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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you that love the commons, follow me”: Shakespeare and the Demagogue

Salon put out an article last weekend decrying the commandeering of Shakespeare by conservative think-tankers who believe that “Shakespeare offers future CEOs and business leaders the models they need to achieve ruthless success behind the veneer of ethical behavior.” While we at the ASC certainly believe that Shakespeare offers some lessons for leaders, the subjects of the article seem to have missed the mark and learned the wrong lessons. The article’s author, Chris MacDonald, does an excellent job analyzing where Shakespeare’s plays send messages that are conservative, liberal, or a little bit of both, pointing towards the concept that it’s not so easy to put him in one box, particularly since he does such a good job showcasing the vast spectrum of human experience. It got me thinking, though, about one element in Shakespeare’s plays that is resonating particularly loudly in this election year.

If Shakespeare has any consistent political message, it seems to be this: Beware the demagogue. Beware the one who tells you only what you want to hear. Beware someone who drives you towards chaos rather than towards construction. In a political climate where success seems to depend on little more than out-shouting one’s opponents, that’s a lesson we could all benefit from revisiting.

Visitors to the Playhouse this fall will have the opportunity to see one of Shakespeare’s finest examples of populism gone horrible wrong in The Rise of Queen Margaret (Henry VI, Part 2), in the figure of Jack Cade. Though he claims he has noble heritage that entitles him to the crown, he appeals to the masses with promises that are so extravagant as to be ludicrous — but the crowd heartily cheers them:

ASCh4_283

The cast of 2010’s 2 Henry VI; photo by Tommy Thompson

CADE
There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hooped pot shall have ten hoops; and I will make it felony to drink small beer: all the realm shall be in common… There shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score…
I charge and command that, of the city’s cost, the pissing-conduit run nothing but claret wine this first year of our reign.

This would all be laughable if not for the fact that Cade’s followers take him seriously. His promises are ludicrous, and he has no plan for their implementation — he just assumes that, once he’s in power, he can do as he likes. Unfortunately, Cade’s influence shows what can happen when this fervor spins out of control. His supporters quickly turn violent, with the famous and almost-always-removed-from-context cry to “Kill all the lawyers.” Cade’s response is alarming because it uses the sort of logical fallacy that modern politicians also employ when they hope to make something absurd, offensive, or dangerous seem rational:

CADE
That I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment? that parchment, being scribbled o’er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings: but I say, ’tis the bee’s wax; for I did but seal once to a thing, and I was never mine own man since.

This turn demonstrates the anti-intellectualism that also permeates much modern political discourse — the sense that, somehow, intelligence and education aren’t things we should want in our leaders. Cade and his followers express distrust of learned men, they claim that men who can read and write must be villains and that those who speak French are traitors, and they hang a clerk for confessing his literacy. From there, the violence blooms outward to encompass pretty much anyone that the crowd doesn’t like or that Cade thinks hasn’t shown him enough respect — “The proudest peer in the realm shall not wear a head on his shoulders, unless he pay me tribute” — leading to the gruesome beheadings in Act Four, scene seven.

Eventually Clifford turns the fickleness of the crowd against Cade, invoking the name of the popular hero Henry V. Realizing he’s been out-maneuvered, Cade states, “The name of Henry the Fifth hales them to an hundred mischiefs, and makes them leave me desolate.” Clifford proves ruthless, however; after promising the rebellious citizens amnesty and glory, he has them prepared to be hanged. King Henry VI pardons them, earning their loyalty — and making the audience wonder if Clifford intended that, making them all unconscious actors in a play staged to bolster support for the king. If so, it’s a psychologically cruel ploy, but an extremely effective one, and one that demonstrates the inherent danger of a populace too willing to hand over power to a speaker who flatters them and makes empty promises.

Shakespeare shows us another drama meant to manipulate the populace in Richard III, when Richard and the Duke of Buckingham stage a scene to win support for his usurpation of his nephew. Richard appears with two churchmen, feigning pious study and claiming he has no desire to the throne, whereupon Buckingham, surrounded by the Lord Mayor of London and various citizens, has to “convince” him both by praising his supposed virtues and by threatening to set someone else up in his place:

RICHARD
Alas, why would you heap these cares on me?
I am unfit for state and majesty;
I do beseech you, take it not amiss;
I cannot nor I will not yield to you.

BUCKINGHAM
If you refuse it,—as, in love and zeal,
Loath to depose the child, Your brother’s son;
As well we know your tenderness of heart
And gentle, kind, effeminate remorse,
Which we have noted in you to your kin,
And regally indeed to all estates,—
Yet whether you accept our suit or no,
Your brother’s son shall never reign our king;
But we will plant some other in the throne,
To the disgrace and downfall of your house:
And in this resolution here we leave you.—
Come, citizens: ‘zounds! I’ll entreat no more.

The Lord Mayor ends up begging Buckingham and the citizens to come back and entreat Richard once again, and he begs Richard to accept. Richard knew how to play against their expectations, gaining the crown by pretending he did not want it.
Even some of Shakespeare’s finest rhetorical speeches can be seen as examples of a leader using clever language and popular appeal to ignoble ends. Henry V’s St Crispin’s Day speech is perhaps as fine an example of persuasive wordcraft as one can find in the English language — you can see Dr. Ralph’s mark-up here — but it’s persuading men to die for a cause that (as other characters in the play point out) is not necessarily just. Mark Antony eloquently whips the Roman plebeians into a fervor in Julius Caesar, skillfully manipulating them to turn against Brutus, the man they had lauded only moments before. Both Henry and Antony feign modesty of some kind — Henry says he does not care for gold, or clothes, or “who doth feed upon my cost”, and Antony claims “I am no orator, as Brutus is” — but both are playing their own attributes down in an attempt to align themselves with the common interest.

JULIUS CAESAR rehearsal-45

Patrick Poole in rehearsal as Antony; photo by Jay McClure

Antony’s speech is more effective than Brutus’s partly because while Brutus makes an argument designed on logic (even if it’s often false logic), meant to appeal to the listener’s head, Antony goes straight for the heart. He appeals to emotions, and he receives an emotional response. He also offers the commons a more concrete reward than Brutus does, however. While Brutus says that the benefit of Caesar’s death will be the somewhat nebulous “place in the commonwealth” for every citizen, Antony pulls out Caesar’s will and promises them their inheritance — 75 drachmas to each man, as well as access to public parks, given to the populace in perpetuity. By the end of his speech, the citizens of Rome set off to burn houses and murder anyone they connect with Caesar’s death, including the hapless Cinna the Poet. Antony openly admits — to the audience, at least — that his purpose was manipulation: “Now, mischief, thou art afoot; take thou what course thou wilt.”

