“So sensible seemeth their conference”: On Academic Conviviality

There’s a danger in academia, and in theatrical practice, of sometimes letting yourself get into an echo chamber. When you live and work with so many people who are all focused towards the same mission, its easy to feed off of each other’s brains and lose sight of other perspectives. This, I think, is the main reason we have conferences. (The other reason, so far as I can tell, is that it’s beneficial to one’s sanity to realize that, no, you aren’t the only one crazy enough to care with fervid passion about the placement of stage directions or punctuation marks). Leaving our home base and trekking to far-off climes can reinvigorate our own studies and pedagogical practices. Sometimes, getting out introduces new concepts. Sometimes, it reminds me that — yes, I do think the way I think for a reason, and I’m sticking to it. Both experiences are valuable.

This spring has given me a lot of opportunity along those lines. In April, Sarah and I went to Vancouver for the Shakespeare Association of America conference, an annual gathering of hundreds of scholars and graduate students from the US and beyond. The conversation is large and robust, a mix of the venerable and best-known scholars with the up-and-comers. Each year, particularly among the young guard, there’s more conversation about digital approaches to Shakespeare, about community outreach, and about how Shakespeare speaks to different diverse populations. It’s great to know that so many people are so invested in using new technology and opportunities to breathe continual life into the plays we’ve all loved for so long.

The trouble with such an enormous conference, though, is that you can often feel like you’ve missed out on a lot. There are only a few plenary presentations, and a dozen or more seminars run concurrently. I’m grateful for the thriving conference hashtag — widely proclaimed the best on Twitter — #shakeass15. Tweeting sessions not only helps me take notes for myself, it puts me in conversation with other scholars and students with similar interests — and following the hashtag helps me know what I’ve missed due to scheduling conflicts. It’s nice to have a sense of what everyone’s working on, even if I can’t get all the details. Just knowing what conversations are ongoing is an important awareness.

By contrast, the Halved Heart Academic Conference at Shakespeare’s Globe was an intimate affair. A dozen presenters, two keynotes, and an audience of roughly forty scholars and students, all focused on a single topic: friendship in early modern drama. Because of the tight focus of the conference, we all came in with even more of a shared vocabulary than early modernists typically have. There are few other places, I think, where references to Cicero, Erasmus, and Montaigne could get thrown out quite so casually, with such little footnoting. While being at a large conference can sometimes leave me feeling a bit at sea, that communal focus at Halved Heart helped me to feel immediately part of a group, welcomed and warmed. A small conference is, by its nature, exclusive, though. We shared ideas passionately and with brilliant conversation, but it’ll be harder for those ideas to keep propagating. (We had a hashtag there, too: #HalvedHeartConf, if you’d like to see what we were on about). We can each bring what we learned back to our home institutions, and I’ve made some wonderful friends I look forward to connecting with in the future, but it’s just naturally more of a closed loop than a larger conference.1479469_10151906077508347_1988637814_n

In October, we’ll welcome a few hundred scholars and students to the Blackfriars Conference. We hope to strike a happy balance between the broad-reaching topics and the intimate, friendly atmosphere. Towards that end, most of our sessions are plenary. While a large conference might have only six to eight papers with no competing programming, the Blackfriars Conference has sixty-six. This allows for a wonderful exchange of ideas, where everyone gets to hear the same papers and join in the conversation. But then we also have our colloquy sessions, each focused on a single topic, to further the detailed conversations and to encourage scholars with similar research interests to connect with each other. (And yes, we’ve got an official conference hashtag, too! Follow #BFConf15 for updates as we organize and for information from the conference itself once October rolls around).

All of these conferences serve different purposes, and they’re all great in their own ways. I’m definitely looking forward to SAA 2016 in New Orleans, one of my favorite cities in the world; I hope I’ll be able to head back to London (another favorite city) for another Globe conference sometime; I look forward to welcoming all our friends to our home, here in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.

–Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

ASC Education in 2014

As we wrap up another great year at the American Shakespeare Center, here’s a sneak peek at what we’ll be bringing you in 2014:

  • Teacher Seminars: We start the year off right with our Winter Seminar January 31st-February 1st, focusing on As You Like It and some of the wonderful learning techniques we’ve gathered from rehearsal practices during the Actors’ Renaissance Season. We already have teachers from six states registered to join us in a few weeks, coming from as far away as Oklahoma and Massachusetts. In Spring (April 25th-27th), we’ll cover Othello and The  Merry Wives of Windsor. Our Summer Seminar (August 15th) this year will be a Macbeth intensive. Our last Macbeth seminar was one of my favorites, leading to discoveries that I still bring up in workshops, so I’m greatly looking forward to revisiting the play this summer. In fact, I love it so much that we’ll also be covering Macbeth at the Fall Seminar, along with The Comedy of Errors. Registration is now open for the Winter, Spring, and Summer Seminars, and we’ll be opening registration the Fall soon.Little Academe
  • ASC Theatre Camp: We kick things off in January with an alumni reunion event: a weekend of celebrating the ARS and our former campers’ continuing love of Shakespeare. This summer, campers ages 13-18 will explore Measure for Measure, The Tempest, 3 Henry VI, All’s Well That Ends Well, and the anonymous Fair Em, the Miller’s DaughterApply now to join us this summer.
  • The No Kidding Shakespeare Camp 2014: We’re back in town this year for a week-long camp focusing on the theme of Collaboration. Our activities will explore the partnerships and the community necessary to create theatre then and now, from shareholding to co-authorship, from ensemble casts to audience contact. Registrations are now open, so make some summer plans to spend time at the Blackfriars Playhouse.
  • Conferences: Our biggest conference news this year is that ASC Education will, for the first time, present a teaching workshop at the Shakespeare Association of American Conference in April. We’re excited to bring our classroom methods to SAA members and to the local teachers of St. Louis. Dr. Ralph will also be leading a rhetoric workshop at SAA. Read more about the 2014 Conference and the ASC’s workshop on the SAA website. ASC Education will also appear at the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference in January, at the Virginia Association of Museums conference in March, and at Shakespeare Works When Shakespeare Plays at UC-Davis in September.
  • On the Road: Our workshops are currently roaming the country with the World’s Mine Oyster Tour, and next summer, we’ll build new ones for the Method in Madness Tour. We’ll be participating in Shakespeare Month at the Alden in McLean, Virginia in January, in the Virginia Children’s Festival of the Book at Longwood in the fall, and we anticipate expanding our Educational Residencies to new territories throughout the year.
  • In-House: We look forward to welcoming Little Academes from across the country during the ARS and the Spring Season, as well as to hosting the local chapters of the English Speaking Union and Poetry Out Loud Competitions. Our Leadership Seminars are also ongoing: we celebrate our continuing relationship with the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville, with programs throughout the year, and with International Paper, returning for another week-long program in April.
  • ASC Study Guides: In 2014, our Lulu offerings will expand to include a special guide on Christopher Marlowe, to celebrate the fact that the ASC will produce Edward II in the Fall Season and Doctor Faustus in the Method in Madness Tour. We’ll also be creating improved second editions of As You Like It, Macbeth, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the ShrewMuch Ado about Nothing, and Hamlet. You can preview all of our sixteen current titles online and purchase them as print-on-demand hard copies or PDF downloads.
  • Play-going Enrichment: Our Dr. Ralph Presents Lectures and Inside Plays Workshops will begin again in just a few weeks with insights into the plays of the Actors’ Renaissance Season. Join us select Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the year at 5:30pm to brush up your knowledge of old favorites or to get an introduction to unfamiliar works.
  • Perfect Pairings: Our 2014-2015 Staged Reading series will feature little-known plays which complement the shows produced in our seasons. After finishing the Slightly Skewed Shakespeare series in the spring, with Nahum Tate’s King Lear in March and The Famous Victories of Henry V in April, we will present Plautus’s Roman farce Menaechmi in September, in conjunction with The Comedy of Errors, and Thomas Heywood’s Edward IV, Part 1 in October, in conjunction with Marlowe’s Edward II.
  • Student Matinees: In 2014, we’ll be offering six titles for Student Matinees: Macbeth and The Comedy of Errors in the Fall, A Christmas Carol in the Winter, with a sneak peek at HamletThe Taming of the Shrew during the Actors’ Renaissance Season, and Hamlet and Much Ado about Nothing in the Spring. 
  • And more… We’re working on new initiatives in Research & Scholarship, College Prep, and Educator Resources, so look for further updates as we launch new programs and partnerships throughout the year.
A very happy New Year to all the Shakespeare lovers out there — we look forward to seeing you at the Blackfriars Playhouse in 2014!