The Intrepid Traveller: Born Skeptic turns Softie

When it comes to travel, I am a born skeptic.

Everything that can go wrong probably will.  The places we visit won’t be that great. The tour guides won’t tell me anything I couldn’t have learned from reading. The people on the trip may not be a good mix of personalities — or worse, they may all be annoying. The food will likely disappoint.  The days will be too long. Or, too short. The shows can’t be as good as the ones we have in Staunton.  What is the point, really?

I know this cynical view doesn’t sound like a good starting point for the person organizing a trip for 22 participants. To England. For 10 days.

But, I think that, instead of proving the wrong attitude, my take may have made the trip even more enjoyable than it would have been if I had started in a more “Pollyanna-ish” state. Maybe it has to do with my personal adage: If you expect to be disappointed, you may end up being pleasantly surprised — only, in the case of the 2016 ASC Land of Lords trip, “pleasant” would be a huge understatement. I was joyfully, tremendously, thoroughly, and completely delighted by virtually every moment, certainly every person,  and absolutely the experience of the trip as a whole.  

Myth #1: Everything that can go wrong probably will.

Director of Mission and ASC co-founder Ralph Cohen, Academic Resources Manager Cass Morris (or, as we call her, the person in charge of words for Education), and I worked for over a year to put together this adventure we called Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords.  The fact that our fearless (Shakes-Fear-less, to be precise) leader was working on his book, giving a couple of talks a month in various locations across the US, and travelling to Italy for about four weeks immediately before our trip began might have spelled doom for many.

Added to Ralph’s lack of available time in which to provide guidance, Cass and I, of course, hosted our biennial conference for 300 in October 2015, as well as adding a few other conferences and events to our schedule for the Legacy year (400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s death). Because that wasn’t quite enough, we also kept ourselves downright busy with other things like hiring new college prep staff and preparing to move our offices while we were in the UK. All of which should have added up to a trip that didn’t make — or at least, a trip that didn’t make with sufficient numbers for all of our team to attend, but instead, we found just the right number (and right mix) of intrepid souls to join us.

Moreover, excellent communication from Cass leading up to the trip (see her blogs here) built enthusiasm and provided essential facts to help us prepare for the group’s time together in England. With a couple of focused days (pinning down dates and addresses for our coach driver, calling and emailing all of the locations we would visit) and some true turns of luck — Why did flights suddenly drop 5 weeks out from departure? Anyone hear of Brexit (an unexpected boon to our budget)? — and the kindness of the group sales folks in the UK, we nailed every venue and tour guide down, we figured out every visit to the minute, and we began to look forward to a trip that would fill the non-skeptic with delight.

1It’s true, when travelling, the airport is the most likely place something can go wrong, so it proved to be no surprise when, yes, some flights were delayed. By some turn of fate, we still landed 19 of our 22 travelers with little to no delay (though stellar camper Rick M. unexpectedly added an extra leg to his journey in order to make it on time — two legs, if you count the walk between Terminals three and two).  Everyone got through passport control, we made it to our coach (and the amazing driver, Mike, who would guide us down all of the tiny roads one could find in Shakespeare Country) in good time after a lovely catch up and meet and greet in Terminal 2’s Caffe Nero at Heathrow.  What about the other three, you might ask? As Fortune would have it, they were on the same flight and landed the very next day, whereat, we were able to arrange for a car to chauffeur them directly to our lovely lodging in Broadway.

Myth #2: The places won’t be that great.

I just finished the final touches on our expenses, and that meant recalling every place we visited though the receipts they generated.  In 10 days, we visited 15 houses or castles, 10 gorgeous churches, 5 exceptional gardens, took 5 fantastic walks, ate en masse at 5 terrific places, saw two shows at the Royal Shakespeare Company (with some of our campers adding to that number in Cambridge), and saw not only Shakespeare’s birthplace and school but also, we were among the first 300 people in the world ever to see Will’s will in person–that three page document so closely associated with our reason for being in the UK. And, in addition to our own two fantastic faculty members (who gave lectures on almost every place we visited), we heard from four amazing guides, I’m exhausted just thinking about it.  

202But more than sheer quantity, we saw quality places.    My eyes were opened to powerful art at Burghley House, while Hardwick Hall’s architecture blew me away (not to mention a lovely exhibit on Arbella, the Stuart who might have been Queen, had Elizabeth acknowledged her lineage above James’s). Chatsworth’s and Powis’s gardens stunned, and Alwnick connected Downton Abbey, Harry Potter, and Hotspur in ways I had not imagined (but very much enjoyed). The ruins of Ludlow, Kenilworth, and Dunstanburgh presented space for quiet contemplation and re-imagining scenes, while walks to Heddon-on-the wall and Broadway Tower allowed me to get to know our participants better. When one travels with a certain Director of Mission, one should expect to see some churches.  But, oh, the churches we saw.  From the tiny churches like those Heddon-on-the-Wall, and Stanton (pronounced Stanton, believe it or not!), which revealed their periods of growth in architectural details outside and in, to the fantastic cathedrals in York and Norwich, we saw an array of churches which represented the changing faith of Shakespeare’s home land from his earliest History plays through to the period of his last.

Our day in the near-“Disney” Stratford-Upon-Avon was made perfect by a wonderful connection at Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Cait Fannin-Peel. Cait took our program in hand, arranged for a fascinating talk to introduce the ongoing work of the Trust (and won a few donors to the New Place project), she got us into three open properties and gave us a sneak peek of New Place — a site that was two weeks from opening. She didn’t personally arrange for the National Archive to display Shakespeare’s will just on the day we were touring, but I think she could probably arrange — and would — something of that magnitude.  She walked us to Anne Hathaway’s cottage, took us to Hall’s Croft, shared her stories of Holy Trinity (and tried her best to get us into it when a wedding prevented it — then DID get us into it on Monday morning, first thing), made sure we saw the Guildhall and Shakespeare’s school, and basically gave us her Saturday.  We encountered so many people of like generosity, at Chatsworth, at Norwich Castle, and in our lovely hotels, it felt as though England had rolled out the red carpet for us.

Myth #3: The tour guides won’t tell me anything I couldn’t have learned from reading.  

First of all, I knew better than to think this about either of our faculty members. But having had them both in class, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be hearing anything — or not much — new. Boy, was I wrong. If you have the chance to take Mary Hill Cole or Ralph Cohen on a jaunt around England, let me just say, I recommend it.  Mary Hill contextualized every location and made the coach trip fly by as we travelled from place to place.  Ralph has a knack for pointing out the visual clues to history and makes the being there matter.  He also falls into lovely coincidences, like the statue of the Saints Crispin in a Shrewsbury garden that wasn’t even on our itinerary–our leadership seminar uses Henry V’s Agincourt speech in every session we host, so I’ve heard that speech a dozen times in the last year at least–making concrete the words with which I work, and who knew they were the saints of Shoemakers?!

