Much Ado about MUCH ADO

 

The 2017 Summer/Fall Season at the Blackfriars Playhouse kicks off this weekend with performances of Peter and the Starcatcher and Much Ado about Nothing.  Today, we’re catching up with Much Ado‘s director, Jenny Bennett, to get some thoughts on the show’s opening.

much_ado_about_nothing

Left: Allison Glenzer and David Anthony Lewis in Much Ado about Nothing.  Photo by Michael Bailey.  Right:  Jenny Bennett.  Photo by Lindsey Walters.

This is your third time directing at the Blackfriars Playhouse.  What do you most look forward to about directing here that is different from other venues?  What is similar? 

I love getting to play in Shakespeare’s staging conditions, especially the #SharedLight.  (Wait- is that a real hashtag?  If not, it should be: #SharedLight #ftw.)  There’s no distance between the actors and the audience here: they see us, we see them, we see each other seeing them and each other.  In the shared candlelight of the Blackfriars, we are all right here, right now, making this story together on the great words of these great plays.  It’s some ultimate theatremaking, in my opinion.

I’m a big fan of making theatre that makes the most of the medium, that uses artistic elements that can only happen/that happen best on a stage full of powerful actors inventing a story with the audience right exactly now.  As an audience member, I love it when a production trusts me to imagine along with it—“Oh – that actor I recognize who was just the delighted ingénue in the last scene now has on pants, stuffed her hair in a hat, and is a whole new person called Boy?  And I’m to believe that just because she and the other actors say so?  On the power of their word?  Yes, please.  Awesome!  We will imagine right into that, thanks; we will absolutely join in making this play.

We are so game out here in the audience – we’re hungry to participate in something big and smart and beautiful.  In this Playhouse, we get to unite for a few hours, bound together by a great play spoken by great actors who we imagine along with in #SharedLight (look, I did it again).  It doesn’t matter who we were when we walked into the Playhouse;  by the time we’ve walked out of it after the show, we’ve helped make a play out of nothing.  Well, nothing but words spoken and listened.  Shakespeare might relate ‘words’ to ‘wind’, though, and wind is air, and air is airy…nothing.  Far from diminishing the value of the word, what I take from him is that all human possibilities come from the word.  We exist in language, in a theater or not.  We exist, because we say so.

What about Much Ado about Nothing is different from the two other plays that you’ve directed here (The Winter’s Tale and King Lear)? What are you most looking forward to about this play?

You know, it’s interesting that all three of these plays I’ve gotten to direct here have featured moments of the idea of ‘nothing’ (just a few examples – Leontes’ big WT speech beginning 1.2.284 ‘Is whispering nothing?’; KL sequence beginning with Cordelia’s reply to her father’s request for public love 1.1.87 ‘Nothing.  Nothing?  Nothing, my Lord.  Nothing will come of nothing, speak again.”; Much Ado….about Nothing.)

‘Nothing’ is an idea Shakespeare was very interested in, if you measure interest by the frequency the word and its puns show up in the canon.  I could be projecting, for sure: I’m definitely interested in this idea.  No – thing.  Absence of something.  Infinity.  Possibility.  A moment of creation from which tales can be spun toward harmony or chaos, depending on the spinner (and the listener).

When you add in the accent of English spoken by Shakespeare’s actors at the time, of course, you get all these homophone puns on ‘noting’, too – what we ‘note’, what we pay attention to, or not.  It’s explicit in this play on multiple occasions – Balthasar’s song intro in 2.3, ‘noting’ the daughter of Leonato in 1.1, the Friar’s ‘noting of the lady’ in 4.1.

Much Ado about Noting.  Much Ado about Nothing.  Which is it, do you think?  I think it’s both.  How great is that?  Thanks, Will.

Directing in the Blackfriars is a collaborative process.  What is it like to work with actors who have been on our stage for so many years? 

I love these rockstar nerds.  (And I mean ‘rockstar’ both literally and figuratively: the ASC troupe of actors is my favorite band.  ‘Nerds’ I mean literally, my highest praise.)  Acting in these staging conditions attracts the brave.  It fosters that courage to be present and spontaneous over a five-month run with a few hundred people looking you right in the eye.  The confidence in being, the trust in an audience that comes from long experience on this stage is a precious gift.  The staging conditions are very much about the actor and the text – just the way I like it!

Directing is always a collaborative process wherever it happens — the Theatre itself is a collaborative medium full of actors, designers, directors, stage managers, producers, and a variety of staff, and a play doesn’t happen without all of these contributions.  The whole ASC team and the artistic community they make together is a delight to get to be a part of as a guest.  I’m so excited to see the ASC bringing playwrights into the mix with the Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries project, too!  They’re gonna have a blast, writing for the possibilities of this troupe, where the words have power and the actors are game.

