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.

VOYAGE-40

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.

 

“Forced to write for Bread and not ashamed to owne it”: The Life of Aphra Behn

England’s first professional female playwright was a member of the royal court, a spy for England, a personal friend of some of the greatest actors and courtiers of the Restoration, and an inspiration to future generations of literary women. She was also a commoner, from humble origins, who wrote not as a hobby but for an income. Her historical record begins for certain in 1666, when she served King Charles II as a spy in Antwerp during the Second Anglo-Dutch Warm recruited as Agent 160, code-named Astrea. Behn incurred great debt while working abroad – a financial difficulty made more dire by the King’s neglect in paying her for her services. Charles was notoriously slow in such matters, and Behn may have served time in debtor’s prison while waiting for him to come through for her.Aphra_Behn

In 1670, with Charles’s still neglecting his accounts payable, Aphra turned to writing to keep herself fed and out of prison. Working with the Duke’s Company, managed by William Davenant, her plays were immediately popular and financial successes. Behn produced roughly one play a year until 1682, when the merging of the Duke’s Company with the King’s Company reduced the profit available to her from playwrighting. Thereafter, Behn took to writing poetry and narrative fiction, including one of the English language’s first epistolary novels.

Behn’s most famous and most enduring play was The Rover, or, The Banish’d Cavaliers. The “Mrs. Gwin” who played Angellica Bianca at the first performance is likely a special appearance by the famous Nell Gwyn, by then retired from the stage and living full-time as a royal mistress. Elizabeth Barry, who played Hellena, was the lover of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester — one of the king’s closest friends and the likely inspiration for the character of Willmore, the “rover” of the title. Set in Naples, the play features a group of gallants wooing and carousing their way through the subversive festivities of Carnival. Captain Willmore becomes entangled in a love triangle between the famous courtesan Angellica Bianca and Hellena, a young woman determined to find love before her brother ships her off to a convent. Willmore’s friend Belvile falls in love with Hellena’s sister, Florinda, who is promised in marriage to a friend of her brother’s, while the foolish Blunt becomes convinced that the thieving prostitute Lucetta is madly in love with him. As Carnival was a masking holiday in Italy (Behn seems to have conflated the more popularly known traditions of Venice into her setting of Naples), many confusions of identity and intentional deceptions drive the action of the play. Such misadventures of love and money were common in the Restoration, as they popular then as they had been in the earlier theatres of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.

While in many ways, the play is a light-hearted, frothy romp, it also hints at the darker side of the Restoration’s libertine atmosphere. Though the women in the play are witty and active characters, Behn presents them as still dominated by their economic circumstances. Their primary value is in their bodies, whether for prostitution or for marriage, and The Rover blurs the distinction between the two types of exchange. While the high-born Florinda and Hellena are eager to experience sexual freedom, typically denied to ladies of their class, the courtesan Angellica Biance aspires to exclusivity. When Willmore chastises Angellica Bianca for the high price she charges for her favors, she retorts that men are just as bad in assigning monetary value to sex and love:

Pray, tell me, Sir, are not you guilty of the same mercenary Crime? When a Lady is proposed to you for a Wife, you never ask, how fair, discreet, or virtuous she is; but what’s her Fortune — which if but small, you cry — She will not do my business — and basely leave her, tho she languish for you. — Say, is not this as poor? (The Rover, 2.2)

The Rover’s juxtaposition of different female archetypes may be a commentary on some of the Restoration-era courtesans and courtiers who attempted to break out of the virgin/wife/whore mold in some way or another, with mixed success. Common-born women like Moll Davis and Nell Gwynne, famous mistresses of aristocrats and King Charles, may have appeared to enjoy sexual freedom, but in fact spent a lot of energy converting that sexual power into something more tangible and protective – money, houses, or titles, for themselves or for their children. Sexual expression for its own sake was more likely to lead to a downfall. The nobly-born Barbara Villiers, created Countess of Castlemaine and later Duchess of Cleveland, was a mistress of Charles II who enjoyed great favor from the king, but who also had to marry a lesser man for the sake of appearances. Frances Stuart, on the other hand, famously refused to become the king’s mistress, and subsequently had to elope in order to be able to marry at all. Anita Pacheco remarks on The Rover‘s reflection of the women’s social circumstances and sexual worth during the Restoration:

