MFA Thesis Festival 2017

Good evening! Cass Morris, ASC Academic Resources Manager, here to live-blog the 2017 Mary Baldwin University MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival. Tonight, beginning at 6:30pm, members of the Compass Shakespeare Ensemble, the 2016-2017 MFA class, will present research conducted for and during their year of company-building:

Paul Menzer begins by welcoming everyone, introducing the Compass Shakespeare Ensemble, and reminding us that the MLitt presentations begin at 9am tomorrow. Menzer stresses the unique nature of the thesis festival at MBU, designed to combat the isolating effect of thesis writing and give students the opportunity to share with and hear from “an interested and generous” audience. Each presenter will speak for approximately 7 minutes, ending with a “provocative question”, followed by a short Q&A.

Catie Osborn – Photography as Performance: Archive and/as Adaptation

Osborn begins by explaining the scholastic considerations that her work as production photographer provoked. “There is little to no research on the implications of photograph in the theatre”. She states her intent to challenge a 1956 assertion that “photographs taken during the course of production are uninteresting”. Osborn discusses two types of photographs in the theatre: marketing/publicity and archive/documentation, as well as sharing the OED definition of “adaptation”. She believes that the act of theatrical photography constitutes an adaptation of the theatrical work — the center of the Venn diagram between marketing/publicity and archive/documentation.

Osborn asserts that the photographer working during a performance becomes a storyteller in their own right. She presents some “not at all staged” examples of “That Nice Chris Moneymaker” — one photograph showing him as alone and isolated, another from a different angle showing the actor surrounded by the theatrical audience in universal lighting. The use of photos then becomes “an adapted act”. She also shares examples of photographs that photoshopped together figures from different productions in order to market a show.

Considering the potentially infinite record of production, given the storage capabilities modern technology provides, Osborn questions how to best curate those photographs for archival. She suggests that a production must “include the photographer in the production process”. Osborn states her belief that, by including the photographer in the process, it would be possible to create a record of performance that would allow someone to experience the performance through the archives.

She poses the question: “What is lost in these performances? What is gained?”

Kelley McKinnon – “We know what we are, but know not what we may be”: Engaging a Student Audience in Self-Discovery through the Mechanism of Interaction

“If you’ve spent five minutes with me, you probably know several things:” that she has a loud laugh, that she has Opinions, and that she loves to learn. She goes on to note that another five minutes will expose that she asks personal questions and loves working with students to help them learn. “There is nothing in the world that is better to men than watching a light bulb turn on” in someone’s head. McKinnon states her belief that nothing can replace the value of a personal connection between student and teacher, and she cites a viral video of a North Carolina teacher who invented a different secret handshake for each of his students, noting that his attendance and test scores seem to correlate positively with that practice.

McKinnon notes the importance of “reversing the expectation” for students of Shakespeare, fighting against the ingrained belief many have that Shakespeare is hard and that they’re not smart enough for it. Her thesis is based around how she approaches an educational tour from a director’s point of view with the goal of taking over/changing the world. “My approach as a director is to put the systems in place to build self reliance through connection.” This applies both to her cast and staff and to the audience. For student audiences, “the clarity of storytelling” is always at the forefront, but she believes a further step of personalization can be vital, particularly when interacting with under-served audiences.

McKinnon goes on to explicate why she uses Shakespeare to “change the world”, particularly by working with inner city students, with benefits including but not limited to: explorations of tyranny, nonconformists, and violence, “wrapped up with a bunch of dick and fart jokes”. Treating Shakespeare not as something inaccessible and privileged but as something that is for them augments the experience and can, she believes, be life- and thus world-changing. She finishes by asking: “Who is my audience for this?”

Joshua Richard Williams – “We will perform in measure, time, and place”: The Qualitative Effect of Spatial Architecture on Stage Combat Choreography

Williams specifies that he is looking at the development of stage combat in a touring process and how that does and doesn’t impact the performance itself. Last summer he engaged in training and certification with the American Society of Fight Directors. He discusses the concept of “violence as spectacle” that CSE explored in its touring production of Macbeth. His considerations include examining the ways in which the dimension and orientation of a performance space, and how differences in that in touring locations may change the storytelling. For his thesis, he focuses on the opening fight which establishes the violence of the play: involving eight of ten cast members, several entrances and exits mid-bout. He notes that the paratextual fight “serves as an introduction for the audience” to the play itself.

Williams then walks through the “bloody soldier” interchange from 1.2, pointing out five details which inform the physicality of the fight. While not explicitly called for in the text, these lines allow a director and fight director to make choices about the story they wish to present to the audience. In CSE’s production, it was an opportunity to show Macbeth as a fighter surrounded by violence, continually attacked from behind, instilling a sense of wariness, distrust, and betrayal. The actor playing Banquo appears to save Macbeth twice, establishing their relationship. The fight also introduces Malcolm and foreshadows the appearance of the Weird Sisters.

Williams notes that they blocked the show for two different conditions: Blackfriars-style, with use of a backstage space, and an on-stage presentation, where the actors are all in chairs and visible throughout the production. He notes that this second set-up presented challenges, and goes on to discuss one example in depth, where the company had “a lane of perhaps five and a half to six feet in width and eleven or twelve feet in length” to perform in. Williams thinks this was probably the most challenging space to work in, but also the most illuminating.

His question asks the audience for sources on found spaces for performance or dance. “What is the difference between a performance space and a theatre? What can one do that the other one cannot?”

Justine R. Mackey – “So hung upon with love”: Examining Physical Intimacy with Compass Shakespeare Ensemble

“My work… explores the many ways in which physical touch or the lack thereof” tells a story and communicates emotion. Mackey’s thesis examines touch as a means of communication in performance. She notes that, for her, physical touch ended up being a recurring theme in her roles across the CSE season (Lady Macbeth, the Courtesan in The Comedy of Errors, Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Jacquenetta in Love’s Labour’s Lost). “When I refer to physical intimacy, I don’t always mean sexual or lustful touching.” Her definition covers everything from simple familiarity to passionate interaction.

Mackey cites research from the Touch Research Institute which “prove the healthy benefits of touch,” noting that touch appears to be vital not only to human interaction but to individual health. She moves on to discussing how CSE explored the process and potential of touch in their ensemble work. To foster positive energy and the sense of community they would need for their MFA year, one early exercise involved verbally complimenting each other. Mackey took the benefits of this exercise forward into the idea of physical intimacy. Osborn and Odenbrett demonstrate another exercise from the character exploration of Troilus and Cressida, creating a powerful gestural score for two characters who long to touch but are pulled apart by external forces. From this, Mackey decided to focus on how bodies travel and intersect.