So, what political message can we truly consider Shakespeare’s legacy? Conservative, liberal, or moderate, Shakespeare’s message seems to be to think. Listen carefully and critically. Don’t accept what any potential leader says at face value, even or perhaps especially if they’re promising you something you want — because they want something, too.

–Cass Morris
ASC Academic Resources Manager

“Thy life hath had some smatch of honour in it”: Virtue, Politics, and Julius Caesar

The time has come once more for my annual Ides of March posting about Julius Caesar. This play always resonates particularly strongly in election years. I’ve talked before about how ideas of rhetoric connect across the centuries, but today, I thought I’d go for something a little different. Much of this year’s political debate has centered not on policy but on personality — on what makes someone “presidential”, on what behavior is considered above-board and what’s below the belt.

As it happens, that’s something I focused on in the Julius Caesar Study Guide, too — how Shakespeare balanced pagan Roman virtues with early modern Christian virtues and how students can then relate those concepts to their own modern sensibilities of what is right and appropriate, in public and in private. So this year, I’m sharing a snippet of that Study Guide, in the hopes of generating fruitful discussion both about Julius Caesar and about our own political tangles.


Perspectives: Honor and Virtue

Many of the characters in Julius Caesar are preoccupied – obsessed, even – with ideas of honor and virtue. They want to act in a way that is “right” and just, that will not bring shame upon them, and that will benefit not only themselves, but the nation of Rome. Concepts of honor and virtue, however, are not concrete. They change throughout time and from culture to culture. In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has to balance the Roman pagan ideals of his historical subject matter with the Christian morals of the world in which he lived (and in which he had to get his play past the government censors). This activity will explore concepts of virtue both in Roman antiquity and in Shakespeare’s England, as well as examining ways to relate those ideas to modern frameworks of honor and morality.

This activity will also touch on the issue of suicide as depicted within the play. As this is a sensitive issue and possibly triggering for some teenagers, you may want to use this discussion as an opportunity to bring in a guidance counselor to speak to your students about suicide.

Roman Virtues

Roman virtues tended to spring from how a man related to society, based on qualities that formed a model for excellence in both private and public life. Attainment of these virtues was important because it allowed society to run smoothly. Some of the most important virtues were:

  • Auctoritas, the totality of one’s social standing built up through experience and reputation, a measure of clout and influence
  • Dignitas, a man’s good name and prestige, a sense of self-worth and personal pride
  • Gravitas, a sense of sobriety, responsibility, and earnestness, a sense of substance and depth rather than frivolity
  • Pietas, encompassing not just religious devotion, but a respect for the natural order of society and ideals of patriotism, as well as the sense of duty to the state and to one’s family
  • Veritas, “truthfulness,” honesty and respectability in dealing with others

These virtues had near-tangible currency for the Romans. They were not just abstract concepts; the Romans conceptualized them in a way that has no precise analog in modern society. For the Romans, it was almost as if each man had a jar for each virtue, and his actions (or those of his friends and family, reflecting on him by association) could either add beans to his jar or take them out. Though there was no actual record-keeping of a man’s virtuous standing, Roman men (particularly those with political ambitions) had a constant awareness not only of their own measures, but of the measures of their allies and opponents within the political system. A man with insufficient auctoritas could not hope to win high political office. A scandal could damage a man’s dignitas, making his social life considerably less pleasant.

  • Discuss:
    • Which of the virtues do the major characters display?  Ask your students to back up their opinions with examples from the text.
      • Example: Caesar displays great (even excessive) dignitas when walking through Rome for the Lupercalia festival (1.2).
    • When do these characters invoke these ideas of virtue (even if they don’t use the actual words for them) to influence or manipulate other characters?  Again, have your students find examples in the text.
      • Example: Cassius calls upon Brutus’s pietas to get him to join the conspiracy (1.2); Antony rhetorically questions Brutus’s veritas to get the plebeians on his side (3.2).
    • What happens in the play to make any characters gain or lose one of these virtues?
      • Example: Cassius’s shady financial dealings (4.2) call his veritas and dignitas into question; the idea that Caesar is afflicted with the falling sickness, possibly seen as a curse from the gods, might damage his auctoritas or pietas (1.2).
    • At the end of the play, whose “virtue-jars” are fullest?
  • Writing Prompt: In a journal entry or short essay, ask your students to choose which of the Roman virtues they think is most important in Julius Caesar and to defend that choice with quotes from the text.

Elizabethan Virtues

The major difference between the Christian concept of virtue and the Roman ideal is, essentially, one of private life versus public life, or, to put it another way, the idea of internal responsibility versus external. Honor and virtue in sixteenth-century England sprung from a Christian sense of duty to God and were concerned with a man’s individual soul, not with his relation to society. Dishonorable or unvirtuous conduct was most threatening to the individual, who would be held accountable for his actions in the afterlife; the only concern for others was that he might inspire similar inappropriate conduct. Christians also had a codified set of rules to obey, passed down in the Bible, the works of notable Christian authors, and the mandates of the Church. Though the universality of this code was less distinct in the decades following the English Reformation and the rise of Protestantism than it had been during the centuries of Catholicism’s unbroken dominance of Europe, many ideas of sin and virtue still carried over even with the advent of the Church of England.

Medieval tradition recognized Seven Heavenly Virtues with corresponding Seven Deadly Sins: Lust vs Chastity, Gluttony vs Temperance, Greed vs Charity, Sloth vs Diligence, Wrath vs Patience, Envy vs Kindness, Pride vs Humility.

For Romans, an individual’s responsibility was more to the state. Dishonorable conduct was a disruption of order that did not just threaten the individual, but the fabric of society. The afterlife was far less of a concern, because in Roman conception, nearly everyone ended up in the same underworld. Roman gods did not play by one codified set of rules, but were as fickle and contrary creatures as any human, subject to whim, persuasion, and bribery. Ideals of moral behavior came, instead, from philosophers, focusing more on ethics and being good for virtue’s own sake, rather than having anything to do with religion.