Do you have a favorite scene or line from this play?  Have any become your favorite through the directing process? 

My favorite line and scene is all of them.  That’s what usually happens to me through the directing process, alas!  But here’s a list of dozen delights that leapt to mind at your question.  I’ll let readers listen for who says them in the show, or let readers guess the speaker, if they’re a lovely supernerd who likes a Shakespeare line quiz:

“Adam’s sons are my brethren, and truly, I hold it a sin to match in my kindred.”

“One doth not know how much an ill word may empoison liking.”

“Happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending.”

“Let me be that I am, and seek not to alter me.”

“For it so falls out / That what we have we prize not to the worth / Whiles we enjoy it“

“Silence is the perfectest herald of joy; I were but little happy if I could say how much.”

“If her breath were as terrible as her terminations there were no living near her: she would infect to the North Star.”

“He is now as valiant as Hercules that only tells a lie and swears it.”

“Out on thee, seeming! I will write against it.”

“O villain! Thou wilt be condemned into everlasting redemption for this.”

“I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?”

What scene or characters should audiences specifically look for? 

Audiences want to look out for the wittiest couple that ever sparred in Benedick and Beatrice.  Throughout the whole play, in fact, every character has some kind of Euphuistic wordplay.  The topic setup, volley, volley, volley, SPIKE of puns, twists, and other feats of wit in this play have tickled audiences into high hilarity for four centuries!

Another thing that I love about this play is the notion that since we’re all invented out of nothing, we can reinvent ourselves out of nothing, too.  Several people in this play are confronted with a rebuke of who they are, or how they’ve been behaving – they overhear people talking about them or are directly told they’ve made a terrible error.  The real mettle of a person is revealed by what they choose to do with that information.  Grace is available to those who take action to repair what’s broken, to be available to Love, to be ‘good men, and true.’  Along these lines, I’m quite fond of our 5.3 Tomb scene.  Chris Johnston, Music Director, wrote the most beautiful song.  I won’t spoil it here, but I hope you love it as much as I do.

You’re ending this play with a big song and dance number.  What inspired that choice? 

Benedick did.  He says ‘Play music!’ and so I said, okay.  We’re fair giddy at that point (that’s his conclusion, anyway), so we went ahead and danced, then, too.  It’s a couple of lines earlier than the Folio’s [Dance] instruction, but we start dancing again there, as well.  Though for the other two songs in the play we chose to keep the text and write the tunes (Tim Sailer composed the delightful ‘Sigh no more, ladies’ that he sings as Balthasar;  Chris Johnston composed the gorgeous Tomb Song), the ASC often takes on musical moments in the plays as they would have been taken on in Shakespeare’s original staging –contemporary, known to the audience—something I’ve always loved as an audience member here.  That guide felt like what was wanted in this exuberant moment, so I looked for a contemporary song.  The one we picked I came upon while on the treadmill (which I stumbled off of, happily thinking this might be it).  I wrote Chris Johnston and said ‘this?’ and he said ‘YES, PLEASE!’  Gotta come to the show to see what it is, though.

Anything else our audiences should know? 

“We are the only love gods.”

“And if a merry meeting may be wished, God prohibit it!”

Much Ado about Nothing is on stage at the Blackfriars Playhouse through November.  More at –> amshakes.center/MuchAdo

“To try eloquence, now ’tis time”: Virtues and Vices of Rhetoric

Last week, in less than twenty-four hours, our country had the opportunity to experience two important political speeches: President Obama’s farewell address and Donald Trump’s opening statements to the first press conference he has held since last July. Both were prepared statements, though both appeared to involve some measure of ad-lib. Since President Obama’s farewell address was much longer, I chose to examine only a segment of it, of comparable length to Mr. Trump’s opening statement.

By the Numbers
Complexity and elegance in speech are not necessarily about sentence length or vocabulary level: they’re really more about variety. Does the speaker vary syntax? Does the speaker demonstrate a grasp of language’s fluidity and flexibility? Does the speaker use a wide or narrow range of descriptors? As Shakespeare knew, these traits create a character who is verbally facile and engaging. Going too far with them, however, can create a ridiculous character, such as Holofernes:

This is a gift that I have, simple, simple; a foolish extravagant spirit, full of forms, figures, shapes, objects, ideas, apprehensions, motions, revolutions: these are begot in the ventricle of memory, nourished in the womb of pia mater, and delivered upon the mellowing of occasion. But the gift is good in those in whom it is acute, and I am
thankful for it.

