Podcast Archive: 2014

2014 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2014 Spring Season

2014 Summer and Fall Seasons

Podcast Archives: 2011

2011 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2011 Spring Season

2011 Summer and Fall Seasons

Podcast Archives: 2006

2006 Summer and Fall Seasons

Winter-Spring 2014 Playhouse Insider Now On Sale

The Winter-Spring 2014 issue of the Playhouse Insider, celebrating the shows in the Actors’ Renaissance Season and the World’s Mine Oyster Tour, is on-sale now in the Box Office and will soon be available for purchase through our online shop. CoverWith this magazine, we hope not only to introduce readers to the fascinating shows in these seasons, but also to provide a spectrum of viewpoints from the wonderful scholars, artists, and audience members who love these plays as much as we do.

In this issue:

  • Frequent ASC patron and blogger Adrian Whicker discusses his love for the Actors’ Renaissance Season and chronicles his reviews on the Mid-Atlantic Traveler.
  • Amanda Trombley, Director of Education at the Southwest Shakespeare Company and MBC MFA graduate, delves deep into her experience playing the role of Evadne in a 2011 production of The Maid’s Tragedy.
  • Jade Eaton, ASC patron and No Kidding Shakespeare Camp participant, compares Carlo Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters with Richard Bean’s adaptation One Man, Two Guvnors and tells us why she’s so excited to see The Servant of Two Masters at the Blackfriars Playhouse.
  • Eliza Hofman of Chicago’s Two Pence Theatre, another MBC MFA grad, shares her insights on the role of Celia in As You Like It from the 2009 MFA production directed by Ralph Alan Cohen.
  • University of Delaware Professor Emeritus Lois Potter analyzes the performance history of Othello, with special attention to how the central roles have developed over time.
  • ASC actors René Thornton Jr. and Benjamin Curns talk about playing Othello and Iago with an MLitt class in a conversation recorded by Kim Newton, ASC Director of College Prep Programs.
  • A Dramaturg’s Corner features five things you might like to know about Henry IV, Part 1, including a family tree to help you keep all of those dukes and descendants straight.
  • Former ASC actor Daniel Kennedy relates his discoveries and experiments in directing Richard II for the 2013 ASC Theatre Camp.

Would you like to write for an upcoming issue of the Playhouse Insider? Email Cass Morris to find out more.

ASC Education in 2014

As we wrap up another great year at the American Shakespeare Center, here’s a sneak peek at what we’ll be bringing you in 2014:

