Winter/Spring 2015 Playhouse Insider

The latest edition of the Playhouse Insider is now available for purchase in the Box Office! Here’s a sneak peek at the goodies within:photo (6)

  • An interview regarding “Bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst” with Sarah Fallon, who has played the role of Kate in The Taming of the Shrew three times.
  • A look at the amazing Aphra Behn, the woman behind The Rover — and some of the complicated gender politics of Restoration England.
  • Professor Stephen Purcell of the University of Warwick discusses how The White Devil has “flummoxed” readers and spectators throughout history.
  • From Penn State Harrisburg, Professor Margaret Jaster tells us why she keeps bringing her classes back to the Blackfriars Playhouse for Little Academes.
  • Meredith Parnes, frequent resident of the gallant stools, on what’s kept her coming back not just to the shows but to the Blackfriars Conference and the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp as well.
  • Actors John Harrell and Kate Eastwood Norris, the first to portray Benedick and Beatrice at the Blackfriars Playhouse, share their memories and their thoughts about Much Ado about Nothing 11 years later.
  • Dane CT Leasure, MBC MFA graduate and Artistic Director of Rubber City Shakespeare, discusses his experiences working on the special effects of Rogue Shakespeare’s 2014 Doctor Faustus.
  • Our Playhouse Manager, Melissa Huggins, provides some insight on how the ASC’s costuming practices are “following an original practice without consciously trying”.

Stop by soon and get all these insights into the shows of the Actors’ Renaissance Season and the Method in Madness Tour for just $5!

MLitt Thesis Festival 2015: Session 2

Natalia Razak Wallace: “Prolonged Eye Contact”
Razak Wallace begins by alarmingly dimming the lights on the audience in the Playhouse. She then gives a brief overview of the unique qualities of the social brain in the human animal, positing it as crucial to interpreting behavior and making decisions based upon it. She presents an example of interpreting behavior and predicting movement based on Doreen Bechtol’s imagined curled lip, which may indicate that Razak Wallace is about to get slapped. “Doreen’s curled lip does not exist in a vacuum, because it is, presumably, attached to her face.” The extension of the example illustrates how a change in eye contact, whether deliberate or unintentional, can change the interaction, forcing the social brain to work harder to determine the complexity of the given circumstances. Eye gaze directs focus and attention more strongly than other physical indicators.

Razak Wallace notes that this plays into audience contact, making an audience member acutely aware of his or her body, imagining how it must look from the outside. She posits this as a challenge to the social brain, as the brain has become aware of the body in a way that it does not expect within the bounds of the theatre. For actors in traditional, lights-off theatre, the gaze is performative. Without audience contact, “the audience is not socially available to the audience.” Lighting thus changes the essential theatre experience on both ends. Razak Wallace prefaces a scene (acted by Shane Sczepankowski and Molly Seremet) by noting that, while we here may not find observations about audience contact and performance new, it’s because our social brains have become accustomed to that interaction at the Blackfriars Playhouse. On the first run-through, the actors perform in traditional proscenium style, ignoring the audience that they cannot see; on the second run-through, they pretend awareness of the audience that they still cannot see. Both of these call upon a performative gaze with no real connection made.

The third iteration is lights-on, with audience contact. The actors’ performances change based on the visible response of the audience. Razak Wallace details the cognitive processes that audience member Linnea was undergoing without even consciously being aware of it, culminating in “the astonishing realization: I exist” — a realization extended to the rest of the audience, who consequently become aware that they, too, exist. She notes that there are other physiological responses related to sensory input and response forming a part of this process as well. Razak Wallace also details that this interaction may either be pleasant or unpleasant, depending on how one’s social brain interprets the stimuli; if pleasant, it may help make the words spoken during the eye contact more memorable, but if unpleasant, it may make the words harder to hear and comprehend. Either way, the moment is likely to be memorable, but the latter situation may not be memorable in the ways either actor or audience would hope for.

Razak Wallace concludes by stating that not all theatre is or should be social, but that it can be powerful and positive in a number of ways. She connects this to an essential quality of empathy. She states her belief that Shakespeare’s plays call for audience contact, but in order to make the most of it, “the actor must stop performing and the audience must stop observing, just for a moment, just long enough to make eye contact.”

Q&A
Q – Is the difference between having a pleasant and unpleasant experience down to your personality?
A – Yes and no. Some of it is down to how your social brain operates, but the actors can also help mitigate those circumstances. “Make eye contact mindfully, in ways that are more likely. ” She also notes that duration of contact affects how positive or negative it is.
Q – So how do you mindfully make eye contact?
A – Fit the word to the action. People like it more in comedies than in tragedies, because we want to feel good, not crazy. Don’t prioritize over relationships on stage.

Dierdra M. Shupe: “Putting a Head on Headless Rome: Titus Andronicus, the Body, and the Body Politic in Shakespeare’s Roman Plays”
Shupe begins by defining what she means by the Roman plays, a modern sub-genre of Shakespeare’s plays, but notes that many modern scholars have left out Titus Andronicus when considering this subset, ostensibly because it’s locus so early in his career disqualifies it. Shupe suggests that certain allusions and thematic elements link Titus inextricably to the other Roman plays such as Julius Caesar. 

Shupe then addresses the question of chronology: taken in orderof historical events, Shakespeare’s plays go from Republic-set Coriolanus to the 1st-century Republic/Empire shift in Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra to the imperial Titus Andronicus — not,however, the order in which Shakespeare wrote them. Shupe argues that, in terms of the body politic, Shakespeare orients Coriolanus with the knee. In Julius Caesar, the titular character is  presented as synonymous with Rome, and most of the bodily references are to blood, usually Caesar’s blood. The play begins with mentions of Pompey’s blood and culminates with a civil war wherein Rome is essentially shedding its own blood. Shupe considers Antony and Cleopatra to hold the place of the heart, with numerous references to that part — the most in any Roman play and the second-most in the canon. She connects the heart with the idea of allegiance, particularly in regard to Antony’s divided loyalties between Rome and Egypt.

Returning to Titus Andronicus, Shupe identifies the most prominent body part as the hand, referred to 47 times — usually as part of a severance. Shupe connects the idea of dismemberment to the concept of a disordered and troubled Rome. Heads play a role in the play as well, particularly in 3.1, when both severed hands and severed heads appear on-stage together. Shupe suggests that these body parts relate to the service done for Rome, later used to mock the characters in question. Shupe concludes by reiterating her assertion that Titus ought to be studied along with the other Roman plays.

Q&A
Q – Considered Cymbeline as well, since partially Roman-set, has similar body-focused imagery and themes?
A – Thesis came out of desire to look at Roman plays as a subset of history plays.
Q – Talk more about the idea of transformation of the body, connecting to performance.
A – Would like to look more at the idea of whether or not assassins appear at Caesar’s funeral with blood still on their hands.
Q – Have you found Roman plays resistant to performance linkage?
A – Haven’t found that, but haven’t found it’s even been done that much.

Meredith A. Johnson: “Shakespeare’s Problematic Prophetic Character Dreams”
Johnson examines the prophetic dreams of Clarence and Calphurnia in relation to thoughts on dream theory in early modern England and aims to connect these concepts with modern performance and exploration in the rehearsal room. She posits Clarence’s introduction to his dream as “a theatrical tool to create anticipate on-stage and in the audience,” with Brackenbury’s reactions critical to raising the stakes for the audience (acted by Patrick Harris and Merlyn Sell). Johnson instructs Brackenbury to use Clarence’s religious language to inform her next line. Noting that the prophecy is buried in a lot of dream imagery, Johnson further instructs Brackenbury to help the audience out by reacting most strongly to the prophetic elements. Clarence’s further statements speak to the ambiguity of where the dream comes from — a dead relative, an angel, or a demon. In a third segment, Johnson notes the difficulty Clarence seems to experience upon waking, and instructs Brackenbury to take further cue from that. After the discussion of hell and demons, Brackenbury ends by calling upon God to give Clarence good rest.

Johnson then shifts to the “delightfully murky waters” of dream interpretation in Julius Caesar. Harris and Jess Hamlet enact Calphurnia’s concerns in 2.2, with Caesar’s fatalism standing in opposition to Calphurnia’s fears — which are not, in early modern thought, necessarily ill-founded. She considers them divine warning. Johnson redirects Hamlet to try the lines again as though she is stating the most simple and apparent fact. Shakespeare portrays the strength of Calphurnia’s interpretation by having Caesar, initially, cede to her wishes — though another interpretation, hinging on Caesar’s use of the word “humour”, might instead present Calphurnia as unbalanced.When Decius (Sell) enters, Caesar relates the whole of Calphurnia’s dream, which Decius then re-interprets, managing to convince Caesar to “see the image of the citizens of Rome bathing in his own blood as something positive”. Johnson points out that the dreamer herself takes no part in the interpretation, “silenced by her womanhood”. Decius then continues to wrest control of the interpretation away from Calphurnia and convinces Caesar to act against a clear prophecy.

Johnson concludes by calling for greater attention to the historical connotations of dreams and prophecies when acting plays that involve these moments, in order to make the stakes feel more engaging and immediate for the audience.