The gift is in knowing how to apply language deftly, which is not the same as the oratory onslaught that defines much of Holofernes’s speech. Then there are characters like Dogberry, who reach for verbal greatness but somewhat miss the mark:

LEONATO
Neighbours, you are tedious.

DOGBERRY
It pleases your worship to say so, but we are the poor duke’s officers; but truly, for mine own part, if I were as tedious as a king, I could find it in my heart to bestow it all of your worship.

LEONATO
All thy tediousness on me, ah?

DOGBERRY
Yea, an ’twere a thousand pound more than ’tis; for I hear as good exclamation on your worship as of any man in the city; and though I be but a poor man, I am glad to hear it.

Bless.

Some hard facts on President Obama’s speech segment:

  • 1393 words long, featuring 583 unique words (words used only once in the speech) (42% of the whole)
  • 869 of those 1393 words were monosyllabic
  • 202 had more than three syllables
  • His longest word was “responsibility” (six syllables)
  • His ten most commonly used words (excluding grammatical words like “the”) were I’ve, us, years, just, should, own, Americans, young, because, and up.
  • His Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level was 9th, with a Reading Ease score of 57.

Some hard facts on Mr. Trump’s speech:

  • 1365 words long, featuring 401 unique words (29%)
  • 877 of those 1365 words were monosyllabic
  • 7 words had four or five syllables, and none more than five
  • His ten most commonly used words (excluding grammatical words) were: going, very, lot, we’re, news, will, think, great, because, and veterans.
  • His Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level was 7th, with a Reading Ease score of 67.

Visualization
To help you get a sense of the “feel” of those numbers, I include two word clouds below, one for each speech. (These clouds also omit, as word clouds typically do, common grammatical words such as “the”, “a”, “with”, “on”, etc. I have, however, opted to include “and”, “that”, “very”, “our”, and “us” in both, as their usage seems to exceed commonality in a significant way).

wcobama

Word Cloud of President Obama’s farewell address segment

wctrump

Word Cloud of Mr. Trump’s press conference opening statement

By the Rhetoric
(Be ye warned: there are Greek terms within. But fear not! I promise to define all of them)

If you’re interested in the full rhetorical mark-up of each speech, according to our R.O.A.D.S. to Rhetoric, I’ve appended those at the bottom of the post (with apologies for my handwriting). I’ll just hit a few highlights to discuss overall patterns.

President Obama, as I’ve noted before, is prone to auxesis, the arrangement of a series. In fact, he may be slightly over-prone to it; sometimes his series nest within each other and stretch beyond the set of three that’s most harmonious for a listener.

2017-01-13-2

His other commonly used devices include:

  • isocolon, repeated sentence structure
  • antithesis, the arrangement of contrast
  • diacope, the repetition of a key word after intervening matter.

These devices often interweave and support each other. Look at the following snippet, where the arrangement of a series coincides with repeated structure:

2017-01-13

When we hear language used this way, whether consciously or not, we recognize the intention behind it. No one speaks like that accidentally. Auxesis and isocolon support each other particularly well: our brains appreciate parallel sentence structure on an almost subconscious level, and when that overlaps with the creation of a list, the speaker can carry us along with his story more easily. President Obama also often uses one device to segue into another — notice how, above, the use of “creed” at the end of his series carries through to his summarizing statement, which in turn shares syntactical similarity with the series. Compare these interwoven patterns to those in Richard II’s speech as he capitulates to his deposition:

I’ll give my jewels for a set of beads(1),
My gorgeous palace for a hermitage(2),
My gay apparel for an almsman’s gown(3),
My figured goblets for a dish of wood(4),
My sceptre for a palmer’s walking staff(5),
My subjects for a pair of carved saints (6)
And my large kingdom for a little grave(7;1),
A little little grave (2), an obscure grave(3)

The most commonly used rhetorical devices across Mr. Trump’s speech are:

  • epizeuxis, the immediate or near-immediate repetition of a word
  • polysyndeton, where use of conjunctions creates run-on sentences
  • ellipsis, the absence of key words or phrases, often in the form of unfinished thoughts
  • parelcon, the insertion of redundant or superfluous words such as “very”.

Consider the following segment:

2017-01-13-1

At first glance, the markup of Mr. Trump’s speech appears more rhetorically dense than President Obama’s, but it is worth noting that rhetoric is not always only about the words. Often, it is also about the delivery of those words, particularly in matters of emphasis, specificity, and intention. Silva Rhetorica discusses this when examining stylistic vices:

Every dimension or aspect of style has vices associated with it, and every vice has a corresponding virtue. Indeed, the very same locution may in one sense be regarded as exemplifying a stylistic virtue, and in another, a vice.