Critics have often remarked that in Aphra Behn’s The Rover, ladies act like whores and whores like ladies. On this level, the play presents a dramatic world dominated by the two principal patriarchal definitions of women, but in which the boundary separating one category from the other has become blurred. In the case of both Florinda, the play’s quintessential “maid of quality,” and the prostitute Angellica Bianca, the role reversals arise out of contrasting bids to move from subjection into subjectivity. … Before the obligatory happy ending, Florinda faces three attempted rapes that are not called rape, but seduction, retaliation, or ‘ruffling a harlot’: in presuming to make her own sexual choices, she enters a world where the word ‘rape’ has no meaning. Angellica Bianca’s subject position is shown to involve a complex complicity in the same cultural legitimation of male sexual aggression.

As Behn herself knew well, being a woman in Restoration England was often a no-win situation, for all the supposed liberty brought by the King’s return, and The Rover may well have been intended to call attention to that dichotomy.

Though there had certainly been other female writers in England, Aphra Behn was the first to earn a living by the public production and publishing of her works. As she stated in the preface to her 1678 play Sir Patient Fancy, she was “forced to write for Bread and not ashamed to owne it.” Though mocked by contemporaries and later critics for the bawdiness of her works and her supposedly masculine style, Behn had the support of writers like John Dryden and Nahum Tate, and her influence encouraged other female dramatists, including Susanna Centlivre, an early favorite at Drury Lane (and author of upcoming Staged Reading A Bold Stroke for a Wife). When Behn died in 1689, she was buried in Westminster Abbey, with a marking stone in Poets’ Corner, near the graves of Chaucer, Spenser, and Davenant – an unusual honor for a woman at the time. Her memorial reads “Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be Defence enough against Mortality.” Perhaps not – but as her enduring legacy ensures, mortality itself is not enough to kill a wit as sparkling as Aphra Behn’s.

–Cass Morris, Academic Resources Manager

This blog post was adapted out of an article for the upcoming Winter/Spring 2015 issue of the Playhouse Insider. Get your copy in the Box Office or online starting in February, and see The Rover starting today at the Blackfriars Playhouse!

“‘Tis more difficult to Save than ’tis to Kill”

Nahum Tate’s 1681 adaptation of King Lear is somewhat infamous among Shakespeare scholars and enthusiasts. This 1681 revision turns the tragedy into a history, eliminates the King of France in order to manufacture a love story between Cordelia and Edgar, gives Edmund nefarious sexual intentions (as though he didn’t have enough of those already), restores Lear to his throne, and drops the Fool from the play entirely. Preparing Tate’s Lear for our Staged Reading series has gotten me thinking about this play’s tattered reputation — is the ridicule and mockery really so deserved?454px-LearTate

I think a little historical perspective here helps. I’m always surprised to remember that this was such an early adaptation, since the constructed happy ending smacks so much of the Bowdlerization of the Victorian era. The Restoration, though, had plenty of its own theatrical quirks. Parliament had closed the theatres in 1642, objecting to them on the grounds that they propagated vice and deception (after all, what do actors do besides stand up there and lie about who they are for two hours?). The playhouses would not re-open until Charles II’s reclaiming of the throne in 1660. Thereafter, the most popular plays were comedies featuring witty lovers, and considering the restrictive and culturally confined atmosphere that England was rising out of, this is hardly a surprising preference. Restoration theatres did revive Shakespeare’s plays, but judging by Samuel Pepys’s Diaries, a series of social observations written throughout the 1660s, companies favored his comedies over his tragedies, and by the latter part of Charles II’s reign, plays by new authors increasingly crowded out the pre-Cromwellian offerings. Shakespeare was not viewed in such rarefied fashion as he is now, but simply as one of many playwrights whose works had merit, but wanted revision in order to suit the tastes of new audiences, nearly a century removed from the original staging of the plays.