255Then, there were the tour guides. We found four people who not only really knew their stuff, but also, passionately, wanted to share it, in dynamic and delightful ways. Alan, of White Rose Tours  in York (chosen purely because Cass and Lia Razak, our College Prep Programs Manager, are such Yorkists) [Editor’s Note: #whiteroserightrose], led us on a humorous 90-minute excursion with perfectly timed stopping points and, yes, jokes. As it turned out, he is a stand-up comedian, so we were laughing about Richard III and the York wall, while also learning fascinating things about their history. Our Cambridge guides, Chris and Tony of Cambridge Tour Guides, had a gift for engaging the group, and as Alan had in York, for connecting Shakespeare to the surroundings. In Cambridge, as it seemed every tourist in the UK decided to visit the day we did, they expertly shuttled us around rambunctious teens from at least a dozen different countries and advised us on where to go and what to do post tour, too. They had a talent for getting us into sites just before a christening or between banquets so we felt like we had found guides with a magic touch — or superior timing, or both. Our staff guide at Alnwick seemed almost as delighted to talk about its use as a location in films from Harry Potter to Elizabeth and shows from Downton Abbey to The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses.  As with all of our exceptional guides, his enthusiasm carried us right past the time set, and we almost all got to stay in Alnwick for the night; the gate began closing around us as we dashed back to the coach and on towards Dunstanburgh.  

Myth #4: The people on the trip may not be a good mix of personalities–or worse, they may all be annoying.

61In addition to places and guides, experiences, like breakfast every morning with a different friend to communal meals and banquets and teas, and even a rained out picnic, offered us all the chance to meet new people and deeply engage with their history and relationship to Shakespeare. We mixed up our seating on the coach, took opportunities for extra excursions (there wasn’t quite enough on the schedule already!), and made special dates for dinner and lunch just to visit with new group members.  At one of our first stops, I picked up a card set for one of the people I’d heard talking about wanting to know the Kings and Queens better, and thus began a tradition carried out by Cass, Ralph, and me.  At each gift shop, we would find something for each of our group — special to them. So Sandy, who looked for Green Men in each church, received a book on them at our final banquet. The ever-patient and sweet Ruth, always waiting for her photog husband Warren, found a folding fan to help her wait out his documentary excursions. Notebooks and poetry collections for our writers and teachers, our gorgeous Gay found a blue glass just the hue of her favorite necklace in wait, our “student” Donna will make use of her new book as she finishes earning credit for the trip, and Ed and Lois each got items to further their enthusiasm for learning more about the UK’s royalty. This project was as rewarding for me as for the gift recipients, as I delighted in thinking about them — what made each so special, George’s enthusiasm and kindness, Jim’s quiet intellect, Betty’s “just do it” attitude — and why each was such a special and perfect addition to our group.  

Myth #5: The food will likely disappoint.

162Well, that was just wrong. From our first lunch at The Mermaid in the charming Burford, to our speciality cocktail “Much Ado About Nothing” at Lygon Arms, to the unbelievable seafood at Craster–with a view of the ocean that only made it more sweet, to the meals out with friends–Indian (with an amazing Family size Naan) with Philip, Rick, Betty and Cass, and Scottish with John–to our Traditional Tea at the Swan in Lavenham, and finally, our last evening at the beautiful Felix Hotel, we ate our way through England quite, quite well.

Myth #6: The days will be too long. Or, too short.

When traveling, one must ask oneself if one wants to sit in a room (which would have been a great option at any of our hotels!) or see the places they came to visit.  Our guests felt free to choose, with almost everyone skipping at least one excursion to do something on their own.  Even those who didn’t, I would warrant a guess, enjoyed the easy balance of one day at each hotel stop which kept us close and allowed for some breathing space. We had among us, even, some adventurous types who visited a dance club in York — they shall remain nameless; I was only there to make sure everyone was safe, I assure you.

Myth #7: The shows can’t be as good as the ones we have in Staunton.  

Well… Yes, this part was true. But, what a wonderful chance to see some shows and draw comparisons. The different spaces and the choices made by the productions we saw generated fascinating conversations, and we each benefited from seeing the work.

147Myth #8: What is the point, really?

The point is, when we leave our comfort zone, especially with others, we learn about life in new ways. History feeds the present, perhaps most in Shakespeare Studies, but in many other ways as well.  Perhaps more importantly, and my biggest takeaway on this trip, is that present feeds the present, too.  Present people, present places, present presents, expand minds, hearts, and give way to the sincere hope that we will see one another again. And soon.

The No Kidding Shakespeare Camp convenes annually in Staunton to provide enrichment to fans of Shakespeare and of life, especially those who seek a unique way to fill the hours of their summer.  We built 2016’s Land of Lords trip to celebrate Shakespeare’s legacy in the 400th year since his death. The 2017 topic for our return to Staunton will be Shakespeare and Art. We hope to see you there.

–Sarah Enloe, Director of Education

A Special Note from Sarah Enloe

You know, I don’t have a lot of time to think about things during conference week.  Especially the first day, Cass, Kim, and I put out a lot of (minor) fires and get into a groove. Then, things ease up a little. But, as I sat down (computer open, head set on to catch emergencies and deal with all the things), in the room where we get to work, and as I listened to some of the top scholars in the field, surrounded by the other 250 people who will be participating as presenters and auditors of this beast that we call the Blackfriars Conference, I took the time to breathe. And see. And hear. And I am so grateful.

Don’t miss our live blogs or our live streaming (even if you catch them late), but know that there is nothing like being in that room, with actors and scholars conversing in the way that I think (or hope) we all wish happened much more often. The merging of pedagogy and practice creates brilliant presentations by thinkers selected only on the merits of their ability to compose a 300 word abstract which goes before a reading committee. We keep the name, institution, and, indeed, position of the author of the abstract a secret from the “blind” committee (as skeptical as some participants are that it it exists — and that it chose them!).  Based only on the merit of their ability to express concisely an idea that engages performance and early modern theatre, we offer them one of 66 plenary slots, each of 10-13 minutes, at the conference.  They can choose to employ actors in their paper to help show their thesis, and this is when things get really interesting.  Watching our acting colleagues (who are contracted for 48 hours a week–not including all of the lines they are memorizing for next season or the additional research and preparation they do) engage with scholars who have questions about process and choices is edifying in the highest degree. And the ASC actors, who engage with the scholars we are honored to have in attendance, even as presenters themselves, make this conference a unique and exceptional experience.

Yesterday was my 10 year anniversary with the American Shakespeare Center. It also marked the beginning of my sixth conference, and the fifth I am honored to manage.  It has been a wonderful ride and I am looking forward to the next few days, and, who knows? the next 10 years, too.  

–Sarah Enloe
ASC Director of Education

Pirates and Pentameter

Recently, as I prepared to write my paper for the upcoming SAA seminar Playhouses and Other Early Modern Venues, I pulled out the binder of material I collected at one of my first Shakespeare-specific ventures, The Rose Playhouse Institute at Shakespeare and Company. When, as a second year teacher, I won the NEH award to study for the summer with the team of Educators in Lenox, Massachusetts, my most vivid Shakespeare experiences were all from high school, community theatre, and my own attempt to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream with my high school students in Texas (let’s just say the special effects were brilliant–trees flew!).  At that time and until I started graduate school, this binder was my biggest link to Shakespeare; in it, I placed everything I thought I needed to direct and to teach Shakespeare. Opening it yesterday took me on a journey back to a time when teaching Shakespeare was harder than it needed to be and I felt like I was winging it constantly.  Don’t get me wrong; the folks at Shakespeare & Company gave us a lot of good information. I learned so much about voice, a lot about taking the text out of context (to help dissolve some fear — my feelings about that I will get to shortly), Elizabethan dance steps, and lessons on tying today’s theatrical practices to Shakespeare (given circumstances, motivation, all the Stanislavsky and Method stuff).  What I didn’t find is anything that cracked the plays, and Shakespeare’s genius, open for me.

