MFA Thesis Festival 2017

Good evening! Cass Morris, ASC Academic Resources Manager, here to live-blog the 2017 Mary Baldwin University MLitt/MFA Thesis Festival. Tonight, beginning at 6:30pm, members of the Compass Shakespeare Ensemble, the 2016-2017 MFA class, will present research conducted for and during their year of company-building:

Paul Menzer begins by welcoming everyone, introducing the Compass Shakespeare Ensemble, and reminding us that the MLitt presentations begin at 9am tomorrow. Menzer stresses the unique nature of the thesis festival at MBU, designed to combat the isolating effect of thesis writing and give students the opportunity to share with and hear from “an interested and generous” audience. Each presenter will speak for approximately 7 minutes, ending with a “provocative question”, followed by a short Q&A.

Catie Osborn – Photography as Performance: Archive and/as Adaptation

Osborn begins by explaining the scholastic considerations that her work as production photographer provoked. “There is little to no research on the implications of photograph in the theatre”. She states her intent to challenge a 1956 assertion that “photographs taken during the course of production are uninteresting”. Osborn discusses two types of photographs in the theatre: marketing/publicity and archive/documentation, as well as sharing the OED definition of “adaptation”. She believes that the act of theatrical photography constitutes an adaptation of the theatrical work — the center of the Venn diagram between marketing/publicity and archive/documentation.

Osborn asserts that the photographer working during a performance becomes a storyteller in their own right. She presents some “not at all staged” examples of “That Nice Chris Moneymaker” — one photograph showing him as alone and isolated, another from a different angle showing the actor surrounded by the theatrical audience in universal lighting. The use of photos then becomes “an adapted act”. She also shares examples of photographs that photoshopped together figures from different productions in order to market a show.

Considering the potentially infinite record of production, given the storage capabilities modern technology provides, Osborn questions how to best curate those photographs for archival. She suggests that a production must “include the photographer in the production process”. Osborn states her belief that, by including the photographer in the process, it would be possible to create a record of performance that would allow someone to experience the performance through the archives.

She poses the question: “What is lost in these performances? What is gained?”

Kelley McKinnon – “We know what we are, but know not what we may be”: Engaging a Student Audience in Self-Discovery through the Mechanism of Interaction

“If you’ve spent five minutes with me, you probably know several things:” that she has a loud laugh, that she has Opinions, and that she loves to learn. She goes on to note that another five minutes will expose that she asks personal questions and loves working with students to help them learn. “There is nothing in the world that is better to men than watching a light bulb turn on” in someone’s head. McKinnon states her belief that nothing can replace the value of a personal connection between student and teacher, and she cites a viral video of a North Carolina teacher who invented a different secret handshake for each of his students, noting that his attendance and test scores seem to correlate positively with that practice.

McKinnon notes the importance of “reversing the expectation” for students of Shakespeare, fighting against the ingrained belief many have that Shakespeare is hard and that they’re not smart enough for it. Her thesis is based around how she approaches an educational tour from a director’s point of view with the goal of taking over/changing the world. “My approach as a director is to put the systems in place to build self reliance through connection.” This applies both to her cast and staff and to the audience. For student audiences, “the clarity of storytelling” is always at the forefront, but she believes a further step of personalization can be vital, particularly when interacting with under-served audiences.

McKinnon goes on to explicate why she uses Shakespeare to “change the world”, particularly by working with inner city students, with benefits including but not limited to: explorations of tyranny, nonconformists, and violence, “wrapped up with a bunch of dick and fart jokes”. Treating Shakespeare not as something inaccessible and privileged but as something that is for them augments the experience and can, she believes, be life- and thus world-changing. She finishes by asking: “Who is my audience for this?”

Joshua Richard Williams – “We will perform in measure, time, and place”: The Qualitative Effect of Spatial Architecture on Stage Combat Choreography

Williams specifies that he is looking at the development of stage combat in a touring process and how that does and doesn’t impact the performance itself. Last summer he engaged in training and certification with the American Society of Fight Directors. He discusses the concept of “violence as spectacle” that CSE explored in its touring production of Macbeth. His considerations include examining the ways in which the dimension and orientation of a performance space, and how differences in that in touring locations may change the storytelling. For his thesis, he focuses on the opening fight which establishes the violence of the play: involving eight of ten cast members, several entrances and exits mid-bout. He notes that the paratextual fight “serves as an introduction for the audience” to the play itself.

Williams then walks through the “bloody soldier” interchange from 1.2, pointing out five details which inform the physicality of the fight. While not explicitly called for in the text, these lines allow a director and fight director to make choices about the story they wish to present to the audience. In CSE’s production, it was an opportunity to show Macbeth as a fighter surrounded by violence, continually attacked from behind, instilling a sense of wariness, distrust, and betrayal. The actor playing Banquo appears to save Macbeth twice, establishing their relationship. The fight also introduces Malcolm and foreshadows the appearance of the Weird Sisters.

Williams notes that they blocked the show for two different conditions: Blackfriars-style, with use of a backstage space, and an on-stage presentation, where the actors are all in chairs and visible throughout the production. He notes that this second set-up presented challenges, and goes on to discuss one example in depth, where the company had “a lane of perhaps five and a half to six feet in width and eleven or twelve feet in length” to perform in. Williams thinks this was probably the most challenging space to work in, but also the most illuminating.

His question asks the audience for sources on found spaces for performance or dance. “What is the difference between a performance space and a theatre? What can one do that the other one cannot?”

Justine R. Mackey – “So hung upon with love”: Examining Physical Intimacy with Compass Shakespeare Ensemble

“My work… explores the many ways in which physical touch or the lack thereof” tells a story and communicates emotion. Mackey’s thesis examines touch as a means of communication in performance. She notes that, for her, physical touch ended up being a recurring theme in her roles across the CSE season (Lady Macbeth, the Courtesan in The Comedy of Errors, Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Jacquenetta in Love’s Labour’s Lost). “When I refer to physical intimacy, I don’t always mean sexual or lustful touching.” Her definition covers everything from simple familiarity to passionate interaction.

Mackey cites research from the Touch Research Institute which “prove the healthy benefits of touch,” noting that touch appears to be vital not only to human interaction but to individual health. She moves on to discussing how CSE explored the process and potential of touch in their ensemble work. To foster positive energy and the sense of community they would need for their MFA year, one early exercise involved verbally complimenting each other. Mackey took the benefits of this exercise forward into the idea of physical intimacy. Osborn and Odenbrett demonstrate another exercise from the character exploration of Troilus and Cressida, creating a powerful gestural score for two characters who long to touch but are pulled apart by external forces. From this, Mackey decided to focus on how bodies travel and intersect.

Mackey ends by asking us all to close our eyes and re-imagine the process of experiencing their devised show back in September, then asks the audience to share their most memorable experience from that evening.

Clarence Joseph Finn – “Methinks you are my glass and not my brother”: An Experience of Playing the Identical Dromio Twins with One Actor Body in The Comedy of Errors

Finn begins by stating that his thesis focuses on the challenge of playing two characters in one body and the effect that it has had on his body image. He notes that, as a result of bullying earlier in life, he had never engaged in physical training, as he had never seen the point. Entering this program changed his perspective, and he particularly notes the Viewpoints exercises taught by Doreen as teaching him to think well of his body on stage.