In a pluralistic society like ours, ideas of honor and virtue are no longer as concrete or well-defined as they were for either the Romans or the Elizabethans. We don’t have one overarching system demanding our compliance; instead, our society is a mixture of different influences and modes of thinking.

  • Discuss:
    • What are our modern virtues?  What makes a person today honorable?
      • Make a list on your blackboard, whiteboard, or smartboard.
    • Where do these ideas of virtue come from? Religion? Social rules and etiquette? Books and movies?
      • List as many origins for concepts of honor and virtue as possible.
      • How many of these institutions may come into conflict with each other?
    • What (or who) enforces these virtues? Peer pressure? Laws? Parents and teachers?
      • Again, list as many as possible and see where they may contradict or come into conflict with each other.
      • Discuss the idea of enforcing morality. How effectively is this done in the United States? What about in other countries?
  • How can you mate these concepts of modern virtue to the ideas of virtue portrayed in Julius Caesar?
    • Are any of the Roman or early modern ideals of honor and virtue still relevant today?  Do we think of the same or similar concepts by different names or within different parameters?
    • Consider how a production of Julius Caesar might draw on these ideas for costuming, makeup, or props.

You can download the full “Honor and Virtue” activity here, or you can buy the full Julius Caesar Study Guide — discounted 15% in honor of the Ides! — from Lulu.com.

Colloquy Session XIX: Staging Questions with Actors

Good morning everyone, Liz back here for the last time this year to live-blog Colloquy Session XIX: Staging Queeestions with Actors. Live blogging of this session will run from nine to ten fifteen in the morning on the Blackfriars Playhouse Stage. The chair for this session is Cassie Ash. The presenters are Rebecca Bailey and Julia Griffin. Actors for this session are part of the American Shakespeare Center Dangerous Dreams Tour Tim Sailer, Cordell Cole, Jessica Lefkow, Chris Bellinger, Andrew Goldwasser, and Aleca Piper.

Ash welcomes everyone and thanks them for their presence this morning. She introduces Griffin and Bailey and hands the stage to Griffin.

Griffin says that standing on the stage is amazing and talks about AC Badley’s amazing Shakespearean Tragedy. She talks about note thirty one, “He has no children.” This refers to Macduff’s line in Macbeth. This could refer to Malcolm who, having no children, can announce this deed, to Macbeth who has no child, so Macduff cannot take adequate revenge, or to Macbeth who if he has children would not ask for Macduff’s children to be killed. There is debate that Macduff could not say this to Malcolm because that would be a direct retort and rude. In Shakespeare’s play, Macduff expresses both grief and vengefulness is future lines, so the challenge is to try to decide which emotion influences the line, “He has no children.” For an actor, this is difficult because an actor must make a choice.

Griffin states that she believes, as Bradley, that the line refers to Malcolm. She then introduces that the actors will perform the scene in three ways: with Macduff being heartless, as a direct retort to Malcolm, and as a reference to Macbeth. Goldwasser as Macduff, Cole as Rosse, and Sailer as Malcolm jump up to do the scene three times.

Griffin states that she does not know how the actors do what they do, to which Goldwasser replies, “At nine A.M.” Griffin states that she expected to have to ask questions to clarify the differences between each staging, but acknowledges that the actors did a great job. She states that Goldwasser put more anger when directing the line to Malcolm than she expected. Griffin then turns to the audience and asks what they noticed. Purcell, in the audience, states that Macduff’s lines following all seem to make more sense if Macduff directs the line to Malcolm – especially since Macduff “was cross” with Malcolm earlier in the scene. Purcell states that this session showed him how all three interpretations can work to make a different show.

Griffin then reads an interpretation by a novelist.

We move on to Bailey, who focuses on embodying the humors using Laban technique. She introduces the four humors: black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. She hopes to find an approachable method to use these early modern ideas through modern techniques that many actors are familiar with.

Bailey states that she chose Laban’s movement because he focused on both performance and everyday life. She believes that this will help actors perform the movements of everyday people. She will work with the actors on weight, time, space, and flow. She will have the actors choose along the continuum of Laban to help create characters to make the humors embodied for actors today. She clarifies and further explains the continuum upon which the humors and exist and which actors can access.

Bailey states that we will work on Viola and Falstaff, who are both closely connected to the humors. Lefkow jumps up to portray Viola, who is represented as sanguine with an excess of blood, which is hot and moist and connected to air. Bailey wants to look at Laban’s elements and the elements connected to the humors. She tells Lefkow that Viola is flexible, light, sustained, and free. She encourages Lefkow to embody these choices in her movement and voice. Lefkow them performs Viola.

Bailey then asks Lefkow to perform Viola with the opposite choices on the continuum, with a direct, strong, quick, and bound Viola, to see if the interpretation fights the text. Lefkow jumps right to it.

Purcell asked to have Lefkow perform Viola as melancholy. Another scholar in the audience states that he prefers the second choice for Viola, due to Viola’s first scene in the play’s text.

Bailey has Lefkow be direct, bound, sustained, and strong as a melancholy Viola, per Purcell’s request. Lefkow jumps in and restarts, acknowledging that she must start in a different place and that she has not had her coffee yet this morning. Purcell states that this is the Viola that he likes because this Viola was bittersweet, and he sees Twelfth Night as a bittersweet play. Ash jumps in to state that she enjoys how Lefkow’s third melancholic performance helped illustrate the quoting of another character in the same humor.

Bailey introduces Bellinger as Falstaff. Falstaff is referenced as a phlegmatic character. For example, Hal states that Falstaff sleeps until noon, but phlegmatic characters’ hours started at three in the afternoon. Thus, many humoral elements are explained within the text. Phlegm is connected with water, which is flexible, strong, sustained, and free. Bellinger then gets up to perform a Falstaff monologue.

Bailey then chooses to the stage the monologue again with Bellinger playing the opposite choices as Falstaff: direct, light, quick, and bound. Bellinger takes the direction and performs.

Cass Morris then points out that the main element that she feels is set for Falstaff is time. She feels that Falstaff must be sustained and not quick, but that the other elements seem flexible.

In response to a scholar’s comment, Bailey acknowledges that characters gravitate towards a certain humor, rather than playing the humor all of the time. Ash jumps in to point out that the flow element is about the ability to change into motion or non-motion in performance, rather than constantly moving or not moving.

Goldwasser points out that even within the line, an actor can change any of the elements. He also points out that each element can also describe either space, movement, or voice – or any other aspect of performance.