Like most high school teachers, I began teaching Shakespeare after experiencing it only in high school classrooms in which we sat and read every. single. word. of the play aloud. Now, I loved that. But I know now that that method of teaching will not work for every student and does a disservice to the author and to the rich material these works contain. Material to mine, figure, construe, and, eventually, apply.  Methods that we want students using when they graduate and pursue further study, careers, and life in general. By the time I reached the status of classroom teacher, however, I had never been introduced to them. Not in high school, not in college, not in community theatre, and not, sadly, at my Institute. I found the tools that help to expand the text in the professional practice at the American Shakespeare Center and in the Mary Baldwin College Shakespeare and Performance Program, both places where we work hard to introduce them to every student and every teacher who crosses our threshold.

My time at the Rose Playhouse Institute was valuable in many ways. It helped shape me as a person; it gave me confidence at a time when I sorely needed it; it supplied me with life-long friendships that I treasure. What it did not teach me how to do is to plumb Shakespeare for meaning.  Instead, sort of like with the recent TEDed video, Why Shakespeare loved Iambic Pentameter, I got a false sense that I knew stuff that mattered. My kids could do text lay-ups, create a sculpture garden of Shakespeare moments, but they couldn’t dig down into a passage, they couldn’t wrestle with the ins and outs of why it mattered. It’s not that the stuff that matters is so difficult, or so hard to teach; it’s that we don’t give it to our future (and present) teachers so that their students can experience the joy of discovering Shakespeare themselves.

In most “on your feet” or “performance-based classroom activities,” the material dodges the matter. It steers clear of looking at too much text (might scare the kids), at text in context (we don’t perform like that anymore), at using the tools Shakespeare’s actors used (they are dead, so they must not be very good).  When, however, we have the ability to study plays across the canon with techniques that take very little time to grasp but that astronomically expand the possibilities for students’ ownership of the text, we are opening the world — and not just the world of just of Shakespeare and literature — to them.  Through this, we say to them: you are good enough, smart enough, and talented enough to get and play with this revered text.

As an example, we worked on The Taming of the Shrew the last weekend in January with teachers from several states and disciplines. Cass looked at rhetoric (I know, surprise!) and early modern courtship as it relates to the play; I, ostensibly, looked at textual transmission (how the play changes from edition to edition) and acting in the play within the play. I say “ostensibly” because I ended up looking at scansion, rhetoric, second person pronouns, and stage directions. Why? Because once you see those things, you can’t un-see them.  Or, to say it another way, once you know their value, scenes and entire plays take on a depth of possibility that students who don’t know them can’t see.  It doesn’t take long to say de-DUM 5 times, or to walk around like a pirate (why a pirate? are we really encountering that many pirates that we use that as our “easy way” into Iambic Pentameter? I digress) but it can make a world of difference in looking at a scene if students know that actors use it as a clue to character and understanding.  Cass has already shared a textual variants activity with you from our study guide, but I would like to dig into that beast a little deeper and show you the things we couldn’t help but talk about last weekend.

TamingSnippetAt right is the page showing different versions editors made of the same passage in 2.1 (by the way, I pulled 9 editions to consider the stage directions in 4.1 and found that every single one constructed them differently — thus painting a different Petruchio). Look at the first 14 lines Petruchio speaks in this passage — ha! another thought, this is 14 lines, the length of a sonnet, but, I digress (again).

Marry so I mean sweet Katherine in thy bed:

And therefore setting all this chat aside

then in plain terms: your father hath consented

that you shall be my wife: your dowry greed on,

And will you, nill you, I will marry you.

Now Kate, I am a husband for your turn,

For by this light, whereby I see thy beauty,

Thy beauty that doth make me like thee well,

Thou will be married to no man but me.

Enter Baptista, Gremio, Tranio

For I am he am born to tame you Kate

And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate

Conformable as other household Kates:

Here comes your father, Never make denial

I must and will have Katharina to my wife.

As we discovered in last Friday’s teacher seminar session, this passage’s stress patterns and use of the informal second person pronoun lends some weight to the argument for the stage direction remaining where the folio places it, and thus, not moving it as later editions do (though, I am pleased to acknowledge that the Arden 3, edited by Barbara Hodgdon, leaves it and other important stage directions from the Folio, in 4.1 for instance, in tact).  It is somewhat unusual, and always revealing for an actor/student, when a pronoun falls in a stressed place. Here, we see four to six pronouns in the stressed position in just 14 lines. Moreover, the nature of the pronouns changes from the informal to the formal to the informal and, finally, back again (the second return to formal coming when the Folio signals the return of Kate’s father).  After we noted all of these things in the group (and pulled our collective hair out with the scansion of the first line–trochee, iamb, iamb, trochee (elision), weird feminine ending? or, entirely trochaic with a catalectic final foot?), we played with it. We made some big choices with the pronoun shifts, trying distance in the formal uses and closer proximity in the informal. We tried being really formal, with Petruchio kneeling the first time he uses the formal pronouns and then transitioning into a more intimate exchange in the informal.

In short, we looked at the text for what clues it could provide. We considered easily identifiable traits like beat and pronouns to create playing choices. We didn’t give just one line; we didn’t gloss over the challenges of the scene. We talked about playing possibilities. We gave the text back to the students (teachers in this case) to make of it what they wanted to. Returning the authority to tackle text is how we roll, and we do it by showing all of the details that are too often not taught but make the text accessible.

Sarah Enloe
Director of Education

PS: For an in-depth guide to exploring those possibilities in the classroom, join us on August 7th for the Summer Teacher Seminar: Shakespeare’s Toolbox.

You, O the dearest of creatures, would even renew me/with your eyes.

Snapshot of the October 12-October 17, 2014

 

Sunday: Filmed pre-show lecture and staged reading of the Menaechmi

Monday:  Shakespeare Theatre Association Executive Board Conference Call to finalize January Conference plans (secretary), finalize grant application for First Folio

Tuesday: All day retreat with Education Team, MFA production of Twelfth Night

Wednesday: Scholar interview with 9 ASC actors, host lecture, welcome visiting University group

Thursday: Comment on MFA workshop presentations, meet with British Education scholar, Marketing meeting for artistic season, train box office staff to use LCD projector,  host lecture, welcome visiting University group

Friday:​L​ed workshop with 3 ASC actors for University group, met with Globe Education Head of Learning, training on new software for Education Programs to implement this month

Saturday:Meet with ASL interpreters for upcoming show, welcome 3rd visiting University

Sunday:​Begin again

It​’​s been 5 years since I stepped into the role of Director of Education at the American Shakespeare Center.