It is helpful to understand that all figurative language alters the normal meaning or arrangement of words to some degree. When figurative language is apt for a given context and purpose, it is eloquent and effective (and thus exemplifies one or more of the virtues of style); when figurative language is not apt for a given context and purpose, it is ineloquent and ineffective (and thus exemplifies one or more of the vices of style).

This distinction often becomes important in regard to devices of repetition, because the speaker’s affect lets the listener know whether the repetition was chosen or unchosen. Chosen repetitions can run the gamut of sounds, words, phrases, and structure. Consider, as I’ve noted before, the repetition of structure in Brutus’s funeral oration, or Antony’s repetition of phrases in his — or look at Edmund in King Lear, musing on the word legitimate:

Well, then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land:
Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund
As to the legitimate: fine word, legitimate.
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top the legitimate. I grow; I prosper:
Now, gods, stand up for bastards.

Edmund repeats the word to draw a contrast between the status it confers and his own bastardy. It is hard to imagine an actor performing these lines as though Edmund were not choosing that word in each instance, particularly since he uses with slightly different context each time, and “fine word, legitimate” indicates that he is thoroughly aware of the word’s weight and power.

Unchosen repetitions fall into the category of stylistic vices, including battalogia, the continual unnecessary reiteration of the same words, phrases, or ideas; tautologia, the unnecessary repetition of the same idea in different words; and homiologia, tedious or inane repetition. These devices might tell us much about a speaker’s overall verbal intellect or about their current emotional state. Consider Othello, overwrought with jealous suspicion:

Lie with her? lie on her? We say lie on her, when they belie her. Lie with her: that’s fulsome. Handkerchiefconfessions: handkerchief. To confess, and be hanged for his labour. First, to be hanged, and then to confess: I tremble at it. Nature would not invest herself in such shadowing passion without some instruction. It is not words that shake me thus (pish): noses, ears, and lips: Is’t possible? Confess?handkerchief? O devil.

Immediately after this, Othello “falls into a trance”, elucidating that he is not in control of his physical self, and his words indicate that he is likely not in control of his intellectual and emotional selves, either. Those “lies” early in the speech might or might not be an intentional riff on the word, but the whorling repetitions of “handkerchief” and “confess” seem to have no definable pattern. They are disjointed thoughts to which Othello cannot seem but help to return.

Other stylistic vices involve figures of addition, such as:

  •  perissologia, the vice of wordiness
  • pleonasm, the use of grammatically superfluous words
  • periergia, over-use of words or figures of speech
  • bomphiologia, self-aggrandizing exaggeration.

Take Fluellen, for example:

Fortune is painted blind, with a muffler afore her eyes, to signify to you that Fortune is blind; and she is painted also with a wheel, to signify to you, which is the moral of it, that she is turning, and inconstant, and mutability, and variation: and her foot, look you, is fixed upon a spherical stone, which rolls, and rolls, and rolls.

Is that run-on sentence deliberate or accidental? I have no idea. It’s a choice for the actor to make, and it’s going to create a different character depending on which way it goes. Is Fluellen rambling, absorbed in his own musings and oblivious to the effect on his listeners? Or does he use those conjunctions and parentheticals intentionally, so that no one interrupts him, thus keeping him in control of the scene? Either choice could be correct, but much depends upon the delivery.

More rhetoric is not necessarily better rhetoric. 
We’ve looked before at Claudius’s rhetorically dense and nigh-incomprehensible speech in 1.2 of Hamlet, which I think is as good an example as any in Shakespeare of the maxim that density of rhetoric is not necessarily a virtue. It may be overblown — the vice of macrologia refers to excessive wordiness in an attempt to appear eloquent — or simply inept, as in aschematiston, which may refer to either the unskilled use of figures of speech or starkly unornamented language. As with so many things in life, in speaking, balance is key, lest the speaker turn a virtue into a vice.

Full rhetorical mark-up of President Obama’s speech segment

Full rhetorical mark-up of Mr. Trump’s speech

Podcast Archive: 2015

2015 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2015 Spring Season

Winter/Spring 2015 Playhouse Insider

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

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

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

Wandering through Wordles, Part the Fourth — What’s in a speech prefix?

In Study Guides created or revised since Spring 2012, I’ve removed the boring-if-classic Shakespeare head that we used to have as the frontispiece and replaced it with something more visually interesting and more directly related to our activities: a word cloud of the full play. As I’ve discussed before, because words appear larger when they appear in the text more times, word clouds can be a great way to mine the text for information about vocabulary, repeated ideas, and the focus of certain scenes, so it’s great to open the Study Guides with a teaser for that tool.