Mackey ends by asking us all to close our eyes and re-imagine the process of experiencing their devised show back in September, then asks the audience to share their most memorable experience from that evening.

Clarence Joseph Finn – “Methinks you are my glass and not my brother”: An Experience of Playing the Identical Dromio Twins with One Actor Body in The Comedy of Errors

Finn begins by stating that his thesis focuses on the challenge of playing two characters in one body and the effect that it has had on his body image. He notes that, as a result of bullying earlier in life, he had never engaged in physical training, as he had never seen the point. Entering this program changed his perspective, and he particularly notes the Viewpoints exercises taught by Doreen as teaching him to think well of his body on stage.

Working through the Dromios was his greatest challenge, made moreso by the fact that this performance was part of CSE’s already highly-doubled small scale production. He had to develop different markers for each Dromio. Finn then walks us through his process of developing them, beginning with voices: he started with Linklater choices for finding each Dromio’s voice, then moved into using Laban to marry those vocal choices to physical choices. One Dromio was lighter and quicker; the other low and heavy. He then moved on to behavioral gestures drawn from Viewpoints training. Finn also notes that the relationship each Dromio has to his respective Antipholus further informed his own physicality and spatial relationship. With the help of Sczepankowski and Odenbrett, Finn demonstrates the difference in his two Dromios.

His question: Is there a clear and distinct physical difference, and how might he further develop the physicality to make that clearer?

Molly Beth Seremet – “This is and is not Cressida”: Resisting Anthropocentrism in the Shakespeare of Things

Seremet begins “in the negative space” between the thesis she’ll actually be working on and the thesis she can no longer write. She intended to build upon her MLitt thesis, but notes that the exploration of the conflation of “person” and “thing” has become profoundly uncomfortable in our current political climate. While she’s still fascinated by the cyber-potential of becoming-human value in objects, but she is concerned about the inverse: making an object of a human. Seremet uses several examples from the past month, including the Oklahoma bill turning a woman into a “host” and the interaction of the “nuclear football” with guests at the “Winter White House”.

She goes on to note that the thesis she would like to write isn’t entirely hers to tell, given her own privilege and societal status, and she draws a connection to the “no-place” that Cressida exists in. Seremet hopes to continue elevating the object while also interrogating  the view from her position of privilege. She hopes to connect Cressida’s experience to the current immigrant/refugee crisis and with her own family history of displacement. She discusses her need to “focus on the real and the material in this era of alternative facts”.

Her question: What are the ethical responsibilities of a theatrical and art-making practice in the year 2017? And, in unpacking object-based feminism, how can the voice of the object be viewed through the mechanism?

Zac Harned – Arguing with Myself: Body Building Stories

Harned begins by describing his experience as a rifleman as a metaphor for the various components necessary for success in the small scale production. He will address the roles he played in the small scale production of Troilus and Cressida and how rhetoric informed his physical choices.

“Shakespeare’s characters cause plot by action,” whether that action is implied in what they say or more explicit when they stab someone. “All acting choices are based in necessity.” He keys in on the idea of rhetoric as the art of persuasion, and “art” being, essentially, an action of making something; thus, “rhetoric is the making of getting what you want” — which could also serve as a definition of acting. Harned discusses his discovery that rhetorically-informed performances are not, themselves, a style of acting — so “why should an actor give a damn?” He asserts that without engaging the rhetoric, an actor misses the opportunity for intellectual depth and aesthetic appeal.

Harned continues that “most people approach Shakespeare with a doctrine,” and that almost every doctrine that says “yes” to something says “no” to something else. His focus on scansion and rhetoric is not meant to be dogmatic, but he asserts that rhetorical knowledge enables an actor to be faithful to the story of a character. Harned asks the audience if they can see ways in which this approach is inaccessible to actors.

Ryan Odenbrett – A Face “full of O’s”: An Examination of Ecphonesis in Berowne’s Dialogue

Odenbrett connects his MFA thesis to his MLitt thesis on statsitical analysis. He believes echphonesis (the exclamation) is perhaps the most easily identifiable rhetorical figure. What, he asks, does the use of ecphonesis inform us about a character? He focuses on a line of Rosaline’s, accusing Berowne of having “a face full of Os” — rather than interpreting this as a reference to smallpox scars or syphilis blisters, he wondered if she referred to his exclamatory tendencies.

The process of documenting the use of ecphonesis was “monotonous, but not difficult”. Berowne uses ecphonesis 23 times in the play, 18 of those in 4.3 alone. 11 of those take place after he confesses to having written his love sonnet. 92% of his exclamations occur in verse. Odenbrett runs through a breakdown of the syntactical placements of these instances of ecphonesis. Odenbrett then created a table of the total ecphoneses used in all of Love’s Labour’s Lost. Costard comes in second with 11 instances.

Odenbrett then wanted to know if Berowne uses ecphonesis more than anyone else in the canon — but he believes not, as Love’s Labour’s Lost only has 68 instances (in 12th place), while Romeo and Juliet comes in first with 146. He intends to compare Berowne to other male characters in Shakespeare’s comedies. He asks what information we feel that ecphonesis gives an actor about a character.

George R Kendall – Directing Shakespeare in Intimate Performance Space and the Brechtian V-effekt 

Kendall begins by connecting his work to Mackey’s and Williams’s, as it deals with physicality and physical space. He interrogates the nearness to or distance from the audience in various theatrical approaches, looking particularly at the use of two “intimate spaces”: blackbox theatres and studio spaces. He notes that the Blackfriars Playhouse, while not fitting into either of those categories, still constitutes an intimate space. Kendall characterizes a component of intimacy as the “shared space” of actors and audience which enhances the emotional experience of the audience.

Kendall then discusses the practice of direct address and how it fits into the use of intimate performance spaces. Though it breaks the flow of the action, it does so in a way that is not an obstruction in these spaces. Kendall contrasts the intimacy of direct address in the Blackfriars Playhouse and similar styles to the alienation of the audience and distancing of emotional involvement intended by Brecht.

Kendall states his belief that directors should be very aware of the production space when deciding up on their approach to a play, particularly with an eye towards audience address. The more intimate the theatre space, the more personal that audience interaction can become; direct address has a less profound effect in a large proscenium theatre where much of the audience is physically further from the actors. Kendall questions: What have those of you who are actors discovered about intimate performance space? and How comfortable or uncomfortable are you as an audience member with an actor who addresses you?