Q&A
Q – As a director, how much depends on actor’s idea of the reliability of the narrator?
A – For example, in Caesar, since the dreamer wasn’t actually reciting the dream, you can make decisions about that.
Q – So it lands on the on-stage audience’s reactions to help the not-on-stage audience to understand what’s going on?
A – Yes.
Q – Did your research indicate that the dream theory of the time and the science of the time is heavily inflected in these prophetic dreams when they show up?
A – Yes, it definitely does glimmer through in the plays. Moreso in the ways in which characters on-stage treated it. Actual content of a dream you can argue about “what water meant”, but the fear surrounding what it could mean, like, “Did a demon visit you last night?” More about the way community treated dreams as a thing.
Q – Seems like in Calphurnia exammple that you were mainly focused on fact that dream was coming from a woman and therefore insignificant. Major part of early modern thinking?
A – Yes, couldn’t avoid some gender discussion there.
Q – Any evidence of dream skepticism in research?
A – Definitely, definitely. A lot of scholarly argument over it, conditions to meet. Have to be a sinless person and not eat anything weird before you go to bed. The Church gets to decide whether you were visited by something or not. More to do with the dreamer than the dream.
Q – If you speak a dream, is it always because there’s a prophetic element to it?
A – I don’t think that’s necessarily so. I chose prophetic dreams because I thought it would be more obvious to show you how you can put a shoulder behind them and get audience to understand what’s important about them.

Patrick Aaron Harris: “From Philosopher to Quack”
The presentation opens with Josh Williams presenting the opening of Doctor Faustus, only to be interrupted in his conjuring by Harris and fellow actors Megan Clauhs, Zac Harned, Anna Lobo, and Sarah Wykowksi. Harned queries what the value in practicing is, which Harris tells us is precisely the point: practice can cue the difference between philosopher and quack. He states his intention to demonstrate that awareness of early modern magical practices can improve modern performances and audience understanding.

Harris moves to a brief history of wizardry in English literature, tracing the origins of Gandalf and Dumbledore in Merlin and other medieval romances, all as a part of tradition positioning magic in the self, channeled through artifacts, animals, or geographical locations. Harris suggests that magicians on the early modern stage might be seen as character-directors, creating imagined circumstances on stage for the delight or fear of on-stage audiences. Harris notes that good magicians rarely appear without a balancing evil force, often leading to trials of magical skill, such as those seen in Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. Harris then discusses the dangers in portraying magic on-stage — popular with audiences, but under monarchs that outlawed and persecuted expressions of magic/witchcraft. As such, plays display both good and evil magicians as “outside of and disruptive to social order”. Harris offers both Doctor Faustus and The Tempest as examples of how the magicians must be eliminated or relinquish power in order to restore social norms.

Harned then introduces the concept of magicians on the early modern stage as neo-Platonism, which Harris explicates as a revived interest in the “world soul” and cosmic energy, linking the human to the divine. A scene from Doctor Faustus, where Faustus discusses his newfound devotion to “magic and concealed arts” with Valdes and Cornelius, illustrates this philosophical conversation. Harned raises the question of whether or not Faustus ought more rightly be considered a witch, given the shape his disavowal of Christianity and his enactment of rituals, which mirror descriptions of witchcraft in early modern texts. Harris argues that since Faustus is not a slave to Mephistopheles, he does not qualify as a witch. Harris also notes the neo-Platonism evident in the difference between educated and uneducated interactions with magic, with the misapprehension and lack of control of the clowns rendering them bestial.

Harned then challenges Harris to make the same case of neo-Platonism for Prospero, who in using a staff, cloak, and ethereal familiar more nearly resembles a medieval magician than an early modern one. Harris argues that Prospero’s magic derives from his books, the source of his power, even though we never see him with the books on-stage. Further, in conversation with Stephano and Trinculo, Caliban gives testimony as to Prospero’s power centering in his books. Harris further argues that magic is the most theatrical thing a playwright can put on stage, and one which allows them greater ability to discuss their own theatricality. Re-examining the early modern conceptualization of magic can help modern productions to recover this theatricality in performance.

Q&A
Q – Idea of performative language, what about performance of spells on the stage? Did companies attempt to inoculate themselves against calling a thing into being by acting it?
A – Accounts of an extra devil appearing on-stage during Faustus, audiences believed and feared.
Q – About technology, special effects?
A – Not avoided but evaded looking at that, because most of what he’s looking at is what’s embodied by the actor.
Q – What about unsuccessful conjurations (ex of Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet)
A – Research has focused on lower-status clowns than Mercutio, without access to resources to learn magic. People who don’t study magic can’t do it, no matter how hard they try.
Q – Can doubling create implication that Faustus is engaged in sexual conduct with Mephistopheles, and thus involved in witchcraft?
A – Would never do that precisely to avoid drawing those connections.
Q – Connection to music?
A – That was actually initial topic. Transformed through ideas of language to the idea of book-based magic. Now focusing primarily on the kind of magic that requires extensive study as opposed to the kinds of magic that are done through occult ceremonies. Blurry lines.

Merlyn Q. Sell: “The Good, the Bard, and the Powerful Homely: Shakespeare’s Place in the Wild West Rediscovered”
The presentation opens with the impersonation of Sell by actor Megan Clauhs. The thesis discusses the role of Shakespeare in western American culture, with a particular focus on the transformation of Shakespeare in the community of Deadwood, South Dakota. In addition to saloons, gamblers, and prostitutes, Deadwood also had Shakespeare. Modern tourism in Deadwood capitalizes on it as “the wickedest town”, ignoring the significance of Shakespeare in its cultural development. The presentation then involves an “epic rap battle” between representatives of real history and the exaggerated legends, presented by Sell herself, Mark Pajor, Meredith Johnson, and Marshall Garrett.

Clauhs-Sell then moves to an examination of Deadwood legends Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, noting the difficulty in reconciling our modern views of miners and cowboys with Shakespeare-focused theatre-goers. But the historical reality was that Deadwood crowds “adored” performances of Hamlet, going on to put on their own amateur performance in 1878. Traveling performances of Othello and Richard III followed in the next few years. Amateur recitation both in private theatres, around campfires, and even in a shaving saloon was an honored cultural tradition. Newspapers also featured numerous quotations from Shakespeare as a common cultural touchstone. A Shakespeare reference also surfaced in a whiskey ad.

Clauhs-Sell points out the transition in the early 20th century towards a nostalgia for the Wild West as a lost era of adventure and exploration. Shakespeare then shared blame with women as a detrimentally civilizing influence on the Wild West — though both had worked towards the betterment the citizens of Deadwood. Clauhs-Sell gives the example of an 1880 Ladies of the Episcopal Church benefit performance of The Merchant of Venice and the creation of clubs promoting literacy. This contributed to a century-long tradition of civic service and political power by women in Deadwood, but their public events were attended by people from all segments of society. The desire to position the intellectual, cultured East against the mythologized rough and tumble West contributed to the erasure of Shakespeare as a part of Western tradition.

Q&A
Q – Way to synthesize this into modern Shakespeare education, with eye towards defeating ShakesFear?
A – In a lot of the country, people really identify with Wild West, if people thought that rough and tumble dudes with guns liked the show, they would give Shakespeare more of the benefit of the doubt. Can also help to stage and promote shows in a Wild West theme.
Q – Any references to the poetry of the cowboy?
A – Yes. Tradition to have Shakespeare in the wagon. Focused more on mining communities, because brought together almost everything we associate with Wild West except for cowboy.
Q – When did you decide to write the rap and how long did it take you?
A – It took a long time. Thanks Sir Mix-A-Lot.
Q – As Shakespeare transitioned to high culture, growing resentment toward it because it took away from image of what they wanted the West to be?
A – Yes, definitely. High culture doesn’t fit in with ideal of the mythologized West.
Q – Shakespeare mines?
A – New Mexico, there’s a town called Shakespeare, Stratford Hotel, all the mines had Shakespeare names. Though some of them also could have been names of prostitutes.

–This session live-blogged by Cass Morris, ASC Academic Resources Manager

MFA Thesis Festival 2015

Sarah E. Blackwell: “‘Corrupter of Words’: A Rhetorical Cut of Twelfth Night
Blackwell opens with an introduction to the concept of cutting texts for performance, noting that most directors will attempt to preserve iambic pentameter but may not pay as careful attention to preserving rhetorical structures. Blackwell notes that while repetition seems an easy sort of rhetorical but notes that, in rehearsal, those cuts became troublesome. As a demonstration, she tells the famous “Knock knock” banana/orange joke, with alterations pointing out that cutting rhetorical devices of repetition can harm both the set-up of a joke and audience comprehension of the scene. Blackwell notes the cuts made to a scene between Viola/Cesario and Feste, particularly the repetitions of “sir” that offer actors a lot to play with. Blackwell asked her actors to try and play the scene with the emotional clues that the deleted rhetoric would have provided; Rebecca Wright (Viola/Cesario) and Nicola Collett (Feste) play the scene. The absence of the repetition makes for a “a one-sided battle of wits”. Blackwell concludes by asking directors to keep rhetoric in mind when cutting scripts because “when you ignore the rhetoric, you ignore Shakespeare.”