Working through the Dromios was his greatest challenge, made moreso by the fact that this performance was part of CSE’s already highly-doubled small scale production. He had to develop different markers for each Dromio. Finn then walks us through his process of developing them, beginning with voices: he started with Linklater choices for finding each Dromio’s voice, then moved into using Laban to marry those vocal choices to physical choices. One Dromio was lighter and quicker; the other low and heavy. He then moved on to behavioral gestures drawn from Viewpoints training. Finn also notes that the relationship each Dromio has to his respective Antipholus further informed his own physicality and spatial relationship. With the help of Sczepankowski and Odenbrett, Finn demonstrates the difference in his two Dromios.

His question: Is there a clear and distinct physical difference, and how might he further develop the physicality to make that clearer?

Molly Beth Seremet – “This is and is not Cressida”: Resisting Anthropocentrism in the Shakespeare of Things

Seremet begins “in the negative space” between the thesis she’ll actually be working on and the thesis she can no longer write. She intended to build upon her MLitt thesis, but notes that the exploration of the conflation of “person” and “thing” has become profoundly uncomfortable in our current political climate. While she’s still fascinated by the cyber-potential of becoming-human value in objects, but she is concerned about the inverse: making an object of a human. Seremet uses several examples from the past month, including the Oklahoma bill turning a woman into a “host” and the interaction of the “nuclear football” with guests at the “Winter White House”.

She goes on to note that the thesis she would like to write isn’t entirely hers to tell, given her own privilege and societal status, and she draws a connection to the “no-place” that Cressida exists in. Seremet hopes to continue elevating the object while also interrogating  the view from her position of privilege. She hopes to connect Cressida’s experience to the current immigrant/refugee crisis and with her own family history of displacement. She discusses her need to “focus on the real and the material in this era of alternative facts”.

Her question: What are the ethical responsibilities of a theatrical and art-making practice in the year 2017? And, in unpacking object-based feminism, how can the voice of the object be viewed through the mechanism?

Zac Harned – Arguing with Myself: Body Building Stories

Harned begins by describing his experience as a rifleman as a metaphor for the various components necessary for success in the small scale production. He will address the roles he played in the small scale production of Troilus and Cressida and how rhetoric informed his physical choices.

“Shakespeare’s characters cause plot by action,” whether that action is implied in what they say or more explicit when they stab someone. “All acting choices are based in necessity.” He keys in on the idea of rhetoric as the art of persuasion, and “art” being, essentially, an action of making something; thus, “rhetoric is the making of getting what you want” — which could also serve as a definition of acting. Harned discusses his discovery that rhetorically-informed performances are not, themselves, a style of acting — so “why should an actor give a damn?” He asserts that without engaging the rhetoric, an actor misses the opportunity for intellectual depth and aesthetic appeal.

Harned continues that “most people approach Shakespeare with a doctrine,” and that almost every doctrine that says “yes” to something says “no” to something else. His focus on scansion and rhetoric is not meant to be dogmatic, but he asserts that rhetorical knowledge enables an actor to be faithful to the story of a character. Harned asks the audience if they can see ways in which this approach is inaccessible to actors.

Ryan Odenbrett – A Face “full of O’s”: An Examination of Ecphonesis in Berowne’s Dialogue

Odenbrett connects his MFA thesis to his MLitt thesis on statsitical analysis. He believes echphonesis (the exclamation) is perhaps the most easily identifiable rhetorical figure. What, he asks, does the use of ecphonesis inform us about a character? He focuses on a line of Rosaline’s, accusing Berowne of having “a face full of Os” — rather than interpreting this as a reference to smallpox scars or syphilis blisters, he wondered if she referred to his exclamatory tendencies.

The process of documenting the use of ecphonesis was “monotonous, but not difficult”. Berowne uses ecphonesis 23 times in the play, 18 of those in 4.3 alone. 11 of those take place after he confesses to having written his love sonnet. 92% of his exclamations occur in verse. Odenbrett runs through a breakdown of the syntactical placements of these instances of ecphonesis. Odenbrett then created a table of the total ecphoneses used in all of Love’s Labour’s Lost. Costard comes in second with 11 instances.

Odenbrett then wanted to know if Berowne uses ecphonesis more than anyone else in the canon — but he believes not, as Love’s Labour’s Lost only has 68 instances (in 12th place), while Romeo and Juliet comes in first with 146. He intends to compare Berowne to other male characters in Shakespeare’s comedies. He asks what information we feel that ecphonesis gives an actor about a character.

George R Kendall – Directing Shakespeare in Intimate Performance Space and the Brechtian V-effekt 

Kendall begins by connecting his work to Mackey’s and Williams’s, as it deals with physicality and physical space. He interrogates the nearness to or distance from the audience in various theatrical approaches, looking particularly at the use of two “intimate spaces”: blackbox theatres and studio spaces. He notes that the Blackfriars Playhouse, while not fitting into either of those categories, still constitutes an intimate space. Kendall characterizes a component of intimacy as the “shared space” of actors and audience which enhances the emotional experience of the audience.

Kendall then discusses the practice of direct address and how it fits into the use of intimate performance spaces. Though it breaks the flow of the action, it does so in a way that is not an obstruction in these spaces. Kendall contrasts the intimacy of direct address in the Blackfriars Playhouse and similar styles to the alienation of the audience and distancing of emotional involvement intended by Brecht.

Kendall states his belief that directors should be very aware of the production space when deciding up on their approach to a play, particularly with an eye towards audience address. The more intimate the theatre space, the more personal that audience interaction can become; direct address has a less profound effect in a large proscenium theatre where much of the audience is physically further from the actors. Kendall questions: What have those of you who are actors discovered about intimate performance space? and How comfortable or uncomfortable are you as an audience member with an actor who addresses you?

Melinda Marks – A Labour Saved: How I Learned to Get Along with Love’s Labour’s Lost

Marks, who was the dramaturg for Love’s Labour’s Lost, also cut that script, and her thesis examines the practical process of cutting, what she cut, and how she decided to cut it. She admits up front that she strongly dislikes this play, which makes telling us about cutting it an intellectually interesting challenge. Since this cutting was for CSE’s “Ren season show”, the show styled after the ASC’s Actors’ Renaissance Season, Marks notes that the dramaturg’s role then becomes complicated, as they have no director’s conceptual parameters for either guidance or restriction. Marks notes the difference between creating a product “faithful to” someone else’s concepts and creating a product with the particular goals of the CSE Ren season show. She both had to rely upon subjectivity and had to combat her own distaste for the play in order to create a coherent script that would be interesting for both actors and audience.

After cutting the play, Marks went through all her cuts and made notes on her reasons for them. This allowed her to distinguish between objective and subjective cuts. She also color-coded these cuts for ease of analysis. She describes her role not only as dramaturg, but also as the editor of her own dramaturgical thought process.

Marks asks what we think would be a valuable quantitative or qualitative addition to this process?

Shane Michael Sczepankowski – The Story of the Storytellers

Sczepankowski informs us that his project is “like a thesis… but it isn’t. But it is.” As a response to a challenge from Paul Menzer to write a contribution to the MFA book that was more than an academic paper. As such, he is working on a play reflective of CSE’s mission statement. He is creating “a soft re-telling of the ‘Shane’anigans that have transpired” during the CSE year; his adaptation of Macbeth responds to and parodies CSE’s process of creating their school touring show. The director appears as Hecate and the “salty actors” as the Witches, among other correlations.

Sczepankowski posits this play as a sort of archival compilation, retelling the process of CSE’s experience. In a scripted scene, Tyler Dale expresses concern that Sczepankowski is skirting his responsibilities as an S&P student; Sczepankowski admits that this is an unusual approach, but believes that it will reflect the unique and meaningful experiences of the CSE journey.

His question: What makes a successful adaptation and what makes an absolutely miserable one?