  • Teacher Seminars: We start the year off right with our Winter Seminar January 31st-February 1st, focusing on As You Like It and some of the wonderful learning techniques we’ve gathered from rehearsal practices during the Actors’ Renaissance Season. We already have teachers from six states registered to join us in a few weeks, coming from as far away as Oklahoma and Massachusetts. In Spring (April 25th-27th), we’ll cover Othello and The  Merry Wives of Windsor. Our Summer Seminar (August 15th) this year will be a Macbeth intensive. Our last Macbeth seminar was one of my favorites, leading to discoveries that I still bring up in workshops, so I’m greatly looking forward to revisiting the play this summer. In fact, I love it so much that we’ll also be covering Macbeth at the Fall Seminar, along with The Comedy of Errors. Registration is now open for the Winter, Spring, and Summer Seminars, and we’ll be opening registration the Fall soon.Little Academe
  • ASC Theatre Camp: We kick things off in January with an alumni reunion event: a weekend of celebrating the ARS and our former campers’ continuing love of Shakespeare. This summer, campers ages 13-18 will explore Measure for Measure, The Tempest, 3 Henry VI, All’s Well That Ends Well, and the anonymous Fair Em, the Miller’s DaughterApply now to join us this summer.
  • The No Kidding Shakespeare Camp 2014: We’re back in town this year for a week-long camp focusing on the theme of Collaboration. Our activities will explore the partnerships and the community necessary to create theatre then and now, from shareholding to co-authorship, from ensemble casts to audience contact. Registrations are now open, so make some summer plans to spend time at the Blackfriars Playhouse.
  • Conferences: Our biggest conference news this year is that ASC Education will, for the first time, present a teaching workshop at the Shakespeare Association of American Conference in April. We’re excited to bring our classroom methods to SAA members and to the local teachers of St. Louis. Dr. Ralph will also be leading a rhetoric workshop at SAA. Read more about the 2014 Conference and the ASC’s workshop on the SAA website. ASC Education will also appear at the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference in January, at the Virginia Association of Museums conference in March, and at Shakespeare Works When Shakespeare Plays at UC-Davis in September.
  • On the Road: Our workshops are currently roaming the country with the World’s Mine Oyster Tour, and next summer, we’ll build new ones for the Method in Madness Tour. We’ll be participating in Shakespeare Month at the Alden in McLean, Virginia in January, in the Virginia Children’s Festival of the Book at Longwood in the fall, and we anticipate expanding our Educational Residencies to new territories throughout the year.
  • In-House: We look forward to welcoming Little Academes from across the country during the ARS and the Spring Season, as well as to hosting the local chapters of the English Speaking Union and Poetry Out Loud Competitions. Our Leadership Seminars are also ongoing: we celebrate our continuing relationship with the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, with programs throughout the year, and with International Paper, returning for another week-long program in April.
  • ASC Study Guides: In 2014, our Lulu offerings will expand to include a special guide on Christopher Marlowe, to celebrate the fact that the ASC will produce Edward II in the Fall Season and Doctor Faustus in the Method in Madness Tour. We’ll also be creating improved second editions of As You Like It, Macbeth, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the ShrewMuch Ado about Nothing, and Hamlet. You can preview all of our sixteen current titles online and purchase them as print-on-demand hard copies or PDF downloads.
  • Play-going Enrichment: Our Dr. Ralph Presents Lectures and Inside Plays Workshops will begin again in just a few weeks with insights into the plays of the Actors’ Renaissance Season. Join us select Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the year at 5:30pm to brush up your knowledge of old favorites or to get an introduction to unfamiliar works.
  • Perfect Pairings: Our 2014-2015 Staged Reading series will feature little-known plays which complement the shows produced in our seasons. After finishing the Slightly Skewed Shakespeare series in the spring, with Nahum Tate’s King Lear in March and The Famous Victories of Henry V in April, we will present Plautus’s Roman farce Menaechmi in September, in conjunction with The Comedy of Errors, and Thomas Heywood’s Edward IV, Part 1 in October, in conjunction with Marlowe’s Edward II.
  • Student Matinees: In 2014, we’ll be offering six titles for Student Matinees: Macbeth and The Comedy of Errors in the Fall, A Christmas Carol in the Winter, with a sneak peek at HamletThe Taming of the Shrew during the Actors’ Renaissance Season, and Hamlet and Much Ado about Nothing in the Spring. 
  • And more… We’re working on new initiatives in Research & Scholarship, College Prep, and Educator Resources, so look for further updates as we launch new programs and partnerships throughout the year.
A very happy New Year to all the Shakespeare lovers out there — we look forward to seeing you at the Blackfriars Playhouse in 2014!

Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Plenary Session X

Welcome back to the 7th Blackfriars Conference. I’m Cass Morris, and from 2:15-3:30pm, I will be live-blogging Plenary Session X, moderated by Tom Delise of the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory. This is the final Plenary Session of the 2013 conference.

Dorothy Todd, University of Georgia — “‘We’ve Got Blokes in Dresses’: Cheek by Jowl’s As You Like It and the Challenges of Drag”

Todd opens by commenting on the “stir” created by Cheek by Jowl’s 1991 presentation of As You Like It, which featured an all-male cross-dressed cast (the first since 1967), and that even the director experienced discomfort on opening night — “What were we thinking? We’ve got blokes in dresses!”. Why, Todd wonders, did audience members have so much trouble putting aside the actors’ corporeality? Todd comments on many of the other strange conditions of early modern theatre which we as audiences are willing to accept, including deaths, storms, and exotic locations. She notes that the audience’s responses to the Cheek by Jowl show were “rooted in the physicality of the actors’ bodies and the gender significations they adopt”. The audience could only understand the cross-dressing as camp — noting that that hinges on specific signifiers as belonging to only one gender (gender itself not necessarily corresponding to sex). To move away from campy drag, the actors had to find different ways to signify femininity.