Nicola Collett: “‘I am not that I play’: Seeking Identity through Music in an Appalachian Twelfth Night
Collett discusses the considerations and the challenges she encountered when developing the musical choices for Turning Glass’s production of Twelfth Night, including the complex and disputed definition of “folk song”. One of her sources made the “not entirely grounded in reality” claim that Appalachian dulcimer music chains back to both Shakespearean productions and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; Collett underscores the problem of conflating the Appalachian dulcimer with its predecessors, but enjoys the idea of positioning the production’s music as part of a larger tradition. She then discusses the adaptability of folk music. Collett gives examples of one tune receiving different lyrical treatments in different times and locations. The adaptability of music, Collett noticed during Twelfth Night, seems to echo the adaptability of certain characters, particularly Viola. Collett argues that this adaptability is what makes Viola “worthy of Orsino’s service” and capable of restoring health to the community of Illyria. By contrast, Feste is less rooted in one tradition.

Amy W. Grubbs: “‘The Great Divide’: How Turning Glass Shakespeare Navigates the Actor/Audience Divide”
Grubbs begins by stating the common theatrical concept that performance is dependent upon a divide between actor and audience, and states her intention to interrogate three different audience roles: the audience as tourist, the audience as participant, and the audience as generator, on a scale of passivity to activity. “A blurring of the line is in fact often productive” and has helped Turning Glass in creating their shows. She discusses their deliberate blurring of the lines in The Winter’s Tale and in Romeo and Juliet; in the latter, the actors remained on-stage throughout the show, becoming supplementary audience members for scenes they were not in — in a position to watch the audience as well. Grubbs argues that this “reminded the audience that they were participants in our creative community” and positioned actors and audience as watching the same thing: the play itself. Grubbs feels that idea of community was particularly important in Romeo and Juliet, a play so concerned with a broken community. “The staging, therefore, reflects the themes of the play.” Turning Glass’s Twelfth Night, performed in local schools, began with a distinct divide, the students in their native environment, the company as strangers. Towards the end of the play, however, they conscripted a student to portray an officer and a teacher to portray a priest; though coached beforehand, the audience-actors still needed verbal and physical guidance during the show — and their own actions could chance the scene considerably. Grubbs states that this transformed the theatrical experience and “heightened our awareness” of performance for the cast, and that the blurring of actor/audience lines created “an entirely new community” during each performance. She concludes by asserting that the blurring is not “deadly to performance” but a potential benefit.

David Loehr: “Some Have Theatre Thrust upon ‘Em”
Loehr asserts that Shakespeare dually recognized life as having theatrical elements and theatre as being necessary to life, and argues that “Shakespeare uses Malvolio to critique anti-theatricalism and puritanism”. He notes Maria’s description of Malvolio as “a kind of Puritan”, not necessarily a man with firm piety. Loehr notes that Malvolio’s fantsies of marrying Olivia reveal that “for a Puritan, he seems awfully concerned with the material and the sensual.” Malvolio’s objections to revelry mirror the objections raised in anti-theatrical polemics of the early modern era, and Loehr examines some of the specific vocabulary that draws this connection. Loehr then connects this to Malvolio’s conception of identity, that he wants everyone else to stay in their prescribed places and clearly defined roles while he alone changes (hopefully in advancement) — which places Malvolio in a particularly difficult position in a play with such shifting identity issues as Twelfth Night, as Loehr illustrates through Malvolio’s difficulty in describing/defining Cesario. Despite his moralistic attitude towards revelry, he rarely invokes religion in his objections, which Loehr suggests sets him apart from the anti-theatricalists, not one of them. Loehr argues that Malvolio is, essentially, theatrical himself, and discusses this in relation to his difficulty in smiling and his immersion in his later performance in front of Olivia. “In the end, neither of Malvolio’s roles bring him the wealth and power that he desires,” and Loehr suggests this informs his vengeful attitude at the end of the play, both anti-theatrical and a spurned actor at the same time — and thus “a hypocritical fraud”.

Nora Manca: “To Try a Queen”
Manca sets her presentation up as “All Is True: A game show that starts with a lie and ends with laughter”, hosted by Loehr — a pseudo-Jeopardy skit designed to illustrate the similarities between Henry VIII‘s Katherine of Aragon and The Winter’s Tale‘s Hermione. Manca explicates her assertion that The Winter’s Tale was written for the Blackfriars Theatre in the same way that Henry VIII was, calling upon the audience’s historical memory of the space as a courtroom.

Sarah Martin: “A Queen City Comedy: A Chaste Maid in Cheapside at the Blackfriars Playhouse”
Martin begins by discussing the appeal of city comedies to the Jacobean audience, offering a view of themselves on stage, rather than the more remote figures of kings and queens. Middleton showed his audience to themselves by displaying the places, peoples, and ideologies of early modern London in his plays. Martin examines the gossip and funeral scenes in Chaste Maid, noting them as representations of common community experiences. Martin suggests that the transition from Elizabeth to James helped to spur the creation of domestic experiences on the stage, a way of reflecting a changing world and revealing the hypocrisy of early modern English society from the relatively safebounds of the stage. The gossips scene “demonstrates the chaotic and unstable atmosphere of London” in 1613. Martin notes that the early modern home had a public nature that may seem strange to modern sensibilities, and that christening parties made public and communal the essentially private act of childbirth. The party becomes a conversation on social status, material wealth, and neighborly one-up-manship, and Martin sees similar social stakes at play in the act of theatre-going. Martin argues that the gossips scene is an example of “how Middleton cast London in his play”.

Emma Patrick: “‘I wear your (great-great-great) granddad’s clothes’: Original Practices, Secondhand Clothes, and Historical Reconstruction in Turning Glass Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
NB: Emma Patrick is snowed-in in Lexington and will not present this evening.

Ashley Pierce: “‘Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned’: Playing Tybalt and Friar Lawrence”
Pierce begins with a caveat about the fine line between appreciation and obsession, particularly as relevant to her continual interest in the character of Tybalt — a character she played this year with Turning Glass, doubled with Friar Lawrence. “It is their respective challenges that truly set them apart” — Tybalt is physically demanding, not just with three of four fights, but also in the tight physicality. Lawrence, by contrast, Pierce characterizes as intellectually demanding. Pierce then delivers a sidebar on the gender issues raised by various casting approaches, noting that the extreme casting of Romeo and Juliet with six actors sometimes made the gender of actor and character indistinct, allowing the audience to determine their own ideas on the gender of the character. Pierce asserts that the audience’s role in creating character is thus critical.

Mara Ann Massingill Sherman: “Children and No Riches”
Sherman begins by delivering an anti-spoiler alert, declaring Turning Glass’s determination not to reveal the plot of a 400 year old play before performing it. She then moves on to her thesis, examining the intersection of fertility, class, and religion in A Chaste Maid in Cheapside. First, she discusses the eponymous maid and her neighborhood, challenging the common assumption that the title is an oxymoronic joke. Cheapside was, while commerce-oriented, not particularly noted for prostitution (in contrast to other locations like Turnbull Street). Sherman asserts that finding a chaste maid in Cheapside should be no more odd than finding “a virgin on Wall Street” — an odd but not necessarily contradictory juxtaposition. The title does, however, tell the audience that this is a play about: female sexuality, London, commerce, and “really stupid jokes” — as Sherman explicates through an exploration of the paronomasia of chaste/chased. Sherman then moves to discussing the Allwits and the confusion of paternity, marital arrangements, and the economy of fertility. Sherman notes that Middleton uses the Allwit plot to “strength the connection between bourgeois marriage and prostitution.” Finally, Sherman moves to the Kixes, discussing the tendency of modern productions to cast the Kixes as middle-aged, perhaps to explain their seven years of childlessness, a choice that Sherman asserts “misses the point”, and that their infertility is more related to economy.

Rebecca Lynne Wright: “‘Prone to weeping’: An Exploration of Crying in Performance”
Wright begins by cautioning the upcoming MFA class to considering the blood and tears the endeavor could cause — not from the travails of graduate school hardships, but within the plays themselves. She discusses the physical effects on an actor of “weeping, crying, or lamenting”. Wright has her fellow company members provide examples of tears called for (or at least mentioned) within Shakespeare’s plays. “Emotions which come naturally in life are exposed and exploited in theatre”. Wright discusses her interest in the connection between the language used to describe emotion and what actors are actually supposed to do. She notes that weeping may not be visible to the audience even if enacted, and wonders what the advantage is to working up real tears on stage if the audience may not be able to appreciate them, and if simulating weeping better allows an actor to focus on things like scansion and rhetoric. She intends to interrogate this question further.

Q&A

For Pierce: Questioner asks if she’s recieved any audience feedback regarding the ambiguity of her character’s gender.
Pierce responds that, post-show, she has gotten some questions, mostly from friends and family, about if the role was re-gendered or not.
Ralph Cohen follows up by asking if her experiences with The Winter’s Tale may inform both her thesis writing and her revisiting of the character during the upcoming festival of shows.

For Grubbs: Questioner asks how the explicit casting of the audience affects the audience’s role, and if it leads to a “centaur state” of performer and audience simultaneously.
Grubbs: Responds that she’s going to steal that term. She’s referred to it as having switched roles, notes that some critics think that means it’s not theatre anymore, but she wants to explore the “both/and” mixture.
Follow-up: Questions how venue affects the blurring of lines, if lines were more set in more proscenium-like spaces.
Grubbs: Initially, yes, but engaging early modern practices quickly helped blurring the lines. Notes that depth of audience affects the ease of blurring. Manca adds that “children were much more receptive to being drawn in than adults were”.
Cohen follows up asking how/if it affects comprehension of play. Grubbs thinks initial appreciation is related to seeing someone they know, but that it might cause more careful attention. Blackwell shares anecdote that teacher who seemed unsure turned into a ham because she knew she would be observed.