“I witness to the times that brought them in”: 2016 Year in Review

If the internet is any judge, a lot of people will be really glad to see 2016 out the door. Political turmoil and celebrity deaths have taken their toll, expressed in hashtag memes like #SayByeto2016inagif and #wtf2016. But that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been anything to celebrate, and in ASC Education, 2016 had quite a few high notes!

Most excitingly, we officially welcomed Lia Wallace and Adrienne Johnson to the Education team! Both are recent graduates of Mary Baldwin University’s Shakespeare and Performance MLitt/MFA program. Lia began work with us way back in 2012 as an intern, then became an Education Artist, and is now our College Prep Programs Manager, overseeing the ASC Theatre Camp. Adrienne has previously served time (like Director of Education Sarah Enloe also did, back in the day) as personal assistant to Director of Mission Ralph Alan Cohen, and she is now our Camp Life Coordinator as well as the ASC Company Manager, responsible for the upkeep of the Playhouse and other properties. You can read about their transitions into these positions here on the blog: Lia and Adrienne.

61Big events this year included the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp trip abroad: Shakespeare’s England: A Land of Lords. For ten days, Ralph, Sarah, MBC Professor Mary Hill Cole, and I shepherded a fantastic group of 22 Shakespeare enthusiasts around England and Wales. In the Cotswolds, the moors of York, and the fens of Cambridge, we wandered through history, discovering the world as it would have been familiar to Shakespeare and his audiences. To catch up on those adventures, check out the NKSC16 tag.

05fbdda7-86d4-48d4-9aab-11cac67d650b2016 also saw the publication of two all-new Study Guides, in addition to updates to several volumes. The Tempest and King Lear were on the Student Matinee line-up for the first time in my tenure, giving me the opportunity to dive into two of Shakespeare’s best-beloved works. We’re celebrating with a flash sale on those two guides, so nab yours before 5pm today to save 20% on these shiny new volumes!
Buy King Lear or The Tempest ASC Study Guide.

13087333_10104284381621743_4879776445061724543_nIn April, we commemorated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with a block party that spanned downtown Staunton. Hundreds came to enjoy the food and wares offered by over two dozen merchants, and children of all ages got to experience mini-workshops and Shakespeare-themed craft activities, delivered right in front of the Blackfriars Playhouse. You can see pictures from that event here.

We also partnered with UVA’s Special Collections Library as it housed a traveling copy of the First Folio, offering workshops in Charlottesville in April, ahead of the Folio’s arrival, and in October, when the tome was on-site.

In December, we had a Staged Reading in a new format as a special event: rather than having one group perform a 90-minute show, four groups came from across the Shenandoah to put on four shorter shows, all demonstrating how English drama has marked the Christmas holiday throughout the centuries. With a mummery from Shenandoah Governor’s School, a mystery play from Shenandoah University, a vaudevillian masque from Spectacle and Mirth, and a Victorian-style pantomime from Stuart Hall, we filled the Playhouse with mirth and laughter for a festive night at the start of the holiday season.

And, as ever, we had a year’s worth of Student Matinees, Little Academes, and other workshops. In the 2015-2016 school year, we welcomed over 11,000 students from 284 schools, homeschool groups, and other organizations, and we have already had 142 groups join us so far in the 2016-2017 school year. We also welcomed International Paper back for their fifth Leadership Program, and we’re looking forward to seeing them again this spring.

So what’s forthcoming in 2017? More of everything: matinees of The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, and Much Ado about Nothing; all-new study guides on Love’s Labour’s Lost, the Henry VI plays, and Sense and Sensibility (that’s right! I’m taking on Austen for the adaptation that will be on the 2017-2018 tour); Leadership Programs on-site at the Playhouse and at the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville; visits from the Road Scholars; the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp back in Staunton to explore the theme of Shakespeare and art; ASC Theatre Camp 2017, featuring 1 Henry IV, Titus Andronicus, and The Sea Voyage in Session 1 (June 18-July 9) and King Lear, Love’s Labour’s Lost, and The Knight of the Burning Pestle in Session 2 (July 16-August 8); and, of course, since it’s an odd-numbered year, the Blackfriars Conference (Oct 24-29) will welcome hundreds of scholars and students to celebrate Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

Happy New Year from all of us at ASC Education! We hope to see you soon, whether at the Playhouse or out on the road.

Cass Morris
Academic Resources Manager

“And, be assured, you’ll find a difference…” (HV): ASC Education’s work with teachers

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Teachers working in groups at our Fall King Lear Seminar

Google “Shakespeare on your feet” and the first page of search results will reveal that entities from libraries like the Folger, media outlets like PBS, and theatres like the Actors Centre advocate teaching Shakespeare “through play” or “up on your feet” or “actively”. At the ASC, we certainly use that language as well, but the driving idea behind our approach is more about context than the work we see elsewhere.  Context is a term we take very seriously; it involves more than asking students to build models of the Globe or talking about Elizabeth’s life during the era. It really comes down to teaching our teachers and students to think like Shakespeare’s actors did when they approached the text.  Look around you and see the wooden platform, the audience in the light, the clues in the text (for those who don’t have a lot of time to rehearse), so that performance of the words is at the top of students’ minds.  

I know that “comparisons are odious” (Dogberry would probably have said “odorous”), but sometimes they are the “eftest” way to point out the essence of practice.  I have made a habit of attending my colleagues’ workshops whenever I can, of evaluating the materials they offer online and in print, and of thinking about the art of teaching.  What follows here is a basic statement of the ASC’s philosophy and how it differs from some work I have seen and studied elsewhere:  

Approach American Shakespeare Center The Other Guys
Setting The ASC acknowledges that most of the teachers we work with operate in English classrooms which feature desks, and that there is some difficulty in getting open spaces in many schools.  So our lessons work within those parameters. We believe that learning is individualized, so students can learn most deeply in situations which allow inquiry. We advocate for desks arranged around a playing space to invite the exploration of scene, arranged in thrust so that students are closer to Shakespeare’s theatre’s architecture.  We advocate for avatars and actors to demonstrate and help define the information but do not advocate that all students must be on their feet at the same time — something that is difficult to do in an English classroom and is not conducive to all students’ engaging with the text in context. Frequently, our colleagues’ lessons require a wide open space so that all students can be up and active simultaneously.
Teaching assumptions The ASC realizes that the vast majority of teachers working with students on Shakespeare’s plays have had few classes on the subject and are not versed in theatrical techniques (nor do many want to be; they teach English because it is their passion). We believe that teachers desire to deepen their own learning and knowledge in order to deepen their students’. We recognize that they have limited time in which to add to their knowledge, so we strive to make every minute that they spend in our professional development programs immediately applicable to classroom practice and to their own and their students’ enrichment.  We take the approach that if teachers know more about how these plays work and worked on the stage, they will have a richer understanding of why the plays are worth studying and be able to communicate to a diverse body of learners. Many professional development programs spend a lot of time teaching 21st-century theatre techniques; these do not give insights into the works Shakespeare wrote and are limited in scope — even within professional theatres.  The time spent on those could be used to connect Shakespeare to his theatrical practices so that we understand the ins and outs of what his actors saw on the page, rather than giving English teachers modern day theories of how to instruct their students in the fundamentals of acting.
Context We believe that context is everything. Context means we believe in treating the plays as plays, plays that were written for specific theatrical conditions that students benefit from knowing, and leaving the text in place in the lesson. This means that we do not employ “insult generators” or pull lines out of speeches to “throw them at each other”.  We do not advocate for separate lessons on Shakespeare’s biography, but fold the fact that he was a working actor into every exploration and note that his monarch and the political climate of early modern London may have had an impact on this character or that scene, as it arises. We consider the staging conditions he considered, as a means to get the students and teachers we work with closer to the performance Shakespeare imagined as he wrote the plays. Many in our cohorts take lines out of context to “show that Shakespeare isn’t hard”, in arenas like “Shakespearean insults” games or “text lay ups”. We believe that removing surrounding text achieves the opposite goal and says to students that “Shakespeare is too hard for you to understand unless I take it out of the play.” We think that students will enjoy the connections between Shakespeare’s plays and his biography if direct lines connect them.  We avoid assignments that advocate for set or light design for a play, since those projects fight the nature of the continuous action in early modern theatres.
Teaching teachers We believe that teachers’ time is precious and that they learn the most from fellow educators — educators who have the time to prepare detailed and specific lessons and handouts that they can immediately deploy in their classroom. We model those lessons so that teachers can see one approach and adapt each activity to their own style and purpose.  We arrange the lessons in an accessible way so that they can teach the unit in any order and blend the lessons together as they choose, but also provide a scaffolding section (The Basics) so that teachers have a baseline of knowledge from which to begin. We test the lessons and conduct focus groups, then we adjust them as needed, constantly improving the materials we provide and our approach to them. And, we enhance the lessons with feedback and input from our actors and the events that transpire in a rehearsal room, so that we are speaking truth and giving students and teachers the very important insights our actors share in classroom applicable ways. While many practitioners do provide outlines and handouts, the formatting and explanation is often insufficient for the busy teacher who is moving from teaching American Lit to Shakespeare or from one period to another.  Often, the handouts skip important steps, attempt to cover too much, or anticipate too much knowledge as a baseline.  Moreover, actor talkbacks and director discussions take a large percentage of the time in some seminars at other theatres, while these sessions can be fun, the bulk of the discussion does not translate to classroom practice or a better understanding of the plays.
Inquiry

