New Study Guide Released: KING LEAR

This fall sees the release of a brand-new ASC Study Guide: King Lear. With this addition, we now have guides for twenty-one of Shakespeare’s plays, including all the major tragedies. I enjoy this play a lot, but it hasn’t been performed at the ASC since I started working here back in 2010, so this was my first opportunity to dive into it for ASC Education — and, boy howdy, did I dive.file_001

Weighing in at 273 pages, this is the longest Study Guide I’ve yet written. Admittedly, some of that is because I’ve provided quite a bit of text for comparative study — quarto scenes versus Folio scenes, scenes in Lear compared to scenes in other plays — but a lot of it is because I keep expanding on what I want to include. Every Study Guide now includes a Textual Variants section, which they haven’t always. Every guide now has information on cue scripts. Every guide going forward will have special, play-specific sections on both metrics and rhetoric. Lear also has fascinating stagecraft and dramaturgical angles to explore, so putting all the pieces together gives us a Study Guide with quite a bit of heft.

As always, the Basics sections provide a toolkit for examining text, with an eye towards performance and the questions that actors ask when putting up a play, using the first 100 lines as an example. As I’ve discussed before, the first 100 lines always teach me something interesting: I love looking at what Shakespeare chooses to reveal or conceal right from the start. In Lear, although he begins with the subplot, introducing Gloucester and Edmund before Lear and his daughters, he still gets right to the action quite quickly: the story progresses all the way to Cordelia’s explanation of her failure to flatter her father. What really floored me, though, was the word cloud:

wordcloud100-2

I would never have guessed that “love” would be the most-frequently-used word in the first 100 lines of Lear, but there it is — and by quite a substantial margin.

The play-specific activities mine the breadth of the fascinating themes and the intriguing stagecraft of King Lear. We begin by looking at the quarto and folio variations, since Lear is a play with a tumultuous print history. Our Staging Challenges sections focus on some of the most exciting things that can happen on stage: storms and combat. The storm in Lear is particularly interesting to examine since it goes on for most of an entire act. Language work continues in the Metrical and Rhetoric sections, where we examine verse-prose shifts and the linguistic patterns of madness. In our Perspectives sections, we connect Shakespeare’s world, the world of the play, and your students’ modern world by looking at family dynamics and the role of the fool. Finally, our Dramaturg’s Corner explores Shakespeare’s sources for Lear and the adaptations of the play that have occurred since his lifetime.

Intrigued? Here’s a sample activity for your perusing pleasure: Metrical Exploration.

file_000-1But King Lear isn’t all that’s new in the world of ASC Study Guides. The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Romeo and Juliet have all received polishings this year. Of those, I’m most excited about the additions to the Romeo and Juliet Study Guide. A new Staging Challenges activity explores Juliet’s not-really-a-balcony, and a new Perspectives section applies Elizabethan and modern viewpoints on courtship, marriage, and familial interactions to Romeo, Juliet, and the Capulets. Romeo and Juliet has long been one of my favorite plays, and getting to return to it and develop a few new activities was such a delight.

If you want to dive deeper into the activities of King Lear, join us for the Teacher Seminar on October 7-8. Registration for the Winter Seminar on The Merchant of Venice and the Spring Seminar on Romeo and Juliet will be opening later this fall.

All ASC Study Guides are available as PDF downloads or print-on-demand hard copies from Lulu.com.

“Admit me Chorus to this history” – A brief lesson in starting shows, by William Shakespeare, Stephen Sondheim, Will Smith, and Lin-Manuel Miranda

Over the past nearly-six years, I’ve developed a fascination with the opening scenes of Shakespeare’s plays. This is a direct result of my work on our Study Guides — in the Basics section of each one, I use the first 100 lines of the play as an example to teachers of how to work with embedded stage directions, scansion, paraphrasing, rhetoric, and audience contact. It means I get to know those opening five minutes quite intimately.

It’s occurred to me that there are some similarities that run not only across Shakespeare, but across the centuries, when it comes to starting a show. Obviously not every play follows the same pattern, even within Shakespeare, but a great many have certain characteristics in common, particularly when there’s an opening prologue of some sort.