Melinda Marks – A Labour Saved: How I Learned to Get Along with Love’s Labour’s Lost

Marks, who was the dramaturg for Love’s Labour’s Lost, also cut that script, and her thesis examines the practical process of cutting, what she cut, and how she decided to cut it. She admits up front that she strongly dislikes this play, which makes telling us about cutting it an intellectually interesting challenge. Since this cutting was for CSE’s “Ren season show”, the show styled after the ASC’s Actors’ Renaissance Season, Marks notes that the dramaturg’s role then becomes complicated, as they have no director’s conceptual parameters for either guidance or restriction. Marks notes the difference between creating a product “faithful to” someone else’s concepts and creating a product with the particular goals of the CSE Ren season show. She both had to rely upon subjectivity and had to combat her own distaste for the play in order to create a coherent script that would be interesting for both actors and audience.

After cutting the play, Marks went through all her cuts and made notes on her reasons for them. This allowed her to distinguish between objective and subjective cuts. She also color-coded these cuts for ease of analysis. She describes her role not only as dramaturg, but also as the editor of her own dramaturgical thought process.

Marks asks what we think would be a valuable quantitative or qualitative addition to this process?

Shane Michael Sczepankowski – The Story of the Storytellers

Sczepankowski informs us that his project is “like a thesis… but it isn’t. But it is.” As a response to a challenge from Paul Menzer to write a contribution to the MFA book that was more than an academic paper. As such, he is working on a play reflective of CSE’s mission statement. He is creating “a soft re-telling of the ‘Shane’anigans that have transpired” during the CSE year; his adaptation of Macbeth responds to and parodies CSE’s process of creating their school touring show. The director appears as Hecate and the “salty actors” as the Witches, among other correlations.

Sczepankowski posits this play as a sort of archival compilation, retelling the process of CSE’s experience. In a scripted scene, Tyler Dale expresses concern that Sczepankowski is skirting his responsibilities as an S&P student; Sczepankowski admits that this is an unusual approach, but believes that it will reflect the unique and meaningful experiences of the CSE journey.

His question: What makes a successful adaptation and what makes an absolutely miserable one?

Was’t not at Hallowmas?

Though Halloween as we know it is largely one of merriment and good-spirited spookiness, it has somber origins in both the Roman Lemuralia and the Celtic Samhain. The three days of the Lemuralia were devoted to banishing malevolent ghosts and other negative spirits. Though the Lemuralia was originally held in May, once it merged with similar Christian observances, its associations got transferred to the autumn. It may also have connection with three autumn days when the Romans opened a gate, believed to lead to the underworld, in the Temple of Janus, and appeased the spirits there with offerings from the harvest. By contrast, the Celtic Samhain (pronounced SHAH-vahn in Irish Gaelic) was primarily a harvest festival, marking the end of seasons for herdsmen and traders alike, but was also traditionally the day when the veils between our world and the Otherworld were thinnest, allowing fairies and ghosts to slip across the threshold. Many Scottish and Irish legends feature abductions carried out on Samhain. Customary protections included wearing one’s clothing inside-out and carrying iron.

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Jonathan Holtzman, Gregory Jon Phelps, and Patrick Midgley as the Weïrd Sisters in MACBETH. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

By the 16th century in England, those pre-Christian traditions had blended with the Christian ideas of Allhallowtide — a three-day observance from October 31st to November 2nd, featuring, in succession, martyrs, saints, and all departed Christian souls. Commoners would go begging at the houses of the rich for soul cakes, in exchange for which they would promise to pray for the souls of the rich and their families, a practice Shakespeare refers to in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, when Speed says that a lover would “speak puling, like a beggar at Hallowmas.” Sometimes they would do this disguised or masked, perhaps as an outgrowth of the Samhain traditions, and in some areas, it was customary to dress up as the saint who was the patron or patroness of the local church. Considering the gory ends that many saints and martyrs came to, perhaps the later association of Halloween with the horror genre is a natural shift. Eventually that procession, well-known to Shakespeare, evolved into trick-or-treating.

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Josh Innerst as the Ghost of King Hamlet and Patrick Earl as Hamlet in HAMLET. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

The early modern fascination with the supernatural infuses many of Shakespeare’s plays. Vengeful ghosts show up in Macbeth, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet. King Hamlet even references the idea that spirits wandering the earth were souls in Purgatory:

I am thy father’s spirit,
Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away.

King Hamlet certainly doesn’t seem restricted to a single night, but maybe this is a hint that at least part of the play takes place on or near Halloween? Puck calls on the same idea of wandering spirits in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

My fairy lord, this must be done with haste,
For night’s swift dragons cut the clouds full fast,
And yonder shines Aurora’s harbinger;
At whose approach, ghosts, wandering here and there,
Troop home to churchyards:

Oberon is careful to remind him — and the audience — that the fairies are “spirits of another sort”, ethereal but not infernal.

That cultural delight in the paranormal isn’t so far removed from the modern day as our post-Enlightenment society might believe, either. Consider the enduring popularity of horror films, paranormal romances, and ghost-hunting TV shows, or the yearly pilgrimages many of us make to theme park haunted houses, paying for the privilege of being spooked. Here in Staunton, ghost tours of downtown have become so popular that they now start in June and keep running until winter chill sets in. Medieval and early modern superstitions have hung on as well: if you’ve ever knocked on wood, crossed your fingers for luck, or even said “Bless you” when someone sneezes, you’re continuing centuries-old traditions meant to maintain a barrier between the spirit world and our physical realm.

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!

Blackfriars Conference 2015 — Plenary Session 3

Welcome to the third plenary session, and the final session for day one of the conference! I am Mary Finch and I will be live blogging this session that runs from 4:15-5:30 pm. Thanks for joining us!

Jeanne McCarthy, Georgia Gwinnett College
The “Studious” Actor in Sixteenth-Century Popular Theatre; Or, Reconsidering the Influence of the Grammar School on Popular Culture

McCarthy begins by observing how several of Shakespeare’s scenes discuss literacy and study, most notably the mechanicals in A Midsummer’s Nights Dream. While most players could read, not all of them could and certainly not their entire audience. Progress towards literacy throughout Elizabethan England was inconsistent. Players attracted those who followed the tradition of an oral culture with its pageantry in costumes and plot.

Turning towards the school drama, McCarthy discusses the influences of the philosopher Quintilian. McCarthy explains that the works of the schools were, like Shakespeare’s plays, deeply literary and performative due to the influence of Quintilian, which raised the bar for performance of adult actors as well. The textual study that grew out of Quintilian’s philosophy focused on feeling, not just displaying. The pedagogy of Quintilian also focused on empathy, encouraging students to imagine what their characters were feeling or thinking.

McCarthy then highlighted how Hamlet’s disdain for indicative acting follows along with the acting philosophy of Quintilian. The similarities between Quintilian and the methods Stanislavsky and A. C. Bradley challenge how we view acting from the Elizabethan time.