​Each year has presented a variety of challenges and successes.  I am so proud of the work that the Education team has taken on​,​ and I am amazed by the output of such a small group of people. At our retreat this week, the reason we are able to do so much was once again made clear to me. We all believe strongly in the mission of this little company that can.

“The American Shakespeare Center recovers the joy and accessibility of Shakespeare’s theatre, language, and humanity by exploring the English Renaissance stage and its practices through performance and education.”

My first task when I took this position was to write the language for the annual brochure for Education.  I went straight to our mission and used the words there to describe each of our programs. That attention to the mission continues to be a focus of our work, so much so that our recent visitors from Shakespeare on the Road commented that we all, every department, each individual, knows what is at the heart of the work here and speaks about it in uncannily similar ways. So we know why we do this work. I think the question that tickles Education right now is how.

In my first couple of years in the job, changes in the company kept the work in Education fresh and new. Whether itwas the staffing changes brought about by the economic downturn forcing us to think in new, efficient, and creative ways, or the addition of a Managing Director with an actual ​arts management degree, who could encourage and allow growth, or the new staff in Education that growth supported, we seemed to have something new to celebrate every few months–publishing our study guides, putting out our own magazine, moving our camp to the college, adding college credit, adding a new camp for Adults, adding a summer teacher seminar, re-vamping our staged readings. Each change, and the success we experienced brought us joy and a sense of renewal.  But, each also brought more work to an already taxed team. How can we maintain our quality of programming and our commitment to the mission?

We made some inroads this week in answering that question.  We are going to be looking hard at the work we do and how we do it for the next little while.  Just because we can keep so many balls up in the air doesn’t necessarily mean we should.  As we move forward, I ask you for your help.  Tell us what comes to mind when YOU think about ASC education. It can be just one word, or it can be a paragraph.  With your help, we will continue to build on our programming and create new opportunities for many others to experience the joy that Shakespeare’s plays can bring to anyone.

“My life and education both do learn me how to respect you”: Teaching and the Art of Collaboration

Projects have a funny way of infiltrating one’s thoughts and setting up their own domain in  the mind.  I think this may be why research institutions want  their faculty showing the product of their labors (read: publication).  By encouraging faculty to invest time in  something–research, an experiment, a paper– they facilitate new solutions, innovations, connections. The project on my mind this summer is our No Kidding Shakespeare Camp, for which Cass and I (collaboratively) selected the theme of collaboration.  As I’ve been planning for it,  it has tickled my brain about all of the work we do and how it connects (or, sometimes, doesn’t) to that one word.  

 I was lucky enough to meet a scholar who is new to town for coffee yesterday to discuss some upcoming projects and to see if we could work together.  I’d been giving a lot of thought to our work in the Education Department even before this meeting, in which, as we were trading tales and getting to know one another, my colleague asked “What do you do at ASC?”

Most of the time, when I answer that question, I tend to start with our divisions — College Prep, Educator Resources, Research and Scholarship, Life-Long Learning.  I talk about the programs in each, what they mean to me.  Depending on the day, one or the other may be my favorite.

But the programs we run are not, really, what we do.  We bridge a lot of territory here in our little world — or, as we often say, we wear a lot of different hats. Kim and I are administrators, wrestling with budgets, staffing, communications.  Cass and I are curriculum developers: we worry with Common Core, clear instructions, and quelling ShakesFear. All of us write and market and edit and network and schedule and (some days it feels like more than anything else) answer emails.  Each of us have been performers at various point in our lives, and we still enjoy the aspects of our jobs that entail performing and putting together scenes and plays. We don’t get to act so much at the office or day-to-day like our colleagues a block away at the Playhouse, but we do get to teach — and in a way, that is the most collaborative and rewarding kind of performing.

We talk a lot about collaboration in theatre, but  not so much in the classroom.  It is a buzzword in one part of my job because the folks in the arts need to be collaborators in the most essential sense of the word: from the OED (you know it is a good day when I get to open that baby up) col- together + labōrāre – to work.

The word seems to be so essential in theatre that I am a little surprised (okay, disappointed) that the OED doesn’t credit Shakespeare with being the first to record it.  Instead, it first appears in print a good two and a half centuries after his death,

To work in conjunction with another or others, to co-operate; esp. in a literary or artistic production, or the like.

Shakespeare does record the concept in some of his plays. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck describes the how the Mechanicals “were met together to rehearse a play” and we see their first production meeting as they discuss the ins and outs of staging Pyramus and Thisbe. But one doesn’t find the same acknowledgement of learning, teaching, or educating together. In Shakespeare, those activities generally occur with singular pronouns — “I” or “you” or “she” or sometimes the royal “we/our.”

On the best days, the Education team gets out from behind our desks and go into a room full of people and we teach. We teach Shakespeare, history, acting, teaching.  We do it in a particular way that we learned from watching our boss, Ralph Alan Cohen, when he teaches, and from watching other teachers, who include both faculty in the Mary Baldwin Shakespeare and Performance program and the actors who work on the stage at the Blackfriars.  We teach students who are with us for one hour or one week or one semester.

We learn something every time we stand up in front of a group of people. We are lucky that the people in our classrooms, unlike those, say, in a typical public school English/Literature arts class, have chosen to be there. They want to hear what we have to say. We are doubly lucky in that our classrooms have resources that win interest instantly — actors and the stage. We are triply lucky that in our classrooms we have the opportunity to take a collaborative approach to learning.  We are not lecturers or authority figures so much as facilitators. We take pride in showing our students paths and helping their navigation and exploration. In raising genuine questions and discussing them. In exploring options and working together to achieve the best result for that moment, that group, that classroom. Knowing full well that the next moment, group, and class may resolve the exploration in a completely different (and exciting) way. That collaborative journey and its different landing points is part of why Shakespeare stays fresh on stage and in the hands of students invited to think like (and given the tools to work like) performers.

Little Academe

 

Over at the Playhouse, the artistic staff and actors spend time in a room together from the beginning of rehearsals until the closing night. Whether they are closely studying the text in table work, getting up on their feet and blocking it, or taking their curtain call, they are giving space and sharing credit with one another. They discuss the colors of the costumes and the period of the props, the movements and gestures that will unify or create the feel they are looking for from a particular moment. They will try things in different ways and work through challenges and disagreements with conversation.  They will, essentially, model an ideal environment for learning and creating: an environment that the best teachers and businesses are interested in making the norm.

In the quote from Othello that forms the title of this post, I see the three essential pieces at the heart of any genuine collaboration: life (experience), education, and respect. I think it is the last one that causes the most problems for teachers and others looking to work in a collaborative way.  For some reason, respect is a feeling that is hard to conjure up for some people with a lot of life experience and education. In the recent past I’ve noticed that the ability to collaborate with our students or with our co-workers is inversely related to how much more life experience or education we think we possess relative to theirs–or, in short, to how much we respect what they bring to the effort.  Sometimes, those in  a collaborative may need to ask: how much effort we are willing to give to showing respect? What will make this collaboration a success?