ASChV008

John Harrell as the Chorus in the ASC’s 2011 Henry V; photo by Tommy Thompson

The first few minutes of the play let the audience know what’s important and what to expect. I’ve talked about the importance before, in my Wandering through Wordles series, but on a basic story-telling level, those first moments set the scene, often quite literally. Within those first 100 lines (which are often but not always within the first scene), Shakespeare tells us where we are or soon will be:

The Two Gentlemen of Verona: “here in Verona”
2 Henry IV: “in a bloody field by Shrewsbury”
Henry V: “the vasty fields of France”
Troilus and Cressida: “In Troy, there lies the scene”
12th Night: “This is Illyria, lady”

He tells us who our important characters or factions are:

Henry V: “the warlike Harry”
Romeo and Juliet: “these two foes”
Richard II: “Henry Hereford… against the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray”
Love’s Labour’s Lost: “You three, Biron, Dumaine, and Longueville”
Much Ado about Nothing: “Don Pedro of Aragon comes this night to Messina”
Richard III: “this son of York”

Sometimes he tells us what’s already happened, in the time before the play begins:

1 Henry VI: “King Henry the Fifth, too famous to live long. / England ne’er lost a king of so much worth”
Troilus and Cressida: “Six-and-ninety, that wore / Their coronets regal, from t’Athenian bay / Put forth toward Phrygia, and their vow is made / To ransack Troy”.

Very often, Shakespeare tells us what’s going to happen, either in the short term, as when Richard lets us know he means to “set my brother Clarence and the King in deadly hate, the one against the other”, or else over the whole course of the play, as with Romeo and Juliet‘s famously spoiler-iffic opening: “A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.”

Sometimes the information doesn’t come from a separate prologue, but from the characters themselves, as when Orlando gives us his family history in As You Like It or as in Aegeon’s famously interminable info-dump at the start of The Comedy of Errors. Generally monologues, though sometimes with limited prompting by another character, these openings serve a similar function as the prologue-openings, but come from inside the world of the play rather than from an outside spectator. (This may have the effect of immediately bringing the audience in as well, making them eavesdroppers or confidantes, rather than casting the play as a pageant presented for their perusal.) Some plays also don’t have their famous prologues in their Quarto versions, but even then, the first five minutes still transmit much of the same information — the brawling Capulets and Montagues set up the conflict of Romeo and Juliet, and King Henry tells us about his warlike aims in Henry V, for example.

One purpose of the prologue or prologue-like opening, then, is biographical: either of the individual or of the setting. Shakespeare has to set his stage. The other purpose I’ve noticed is instructional: Many prologues conclude with some sort of “call to action” for the audience, much the same way that epilogues will often end by asking for applause. Romeo and Juliet asks the audience to watch “the two-hours’ traffic of our stage/The which if you with patient ears attend/What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend,” while Henry V requests that the audience “Admit me Chorus to this history,/Who prologue-like your humble patience pray/Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.” Both of those openings beg the audience’s indulgence for imperfection. The stage can never present things as they truly were, after all, but the actors are going to do their best.

So how do I connect this to more modern media? When I started thinking about biographical and instructional openings, one of the first things that popped into my head actually wasn’t from live theatre — it’s the opening theme of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Pretty much any child of the 90s can bust out these rhymes on command:

Smith not only starts with a great opening word — “Now”, the same as Shakespeare uses to start Richard III, excellent because it focuses the audience’s attention on the immediacy of the speaker’s words — but he also begins by contextualizing his speech as a story. Just as many of Shakespeare’s openings do. The instructional portion of the intro is brief: “Just sit right there; I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel Air.” He moves quickly into the biographical purpose: He then moves on to a “story up to this point” retelling; it doesn’t give away the ending (impractical in an ongoing TV series), but it does set the scene, much like Rumour in Henry IV, Part 2 and the brothers of Henry V who begin Henry VI, Part I.

We also see in Smith an unreliable narrator. His narration does not always match the visuals. This made me think both of Rumour, who outright tells the audience his purpose is to mislead, and of the Chorus in Henry V, whose version of an ultra-glorious hero-king is not always borne out by the events of the play that Shakespeare gives us. The biographical purpose of the intro cannot be trusted.