Ann Thompson, King’s College London
Chests and Trunks on the Early Modern Stage

Thompson begins by discussing the most notable, and dramatic, use of a chest in Cymbeline. Thoughout Elizabethan plays, trunks and chests are used for numerous reasons, benign and malevolent, for purposes ranging from hiding identity to storing gods to a discreet location for illicit sex. Today, trunks most often contain a body. Interestingly, both trunk and chest are terms for the human body.

Thompson elaborates on the use of the words in the context of plays. The trunks can also refer to parts of trees as well as places to store things, according to OED which lists storage as one of the final uses of the word. The term only refers to furniture six times in Shakespeare’s work. It is far more likely to refer to a human body. In many cases, he puns with the word invoking both meanings.

In contrast, chest more commonly refers to the non-corporeal meaning, but still appears as a referent for the body occasionally, in Shakespeare’s texts. The variety of meanings and contexts for trunks and chests provide a wealth of interpretive decisions, either referenced or brought on stage.

Thompson concluded by observing that a trunk on stage would be an ideal hiding place from the Bear.

Kerry Cooke, James Madison University
Address for Success: Epistolary Theory in Twelfth Night

Cooke plans to argue that Shakespeare did use letters for dramatic effects, not just to convey meaning or act as a messenger. She neatly broke her lecture into three parts:

Part 1: “Theoretically Speaking”

To begin, Cooke highlighted the ways that letters reflected the social hierarchy of Early Modern England. In letter writing, status of the writer and receiver governed the features and style of the writing. Letters contained a number of formalities, one of them being the use of a secretary hand or italic hand. Everything from status, content, and gender determined what handwriting was most appropriate. Cooke further explained the content and recipients of the letter even determined the alignment of the words on the page.

“Letter writing was a goal orientated activity” where conventions were a means to success.

Part 2: The Twelfth Time You’ve Seen this Scene

Cooke draws upon the moment when Malvolio examines the letter he assumes is from Olivia, using actor Marshall Garrett to read the famous lines. Commenting as Garret reads, Cooke shows how Malvolio’s description of the letter draws in the audience. A “lady’s hand” means the letter is written in italics, not just that it appears feminine. Malvolio then acknowledges the other formalities such as the waxen seal,  which indicates privacy along with authorship.The interspersion of prose and verse fills the page, and the salutation, signature, and post-script complete the physical image of the letter, along with the written message.

Part 3: All Dressed Up

Looking at the effect of the letter on Malvolio, Cooke shows how successfully Maria considered her audience, the haughty Malvolio. Maria used the italic hand of an upper class woman, framed her letter appropriately on the page, and created a signature that allures to Malvolio. According to Cook, Malvolio did not misread the letter because he was proud or lustful, but he read it exactly as Maria intended it, making it successful letter.

Shannon Kelley, Fairfield University
Crooked Trees and Mistresses: Staging the Contreblason in Lyly’s Endymion

Kelley begins by asking as to imagine the pillar on the stage as a tree, which actor Marshall Garrett will fall in love with during the course of the lecture. (His moving performance caused interspersed laughter throughout.)

Kelley establishes that while stage trees are not rare, no playwright uses them as frequently with as much specificity as Lyly. The trees are not just a prop, but also a symbol invoking romance and the ideas of Ovid. They can even suffer violence. Some trees even speak in the plays.

In Endymion, Sir Tophas genuinely renounces young women in favor of older women, which prepares audiences for his romantic interest in the stage tree later on since he already resists societal expectations of love and romance. The use of Aspen specifically, a smooth yet loud tree, reflects women full of talk and noise, just the sort of older women Tellus prefers. Kelley shares a myth about the devil giving women the gift (or curse) of speech through an Aspen leaf strengthening the connection between the tree and Tophas for Elizabethan audiences.

However, Kelley goes on, Tophas’ love towards the tree becomes too much. Dipsas’ transformation back into a person is met with disdain from Tophas rather than adoration. This disappointment comes not only from the loss of the tree, but also that she is no longer “crone,” who he prefers to the Petrarchan ideal of beauty.

Sarah Neville, Ohio State University
Death Properties in Renaissance Drama: Coffins

Neville opens her speech by challenging the long hold assumption that there are numerous skulls on stage during the gravedigger scene–looking at stage directions, there is only a requirement for a shovel. Comparing the stage directions in the quarto and folio publications, Neville points out the differences in how Ophelia’s body is brought on stage. There is a long standing tradition assuming that the coffin of Ophelia must be open. Yet, Hamlet cannot see her and does not realize that it is Ophelia until Laertes identifies her. This examples embodies the problems of dealing with corpses and coffins on stage.

First, in order to have a corpse, someone had to bring it on stage, and then off again. Neville mused that the use of severed heads alleviated the weight of transporting bodies around the stage, and perhaps is why Shakespeare (and other authors) used them frequently.

This paper addressed the death problem and the way that Elizabethan play makers learned to solve the issue. The prevalent use of coffins in histories also brought them into comedies, romances, and tragicomedies.

Death properties allowed playwrights to explore the differences between “bodies within boxes, and those without.” Even today, as demonstrated by the process to stage today’s demonstration, dead bodies still present a problem for companies today.

Coffins appear at the start of Henry VI part 1 and Richard II, and Henslowe’s diary shows that they had two coffins in possession. In some cases, the body is left exposed with the more ambiguous stage directions “enter corpse” or the dialogue of the surrounding characters which remarks on the corpse. The most striking entrances of a corpse might be Lear’s carrying of his daughter Cordelia. This contrasts to the bringing of the treacherous daughters that are simply brought in. Several actors demonstrated the different effects of bring a corpse in a container, as opposed to carrying one on.

As Neville described it, “Coffins are a portable discovery space” that can contain doom, revival, and even transformation.

Neville has found that these uses are not only the result of an interest in death, but also a practical use. The increase use of death properties addresses with the problem of corpses, but also contributes to the ambiguity of tragicomedies, bringing death close to the living.

Paige Reynolds, University of Central Arkansas
Performing the Female Body in Macbeth

Reynolds started with anecdote about ways to avoid the “Curse”–one production blessed the shoes the actors wore to ward off ill will. A lesser known curse, but one as serious, surrounds the challenge of staging and dealing with the body of Lady Macbeth.

Reading Lady Macbeth as the embodiment of sexuality and moral depravity makes playing her deeply difficult, since the body of Lady Macbeth should both attract and repulse. The first mention of this curse of this comes from Malcolm’s descriptions of her as beast-like and sexually depraved.