For Wright: Asks if commentary on mourning split along national lines.
Wright: Most of research has not been British/American divide but discussion of duration, how long someone is meant to mourn, what’s appropriate, and difference between “then and now”.

For Sherman: Interested in limits of female fertility, how it will play out in company almost entirely of women?
Sherman: Had worried that having both Allwits and Kixes portrayed by female actors would create an unintentional commentary on lesbian relationships and procreation, but they do have a male-bodied figure for one of those roles, and Whorehound being portrayed by female.

–This session live-blogged by Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager

Comedy and Tragedy in Early Modern Drama

This evening, I’ll be conducting the Inside Plays lecture for The  Maid’s Tragedy, and I’ve decided to use it as an opportunity to discuss one of my favorite pet concepts: definitions of comedy and tragedy.'Maid's Tragedie'

This all stems from a class I had with Professor John Morreall back in undergrad. We spent half the semester breaking down what makes something comic or tragic, then the second half applying those concepts to various religious worldviews. What I find particularly interesting, though, is how those concepts apply to early modern theatre. Despite our tendency to break Shakespeare’s plays and those of his contemporaries up into neat boxes labeled “Comedy”, “Tragedy”, and “History”, very few plays fit comfortably into those slots. Hamlet has plenty of funny moments, and Much Ado about Nothing has some real heart-rending moments.

The dichotomy is particularly noticeable in Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Maid’s Tragedy. At a glance, this is definitely what it says on the tin: a tragic play. All the characters seem hellbent on drastic actions, the fate of a kingdom is at stake, and by the final scene, the stage is littered with bodies. And yet, when I saw the play on its opening night, there was laughter. A lot of it.

Laughter can come from different places, of course, and I’m sure plenty of those laughs were nervous or awkward, a helpless response to the heightened emotions displayed on the stage. But I think there are some genuinely comic moments in this play, whether for their bawdy humor or their sheer absurdity. It’s not just a rollercoaster for emotions — it’s more of a yo-yo.

When a play presents such extremes, I like to go back to the same checklist I used back in Professor Morreall’s class. This list breaks down the biggest differences in the tragic-comic binary — convergent vs divergent thinking, focus on the spirit vs focus on the body, order vs chaos, etc. Analyzing a play, a character, or even an individual moment through this lens helps me see the often complex interplay between genres in early modern plays. Are there some characters with comic worldviews trapped in a tragic play? Are some of them so tragic, in such overblown ways, that it strains our capacity to sympathize and instead renders them comic? What makes us laugh in those funny moments — and how fast does the situation bring us back down, and why? And, most importantly, how can actors use that dichotomy and its attendant expectations to generate a variety of audience responses?

Colloquy Session X: Big Woo

Chair: Nicolas Crawford

Title Big Woo attempt at humor

Wooing is pervasive in Early Modern drama. There is a range of different types of wooing from stalker, to homoerotic, to romantic.

Wooing sometimes becomes something else.

How do we identify a woo element?

Actors woo the audience, especially as Iago, and Richard III.

Theater itself woos audiences.

To move or solicit alluringly.

Crawford announces we will be starting out with Act five, Scene two from Hamlet.

Rick Blunt – Laertes,  Patrick Earl – Hamlet ,  Colin Ryan – Claudius,  Stephanie Holladay Earl – Queen, Russell Daniels – Osric,  David Millstone – Lord

Crawford has Hamlet hold Laertes hand though his whole apology speech and Laertes response until they call for swords.

A scene that is not obviously a wooing.

Presenters:

Joseph Stepheson: Even though the words are on the page we don’t always do what they say but it can provide important visual image

Thomas Sellari: Hamlet being so close to Laertes when you know he want to kill him, it is very interesting.

Blunt: Who is convincing who of what? It is interesting to think about who is watching this and who the display  is intended for.

Thomas Sellari

Phantom Loves, artifacts of plot lines that have disappeared. One character claims a love, but we never see it enacted. These phantom loves are important because they determine the relationships between characters. Richards wooing of Anne, does  she come to care for him. R+J Romeo’s love for Rosalie, whom we never meet. Hamlet and Laertes, some people found H’s apology to Laertes disingenuous, but I take it more sincerely. I read Hamlet as a quest for self identity. But I don’t believe Laertes’ acceptance of the apology. The idea of phantom love may exclude the idea of wooing.

I wonder in the film version of Othello(Branagh) where Iago swears his friendship to Othello, the camera is on Iago’s face and there was some sort of residue of affection there and I wonder if Richard’s wooing of Anne is sort of the same thing. He says he wasn’t made for love but maybe he is.

Joseph Stepheson

If Rosaline wasn’t in Romeo and Juliet if it would be a very different story.

The term hand-fasting is a ceremony where people would hold hand and declare a vow of love for each other.

Chancer in 1960 looked back at a book by Henry Swinburne from around 1600 that there are two kinds of hand-fasting: of the present tense, and of the future.  The of-the-future hand-fasting could be broken of like a traditional engagement.

If they exchange a vow in terms of present tense then they are man and wife, even without a priest, church or witness. Present tense hand-fasting does not require holding hands, just present tense vows. Anything additional just ads to the ceremony and proof for possible legal complication.

Catholic Church was clear that the marriage was real, but they had to get Church Married too. As Protestantism became the norm people did hand-fasting more and more and not get church-married or get married later, perhaps at the baptism of their child.

Duchess of Malfi uses the correct legal ;language of present tense hand0fasting.

S. Earl – Duchess, Ryan – Angelo, Emily Joshl-Powell – Cariola

In this scene she actually used the Latin term for of the present and says that the church can follow up what hey do now.

A wooing scene where we have the woman being the wooer.

Audience: A the time people could be punish for participating in clandestine marriages, even witnesses could be punished.

Stepheson: “This if flesh this is not marble,” indicates touch, hand holding, plays good documents for finding out what people did in a hand-fasting, plays show a lot of uniformity.

With Shakespeare virtually every comedy has some reference to hand-fasting

From Shew hand-fasting after Kate and P’s fist scene together Baptista officiates.

Bridget Rue  – Kate, Patrick Midgley Petrucchio, – Baptista

Sometimes another person can utter the words of the contract there can be witnesses.

Petrucchio leaves saying “Father, and Wife” and end with a kiss, not legally required but traditional.

Spontaneous hand-fasting of Claudio and Hero at the party.  And hand-fasting before revel of Hero being alive at the end. David Millstone- Leonato, Esterhuizen – Hero, Fernando Lamberty – Prince, Powwell – Beatrice, P.Earl – Claudio

Characters often don’t say the words in present tense, is there a reason? Would the boy-actor/adult male actor make people uncomfortable? But why when all stage romances were boy actors and adult men.

Winters Tale

S. Earl -Hermione, Midgley – Leonites, Daniels – Polixonies , Joey Ibanez

They had Hermione and Polixonies doing stuff with each others hands the whole time as is indicated in the script. Not a real hand-fasting, but a perceived one.

Othello

Blunt- Iago Lamberty – Othello

Iago vowing his love hands and heart to Othello and Othello’s acceptance. “I am you own forever” – Iago

Blunt point out that Iago and Othello could be kneeling facing each other.

Stepheson: Same language as Claudio to Hero.

T: When seeing B playIago it was amazingto see that hegot whathe wanted but hehas ruined everything.

Stepheson: Othello says “Now are thou my lieutenant”

Blunt: From the first moment Iago has it set up so that there is no way they can avoid the end. This train is going downhill.

As You Like It

Conor Strickland, Stepheson’s his research assistant, joined in as Rosalind in the As You Like it hand-fasting scene with Daniels as Orlando and Ibanez for Celia.

Very interesting to see it with all male actors

Stepheson Rosalind has a legal husband after this scene. Did Richard Burbage actually kneel there (on the Globe stage) and actually say this?

Amy Simpson Grubs Do the names change anything?

P. Earl:  It isn’t a planned thing it just kind of happens.

Blunt: Celia realizes what is going on.

Stepheson: In the play they’re really married.

Nicolas Crawford ended session for time.

Touring troupe acting scenes

  • #shakes (speedypiper.wordpress.com)

Staging Session III

Beth Burns

Skyping Shakespeare: The Hidden Room’s International Collaboration on Rose Rage

Berns enters and has a screen in front of the discovery space broadcasting an image of Skype, she explains how she brought over British actors to the stage to audition, cast and rehearse a show. Berns advocates blocking via video conference although she does stipulate that they do not choreograph fights over Skype.

Why do people hesitate to work with people far away?

An actor referred to as Lawrence heads to the downstage back of the space.

An actor referred to as James then calls us on Skype and says “Hello everyone in America” the sound is adjusted.

They turn off the Skype camera and get back to Lawrence.

Three men come on from upstage, Lawrence from off stage reads his lines while one actor enacts his blocking in front of the audience.

After the actor silently embodying Lawrence trips over a cord we pause and then Lawrence asks for a few different stage pictures which Burns directs them in.

Now Lawrence is announced to have arrived in the states from the UK and Lawrence enacts the blocking he learned over Skype.