Bailey acknowledges that this staging session will help her to see the overlaps or exclusivity of the humors and the different elements.

Lefkow explains her personal thoughts on Laban and the humors. She believes that Laban is a great method to use and believes that ever actor is different and will use the technique differently and have different viewpoints.

Another scholar points out that different elements like water and earth take on different forms, like ice, vapor, rock, and soil. She wonders how these can inform the actors and their choices.

Griffin takes the stage again to look at IV.iii. from Julius Caesar. She wants to look at this scene to see if this scene is a textual error that was not supposed to repeat the news of Portia’s death, that Brutus must have this conversation again because of Massala, or that Brutus benefits from revealing the new of Portia’s death twice. Griffin has Goldwasser (Brutus), Cole (Massala), and Sailer (Cassius) come perform the scene with each of the three interpretations for the audience.

The actors speak about what they liked and found easier to perform. Bellinger questions if Cassius can support Brutus in all of these interpretations, especially given Cassius’ character in the play.

Griffin believes that the first staging of this scene allows Brutus to be a sympathetic character. The actors then ask questions to Griffin.

Ash ends the session by thanking the actors and presenters.

Thank you all for allowing me to be your live blogger this week – it was a blast!

Leadership Seminar: Cue Scripts and Killing Caesar

It’s IP week here with ASC Education! Since 2012, we have hosted an annual leadership training event for International Paper, a truly massive corporation producing paper goods of all kinds and total ubiquity — chances are good there’s an IP product within your arm’s reach at this very moment!

One of the most rewarding components of the week is watching our groups grow from day to day, both in the work they do on personal presentation and structuring their personal statements, as well as in the scenework we do with them. On Tuesday, small groups of three or four put together short scenes from Hamlet and The Taming of the Shrew. Yesterday, groups of six and seven tackled Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra. And today? Today they killed Caesar.

Killing Caesar is, as I’ve noted before, one of my very favorite things to do. What makes it extra special during IP week is seeing how far these folk have come in just a few days. On the first day, many are hesitant, both of the words and of offering their ideas. This morning, they hardly needed the coaches in the room at all. They could find embedded stage directions, make suggestions to each other, and negotiate the needs of the scene to tell a story, all with very little guidance.

They’ll have their final performances tomorrow, but for now, I wanted to share a few pics from today’s rehearsal:

Julius Caesar: Early Modern Blockbuster

As has become traditional in March, I’m using the excuse of the upcoming Ides  to expound my feelings on (and love for) Julius Caesar.

This year, I want to riff off of a really excellent post about the play from what might seem like an odd source: The Tor Blog. Tor, for those who don’t know, is a sci-fi fantasy publisher, an imprint of Macmillan (one of the Big 5 Publishers). The author of the piece is Chris Lough, who usually blogs about superheroes. If that all strikes you as strange, it really shouldn’t. I’ve long suspected a large overlap between fans of Shakespeare and fans of genre fiction. If you love language, great storytelling, and captivating characters, you’ll rarely find better than you find in sci-fi and fantasy novels, so it’s quite natural to me that many people who love one also love the other.

What delights me so much about this post is the unbridled enthusiasm Lough expresses for Caesar. It’s just so refreshing! I usually hear about people approaching this play with great trepidation or with weary resignation, and that so depresses me, because, as long-time readers of this blog know, I think there’s so much there to unpack and rejoice in. And Lough hits on so much of it. He calls Caesar “a visceral and fast-paced epic,” “tightly plotted,” and, most tellingly, “a blockbuster.”

These are the things I’ve always loved about Caesar. I’ve long said it should share renown with Macbeth as a high-octane thriller. I know teachers struggle to get students to see that awesome energy, though. Many educators have trouble feeling the love themselves. So why? What is it that gets in the way?

Well, for one thing, it’s about the most Dead White Guys Making Speeches you can get, and that can be off-putting from a distance. Of all the famous Dead White Guys Making Speeches in history, these are about the most famous. Not without reason! The men are culturally important and the speeches are fantastic. But it can cause a not-unreasonable knee jerk reaction for students who are tired of being buried under such viewpoints. For female students, particularly, there are few immediately apparent avatars. The women in the play are scarcely better than non-existent. Calpurnia mostly exists to have her (perfectly rational) fears brushed off and ridiculed, and while Portia gets some great language, her apparent instability and desperation don’t make her the best of role models. (And then she disappears after 2.4). So there are some instinctive barriers to get past when it comes to encouraging students to empathize with the characters.

The other, I suspect, is that it’s given as a tonic. It’s a mandatory part of most high school curriculi, where it looms like a precariously placed boulder over the syllabus. Dr. Ralph talks about this in the opening of the Caesar chapter of ShakesFear and How to Cure It, envisioning a Shakespeare who dreams of the future industry built up around him and is bitter about it:

…[Will] woke up grumpy. His work, his words, his ideas were going to be a major industry and make strangers rich. It was more than he could stand. How could he stop or at least limit the damage? He thought all day, and then he had a brilliant idea. He would write a play without comedy and without sex, full of long and serious speeches, and he would make that play about an historical event and famous personalities so pivotal to western history that every public school in the English-speaking world would put it into the curriculum. Students would first be introduced to his work with this play, and the result would be that they would never want to read or see another work by William Shakespeare in their lives. In this way, he would assure that a large majority of the modern world hated him and thus reduce to a fraction the profit others would make off his works. That evening he started writing Julius Caesar.

Actually Julius Caesar is a wonderful play; it’s just the wrong one to use for teaching teenagers a delight in Shakespeare. Like you, however, I have to teach it, and the first time I stood in front of a class trying to get them interested in hubris, tragic flaws, and dramatic irony, I felt more and more as if the class was looking at me through soundproof glass. At the end of the hour, I told them I wanted a rematch.

The challenge, then, is for teachers to find the joy in the play themselves and then to communicate to students. I’ve had great luck in classrooms by exploring the embedded stage directions around killing Caesar and the fun you can have with blood. Once you hook them with that, you can get them excited about the gorgeously manipulative rhetoric, the really warped sense of ego all of these guys seem to have, and the conversations about personal and political power we’re still having today. That’s when you can start seeing Julius Caesar as the tightly-plotted blockbuster we ought to consider it.

–Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

Podcast Archives: 2007

2007 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2007 Spring Season

2007 Summer and Fall Seasons

“Look, how he makes to Caesar” — Staging Caesar’s assassination with cue scripts

It simply wouldn’t be mid-March if I weren’t blogging about Julius Caesar. In past years, I’ve discussed the rhetoric, the blood, and the enduring legacy. Today, I want to talk about how one scene in the play — Caesar’s assassination — exemplifies Shakespeare’s mastery of early modern technology.

In the past couple of years, 3.1 of Julius Caesar has become my favorite scene to work through with cue scripts — scripts where an actor has only her own lines, plus the few words immediate preceding as a cue, rather than a full text. At first glance, I would guess most people could not imagine why. To be honest, I had my doubts when I first decided to dive into it as an experiment. The scene looks like a nightmare. Twelve speaking parts and two non-speaking roles make for rather a crowded stage (or classroom). Some of the characters speak at length; others hardly speak at all. Entrances and exits are muddied and uncertain. And somehow you have to organize everyone so that several of the characters can stab Caesar and bathe their hands in his blood. Who in her right mind would look at that and decide it’s the perfect introduction to cue scripts?

It works like a charm.

I first worked this scene with high school students in Kansas, and since then I’ve used it in workshops at the Blackfriars Playhouse, at local Virginia schools, with teachers in our seminars, and with professionals in our leadership programs. Every time, I re-discover just how good Shakespeare is at what he does.

Because a scene with fourteen actors is chaos. But it’s chaos that Shakespeare carefully orchestrates through embedded stage directions for both action and emotion. With such a crowded stage, Shakespeare ensures that his actors have to listen carefully to each other. Take a look at the cue script for Popillius Lena:

CaesarCue1

That’s it, for the entire scene. Looks simple enough, right? But there are hidden challenges. Popillius is talking to Cassius, but sometimes, depending on how students arrange the entrance, he’s nowhere near Cassius at this time. Students generally have no trouble figuring out that, no, Popillius really shouldn’t be shouting that remark over the crowd (and over Caesar’s head), so then we have to go back and figure out how to get Popillius close to Cassius. Does he enter near him? Is there a time when he can cross the stage? There’s no right answer, so it’s a moment for discussion and negotiation. Then, we find out that Brutus can’t be near enough to hear what he says to Cassius, since immediately afterwards, he asks “What says Popillius Lena?” Sometimes this requires another adjustment to where everyone’s standing and moving.

Then I ask the student playing Popillius Lena what he thinks he should do after saying “Fare you well”. Since that’s just saying “Bye,” almost always our Popillius wants to leave the stage. There’s no explicit exit direction, but that’s not necessarily an indication that he can’t leave — so I let him, since he’s made a valid choice based on the information available to him. But then we discover that this happens in Brutus’s cue script:

CaesarCue2

We find out not only that Popillius does not leave the stage, but that he goes to Caesar, and that he’s smiling. None of these clues are in Popillius’s script, so that actor has to be paying careful attention during rehearsal in order to adjust accordingly. This then brings up other questions later on — does Popillius stay on-stage during the assassination? If so, how does he react? If not, when can he leave? Some groups decide to have him wander off with Trebonius and Antony, just to get him out of the way. Others decide to let him stay and react — either in admiration and approval of the conspirators, if he really knew what “the enterprise” was, or in shock and horror, if he was talking about something else. The ambiguity opens up a lot of room for exploration — all in a character who only has two lines in the entire play.

Popillius is just one example, but the scene provides us with many others. Trebonius’s cue script has two entrances without an exit. Publius has a line but no entrance. Antony has no lines, yet has to listen for several embedded stage directions. The Soothsayer and Artemidorus only speak at the top of the scene and have no exit line — what do we do with them? Send them off, or let them also observe as witnesses? And then there are all the beautiful embedded directions that lead the conspirators to surround Caesar before they kill him. Casca has to be the first to stab, and students generally figure out from Caesar’s famous line that Brutus is the last, but in what order do the others perform their lethal punctures?

It looks like chaos — yet it always works out. Students of all ages figure out how to negotiate the demands of the scene with the space available to them. As a result, they not only enjoy the scene, find out that they can understand it perfectly well, and learn a little about blocking, they also see how good Shakespeare is at using the tools available to him. They can easily imagine the Chamberlain’s Men doing just as they did, working through a complex scene bit by bit, listening carefully to each other for clues, until it all comes together. That’s why I’ve come to love exploring this scene in workshops: it showcases not just Shakespeare’s verbal genius, but his technical aptitude and wonderful stagecraft.

MLitt Thesis Festival 2014: Session 2

Rebecca Wright: “Infants as Characters: An Investigation of Babies Onstage”
Actors: Josh Brown,Ian Charles, Kelly Elliott, Amy Grubbs, Patrick Harris
Wright begins by interrogating the audience’s perceptions of props as tied to certain plays. To a list including rings, letters, beds, trunks, and rapiers, she adds “babies”. Wright wishes to interrogate the position of an infant on-stage as a character, rather than as an inanimate prop. She notes that most productions do not use live babies on-stage, though it has been done. Despite this, however, she finds few references to babies as properties. Wright notes the difficulty in presenting an inanimate prop as a live baby, generally unconvincing yet just as generally accepted by audiences.

The actors deliver a list of shows which call for the use of an infant onstage, from the early modern period up to modern musical theatre. Wright moves on to discussing the pageant of Princess Elizabeth’s christening in Henry VIII. She interrogates the interaction between Henry and Elizabeth in this scene, wondering if it is significant that Henry kisses but does not hold the infant. Conversely, in Titus Andronicus, off-stage trumpets herald the arrival of a prince — Tamora’s illegitimate child by Aaron the Moor. In this scene, a nurse enters with the child swaddled, sufficiently to disguise its skin tone, which she later reveals. Aaron takes possession of the child, asks who else has seen it, and murders the nurse to keep his secret, serving as the child’s protector both verbally and physically. In Pericles, the nurse hands the infant Marina to her father; Pericles chooses to lay the child with her supposedly-dead mother. Wright argues that, when an infant is set down on stage, the lack of actor interaction removes some context from the infant-as-prop. The actors then present a scene from The Winter’s Tale where Paulina lays the infant Perdita at Leontes’s feet; he refuses to take it up. The protecting male figure who does eventually pick up the child is, instead, Antigonus.