The production “asks that the audience see the world of the play, and all the world,  as a stage rife with possibilities”. By opening with Jacques’s famous monologue, with the actors in plain dress, the production created the division of male and female characters visually at the start, despite that all the actors were male-bodied. Todd then notes that the epilogue also reminds the audience of how slippery the typical gender code can be — whether that epilogue is spoken by a male- or female-bodied actor, interweaving “the factual and counter-factual” — but that it has peculiar resonances in an all-male cast. Todd then questions the strength of the automatic identity of “the lady” with “the epilogue”. She notes “Rosalind’s employment of the ‘if’ trope” as another marker that she “stands not for what is, but what can be.” This holds true both for the things which are true as for those things which are contrary to fact. Todd concludes by noting that these conditions of ambiguous gender identity made  As You Like It perfect choice for Cheek by Jowl to perform with an all-male cast.

Bob Hornback, Oglethorpe University — “Shall we have a play extempore?”

Hornback begins by exploring the probability that early modern clowns necessarily had improvisational abilities, noting that while some may have, others may have been scripted to sound improvisational. “Extemporal wit” was noted in the period as a rare quality, not a usual trait. He notes a critic from the period who lamented the lack of improvisational skills present in clowns at the time of his observation, and relates that to lines in Hamlet which “suggest a waning” of extemporal clowns. Hamlet also skewers “the spate of bad improv” present on the stage. Hornback then quotes from Nashe regarding the war between the extemporal clown and the authority of script and cues. Hornback then cites examples of scripted improvisational idiom, “seeming extempore” rather than genuinely spontaneous.

Hornback moves to considering the instances of Kemp’s true improvisation versus seeming improvisation, particularly in the role of Falstaff. “Kemp’s improvisation made him uniquely suited for the role, not ill-suited,” particularly due to the character’s potential for improvisation. He notes that Falstaff’s lines are “opposite to sparse lineality”. Falstaff is, himself, an improviser. Hornback also examines the possibility of connected repetitions indicating a mimicry of improvisational idioms. Falstaff also, he notes, cues his own jesting with questions.

Nashe and Shakespeare, Hornback argues, would have seen both successful and unsuccessful improvisational clowns and would have known what it was that created that success. They did not, in their plays, aim at eliminating the real thing. Instead, having delighted in it, they sought to re-create it in script. Robert Armin, Hornback says, was an even more famous improviser than Kemp. He concludes by noting that the conditions of the early modern stage, including those re-created at the Blackfriars Playhouse, encourage “improv with a script”.

Celestine Woo, SUNY Empire State College – “Isabella in Measure for Measure: Discovering the Pleasure of Performance”

Woo begins by thanking her actors, Scott Campbell, Patrick Harris, and Amy Simpson Grubbs. She begins by saying that Measure for Measure is more satisfying if there is some intimacy developed between Isabella and her various auditors, particularly the Duke. The actors first present the “too-rehearsed first appeal” of Isabella (Grubbs) to Angelo (Campbell), encouraged and amended by Lucio (Harris). Woo argues that Isabella’s “use of the second person is perfunctory” and that she does not really see or acknowledge Angelo. In her second attempt, she re-assesses her audience — and Woo notes that, after Sarah Enloe’s workshop on audience contact, she now thinks this could include the theatrical audience as well as Angelo. As she goes on, warming both to her theme and to her auditor, her vehemence and persistence earn Angelo’s attention and pique his interest. Woo’s staging has Isabella move to Angelo and touch him on the arm as part of her appeal. Woo notes that, once she drops her self-consciousness, “she’s good at this! Her rhetorical eloquence is a bit of a surprise to her.”