Berns remarks that Lawrence incorporated everything that Jude (the body double) suggested.

Lawrence goes onto explain how he found some of the choices Jude very interesting,and they influenced his interpretation of the scene.

Then Berns and James play a game where she had him stare into her eyes where he saw them on the screen and then give a similar gaze into the camera to show the audience the difference.

Lag is important to manage.  One has to mitigate the lag as much as possible through tech and practice

Actors naturally find a rhythm that works with lag.

Daves and James an(suit) d another man act a scene together across Skype until James phone goes of, but then they continue, when James wants to make eye contact he looks directly into the camera

James says fairwell and is turned off

Dr. Davies, who was an actor in the original project, tells a story about making noise in the kitchen while rehearsing over Skype his father came in and asked how many people were on his computer and he replied “About thirty-five”

Berns puts on a scene with half international actors and half from the states to show off the results of the Skype rehearsal project.

The blocking was well defined, all the actors seemed certain of where they were supposed to be when, no one was upstaged and they were able to interact very naturally and had clearly had sufficient rehearsal.

Robert Matney the tech designer meantioned that theater practitioners are usually luddites. We present a live, real alternative to other entertainment.

We need to retain what is precious about live theater but it is important to overcome luddite tendencies and if you use technology to your advantage you can fold and flatten the world. It is worth the extra effort to be able to rehearse with people on the other side of the world.

 

Kim Carrell

Variants in the Quarto and Folio texts of Richard the III

Textual veriants

Carrell explains that in the Quarto and Folio Richard the III have a lot of small differences, different names, and punctuation differences one speech 12 lines shorter but in Act one, Scene two there is one other massive difference…

Three actors take stage and start the Richard III and Lady Anne scene from the 1597 Quarto. Everything goes as expected and at the end when Anne leaves and Richard says he’ll take her but only or a short time, the audience barely reacts at all.  We are not sure he has won Anne as thoroughly as he thinks he has.

Now they perform the folio.

I Q1 Richard offers her a ring and delights at the way it looks on her finger, when they get to this point in the Folio she offers him the ring first and then he silently gave her a ring and had the same line admiring the way it circles her finger. The reaction of the audience was quite noticeable, and the actors related to each other much more sympathetically for the rest of the scene. The shock was much greater then, after she left and he callously said the same dismissive lines, because we had just seem what looked like a marriage ceremony or at the very least an engagement and he was already making it clear that his vows of love were lies.

Carrell said he came to the idea when he was in an unrehearsed cue script production as Richard III and performed this very scene, he thought he knew what to expect, but when she offered him the ring (which he wasn’t expecting) it really changed the scene.

Carrell asks audience what they think.

MFA student Kelly Elliot says that the moment when Anne offers ring makes Richard’s later speech a much bigger reaction.

Carrell advocates taking advantage of the many sexual jokes. Whitefriars, where Richard says he is going next was red-light district of London.

One little switch makes such a huge difference, so it is really worth it to check the differences between texts.

 

Julia Nelson

Modern audiences are used to proscenium staging, movies, privacy, technology, and less human contact. Early Modern audiences had no privacy, and theater was a communal space where space and light were shared.

So, why would Shakespeare and his contemporaries encourage a rowdy audience to participate in the show with audience asides and soliloquies where the actors directly address the audience and ask them questions?

In places like sports stadiums and Rocky Horror Picture Show modern audiences still get rowdy, shout, and in the latter case (but we hope not the former) throw things at the stage.

Rick Blunt performs Falstaff’s Honor speech. Julia asks him to try if first in the “first circle Stanislavski” style and ignore the audience.  Julia asks the audience to talk back and heckle Blunt.

The audience heckles Blunt while he desperately tries to do his scene and ignore the audience.  The audience got so loud it was difficult to hear Blunt whose character was having an internal discussion. Someone even threw a wadded up piece of paper at him.

The second time Julia asked Blunt to engage the audience as much as possible.

Blunt responded to every shout out and really connected with his audience, the speech with the question and answer format made much more sense the second time around. The audience never got as rowdy as they had the first time, by interacting with the, Blunt was able to keep them in check. Audience interaction was a form of crowd control.

If the play was a disaster on first performance and authors weren’t usually paid until second or third performance.

Nelson explains that the first was similar to modern staging where actors are encouraged to not acknowledge the audience. She then opened the floor to questions and comments.

The actor from the previous scene, known as Lawrence, had been doing Trinculo as audition speech then got the role and then at first performance an overly talkative audience member started interacting with him duringa sene:

L:  What have we here a manor fish?

A: Fish!

L: A Fish. Dead or alive?

A: Dead!

The interaction calmed the unruly audience member down and worked well with the scene.

Another audience member pointed out that we police the audience using the lights, when the audience can see each other they are much more likely to interact. What allows us to hoot and holler is that were sharing the same pool of light.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Hamlet Conversations

Christina Sayer Grey here for the last presentation of the 2011 Blackfriars Conference. It’s been a lot of fun to live-blog for you all this week. Enjoy!

Ralph announces that this panel was suggested by Rene Thornton, Jr.

Moderator: Matt Davies

Hamlets: Khris Lewin (2005 at the Blackfriars), Benjamin Curns (2007 at the Blackfriars, Actors’ Renaissance Season, Q1), James Ricks (2001 at the Blackfriars), John Harrell (2011 at the Blackfriars), and Thadd McQuade (1995 with SSE, also played Hamlet in the German MFA project)

Matt says that the purpose of this panel is to talk about what it means to play Hamlet here versus playing him elsewhere. This panel will be in the format of an extended talkback.

Contest: Best Collective Noun for a Group of Hamlets (the best one I’ve heard, A Sulk of Hamlets)

Q: Why do you think that Hamlet chose you?
T.M.: I think that’s a question for the directors.
J.H.: I think I’m a Polonius, but I never saw Hamlet on my path. It was always something for other actors to do, so I never paid much attention to it. I never thought I would play it and I never thought I wanted to. The Hamlet you see now is what I, personally, see the play to be from a very virginal perspective.
B.C.: It was my 2nd Renaissance Season. I had had really terrific parts in the first season, but I wasn’t carrying any of the plays. When I heard they were planning to do the Q1, but I didn’t know what that meant. I just asked to have my mind floated along in the pool of names, just to consider me. My understanding of Hamlet is that its unique in that the lead character has a scene with every other member of the company.
M.D.: Hamlet is interesting because Hamlet is the only character who really knows what’s going through the whole play.
K.L.: First gig out of college. I was 21 and I was the understudy for Hamlet. I remember sitting at the first rehearsal, and the guy playing Hamlet seemed too old to play Hamlet to me. That’s when I felt that Hamlet chose me. And then when I finally played him for real, at 33, that miraculously felt like the perfect age.
J.R.: That sense of being chosen – “why is this happening to me?” and using that. You get to have a relationship with everyone else onstage with you.

Q: Why is this role considered the testing ground for actors? What is with the prestige? Does it deserve its reputation?
B.C.: Of course it does. It demands of the actor a lot of different things. You have to build relationships with every other in the play and, in this space, build a relationship with the audience. And, you’re in 90% of the play. That, in a way, makes it easier. You don’t have time backstage to get nervous.
J.H.: Shakespeare as a cultural figure seems to get lucky sometimes, but the thing about Hamlet as a great part makes me, as an actor, way more self-conscious about performance than I’ve been in any other part. And that’s a big factor in the part, too. The role and the actor ramify in that part. It doubles the experience.

Q: Which is the character that you, as your Hamlet, most connected with?
J.H.: Horatio, which surprised me.
K.L.: It’s amazing – I really felt a special connection with all of the characters at different times.
B.C.: For me, it was the ghost, hands down. Shakespeare writes this amazing scene – “I know you have a million lines before and after this scene, but in this moment “‘list.'” The ghost gives the best pieces of advice to the actor playing the role in this speech. The ghost has so much to say, and Hamlet is required, in that moment, to listen.
J.R.: The ghost, as well. We really played with tenderness in that scene. The audience, though, was the relationship I paid the most attention to. I tried to befriend them as much as I could.
T.M.: It’s much more for me about the actors playing the roles than a particular character on paper. Horatio, though, is an enormous challenge. What is he doing there except to act as a witness and a fellow audience member. The room can alter it quite a bit, of course.

Q: Hamlet’s Theatricality – for Hamlet the audience becomes a major character that he has to deal with. How much did the audience become a mirror for you, playing at the Blackfriars?
B.C.: It made the role way easier. If I had to do it in the dark, I’d find the role much more challenging. “To be or not to be” – the inclusivity of the pronouns.
J.R.: I found it liberating and very comforting. We miss a huge opportunity when we put up that 4th wall. To that extent, the role becomes the actor.

Q: Hamlet can, in some ways, be an isolating part, but in this space, he’s never alone in a very obvious way.
J.H.: I’ll buy that.

K.L.: To the other Hamlets, how did you use the house for soliloquizing? Stagecraft-wise?
J.H.: I started by doing the “too, too solid flesh” speech in the DSR corner. That first speech is nerve-wracking and that acted like a security blanket almost.
K.L.: From center stage, that first speech made me feel like an insect under a microscope.
B.C.: That speech is a place where you feel like you’re being judged as an actor as well as the character.