Wright argues that actors provide manipulation and significance to the prop infant. This is particularly important in instances where the infant, over the course of the show, grows to an adult character. She argues that infants “needs stronger character consideration on stage.” Wright then brings a live infant, her ten-week-old nephew William, onto the stage. She asks if having a real infant on stage seems “too real” compared to the fake babies, especially in context of the infant characters who have violence threatened against them. Still holding William, she asks her actors what challenges they felt interacting with her prop infant. Amy Grubbs identifies a challenge in expressing the nurse’s revulsion for the baby, competing with her experience handling infants. Ian Charles admits that he felt as though he had to be “acting for two”, which is a challenge, but also allows him to endow the baby with reactions through the eyes of his character. Josh Brown expresses difficulty thanks to his own inexperience with children, identifying his interaction with the baby as “glass-like”. Kelly Elliott saw it as “relief” to be able to transfer the baby off to Pericles and to gain the father’s acceptance. Finally, Patrick Harris discusses the challenge of fighting while holding a baby, trying to be threatening while not endangering the baby. “It was easy to forget that what I was holding was supposed to be alive”. Wright concludes that, whether a real baby or a property doll, the actors involved with an infant character need to work to endow the infant with character.

Q&A: Ralph Cohen begins by snapping a picture of “the youngest performer on our stage”.
Q: Matt Davies asks about how to invest the baby with its own movement, suggesting that it is dependent upon the actor holding it to be in constant motion. He suggests another play for Wright to look at, wherein a baby is stoned to death in its pram.
Q: Celi Oliveto wonders how much it has to do with the focus of the audience, suggesting that a live baby draws focus. A: Wright acknowledges the possibility, noting that, yes, it is more difficult to work with something alive than something inanimate. She would like to continue looking at how this idea influences other creatures onstage, such as the dog in Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Q: Scott Campbell notes the similarity between a real baby and real stage violence as possibly being detrimental to an audience’s experience. A: Wright is still dealing with the discussion of what is “too real”.

Arlynda Boyer: “Plague, Playing, and Publication: A New Narrative”
Boyer seeks to re-examine Shakespeare’s publication history, particularly the gaps which occur when “he ought to have been at the height of his popularity”. She notices a correlation between these gaps and years of plague, particularly with regard to the tendency of title pages to publicize “diverse and sundry performances”. She suggests that “plague interrupts playing interrupts publication”.

Boyer traces the relationship of the plague to the theatre, noting that anti-theatrical polemics tended to see them as God’s judgment upon the theatres. The conditions to close the playhouses changed over time, from total mortality rising above 50 per week, to plague-specific deaths rising above 30; for the playhouses to re-open, mortality had to drop below 30 for three weeks. She notes the difficulties in assessing closure dates from mortality records, since the strictures were not always exact. She points to the 1603 major outbreak of plague, which did not ebb and flow as expected, but persisted in London for eight years. Shakespeare’s plays written in this period had to wait to see audiences until there was a break in the plague. Boyer cites Roz Knutson’s theories on quartos serving as part of the marketing strategy for a play, as much to sell books as to remind potential audiences that a play was ongoing. Plague disruptions affected this interaction. “If a play never had its full first run, what reason would a company have for allowing it to reach a stationer?”

Boyer refers to a handout, which demonstrates that plays supposed to be written in plague years were more likely to be first published in the Folio rather than in quarto. She notes that Julius Caesar and As You Like It, likely written in 1599, were also not printed until the Folio. Though there was no plague that year, there was a strange closure in the summer of that year. These closures may have had more to do with financial difficulties, renovations of the Rose, or staggered re-openings. Boyer also notes the possibility that plague may have been used as an excuse to close theatres, when the real reasons were more political. 1599 saw rumors of a second Spanish Armada and threats of revolt, and these may have contributed to authorities’ decisions to close the theatres. Boyer then examines the complicated textual history of King Lear and Pericles. Boyer concludes by reiterating her hypothesis that publication depended on performance, and that plague disrupted both.

Q&A: Paul Menzer confirms Boyer’s acknowledgement that this is a London-centric narrative, since plague closures in London did not necessarily mean no plays happened, since companies were likely to tour during plague closures. A: Boyer is still working on incorporating that element into her thesis, but states that since print industry was centered in London, the correlation remains strong.
Q: Matt Davies questions the printers’ advertisements and their role in the thesis. A: Boyer notes alternate title pages which either swore that a play was or wasn’t performed.
Q: Dane Leasure asks if Boyer had considered using the 2nd edition of the Oxford’s chronology of the plays. A: Boyer has not, but will.
Q: Menzer asks how the Stationer’s Record weaves into the conversation. A: Boyer notes that the information on Shakespeare’s plays is scant in the Stationer’s Record. Boyer notes that, of other plays published in plague years, their title pages almost never mention performance. She acknowledges the difficulties in determining chronology to begin with, pointing to the recently changed supposed performance date of Twelfth NIght from 1599 to 1601i

Clare von Rueden: “The Moral of the Story: Medieval Morality Plays and Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale”
Actors: Monica Cross, Amy Grubbs, Megan Manos
Von Rueden begins with a story about Disney, regarding the influence that Lady and the Tramp II may have had on her youngest sister’s attitude towards their parents. She notes that stories have an ability to impact not only children, but also adults, in terms of behavior and identity. “Stories shape who we are”. Morality plays, she argues, recognize this ability “and exploit it.” She specifies that she will be discussing pre-1500, pre-Protestant Revolution plays. Through “a rhetoric of ethics”, morality plays seek to persuade audience members towards certain behaviors. Shakespeare, Von Rueden notes, was aware that theatre “plays a part in our ethical lives”.

Von Rueden examines the use of audience contact in morality plays, suggesting that morality plays developed this relationship in order to enhance the play’s ability to affect its audience. Amy Grubbs presents a selection of Lucifer soliciting the audience for sympathy, which Von Rueden notes as typical to, not extraordinary for, morality plays. She relates this to the fact that every named murderer or commander of murders in Shakespeare gets a monologue with the audience in which to explain himself and try to earn sympathy. This extends even to intended or attempted murderers, as Monica Cross demonstrates with a monologue of Leontes. Von Rueden notes that the more vice characters, in Shakespeare or in morality plays, solicit the audience, the more likely they are to lose sympathy, especially when they start to sermon against themselves. Von Rueden also discusses the interactions of virtue characters with the audience.

