dove into the world of the play, I discovered that I am not anything like bored with this nearly perfect play.  On the contrary, the reason we keep doing it is because it is so good.  I was blaming the faults of myriad productions on the play itself.  My rehearsal process at the ASC, while seeking to recover the joy for the audiences around the country, helped me to recover the joy, too.

Part of the director’s task is to ask what the play is about, to ask how each scene illuminates that ‘about’ and to collaborate with the actors to mine the text for meaning.  Directing is discovering the staging that embodies that textual understanding.  Director Richard Eyre writes, “Meaning above all.”

6427176803_ba916f1726_oWhen she first encounters Oberon, Titania has a 32-line speech that teems with adjectives and classical references; she berates Oberon for all the ways in which the natural course of human and animal life as well as the seasons have been disrupted because she blames him for the disturbances.  It is not a glittery, breathy weather report; it is not just pretty speech.  It is a scathing indictment of the tension between them:

                     … The spring, the summer
The childing autumn, angry winter, change
Their wonted liveries; and the mazed world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which.
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension.  (2.1)

Titania is angry with her husband.  They are having a fight.  This is not time to breathily declaim and bat her beglittered lashes.  She needs to rally all the points that will help her win the argument and cause him to amend his ways.  And while she doesn’t win, per se, she angers Oberon further as they argue.  It is out of this fight, and her refusal to give him something he wants, that his plan to “torment thee for thy injury” grows.  Titania and Oberon’s lovers’ quarrel mirrors and refracts the passions, misunderstandings, hurt, anger, and jealousy that we see in the four young Athenian lovers, that we glimpse in Theseus and Hippolyta, and that Bottom, Peter Quince, and their company inadvertently lampoon in their play.  If we miss the fight, we might miss the resonance as well as the motor of the action.  And if the actor declaims prettily rather than using these words to fight for what she needs, then we will certainly miss the fight.

Harley Granville Barker, a director, Shakespeare scholar, and clever redhead, wrote, “Let us humbly own how hard it is not to write nonsense about art.”  He wrote this in his preface to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is a kind of nonsense that becomes art.  In no particular order, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is love, sex, wooing, (spoiler alert!) wedding, upsetting one’s parents, taking the occasional woman by storm (or at least by conquest), magic, moonlight, misunderstanding, transformation, and all the domains that there adjacent lie.

It is easy to get cynical about producing A Midsummer Night’s Dream or A Christmas Carol, but we don’t just produce them because they make for good box office.  Unpack that cashbox a minute:  people buy tickets to these plays because they love them.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream is gateway Shakespeare:  if people have a ‘helpless laughter, tears of joy streaming down their face’ experience with this play, they’ll come back to see more challenging pieces.

We love this play, we produce this play, we come see this play because of the rich and multi-faceted ways in which it shows us how ridiculous we are and how essential love is.  Through the four social strata of the play (aristocracy, gentry, laborers, and immortals), we discover a sense of wonder, a sense of play, the fragile relationship between order and chaos, the danger inherent in passions suppressed or denied.  Through the very structure of his language – from rhymed couplets to blank verse to intense shared verse lines and back again — Shakespeare shows us relationships fraying and fracturing, recovering and healing.

Many of us have made impulsively bad decisions in pursuit of love; we can probably all remember foolishness once upon a summer night.  Helena’s fairly clear-eyed, for instance, about the rose-colored glasses she wears for Demetrius:

Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love can transform to form and dignity,   (1.1)

but Helena wants Demetrius back so intensely that she is willing to risk her best friend’s life on one last chance at love.  Titania loves Oberon, but she’s not about to give him that changeling boy; petulant Oberon is quite prepared to force her hand by whatever magical means necessary.

6427059901_0a3e6521cb_oDreams can be wonderful stuff, but they often careen out of control.  Moonlight can be romantic, but it casts shadows.  Both can skew our perceptions in alarming ways, firing our imaginations to suspect the worst, the sexiest, the cruelest, the most frightening.  The line between a dream and a nightmare can be thin and full of fissures.  Is it a nightmare because it ends badly or wakes you with a start?  Does it remain a dream because it has a happy ending?  When or how does it cross over from one to the other?  A happily moonlit playground and a dark, scary forest can be bordered by the same trees.