Lady Macbeth’s famous “Unsex me here” speech achieves the opposite when staged; it clearly sexes her with its focus on the body and the repetition of the “come” (which has a disputed erotic history). The erotic performance contradicts the purpose of achieving a cool and detached commitment to ambition. Because of this contradiction, Lady Macbeth’s language and performance frequently registers as a “male fantasy.”

In contrast, Reynolds stresses that Lady Macbeth’s sexuality does not reflect a mental illness, nor can it be a characterization, just like “be seduced” could hardly function as characterization for Macbeth. Emphasizing the powers of seduction reduces Lady Macbeth to the insults of Malcolm.

Finally, the sleep walking scene forecasts Lady Macbeth’s death and exposes her internal struggle, while Macbeth’s struggle becomes more hidden from the audience. The observing doctor and waiting lady act as an audience, scrutinizing the night gown clad female body, and her exposed mind. The curse of figuring out the staging of Lady Macbeth’s sexual body offers as much potential for destruction as the other “Curse.”

— Mary Finch
MLitt student at MBC Shakespeare & Performance

Summer/Fall 15 Playhouse Insider: Now on Sale!

I’m pleased to announce that the Summer/Fall 2015 issue of the Playhouse Insider is now on-sale in the Box Office! Here’s a sneak peek at what’s inside:SF15Cover

Artists:

I’m delighted to have an article from Kate Powers, the last person to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the ASC, back in 2011. While Midsummer is always a crowd favorite, Powers initially felt some hesitance to tackle the project – but rehearsing the show helped her find the same love we at the ASC hope you’ll feel for this year’s production.

In Matt Davies’s piece, you’ll hear from an ex-Antony in his own words. Davies played the role for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, under the direction of our very own Ralph Cohen. While Cleopatra often receives more attention as a famously challenging role, Antony comes with his own set of expectations and imaginings, and Davies will lead you through his exploration of them.

Finally, as our current tour prepares to embark on the first phase of their journey in September, I thought you would enjoy a look at what life on the road is like – and what it means to come home to the Playhouse. Patrick Poole and Lexi Braverman of last year’s Method in Madness tour share their experiences in an interview with Education Artist Lia Razak Wallace.

Scholars

Our first scholarly article illustrates that, at the Blackfriars Playhouse, research and practice are always deeply intertwined. Amy Grubbs shares her observances from working on The Winter’s Tale as a member of Mary Baldwin College’s 2014-2015 MFA Company, Turning Glass Shakespeare.

I’m tremendously excited to offer an article from Michael Poston, a friend from the Folger Shakespeare Library. As technology continues to advance, editors across the world are engaging with new ways to present Shakespeare’s texts. Poston uses some examples from 1 Henry VI to illustrate the challenges of tagging a Shakespeare play for digital mark-up, and the result is a fascinating look at the underpinnings of early modern texts in the modern age.

With the 8th Blackfriars Conference coming up in October, we decided to showcase some thoughts based on a paper from a previous conference. Matt Kozusko’s article on humor in Hamlet is precisely the blend of sharp, amusing, and insight that we prize in the presentations at each biennial gathering, the topic Matt chose also offers a great transition from our Spring to Summer season..

Audience

We’ve just wrapped the 2015 No Kidding Shakespeare Camp, and in 2016, we’ll be taking the team abroad again. Find out what traveling to London to study Shakespeare is like from 2013 camper Lia Janosz – and learn why she considers Dr. Ralph the Indiana Jones of early modern theatre.

Finally, teacher Katrien Vance shares her experience – and those enjoyed by her students – in bringing ASC Education to her school for an exploration of Macbeth and Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions. From special effects to the nuances of rhetoric, her class dove into the work with great enthusiasm – and the pictures from their stage blood workshop are not to be missed!

If you’re interested in contributing to a future issue, please send me an email with your proposal: cass@americanshakespearecenter.com.

–Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager

Podcast Archive: 2014

2014 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2014 Spring Season

2014 Summer and Fall Seasons

MLitt Thesis Festival 2015: Session 1

Marshall B Garrett: “‘Prosperous Art’: Rhetorical Direction of Measure for Measure
Garrett begins by introducing a page of directing tips from “John Jory” which includes an admonition “not to do the play until you can say all the words in contemporary English”. Garrett then examines the opening lines of Measure for Measure, using actors Fred Franko, Adrienne Johnson, Aubrey Whitlock, and Jordan Zwick to note the use of hendiadys, synecdoche, metaphor, and hyperbaton, wherein the Duke obscures his meaning through the use of deliberate rhetorical devices. Garrett asserts that while scholastic attention has been paid to helping actors use rhetoric to develop character, less has been done to help directors see the same clues for performance. “Since directors must be intensively aware of structure of their plays” and since rhetoric is, in essence, structure, directors must have a keen awareness of rhetoric.

Garrett moves to discussing his production of Measure for Measure, wherein actors had varying degrees of familiarity with rhetoric, preventing the use of rhetoric as shorthand during rehearsal. The rhetoric, then, had to inform his directing. Garrett points out that, in 1.2, Claudio notes that Isabella “hath prosperous art when she will play with reason”, but that Isabella has been “rhetorically uninteresting” thus far in the play. He then notes that the figures of antithesis, chiasmus, and antimetabole are the dominant rhetorical figures in the play. Actors Johnson and Zwick demonstrate the interplay between Isabella and Angelo in 2.2, with rhetorical explication provided by Franko, and directorial interrogation spurred by Garrett. Through this interrogation, “after Fred identified the forms, we weren’t really talking about rhetoric — and yet we were talking about nothing else.” The rhetoric is a gateway to character discussions.

As the actors move forward, Garrett and the actors examine how the characters build upon each others’ rhetoric. In response to the question of whether to follow the stresses indicated by scansion or by rhetoric, Garrett notes that “this is an art, not a science”. Garrett also notes the points of stress between playing the rhetoric and adhering to other, more modernly-developed, acting practices. In the next section, Whitlock points out that “the most rhetorically sophisticated line so far has been Lucio’s”. Franko points out uses of zeugma, alliteration, anaphora, and the antithetical chiasmus built between Isabella and Angelo. Garrett then has the actors continue, with Franko providing pop-up rhetorical commentary overtop of them, illustrating the rhetorical density of the scene, particularly in Isabella’s implorations. Garrett points out that Isabella moves from schemes manipulating language to tropes manipulating imagination, ultimately demonstrating her verbal superiority to Angelo. Garrett suggests that rhetoric can help find two specific options for when Angelo falls in love/lust with Isabella. Garrett concludes that while rhetoric is not a perfect map to production, it “can more firmly place the approach to the play” and the choices of the actors in the script itself.