(infinite variety)

We create a world of many, many right answers, and we suggest a method of inquiry-based learning — where each student’s answer may differ.  Shakespeare wrote incomplete works; he needed the actors he worked with and the audiences he played for to finish them.  Students are the actors and audience, and they can answer the questions that lead to the infinite variety of choices that continue to make his plays fascinating 400 years later. We encourage students to consider a number of choices — if video comes into our lesson, we use several clips from many different productions to emphasize how many choices are available. Stating that a scene is “about” something or that a character is “some characteristic” and asking students to inhabit that idea features in many programs’ methodology.  These opinions may be related to an instructors’ take or experience; however such approaches prohibit exploration. Using film in the classroom can be reductive, as it may limit the students’ idea of the play to one interpretation.
Materials We provide teachers with materials that are complete and formatted for ease of use in the typical English classroom (black and white, because most schools copiers are not color; few pages dense with information to save paper; and we are working to envision more in the digital classroom — white boards, etc) I have seen handouts totalling 25 pages, with color, or difficult to read facsimiles or, worse, fluff activities (word finds, crosswords, quizzes — time killers, not enrichment activities) that do not bring students any closer to understanding Shakespeare’s work, nor its relationship to his life and theirs.

In short, we aim to create an atmosphere of learning that makes gaining knowledge and engaging in exploration irresistible.  A space in which students dread the final bell because they will have to leave the topic, a room filled with voices and opportunities to state one’s thoughts — while realizing that difference of opinion is beautiful and can be shared respectfully.  A place where the learner can become the teacher and the teacher learns something every time the class convenes.  We believe the way to do that is by empowering teachers, giving students agency, and providing them with tools to examine words and meaning that stretch well beyond the classroom walls.  Even to a 400 year-old theatre, perhaps.

–Sarah Enloe
ASC Director of Education

Gender and Behavior in TWELFTH NIGHT

Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from the ASC Education Study Guide on Twelfth Night, available for purchase in our Gift Shop or through lulu.com as a PDF download or a print-on-demand hard copy. You’ve got til November 27th to see our current production of Twelfth Night and discover for yourself how ASC actors portray the confusions and complexities of gender and identity in the play.

Perspectives

Gender and Behavior

Twelfth Night is one of several of Shakespeare’s plays to feature a heroine who dresses as a man. At the beginning of his career, Shakespeare included a cross-dressing heroine in The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Julia dresses as a pageboy to follow her boyfriend to another city. She reveals herself at the end to stop him from marrying another woman. Julia’s disguise is a plot convenience, allowing her to travel and to observe Proteus without suspicion. Later plays push that plot device further, creating the cross-dressed woman as an object of desire. In As You Like It, written two or three years before Twelfth Night, Rosalind dresses as a boy named Ganymede to travel into the forest; when she runs into her crush, Orlando, she offers, as Ganymede, to pretend to be Rosalind so that Orlando can practice wooing. She also finds herself the object of desire of a shepherdess named Phebe. In Twelfth Night, Shakespeare presses the mismatched desire even further, having a primary character, Olivia, and making that desire a central point of conflict in the play, rather than a side joke. This creates a double-play of suggested homoeroticism; Olivia is in love with Cesario, who is actually another woman, while Orsino thinks he’s falling for a boy, who is actually a woman, who was originally played by a male actor.

Twelfth Night | American Shakespeare Center

Jessika Williams as Viola and John Harrell as Orsino in TWELFTH NIGHT. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Gender issues could prompt quite a bit of social anxiety in early modern England. Many of the anti-theatrical polemics leveled at the playing companies lamented the presentation of boys as women, particularly in romantic roles. Conversely, the idea of women usurping men’s roles suggested an upending of convention. Though a female monarch had ruled England for over forty years – and for all of Shakespeare’s lifetime – women were still considered subordinate to men, legally, socially, and religiously; even Queen Elizabeth spent much of her life pressured by her councilors to find a man to share her throne. Many pamphlets published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries sought to instruct women on their “proper” place – suggesting that a great many of them had stepped outside the proscribed bounds and entered spheres typically dominated by males. Only two or three years before Twelfth Night, in As You Like It, Shakespeare has Rosalind reappear in women’s garb at the end of the play, which some scholars have suggested was a deliberate method of allaying social anxiety about her ability to resume her feminine role. Viola in Twelfth Night, like Julia in the earlier Two Gentlemen of Verona, never reappears in her “women’s weeds,” remaining in a state of gender ambiguity through the end of the play.

Twelfth Night | American Shakespeare Center

Allison Glenzer as Olivia and Jessika Williams as Viola in TWELFTH NIGHT. Photo by Lindsey Walters.

Today, the definition of gender roles remains a hot-button issue. Political debates continue to challenge ideas about balance between the sexes, both socially and financially. In many ways, however, the conversation has changed from determining what one gender or the other can or can’t do to debating the very meaning of gender itself. As the 21st-century begins, advocates for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights continue to push at the boundaries of the binary gender system. In 2010, a British expatriate living in Australia became the world’s officially and legally neuter person, though some cultures of the Indian subcontinent and of Southeast Asia have long recognized the existence of a “third gender.” More recently, transgender advocates such as Laverne Cox, of Orange is the New Black fame, have raised the profile of the transgender population – which has, in turn, led to political debates over bathroom use and legally protected classes. The ongoing gender debate suggests the existence of gray areas between male and female and in the spectrum of sexual attraction – the very sort of grey area that Viola-as-Cesario inhabits.