I pick a shape that somehow speaks to the play itself and I dump the full text into Tagxedo. I like Tagxedo for these because you have a lot more artistic flexibility than you do on Wordle.net. You can choose from a wide variety of fonts, upload your own image to serve as the silhouette, toy around with colors, and generally customize the image to your preferred specifications. (Wordle.net, however, gives you more precise information about the frequency of the words, and sometimes can create a crisper image — each has its benefits). Here are a few examples:

FullWordle-Hamlet AYLI-WordleFull

CaesarFullText Wordle-FullText-TwoGents

Wordle-FullText2 WordleCover-Mac

Now, unlike the clouds I create for the first 100 lines, these frontispiece clouds retain stage directions and speech prefixes, partly, I confess, because it would be too much trouble to edit them all out, but partly because it’s pretty neat to see which characters speak the most (or, at least, the most times, if not necessarily the most lines). Ross’s prominence in Macbeth is pretty interesting, and Celia speaks more than you might initially guess, considering how conspicuously silent she is during a few key scenes between Rosalind/Ganymede and Orlando.

This week, I’ve started revising the Much Ado about Nothing Study Guide from ARS 2012 — one of the last ones to go up before I started creating the new frontispieces — so I had to create a new cloud for it. There’s always a bit of finessing to do — picking the right shape, the right font, playing around with the maximum word count, adjusting the weight that frequencies are given, so that the final image is both meaningful and aesthetically pleasing. What struck me on this one, though, was Hero’s name:

Wordle-Full

Hero’s name, there below Benedick and Beatrice, appears not in uppercase but in regular type. (The same is true for “Caesar” f you look back up at the Julius Caesar Wordle, above). The cloud generator chooses to capitalize or not based on the frequently of the word — it’s why “prince” is all lowercase but “God” isn’t. All the speech prefixes are in capital letters in the text I pull from for this purpose, so character names almost always appear entirely in uppercase. Not so with Hero, though. Her name is spoken more times in the play than she actually speaks, and so it isn’t in caps.

This raises what I think is a pretty interesting question about the play: What does it mean to be more talked about than talking? How much agency does Hero get to have? Just being aware of the dichotomy between speaking and being spoken of might help a production and an actor make important choices — and a word cloud can help bring that concept from the abstract into concrete representation.

–Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

Podcast Archives: 2012

2012 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2012 Spring Season

2012 Summer and Fall Seasons

Podcast Archives: 2009

2009 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2009 Spring Season

2009 Summer and Fall Seasons

MLitt Thesis Festival 2014: Session 3

Sarah Blackwell: “Turning Sonnet: Performing Lyric Poetry”
Actors: Josh Brown, Molly Harper, Jamie Jager, Sara Vazquez
Blackwell opens with the sonnet she wrote for Ralph Cohen’s “Language of the Performance” class, performed by her four actors, structured so that the audience could “visually and aurally experience” the argument of the sonnet. Though she did not write the sonnet initially intending it for performance, her four actors “turned sonnet” and embodied the verse. Blackwell characterizes sonnets in performance as “reasons in rhyme,” and notes that the sonnets in Shakespeare’s plays challenge the traditional solitary nature of sonnets. Blackwell also points out how often sonnets within the plays do not reach their intended audiences, often going astray in the delivery, allowing Shakespeare to use them as “transformative devices.”

The most sonnet-heavy play is Love’s Labour’s Lost. Blackwell notes that, while Dumain’s ode is not structured like a sonnet, it still has syllabic similarity if re-lined. Blackwell and her actors then walk through the various transformations, as the King and Longaville “turn perjurer”. Blackwell posits that the performance of the sonnet is key to this transformation, as they cannot be perjured without an audience — which the King provides for Longaville, Berowne for the King. Blackwell also identifies Berowne as a character who can “burst into sonnet”, as in the moment when he interjects spontaneous poetry into the argument over whether or not to sign the King’s oath. The King, Longaville, and Dumain respond with their own tercet, which Berowne then volleys with a fourth rhyme, demonstrating that all men are consciously aware of their own poetical capabilities. Blackwell identifies the progression of rhymes as moving from reason towards ridiculousness.

Blackwell then questions what happens if the performed sonnet is a soliloquy, performed without an onstage audience. She uses Beatrice as an example of the sonnet becoming an argument with the self. Beatrice not only shifts from prose into verse, but into an incomplete sonnet. Her first set of rhymes set up questions, which the second two answer; in the next quatrain, the rhymes are weaker, offering an actor a variety of choices on how to perform the awkward rhyme and rhythm. Blackwell identifies this as a transformative moment for Beatrice, and posits that she may be her own, self-aware audience — as Benedick is in his later attempt at poem-making. Benedick comments on the “ominous endings” of his own bad rhymes. Blackwell suggests that this may inform their belief in the final scene that they do not have the “reason” to love each other. Claudio and Hero then provide the physical evidence of the sonnets. Blackwell concludes that the volta turn for a character happens in performance, and that the presence of an on- or off-stage audience is key for the transformation.