Dreams and nightmares are both difficult to recall in sharp detail upon waking, drifting ephemerally away as one struggles to remember.  Like snowflakes and productions of Midsummer, no two are quite alike.  The four Athenian lovers and Titania come to a new understanding through their experiences in the forest; they find their way to a new or restored love, even as they strive to recall the details.  Bottom seems happily unaware of his transformation, but his company’s performance of Pyramus & Thisbe casts into relief all of the heated emotions of the forest journey.  For all of the strife, upset and discord, no one has died; no one grieves.  The “story of the night told over /… grows to something of great constancy.”  (5.1)

The churlish Samuel Pepys saw a production of this play in 1662, and observed in his diary: “To the King’s Theatre where we saw Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life.”  The play is ridiculous, but we hope it is delightfully so, and filled with the rich complexity, wonder and joy of new love discovered and old love savored.

Guest Post: Theatrical Duality: On- and Off-Stage in ‘Julius Caesar’

During the month of June, ASC Education is featuring the shows of our 2015-2016 Artistic Year in a series of guest posts!

Julius Caesar has been a part of our Dangerous Dreams tour and the 2016 Spring Season, closing this week. It also featured in 2015’s ASC Theatre Camp. Ellis Sargeant is an ASCTC alumnus and a student at Saint Joseph’s Preparatory School.


Theatrical Duality: On- and Off-Stage in Julius Caesar
by Ellis Sargeant

A hush falls over the crowd, a low chant rises from the discovery space, and the cast strides onto the stage. Julius Caesar begins.

We arrived at camp three weeks earlier, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to take on whatever challenges we encountered for the next three weeks. The murky cloud of untold possibilities facing us was the same one that the characters of Julius Caesar grapple with.

Both the journey of our production and the play itself begin with tension. We walked into auditions excited and anxious, hesitant and eager, with anticipation for a future we could not see. We took our seats, hearts pounding, and waited to audition in front of our directors and peers. Likewise, in Caesar the Roman senators walk the streets, excited and fearful, with anticipation for a future with Caesar as king. They sit in the Senate, hearts pounding, and wait for Caesar to inch closer to ending the Republic. Both of these tense moments are preamble leading up to the main action: at our auditions, our play hadn’t yet begun, and in Caesar, the senators’ worry is the backdrop to the play’s opening. This duality of on and off-stage experience is something that echoed throughout our exploration of the play.

Julius Caesar is a play draped in background. The play only makes sense in light of Roman history and culture. All of the characters’ choices are inseparably tied to their idealistic view of Rome. Each character in the play is convinced that Rome is the greatest city in the world, that it represents what is good in humanity. Conflict arises over that definition of “good.”

Our rehearsal process opened with a read through. We needed to get a feel for our characters in order to begin exploring the play. Similarly, the play opens with Flavius and Marullus giving background. Shakespeare needs to provide his audience with a feel for the wars that have just ended and the current political situation. Our cast then moved into rehearsing our first scenes. The plebeians party, Caesar strides onstage, and finally only Brutus and Cassius are left. We stand onstage, facing each other and the end of Rome as we know it.

Caesar is a play about the state versus the personal. Every character has to weigh what Rome itself is worth and what they would be willing to sacrifice to preserve Rome. Happiness? Security? Their own lives? The life of a best friend?

We faced similar questions during camp: What are the actors willing to sacrifice for the sake of our play? How much sleep will you give up to learn your lines? How much pride will you swallow to accept your director’s notes? How much of yourself will you give, every day, to your fellow actors and the work you are doing together?

Caesar is a play about intense decisions and life-changing events. Every conspirator has to make the decision to kill Caesar, but how do they decide? Some hate Caesar; one loves him; some love Rome; some only love themselves. The same is true for us actors. What motivates us to come to rehearsal every day and give our best? Do we come because we want applause, or do we come to build something beautiful with our castmates?

Caesar is a play about violence and chaos. It examines why people react with such anger and aggression. Retaliation, revenge, bloodlust, it’s all there. Underneath the exterior of every noble Roman is the potential for a butcher.

In the second week of rehearsal, we played a game. Our director gave us foam swords and had everyone form a circle around two people who are fencing; the first to three points wins. Then he took it up a notch, instead of three points, we fought to the death, actually acting out our wounds. Terrifyingly easily, even with foam swords, we were driven towards our killer instinct. In just a few short minutes, I went from mild-mannered camper to deadly hunter.