These sympathies often relate to ideas of grief and repentance, as Von Rueden and her actors demonstrate in two reconciliation scenes: one from a morality play, and one from The Winter’s Tale. The latter, she notes, is not presented, but recounted by witnesses. Von Rueden posits this as an example of Shakespeare’s awareness that everyone who sees a play will respond to it emotionally, though perhaps in different ways, and that plays “exert an ethical influence on our lives”. She concludes by suggesting that productions need to be responsibly aware of this connection as well.

Q&A: Kelly Elliott asks for clarification if Von Rueden was intentionally connecting Leontes to the vice characters. A: Not intentionally; more of a vice “state”, since he’s attempting to justify murder.
Q: Charlene Smith asks if Von Rueden had read Shaw’s writings on Shakespeare, since Shaw complains about Shakespeare’s lack of moral instruction. A: No, but Von Rueden did read something which stated “Shakespeare is not a moralist, but presents morals”, actually allowing a stronger emotional response from the audience, since they have to work through it themselves. Ralph Cohen suggests that she also look at Tolstoy’s comments on the topic.
Q: Celi Oliveto asks if Von Rueden can identify places where Shakespeare may be consciously drawing on the morality play tradition and either subverting or mocking it, or using it to do something else. A: Von Rueden has not looked specifically at that, though he does refer to the vice characters.
Q: Scott Campbell questions her final thought about production responsibility, if Von Rueden is looking specifically at this moment in time, as 21st century theatre needing this responsibility, or more generally. A: Both. “We need to be aware that we are encountering their ethical being.”

Nora Manca: “Shakespeare Walks into a Bar”
Actors: Ian Charles, Kendra Emmett, Jess Hamlet, Meredith Johnson, Aubrey Whitlock
Manca’s presentation opens with an imagined conversation of several of Shakespeare’s early contemporaries, including the famous invectives of Robert Greene, together with commentary by Nashe, Lodge, Peele, and Marlowe. The scene explicates the marks against Shakespeare according to the established poets and playwrights of the age: too common, too contradictory, too prolific, too imitative, too uneducated, too avaricious, a moneylender. It falls to the imagined Marlowe to defend Shakespeare on these counts, but a malfunctioning time machine prevents Will from appearing himself.

Manca explicates that she hopes to take the facts known of Shakespeare’s life together with his own writings to explore the idea that Shakespeare’s portrayal of “Others” in his plays stems from his identity as an “Other” himself. Manca discusses the sociological tendency of all groups to set themselves up as the “One” in opposition to the “Other”. She notes the contempt of the University Wits for Shakespeare, as seen in Greene’s “Groatsworth of Wit”. Manca then looks at Shakespeare’s family history, particularly John Shakespeare’s social climbing, and how it positioned William Shakespeare in society. She moves on to the theory that Shakespeare’s family may have been Catholic recusants, then to the circumstances surrounding Shakespeare’s marriage. She then attempts to fill out some of the missing years in Shakespeare’s history with supplements from events that occurred in his home county of Warwickshire. Manca then draws a correlation between Shakespeare’s experience as an “Other” and the character of Shylock, whom she posits would be more Othered than any other character if dropped into Shakespeare’s England. Her full thesis will involve a closer reading of the character of Shylock.

Q&A: Amy Grubbs asks if Manca found any connection to the French Catholics possibly present in London. A: Manca has not, but is interested.
Q: Martha Walker questions if Manca’s thesis would hold up under any other definition of “Other”, depending on the absolutism of alterity. A: Manca believes that it does, though she is unfamiliar with the alternate definition Walker presents.
Q: Matt Davies asks, “Why does biography matter?” A: Manca thinks that the facts of Shakespeare’s life are key to whether or not he can be defined as an Other. Q: Davies continues, asking, “To write about Iago, why does he need to be an Other?” A: Manca admits that he doesn’t, necessarily, but posits that all of us are Others in some way and believes that that would have influenced his writing.
Q: Clare von Rueden asks if this can then influence the performance of Otherness in his plays. A: Manca says yes, and she hopes that this will help her in her directing in the future. Q: Von Rueden continues, asking if Manca has had any revelations on that count thus far. A: Manca thinks that, for an actor, understanding Shakespeare’s Otherness “would probably be influential”.

Nicola Collett: “But One Only Man: Masculinity in Julius Caesar”
Actors: Marshall Garrett, Jamie Jager
Collett suggest that Julius Caesar, more than any other of Shakespeare’s plays, is “about men” — not a single man, but four very different men with competing interests and variant approaches. Collett posits that Caesar, Brutus, Antony, and Cassius represent four distinct aspects of masculinity, which she defines as imperial, stoic, performative, and emotional, respectively. She runs through other critical approaches to analyzing masculinity in Julius Caesar, before moving on to her own approach, analyzing masculinity “not as a unified whole, but as fragmentary”, which she will present in opposition to each other rather than in opposition to femininity.

First, she examines the disconnect between the frailty of Caesar’s mortal form as opposed to the strength of his immortal, imperial spirit. Both Cassius’s stories, Casca’s reporting of his swoon, and Caesar’s own admission of physical failings demonstrate his weaknesses. Yet Caesar puts forth an image of himself as “constant as the Northern Star”, immoveable and eternal, and his assassination in fact cements that immortality of spirit, despite killing the body. By contrast, Brutus is dominated by his stoic philosophy, focused on denial or control of the passions. “His struggle is that his emotions are in conflict, with themselves and with his reason.” Cassius, meanwhile, conflates the personal and the political, particularly in regard to the wrongs Caesar has supposedly done him. Collett links these passions with Cassius’s tendency towards suicidal rhetoric and, eventually, to suicide itself. Jamie Jager presents Cassius’s offer of suicide in the 4.2 “tent scene”, when he offers himself up first to the absent Antony, then to his own dagger, wielded by Brutus. Though Cassius’s emotions give him insight into other characters, they also lead to his downfall. Collett identifies Antony as an actor, able to adapt his presentation to the circumstances. His offer of suicide is calculated, not emotional, and a bluff that he knows Brutus will not call. Collett notes the rhetoric of Antony’s funeral oration as manipulative of his audience’s emotions, even to the extent that he denies his own power to do precisely what he’s doing. Antony also shows himself as an expert in the use of props: Caesar’s will, Caesar’s mantle, and Caesar’s body.

Collett concludes by reiterating the four disparate types of masculinity the men embody, and then offers a rhetorical analogy: that Caesar represents ethos; Brutus, logos; Cassius and Antony, pathos (internal for Cassius, externally for Antony).