Q&A:
Q – From a practical standpoint, not possible to spend weeks on rhetoric in rehearsal. Do you have a sense as a director of how much time should be spent on it in rehearsal?
A – Actually, none. Garrett states he thinks that’s on the director to figure out before hand, informing the directoral process rather than the rehearsal process.
Q – Can you be more specific how you communicated w/ actors unfamiliar with this terminology?
A – In terms of discussing stress patterns, bring out certain words. “Avoiding the Greek words became key” when working with actors unfamiliar with them.
Q – So the idea is that you want to bring in understanding of figures being used to help with actor choices?
A- Yes.
Q – How do you communicate to actors that an epizeuxis is happening without saying “epizeuxis”?
A – Terminology of amplifying or raising stakes.
Q – Menzer asks if it’s necessary to bring authorial intent into it.
A – No. But rhetoric is an avenue into potential choices that has not been much explored in current materials.
Q – When working w/ actors totally unfamiliar to rhetoric and to Shakespeare, are there some key Shakespeare figures that I should focus on?
A – Absolutely the antithesis. Chiasmus and figures of balance. Discusses theory that “every play has its dominant figure”, can be useful in productions w/o rhetorically trained actors.
Q – Spend any time on specific figures for each character?
A – If I found it was important. In Measure, different worlds had different things that were key.

Ian A. Charles: “Instrumental Shakespeare: Case Studies in Cross Training the Singer and Poet”
Charles opens by discussing the overlaps between “the world of musical theatre and the world of Shakespeare”, particularly with regard to the musicality of Shakespeare’s verse and the issues of breath, pitch, etc that speaking it involves. He states his intention to look at the spoken vs sung words in musical theatre as compared to prose vs verse in Shakespeare. Charles hopes “to cultivate a language of actor training” that incorporates both. Charles questions American theatre’s tradition of divorcing Shakespeare training so far from musical theatre training, when he sees distinct similarities and when poetry and music have a shared heritage dating back to ancient Greece. He argues that “dramatic poetry, intended for performance” links more nearly to music than other forms of poetry, particularly with regard to thinking of both as “enhanced speech”.

Charles moves to discussing the difference between the musicality of verse and prose, with prose suggesting “less rhythm, less of an artifice”. When comparing Shakespeare to musical theatre, “verse is to song as prose is to spoken text,” and Charles suggests this leads to similar questions for actors in each genre. He also notes that Shakespeare and musical theatre can both be seen as “a push against naturalism”.

Charles moves to discussing his case studies, beginning with his observations during a LiveArts production of Les Miserables. He plays a segment conducted in 4/4, though with two separate melodies, and draws a comparison to the tempo created by iambic pentameter. Charles suggests that opera and musical theatre may be examined using “many of the same external terminology” as in Shakespeare. Charles introduces concepts from Peter Hall concerning the musicality of pentameter and its application in the rehearsal process.

His second case study examines the rare shifts from prose to verse in Much Ado about Nothing, with actor Sarah Wykowski speaking Beatrice’s verse lines at the end of 3.1. Charles notes that the discovery of love appears synonymous with the appearance of pentameter, and Josh Williams demonstrates Benedick’s failing attempts at singing later in the play. Charles then discusses how certain conventions in opera are analogous to the choices presented to actors within iambic pentameter for creating and breaking rhythm. He keys in on the need to play shifts between speech/song and prose/verse in order to bring forward the heightened nature of the emotions attached to song/verse. Rhyme further augments the unrealistic quality of speech, adding further complexity to the scale.

Charles concludes by reiterating the defined difference between normal and heightened speech in both musical theatre and Shakespeare. He intends that his full thesis, calling upon his experience in both genres, will “prompt an integrated approach for performers seeking a place in both worlds.

Q&A:
Q – Clarify that rhyming that you find in verse, beyond blank verse, is where the singing training should come into?
A – That it could come into, if you have more training in musical theatre than in Shakespeare. Looking for rhyme common ground between two genres of training.
Q – Then what do you do with blank verse?
A – Verse in general still has a beat, regularity and irregularity, knowing where you are in the pentameter, feel the ebb and flow of the line, that’s a very musical function.
Q – Beneficial in education?
A – Absolutely, b/c of inherently interactive nature of music.
Q – Found indication of extant cross-training between RSC and Broadway?
A – Not specifically, no.

Jess Hamlet: “‘A Deed Without a Name’: Macbeth, Richard III, and the Regicidal Fantasies of Civil War Virginia
Hamlet begins by noting the April-focused anniversaries of Shakespeare’s birth/death and the start of the Civil War, and her thesis focuses on the intersection of these events. She looks specifically at the ways theatres in Richmond, Virginia were using Shakespeare’s works in wartime “to process their trauma”. She argues that “the constant performances of Macbeth and Richard III” in Richmond during the Civil War enabled citizens to aestheticize and legitimize their desire for removal from President Lincoln’s authority. She notes that Macbeth saw 27 performances in Richmond during the war, the most not only of Shakespeare but of any play.

Hamlet notes that the local newspapers believed that the theatres were doing “crucial, necessary, and meaningful work” during the war, at least partially by keeping the idea of removing unwanted leaders from power in the public consciousness. Macbeth was, according to one theatre, frequently requested by the citizens, including soldiers, “illustrating that servicemen and not just civilians were eager to see the story of Macbeth and his wife”.

Hamlet then shifts to President Lincoln’s own commentary on Shakespeare, wherein he stated “I think nothing equals Macbeth; it is wonderful” and found Claudius’s soliloquy superior to Hamlet’s. She suggests that Lincoln found Shakespeare “a kind of secular scripture” to help him deal with both his personal and political challenges, “both to cope with and recover from” his experience in a war-torn country. Reports from Lincoln’s last days indicate that he spent much time with his intimates discussing Shakespeare, especially the murder of Duncan in Macbeth. “The fascination here is that both Lincoln and his enemies were using the same text” to work through their feelings about the war, with a central question of casting — who was Duncan, and who Macbeth? Hamlet, through actors Fred Franko, Merlyn Sell, and Marshall Garrett, illustrates how newspapers on both sides of the Mason-Dixon criticized and challenged Lincoln and his actions.

Hamlet notes that Hamlet may have fallen behind Macbeth and Richard III in Richmond popularity because of its lack of action, with the decisive final battles indulging a sense of closure to war-weary citizens, particularly towards the end of the war. She suggests that the British origins of many Southerners may also have strengthened connections to Macbeth and Richard III that they did not feel with Danish Hamlet. Hamlet further suggests that thinking of themselves in Shakespearean terms may have helped Virginians to see their rebellion as a true revolution, returning to their origins and common cultural touchstone. This explains their dominance over plays like the Roman-set Julius Caesar, which might otherwise have seemed thematically appropriate for popularity.