After the death of Caesar, Mark Antony gives the famous “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” speech as a eulogy for Caesar, but what he really wants to do is drive the plebeians into a frenzy. He wants them to become a mob of rage and grief that he can direct at the conspirators. He takes ordinary people and fills them with enough rage that they murder a man just for having the same name as a conspirator. Antony taps into their killer instinct through grief and turns them into a frenzied mob.

Caesar is a play about justice, war, and conflict. Right before the war, Brutus and Cassius have an argument that almost turns deadly. They argue about whether they can compromise on the ideals that justify their murder of Caesar. Cassius wants to excuse an officer for taking bribes because it is impractical to punish him. Brutus refuses to accept that. He argues that they cannot claim they murdered Caesar for a higher good if they can’t stick to those ideals. When does a just war stop being just? When does turning a blind eye negate our ideals? How can we reconcile our ideals with pragmatism? Actors face questions not about war, but about ego: When is an idea worth fighting for? When do I have to set my own pride aside for the good of the cast? When do we have to sacrifice a concept because of the limitations of time and space that we have at camp?

Caesar is a play about duality. Although the first half may be what everyone remembers, there is an entire war after Caesar’s death and the funeral orations. Thus, there’s a story that everyone remembers and a story that everyone forgets. There is also a duality in our perception of the characters Brutus and Cassius. Even though Shakespeare gives them a fair treatment and shows the reasons why they chose to kill Caesar, throughout the Renaissance they were hated. In Dante’s Inferno, Dante places them as two of only four people evil enough to be in the final circle of Hell, along with Satan and Judas. Their struggles, their stories were largely forgotten outside of their role in Caesar’s death. Thanks to Shakespeare, in modern times, we remember the ideals they struggled for and not just their monstrous deed.

There is a duality to every theater production. The story that audiences see is the one that is there when the curtain opens, not the one that is played out in the rehearsal process. That behind-the-scenes story is full of struggle and failure and pain as well as fun and success and joy. Our audience never sees us arguing about our opening song or wondering if we would be able to pull it all together in time. Our families don’t know that one cast member became gravely ill during the curtain call. They also didn’t hear the actors playing with their stage daggers and yelling “Stabby STABBY!” or see our director launch into an impassioned ten minute rant about the problems with the Game of Thrones series. We could only give the audience one glimpse of all the work and love that went into our play, and one chance to see the conflicts and questions of the world through Shakespeare’s eyes for a single glorious hour on a Sunday afternoon as we strode onto the stage and performed Julius Caesar.

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Liveblogging Masterlist

29_Friday-Afternoon-Paper-and-Staging-Sessions

Photo by Miscellaneous Media Photography

Wednesday, 10/28
Wake-Up Workshop: Cue Scripts
Colloquy I: Audience and the Actor
Colloquy II: History Plays
Colloquy III: Cultural Appropriation
Colloquy IV: Bilingual Shakespeare
Colloquy V: Asides and Villiany
Colloquy VI: Shakespeare’s Life and Times: Contributing Context
Welcome and Keynote Address: Paul Prescott: The Life, Adventures, and Opinions of Sam Wanamaker
Plenary I: Lars Engle, Alice Dailey, Amy Grubbs, Richard Priess, Tiffany Stern, James Keegan
Plenary II: Anthony Patricia, Stephen Purcell, Nick Hutchison, Jess Hamlet, Sid Ray, Catherine Loomis
Plenary III: Jeanne McCarthy, Ann Thompson, Kerry Cooke, Shannon Kelley, Sarah Neville, Paige Reynolds

Thursday, 10/29
Wake-Up Workshop: ROADS to Rhetoric
Plenary IV: Jesse Chu, Lauren Shepherd, Sarah B T Thiel, Claire Bourne, Claire Kimball
Keynote Address: Ayanna Thompson: Reading Backwards from Morrison to Shakespeare: Desdemona/Othello
Lunch and Learn: Meet and Drink with MBC Shakespeare and Performance
Plenary V: Elizabeth Sharret, Jeremy Lopez, James Seth, Nell McKeown and Stephanie Donowho, William Proctor Williams, Peter Kanelos
Plenary VI: Amanda Zoch, Bob Jones, Dan Venning, Melissa Aaron, Patrick Midgley, Matt Kozusko
Staging Session: Caroline Latta and Kevin Quarmby