Twelfth Night, along with the other gender-bending comedies featuring cross-dressing heroines, suggests that, in the view of society, at least, a person’s role in life is more defined by what they wear and how they behave than it is by anatomy. How does Viola challenge or affirm the idea of strictly defined roles for genders? How convincing is her disguise? Several characters tell her during the course of the play that she behaves in a way unbefitting a man, particularly when she does such stereotypically feminine things as fainting at the sight of blood. How does Viola give herself away? How much double-speak does she engage in, allowing the audience to appreciate her duality without explicitly telling other characters about it?

To explore these issues in your classroom, download these sample activities or purchase the ASC Study Guide for Twelfth Night today!

Impostor Alert

Never in my life could you have made me believe that I would teach anyone anything. Yet, here I find myself suddenly handed the authority to educate sixty eager young minds, to illustrate “how-to”s to professional actors and managers, and to lecture patrons more than twice my age and certainly twice as wise about Shakespeare’s plays and staging conditions. As I work through my notes, trying to remember to speak slowly and clearly, my panicked little brain is screaming, “Who put this authority here? I didn’t ask for it? Somebody else must have dropped it? Surely they’re now looking for it, this misplaced authority, because it’s definitely not mine? Right? Someone take this back.”

Hi! I’m Adrienne Johnson, the American Shakespeare Center hired me as the new (as in the position has never existed before) Company Manager and new (as in this position definitely existed previously and I’m a new hire.) Camp Life Coordinator in April of 2016 after I completed my second Masters in Shakespeare (because one definitely wasn’t enough). However, it seems that although I have these two incredibly specialized Master’s Degrees, I still suffer from what clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzzane A. Imes coined as “Impostor Syndrome.” In her book Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, Imes defined the syndrome as the inability of a “high-achieving” individual to accept the success of their accomplishments and a “persistent fear” of being exposed as a “fraud.” While I wouldn’t say I’m exactly afraid of being exposed a fraud, I can’t say that it’s high on my giant list of things to-do today.

When my “Company Manager” job was first pitched to me, it didn’t really have a job description as recognized in a usual hiring process. I got a short email from one of my supervisors with a list of duties that could be (and probably would, and now are) on my plate if I accepted this job. It included managerial things like maintenance and facilities of all of our apartment buildings and of the playhouse, arranging the housing and hospitality of all of our visiting guests, and tacked on the end of the list was “ASCTC Camp life duties.” I’ve been a stage manager for years and had been the co-company manager of my MFA company, and so felt nicely qualified for the new job that the ASC wanted to create. Prior to my position, all housing duties were tacked on to our Tour Operations Manager, even though it really didn’t have anything to do with her job. I was happy to help lighten her load and happy to have a job right after graduation. I accepted the job and felt fully qualified to do it. Additionally, because I had been a counselor for ASC Theatre Camp twice before, I felt qualified and excited to help the new ( “New” as in the position definitely existed previously but she is a new hire and they changed the title!) College Prep Programs Manager, Lia Wallace, run ASCTC this summer. What I wasn’t ready for was having to dive right into something I never even really wanted to try.

TEACHING.

 

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Photo by Maddie Buttitia

Although the part of my job that involves the ASC education department technically only happens for six weeks of the year (two three-week long sessions of summer camp), I found myself almost instantly observing the workshops and learning how to teach them, meeting with the other brilliant education artists weekly, and constantly discussing, brainstorming, planning, and executing great marketing for all of the ASC’s educational programs. This is when it became very obvious to me, but apparently to no one else, that my impostor-ism was showing. Any day now, I’m sure, I’ll be leading a workshop or giving a student feedback and they will laugh in my face and expose me for what I really am. A calendar-making, facilities-managing, hospitality-organizing fraud. I’m not a teacher! Look at this tool bag! No books in there at all! I can’t write on a board and talk in front of people at the same time! Delegate and don’t do all of the things myself, you say? No way!

 

In spite of my panic though, no teaching artist ever interrupted, “Oh hold on, you definitely can’t teach that workshop. Just kidding.” No parent ever complained, “My child learned nothing from you, they’re never coming back to camp again and it’s definitely your fault.” No Road Scholar ever scolded, “you’re definitely not Sarah Enloe! We want our money back!” But instead I got notes about how clear and personable I was during lectures, that I was a “model teacher” that responds thoughtfully to questions, how passionate I was when I really liked the topic, and how thankful our campers were for calm and individual guidance. In my four and a half months with the company so far, I’ve observed almost every workshop that we offer, taught and been approved to teach three of them, helped to develop one entirely new workshop, and helped to organize advertising and recruitment goals for both camp and other educational programs. But education can’t be my job… right?

 

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Photo by Lia Wallace

The great thing about being hired in a Frankenstein-position that never existed before means that I get to design what my job description looks like and what my daily duties include. So far, I’ve been pretty active as both a company manager and a full-time education artist, at my own pace, motivated by my own desire to not be exposed in this teacher-suit I find myself wearing more and more. Even though I’ve been “teaching” every age student we get here at the ASC for months now, I’ve definitely learned a lot more than I’ve taught. I’ve learned that even the best teachers say “um” sometimes. I’ve learned that our students want to learn from us, and that they will listen and ask questions to motivate the conversation. I’ve learned that doing and showing is always more interesting than talking. I’ve learned that group discussion is fun and exciting. I’ve learned that everyone has to teach a workshop with no prep sometimes. I’ve learned that teaching a workshop with no prep sometimes isn’t actually that scary. I’ve learned how to cook three meals a day for forty people. I’ve learned about HVAC units and how to do minor plumbing tasks. I’ve learned how to coordinate the comfort, lives, and education of any combination of thirty staff members and sixty young adults.

 

While my tool bag still has a multi-tool, plumbing tape, and a flashlight, it now also has rhetoric flashcards and cue scripts. I don’t need to write on a board to teach a lesson. Although I never planned to be a teacher, I’m in a community that trusts me and values my expertise. They want me to succeed and they encourage me to extend my comfort zone. And mostly they try to make sure I never feel like an impostor. I literally get paid for the thing I insist I “can’t do.” And I am so grateful to all of them for that love. (And that paycheck, amiright?)

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Photo from peopleiveloved.com 

Final Thought: As I was procrastinating writing this article by scrolling through Facebook, a friend’s post popped up on my newsfeed. I like to think it was serendipitous to come through my feed when I needed to see it most. I saved the picture (right) to my desktop, logged out, and continued writing instead. Writing the damned thing is a milestone for me and not just another educational duty I get to cross off of that ever-growing to-do list.

 

–Adrienne Johnson
ASC Company Manager & Camp Life Coordinator

New Study Guide Released: KING LEAR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post: Thou Art Translated: Magic and Meaning in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

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

A Midsummer Nights’ Dream appeared in our 2015 Summer-Fall Season. Lia Fisher-Janosz is a forensics coach and drama teacher at the Overbrook School in Nashville, Tennessee.


Thou Art Translated: Magic and Meaning in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
by Lia Fisher-Janosz

How are magic and meaning made? Why are magic and meaning made? The answers to these questions stand at the center of Shakespeare’s magnificent play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the search for the answers was (at least in part) what the American Shakespeare Center’s 2015 production and a related Fall Teacher’s Seminar were about.

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Gregory Jon Phelps as Nick Bottom, 2015. Picture by Lindsey Walters.

Our search took us directly into the text itself, as one might guess.  It is in many ways a triune entity; in its one world are three, those of the would-be thespians or “rude mechanicals,” the court and the lovers, and the fairies.  When the boundaries between these three worlds start to cross and blur, magic has either just occurred or is about to do so; at the very root of this phenomenon is not a what, but a where—the wood.