Q: How have Original Practices affect your develop of the role? What was the relationship of O.P. to your Hamlets?
B.C.: OP version of special effects. How can we use “magic doors” and sound cues for the ghost? Ostensibly, the scene calls for five people, but it’s really an all-call for the supernatural elements.
K.L.: I did Hamlet two years later in a traditional theatre, we had lights and fog, etc. Was there a precedent for using mist?
Lauren Shell (from the gallery): Yes.
J.H.: I like how this kind of space…the advice to the players – making this really advice to Hamlet from himself. It made for a very interesting little puzzle when relating to the role and this space.

Q: Hamlet wasn’t a Blackfriars play, it was a Globe play. Hamlet ribs the groundlings and some scholars have said that it make him an elitist. Are there groundlings in this space?
J.H.: You are being ruthlessly upstaged by the players. There are always people who are WAY more interested in the dumbshow than in anything Hamlet says.
T.M.: In this space, the groundlings are above in the gallery. It’s very tangible, that split and it’s very exciting. Different communities/audiences on different levels.

Q: In this space, does Hamlet then throw the “groundling” lines up rather than down?
J.H.: I always pick the one person on the stools who isn’t paying attention because there is one, inevitably.

Q: A show of hands for who has or is about to play Hamlet – What’s the experience watching someone play Hamlet in this space?
A (Justin): It seems like such a wonderfully intimate venue. It’s enclosed and you can feel like the audience is always so close.
Q: And you did your Hamlet in a graveyard?
A (Justin): We started in a 19th-century opera house and I felt it was harder to reach the audience in that space than it was outdoors.
A (Daniel): This space is quite similar to the Winedale space. It’s surrounded by audience on three sides. You can touch/get in the face of someone in the front row. It allows you to connect very personally with the audience members, convince them that they’re the person about who you’re talking.
A (Bob): Outside in central Texas. It’s very hot. The challenge of the role is less about the lines than just the physical exercise involved in performing the role. At Winedale, audiences are constantly fanning themselves and shifting around. It makes it impossible for the actor to stay still the whole time. Added to the manicness of the character.

Q: In “all occasions,” there is a passage – “will and strength and means…” 26 consecutive monosyllabic words, begins and ends with a caesura. So, basically – pause, 26 monosyllables, pause. Have you thought about what that’s all about?
J.H.: The leaden ratio – that speech happens at the moment the audience most palpably wants Hamlet to shut up. And, you are out there saying something that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Q: Act – motive, intention, and performance. If you apply that concept to what Hamlet is saying –
J.H.: If he just changed to the past-tense “If I HAD cause and will…” it would make so much more sense.
T.M.: I think that the thing is what Mamet called the ‘Kitten monologue’ – someone grinding the play to a halt with a jarring, nostalgic moment. It’s like a play-sized caesura. It’s a different flavor for Hamlet. He can misrepresent himself to himself, self- deception. I think it’s an interesting moment that, if you’re looking for fluidity, continuity, and rationality, it’s clear why it gets cut, but it can be a moment where Hamlet and Fortinbras can suss out the differences in their characters.
K.L.: I didn’t do it here, but I did it elsewhere. And it’s interesting – it’s the last big speech, it’s the only one not at the castle. And it’s the turning point after which he acts – he deals with R&G, he gets involved with pirates, he gets his revenge. He becomes this sort of action hero-y character offstage.
J.H.: And, I found it incredibly easy to memorize.

Q: Offstage – why do you think Hamlet goes to Ophelia’s closet and what it he trying to do there?
J.H. [laughs]: What are they generally trying to do there?
B.C.: If you believe that he goes there directly after the ghost scene, he goes there to tell the person he trusts the most, but when he gets there, he remembers he’s sworn to secrecy and so stands there in silence. He hopes to find a support system, but can’t.
K.L.: It’s one of those near misses. Like, if only that servant could read and didn’t have to ask Romeo…
J.R.: Jim had us rehearse that scene to get a reference point.

Q. In this particular theatre, we’re willing to join you on an imaginative journey, do you think it matters how old Hamlet is?
J.R.: Modern audiences certainly relate to college Hamlet and his buddy Horatio. I think it assists their understanding.
K.L.: It is such a wonderful role, and I want to see all kinds of different Hamlets. I want to see Hamlets of all kinds.

Q (Maxim): If you could give yourself advice as you were playing Hamlet, what advice would you give?
B.C.: Ask for help. In a season with no director, I was really fortunate to have Rene as Horatio and he set aside time to sit with me as I worked the soliloquys. Rather than feeling like you have to carry the show, take in as much information and feedback as possible.
J.R.: I would tell myself…give myself permission to fail. I came in with a lot of preconceived notions and couldn’t allow myself to let them go.
M.D.: It brings up the thought – is this the sort of role you should really play twice?
J.H.: I wish I could have been able to relax about it.

Q: Is it difficult, as Hamlet, to be directed? Since it’s such a dominating part?
T.M.: Not at all. I think I would have been a lot more at sea if I hadn’t had Ralph as the director. The director can be a very useful pressure to create a clear form. Otherwise, the part could just spill everywhere.
J.H.: The best directors at least give you the illusion of ownership. I feel that I can answer for everything I’m doing on the stage.
J.R.: I felt that Jim was an ally and really helped in fleshing out each of those relationships, one by one.
B.C.: It’s great to be asked a lot of questions. As to ownership, the answer is yours. A good director won’t tell you the answer but encourage you to ask the question.

Q (Paul Menzer): To Ben, could you talk about doing the Q1, a Hamlet that is familiar and so different.
B.C.: I always thought that “there’s the point” would get a giggle because it’s jarring. But, the Q1 feels like the difference between an action film to an arthouse film.
K.L.: It’s just so exciting to have that feeling.
T.M.: The German translation version is structured differently even from Q1, but there are still recognizable bits. And those were the moments where the audience could get onboard with something familiar before something strange and jarring happened. Hamlet is in our cultural consciousness and there are a lot of people who may not know the play well enough to be jarred greatly by the differences.

Q (Casey Caldwell): On the subject of Folio and Q1, what is it like working with a play that has different, somewhat competing versions?
B.C.: Simply, I ignored all the other versions.
K.L.: I had a fifty email exchange with the director that was like a bargain – bartering lines. I did miss some stuff that wasn’t there, but how long do you want to make the evening? Every line can help you as an actor.
J.H.: We worked from the Oxford and Jim had done the cut. And, usually I’m a bargainer, but in this case, I just went with it. I only asked for one line back. And then, trying to learn the Q1 sequence was very confusing. I had learned Hamlet’s path one way and that was Hamlet. So, learning that different version of the character was cool.

Q (Rene): Is there a part of Hamlet that you don’t like?
J.H.: Osric. I don’t understand why he’s there and I don’t think I ever will.

Q (Tom Berger): When you offer a conflated version of Hamlet, that doesn’t exist. It’s a 19th century play.
J.H.: It’s really a 21st-century play. We’ve taken these pieces and played with them more.
T.M.: But, it only matters if you’re trying to authorize it in some way. In the playing of it, does it really matter?
K.L.: It adds to the mystery of what is this Hamlet.

Collective nouns: A Procrastination, A Prevarication, A Bedlam

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session XI

Hi! I’m Julia, I’ll be liveblogging Paper Session XI from 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

Moderator: Tom Berger, Saint Lawrence University

“Lyke unto a right weather woman”:
Prophecy and Performance in William Percy’s Mahomet and His Heaven

Daniel Keegan, University of California, Irvine

Keegan’s main purpose in discussing Mahomet and His Heaven was to show that the play is worth studying by students of Renaissance drama, although perhaps not worth performing. He showed that the Weather Woman element is an important key to the theme of hybridization in the play, a theme that is important to understanding characters within the play, and also to understanding Islam.

The Canonical Bard:
Ninagawa Yukio’s Attempt to Dismantle the Altar of Shakespeare in Japan

Sara Boland-Taylor, University of Illinois

Boland-Taylor presented Ninagawa as an interesting Japanese director who struggled against the way his countrymen viewed and performed Shakespeare as a pageant of Western culture. In his work, he made great strides in owning Shakespeare, using such creative tactics as setting The Tempest in a rehearsal at a prison, which eliminated the need for extraneous elements (such as blond wigs) that otherwise were considered necessary for performance of Shakespeare plays. Ninagawa crossed the ancient with the avaunt-garde in an attempt to embrace Shakespeare, and encouraged his audiences to do the same.

Rousing the Audience in the Sleep-Walking Scene:
Lady Macbeth as Faustus Figure

Anne Gossage, Eastern Kentucky University

Gossage posited the idea that instead of a crazy or asleep Lady Macbeth, she should wake up during the sleepwalking scene, so that her hysteria and anxiety are not from false visions but from the realization that the reality she fears is her reality; she has not dreamed it. Gossage also showed Lady Macbeth as a vice character, descending through the pit at the end of the scene while the Doctor and the Gentlewoman watch as the good and bad angels from above.

“I Have Given Suck:”
The Maternal Body in Sarah Siddons’ Lady Macbeth

Chelsea Phillips, Ohio State University

Phillips discussed the career of Sarah Siddons, who in the 18th century performed many of Shakespeare’s female roles while pregnant with her various children. Phillips focused on Siddons’ portrayal of a pregnant Lady Macbeth, because this choice in particular highlighted and transformed many of the references in Macbeth to children and motherhood, and also brought the subject of Banquo’s children’s succession to the throne to an interesting question.

