Guest Post: ‘The Sea Voyage’: On Directing a Read Not Dead Staged Reading

During the month of June, ASC Education is featuring the shows of our 2015-2016 Artistic Year in a series of guest posts!

The Sea Voyage appeared in the ASC’s 2016 Actors’ Renaissance Season. James Chalmers is a British actor, director, and producer who has worked with the Globe and the RSC. 


The Sea Voyage: On Directing a Read Not Dead Staged Reading
by James Chalmers

Where to begin? Shakespeare’s Globe kindly asked me to direct, or “co-ordinate,” a reading of The Sea Voyage on August 15th, 2010. Though it has now been some years since the joyous one-off event, the play has very firmly rooted itself in my mind, and I can unequivocally say it is one of the “shows” that I am most proud of having been a part of. I have attempted (through the mists of time and deterioration of grey matter – well a whole five years’ worth at any rate!), to elucidate how we approached this wonderful late Jacobean comedy by Fletcher & Massinger.

Firstly, it is important to understand the setting: The annual Read Not Dead season at Shakespeare’s Globe is a rare but vital beast. Launched in 1995, the annual series of staged readings explores and celebrates the plays performed in London Stages between 1567 and 1642, a repertoire that in playing has become greatly compressed overtime. In the UK, both Shakespeare’s Globe and The Royal Shakespeare Company have admirably dedicated seasons to Jacobean and Caroline plays; however, the number of fully-realised productions have barely made a dint in the canon of some 400 extant plays of this period. The bastion that is Read Not Dead has staged some 200 plays to date.

Shakespeare’s Globe’s website states:

“The ground-rules are simple. Actors are given a script on Sunday morning and work with a director to get the play up on its feet – with entrances and exits, token costume and music if needed. They present it, script in hand, to an audience at 4.00pm.

 These are not intended to be polished productions. There is a shared spirit of adventure, excitement and experimentation for actors and audiences who sense that they might be uncovering a hidden gem.”

For the actor, the motto is “fight or flight,” and barring a cursory glance at the scene in the brief rehearsal period before performance, the real discoveries are made collaboratively as a group through the playing of the piece: the freshness of first impulse, the choices conscious and unconscious. In this unmediated form, without the shackles of imposed interpretation, the free-thinking audience is able to take a draw on the text, like a Gauloises cigarette – unfiltered and maximum strength.

It doesn’t always go according to plan, and sometimes the most wonderful happy accidents occur. I remember some years ago, the actor playing the part of Sencer being “off” for the top of Act 4 Scene 3 of Thomas Heywood’s The Wise Woman of Hoxton. After what seemed an eternity (but was probably only a minute or so of dead stage time) the realisation dawned on the actor that it was his “turn” and he exploded on to the stage with a line gifted beautifully to him in the text, “Now or Never!” You can imagine that this brought the house down!

So wrong, and yet somehow so right.

10 years ago, I had the privilege of working as an actor for the RSC for director Mike Alfreds, whose overarching mantra was that the audience should receive a “freshly cooked meal every night.” With Read Not Dead, the meal is prepared and cooked right before the audience’s very eyes – a veritable iambic teppanyaki – leading to a shared experience of discovery in the moment that heightens the artistic tension or exchange as the rollercoaster of the performance teeters between impending doom and immediate ecstasy.

In his review of the reading, Andy Kesson writes:

“Staged readings make both demands on an actor, requiring them to read as they invent, and the etymological roots of improvisation in the unforeseen and unexpected (Latin, improuisus) reminds us that the modern actor in a staged reading may be nearer than we think to the early modern player with their cue script”

To do this, you need a team of experienced actors with a highly developed sense of classical verse speaking and a finely tuned sensitivity to listening and responding.

So, to the matter in hand. The play starts in action, in the middle of a raging storm on board a boat. Without the luxury of a proper stage (the reading took place in a lecture room whilst construction was taking place on the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse), the challenge became how to open with a “tempest.” (I shall refrain from using this word again as, though often referenced alongside Shakespeare’s play of the same name, I believe the strands of colonialism and commonwealth set The Sea Voyage apart from the magic of, well, the “other’”!)