Q&A: Menzer begins by stating that masculinity “seems to keep shimmering between material and immaterial” and asks how Manca has addressed that idea of where masculinity is located. A: Collett has not addressed that yet, but hopes to find it through her future rhetorical analysis
Q: Cyndi Kimmel asks if Collett has looked at the presentation of male friendship through a homosexual lens. A: Collett has encountered it tangentially, but believes it beyond the purview of her project at this time.
Q: Patrick Harris questions if, in performance, a female actor playing one of these roles could embody that aspect of masculinity and still play the role as a female. A: Collett thinks, yes, that would be possible.
Q: Ralph Cohen suggests an article for Collett’s inspection, as well as mentioning Vanessa Morosco’s recent re-gendered Cassius.
Q: Marshall Garrett questions where Octavius fits into all of this. A: Collett places him under Caesar’s aegis, noting that he “comes on and becomes the spirit of Caesar”, a “new physical locus for the idea of Caesar-ness”.
Q: Monica Cross asks if Collett sees an effect of one type of masculinity on the other. A: Collett is still working on that aspect.

Wake-Up Workshop #4: Asides and Audience Contact

A fine Saturday morning to you all. Cass Morris here from 8-8:45am to liveblog the fourth and final Wake-Up Workshop of the 4th Blackfriars Conference. Sarah Enloe, the ASC’s Director of Education, will be presenting on Asides and Audience Contact.

Enloe begins by discussing how, as a high school teacher participating in an NEH Institute, she learned about the ASC’s methods of audience contact, and knew immediately that she wanted to use it in her classroom — but wasn’t sure how to implement the ideas effectively. ASC Education, with the help of ASC Actor Ben Curns, developed this method to help teachers think through the various approaches and opportunities.

Enloe asks if anyone knows when the word “aside”, as we currently think of it, first appears, and when no one does, she explains that it’s more than 150 years after Shakespeare’s time. The term appears only twice in Shakespeare, and never with that precise meaning. She prefaces that the group will explain the different kinds of asides that Curns helped ASC Education identify, and will then work through a scene together to identify character choices.

The first method of audience contact is casting the audience. Enloe gives examples of the audience serving as Henry V’s army, as the plebs of Rome, or as Portia’s suitors in The  Merchant of Venice. She points out how Shakespeare not only writes these opportunities into the plays, he also writes in opportunities to return to that audience reference later in the scene or the play. Casting the audience gives the audience member a specific role inside the world of the play.

The second way that we identify audience contact is that of the visual aide. Enloe notes that this can be a difficult distinction for students sometimes, as it has some similarities to casting. The difference is that, rather than bestowing an identity, the visual aide uses something that the audience member already is — generally a physical attribute, something they’re wearing, or something else essential to their own identities, used as an illustration. Enloe uses the example of perhaps casting a man and woman sitting next to each other as an adulterous couple. Auditor Michael Hendry notes that he has been the bald-pated man used as an example in The Comedy of Errors. Enloe notes the favorite example of her co-worker (yours truly): Benedick’s “One woman is fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well; another is…. virtuous… yet I am well,” with the actor picking out a fair and wise woman, but unable to find a virtuous one in the audience.

The third example, which Enloe notes as particularly obvious in characters like Iago and Richard III, is that of allying with the audience. Many characters who get a lot of time alone on-stage with the audience use this to get the audience on their side — and quite often, those characters are the villains. This can also be an example of the character letting the audience in on a secret or providing them with clarifying information.

The fourth way that Enloe identifies audience contact is seeking information. Enloe gives an example of Curns as Polonius in the ASC’s 2011 Hamlet asking an audience member, “By the mass, what was I about to say?” and notes that Curns often got two examples: the terror of “eighth-graders frozen in the headlights”, or the graduate students able to provide the correct answer. She gives another example from Hamlet (this time the Q1, when Curns was playing Hamlet), from the moment when Claudius is on his knees praying, and Hamlet enters, asking, “Should I kill him now?” When Curns took this to teenage boy sitting on a gallant school, the boy replied, “Absolutely, he must die”. In that moment, the actor discovers that Shakespeare in fact wrote in the answer to that question in the rest of the monologue.

Enloe then addresses the probability that someone in the audience is asking how we know that Shakespeare really did write these opportunities into the plays intentionally, and she uses an example from Henry VI, Part 1 to illustrate how, in that early play, Shakespeare actually pokes fun of the convention of audience contact in a conversation between Margaret and Suffolk. Enloe notes that as proof in the text that Shakespeare is thinking about that convention.

Enloe then discusses the possibility that almost any line could be taken to the audience — but that not all of them should be. She suggests letting students go all-out with every possibility at first, then reining them back in so that we don’t lose the connections between the characters. The group then discusses some of the challenges in audience contact, including how to deal with unexpected contributions from the audience. Enloe notes that some of our actors acknowledge everything, and uses the example of Gregory Jon Phelps responding to sneezes or particularly loud laughs.

Moving on to scenework, Enloe hands out the first fifty lines of Julius Caesar. Enloe explains that this worksheet has the four types of audience contact listed at the top, along with the fifth option of actually speaking to a scene partner. Enloe divides the room into three groups, assigning one group responsibility for Flavius, one for the Carpenter and Cobbler, and one for Murellus. She then gives the auditors a few minutes to work through the text, assigning modes of audience contact to each moment for each character.

Each group sends an avatar to the stage to walk through the scene. Enloe notes that the opening stage direction, Enter Flavius and Murellus and Certain Commoners over the stage, is a little odd and cites Dessen & Thomson’s Dictionary of Stage Directions as to what “over the stage” might mean. They take the first suggestion for the Carpenter and Cobbler to enter from the back, through the audience, though Enloe notes that we generally don’t allow that in our Playhouse since there is no evidence of it occurring in the period.

The first decision has the Flavius taking all of “Hence! home, you idle creatures get you home: / Is this a holiday? what! know you not, / Being mechanical, you ought not walk / Upon a labouring day without the sign / Of your profession? Speak, what trade art thou?” to the audience. The group discusses whether the final question, answered in the play, can appropriately be asked of an audience member. Enloe notes that, at Julius Caesar‘s first performance at the Theatre or the Globe, the audience would in fact have been full of idle creatures who were skivving off work. The group has, sadly, run out of time to run the rest of the scene, but Enloe notes that you can see, through just that little bit, how much audience contact can change the play.