Q&A: Cyndi Kimmel raises the question of translation. A: Blackwell has not addressed that, as she’s only been looking at Shakespeare’s sonnets. She notes, however, that the transition words for the volta likely serve the same purpose in other languages.
Q: Danielle Guy questions if Blackwell also looked at Romeo and Juliet, who fall in love in rhyme. A: Blackwell nods emphatically, noting that they are each others’ audience. “They transition from strangers into kissing strangers.”
Q: Doreen Bechtol asks Blackwell about the term volta, particularly as it relates to a dancing term. A: Blackwell says she has not looked at the history of the word volta, but more on the many alternate definitions of the word “turn”.
Q: Paul Menzer asks about the tangibility of paper sonnets versus the sonnets which do not have paper attached to them, asking if Blackwell has been able to track qualities of sonneteering when paper is or is not present. A: Blackwell notes that reading of a sonnet occurs less often, more that “he writes characters who burst into sonnet”. She admits that it can be difficult to pick out a sonnet just by listening to it, especially when it’s broken up, as with Berowne’s during the oath scene.
Q: Matt Davies follows up by asking how it might relate to cue script, wondering when actors using cue scripts pick up on the sonnet. A: Blackwell speaks to the variant styles of printing the sonnets in the Folio, admitting the difficulty of representing the sonnets on paper for either a reader’s or an actor’s benefit.

Scott Campbell: “Selling Imagined Dearth on the New Early Modern Stage”
Actors: Josh Brown, Adrienne Johnson, Charlene Smith
Campbell seeks to look at the intersection of scholarship and performance in under-rehearsed Shakespeare performances, which he qualifies as non-perjorative, but as “companies that are intentionally limiting the amount of rehearsal they are doing”. Campbell discusses the increased attention in the 20th and 21st centuries of production companies on early modern rehearsal practices with such practices as direct audience address, universal lighting, and reduced rehearsal time. Campbell seeks to interrogate the research behind the practice of rehearsal time in particular, because of its reductive nature.

Campbell argues that the marketing of under-rehearsed shows is a re-shaping rather than a re-creation, which he posits as a discrepancy between the research and its application. He examines five Mid-Atlantic companies which use reduced rehearsal practices. He suggests that the marketing for these companies attempt to sell dearth as authentic and/or as a novelty, framing it as “a withdrawal of modern conveniences”. Campbell believes that, while compelling, these marketing approaches “only tell one side of the story… one which does not accurately reflect the early modern stage.” He compares this to KFC’s 2007 re-branding as “trans-fat free” — selling absence rather than presence, the “novel merit of what it does not possess, rather than what it does”. Campbell then refers to Taffety Punk’s method of marketing a one-day rehearsal period as capable of challenging modern notions of theatre, as well as Richmond Shakespeare’s idea of “anything can happen”. This, Campbell notes, is the theatrical equivalent of baiting rubbernecking, which he relates to the early series of MTV’s The Real World. He identifies that marketing shows this way is somewhat misleading, as a production can be unpredictable no matter how well-rehearsed it is or how much it costs (referring to the ill-fated Spiderman musical’s travails).

Campbell then notes that the original early modern companies could not sell their dearth in the same way, because it was not a deviation from the norm, but the norm itself. “Early modern theatre succeeded in spite of dearth, rather than because of it.” He suggests that the research actually exhibits a “resource-rich environment”, rather than one founded on absence, and identifies several of those resources: lasting communities, actor familiarity, and common vocabulary. His thesis suggests “a fixable disconnect” between the research and the marketing practices of the companies, and that re-creating these conditions will let 21st-century companies “produce powerful theatre that more accurately reflects” theatre of the early modern period.