“Dearer than a friend”:
The Satire of Relationship Dynamics in The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Cass Morris, American Shakespeare Center

While many productions try to rush past the awkward ending of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, or somehow correct for its strangeness, Morris suggests leaving the troubling moment as it is. She believes that Shakespeare was deliberately bringing to light the problems with the classical model of a divinely inspired male friendship, and she showed in her paper that Proteus and Valentine are following that model perfectly. Morris suggests that Sylvia’s silence after the attempted rape and after Valentine’s offer of her to Proteus is so far out of character that she could only be doing it on purpose to draw attention to the strangeness of the situation.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session X

Hello – Charlene V. Smith here, welcoming you to Saturday afternoon of the 2011 Blackfriars Conference. I’ll be liveblogging Paper Session X from 2:30pm to 3:45 pm. The session is moderated by Farah Karim-Cooper from the Globe Theatre, and the presenters were assisted by Mary Baldwin MFA actors A. J. Sclafani, Linden Kueck, and Angelina LaBarre.

Annalisa Castaldo, Widener University
“Here sit we down…”: The location of Andrea and Revenge in The Spanish Tragedy

Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy opens with the entrance of the Ghost of Andrea and the figure of Revenge, and presumably they both remain onstage for the entire play. Castaldo mentions a footnote in an essay by Barry Adams pointing out Scott MacMillian’s assertion that the characters would have appeared on the main platform of the Rose in full view of the audience.

Castaldo suggests that this set up is a ridiculous waste of two actors and stage space. Castaldo compares the play to Taming of A Shrew, where Sly, onstage for entire play, repeatedly interacts with the action. In contrast, Andrea and Revenge sit still, pretend that the actors cannot hear them, speak only to each other during breaks in the action. Andrea and Revenge act more like a modern audience than an early modern audience.

Other plays of the time suggest interaction form audience, so Castaldo wonders if an non-interacting Andrea and Revenge located onstage would have in fact been distracting to the audience. With that thought, Castaldo wonders how might the characters have moved around the stage? Where would they have been?

In the very first scene, Revenge says, “Here sit we down, to see the mystery.” In an indoor theatre, they could take gallant stools. But there is no evidence that the Rose had seating onstage. Would stools have been preset? Would the actors have carried them on with them? Castaldo thinks these options seems unlikely. These problems can be solved if the characters enter above.

Further evidence for this idea comes in 3.2, during Hieronimo’s famous “O Eyes, No Eyes” soliloquy. His speech is interrupted by a letter which falls from above. The letter comes from Bel-imperia, so it would make sense that Bel-imperia drops it from her balcony. However the stage direction from the printed text is ambiguous: “a letter falleth” suggesting instead a supernatural element. Castaldo argues that Revenge drops the letter, which he can do so from above.

Castaldo also points out the stage direction that appear between acts three and four, “enter Ghost.” The previous action upsets Andrea and Castaldo says the “enter” indicates that Andrea appears onstage and shouts up to the sleeping Revenge, who is still above.

Castaldo ends her presentation with a strong recommendation that the ASC produces The Spanish Tragedy, a statement that is met with enthusiastic applause from the audience (much of it, admittedly, mine).

Jeanne McCarthy, Georgia Gwinnett College
The Two Blackfriars Theatres: Discontinuity or Contiguity?

E.K. Chambers conjectured that both Blackfriars theatres were located in the same place in the monastery. Later scholars have imposed great difference between the two theatre on what McCarthy calls “slim evidence.” Scholars have come to view the first Blackfriars as inferior in location, size, and ambition, a failed attempt that was corrected with the second. McCarthy suggests this comes from a selective reading of the evidence.

Many scholars push first Blackfriars into northern end of the upper floor in the old buttery. This conclusion is based on misunderstandings of audience access, room size, and roof height. Documents from the period speak both of divided rooms and also one great room, suggesting a mutability of space. McCarthy points out evidence authorizing the removal of walls.

McCarthy argues that the desire of scholars to seek a permanent purposed built theatre in the Blackfriars is anachronistic. The documents are evident, instead, of a fluid, transformable sense of space.

Joe Falocco, Texas State University – San Marcos
“What’s in a Name?”: Defining an Appropriate Nomenclature for Elizabethan/Original Practices/Early Modern/Renaissance/ Shakespearean Staging

Since late 19th century, theatre practitioners have sought to emulate the staging conditions of Shakespeare’s playhouse. Falocco’s paper investigates what we should call this movement. Early incarnations were known as Elizabethan Revival. This causes problems, the chief of which is the name Elizabethan is historically inaccurate. Early Modern is more accurate, but few people outside of English departments know what that means. Falocco says that calling the movement Renaissance Staging would avoid these pitfalls, but unfortunately would cause tension with disgruntled medievalists.

The term Original Practices has gained some popularity recently, though there has not been complete agreement over what these practices are. This term has been associated strongly with Mark Rylance’s tenure at the Globe and the New American Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta. Theatre historians, however, have pointed out the Globe’s ahistorical use of the yard for entrances, exits, and processions. At the Shakespeare Tavern, the audience is seated in front and does not surround the playing space. Nor does the tavern consistently employ universal lighting.

Jim Warren, Artistic Director of the American Shakespeare Center, told Falocco that everyone used to refer to Shakespeare’s staging conditions. Falocco suggest Shakespearean Staging as a viable alternative to these other terms. However he admits that this terms shortchanges Shakespeare’s contemporaries and also causes confusion, as every production of Shakespeare play is in some sense Shakespearean staging. But, Falocco argues, the benefits of name recognition might outweigh these drawbacks.

Ann Jennalie Cook, Vanderbilt University and Sewanee School of Letters
Light and Heat in the Playhouses

Cook begins her presentation by noting that even in our original practices productions we don’t fully realize the influence of light and heat in the early modern period. The availability of light regulated activity in the early modern period. Torches and candles were expensive. Whatever happened at night involved spending money.

It was, additionally, really cold most of the time. The period was consistently colder than temperatures have been in the 20th century. Weather conditions caused permanent snow on Scottish hill tops and frequent storms brought rain and crop destruction. The Thames River froze solid at least eleven times during the 17th century.

1601 was the coldest summer in 2,000 years. The weather, like the light, had monetary implications. During the period, the price of fuel climbed steadily. Clothing was also expensive and shoes were a necessity, not a luxury.

Both factors of heat and light affected season attendance and governed activities in the playhouses. Cook wonders how often performances were curtailed or canceled due to weather? How many groundlings remained shivering until the end of the performance? To sit out of the rain and weather in an outdoor playhouse cost more money. Indoor playhouse likewise had a higher cost of admission.

Considering these elements will help us understand the plays better, Cook argues. Shakespeare’s text clearly makes references to weather, season, and time. A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes place at a time of year where the light and weather allow for lovers to sleep on the ground, and for rude mechanicals to rehearse in the woods. “Sleeping in mine orchard,” as mentioned in Hamlet, was only possible for a limited period of the year. Looking at the season and the school schedule at Wittenberg, Cook suggests that Hamlet would have been at Elsinore when his father died. Cook states that the action of the plot of Hamlet begins in early September and “the days thereafter grow steadily colder.”

Nova Myhill, New College of Florida
“The Concourse of People on the Stage”: An Alternative Proposal for Onstage Seating at the Second Blackfriars

Ben Jonson’s prologue to The Devil is an Ass is concerned with the physical restraints the stage-sitters put on the actors. Thomas Dekker makes similar observations about the behavior of these audience members in his plays. The Blackfriars recreation we are currently sitting in allows for eighteen occupants of Lord’s Chairs in box like area, behind a half wall, and places twelve gallants stools on stage. This Blackfriars recreation follows scholarly opinion that assumes a small numer of spectators onstage. Andrew Gurr, for example, restricts the number to “as many as ten.”

Myhill asks what would happen if we stopped looking at Jonson and Dekker’s descriptions seen as satiric exaggerations. What if we maximize the possible number of onstage audience members rather than minimizing it? This thought brings up two areas of inquiry: how many stage-sitters were there, and where would they have been located.

Myhill tells about a strage law case in 1609 where a theatre employee was accused of receiving 30 shillings a week for the stools on the stage of the Blackfriars unknown to everyone else. Myhill states a cost of six pence per stool, extrapolating that according to the case, sixty people hired stools. Were there enough already onstage that sixty more would have been unnoticed?

One scholar has proposed that there were no boxes at the second Blackfriars, simply side seating, though an illustration from the time shows that there were. Myhill proposes that perhaps the boxes were located at the rear of the stage, allowing for more spectators on the stage itself.

Myhill ends by pointing out that the estimates of ten stage sitters, or even twenty to thirty, that scholars suggest can not produce the effects mentioned and bemoaned by Jonson and Dekker.

Lauren Shell, University of Virginia, Technical Direction MFA program
Lighting Effects in the Early Modern Private Playhouses

Shell states that we must realize that lighting design is not a modern concept. It began as early as the ancient greek and roman theatre, where plays called for torches brought onstage for certain moments. Here at the Blackfriars recreation we assume an even wash of light onstage and through out the house, but Shell argues that lighting effects were more nuanced that that and points out that text of the early modern plays we study suggest lighting effects.