If you don’t have the budget for special effects wizardry, you should hide in plain sight; if played with conviction, the audience quickly buys in. Armed with rainsticks, thunderboards, and the voice – be it piercing whistle or swelling moan – the company provided a wondrous choric storm. This meant that the actors on the “boat” (delineated by a heavy rope in the shape of a prow, and littered with large sections of heavy cloth to denote broken sails) had to pitch their voices to be heard. This also gives something for the Master to rail against:

Master: We have sprung five leaks, and no little ones.
Still rage! – Besides, her ribs are open,

The missing beat or caesura in the line filled with an appropriate peal of thunder, giving a call and response. For this first scene, I insisted half-lines had to be picked up quickly, and through playing at full tilt added a rhythmic intensity.

To counterpoint this, I asked the actors playing Sebastian and Nicusa to completely undercut the storm in the next scene (ii), insisting they were rooted to the spot through weariness and their own sense of fatalism, and that we should feel through them a suffering through passage of time – such suffering that, when the French encounter them in Sc. iii, they brand them monsters, wretches, ghosts; to be pitied rather than feared.

This weariness of life would mean their internal rhythms would be diminished, and so I gave them a degree of freedom with the half-lines, allowing for suspension through giving the full value pause of the ‘missing line’. This adagio gave a wonderful melancholic tone to the scene.

The Sea Voyage is abundant in half-lines or shared lines; just as Fletcher and Massinger constantly shift focus in the plot, so too do they “gear up or gear down” through the use of the sharing of lines.

One particular example demonstrates the self-perpetuating frenzy as the Surgeon, Morillat, Franville and Lamure prepare their ridiculous cannibalistic onslaught on Aminta:

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Ginna Hoben, John Harrell, and Aiden O’Reilly in rehearsal for The Sea Voyage, 2016. Photo by Jay McClure.

Surgeon:                               Come, gentlemen,
                     Who are for the hinder parts?

Morillat:                                         I.

Franville:                                                 I.

Lamure:                                                      And I.

Surgeon:            Be patient,
They will not fall to every man’s share.

The rising tricolon shows that Franville and Lamure attempt to ‘top’ the proposition of the man before, giving an accelerated rhythm to the moment and providing the Surgeon with the necessary madness to quell.

Stage directions occasionally replace the caesura – ‘She binds his wounds with her hair’; Horns within’; ‘The women draw their bows’; ‘Enter ALBERT, TIBALT and the rest with treasure’ – adding intensity. One moment that I felt demonstrated this well was in Act 2 sc. i, where Aminta tends to Albert’s wounds.

Aminta:                                                Pray give me leave
                        To play the surgeon and bind’em up;
                        The raw air rankles ‘em.

Albert:                                                  Sweet, we want means.

Aminta:                        Love can supply all wants

 She binds his wounds with her hair

Albert:                                                  What have ye done, sweet?

Here the moment between the lines given by the stage direction must be given its full value. We were able to find a suitable hairpiece for the actress playing Aminta that could be “cut off” by a dagger. The actors beautifully played the ceremony of the binding of the wounds, giving the impression of a contract or marriage. We could see the shift in Aminta from the formality Act 1 sc. iii where she addresses Albert as “Noble Captain” and acknowledges his “dear tenderness”, before finishing her speech with:

Aminta:                        So far I am tied and fettered to your service.
                        Believe me, I will learn to love.”

The tenderness and solemnity of the ritual reveals Aminta’s acceptance and love of Albert, leading to her vow:

Aminta:                                                                        O Albert, I offer
                        This sacrifice of service to the altar
                        Of your staid temperance, and still adore it.

When the stage directions cue the hunters’ horns to sound (both times at the midpoint in Albert’s lines), this has the effect of shifting the focus, and the gear change prompts “hope” for survival.