Friday, 10/30
Wake-Up Workshop: Textual Variants
Colloquy VIII: Practical Rhetoric
Colloquy XIII: Magic in the Early Modern Stage
Colloquy XIV: Political Wisdom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Antony and Cleopatra, The Winter’s Tale, and 1 Henry VI
Colloquy XV: Mediating Music in Middleton’s The Witch
Keynote Address: Gina Bloom
: Every Body Can Act: Reclaiming Histrionic Gesture through the Digital Theatre Game Play the Knave
Honorific for Barbara Mowat
Plenary VII: Joseph Stephenson, Patricia Wareh, Katherine Schaap Williams, Peter Hyland, Julie Simon, Gretchen Minton
Staging Session: Tina Packer and James Loehlin
Plenary VIII: Neil Vallelly, Holly Pickett, Musa Gurnis, Marie Knowlton, Adam Zucker, Jennifer Holl

32_Friday-Afternoon-Paper-and-Staging-Sessions

Photo by Miscellaneous Media Photography

Saturday, 10/31
Wake-Up Workshop: Audience Contact
Plenary IX: Danielle Rosvally, Niamh O’Leary, Zoe Hudson, Thomas Ward, Genevieve Love, Spencer K Wall
Keynote Address: Tim Carroll: Confessions of an Iambic Fundamentalist
Lunch and Learn: Masters of the Space
Plenary X: Maryam Zomorodian, Katherine Mayberry, Nova Myhill, Michael Wagoner, Adam Miller-Batteau
Plenary XI: Abigail Montgomery, Alan Armstrong, Steven Urkowitz, Travis Curtwright, Eric M. Johnson, Don Hedrick

Sunday, 11/1
Colloquy XVII: Teaching Shakespeare as an Integrated Process
Colloquy XVIII: Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Playhouse: The Study, the Stage, and the Classroom
Colloquy XIX: Staging Questions with Actors
Brunch and Buck Fizzies: The Body’s Knowledge
Scenes from Tate’s LEAR: Scholar/Practitioner Collaboration with Tiffany Stern and Hidden Room Theatre

A Special Note from ASC Director of Education Sarah Enloe

Blogger Bios

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Scenes from Tate’s LEAR: Scholar/Practitioner Collaboration with Tiffany Stern and Hidden Room Theatre

Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare & Performance Director Paul Menzer introduced Tiffany Stern of Oxford University to speak of her work on Tate’s Restoration Version of Shakespeare’s “King Lear.”  In her brief introduction to the Hidden Room Theatre’s performance on the Blackfriars Playhouse stage, Professor Stern explained to the audience that her work includes both scholarly study as well as that of study in performance.

Nahum Tate undertook his adaptation of “King Lear” in 1681, Professor Stern informed her listeners, because he found Shakespeare’s tragedy “too tragic and upsetting” for his audience.  He removed the character of the Fool from the play for being “vulgar.”  He sanitized motivations and actions in Shakespeare’s play and “cleaned up” the verse, to make it “beautiful” in accordance with his aesthetic and puritanical values.   His version held sway on the stage over Shakespeare’s original “Lear” for one hundred and fifty years. This bowdlerized version is the one that made America take to Shakespeare in the first place, Professor Stern informed her audience.  She added jovially, “So, remember that!”

Restoration movement has a very different feel from Early Modern Theater, Professor Stern continued. It sought for an “elegant, beautiful” performance style in an effort to edify the audience. She relied upon illustrations of Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century gestures, paintings and drawings for her research. The audience would get to see these gestures in practice momentarily.  Nahum Tate’s practices and his “improved” version raise a number of questions concerning adaptation, both of “Lear” and other Early Modern dramatic works as well as those of other periods and styles.

Professor Stern then introduced the Hidden Room Theatre Company in a dress rehearsal performance of Tate’s version of “Lear.” She qualified what her audience would witness presently with a kind of apologia: “This is a skeleton crew,” of the full company production, she explained, shortly before the troupe of Restoration period-costumed actors took the stage.  Each costume was elaborate and meticulous in detail, creating spectacle which, along with the Hidden Theatre Company’s recreation of mannered performances including detailed hand gestures, faithfully represented a late Seventeenth Century theatrical experience for today’s audience.