With Director of Education Sarah Enloe and Academic Resources Manager Cass Morris leading us into the forest and back again, we started on the first day by considering the concept of actors playing actors and some insights that can be gleaned (and even some insults that can be gleeked) from the characterizations of the “hard-handed men.”  Next, we explored the traditions associated with courtship and match-making in the Elizabethan era, and we found our perspectives and assumptions somewhat challenged. From there, on the second day, we went on to explore how Shakespeare wrote, and with what purpose (tetrameter=magic!).  Finally, our journey culminated in a visit with Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, the ASC’s founder and Director of Mission, and also the director of the ASC’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which we had the distinct pleasure of seeing later that afternoon.  Dr. Ralph’s direction gave a nostalgic nod to the charm and delight of cinema’s earlier days—magic-within-magic-within-magic, via movies-within-plays-within-plays.  He explained why he made some of the choices he did, but also focused on the prevalence and importance of invisibility in directing and teaching Dream (and in the play itself), and upon what he believes is the “heart of his [Shakespeare’s] mystery,” Titania’s speech about her votaress.

If you thought to read of everything we listened to or learned or loved, know that I will not be the one to fetch and deliver to you such trifles and rich merchandise; for as Walt Whitman wrote:  “Not I, not anyone else can travel that road for you, you must travel it for yourself…You are also asking me questions and I hear you, I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself.”  I give just a glimpse, and tantalizing it is, to my way of thinking.

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John Harrell and Sarah Fallon as Oberon and Titania, 2015. Picture by Lindsey Walters.

Ah yes, thinking!  The workshops and performances held at the American Shakespeare Center make you think; they literally provoke thoughts not previously stirred and rouse the imagination from slumber into waking dream.  In this instance, I was prompted into a positively frenetic tarantella of ideas during the ride home from Staunton, one that included, among other things: impressions of Helena, Hermia, and Hippolyta each being a face of the Triple Goddess, for how could it be coincidental that all three names begin with the same letter, also the letter with which the name of a goddess of the moon commences? (the moon, which happens to be mentioned more in A Midsummer Night’s Dream than in any other Shakespearean play); the notion of the entire play being a “dream sequence,” sprung forth from one of Bottom’s fantastical nocturnal illusions; and theories about who the changeling boy really is, and the arrival at the decision that he must be one and the same as that boy who’s perjured everywhere: Love.  Whether or not any of these perceptions hold any weight or water is irrelevant; the point is that they were inspired in the first place.  Dr. Ralph mentioned during the course of our discourse that the play “is about the great gift of the theatre.”  Inextricably linked to this gift is another, freely given by Shakespeare and by the ASC and indeed by all who participate in the theatrical experience, and this is the gift of inspiration, and of communal magic.

Now I’ve touched that standing center stone and found that what’s in hand is gold.  So, what were and are the answers to those questions, then?  How are magic and meaning made?  In sooth, I know only what I myself think the answers are.

The words magic and imagination share the same ancestors:  the (Old) Persian maguš, the Greek magikē, and the late Latin magica, which refer to those mysteries that are part and parcel of the art of the magi, or sorcerer.  Magic and meaning related to it are created by and in the human mind, birthed by the imagination and the intellect, which bring about the enchantment and understanding within and without.  In the case of Shakespeare’s plays, and those who perform and watch them, the enchantment and the making of meaning occur through the written and spoken word, and the spell is mutually cast.  Why are the magic and meaning made?  To paraphrase Dead Poets Society’s John Keating:  we make them because we are members of the human race.  We simply must.

James Joyce—himself an admirer of Shakespeare who loved the Bard’s “radiance of language”—wrote that “we’re all fools in God’s garden.”  We are all just as foolish—and as wise—in Shakespeare’s woods, and a little bit of Nicholas Bottom lives in each of us, Everyman that he is.  If this be true, then it’s we who are translated, transformed utterly by the magic that is worked on us and in us by this play.  Better still, we aren’t lost in translation, but found.

“Thy life hath had some smatch of honour in it”: Virtue, Politics, and Julius Caesar

The time has come once more for my annual Ides of March posting about Julius Caesar. This play always resonates particularly strongly in election years. I’ve talked before about how ideas of rhetoric connect across the centuries, but today, I thought I’d go for something a little different. Much of this year’s political debate has centered not on policy but on personality — on what makes someone “presidential”, on what behavior is considered above-board and what’s below the belt.

As it happens, that’s something I focused on in the Julius Caesar Study Guide, too — how Shakespeare balanced pagan Roman virtues with early modern Christian virtues and how students can then relate those concepts to their own modern sensibilities of what is right and appropriate, in public and in private. So this year, I’m sharing a snippet of that Study Guide, in the hopes of generating fruitful discussion both about Julius Caesar and about our own political tangles.


Perspectives: Honor and Virtue

Many of the characters in Julius Caesar are preoccupied – obsessed, even – with ideas of honor and virtue. They want to act in a way that is “right” and just, that will not bring shame upon them, and that will benefit not only themselves, but the nation of Rome. Concepts of honor and virtue, however, are not concrete. They change throughout time and from culture to culture. In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has to balance the Roman pagan ideals of his historical subject matter with the Christian morals of the world in which he lived (and in which he had to get his play past the government censors). This activity will explore concepts of virtue both in Roman antiquity and in Shakespeare’s England, as well as examining ways to relate those ideas to modern frameworks of honor and morality.

This activity will also touch on the issue of suicide as depicted within the play. As this is a sensitive issue and possibly triggering for some teenagers, you may want to use this discussion as an opportunity to bring in a guidance counselor to speak to your students about suicide.

Roman Virtues

Roman virtues tended to spring from how a man related to society, based on qualities that formed a model for excellence in both private and public life. Attainment of these virtues was important because it allowed society to run smoothly. Some of the most important virtues were:

  • Auctoritas, the totality of one’s social standing built up through experience and reputation, a measure of clout and influence
  • Dignitas, a man’s good name and prestige, a sense of self-worth and personal pride
  • Gravitas, a sense of sobriety, responsibility, and earnestness, a sense of substance and depth rather than frivolity
  • Pietas, encompassing not just religious devotion, but a respect for the natural order of society and ideals of patriotism, as well as the sense of duty to the state and to one’s family
  • Veritas, “truthfulness,” honesty and respectability in dealing with others

These virtues had near-tangible currency for the Romans. They were not just abstract concepts; the Romans conceptualized them in a way that has no precise analog in modern society. For the Romans, it was almost as if each man had a jar for each virtue, and his actions (or those of his friends and family, reflecting on him by association) could either add beans to his jar or take them out. Though there was no actual record-keeping of a man’s virtuous standing, Roman men (particularly those with political ambitions) had a constant awareness not only of their own measures, but of the measures of their allies and opponents within the political system. A man with insufficient auctoritas could not hope to win high political office. A scandal could damage a man’s dignitas, making his social life considerably less pleasant.

  • Discuss:
    • Which of the virtues do the major characters display?  Ask your students to back up their opinions with examples from the text.
      • Example: Caesar displays great (even excessive) dignitas when walking through Rome for the Lupercalia festival (1.2).
    • When do these characters invoke these ideas of virtue (even if they don’t use the actual words for them) to influence or manipulate other characters?  Again, have your students find examples in the text.
      • Example: Cassius calls upon Brutus’s pietas to get him to join the conspiracy (1.2); Antony rhetorically questions Brutus’s veritas to get the plebeians on his side (3.2).
    • What happens in the play to make any characters gain or lose one of these virtues?
      • Example: Cassius’s shady financial dealings (4.2) call his veritas and dignitas into question; the idea that Caesar is afflicted with the falling sickness, possibly seen as a curse from the gods, might damage his auctoritas or pietas (1.2).
    • At the end of the play, whose “virtue-jars” are fullest?
  • Writing Prompt: In a journal entry or short essay, ask your students to choose which of the Roman virtues they think is most important in Julius Caesar and to defend that choice with quotes from the text.