I like to think of these joins between shared lines as “seams,” where sometimes a pause is justified, though it must be active; sometimes a stage direction or action impacts, and sometimes the second line trumps the first, as a new thought supplants the old. The approach to the playing of these “seams” very much helped inform the “music” of the piece in the reading, and provided a key in for the actors to the rhythm of each scene.

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Lauren Ballard in rehearsal for The Sea Voyage, 2016. Photo by Jay McClure.

Another “device” in the text that I asked the actors to respond to was where there was enjambment of the lines – where the phrase and sense of the line carries over the end of the line and is not end-stopped (punctuated with a period, comma, question mark, semi-colon, etc). By surrendering to this, the actors found that there was increased forward animation in these lines, and that gave a greater intensity and urgency to the relevant moments.

As a director of staged readings with the aforementioned time restrictions, these textual clues given in shorthand are what you hope to arm the actors with so that they can key in to each scene, moment by moment, providing a framework of “rules” as a baseline from which they can then feed off of their impulses and truly play. The discovery when watching the performance was that when the actors surrendered to the text and to the “rules of the game,” it punctuated the comedy of the piece. Andy Kesson picked up on one of my favorite moments in his review:

The actor playing Albert [must] enter and collapse, but the actors playing the female characters need to decide not only how to respond but when. In the intimate space of the Nancy Knowles Lecture Theatre, Darcy’s [Albert] entrance forced him between and amongst the women, and their stunned silence followed by Juletta’s exclamation, ‘‘But stay, / What’s here cast o’th’ shore?’’ was a comic revelation.

In contrast to the feeble, impotent Portuguese men on their sterile island, we meet the Portuguese women as they burst forth in pursuit of their quarry – headstrong, attractive and fertile. In the midst of ruminating over Crocale’s erotic dream, a wounded Albert enters and collapses at their feet.

Here I asked the actors playing Juletta and Hippolita to share the experience of the vision that Crocale conjures up through the telling of her dream, so that the silence could be charged. But the timing of the line comes down to the actor’s impulse feeding off of the pulse and rhythm of the piece. I feel it is particularly important in a staged reading that the actors not only render unto, but also render images for the audience. In this moment we (as audience) need to see the creation of the dream in the faces of the actors, and their reactions to the images flashing before their eyes, before they summon up the very thing they speak of.

Costume in staged readings can only ever be suggestive. There simply aren’t the resources and time to assemble a full wardrobe, and doing so would contradict the point of discovery and openness to interpretation. The usual garb for the men is a suit or jacket and white shirt. It is amazing what can be achieved with simple pieces of material,: a bandana for a pirate becomes a sash for a statesmen. The plethora of accessories available at Shakespeare’s Globe (crowns, swords, daggers, bottles, bags of gold, jewels, shrouds, stools (and even for this a Hog on a platter!), well arm the actors to present any piece.

However, I felt it was important to put a little bit of thought into the presentation of the ‘Amazons’ in The Sea Voyage.

Crocale:             But here’s our governess.
                        Now I expect a storm!

The second ‘storm’ of the piece comes in the form of Rosellia – the governess that forbids us/On pain of death the sight and use of men (Act 2. Sc. ii 21-22). With 6-8 pages build up (version dependant) to her entrance, when she did arrive, it was as an unstoppable force of nature as the commander in chief of the tribe. To facilitate the crescendo, it was important thematically to establish the commonwealth of women from the outset.

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Lexie Braverman in rehearsal for The Sea Voyage, 2016. Photo by Jay McClure.

The word “Amazon” for many conjures up a scantily clad siren à la Robert E. Howard, but this image falls short of the mark of capturing the strength of the women in this play. Whilst the men barely survive, the women thrive, and so I wanted to position the commonwealth more inline with the fearlessness of the Dahomey Amazons, an all female regiment, that terrorized Africa for more than 150 years.

To achieve this, I asked that all the actresses playing the Portuguese women come dressed (where possible) in boots and trousers, not skirts, as if they were on expedition in the jungle or were contestants on a survival show. This gave an effective uniformed appearance, a sense of order and strength, and again, the ever-so-handy pieces of material were used to great effect as headbands or headscarves to heighten the feeling of militia.