Collaboration is not easy in the best of situations — as I think the ASC has learned in the act of putting up plays since 1988. At various times, whether while running productions by two to three troupes simultaneously, or because we added new initiatives like our College Prep camp (1997) and the Actors’ Renaissance Season (2005), we have discovered that it takes time and energy to establish the system that will make the collaboration fly. And, it hasn’t always worked right off the bat. Within a system, collaborators have to be willing to acknowledge when something is broken and to work together to fix it. Otherwise they risk, in the words of one of our recent Leadership participants, that “a problem for some can quickly devolve into a problem for none.” If one person alone is not forced to deal with an issue, then it never gets addressed at all, as everyone it bothers will assume someone else will handle it.  The challenge for groups working in a truly collaborative way is to show respect for one another by recognizing an issue and bringing it to the group, working on a plan to solve it, and taking steps to do so.  Once is not enough, though; newly rising issues require the same approach whether they occur once a month or once a day.

As I watch our partner program experiment with this notion with their new MFA third year, I am learning just how important both the systems and the dogged determination to deal with situations as they arise is to the healthy functioning of a group.  And how difficult it is to build truly collaborative work into the day to day tasks we do to DO our work.  Our new third year demands collaboration of 11-12 souls for a year of their lives, and has set up some guidelines and tools to make that possible. It is the ultimate melding of pedagogy and art–a model of how to teach collaboration through process.  It has taught me that Collaboration needs not just invitation, but also stakes–something that we MUST accomplish together.  Something that gets us out from behind the devices and into one another’s space, something that has a deadline and an audience, something that we can feel pride in together.

At No Kidding Shakespeare Camp this year, our study will focus on the collaboration we find evidence of in Shakespeare’s company, the collaboration we engage in daily at the ASC, and the discoveries about collaboration we are making in the MFA third year company. We will experiment with models of collaboration drawn from what we know of Shakespeare’s rehearsal process, explore musical collaboration to see if we can compose something together, and discuss the implications of Shakespeare’s collaboration with other artists. I hope we will find new ways to engage and “work together” that feed our campers when they leave and our organization as we continue to mount productions and learn about the world of  early modern theatre. Won’t you join us?

“…mark me for his friend”

I met someone.

It came about, like these things often do, through a friend connecting us.  Soon, we were sending letters — the good, old-fashioned, hand-written kind. Then we started talking on the phone, and. he sent me photos, and a book of poetry.  And, on a fateful day in November, eight banker’s boxes arrived from California.

Six of the eight boxes we received in November.

Six of the eight boxes we received in November.

My penpal was William A. Riley, who sent his beloved late wife’s world of research on Timon of Athens to the American Shakespeare Center archives. I was delighted, and I found the timing of this gift almost magical. Lois Folger Riley* wrote her dissertation on the play that would complete the ASC’s first go at Shakespeare’s canon.  Her lifework, our company work, intersected.  One, perhaps, feeding the other.

We often receive gifts from supporters who contact us to find out if we can use the items. Last week, I took in a collection of books on 18th Century acting in England.  Earlier this year, we received costumes — party frocks and army gear (from two different donors), but this is the first time we had made a friend and been the recipient of a collection of research materials that, as best I could tell, had never been published anywhere else.

After their arrival, we let the boxes sit next to Kimberly Newton’s desk for a long while, contemplating what we could do with them.  Should they go into our archives at Washington & Lee?  That would mean cataloguing every piece of paper, or, at a minimum, each file folder.

One of the eight boxes of research that arrived in Novenmber

One box of files

Our archival area at the ASC administrative office is just big enough to hold the five years of materials we keep on site, so we couldn’t really keep all of Riley’s materials here.  Finally, I stopped letting the boxes haunt me each time I walked by Kimberly’s desk and decided that if I tackled a box or two a week, clearing away anything that was clearly detritus — boxes of carbon copy paper, stacks of typing paper, devoid of type — we would get somewhere. While I did that task, I also noted how the boxes were organized.  Some were the neat files pictured above, usually divided into research on chapters.  Others contained amazingly detailed pieces relating to research — down to the requests Ms. Riley sent to the librarians at the British Library for books she wanted to study.  There was a list of good places to eat in Louisiana, used went she went to visit her dissertation adviser.  There were also envelopes full of what we, at the office, have come to call “early modern word processing,” duplicates of sentences that she would tape into paragraphs in varying arrangements as she organized her thoughts.  A week or so ago, having done an initial assessment and seeing what we had to work with, I began the process of examination in earnest and developed a rough plan for moving forward.

This is the collection of each chapter we will be working with.

Each of the items in this stack is one chapter

Over the next few months, I will share that plan with you and will show you what we come up with.  We don’t know yet if we will be able to preserve this work for future generations.  We’ve yet to dive into the prose, or grapple with the premise, but we look forward to finding out what is there when we take that next step. We want to evaluate this research and see how it relates to what we do, possibly open up discussions — between students, teachers, professors, scholars, actors — and ask what they see, at long last, in Ms. Lois Riley’s The Meaning of Timon.

As we undertake this journey, I expect we will find out things about women writing their dissertations in the mid-20th Century, about the process of getting words to paper and research in that period vs today (see the “word-processing” example above), and, most of all, about Timon.  As for Bill’s wishes, when he sent the materials, he asked that we use them as we are able.  He shared many things with me about the woman he clearly loved, telling me things like “I used to say ‘she is the smartest woman I know,’ but now I say ‘she was the smartest person.'”  He told me, too, about her family — she is related to both the founder of the Folger Shakespeare Library and Starbucks coffee. I can’t think of a better pairing–if anyone could use some coffee, it is the people working hard at that regal institution.  He’s filled me in on their travels and has sent some photos with extensive captions written in his hand.

A collection of photos of Bill and Lois Riley, 1975-79. Bill's daughter stands next to him in the photo on the upper right.

A collection of photos of Bill and Lois Riley, 1975-79. Bill’s daughter stands next to him in the photo on the upper right.

I am looking forward to discovering more about this rarely staged play and about the scholar who created enough material to fill eight banker’s boxes with it.  I hope you will join me on this journey.

The journey begins.

The journey begins.

*She wrote under the names Lois Starbuck (a collection of poems called Journey Through Sun and Shadow) and Lois D. Pizer (dissertation).

“You must translate; ’tis fit we understand.”

Sarah works with students during a Little Academe.

Sarah works with students during a Little Academe.

As ever, I find myself wrestling with “Shakespeare in Translation.”  I have been invited, as part of the Shakespeare Theatre Association Executive Board, to travel to Brazil for 10 days next month to serve as an adviser on a reconstructed Globe that the Instituto Gandarela is looking to build.  Never mind that this is a trip to Brazil (!!!) or that I will get to work with the amazing Peter McCurdy, the builder behind Shakespeare’s Globe and their new indoor playhouse, The Wanamaker (and a good friend to the ASC). As I prepare for this trip, I am wondering how to get past our condemnation of “No Fear Shakespeare”-style translations (as so eloquently argued by our friends at the Folger Shakespeare Library) yet fight the good fight for Shakespeare in other languages.