Hamlet then questions the specific purpose of these performances, and provides the answer that the shows indulged their desire to “force the tyrant from his seat by war” and helped them “to purge their anxieties and doubts” about the war’s conclusion. The plays may also have helped Richmonders to place mental distance between themselves and the horrors of the war they were experiencing. She notes a potential difference in the plays’ purpose between the beginning and the end of the war. By 1864, many Southerners were hoping for a swift end to the war, even if that meant reconciliation, not wanting to see themselves as “beheaded Macbeth”. She draws a connection between the Civil War battles, audible within Richmond and visible in the form of hospitals and prison camps, and the advance on Dunsinane of Malcolm and his troops. The soldiers who saw plays in Richmond then took that experience with them back into the field, allowing them to use Shakespeare as a way to conceptualize their work and their worries. In focusing their own lives through the filter of Shakespeare, Hamlet suggests that soldiers would thus have cast themselves as Macduff rather than Macbeth. In regard to Richard III, Hamlet posits that the city of Richmond may have focused themselves on the character of Richmond, with Richard representing the North and Richmond the South, an interpretation that would seem to place Shakespeare on the South’s side. Hamlet concludes by reiterating that the production of Shakespeare in Civil War Richmond both expressed Southern regicidal desires and formed a lense through which citizens could process their experiences of war.

Q&A
Q – Americans fascination w/ Shakespeare has to deal with fact that Shakespeare is so English, how does that fit in?
A – Thinks that Confederate citizens were reaching for the English heritage and the father country, esp since seeking English and French support for the war itself.
Q – Modern-day applications for veterans?
A – Yes, “so much potential in theatre in general for a healing process”, Shakespeare especially because he writes so much about war.

Megan Hughes: “Where are all the Weddings in Shakespeare?”
Hughes will be discussing staged and unstaged weddings in Shakespeare’s canon, but begins with a clip from the Zeffirelli Taming of the Shrew, depicting the wedding of Kate and Petruchio (only described later by Gremio in the play). She notes that this was her first introduction to Shrew, and she has since found that most filmed versions invent the scene. She then interrogates why Shakespeare left this wedding off-stage. Delving into research, she discovered that there are no plays published during the early modern period that include a complete on-stage wedding. Hughes takes a moment to define the difference between a wedding (the ceremony itself, in the period based on the 1559 Book of Common Prayer) and a marriage (the lasting relationship). A third category, spousals, were vows exchanged, but which could have varying degrees of formality and binding.

Hughes then identifies “three plausible restrictions” that may explain the lack of completed wedding ceremonies on-stage: socio-cultural, legal, and literary/dramatic. Socio-cultural reasons could have included reverence for the real ceremony and a level of discomfort in seeing it play-acted between two males on stage. Hughes notes that, since the prevailing thought in early modern England was that speaking the words themselves enacted the union, this may have caused superstitious audiences to fear the on-stage speaking of those words as perhaps resulting in the unintended marrying of the two actors. Educated audiences, however, would have recognized the invalidity of such a union, both on the grounds of the gender of the persons involved and the lack of appropriate ritual. Hughes suggests that plays may have chosen to stage espousals rather than weddings to avoid this anxiety, however. Hughes then notes the variations in Taming‘s wedding that might, to a certain mode of thought, rendered Kate and Petruchio’s wedding invalid — and, if staged rather than described, might have verged on sacrilege and alienated the audience.

Legal restrictions “would have been much more serious in repercussions”. Hughes notes the blurry line between law, ecclesiastical law, and common law during this era in England. A prohibition against enactments of the rituals in the Book of Common Prayer, intended to guard against Catholic rituals, might also have netted in the actions in theatres. Hughes suggests that censorship by the Master of the Revels may also have played a role in keeping weddings off-stage, as playing companies would not have wanted to risk offending church or state and thus losing prestigious opportunities to perform for Queen Elizabeth.

Finally, Hughes discusses the literary and dramatic reasons for keeping a wedding off-stage, which would have been self-imposed by playwrights. She suggests that Shakespeare found that “by restricting the audience’s view of a scene, he could more strictly control their interpretation of that scene.” Actors Marshall Garrett, Ryan Odenbrett, and Stephan Pietrowski then act the Taming scene where Gremio relates the story of the wedding. Hughes notes that Lucentio and Tranio stand in for the audience, feeling scandal on the audience’s behalf. She concludes by declaring that, while it is impossible to determine which restrictions were most significant, socio-cultural, legal, and dramatic restrictions all played a part in keeping weddings off-stage.

Q&A
Q – Any difference between plays set in English vs plays set in Catholic countries?
A – Still medial and interrupted, doesn’t seem to be change in the interruption or avoidance that she’s found so far.
Q – Considering clandestine marriages something different from proper weddings?
A – Would classify that as espousal, not as a wedding, as wedding needs the ceremonial language and the right place and time. Clandestine weddings also generally take place off-stage between scenes, move the plot along, hidden from audience as well as from other characters.
Q – Time and place so important to creating an actual wedding, wouldn’t it be impossible to have a real wedding in a play b/c those would never be correct?
A – Yes, that’s what arguing – but superstition still surrounded just saying the words.
Q – Along those lines, As You Like IT
A – Yes, definitely.
Q – How might you take your research into the rehearsal room?
A – Definitely in raising the stakes in certain scenes. Ex: Celia’s “I will not say the words”, not wanting to initiate. Priest in Much Ado forced to jump to the end, disorders the ceremony.

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

“These be the stops that hinder study quite”: In Defense of Enjambment

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my current project is building a scansion workbook — a practical guide to understanding, marking, and performing meter in Shakespeare’s plays. This workbook follows a far different structure than our usual Study Guides, based on the scaffolding of language skills rather than on elements of a play’s plot, history, and staging challenges. Once we get through the basics of syllables, feet, and pentameter, we get to play with the aspects of scansion that pertain more to character and performance.

I came to scansion through Latin long before I came to it through English. Years before anyone had bothered to explain to me what iambic pentameter is, beyond perhaps a token mention of “that’s the stuff they make sonnets out of,” I was beating out the long and short vowels of Ovid, Catullus, and Horace. In my AP class, we had to recite Latin poetry aloud, which meant careful attention to the cadence of the lines. I learned a lot about elision — particularly when it comes to slurring vowel sounds together — and I learned about enjambment. One of the things my teacher hammered into my adolescent head was the concept that you don’t stop at the end of a line unless that’s actually where the thought ends. Of course, where the thought ends can be a tricky matter to determine, since Latin originally had no punctuation, and no spaces, for that matter. You either have to choose to trust the editor of your text (which I did far more readily at 16 than I do now), or else you had to figure it out for yourself through the translation. Once you made the determination, you had to put it into your voice during the recitation. Taking an unnecessary breath docked points from our grade.