When Rosellia did appear, it was as a force to be feared, respected, and reckoned with.

That, as they say is that. Bar picking out clues in the text, determining mostly minimal costume, and working out entrances and exits, a director can achieve little else in the 4-5 hour rehearsal period. The rest is with the actors and their ability to respond instinctively to the play.

Shifting and unpredictable narratives, with a heavy underscore of rhetoric, are a mainstay for Fletcher and Massinger as they keep us at bay from second-guessing the plot, and the pendulum swings between romance and farce, through the many happy and convenient coincidences. Characters betray their own convictions when challenged with new circumstances; allegiances are complex: they form, break, and reform; and running through the core of the narrative is love and romance leading to the final resolution that leaves us on a high note proving that the Beatles were right after all: “All You Need is Love.”

The Sea Voyage is like a rollercoaster: the joy is found in surrendering yourself to the ride. I truly hope you enjoy this remarkable piece.

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Patrick Midgley in rehearsal for The Sea Voyage, 2016. Photo by Jay McClure.

References
Andy Kesson (2011) Review of Fletcher and Massinger’s The Sea Voyage
(co-ordinated by James Chalmers for the Read Not Dead Series, Globe Education), Nancy W. Knowles Lecture Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, 15 August 2010, Shakespeare, 7:3, 358-360, DOI: 10.1080/17450918.2011.589068

*Editor’s Note: The ASC’s own Staged Reading series was born out of the Globe’s Read Not Dead series. Join us next year for The True Chronicle of King Leir and His Three Daughters, George a Greene, and Antonio and Mellida.

 

Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords — Preview #4

Before I begin today’s itinerant interlude, a note: We do still have a few slots open, so if you’re enticed by what you’ve been reading on the blog, register now to join us in England in July!

Cambridge University is the second-oldest university in England, founded in 1209 by scholars who fled Oxford University in the wake of a dispute with the townsfolk there. Until the 1820s, Cambridge and Oxford were the only universities in England — unusual for a Western European country. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, the universities featured prominently (along with the printing press in London) in the development of humanism and the classical revival. Education was conducted in Latin and focused on the seven classical liberal arts — grammar, logic, rhetoric, math, music, astronomy, and geometry — along with history, philosophy, ethics, and poetry. While Shakespeare never attended university, many of his contemporaries did — including Christopher Marlowe, an alumnus of Christ’s College at Cambridge.

Playmaking had its place at the university, too, as Shakespeare mentions in Hamlet.

Hamlet. No, nor mine now. My lord, you play’d once i’ th’ university, you say?
Polonius. That did I, my lord, and was accounted a good actor.
Hamlet. What did you enact?
Polonius. I did enact Julius Caesar; I was kill’d i’ th’ Capitol; Brutus kill’d me.
Hamlet. It was a brute part of him to kill so capital a calf there. Be the players ready.
Much of our information about early modern theatre comes not from the public playhouses but from the universities, as they were often better at preserving documents, including scripts and actors’ parts.

We’ll begin our scholastic sojourn at King’s College, founded by King Henry VI — subject of three of Shakespeare’s plays — in 1441. Famous alumni of King’s include Robert Walpole (the first British Prime Minister), Alan Turing, John Maynard Keynes, George Santayana, and many famous writers, including Salman Rushdie, E. M. Forster, and Zadie Smith.

2016-03-31With its enormous fan vault, stained-glass windows, and elaborate wooden chancel screen, the King’s College Chapel is one of the finest examples of English Gothic architecture. King Henry VI began work on the chapel in 1446. Construction was slowed, however, and eventually halted by the Wars of the Roses. When King Henry was deposed in 1461, the walls were only half-finished. King Richard III resumed construction during his short reign, stating that “the building should go on with all possible despatch.” Henry VII took up the job in 1508. Each time construction restarted, builders had to use stone from a different source, resulting in a visible line between the older, lighter stone and the newer, darker stone (much like that we Americans are familiar with on the Washington Monument).