Woo then notes Isabella’s several oratorical strategies: imagining a reversal of roles, as well as pointing out the pattern of pronouns (from I to you to a hypothetical subjunctive I, then to third-person hypotheticals regarding Angelo and Claudio). Woo considers this reminiscent of Portia’s rhetorical strategy. Woo thinks that Isabella “falls in love with performance”, and that that leads to her ultimate success. Woo next looks at the moment where Isabella and the disguised Duke plot Angelo’s downfall through the bedtrick, noting that she has “always heard some glee” in Isabella’s speeches there. Isabella is “wryly amused at Angelo’s eagerness”. In baiting Angelo himself, though prompted by others in action, “she finds her lines herself” and “highlights her own cleverness” regarding some details of the bedtrick.

Woo believes that viewing Isabella as overly reactive, rather than possessing agency of her own (via the power of improvisation) is problematic. Her newfound love for improvisation can help to ameliorate the otherwise problematic ending of her silence. Grubbs demonstrates by offering, in that moment, an Isabella who takes a moment to consider, then gives Angelo her hand with a beaming, theatrical smile.

ETA: A question regarding Isabella; Woo notes that she has no desire to “negate the seriousness or the pain of what Isabella has to go through”, but that she still thinks that Isabella’s lines also convey a sort of joy in the limelight. She thinks that, since some Isabellas can seem “overly flat”, this interpretation could offer nuance.

Larry Weiss, Independent Scholar: “‘Ha! Ha!’ Ophelia’s Tell”

Weiss comments that, “early in the nunnery scene”, Hamlet realizes that Ophelia is not quite what she is presenting herself as at that moment. He notes that Hamlet’s behavior is, from Ophelia’s perspective, unexpected and unusual — but how, he wonders, has Hamlet come to be suspicious? Weiss discusses the extratextual solutions that directors have invented, generally involving some sort of unintentional reveal of the men behind the arras, which he believes are “contrived” and thus unsatisfactory. He argues that Hamlet’s “obnoxious behavior towards Ophelia is explicable” by examination of what is present in the play itself.

“When no other cunning solution presents itself, I like to look at the text.” Weiss walks briefly through the action of the scene in question, noting that, when Hamlet rejects the returned gifts, Ophelia mistakes his meaning, interpreting it as part of his madness. He notes the shift from courteous to discourteous as occurring at “Ha ha, are you honest?” He does not believe the “Ha ha” is a laugh; “Hamlet has no reason to laugh here”. Weiss thinks that this line instead indicates that “Ophelia has slipped and put Hamlet on notice”. But this does not explain what alerts Hamlet to Ophelia’s disloyalty. Rejecting any extratextual possibilities, Weiss looks at Ophelia’s previous lines: “My honour’d lord, you know right well you did; / And, with them, words of so sweet breath composed / As made the things more rich: their perfume lost, / Take these again; for to the noble mind / Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind. / There, my lord.”

These lines, Weiss argues, sound more like Claudius than they do like Ophelia, and he believes that that reading “can convey the idea” of Ophelia having been coached so that it works in performance. Celi Oliveto (Ophelia) and Jordan Zweick (Hamlet) present the scene. Oliveto’s Ophelia becomes stilted as she tries to remember the “script” given her by Claudius, then rushes through “There, my lord,” eager to have the business over with. This moment, Weiss notes, “is easy to miss. It has been missed for 400 years.” He claims knowledge of no productions and only one editor to have commented on this possibility. He concludes by noting that this idea connects to Polonius’s instructions to Laertes; that Hamlet’s comments on beauty and honesty are then placing an immediate timeframe on his “now” in those lines; and that Ophelia’s response, if delivered in quavery tone, can reconfirm Hamlet’s suspicion; and finally, that Ophelia’s closing half-line opens up opportunities, perhaps originally suggested by the actors.