Shell then discusses evidence of lighting effects in books and manuals from the 17th century. Some of these manuals provide instructions for how to achieve these effects. Shell then demonstrates her own models of possible early modern lighting machines.

First is a device whereby lit candles have covers over them. These covers are attached to ropes and can be lowered and raised, effectively dimming and increasing the level of lighting. Proof exists of such a device being used in court masques, so it seems probably that the same device could have been employed in private playhouses. Shell points out the difference between the stage directions “as if groping in the dark” and “a darkness comes over the place.” These directions are not the same. The first deals with perceived darkness; the second, actual darkness.

Shell then demonstrates how colored lighting would have been created by placing containers of colored liquid in front of candles, the forerunner to modern day gels. Shell then shows a device where candles are surrounded by microreflectors that could be swung open and closed, creating a sudden burst of light.

Inigo Jones and Ben Jonson first collaborated on The Queen’s Masque of Blackness. Jonson’s text contains verbose descriptions of stage effects, including lighting effects. Future masques that Jonson worked on do as well. These effects, when employed in the private playhouses, brought the sophistication of court to the common man.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session I

I’m Charlene V. Smith, and I’ll be liveblogging Plenary Session I from 1pm to 2:15pm.

Leslie Thomson, University of Toronto
The Tempest and the Stage-Sitters

Thomson starts by pointing out that the King’s Men had already started using the Blackfriars by the time that Shakespeare started writing The Tempest. Thus he would have known that the most expensive seats would have been those on stage. Thomson asks what effect the gallants onstage might have had, for example they created a type of stage dressing, and caused an alienating effect by reminding the audience that they were at a play.

The stage-sitters would have completed with the players for staging space and for audience attention, so Thomson explores whether the plays at the time included elements meant to counteract this or remind the sitters to behave? Thomson argues that The Tempest is constructed to quiet the stage sitters using elements such as soliloquies, discoveries, masques, and other staging devices.

The Tempest‘s 78 uses of “now”and  numerous mentions of the island create a single shared time and location. Events in the play such as the shipwreck, banquet, and the masque draw attention to drama onstage as opposed to the drama offstage. The text also suggests a number of sitting, reclining, or leaning positions. Groups of figures are also regularly observed by others. All these features help point the audience’s attention to the play itself. Thomson then suggests that Prospero acts as a stage-manager, speaking directly to the playgoers, and controlling moments of action during the play.

Thomson concludes with the thought that the presence of stage-sitters couldn’t be ignored during the early modern era and therefore shouldn’t be ignored now. By considering their effect on the performance, we can gather a more accurate and fuller picture of early modern theatre.

Mark Z. Muggli, Luther College
“After the first death, there is no other”: Except in the Case of Falstaff

Muggli mentions that much attention has been paid to Falstaff’s reported death in Henry V, and says he instead wants to focus attention on Falstaff’s first death in Henry IV, part one. Falstaff, to avoid fighting in the battle, “falls down as if he were dead.” The “as if” is ambiguous.

Should Falstaff rise up thirty lines later to the audience’s complete surprise? Or should he fall down with a wink to the audience so that we know he is faking during Hal and Hotspur’s fight?

Muggli says that a Falstaff who informs the audience that he is faking is an impressive trickster, but he is only a trickster. A Falstaff that convinces the audience that he is dead is a Falstaff who has the power to resurrect himself.

Muggli mentions a production he saw recently where an overweight Falstaff apparently suffered a heart attack and falls down. To Muggli, it was convincingly real. While speaking to colleagues about this production, one disagreed, telling Muggli that “it was obvious that Falstaff was faking.” Muggli suggest the cultural legacy of Falstaff means that audiences, even nonspecialists, are aware that he does not die in the first play he appears, and so his resurrection can never truly come as a surprise.

Walter Cannon, Central College
Complex Hearing

Cannon describes complex hearing as a moment when a character hears something that he or she cannot respond to directly, either due to disguise, eavesdropping, decorum, tact, or prevailing social norms.
Cannon says the character’s reticence and a restraint can be used as a guide to emotional and psychological complexity.

To demonstrate his point, Cannon looks at two speeches of Edgar’s in King Lear. The first in 3.6 is a soliloquy in which Edgar speaks out-loud to himself. The second is the speech he delivers in 5.3 to Albany and Edmund. These speeches deal with Edgar’s disguise of Poor Tom.

Cannon points out that disguises are often used to gain or regain power, but Poor Tom gives Edgar knowledge, but not power. It is a disguise that puts an emotional burden on Edgar that he reveals after his fight with Edmund.

Cannon stages the speech in 5.3 in order to demonstrate that the onstage hearers guide audience response. Edgar faces entirely upstage, where Albany and Edmund are located. Edmund and Albany’s faces were therefore much more visible to the majority of the audience.

Bill Gelber, Texas Tech University
A “Ha” in Shakespeare: the Soliloquy as Excuse and Challenge to the Audience

Gelber begins by mentioning the large debate surrounding soliloquies: should they be internal and introspective or external and taken to the audience? To explore the answer, Gelber looks at Shakespeare’s use of a single word, “Ha.” “Ha” can be a shorter version of the word “have,” when elision is necessary, or it can be repeating to simulate a character’s laughter: “ha, ha, ha,” or it can be a word of chiding, especially when located after a question.

Gelber is interested in this final use, especially when it occurs in a soliloquy. Shakespeare uses it sparingly, and Gelber with the help of the actors explores two examples.

The first is from Measure for Measure, 2.2. Angelo asks, “Who sins most? Ha?” In this moment he is looking to the audience for an answer. Gelber argues that the “ha” here is an interjectional interrogatory used to explain Angelo’s previous aside in the scene with Isabella, an aside that is an abrupt and surprising admission of temptation. In this soliloquy, Angelo is making his case before a jury of playgoers.

Gelber then briefly looks at a couple examples where “ha” us used in dialogue, where it is used to provoke other characters to respond. Gelber says “ha” is used in much the same way in a soliloquy, only the other character is the audience.

Hamlet says “ha” in his “Am I a coward?” soliloquy. Gelber argues that the “ha?” seeks an actual response, otherwise why would Hamlet bother? This soliloquy assumes response. Gelber mentions the famous production of Hamlet starring David Warner where one night when Warner asked, “Am I a coward?,” a man called out, “Yes!” When Mark Rylance played Hamlet he performed this soliloquy at the edge of the stage, as close to the audience as possible in order to provoke a response.

Evelyn Tribble, University of Otago
Inset Skill Displays

Tribble’s paper is on early modern actors and their skill set. She bemoans that this aspect is not paid much attention in current studies. For example, the art of gesture is often dismissed as static and old-fashioned. Tribble feels that we should look at these skills positively and as part of an ecology of skill.

Tribble notes that the abundant stage directions in early modern play texts call for a wide range of physical and verbal abilities, including speaking, fencing, wrestling, vaulting, dancing, tumbling, and singing. Londoners could experience many of these skills in arenas other than the theatre, meaning that they were educated and informed.

Fencing displays were part of theatrical tradition and also civic life. and therefore viewers of drama were likely to have a high knowledge of the sport. Many plays also call for highly technical forms of dance. Dance had a wide cultural currency. Spectators attended performances at London’s dancing schools.

Tribble encourages us to consider how an early modern performer’s skills existed in a whole culture that cannot be discovered by looking at the printed page alone.

Katherine Mayberry, Grand Valley State University & Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company
Judging Spectators: The Manipulation of Audience Critical Response

Mayberry took the stage to discuss the use of prologues and epilogues in early modern drama. These speeches address the theatre audience as an audience; they define the audience role and give specific instructions. These prologues and epilogues frequently refer to the audience’s power to judge the performance, but manage to shifts the responsibility for the play’s success or failure onto the audience.

Playwrights use several tactics in their prologues and epilogues, including scripting and cueing applause, preemptively apologizing, anticipating criticism and dismissing them, and stating that the play will appel to discerning auditors.

Shakespeare cues the audience’s applause in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, and As You Like It. Puck says, “Give me your hands if we be friends.” This is a conditional phrase. The audience must either applaud or cease to be the players’ friends. Rosalind’s epilogue scripts the audience response: “bid me farewell,” and cues the audience: “when I curtsy.”

In the opening Chorus of Henry V, Shakespeare uses the tactics of preemptively apologizing, and anticipating criticism and dismissing it, specifically demands for onstage realism. The Chorus also enlists the audience in the creation of performance, thus suggesting if the play’s not successful the audience has failed.

Mayberry moves onto examples where the playwright is more insulting to the audience. Ben Jonson’s prologues were often antagonistic. He disparages the judgement of those who criticize the play.
Jonson doesn’t solicit the audience’s help, but places blame for negative response on the audience’s poor taste.

John Ford’s The Broken Heart offers auditors membership in an elite club of those with “noble judgement” and “clear eyes.” giving an incentive to like the play. Thomas Middleton’s No Wit/No Help Like a Woman concedes failure before the play begins: “How is it possible to suffice so many ears? So many eyes?”

Mayberry concludes that early modern authors recognized the audience’s power over playwright and performer and sought to control it. They sought to wrest that power back by orchestrating audience response.

The speakers in this session were aided by ASC actors John Harrell, Allison Glenzer, and Gregory Jon Phelps.