The Hidden Room Theatre Company’s performance lasted approximately forty-five minutes and included selected scenes from Tate’s “King Lear.”  Professor Stern introduced each scene, telling her audience briefly what had transpired between scenes, helping to set the stage for the next one.  After the performance concluded, there followed a ‘Meet the Actors’ session upstairs in the Cutaia Lounge.

–Bill Leavy

Blackfriars Conference 2015: Brunch and Buck Fizzes: “The Body’s Knowledge: Merging Multiple Ways of Knowing in Shakespeare’s Plays”

Following Sunday Brunch, Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen of the American Shakespeare Centerand Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare & Performance introduced Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Company to speak about what she termed as “body knowledge” in performing Shakespeare.  Professor Packer began her presentation by leading the audience of conference attendees in a breathing exercise, instructing them to engage in breathing with “the whole of your body.” She then had her audience members take their pulses and count the number of pulses per individual breath.  The most common response from individual audience members was five heartbeats per breath.  She likened that ratio to that of iambic pentameter in a line of verse. “Iambic Pentameter is an extension of what we do in our natural state,” Professor Packer informed her listeners.  “Your body is who you are.  You are impulse with an “im-” in front of (your pulse).”  She then advised her listeners, “Remember the intelligence behind every figure of speech.”

Professor Packer applied her insights to the plays overall: “The power of the story lies in what’s going on with the storyteller or with the actor,” she said.  “The line endings in a speech reveal the speaker’s psychological development.”  Perhaps in reply to Professor Tim Carroll, Artistic Director of the Shaw Festival’s keynote address conference on the subject of Iambic Fundamentalism the day before, in which Carroll stressed that in Shakespeare as in public speaking, the speaker should not, as a matter of form, stress ‘I’ or ‘me,’ Packer in contrast, gave actors the green light to hitting ‘I’ and ‘me’ in a line as long as actors also follows up those first person descriptions by hitting the active verb in the same lines in which they appear.  She also gave a key piece of advice to actors: “To hell with the operative words!”

Professor Packer then introduced ASC actors Sarah Fallon and Allison Glenzer to play a scene from “Othello.” She set the stage by discussing how Othello’s and Desdemona’s bed sheets symbolized the couple’s (interrupted) Wedding Night.  Othello and Desdemona could not consummate their marriage on their Wedding Night, she said, because Cassio’s brawl which opens the play prevented such an event from taking place.  She then directed Glenzer, playing Othello, to slap Fallon, playing Desdemona.  Fallon’s Desdemona cried out in pain when Glenzer’s Othello struck her.  Immediately, Professor Packer surveyed the audience and asked for its response to what it just witnessed.  Several members of the audience expressed that they “felt” Desdemona’s cry of pain instead of simply having heard it.  Packer explained, “The visceral response is in the body.” She continued, “You have to get to the form before you can ever get to the content, and in Shakespeare, the silences are in the audience’s body as well as those which the actors express.”  Professor Packer elaborated how Shakespeare in his later works began to shift the characters’ emotional feeling behind the words, as well as how the line of dialogue sounded to an audience. The actor shifts the thought, intellectually and emotionally, she concluded.

Bill Leavy

Blackfriars Conference 2015 – Colloquy Session XVIII: Shakespeare’s Blackfriars Playhouse: The Study, the Stage, and the Classroom

This is Merlyn Q. Sell blogging Colloquy Session XVIII from the Blue Ridge Room at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel running from 9-10:15am.  This session is chaired by Bryan Herek.  The presenters are Jim Casey, Annalisa Castaldo, Sarah Enloe, Fiona Harris-Ramsby, Kate McPherson, and Rhonda Knight.

Before the session formally starts the presenters are engaged in a discussion of Lia Razak Wallace’s work presented earlier this work regarding the science of eye-contact between performers and audience.  Clearly Wallace’s ideas have generated a lot of excitement among conference attendees.