Lars Engle, The University of Tulsa: “Shame and Contempt in Montaigne, Tomkins, and The Tempest

“Actors are frequently accused of or credited with shamelessness,” Engle opens. He examines Montaigne’s commentaries on personal shame, both those which he dismisses and those which he invokes in regards to cruelty. Shakespeare, he argues, finds personal shame harder to cast off. He quotes Tomkins’s belief that shame is accompanied by a number of gestures which close off the shamed person from the shaming, perhaps in an attempt to reclaim some space.  “Shame turns the attention of the self and others” to the visible resonance of self in the focus, outward or inward, of the eyes. These are the negative affects attached to positive emotions or desires such as admiration or love. That which ties the self to the object (of love or affection) also ties the self to shame. He seeks to draw a distinction between shame-humiliation (which ties) and contempt-disgust (which unties). The former relates us to those we still seek the good opinion of; the other precludes any equality or mutuality of relationship. Tomkins notes that, in unequal relationships such as master-servant, teacher-student, parent-child, or conqueror-conquered, there is then a choice as to whether to base disapproval on shame-humiliation or contempt-disgust.

Engle applies this to Prospero. Rebecca Hodder (Caliban), Rebecca Wright (Miranda), and Michelle Johnson (Prospero) present part of 1.2 from The Tempest. Engle posits Caliban as child in one of the above relationships, but also as a former sovereign who was formerly a sovereign. In his lines, Caliban attempts to use shame-humiliation on Prospero. Prospero then attempts to recast himself in a contempt-disgust relationship. Engle explores the strange relationships that these three have had on the island in isolation, particularly with regard to the fact that “something shameful happened between Caliban and Miranda”, something sexual and something recent — and that this incident was interrupted, but that we do not know how or by whom. This leaves the relationship between all three in need of clarification. Miranda then, too, tries to turn shame into contempt.

“We deal here in imponderables,” Engle notes, and we do so because it matters to us, as scholars and audiences, what happened in these relationships. He relates this to socio-political issues regarding the colonizer and the “Other”. To conclude, Engle notes that Prospero “attempts to expunge the shame that he and Miranda feel with regard to Caliban … by transforming it into contempt, and by transforming Caliban from a son-pupil into a monster-slave.” This fails, however, and shame overwhelms contempt.

Catherine Loomis, University of New Orleans — “Bringing Justice to Bear: An Unusual 1609 Trial”

Loomis begins by thanking Adrienne Johnson and an anonymous actor for their help, and invites the auditors to “bark along at the appropriate moment”. She then comments on references to bears in early modern England. She relates a story of merchants who came late to an inn because they had been hunted by a bear during their travel. The innkeeper mocked them, claiming that he would slay ten bears if they should pursue him. An overhearer, Scoggins (or perhaps Scroggins?) decided to play a prank: went out, bought a bearskin, propped it up on sticks and and stuffed it with straw so it would look alive, and then stuffed its mouth with two children’s shoes. In the night, Scoggins convinced the merchants to call for drink; the innkeeper sent his maid, who saw the bear, thought it had killed her master’s children, and killed herself. Loomis notes that this story may have been based on the real event of a captive bear killing a child in 1609. This bear then was to be put to death by lions, but they inexplicably refused to fight, so it was chained, staked, and baited with dogs on a stage.

Loomis then stages the death of our very own Blackfriars bear. Many scholars, tormented by the bear during the past four days, applaud.

Loomis then describes the typical staging of a bear-baiting, highlighting its cruelty as well as the utter impossibility of survival for the bear in question. Though the 1609 bear execution likely did not occur at the Globe, but it was not long thereafter before The  Winter’s Tale  featured a bear pursuing Antigonus off. Was this, perhaps, Shakespeare’s retribution for the bear?

ETA: In the Q&A, William Proctor Williams questions that, if you kill the bear off in your paper, can you continue talking forever? We conclude that Loomis may have set a dangerous precedent for future bears.