Word has it (how I wish I could personally confirm) that the productions at Shakespeare’s Globe in London last summer as part of the Globe to Globe celebration were stunning and amazing explorations of theatrical production.  I have personally, and to my delight, had the opportunity to see Der Brudermord, a German translation of Hamlet directed by Christine Schmidle at the Blackfriars Playhouse.  The play was fun, and I didn’t have too much trouble following the story, despite it being in German (full disclosure: I am familiar with the English version).  I thought the experience brought me closer to what German audiences seeing the play in English in the 17th century may have experienced, but I didn’t note any particularly stirring phrases or textual expertise that stirred me to embrace the play as I did when I saw Hamlet performed for the first time by Khris Lewin on our stage.  At that performance, the “nunnery” rang in my ears, the “rant” struck my senses, the players “did not saw the air too much,” and I knew why.

My original training, in Theatre Arts, should provide a clear answer to my questions about these translated productions.  Good theatre, good productions, good performances should satisfy the quandary. But, since immersing myself in the performance of Shakespeare here, I find that I cannot break those things from the text. From the words. From the arrangement of the words to form verse, to shape rhetorical figures, and to provide clues like embedded stage directions.  Our practice is so engaged with the methods we think Shakespeare and his actors engaged with (see Tiffany Stern’s Rehearsal from Shakespeare to Sheridan, see the American Shakespeare Center’s Actors’ Renaissance Season podcasts, see our current education workshops list), that I don’t know where to begin with the question.  But I would love to start a conversation. Are you an ESL/ELL student who loves (or, for that matter, hates) Shakespeare? Are you fluent in language other than English and have read (or written) translations? Are you a professor in Japan or Taiwan (as some of our Conference attendees are) who is working with students? What are you focused on when you discuss or play with Shakespeare? Do you find that Shakespeare has an influence on Portuguese? Or French? Can you recommend a place for those of us engaged in building a Global network of Shakespeare theatres (including education departments) to go to find a common thread for exploration with our foreign language students and audiences?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and, working with Cass and Kimberly and our fabulous interns, to finding ways to make the work with do with all of our students deeply engaging and illuminating.

–Sarah

“You were inspired to do those duties”: The Amazing Work of ASC Interns

At the American Shakespeare Center, we are fortunate to have a name that attracts people with talent.  Of course, anyone who sees our shows recognizes the talent onstage, and that of the costumers, perhaps even the props person. Some will credit the directors, a few will think about the other artistic staff members: our amazing Associate Artistic Director, the Stage and Tour managers.  What I appreciate more and more, though, as every summer arrives, are the talented interns who come to spend their summers with us.

2013 Intern Elizabeth Floyd (right) at the ASC offices with College Prep Director Kim Newton (left)

2013 Intern Elizabeth Floyd (right) at the ASC offices with College Prep Director Kim Newton (left)

Applications for positions in marketing, development, management, education, and artistic start rolling in as early as September, and our various department heads begin battling for the students most suited to their needs.  We have students from Pennsylvania and from the University of Nebraska, and we’ve welcomed Utahans and Ohioans and folks from as close as JMU.  Conversations in staff meetings turn from “I don’t really have time to take care of that immediately,” to “My intern arrives this week, we can has him/her to take on that project.”  We begin developing long lists of wishes — research, formatting, filing, blogging, tracking — and divvying up tasks amongst departments.  And then, blessedly, they arrive.

In education, we strive to give each intern an over-arching project that is their start-to-finish focus and that meets their career goals.  Then, we add the fateful clause at the tail end of their contract, “And other duties as required.” Oh, that clause. That clause can encompass the interns attending workshops to give us feedback, going to rehearsals to develop ideas for new programming, stuffing envelopes, writing instructions, checking digital text against folio text, and so much more.  That clause, that one clause, is what makes us look forward to the interns’ arrival.  Certainly, we are excited about their projects, about getting to know these smart and talented people who will be leaders in Shakespeare, theatre, arts management, business and elsewhere, but the relief that settles on our staff when we realize that we can actually check some dreams off the list is, as Mastercard says, priceless.

Given that this year is a Blackfriars Conference year, that clause is even more meaningful to me personally.  When we implemented a “blind” reading committee as part of our selection process in 2011, I knew there would be some work involved.  I could not have imagined just how much formatting, futzing, and focusing it would take to actually make this initiative run. But that year, I had Brenna.  She swooped in and took 24 hours worth of headaches off my hands.  This year, Sarah — a wonderful recommendation from our dear friend Carole Levin at UNebraska — is making it possible for me to focus on new initiatives like our Consortium, and on overdue edits for our Playhouse Insider and camp plays, with the knowledge that I will still be able to get the abstracts to my committee on schedule. Ah, breathing. What a thing it is!

Intern Jane Jongeward (right) at the 2011 Blackfriars Conference

Intern Jane Jongeward (rightmost) at the 2011 Blackfriars Conference

We’ve had some wonderful interns over the past several years, and I want to acknowledge each of their contributions and thank them for their work.  I take a great deal of pride in seeing them go on to become professors, run their own theatre companies, direct plays, and, even, intern for other theatres (though that last one is harder).  So, thanks to Kyle, Megan, Liz, Nuri, Carla, Sarah, Sara, Natalie, Amy, Rachel, Elizabeth, Mara, Grace, Maria, Kimberly, Abigail, Kendra, Jessica, Madeleine, Elena, Alex, Emily, Molly, Jane, Lia, Amy, Melissa and anyone I may have missed.  You have transformed our department with your work and we at the ASC are forever grateful to you for picking up those other duties, or, as Shakespeare puts in in Cymbeline, “You were inspired to do those duties…” And you inspired us in so doing.

Some of their comments:

  • Kelley McKinnon was a wonderful supervisor and always was available for questions or concerns. She made me feel welcome in the rehearsal space and welcomed any feedback that I had on what I was observing. The internship also provided a good opportunity to watch the ASC actors through an entire rehearsal process. I was also solicited by the director at times for my feedback on the actor’s character development, which I appreciated because it allowed me to think critically and creatively, as well as make me feel like I was actually a part of the process.
  • I was always treated with respect and support. Interning at the ASC really feels like you are a valued part of the company and that the work you do matters.
  • Everyone in the education department helped and supported me. I hope my own work helped them in some way.
  • I felt like I was a necessary part of the process, and wasn’t just doing busy work.
  • The department was helpful in creating a fun, lively environment. I never felt excluded or patronized, and was thanked every single day after work. I always felt like I was getting things done and making progress, and Jenny and Erin always made me feel like part of the ASC family.
  • I took the internship to see how a theatre ran and what a theatre degree could do for me outside of traditional roles. My time with the ASC has helped me focus on what it is I would like my theatre degree to turn into in the future.
  • The internship helped me develop research, communication, and management skills that will be useful in any field I pursue. When I entered the internship I had limited knowledge of the skills required to complete the internship but I acquired those skills quickly and can apply them to any job. The internship was a learning process that has set me up to succeed in any job I strive to attain.
  • This internship gave me some great experience working with great people that I hope will help me continue to learn how to make connections and pursue work in professional theatre.
  • Incredible opportunity to watch the process of one of the best Shakespeare companies in the country. Would recommend to anyone!
  • The ASC inspired my current career path. In the best of all worlds I will be working for a theatre with similar ideas and goals. Everything I did and/or learned to do I will most likely do again; from the more glamorous tasks, such as doing research or analyzing verse, to the mundane, such as archiving and office moving.