Tate’s own words explicate this mindset, giving justification for his emendations in his introductory epistle in the 1681 printing of the modified play:

Sir,

You have a natural Right to this Piece, since, by your Advice, I attempted the Revival of it with Alterations. Nothing but the Power of your Perswasion, and my Zeal for all the Remains of Shakespear, cou’d have wrought me to so bold an Undertaking. […] ‘Twas my good Fortune to light on one Expedient to rectifie what was wanting in the Regularity and Probability of the Tale, which was to run through the whole A Love betwixt Edgar and Cordelia, that never chang’d word with each other in the Original. This renders Cordelia‘s Indifference and her Father’s Passion in the first Scene probable. It likewise gives Countenance to Edgar‘s Disguise, making that a generous Design that was before a poor Shift to save his Life. The Distress of the Story is evidently heightned by it; and it particularly gave Occasion of a New Scene or Two, of more Success (perhaps) than Merit. This Method necessarily threw me on making the Tale conclude in a Success to the innocent distrest Persons: Otherwise I must have incumbred the Stage with dead Bodies, which Conduct makes many Tragedies conclude with unseasonable Jests. Yet was I Rackt with no small Fears for so bold a Change, till I found it well receiv’d by my Audience; and if this will not satisfie the Reader, I can produce an Authority that questionless will. Neither is it of so Trivial an Undertaking to make a Tragedy end happily, for ’tis more difficult to Save than ’tis to Kill: The Dagger and Cup of Poyson are alwaies in Readiness; but to bring the Action to the last Extremity, and then by probable Means to recover All, will require the Art and Judgment of a Writer, and cost him many a Pang in the Performance. 

I have one thing more to Apologize for, which is, that I have us’d less Quaintness of Expression even in the newest Parts of this Play. I confess ’twas Design in me, partly to comply with my Author’s Style to make the Scenes of a Piece, and partly to give it some Resemblance of the Time and Persons here Represented. This, Sir, I submit wholly to you, who are both a Judge and Master of Style. Nature had exempted you before you went Abroad from the Morose Saturnine Humour of our Country, and you brought home the Refinedness of Travel without the Affectation. Many Faults I see in the following Pages, and question not but you will discover more; yet I will presume so far on your Friendship, as to make the Whole a Present to you, and Subscribe my self

Your obliged Friend
and humble Servant,

N. Tate.

Tate’s revisions played up to what Restoration audiences wanted to see — love triumphant, and a monarch rightfully restored to his throne. It’s also well worth noting that Tate’s adaptation was wildly popular — so much so that it virtually replaced the original Lear until well into the 19th century. From the 1740s on, various productions would add back some Shakespeare or contribute more new material, but it wasn’t until 1823 that a company dared perform the original Shakesepare — and then, it wasn’t well-received. Only towards the end of the Victorian era did the early modern version of the play re-assume its dominance. The biggest problem for Tate, ultimately, isn’t that he altered the story — it’s that he kept so much of the original. Placing his verse alongside of Shakespeare’s necessitates comparison, and that doesn’t work out well in Tate’s favor from a critical perspective, though audiences across three centuries enjoyed it anyway. Indeed, the internecine clash between scholars and practitioners may well date to Tate, as he received criticism from the onset for altering Shakespeare’s verse, for undercutting the tragedy of Lear’s death, for weakening Cordelia’s character by burdening her with a love story, and for the overall sentimentality of the piece.

Ironically for those critics who cry for authenticity, Tate’s Lear is actually closer in some regards to the original story of Leir from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Brittaniae, where the king does defeat Goneril and Regan to recover his throne. He rules for three years until his death, at which point Cordelia takes the crown. Cordelia would, in turn, be overthrown by her nephews, the grown sons of her deceased sisters, who would divide the kingdom between themselves before devolving into civil war (profitable ground for a sequel, in my opinion).

So, does Tate deserve the mockery of the modern age? Or has history unfairly maligned him? In a few weeks, you can decide for yourself if the play has, as Tate himself allowed, “perhaps more success than merit”. The Staged Reading of The History of King Lear, Reviv’d with Alterations by Nahum Tate will take the stage of the Blackfriars Playhouse on March 16th at 7:30pm.