Herek begins by saying that today’s colloquy is a reunion of sorts for those that attended the summer 2008 NEH Institute.  There were twenty participants that included high school and college teachers.  The focus of the five week intensive was Shakespeare in the classroom.  Participants cut Antony and Cleopatra, split it into eight parts which were rehearsed in teams with ASC actors and culminated in a tag team performance.  The rigorous schedule included classes every day in the Blackfriars and the opportunity to repeatedly see the ASC productions at the time.  The Institute enriched the participants’ teaching and even resulted in McPherson’s students began an original practices company in Utah.  Knight returned to ASC for a sabbatical later on and has continually found the actor’s renaissance season style to be particularly useful in reaching her students.  Enloe stresses that providing a time constraint and the rules of original practices explodes creativity in students.  Herek finds that introducing the idea of solving “the puzzle” of particular staging moments allows students to forget the weight of Shakespeare and comprehend one individual moment and have tools to take on the next moment.  The presenters are all in agreement that having props on hand is essential to awaking students to the possibilities of the text.  Castaldo’s student body is made up primarily of engineering students and others who are taking the class for a GE requirement and aren’t able to devote the time out of class necessary to actually attempt a full performance themselves.  However, seeing the ASC renaissance season was equally fruitful for her students in linking the page to the stage.  Casey has always been invested in close reading and a focus on the text.  He finds cue scripts to be a very valuable teaching tool, though admittedly that is greatly dependent on the students.  There is a consensus among the panelists that performance in the classroom frequently fails but when it is successful it opens up the text in unique ways.

Herek stresses the significance of the pre-show music in a production.  During the Institute Herek had championed the participants to include a music pre-show in their production as well.  He’s continued to champion the pre-show with his students by not allowing them to stew backstage before performance.  He finds that the pre-show sets an environment that is key to connecting Shakespeare to things that are more familiar to his students.

McPherson and her students also took Shakespeare into the juvenile justice system.  Her students cut the scripts down to sixty minutes and they were then performed by the incarcerated boys.  McPherson and her students had to overcome the boys’ reluctance to cross-gendered casting but they frequently saw some really wonderful moments.

Herek mentions Ralph Alan Cohen’s book as being necessary as a touchstone to recall what they experienced so intensely at the Institute.  McPherson found the experience to be as exhausting as the conference but five times as long.

Casey points out the growth in his scholarship since the Institute and how it provided a focus for his work and created valued connections within the group.  McPherson shares that her first published article grew out of the work at the Institute.  Castaldo is currently working on a book about magic on the early modern stage and she has found that she is now able to include questions of staging in that work.  Enloe mentions the habit of “reading for the stage” is created by working within performance.

McPherson finds that her work has become infinitely more collaborative since this intensive.  Enloe reminds the group how impossible it would have been to complete the Institute’s tasks individually and that collaboration was a requirement to succeed.  Herek agrees that collaboration is also key to his work.  He also stresses the value of the network that was created by the Institute and how warm the extended Blackfriars community has been.  Casey agrees that he had previously found it very difficult to collaborate but since the institute he has published two collaborative articles and has many other collaborative projects in the work.

Enloe says they only had two days to cut Antony and Cleopatra, which Herek found it very difficult.  There was a lot of dissension within the groups regarding the cut.  Castillo says she ultimately took their script and cut it herself so that decisions were made by the deadline.  The cut had to follow ASC’s rules regarding cuts: 1. Liposuction not amputation. 2. Can’t cut entire scenes. 3. Can’t cut entire characters.  Herek  walked away from the process with a greater understanding of the purpose of comedy within tragic plays.  He finds that the comedy is also a great hook for students as well.  Enloe correctly guesses that he worked with  ASC actor John Harrell in the intensive.

Knight recalls a session taught by Roz Knutson wherein they were tasked with writing a scene based solely on the title of a lost play.  These scenes were eventually performed.  In this instance, Knight found that again it was important to trust the people that had the idea and make a decision.  Everyone agrees that once a decision is made you can move forward much easier.

Castaldo has found the tools learned at the Institute is particularly empowering for students, especially those who are afraid of Shakespeare.  The original practices staging, the cue scripts, and a specified end goal has given the students control of the work instead of merely reading.  Casey points out how it also awakes for students the idea that there are multiple solutions to any staging problem.

Enloe requests some more information as to what the pedagogical purpose of exercises like Knutson’s might be.  Knight found that the exercise allowed them to apply the knowledge they already had of original staging practices.  It provided an outlet for creativity and made students aware that there are many plays we no longer have.  Herek says that these techniques have become a model he uses when discussing teaching.  Enloe suggests that these types of exercises do more than simply teach Shakespeare, they also teach collaboration and creativity.  There are many skills required in a renaissance style production are applicable in many avenues outside of performance and Shakespeare.  Casey concurs, noting that these skills are the exact things currently being sought by employers.