–Sarah

How did I get here?

Do you ever take a look around you, and ask yourself: “Now, how did I get here?” I found myself doing that a lot during the last week of October. The question wasn’t the kind of thing that wakes you in the middle of the night in a cold sweat (though in the weeks leading up to October 25, there were plenty of those). Rather, it was a query of wonder. As I stood in the Blackfriars Playhouse October 25-30, I felt as though I had super-glued rose-colored glasses to the bridge of my nose and couldn’t shake that amazing feeling that comes when one is surrounded (at home, no less) by dear friends (new and old), excellent conversation, amazing scholarship, and the joy of the work of two years coming to fruition in a beautiful way.

Ah, the Blackfriars Conference 2011.

My parents have a difficult time understanding me when I say “I won’t be really available for a few weeks, the conference is coming up.” What, exactly, could be keeping me so busy? To be fair, when we were separated by only 90 miles, as opposed to the 1300+ that divide us now, my life was pretty hectic. In my occupation as a high school Theatre teacher, teaching five classes daily, producing six shows a year, with set-building, costume construction, tech rehearsals, I was never as consumed as I am when Conference time rolls around in the odd-numbered year. It’s different, a different kind of busy – an all-consuming, all-anticipating, all-energizing, and yes, all-exhausting kind of feeling that builds for 24 months and culminates in a week of shared excitement, with faces both new and familiar. And the joy of overhearing as the answer to “How did you get here?” not “Bus, train, car,” but “I heard about it from…” or the even more gratifying “I come every time, wouldn’t miss it.”

My first conference was at its third incarnation in 2005, when I was in my first year in the Masters Program at MBC. Two months into the program, and I found myself in the same room with the authors of my textbooks and all of the articles I was looking up in Shakespeare Quarterly.

Why, hi there, Russ MacDonald (*RUSS MACDONALD?!?!?*). Oh, you’re from Texas, too? How nice to meet you!

Well, hello Tiffany Stern (*TIFFANY STERN!!!!*) I love that skirt.

And over there is Stephen Booth, George Walton Williams, Roz Knutson, Leslie Thomson, Alan Dessen. And some friends no longer with us, Bernice Kliman, Arnie Preussner, and Barbara Palmer, whose absence we have felt with sorrow since our last parting.

I knew, in that moment at my first Early Arrivers’ party, that this place was special. What other grad program gives its students the opportunity to network on their home turf? In this case, the turf of the Blackfriars playhouse, always a space of generosity and intimacy and, for one week in October on odd-numbered years, a space of enviable scholarship and flourishing ideas. How was I lucky enough to get here?

My previous conference experiences were all in my undergrad discipline, Theatre Arts. Those conferences featured more workshops than papers, more seminars than presentations, more off-the-cuff speaking than formal delivery. It was a shock to my system to see people reading from a lectern on the stage. But then, the ASC actors arrived. Their contributions linked the two worlds as no other glue or bridge could. They are proof that seeing is the quickest path to believing, whether one needs to be shown a character or helped to understand a presenter’s thesis. In the years since my first conference, it has been my privilege to work with those talented actors to improve interactions between presenters and their actors, to improve communication, to improve the general affect of the conference. We’ve come a long way, and though I know we still have some way to go toward a perfect system, the coming-together of actors and scholars in the way the Blackfriars Conference encourages makes me exclaim: how did I get here and how long can I stay?

In 2007, 2009, and again in 2011, the Conference gave me the opportunity to work along side my mentor, and, I am glad to say, my friend, Ralph Alan Cohen. When I took over from Sarah Pharis (aka Sarah #1) in 2007, I had big shoes to fill. Sarah’s organizational structure — her daily work flow chart is still the basis for everything that happens behind the scenes — made it possible for me to step in and to help Ralph to achieve his goals: good papers, good friends, good food, good times. It’s not as easy as it sounds. This year, I began to think of it as akin to planning a 6 day party for 250 of my dearest friends. Each hour of each of the 16 hour days just needs to be scheduled with events, food, drink, and plays. I’d just need to contact each of the 100+ presenters, the 50 grad students, the 15 actors, the 5 caterers, and the 5 venues to give them individual instructions for each minute of that time, get the invites and the publicity out, and then make sure everyone feels pampered and loved while they are here. Not so hard. It’s not, really.

Not this year, anyway. For the first time since my 2005 conference (when I was merely a volunteer), I had a full team in place and on board so early with planning and strategizing, that I actually got to watch my friends, both presenters and actors, in every session, and I watched the rest of my friends in the audience enjoying every minute.

How did I get here? Well, for that, I have loads of people to thank. Ralph, for trusting, the ASC actors and artistic staff for being so generous and sharing their talents in the highlight event of each day, Cass, Ben, Christina, Asae, Kim, Anne, bear wrangler Brian, Clara, Paul (Menzer and Rycik), the entire admin staff at ASC, the wonderful box office staff, the artistic staff and actors for making each session and evening performance memorable, the MBC students who exceeded their colleagues at past conferences in both volunteering and contribution of scholarship. They made it look (and feel) easy, and I am tremendously grateful.

Some highlights for me at the 2011 conference included:
• The delicious food at the early arrivers’ party.
• Stephen Booth’s paper on Shakespeare and Audiences.
Go Dog Go, as devised and performed by Chris Johnston, John Harrell, Jeremy West, Dan Kennedy, Greg Phelps, Miriam Donald, and James Keegan.
• Hearing about the new Indoor Theatre in London from Neil Constable (Heck, meeting Neil Constable).
• Bill Gelber’s ‘ A “Ha” in Shakespeare….”
• Ben Curns sleeping onstage (as directed) in Casey Caldwell’s paper (and then using lightening quick reflexes not to knock over the 100 champagne glasses set behind the curtain as he exited).
• Chris Barrett.
• Joe Ricke and Jemma Levy in a morning session to rival all others.
• George T. Wright and James Keegan’s mutual admiration discussion.
• Finding out “Why are there no blowjob jokes in Shakespeare” from Matt Kozusko.
• Beth Burns and the Hidden Room.
• Stuart Hall’s participation, thanks to Brett Sullivan Santry.
• Natasha Solomon and Dan Burrows acting in Bob Hornback’s Renaissance Clowns paper.
• Seeing our Conference Attendees see John Harrell’s Hamlet.
• Our late night shows (wow).
• William Proctor William’s experiment.
• Seeing ASC actors at every paper session (even the EARLY ones).
• Watching worlds come together in Scott Kaiser’s keynote.
• The bear(s).
• Talking teaching.
• Tiff.
• Colloquies.
• Insights on our space in session X.
• The Banquet.
• Doreen Bechtol in everything she did, but especially Lady M as played by Sarah Siddons (pregnant).
• Hamlet Conversation.

And so, a little over a month past the last day of the conference, I have a little time to reflect. A little time to look around at the people I work with, the place I work for, and thank heavens that, however it came to be, I landed here.