ASC Education in 2014

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

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

ASC Education in 2013

As we wrap up another great year at the American Shakespeare Center, we’re gearing up to offer even bigger and better programming in 2013 (and beyond). Here’s a sneak peek at what we’ll be bringing you over the next twelve months:

  • The No Kidding Shakespeare Camp: London Edition: This adventure is something we’ve been wanting to do for several years now. Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, drawing on his experience founding JMU’s Studies Abroad program and leading overseas trips for many years. This program will focus on Shakespeare’s London and the theatrical joys of the modern city. Highlights will include the Globe Theatre, the Museum of London, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Regent’s Park, walking tours of important neighborhoods, a day trip to Oxford, and visits to some of London’s finest pubs. Registration is now open, and we would love for you to join us next summer.
  • From Class to Cast: 2013 Summer Teacher Seminar: With NKSC heading overseas, we’re expanding our Summer Teacher Seminar to a three-day adventure in the mechanics of putting together a play in your classroom. From cutting, doubling, and casting to costume considerations to the language work that forms the basis of all of the ASC’s productions, we will walk teachers through some techniques to get Shakespeare’s plays up on their feet and into their students’ bodies.
  • The 7th Blackfriars Conference: Our biennial celebration of Shakespeare, his contemporaries, and the early modern theatrical world will take place 23-27 October 2013. The gathering will honor George Walton Williams IV and will include keynote addresses from Russ McDonald, Ann Thompson, and Peter Holland, among others. Registration and Abstract Submission are now open.
  • Conferences: Members of ASC Education will make appearances at the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference and at Shakespeare Works When Shakespeare Plays at UC-Davis in January, at the Shakespeare Association of America conference in April.
  • Even more new and improved ASC Study Guides: In 2013, our Lulu offerings will expand to include Othello and The Merry Wives of Windsor, with mini-guides on All’s Well That Ends Well and Henry IV, Part 1. I’ll also be updating As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet with some fresh new activities.
  • More Education Artists — meaning more programming for you: Sarah and I spent a week in December training and auditioning new Education Artists, and once they are settled in, they’ll be helping us out with workshops, Little Academes, Educational Residencies, Leadership Programming, and much more. Together, we will welcome colleges from all over the country to the Blackfriars Playhouse, including old friends from James Madison University, the Federal Executive Institute, Grove City College, the University of South Dakota, Indiana Wesleyan, and International Paper. Remember, we also take this show on the road with Leadership Programming in Germany and more residencies on the books in 2013.
  • A plethora of pre-show entertainment: Our Dr. Ralph Presents Lectures and Inside Plays Workshops will begin again in just a few weeks with insights into the plays of the Actors’ Renaissance Season. Join us select Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the year at 5:30pm to brush up your knowledge of old favorites or to get an introduction to unfamiliar works. Podcasts of these lectures and our Actor-Scholar Councils will also be available to further enhance your play-viewing pleasure.
  • Slightly Skewed Shakespeare: The 2013-2014 Staged Reading series will feature works that are familiar yet off-kilter, almost-but-not-quite the Shakespearean plays you love and recognize. Join us for the First Quarto of Romeo and Juliet, the forgery Vortigern and Rowena, Nahum Tate’s infamous adjustment of King Lear, and the anonymous history The Famous Victories of Henry the Fifth.
  • ASC Theatre Camp: This year’s campers will explore Pericles, As You Like It, Richard II, The Taming of the Shrew, John Fletcher’s The Wild Goose Chase, and Ben Jonson’s Volpone. Registration is now open.
  • Student Matinees: In 2013, we’ll be offering nine titles: Julius Caesar and Henry VIII in the Actors’ Renaissance Season, Twelfth Night and Love’s Labour’s Lost in the Spring Season, Romeo and Juliet, All’s Well That Ends Well, and Troilus and Cressida in the Fall Season, and A Christmas Carol in the Holiday Season, with a special preview of Spring 2014’s Othello.
A very happy New Year to you all — we look forward to seeing you at the Blackfriars Playhouse in 2013!

Adventures in Dramaturgy: Patterns in History

Having completed this year’s Study Guides, I am now neck-deep in dramaturgical work — and happy as the proverbial clam about it. Dramaturgy is particularly important when the play is itself a historical one, not only for the context of the history depicted, but also for the early modern context in which the author was writing. The actors need to know how their characters relate to each other, what the story of the play covers, and what conflations, adjustments, or flat-out errors there might be in the playwright’s version of events, but it may also be helpful to know what societal and cultural conditions the playwright might have been reacting to — or contributing to. Knowing what broader conversation the play might have been a part of in its own day can help actors to tell the story most effectively to a modern audience.