Then I thought about the opening number of Into the Woods, which introduces us to all the characters we’re going to need to know about. Sondheim begins as traditionally as is possible: “Once upon a time, in a far-off kingdom, lived a fair maiden, a sad young lad, and a childless baker and his wife.” The audience quickly recognizes the fair maiden as Cinderella and the sad young lad as Jack of beanstalk fame; rapidly, all within the opening number, we also meet Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters, Jack’s mother (and his cow), Red Riding Hood, and the Witch.

Sondheim doesn’t really need to tell us how these stories end — we already know that. (Or do we? as the second act of the musical proceeds to explore — but then, his purpose is subversion of tropes, so it’s entirely fitting that he would give us an opening that lays out expectations, then waits til halfway through to break them). Critically, he does tell us what they all want. The theme of “I wish” runs through the entire play, and Sondheim seeds that in these first moments, as well as providing us with their first obstacles.

Since the play features an on-stage character called The Narrator, who begins with the famous “Once upon a time”, the musical quite obviously points at itself as a story, though in a slightly different way than Shakespeare and Smith. These stories are so well-known as to be ubiquitously understood in Western culture. By giving the audience the familiar opening, Sondheim makes us a promise, placing us in the comfortable realm of the bedtime story — and then almost immediately breaks that promise by showing us that these are not the stories we know, because they will interweave and affect each other.

The instruction in this opening is implicit, embedded in common culture. When we hear the words “Once upon a time,” we already know what to do. We don’t need to be told. But by including them, Sondheim is still pointing us in that direction. And then, he tricks us, pulling a bait-and-switch on the familiarity, to delightful effect.

The biographical purpose of the opening number of Hamilton is obvious: Lin-Manuel Miranda gives us a literal biography of Hamilton’s young life, up to the point where he arrives in New York. The first four words give us crucial information about his family background (“How does a bastard…”; a few lines later, we learn where he’s from (“a forgotten spot in the Caribbean”). And then we learn who he is and how extraordinary he is. It’s a little like the first five minutes of Henry V — not only the prologue, but the first scene between the bishops, where they discuss Henry’s earlier years. And like Romeo and Juliet, Miranda’s Hamilton takes the biographical purpose of the opening all the way through, giving away the ending when Burr states: “And me? I’m the damn fool that shot ‘im.”

Though delivered by Aaron Burr, this song’s purpose is really Hamilton’s self-contextualization. No one else gets a name in this song — we’ll properly meet Burr, Mulligan, Lafayette, and Laurens in “Aaron Burr, Sir”, Angelica and Eliza in “The Schuyler Sisters”, Washington in “Right Hand Man”, and other important figures as the play goes on. Here, they are defined only by their relationships to Hamilton:

MULLIGAN/MADISON AND LAFAYETTE/JEFFERSON:
We fought with him

LAURENS/PHILLIP:
Me? I died for him

WASHINGTON:
Me? I trusted him

ANGELICA SCHUYLER, ELIZA, MARIA REYNOLDS:
Me? I loved him

BURR:
And me? I’m the damn fool that shot him

The musical even presents most of the cast in stripped-down versions of the costumes we’ll see them in later, parchment-colored and almost ghostly; the ensemble presents scenes from Hamilton’s past in stylized dance, dumb-show like — a convention familiar to early modernists. Burr (who has the first lines) alone begins in a full-color costume, and Hamilton dons a jacket partway through. This presentation, with the context of the lines, seems to suggest that Hamilton will be the only character who “matters”, that we will see everything through his eyes and everyone through that lens. But, much like Shakespeare and Sondheim, Miranda subverts that expectation. We get nearly as much insight into Burr’s anti-hero as into Hamilton himself, and Eliza ultimately decides the course of her own narrative (as I’ve discussed before). Everyone’s story matters, even if the main focus of the musical is a single man.

Hamilton

(Click for link to video)

And, like Shakespeare and Smith, Miranda gives us unreliable narrators. Hamilton and Burr are telling their own stories, with their own biases, often at cross-purposes. One of the largest themes of the musical is that of self-determination: How do you create yourself? Is the self that you conceive the same self that the world witnesses? What do you do when the two don’t match?

The instructional component of Hamilton‘s intro is subtler, and it goes by fast. The only line that seems a direct appeal to the audience is Burr’s: “His ship is in the harbor now, see if you can spot ‘im.” I think there’s a larger appeal, though, in what Hamilton says upon his entrance and what the ensemble echoes later: “Just you wait.” He’s not just talking to the other figures on stage: he’s talking to us. And we will wait, of course. We’ll stay in our seats to see how the story plays out, even if we know the ending — as Shakespeare well knew we would, too.