Q&A: Cass Morris mentions that ASC Education has long used the term “technology” when referring to cue scripts, to frame the practices as positive and constructive, rather than reductive. A: Campbell says, yes, he thinks that language could be productive, and that he has noticed a shift in the ASC’s marketing terminology towards that sort of language since about 2011.
Q: Who ever said that marketing had to be truthful? A: Campbell admits that, yes, it is still selling something and can be generative, as this is a new product, rather than framing it in terms of re-creating. He hopes to address the disconnect between what companies of this sort sell and what they actually provide.
Q: Matt Davies addresses the idea that “Shakespeare done by the experts is bad for you… and that ‘Shakespeare-lite’ is ‘fun'”, and he wonders if Campbell has picked up on that sense. A: Campbell is aware of the idea though has not encountered much of it in his research for this project, as he has largely looked at just a few specific theatres in the past 15 years. Menzer points out an “ethical responsibility” when claiming authenticity.
Q: Arlynda Boyer asks if Campbell looked at the Globe’s marketing and if this might be “a uniquely American privileging of being a historical blank”. A: Campbell’s research is just now starting to look at the Globe. He notes that he thinks the ASC’s Actors’ Renaissance Season has strongly influenced the theatrical companies and the marketing of those companies in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Amy Grubbs: “Rogues, Vagabonds, and Common Players: The Interaction of Late Elizabethan Theatre Companies with the Unsettled of London.”
Actors: Linnea Barkland, Sarah Blackwell, Molly Harper, Rebecca Wright
Grubbs begins by identifying the 1590s as a time of desperation for many English citizens, with the number of “poor and unsettled residents of London’s suburbs” greatly increasing. A year of plague followed by five years of poor harvests decimated the population and then unsettled the survivors, combining “to create an environment of downward social mobility and early death”. She identifies the greatest problem brought on by these conditions as vagrancy.

And then, two fights over phones break out in the audience, ending in the public proclamation of Rebecca Wright and Molly Harper as rogues. Grubbs then explicates that her actors have re-enacted incidents which led to the rewritten 1598 Poor Laws. The common threads are wandering and begging, which rendered a person worthy of punishment. Grubbs clarifies that there were some classes of the poor who were protected and deemed worthy of charity. She further identifies how important it was in this time to belong to a community; London’s suburbs were then, full of people who “did not belong”. Grubbs goes on to discuss how theatrical companies interacted with these Poor Laws, noting that they were usual contributors to charities, evidence she draws both from legal writs and from references within the plays. The theatres also “encouraged the employment of the unsettled”, most obviously in the apprenticeship of young boys within the company. Grubbs also states that the theatrical companies “worked together with their neighbors”, helping to create demand for other professions such as the watermen who ferried playgoers across the River Thames.

Beyond merely financial concerns, Grubbs argues that the theatre companies “created a community”. She refers back to the language of the Poor Laws, which included language similar to that of acting — seeming, calling themselves, feigning to be, etc — and she discusses the punishments given to vagrants. Grubbs argues that “theatres welcomed the unsettled as part of their community”, particularly since the price for a groundling remained at a single penny for over seventy years, despite great inflation in London in general. She suggests that this allowed the poor, servants, and other disadvantaged classes to attend the theatre, thus becoming part of the community. Grubbs also points to the choice to re-build the Globe in the same location across the river, despite that the King’s Men were making much more money at the Blackfriars, as evidence that “the King’s Men felt a civic responsibility” to their Southwark neighborhood. Grubbs encourages other theatre historians to continue exploring the relationship between the theatres and the unsettled poor, beyond her temporal parameters and beyond the suburbs of London. She notes that many of the moments in Shakespeare’s plays which relate to the poor, such as Falstaff’s speech about his impressed soldiers, are designed for direct audience address, strengthening that connection.

Q&A: Ralph Cohen begins by questioning the “unofficial contract there seemed to be between the theatres and the poor”, particularly with regards to the decision to keep both the Blackfriars and the Globe open. Jessica Schiermeister then offers her own research on Continental theatres.
Q: Clare von Rueden questions if the relationship between the poor and the theatre was affected by the fact that unaffiliated actors were considered vagabonds. A: Grubbs acknowledges the legal and figurative ways in which players were identified as unsettled.

Mara Sherman: “Theatrical Spinach”
Actors: Nicola Collett, Dane Leasure
Sherman’s thesis examines the educational materials and programming at five Shakespeare companies. She specifically interrogates the tendencies to teach the same material to privileged and under-privileged groups in different ways. Sherman begins by questioning the American affinity for Shakespeare, despite its tendency to uphold the very hierarchal society which America had broken away from in the Revolution. She identifies a combination of revived Anglophilia and “the conscription of Shakespeare into American myth-building” as reasons for the dominance of Shakespeare in American education. She then walks through a brief history of Shakespeare’s role in American culture, ending on the idea that Shakespeare is “theatrical spinach”, promoted as “good for you”.

Sherman first addresses the question of “Does Shakespeare taste good?” In response, she has her actors present a re-creation of a tuna fish commercial, wherein a fish emulates Shakespeare in order to prove he has good taste, which she claims illustrates “Shakespeare’s immense cultural capital” and that demonstrates the idea that “Shakespeare can change you” for the better. Sherman then questions how Shakespeare in education supplements or challenges the ideas that Shakespeare can increase your upward social mobility, make you smarter, or otherwise enhance your life.