The past two weeks, I have been working simultaneously on the packets for the upcoming Actors’ Renaissance Season’s Julius Caesar and for the Staged Reading of Edmund Ironside. Though these both involve similar kinds of research pertaining to historical events, primary documents, and chains of cause-and-effect, they’ve been quite different experiences for me based on my level of familiarity with the periods involved. As I am half a classicist, researching Julius Caesar has been a dream — going back to Plutarch, Appian, and Suetonius is like visiting old friends, and since I mostly have the storyline set in my memory, compiling the packet has been more a task of confirming my sources and pulling juicy quotes out of them.

Researching Edmund Ironside, however, drew me into a period of history I did not previously know that much about: the late-10th and early-11th century, in the decades leading up to the arrival of William the Conqueror. Even in my medieval history courses in undergrad, it’s something that tends to get skipped over between the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Plantagenets. We get a brief nod to the various invading tribes, a mention of Alfred the Great “unifying” England (though it had an appalling tendency to fall right back apart again), and then we skip merrily on to the Norman Conquest. The Danelaw was something I had seen on maps but never really understood, and the transmission of the crown remained incredibly murky. I had a lot further to go on my own knowledge of the background to this play before I could convey any of it usefully to actors.

Primary sources from this period are few and far between, so I couldn’t jump to those as readily as I could for Julius Caesar, and even secondary sources are less easy to get one’s hands on. I found I was able to rely on two excellent podcasts: The History of England and Rex Factor (both of which I can highly recommend to any English history enthusiasts). Leaning on their guidance, I was able to sort out this series of events leading up to the events of Edmund Ironside:

  • Edgar the Peaceful of the House of Wessex reigns over the Kingdom of England for sixteen years. He re-conquers the Danelaw, a section of England long held by the Danish, and manages to unite England under Anglo-Saxon rule. 
  • Upon his death, his nobles quarrel over which of his sons, Edward or Aethelred, should succeed. Though Edward was older, he was possibly illegitimate and Aethelred’s mother was perceived as Edgar’s “true wife”. 
  • Edward manages to seize power and is crowned by two archbishops. His reign is marked by famine and “manifold disturbances”. 
  • Edward gets himself murdered in 978, for reasons that are unclear. It is possible that Queen Aelfthryth, Aethelred’s mother, helped in the plot. 
  • Younger brother Aethelred takes over, possibly only about 12 years old at the time. 
  • In 980, Danish raiders start raiding the English coast. 
  • Over the next decade, they win more territory and crush the English armies at the Battle of Maldon in 991. Aethelred then begins paying Denmark tribute. 
  • Aethelred marries Aelgifu, daughter of the Earl of Northumbria. They have ten children; the most important son will be Edmund, later called Ironside, third-born. 
  • Peace lasts for a few years, but in 997, the raiding starts up again, and in 1001, a large Danish fleet lands in southeastern England.
  • In 1002, Aethelred orders a massacre of all Danes in England – despite not having control of nearly a third of the country at that time. The King of Denmark at this time was Sweyn Forkbeard, and his sister was killed during the massacre, prompting his full-scale invasion of England. 
  • Aethelred marries Emma of Normandy (linking the English throne for the first time to the Dukes of Normandy). They have three children: Edward, Aelfred, and Goda. 
  • Over the next several years, the Danes re-establish the Danelaw, and in 1013, they overwhelm the English entirely, forcing Aethelred into exile in Normandy. 
  • Sweyn dies suddenly in 1014. 
  • Danish lords immediately swear allegiance to his son Canute (though only in England; his older brother Harald became King of Denmark), but the English noblemen begin work to restore Aethelred. 
  • Aethelred launches a counter-offensive against Canute and his allies, and within two months of his father’s death, Canute withdraws from England to avoid open war. 
  • In 1015, Aethelred’s son Edmund Ironside rebels against his father and sets himself up in control of the former Danelaw – where the people had come to hate both Aethelred and Canute equally. 
  • Canute goes on to conquer most of the rest of England. 
  • Edmund rejoins his father to defend London shortly before Aethelred dies in 1016. 
  • Edmund and Canute declare open war.