The idea of storytelling weaves throughout the musical, in numerous references including the show’s tagline: “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story”. Miranda seeds it here, though, in the very five minutes (The opening number runs about 4:25, and then the very first bars of “Aaron Burr, Sir” give us one last crucial bit of information: the year our story begins, 1776). Miranda is, like Shakespeare, cluing us in to something important — about self-determination, about choosing your narrative, about trying to control the story of your life.

Obviously not every play or musical falls into this pattern, and even fewer TV shows and movies do, but it makes me think, broadly, of how storytellers introduce information. How do they give us the background we need? How do they let the audience know what to expect? How and when might they subvert those expectations?

–Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

PS: Don’t worry, rhetoric geeks! I’m still working on some Shakespeare-to-Hamilton comparisons.

PPS: Also on posts about parallels regarding final lines, parodies, meta-theatre, doubling, costuming, and many more things. The more I explore this, the more solidly convinced I become that Lin-Manuel is one of our modern Shakespeares. Not an exaggeration. Just my analysis of how each writer uses his space, his actors, his audience, and above all, his language.

Colloquy IV: Bilingual Shakespeare

Hello everyone – Liz Bernardo again, here to blog this session. This Colloquy IV is on Bilingual Shakespeare. The chair for this session is Joe Falocco of Texas State University. The presenters for this session are Ian Borden of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Tyrone Giordano of Gallaudet University, and Michael Saenger of Southeastern University. This session is in the Augusta Room of the Stonewall Jackson Hotel. Live blogging of this session runs from nine to ten fifteen this morning.

Borden explains his presentation What if Shakespeare Wrote for Actresses? Examining the Work of Lope de Vega as a Lens of Possibility for 21st Century Productions of Early Modern English Drama. Borden wonders if we have a skewed understanding of female characters on the early modern age due to Shakespeare writing for male actors, even in female characters. He speaks to the differences between Restoration female characters, who had greater liberty than female characters in early modern drama. He states that the early modern stage always reinserts female characters into the patriarchal system. He draws comparisons between early modern plays and de Vega plays in Spain. Borden talks about de presenti vows in The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster and the censurship of the Duchess who lives outside of the cultural norms. He notes that in de Vega’s version, the Duchess’ moral standing stays in tact. He compares the two and points out that the British version focuses on violence, which is not central to the Spanish version. He compares the Shakespeare and de Vega versions of Romeo and Juliet. Borden has scholars read from a translation of a scene from the de Vega version of the story. He points out Julia’s active role in the Spanish version and the comedic, rather than tragic, ending in the British version. He hopes to enlighten our views of female characters of the early modern stage by a comparison to their Spanish equivalents.

Saenger’s Shakespeare and Multilinguistic Affairs looks at conections between Ben Jonson and Shakespeare’s language. He speaks to the iconography of Shakespeare as a unifying force in English language. He speaks that modern cultures, especially cinema, undoes Shakespeare’s English. He speaks about adaptations, that must confront issues of language. He speaks about the dilemmas of performance to modernize or not and the ever-expanding contexts that Shakespeare is performed in. He states that adaptations are now the norm, rather than radical. He points out that cultural adaptations now often mix languages. He states that Shakespeare’s London was multilingual, hosting many Protestants, both in the streets and in the translated and printed books. He states that many linguistic modes mingled in Shakespeare’s day. He points out Shakespeare’s mix of languages, such as French in Henry V and Welsh in Henry IV Part I. He points out that Shakespeare’s foreign and magnetic Cleopatra implies the unreliability of English language in the presence of foreign influences. He states that several influences entered the English language since Shakespeare’s day. Saenger states that Shakespeare engaged in interlinguistic engagement, just as we live in a multilingual environment today.

Falocco begins his presentation with an introduction. He speaks of a desire to produce The Comedy of Errors where the characters from Syracuse speak English and the characters from Ephesus speak Spanish. In the production of this play, Falocco realized that several times characters speak English and Spanish to each other. He found the opening scene with Egeon difficult to translate between the two languages, which he solved with the creation of a character named The Bilingual Soldier who translated and acted out the speech into the new language. He explains that the Bilingual Soldier used a version of southwestern Spanish that “killed” in Texas.