The interior of the chapel was finally completed under King Henry VIII, who added the wooden screen in celebration of his marriage to Anne Boleyn. To put their own stamp — quite literally — on a project begun by a deposed predecessor, Henrys VII and VIII added Tudor rose embellishments throughout the chapel. Be sure to look for these during our visit!

Our collegiate tour continues at the Wren Library of Trinity College. Though founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII, Trinity’s importance stretches for centuries both before and after. Henry VIII actually formed Trinity out of two older schools: King’s Hall, founded by Edward II, and Michaelhouse, a smaller and less wealthy school. Today, at over 1000 undergraduates, grad students, and fellows, Trinity is the largest college at either Oxford or Cambridge. Alumni include Francis Bacon (once a popular focus of Shakespeare authorship conspiracies), Isaac Newton, John Dryden, Lord Byron, several Prime Ministers, a host of Nobel Prize winners, and HRH The Prince of Wales. Much of the famous architecture dates to the late 17th-century, including that of the Wren Library, designed by Christopher Wren. Those of you who were with us in 2013 saw St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, also designed by Wren (and Virginians may be familiar with his work here in America, as the oldest building at the College of William and Mary is also his design).

The Wren Library boasts over 1250 medieval manuscripts and over 70,000 books printed before 1800, including an eighth-century manuscript of the Epistles of St. Paul, a 14th-century manuscript of The Vision of Piers Plowman, Isaac Newton’s 1659-1661 notebook and a first edition of his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, where he set out his laws of motion and gravity, and the Capell collection of early Shakespeare quartos.

Newton Apple Tree

Speaking of Isaac Newton: not only was he an alumnus of Trinity College, but a tree on its grounds is said to be the one which inspired his theory of gravity (or a grafted descendant of the original arboreal muse). Unfortunately, the story is apocryphal, as Newton was likely not living in Cambridge, but in Lincolnshire at the time of his inspiration — but, as Shakespeare knew, sometimes true history needs a little legendary embellishment! The tree is located beneath the window where Newton lived and studied while he was at Trinity.

University life wasn’t, however, all work and no play. Students had a less-than-glorious reputation in the early modern era. Various plays of the period portray university students as profligate spendthrifts, always writing home for money, and as drunken debauchers, enjoying a life of little restriction, far from their homes. Shakespeare tells us as much through Vincentio in The Taming of the Shrew, who laments:

“While I play the good husband at home, my son and my servant spend all at the university.”

Some early modern writers also noted the pompous airs that university students put on, as in Thomas Middleton’s A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, where Tim, recently returned from Cambridge, disdainfully insists his mother call him ‘Timotheus’. He gets comeuppance for his snobbery when he speaks in Latin to his intended wife, the Welsh Gentlewoman (actually a knight’s cast-off mistress), who, thinking he cannot speak English, tries speaking back to him in Welsh, and whereupon he takes her for “a good scholar.”

DSC07031-1We’ll have a taste of traditional Cambridge entertainment when we go punting on the Cam. If you were with us in 2013, you’ll remember our adventure on the Isis at Oxford (picture at left). From what I gather, the River Cam is wider, shallower, and boasts far fewer obstacles in the way of overhanging trees and snarled underwater thickets.

Cambridge will be the last stop of our trip, and we’ll cap the day off with a fine feast of which any starving undergraduate would be envious.

Next time on the NKSC Preview: Northumberland, home of Hotspur and Hadrian’s Wall.

And remember — you can still register to join us!

Podcast Archive: 2015

2015 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2015 Spring Season

Podcast Archive: 2014

2014 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2014 Spring Season

2014 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

Summer/Fall 2014 Playhouse Insider: On Sale Now!

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

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

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

Podcast Archives: 2012

2012 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2012 Spring Season

2012 Summer and Fall Seasons

Podcast Archives: 2011

2011 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2011 Spring Season

2011 Summer and Fall Seasons

Podcast Archives: 2010

2010 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2010 Spring Season

2010 Summer and Fall Seasons

 

Podcast Archives: 2009

2009 Actors’ Renaissance Season

2009 Spring Season

2009 Summer and Fall Seasons