Enjambment means, quite simply, that the thought or sentence continues past the end of the line. Here’s an example from Macbeth (click to expand):

Enjamb1

Now, this speech is a goldmine of information when it comes to both scansion and rhetoric (elisions! stressed conjunctions and pronouns! antithesis!), and my markup is far from the only potential choice in many of those lines. For the purposes of this conversation, however, just look specifically at those little right-pointing arrows. Each of those indicates an enjambed line. Many of them, as you can see, then lead to caesuras — those mid-line breaks — and many involve feminine endings, a final unstressed eleventh syllable tagged on to the end of a pentameter line.

Compare that to something like this speech from Richard II (click to expand):

Enjamb2

It’s one of the most rhetorically dense passages in Shakespeare — but not a single enjambed line. I could make an argument for ignoring the comma at the end of line for, after “head”, perhaps, and enjambing that line, but all the others are very clearly end-stops. They vary between full-stops, like periods, and partial stops, like commas, but in this passage, there is a sense that each line completes a thought or clause of some sort, even if the sentence continues. On the whole, Shakespeare’s later plays are more enjambed than his early ones — but you can certainly find end-stops in Macbeth, Othello, Coriolanus, and The Tempest, just as you can find enjambed lines in the Henry VIes, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of the Shrew. Plays which are heavily rhymed, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, are more likely to have more end-stops as well, as enjambment tends to obscure the rhyme.

Enjambments and end-stops are one of the topics I’ll be covering in this new workbook. As I’ve been researching and discussing the process, however, I’ve run across the doctrine — apparently far more dominant, at least in some spheres, than I’d ever imagined — that an actor should take a brief pause at the end of each line of iambic pentameter, whether or not the punctuation and sentence structure make that indication. I’ve heard it justified as “the way the verse works” — which ignores the fact that enjambment is, itself, part of how the verse works, a conscious choice by an author to go on rather than to create a break. I’ve also heard that it’s necessary, because ten syllables is about how much an actor can say with one breath — which seems not only to undervalue the lung capacity of actors, but to ignore the playable value of that breathlessness, should it occur.

This is a weird concept to me. How can you ignore enjambment like that? Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that punctuation alone is unreliable, what with the variant preferences of typesetters. From my explorations of the Folio and quartos, however, it’s generally pretty clear where a line is end-stopped versus enjambed, even if the precise nature of the stop as a period, semicolon, colon, or question mark might be up for debate. Even where you can’t trust the punctuation, you can also figure out where a thought terminates or turns. (Rhetoric can help here, too, by identifying shifts in focus or alterations to a pattern).

End-stopped lines and enjambed lines operate differently. If you pause indiscriminately, you lose the crucial information that the enjambment gives you — that breathless, rushing quality which is a character clue and a clue for performance. Pausing at the end of each line in that speech of Macbeth’s doesn’t just interrupt the flow of thoughts — potentially obscuring comprehension of an already-difficult bit of text — it also misses out on something critical about Macbeth himself. The entire speech is, after all, about his attempt to squish time together and “jump the life to come,” to get to the end without pausing at the middle. It makes sense that, metrically, he’d be rushing, eliding, and running ahead of himself. His cadence transmits emotional information.

One of the comments that the ASC most frequently gets from our audiences is that our plays are accessible, easy to understand. I believe part of the reason for that lies in enjambment. Our actors speak their lines with attention to scansion and stressed syllables, but also as though they are… sentences. Things that people would actually say, in the manner they would actually say them. Enjambment is a part of pentameter. I have to think that our actors’ acknowledgement of that piece of the pattern, following a thought through to its natural end rather than carving it into bits, contributes to our audience’s ease of understanding. So, when it comes to the ASC Scansion Workbook, we’re going to promote what’s worked here at the Playhouse and in our classrooms: pause when the thought indicates you should, not just because you’ve said ten syllables and need a break.

What were you taught? What do you use in practice or teach others? Can you hear a difference when listening to Shakespeare in performance?

–Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager

Summer/Fall 2014 Playhouse Insider: On Sale Now!

The seventh issue of the Playhouse Insider is now available at the Blackfriars Playhouse Box Office. Here’s a sneak peek at the articles within, exploring the shows of the 2014 Summer and Fall Seasons:SF14InsiderCover

  • What is it that most defines Cyrano de Bergerac? His panache. ASC Education Artist Natalia Razak explores “what it really means to live, love, and die without compromise.”
  • Jeremy Fiebig of the Shakespeare Standard and Sweet Tea Shakespeare examines characters as actors in Macbeth and Hamlet, with particular attention to how the titular men fit into or fight against their own stories.
  • Former ASC actor Luke Eddy, now teaching at the University of Central Oklahoma and at Oklahoma City University, discusses how playing Antipholus of Syracuse in the ASC’s 2008/9 touring troupe helped his own journey of self-discovery.
  • What makes Macbeth and other villains “break bad”? Benjamin Curns, a longtime ASC actor and fight choreographer who is now pursuing an MFA at UNC Chapel Hill, explores the nature of villainy in Shakespeare’s plays.
  • MBC student Sarah Martin discusses the rehearsal process behind the MLitt program’s 2012 production of Pericles, including the dramaturgical information on the play’s sources which contributed to the cast’s stylistic choices.
  • Bob Jones, who holds an MFA from Mary Baldwin and is pursuing a PhD at the University of Austin, discusses his experience directing Edward II at the Blackfriars Playhouse in 2008, focusing on the relationship between Edward and the audience.
  • What’s Shakespeare like at a re-creation of one of his other playhouses? Katherine Mayberry of Pigeon Creek Shakespeare shares experiences from actors and audiences at the Rose Theatre in Twin Lake, Michigan.
  • Did you know that our Director of College Prep Programs is also a champion of under-appreciated early modern plays? Kim Newton celebrates Fair Em, which had its North American premiere during this summer’s ASC Theatre Camp.
  • Last year, the ASC passed a major milestone: completing Shakespeare’s entire canon in its 25th year, and audience member Tim Hulsey has seen all thirty-eight plays at the Blackfriars Playhouse. Find out what keeps him coming back, season after season.

Pick up your copy of the Playhouse Insider at the Box Office for just $5 — a perfect companion to your playgoing experience. The issue not only contains the brilliant words of these contributors, but full-color photos from ASC productions, as well as from performances by MBC students and the ASC Theatre Camp, and from the Rose Theatre.

Podcast Archives: 2011

2011 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2011 Spring Season

2011 Summer and Fall Seasons