What will you remember?

The Tale of the Naughty Spammer

Twelve Months do a Naughty Spammer make

Last summer the American Shakespeare Center hired a new, talented Tour Manager named Darlene. Before coming to the ASC, Darlene worked as an Art Director at a major publisher and spent a semester at a nearby institution of higher education as a Typography professor. Darlene presented herself as professional, thorough, above reproach. Little did she know that, by simply joining the ASC staff, she had started on a pathway to notoriety and repeated email “black-listing.” Several months and 4 new emails addresses later, Darlene is just coming to terms with the precarious moral position her new job has placed her in. Who would have guessed that booking early modern plays with university professors and performing arts centers would lead Darlene to become known as a “Naughty Spammer”? What follows is her story.

12 Months ago

The titles for the Almost Blasphemy tour went to press, and the members of the Shakespeare Association of America, meeting in Chicago, were among the first to see that ASC on Tour would be performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Winter’s Tale, and, the root of all the difficulty, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore. The Shakespeareans were, by all accounts, delighted to hear that this rare John Ford play was to be featured in the ASC’s repertory for 2011-12, many a scholar stopped by our table to express his or her delight and share his or her wish that ASC would bring the show to their campuses.

9 months ago

Darlene joined the ASC staff. She immediately went to work filling in the blank spots left in the upcoming 2010-11Restless Ecstasy tour, featuring Macbeth, As You Like It, and Measure for Measure. These titles shot across the Internet without any problem, and Darlene quickly filled the openings, which enabled her to move onto the pressing demands of booking 2011-12.

6 months ago

Darlene began working in earnest to sell the 2011-12 tour, sending out emails aplenty. Strangely, though, her emails were not reaching the recipients. In case after case, Darlene called to follow-up and spoke to patrons who “never got her email.” Darlene and the IT team (actually, the Director of Education and a contracted tech wizard) tried and tried to figure out why Darlene’s emails weren’t going through. Then, there was a break-through. One of Darlene’s contacts called her to report that the University where the contact works had “black-listed” Darlene. Darlene created a new email address (the second of four), and began sending out emails advertising the plays again. Again, the emails failed to make it to their intended recipients.

3 months ago

After creating a third, and then a fourth email address, Darlene realized that her increasing isolation might have to do with the content of her emails. So, she went on a clean up campaign.

Exhibit A: The text from the original email, and the relevant text from the “clean” version follow:

Naughty:

The American Shakespeare Center on Tour

Now Booking the 2011/2012 “Almost Blasphemy” Tour

The American Shakespeare Center on Tour, the touring arm of the American Shakespeare Center

and the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia, presents three plays on its tour:

______________

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by William Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s theatrical spell is powerful enough to make audiences of all

ages believe in anything. Shakespeare’s ravishing comedy of lovers, heroes, fairies, and

rude mechanicals is his tribute to humankind’s power of imagination.

The Winter’s Tale

by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s magnificent play is a roller-coaster ride from romance to tragedy to comedy

and finally to a place of transcendent beauty that few other works of art have ever gone.

“A sad tale’s best for winter,” says Hermione’s young sonbut after unleashing a wintry tempest

onto his characters, Shakespeare ultimately conjures spring’s miraculous rebirth.

‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore

by John Ford

John Ford’s brilliant re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet leads audiences deep into a story

of passion, lust, vengeance, greed, incest, and murder. After almost 400 years, ‘Tis Pity She’s

a Whore‘s tale of forbidden love remains controversial, shocking, and theatrically spellbinding.

______________

Nice:

The American Shakespeare Center on Tour

Now Booking the 2011/2012 Almost Bl*sphemy Tour…

‘Tis Pity She’s a Wh*re

by John Ford

John Ford’s brilliant re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet leads audiences deep into a story of passion, vengeance, greed and murder. After almost 400 years, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Wh*re’s tale of forbidden love remains controversial, shocking, and theatrically spellbinding.

The moral

By trying to sell Tis Pity She’s a Whore, ASC Tour manager navigated the slippery slope to Naughty Spammer status. What began as an attempt to bring an early modern play to new audiences has ended in four email addresses, multiple black lists and, well, an almost completely sold out tour. If you want to find out what all the fuss is about, maybe you should give Darlene a call and book the tour for your campus. It could be that the email Darlene originally sent never reached you, don’t let Internet censure-ship stop you from booking the ASC on Tour. Oh, do be sure do put darlene@americanshakespearecenter.com (or darlenes@americanshakespearecenter.com or darlene.asc@gmail.com or darleneschneck.asc@gmail.com) on your “protected list” so her emails can get through to you.

Exhibit B:
Facebook conversation about the play title:

Author: Anyone out there have a reaction to the play early modern play title “Tis Pity She’s a Whore”? I just wonder what people think the play might be about just based on the title…

Is that the original Pretty Woman?

Author: ha! ha! That is awesome, K—-. I’m afraid its much more insidious than Pretty Woman–incest, murder, mayhem…la.

Missing subtitle: (‘Cause she’d make a great [insert amusing occupation here]).

Author: ‎: )

‎”That’s my suyster!” – to quote Jonson

M— posted a link to the Lost Plays database and I’m currently compiling a list of the ones I’m having the most fun with, in terms of trying to figure out their plots based on the names alone.

I don’t know, but it is hands down my favorite play.

about a guy who falls in love with a whore and she can’t change her ways???

one of my favorites.

sounds good to me… it must be good

One of my favorite early modern.

Author: good guess, r—. its actually sort of a really screwed up romeo and juliet where those two characters are brother and sister (ewww) and then there is murder and villiany and a heart on a knife.

wow. nasty, odd play though

I got to play Vasques in college. To this date, one of my favorite roles and plays. Incest, revenge, humor, and lots of blood. What’s not to like?

One of my favorite plays! Does that make me all bad?

we put that on in Austin in 2003. A good number of audience members arrived expecting a comedy.

Author: hey M–, who? who did it? how’d it go? just wondering about how one markets this title…when internetisms block the whole “whore” and “incest” bits…

B— F— did. Sadly, the company website is down at the moment, so no lurid copy or gory pictures. But the single most consistent audience response was some variation of “we though this was going to be a comedy” (with “I really want to go take a shower” a close second). It went well. Or maybe it sucked, but we certainly had fun with it, and people seemed to like it. Gasps and audible disgust at all the right places. Great fake heart. Lots of blood.

I think you said it: Incest, Murder, Mayhem…La!

Just as gruesome as Revenger’s Tragedy, which has my current top spot for a Jacobean tragedy.

Before I ever actually read it, I figured it would have something to do with a woman cuckolding her husband. Don’t remember for sure if I thought it was going to be serious or funny.

I LOVE this play! In terms of marketing…how about “The play that closed the theaters” cause I’ve always though this was the one that pushed the Puritans over the edge. Or “Romeo and Juliet with a twist” which will at least let people know to expect a tragedy.

People really should know that “whore”=tragedy. When there are whores in comedy, they turn out to be maids. Or plot devices.

Author: Thanks guys!

(Posted by Cass for Sarah, who wrote the article, but who is en route to the SAA Conference today).