Not to spoil something that happened nearly a thousand years ago, but Canute eventually prevails. Twenty years later, however, control of the English crown ended up reverting back to the Saxon descendants of old Aethelred, simply because they ran out of qualified Danes. The dynastic victory was short-lived, however; Edward the Confessor (an overly pious and weak-willed king who would set the form for Richard II and Henry VI) did not have issue of his own and failed to specify an heir. The Saxon Earls of Wessex seized control based off of an ambiguous gesture the dying king may or may not have made, supposedly indicating Harold Godwinson as his heir. Edward had feared that family’s power, however, and had not liked Earl Godwin personally, and so had spent much time cultivating relationships in Normandy, where he had grown up in exile. Duke William felt sure that Edward had intended the crown for him — and thus began the invasion which marks the start of English history as most of us know it.

At the heart of all of this is a succession problem — something that plagued the English time and again. We tend to look back at history through a filter, and what several centuries of more-or-less unchallenged succession have taught us is that the oldest son of the king gets to be king when Dad dies — and if there’s no son, then it’s the oldest daughter. Simple and straightforward. But this wasn’t always the case, and the English had to spend a few hundred years sorting out how their succession would work. The Germanic tradition, which caught on in much of Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire, was to divide property more or less equally between all of one’s sons, and to dower daughters accordingly, so that they would take property with them to their husbands. This splitting, recombining, and sub-splitting of property is how the Holy Roman Empire ended up its hundreds of kingdoms and fiefdoms, and how the prolific French kings were frequently ending up with more Ducs-royales than they knew what to do with.

In English succession, well into the 15th century, might tended to make right. The tradition capped off by Henry Tudor had its roots here, centuries earlier. English law’s ambiguity on this matter had led to trouble again and again: Aethelred and Edward the Confessor created similar problems to those of Henry I (when his male heir died unexpectedly and he tried to leave the kingdom to his daughter Matilda, his nobles rebelled and chose his nephew Stephen instead, leading to a decades-long civil war), Henry II (you can see his troubles on-stage in The Lion in Winter), Edward III (his male heir died, and no one quite seemed certain if it should pass to his young grandson or to an adult, capable son), Henry V (died young, leaving his 9-month-old son King, with a host of bickering uncles ready to fight for control), and Henry VIII (had trouble conceiving a male heir, had to change the entire course of English religion in order to get one). The cycles repeat themselves in almost alarmingly similar patterns.

As Elizabeth Tudor entered her dotage with no direct heir-apparent, the future of England was again uncertain, as it had been so many times in the past. The English populace was restless, and not without cause, particularly for those who knew their history. During this period, a spate of plays crop up dealing with previous iterations of the succession crisis, perhaps reflective of London’s mood towards the end of the 1590s. Edmund Ironside fits in nicely to the set, focusing not only on the importance of designating a clear heir, but with the added bonus of using patriotic themes to emphasize the need to pick one without too many troublesome continental entanglements. It’s interesting to me to be looking at these plays and these historical cycles now as an American. We may not have issues of primogeniture or hereditary succession to worry about, but we’re definitely currently concerned with the succession of control of our government.

This Sunday, October the 28th, you can see two succession-oriented plays on stage at the Blackfriars Playhouse: come for the 2pm matinee of King John and stay for the 7:30pm Staged Reading of Edmund Ironside. The Staged Reading is Pay-What-You-Will and open to the public, so we hope to see you there!

ASC Education in 2012-2013

The announcement is officially out, the Facebook Jeopardy game is complete, and that means I can share ASC Education’s plans for the upcoming year. If you’ve missed the information elsewhere, here’s the American Shakespeare Center artistic line-up for 2012-2013:

Summer
The Merchant of Venice
The Lion in Winter, by James Goldman
The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Fall
Cymbeline
King John
The Merchant of Venice
The Lion in Winter, by James Goldman
The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Holiday
A Christmas Carol
Santaland Diaries
, by David Sedaris
The 12 Dates of Christmas, by Ginna Hoben

Actors’ Renaissance
Julius Caesar
The Country Wife
, by William Wycherly
Henry VIII
The Custom of the Country
, by Francis Beaumont & Philip Massinger
Two Noble Kinsmen

Spring/Tempt Me Further Tour
Twelfth Night
Love’s Labour’s Lost
The Duchess of Malfi
, John Webster

What does this mean for Shakespeare Education at the ASC? For a start, throughout the year, we’ll be offering Student Matinees of The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Cymbeline, A Christmas Carol, Julius Caesar, Henry VIII, Twelfth Night, and Love’s Labour’s Lost. To complement these opportunities to bring your students to the Playhouse, I’ll be preparing brand-new full-length Study Guides for The Merchant of Venice, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Twelfth Night, as well as revising (and, quite possibly, adding to) last year’s Julius Caesar guide. I will also produce mini-guides for Cymbeline, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and Henry VIII.