Elizabethan Virtues

The major difference between the Christian concept of virtue and the Roman ideal is, essentially, one of private life versus public life, or, to put it another way, the idea of internal responsibility versus external. Honor and virtue in sixteenth-century England sprung from a Christian sense of duty to God and were concerned with a man’s individual soul, not with his relation to society. Dishonorable or unvirtuous conduct was most threatening to the individual, who would be held accountable for his actions in the afterlife; the only concern for others was that he might inspire similar inappropriate conduct. Christians also had a codified set of rules to obey, passed down in the Bible, the works of notable Christian authors, and the mandates of the Church. Though the universality of this code was less distinct in the decades following the English Reformation and the rise of Protestantism than it had been during the centuries of Catholicism’s unbroken dominance of Europe, many ideas of sin and virtue still carried over even with the advent of the Church of England.

Medieval tradition recognized Seven Heavenly Virtues with corresponding Seven Deadly Sins: Lust vs Chastity, Gluttony vs Temperance, Greed vs Charity, Sloth vs Diligence, Wrath vs Patience, Envy vs Kindness, Pride vs Humility.

For Romans, an individual’s responsibility was more to the state. Dishonorable conduct was a disruption of order that did not just threaten the individual, but the fabric of society. The afterlife was far less of a concern, because in Roman conception, nearly everyone ended up in the same underworld. Roman gods did not play by one codified set of rules, but were as fickle and contrary creatures as any human, subject to whim, persuasion, and bribery. Ideals of moral behavior came, instead, from philosophers, focusing more on ethics and being good for virtue’s own sake, rather than having anything to do with religion.

In a pluralistic society like ours, ideas of honor and virtue are no longer as concrete or well-defined as they were for either the Romans or the Elizabethans. We don’t have one overarching system demanding our compliance; instead, our society is a mixture of different influences and modes of thinking.

  • Discuss:
    • What are our modern virtues?  What makes a person today honorable?
      • Make a list on your blackboard, whiteboard, or smartboard.
    • Where do these ideas of virtue come from? Religion? Social rules and etiquette? Books and movies?
      • List as many origins for concepts of honor and virtue as possible.
      • How many of these institutions may come into conflict with each other?
    • What (or who) enforces these virtues? Peer pressure? Laws? Parents and teachers?
      • Again, list as many as possible and see where they may contradict or come into conflict with each other.
      • Discuss the idea of enforcing morality. How effectively is this done in the United States? What about in other countries?
  • How can you mate these concepts of modern virtue to the ideas of virtue portrayed in Julius Caesar?
    • Are any of the Roman or early modern ideals of honor and virtue still relevant today?  Do we think of the same or similar concepts by different names or within different parameters?
    • Consider how a production of Julius Caesar might draw on these ideas for costuming, makeup, or props.

You can download the full “Honor and Virtue” activity here, or you can buy the full Julius Caesar Study Guide — discounted 15% in honor of the Ides! — from Lulu.com.

Apprehend a world of figures: Rhetoric and the SAT

ROADS boxA recent feature on NPR’s The Takeaway discussed changes to the SAT exams (which many students will be taking tomorrow), and it included a reference to the fact that rhetorical analysis is now a component in assessing a student’s verbal skills.

This was news to me, but also delightful. I’ve been arguing for the inclusion of rhetorical studies in high school classrooms for years now, and as I did some research into the new SAT’s format and focus, it became clear to me that the ASC’s R.O.A.D.S. to Rhetoric materials are designed specifically to give students an entry-level understanding of precisely what the test now seems to be looking for:

  • From the College Board’s SAT study guide: “Analyzing word choice: Understanding how an author selects words, phrases, and language patterns to influence meaning, tone, and style; Analyzing text structure: Describing how an author shapes and organizes a text and how the parts of the passage contribute to the whole text”.
  • From Five Tips for a Top Essay on the New SAT: “For a high-scoring essay, don’t forget to use some rhetorical flourishes of your own: big words, literary devices, and even statistics and quotations you’ve memorized as part of your test prep. Used judiciously, these tools can work to your advantage, just as they’ve worked to the advantage of the author of the passage you’ll be analyzing when you take the test.”
  • From BodSAT’s News: “Any good rhetorical analysis process includes the head as well as the heart. Good English teachers know the importance of having students engage with the text before they analyze it.”
  • From Montgomery School of Maryland’s SAT prep: “Reading: The student needs to analyze the passage’s word choice and text structure, along with analyzing the author’s point of view, purpose, and argument (how the author builds, structures, and supports the argument)…. Writing: These questions focus on revision of text to improve the use of language to accomplish particular rhetorical purposes.  While reading, the student needs to ask him/herself questions like… – How is the author using phrasing and word choice to accurately, clearly, and concisely state the intended message? – How does the wording and sentence structure affect the style and tone of the passage?”
  • From Study Study Tips for the 2016 SAT Essay: “Point out specific rhetorical devices that strengthen the argument and connect the author to the reader. Common examples are word choice, hyperbole, figurative language, rhetorical questions, and emotional appeals – devices that you’ve probably learned in school.”
  • From Persons for the People: “An overview of Aristotle’s appeals: Ethos: The Ethical Appeal, demonstrates credibility, author is trustworthy/fair, emphasis on morality, right v wrong, considerate of both sides; Logos: The Logical Appeal, author uses reason, facts, evidence, charts, graphs, figures, general thoughtfulness; Pathos: The Emotional Appeal, taps into audience’s feelings, passion and possibility, pity, sympathy, sadness, seeks the ‘gut’ reaction, about the ‘experience’.”

This is right in line with everything we say about rhetoric and how it can help actors and students mine information about character, expression, intent, and action out of the text. (Plus, as I discussed last month, it’s pretty sexy stuff and totally fits with modern media). But it’s not enough just to be able to regurgitate definitions: students have to experience it in ways that are vital and visceral in order to learn how writers use rhetoric to shape critical thought and emotional affect. That’s where the application comes in — and there’s no better lens than Shakespeare for exploring rhetoric-in-action.

Here’s a snippet of what I encourage students to look for once they’ve got a basic grasp of rhetorical patterns:

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So, if you’re a teacher wondering how to approach this new requirement of the SAT exam, I encourage you to join us at an upcoming Teacher Seminar, or, bring your class in for a R.O.A.D.S. to Rhetoric workshop. We’re also happy to travel to you for classroom visits or in-service training. Whether or not you study the play we’re covering — or even if you don’t teach Shakespeare at all! — our methods of rhetorical analysis are cross-applicable across all language studies and will help to make your students better readers, writers, listeners, and thinkers.

And if you’re a student looking to get a leg up on the SAT exam? Try our Rhetoric Flashcards, available in the Box Office and through our online gift shop. Your classmates may all know what alliteration is, but you’ll be the one walking home with 800s when you drop terms like antanaclasis, polysyndeton, and anthimeria into your essay.

#YayHamlet: What Shakespeare and Broadway’s Biggest Hit Have to Do with Each Other

A few weeks ago, when I was participating in the “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” event at the Alden Theatre, the panel took a question from a man who complained that students today don’t understand Shakespeare because their language skills just aren’t up to the task, that they can’t process the complexities of vocabulary and syntax, and that modern English has degraded in quality and variety.