Giordano signs his presentation with a translator. He states that he is in charge of the Folio exhibit that comes later this year. He shows a video about Shakespeare and translation issues with American Sign Language. The video comes from a project, #transformSHX. He explains that he does bilingual Shakespeare because Shakespeare is so ingrained into the curriculum, but translators must translate the text. He explains that the adaptation of the texts can be very limited and that often the deaf community must start at step one. He adds that there is a strong resistance to Shakespeare in the deaf community, but states that exploring Shakespeare with the integration of the deaf experience aids in embracing Shakespeare.

Falocco states that a unifying theme seems to be a call for diversity in theatre. He then opens the floor for questions. Student Melinda Marks asks Falocco the extent to which he workshopped his bilingual production of The Comedy of Errors. Falocco replies that the actor translating to Spanish as the Bilingual Soldier in his production would live-translate the Egeon speech every night. Marks points out that the Spanish speaking characters in the play seemed to rely more on hand gestures than language.

Student Sophia Beratta also asks Falocco if he was troubled to speak his English role (Egeon) with a translator (the Bilingual Soldier) translating what his words. Falocco replies that he did not have trouble. He adds that neither his Dromios nor Antipholuses experienced confusion too, whom he double cast into both roles with one pair speaking English and another pair speaking Spanish. He clarifies, with a question from Marks, that the production brought doubles on at the end of Comedy of Errors.

Beratta asks Giordano how ASL handles Shakespearean prose and verse. He explains that different hand shapes and repetition illustrate verse onstage and that audiences can see the meter and rhythm change to prose onstage with sign language. He states that other staging elements also help to amplify the changes. Marks asks a question about Shakespeare in international sign language. Lindsey, Giordano’s translator, speaks about translating Shakespeare into sign language in foreign countries. She states that translators in this case can either work from a translation to their native language or the base English text in order to translate to sign language. She points out that different colloquialisms appear locally. Giordano explains a difference between signing and gesturing and states that there are different sign languages for different cultures, even within the same native language. Giordano calls for translation straight to ASL from the original Shakespeare text. He hopes to develop a set method of translation for the future.

A scholar asks how signing works in Shakespeare with occupied hands. Giordano demonstrates that signing can still occur when the hands are in use. He states that violence and fight is different, but points out that ASL actors can play with both the fight and the language, which becomes solid in the rehearsal process. Falocco asks about different languages in sign language, particularly of British Sign Language productions. Giordano states that there have been BSL productions of Shakespeare. A scholar asks if there is a difference between BSL and ASL productions of Shakespeare. Giordano states that differences would depend on the direction. He also states that signing bilingual performers will honor the hearing audiences, but that hearing performers often do not honor deaf audience members.

Falocco ends with a plug for BXSW in Texas and encourages scholars and students to submit to present a paper at the conference. He encourages those within driving distance of Austin to travel to visit the conference.

Podcast Archives: 2013

2013 Spring Season

2013 Summer and Fall Seasons

MFA Thesis Festival 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A

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

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

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

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

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

Podcast Archives: 2010

2010 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2010 Spring Season

2010 Summer and Fall Seasons

 

Podcast Archives: 2007

2007 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2007 Spring Season

2007 Summer and Fall Seasons

Blackfriars Conference 2013 — Colloquy Session I: Staging Choices

Greetings: Charlene V. Smith here, live blogging  from the Tyson Center, Colloquy Session I: Staging Choices, which runs from 2:30pm to 3:45pm. Jemma Levy is the chair for this session and the presenters are Matthew Carter, Annette Drew-Bear, Andrew Harvey, Donald Hedrick, Claire Huber, Claire Kimball, and Angelina LaBarre.

This colloquy is about staging choices; Levy points out that the papers are eclectic, dealing with choices from a number of different angles.