Sherman then addresses her assessment of the word choices used in the marketing of theatre companies which target underprivileged groups. She chose to identify those groups which she considers to target upper-middle class families based on the tuition costs for programs. She notes that three prominent companies offer scholarships to their programs, though she raises the question of other potential roadblocks, such as travel costs, clothing needs, financial aid applications and essays, etc. She then identifies the key problem as how various companies choose to address their targeted socioeconomic groups, whether personal enrichment and skills needed to succeed within the theatrical industry, or benefits based more on the public good or as alternatives to “more punitive measures”. The real trouble that Sherman identifies is the treatment of Shakespeare as a way of fixing problems as opposed to encouraging personal enrichment.

Sherman concludes by offering up alternate theses, tangentially related to her own research, for the consideration of the MLitt first years, and with recommended reading for the audience. She then invites any interested parties to join her in planning the educational revolution at her house this evening (BYOB).

Q&A: Patrick Harris questions if Sherman has encountered gentrification, where Shakespeare has been brought into the locale of the inner city but still marketed to the upper-middle class. A: Sherman has seen some hints around it and would like to explore more.
Q: Celi Oliveto asks first if she knows when Shakespeare was first required in school and, second, how she feels about Shakespeare’s inclusion in the Common Core Curriculum. A: At least by World War I, though Sherman notes that Shakespeare was important and prominent in the culture well before then. Sherman says she is against the Common Core in general, and also doesn’t trust public schools to teach Shakespeare well on a regular basis.
Q: Jessica Hamlet asks if Sherman has personal experience with any of these programs. A: Sherman attended a program at OSF in 2006 and describes it as “completely transformative”. She notes that, though her family was nowhere near poor, she was still a scholarship kid at that program and one of the least well-off students in the program, a fact which unsettled her at the time and which she finds increasingly disturbing now.
Q: Monica Cross questions what the programs for “at risk” students look like and where those students eventually end up. A: Sherman notes a dearth of readily available information on that topic.
Q: Wondering if the “instrumental language” in marketing is aimed more at funders than at the students, if there is a difference in what they do with the kids and what they say in order to earn attention from donors. A: Yes, absolutely.
Q: Scott Campbell asks if this is intrinsic to Shakespeare camp or if it also extends to sports leagues and other academic camps? A: Campbell believes it is definitely not limited to Shakespeare, though the position Shakespeare occupies in our culture is unique.

Emma Patrick: “’There’s a double meaning in that’: An examination of thematic doubling in Shakespeare’s works”
Actors: Sarah Blackwell, Josh Brown, Molly Harper, Merlyn Sell, Aubrey Whitlock, Rebecca Wright, Molly Ziegler
Patrick begins acknowledging the impossibility of knowing what, precisely, influenced Shakespeare in his youth. She presents the sort of title page for the type of play Shakespeare might have seen as a child, which more typically demonstrated the players and doubling than did the title pages of plays written in Shakespeare’s adulthood. Her actors present a scene from Cambyses, demonstrating the potential power of thematically doubling a child whom a king kills with a bow and arrow with the bow-and-arrow-bearing Cupid. Though unrelated characters, embodying them in the same actor suggests revenge for the child, particularly since Cupid’s actions eventually lead to Cambyses’s death.

Patrick moves to considering similar potential doublings in Shakespeare’s King John, doubling Arthur with John’s young son Henry. As Arthur is the target of John’s murderous intentions, and dies through a mishap trying to escape them, this doubling creates a significant echo for the audience, particularly as Henry receives the crown and the allegiance of the English lords. Patrick suggests that this doubling will give the audience “a sense of closure and poetic justice at the end of this play.” Patrick argues that Shakespeare “took the convention of thematic doubling … and transformed it for his works”, noting that there are many other potential doubling tracks worth exploration.

Q&A: Matt Davies asks about the big “if”, noting the lack of evidence that this significant doubling was done by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. A: Patrick specifies that the only play within Shakespeare’s career’s timeframe showing such doubling was Mucedorus, which suggests that the practice was ongoing, but that the absence in other plays does not necessarily mean it was not.
Q: Julia Nelson queries if Patrick has considered the Boy and Princess in Henry Vwho both speak French. A: Patrick says yes, that example is in her thesis.
Q: Clare von Rueden questions the presumption that the actors had influence on the doubling lists of the early plays. A: Patrick admits that no, there is no direct evidence, though she finds the suggestion of it in the directions for the interludes. “Somebody intended it to be that way”, whether or not it was a sole original author.
Q: Davies asks further if there’s any evidence that there may have been status-driven divides between full casts in London and doubled casts on the road. A: Patrick has not identified a status divide, but rather a temporal one with the move towards permanent playing companies in London.

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.