Now, while I have many problems with the state of modern education, I nonetheless felt compelled to stand up on behalf of my people, the young’uns (never mind that I’m on the verge of no longer sharing a generation with high schoolers). Modern English is no less complex than Shakespeare’s early modern English — in fact, in many ways it’s become more flexible and facile. Students are perfectly capable of using language in elaborate ways. They’re just not used to Shakespeare‘s elaborate ways.

How do I know this? Because the media that modern teenagers consume has linguistic intricacies of its own. Yes, they may text in hieroglyph-like emojis, but the English language is vibrant in the medium closest in modern culture to the playhouse in the 16th-century: their music.

The example that I had at the tip of my tongue, because it’s been so dominant in my brain since fall, was Hamilton.

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If you don’t know what Hamilton is — well, it is, empirically, one of the biggest things to happen to theatre in years — perhaps in a generation. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton, “the ten dollar Founding Father without a father”, has utterly taken both the theatrical and musical worlds by storm. If you need a primer, the cast performed the opening number during the Grammys last night.

So why, apart from my own obsession with the show, do I draw this parallel?

Rhetoric.

(Come on — If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you had to suspect that would be the answer).

It’s not just that Manuel is a linguistic genius. It’s that he’s a linguistic genius in many of the same ways that Shakespeare was, and the one I’m going to focus on in this post is the use of rhetoric to create character.

One of the reasons Shakespeare stands above his contemporaries is that he had such a great ear. His characters have individual voices. They don’t all speak in the same patterns, but rather, he defines each speaker by particular quirks and habits — just as we speak in everyday life. Miranda does the same thing.

Take the character of George Washington. This is a man with a clear idea of what needs to be done, and that shows in his rhetoric. He’s prone to anaphora, the repetition of beginnings, both of words and of sounds (alliteration). For example, in “Right-Hand Man”:

We are outgunned
Outmanned
Outnumbered, outplanned

He returns to this same pattern later in “Stay Alive”:

Provoke outrage, outright
Don’t engage, strike by night
Remain relentless till their troops take flight…
Outrun
Outlast
Hit ’em quick, get out fast
Stay alive till this horror show is past

He’s also prone to isocolon, parallel structure, in short, simple patterns like the imperatives we see above, and nearly every line in “History Has Its Eyes on You” begins with an “I + [verb]” statement. These rhetorical patterns underscore Washington as someone straightforward, focused, and solid. (Incidentally, the out- prefix has another interesting connection to Shakespeare, as noted in the Oxford English Dictionary: “True compound verbs in out- are those in which the sense of surpassing, exceeding, or beating in some action is conveyed, as in outdo , outlive , outbid , outnumber , outface , and the various extensions of these. These are of later origin: a very few (e.g. outlive, outpass, outrun) appear during the 15th cent.; they increase gradually during the 16th cent. (outproffer = outbid, and outcry, out-eat, outgo, outrhyme, outride, outrow in Palsgrave), and become numerous only c1600, being freely and boldly employed by Shakespeare, who is our earliest authority for many of them, including the curious group typified by ‘to outfrown frowns’, ‘to out-Herod Herod’.”)

The verbiage of Miranda’s Angelica Schuyler, meanwhile, is all over the rhetorical map. She’s brilliant, but with an intense urgency — her mind fires at a million miles an hour, and her speech patterns show it. Take the following example from “Satisfied”:

I remember that night, I just might
Regret that night for the rest of my days
I remember those soldier boys
Tripping over themselves to win our praise
I remember that dreamlike candlelight
Like a dream that you can’t quite place
But Alexander, I’ll never forget the first
Time I saw your face
I have never been the same
Intelligent eyes in a hunger-pang frame
And when you said “Hi,” I forgot my dang name
Set my heart aflame, ev’ry part aflame, this is not a game

There’s so much going on here. First, the “I remember” is anaphora, which makes your brain actually focus more on what happens afterwards. And then in the first stanza it’s combined with mesodiplosis, repetition in the middle, with those “that night”s. But then “dreamlike candlelight like a dreamis antimetabole, a specific form of chiasmus, that A-B-B-A structure. And then we end with some epistrophe, repetition at the end of a phrase, in the “aflame” clauses. And throughout we’re getting this antithesis contrast between the past and present tense in the verbs she uses.

So what you get is this bobbing effect, in and out of reality, in and out of memory, in and out of what was and what could have been. But it still ties up and ties together in the progression (dare I say auxesis?) of the kinds of repetition from beginning to middle to end, because Angelica ultimately has that kind of grip on herself. Her mind may race, but she has control of it.

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Her sister Eliza Hamilton nee Schuyler, by contrast, Miranda presents as a natural storyteller. There’s so much parallelism in her words, both within songs:

Tryin’ to catch your eye from the side of the ballroom
Everybody’s dancin’ an the band’s top volume
Grind to the rhythm as we wine and dine
Grab my sister and whisper “Yo, this one’s mine”
My sister made her way across the room to you
And I got nervous thinkin’ “What’s she gonna do?”
She grabbed you by the arm, I’m thinkin I’m through,
Then you look back at me and suddenly I’m helpless!
[…]
Two weeks later in the living room, stressin’
My father’s stone-faced while you’re askin’ for his blessin’
I’m dyin’ inside as you wine and dine
And I’m tryin’ not to cry ’cause there’s nothin’
That your mind can’t do
My father makes his way across the room to you
I panic for a second thinkin’ we’re through
But then he shakes your hand and says “Be true”
And you turn back to me, smilin, and I’m helpless!

and across the entire show:

Oh, let me be a part of the narrative [“That Would Be Enough”, Act 1]

I’m erasing myself from the narrative [“Burn”, Act 2]

I put myself back in the narrative [“Who Lives, Who Dies Who Tells Your Story”, Finale]

This creates a sense of romanticism, someone who weaves the narrative even as she’s living it, as well as keying in on Eliza as someone who tries to make sense of things. She thinks more linearly than her frenetic husband. But it also ties in beautifully with one of the show’s ultimate messages: Eliza is the one “who lives, who dies, who tells [Hamilton’s] story”, as the final number gorgeously declares. Of course she is — it’s been there in her rhetoric all along.

You’ll notice that, in all of this, I haven’t actually touched the rhetoric of the character of Hamilton himself. There’s honestly just too much. That would be a small thesis all on its own. Nor have I talked about Lafayette’s journey from barely constructing sentences in English to spitting some of the fastest and most gorgeous chiasmus in the show, or how Miranda uses these rhetorical differences to help the actors playing different characters in each act (Lafayette/Jefferson, Mulligan/Madison, Laurens/Philip, Peggy/Maria) — much the same way that doubling works in Shakespeare. I could spend months dissecting Hamilton‘s rhetoric and still not squeeze it all out, just as I’ve spent that kind of time on Julius Caesar, as I could on any of Shakespeare’s plays, and yet still have so much to explore.

Hamilton is ridiculously popular with exactly the age bracket that our lecture attendee was so concerned about — students whom he presumed have worse language skills than prior generations. My argument is that their skills are every bit as good. Hamilton‘s popularity proves it. They can and do revel in complex patterns and verbal intricacies. Our job as teachers of Shakespeare is just to help them re-tune their ears. Anyone who can understand and enjoy Hamilton can understand and enjoy Shakespeare. Miranda’s patterns have a lot in common with Shakespeare’s, but they’re still configured differently — so we just have to help them use what they already know, what they already do intuitively, in a different way.

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–Cass Morris
ASC Academic Resources Manager

*PS: Why “#YayHamlet”? Here’s why.