We will, again, have four Teacher Seminars in the 2012-2013 season. On August 10th, we’ll be looking at that perennial curriculum favorite, Romeo and Juliet (for which I will also be producing a full-length Study Guide), where both the construction of the language and the complex interplay of comedy and tragedy provide many opportunities for exploration. Our Fall Seminar, September 14th-16th, will focus on The Merchant of Venice and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I’m excited to tackle the challenge of these two off-kilter comedies, from the racial tensions in Merchant to the troubled ending of Two Gents. Both plays are full of emotionally charged moments, opportunities for audience contact, and clever, fast-paced language, all of which make wonderful fodder for teachers. As we did in 2011 with The Comedy of Errors, we will be linking these non-curriculum plays with their more-frequently-assigned cousins, in order to provide teachers with the greatest opportunity to incorporate staging with study. We also champion these plays as ideal for teachers who are tired of always retreading the same material. The Merchant of Venice and The Two Gentlemen of Verona will provide intrepid educators with a new, invigorating approach to Shakespeare’s word- and stagecraft.

Our Winter Seminar, February 2nd-3rd 2013, will focus on Julius Caesar, a play I can never get enough of and can’t wait to return to. That play features so prominently two of my favorite things to talk about: rhetoric and audience contact. Those two elements define Caesar for me, more than anything else, and they provide wonderful avenues for making the play exciting for students. Our Spring Seminar, April 12th-14th 2013, will focus on Twelfth Night: frothy fun with some dark undercurrents. I look forward to reawakening some of the same topics I’ve looked at in As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors, and Much Ado about Nothing — twins, gender-bending, gulling, etc — as well as exploring the role of music on the early modern stage.

Throughout the year, we’ll continue to hold our lecture series, on select Wednesday and Thursday nights, prior to the evening shows. We’ve moved the timing of these events to 5:30pm, which will allow attendees enough time to go get a quick bite or a drink at one of downtown Staunton’s fabulous eateries before the show begins. I’m pleased to announce that this year, we will have both a Dr. Ralph Presents lecture and an Inside Plays workshop for every play in the Fall, Actors’ Renaissance, and Spring Seasons. We’re especially pleased that this will allow us to offer audiences some more insight into the shows which are enjoying their Blackfriars Playhouse premieres in 2012 and 2013. See the schedule on our website for more information.

Our Staged Reading series also continues in 2012-2013, with four dynamic titles: the anonymous Edward Ironside (October 28th), an early English chronicle play full of patriotic glory, violent energy, and inventive language; George Chapman’s An Humorous Day’s Mirth (November 4th), where jealous husbands, absurd courtiers, lapsed Puritans, and lustful monarchs collide; Aphra Behn’s Restoration hit The Rover (March 24th, 2013), a quick-witted and wickedly wanton comedy where a group of amorous English exiles revel their way through Naples; and The Insatiate Countess (April 28th, 2013), by John Marston and collaborators, a play of merry widows, virtuous wives, and subverted theatrical conventions. We’re in the process of making some exciting changes to how the Staged Readings operate, and we’ll have more information on that for you as the year progresses.

And, of course, summer 2012 will be full to the brim with camps for Shakespeare enthusiasts of all ages. ASCTC Session 1, June 17th-July 8th, tackles Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, and John Lyly’s Gallathea, while Session 2, July 15th-August 5th, takes on Much Ado about Nothing, 1 Henry VI, and Francis Beaumont & John Fletcher’s A King and No King. Our Midsummer Day Camp for ages 9-12, July 9th-13th, moves from the light-hearted comedies of the past few years to the high-octane thriller, Macbeth. Finally, the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp for adults, June 25th-29th, will explore Movement — both the movement of the actor on stage and the movement of plays from one playhouse to another and out on the road.

It’s almost hard to believe that here we are in January 2012, already planning for April 2013, but that’s the way of it. The whole education team is looking forward to a full and fabulous year — we hope you’ll be joining us for these explorations into early modern staging.