Carter’s paper is about the use of weapons as indicators of characters in Romeo and Juliet, specifically looking at outsiderness and ethnicity. His argument is that since modern audience will no longer recognize the ethnicity attached to stage combat and weaponry, we need to identify these differences in other ways, possibly through costume. Levy asks how using costume to indicate ethnicity is different from what already happens through costume design. Carter suggests that costume designers may need to look more into combat and weapon based visual signifiers. Spanish style fighting was cut-centric instead of stab-centric, for example. Another example: Capulet calls for his long sword, implying an older style of fighting, which an early modern audience would have recognized as inappropriate for the fight. The participants discuss what information an audience may or may not recognize through modern or early modern weapons. Carter says he is convinced that a modern audience is more finely tuned to costume design than weaponry technology.

LaBarre’s paper explores the question of stage management in the early modern theatre through her experience as a member of MBC’s MFA in Shakespeare and Performance 2012-2013 company, Roving Shakespeare. She investigates different terms that were present during the early modern era that may have been equivalent to a modern day stage manager and the responsibilities of these positions. For example, medieval prompters would be placed in the center-front of the stage and would prompt not only lines, but also movements with the use of a guiding stick. Later the stage manager domain shifts to backstage due to greater spectacle and increased technology. Levy points out even today a stage manager’s duties can vary greatly from production to production and director to director, musing that the shifts in terms and definitions historically continue for that position to this day. Hedrick asks about how the hierarchy of these positions have shifted over time. LaBarre points out that the high status of the book keeper in the early modern theatre stems partially from the fact that the book keeper had access to the play’s full text.

Drew-Bear wrote on the staging of evil in Lust’s Dominion (possibly written by Thomas Dekker). Drew-Bear refers to the character of the machiavellian Moor (Eleazar) as a playwright, and LaBarre, connecting to her paper, suggests that he might actually be more of a book keeper. Drew-Bear’s paper explores the metatheatricality of Eleazar and his text. Lust’s Dominion has a play-within in which Eleazar sets up the staging and tells the actors what to do in a pseudo-rehearsal. Drew-Bear points out that Eleazar is quite self-conscious in his use of theatrical terms. Levy asks whether there is an implication that Eleazar is performing the role of villain, as opposed to actually being a villain. Drew-Bear thinks it is more accurate that Eleazar is revealing in the role of villain as opposed to suggesting that he is, at heart, someone else.

Kimball’s paper argues that we should re-embrace The Bloody Banquet as a prime example of Jacobean revenge drama and identifies elements in the play that would be appealing to a modern audience. Kimball is fascinated by the fact that this play contains so many theatrical elements and yet modern companies are unfamiliar or uninterested in this play. She loves both the gore and violence, but also the number of staging repetitions that are set up in the play. For example, the play contains a pre-banquet in addition to the titular banquet. Kimball says part of the viability of the play can be found in the title. An audience is expecting to see a bloody banquet, an expectation which is frustrated by the inclusion of a first banquet that isn’t the bloody one. Carter asks how Kimball would recommend situating this play to make it marketable. Kimball suggests linking it with other violent or Jacobean pieces such as Titus Andronicus or The Duchess of Malfi. (As possibly the only person in this room other than Kimball to have read this play, I heartily support her recommendation to stage it!)

Harvey’s paper is on Julius Caesar, arguing that Brutus exemplifies Aristotle’s definition of the Noble Man and is the moral center of the play. With that line of thought, Caesar’s ghost cannot be a manifestation of Brutus’ guilty conscience. Levy asks what journey this leaves the actor playing Brutus and Harvey says he sees the character as static and as one that doesn’t have a journey. As a staging choice, Harvey suggests having Caesar’s ghost come from the trap, indicating to an audience that he is a malevolent spirit.

Hedrick’s paper looks at Henry V’s wooing scene with Katherine as part of a larger work on the arousal of monarchs in history plays. Hendrick questions how arousal might be played. He provides a scale of options: 1. Do nothing physically, using only the language of love. 2. A la Laurence Olivier, saddle up close to your acting partner. 3. Monty Python approach, with a wink wink, nudge nudge to the audience or let the other actors react to or point out the arousal. 4. the Lysistrata method. Hendrick points out that James was against the use of codpieces in costumes. He asks how we point out the possible subversiveness / comic effect of an aroused monarch for a modern audience? LaBarre suggests that both comedy and violence lives in all these choices. Levy asks at what point would an audience member be removed from the play and miss moments as they process a large prosthetic or a naked appendage. Carter points out that the Princess in Henry V is body-centric while learning English, which might suggest something about how she would react to a possible erection.