30 December 2011

2011 in Review

We're wrapping up another year in ASC Education, and 2011 has been full of excitement and surprises.
  • Our biggest event of the year was the 6th Blackfriars Conference, held in late October. With over 150 presenters in both plenary and colloquy sessions; keynotes from George T. Wright, Scott Kaiser, Tiffany Stern, and honoree Stephen Booth; ASC productions and special late-night performances; banquets; parties; and after-parties, this year’s conference was a rousing success.
  • Our summer camps were more successful than ever. At the American Shakespeare Center Theatre Camp, six troupes across two sessions performed in an hour-long version of early modern plays (in a “Greek to me Summer”, the plays were all set in Greece); participated in master classes including stage combat, dance, music, acrobatics, and maskwork; attended academic classes in theatre history, scansion/rhetoric, classics, and source study; and visited the Blackfriars Playhouse to watch the professional Resident and Touring Troupe actors rehearse and perform in our summer season of plays. This was the first summer we offered college credit for the camp. Our Midsummer Day Camp welcomed students ages 9-12 for an adventurous week of creative play, imagination, and fantasy, culminating in a final performance of Twelfth Night. Enthusiasts of all ages came to Staunton for the second year of the No Kidding Shakespeare Camp for Adults. We’re already looking forward to the 2012 camps; applications and registrations are now open: ASCTC; MSDC; NKSC.
  • We introduced a new program in 2011: ASC Family. An ASC Family membership has many benefits, including discounted tickets, free Playhouse tours, and free admission to ASC Family events, where we bring the community into the Playhouse. In September, we welcomed musicians and artists; our next ASC Family event, “Taste of Staunton” is on January 21st and will feature local restaurateurs.
  • The ASC also hosted recitation competitions for Poetry Out Loud and the English Speaking Union. At the ESU Nationals in New York in May, Ralph Alan Cohen served as a judge, and the ASC awarded a full ASCTC scholarship to second-place winner Claire Hilton.
  • Our Study Guides, already improved in 2010, underwent another round of revisions. The new guides for Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Henry V, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado about Nothing, and Richard III feature an expanded Basics section, introducing teachers to methods of classroom performance and engagement with the text, including scansion, paraphrasing, acting interpretation, rhetoric, and audience interaction. I'm currently working on bringing the Basics from last year's guides up to those standards, and then I'll start work on the 2012-2013 guides.
  • Those Study Guides form the basis for our Teacher Seminars. This year, we added a fourth seminar, a special one-day event in August. Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall, dozens of new attendees and old friends joined us to explore methods of performance-based learning. For the second year in a row, we’ve welcomed pre-service teachers from JMU to a mini-seminar in December, we look forward to seeing them return next year.
  • We welcomed 15 Little Academes to the Playhouse over the course of the year: 2 in February, 6 in March, 2 in April, 3 in May, 1 in August, and 1 in September. That's up from 11 in 2010, and we hope that even more teachers will choose to bring their students to us for week-long intensives in 2012.
  • If the students can’t come to us, we’ll come to them! In October, we held our first On-Site Educational Residency in Shaker Heights, Ohio. I traveled with former ASC actors Kelley McKinnon and Chad Bradford for a week with the amazing young women of the Hathaway Brown School. We presented in both English and theatre classes, and Kelley and Chad provided rehearsal coaching for the school’s production of Macbeth.
  • Our educational opportunities aren’t just limited to students; this year, we expanded our professional training programs farther than ever. We continue our long relationship with the Federal Executive Institute, providing leadership seminars, and we’ve begun to develop programs focusing on law and finance as well.
  • Apart from bringing scholars to visit us during the Blackfriars Conference, we also attended a number of other conferences in 2011. We presented to teachers and students at the Texas Educational Theatre Association in January, and that month, representatives from the Education, Marketing, and Managing departments of the ASC attended the Shakespeare Theatre Association conference in Boulder, Colorado. In February, Sarah and I presented on Shakespeare as a Primary Source at the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies’s conference in Phoenix. And in April, Ralph traveled with ASC actors James Keegan, Rene Thornton Jr., and John Harrell to the Shakespeare Association of American conference in Seattle, where Ralph presented on Falstaff and our actors presented at a workshop on Playing Shakespeare. 2012 is shaping up to be just as full of travel for the whole team, with visits planned to Sacramento, Orlando, and Boston.
  • We’re also expanding our relationships with friends across the world. Sarah and I visited the Folger Shakespeare Library in May to discuss how both companies are expanding our online resources for students and teachers. Ryan Nelson from Shakespeare’s Globe visited us to present for the MBC MLitt/MFA program and to talk about digital opportunities for education, and the conference in October further expanded that relationship with a presentation given by new Globe Managing Director Neil Constable, and Director of Research Farah Karim-Cooper on their upcoming Indoor Theatre.
  • We moved the bulk of our archives to Washington and Lee University, where our materials can enjoy greater storage space and management than our facilities could offer (So for anyone who’s visited our archives in the past, that means no more cramming yourselves into that tiny, overstuffed closet). We retain the last five years’ worth of material in the offices, but we shipped everything about shows from 1987 to 2005 down to Lexington; more sections (from Education, Marketing, Development, the Board of Trustees, and on the building of the Blackfriars) will go down in Summer 2012.
  • The MBC MLitt/MFA Shakespeare in Performance program also had a full year: an all-male production of Romeo and Juliet, dueling versions of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, a spring thesis festival, and many other events and productions.
  • We also work with the MBC Program for the Exceptionally Gifted and Honors program each fall semester. This year’s focus word was “wisdom”, and the students explored variations of that word’s meaning through scenes from As You Like It.
  • We partnered with the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind to bring workshops to their students, as well as arranging two sign-language interpreted nights of Macbeth in April -- one matinee, for their students, and one evening performance open to the public, thanks to the generosity of the interpreters, Kate O’Varanese and Laurie Shaffer, from UVA who gave us the gift of their services at no cost.
  • We said goodbye to Christina Sayer Grey and welcomed Ben Ratkowski to the team. Christina didn't leave the ASC, but shuffled over into Marketing; if you follow the ASC on Facebook or Twitter, she's responsible for most of that content now, as well as numerous contributions to our other promotional materials. Ben took over her job as Group Sales and Academic Relations Manager, in addition to his responsibilities as ASC Family Coordinator.
  • Education Interns always provide a bitter-sweet Hello and Goodbye. Good-bye to Natalie and Liz and David. Hello to Jane, Kyle, Brenna, Kimberly, Jennifer, Angelinne, and John. We’re so grateful for the time each of you can spend with us, and we wish you all the luck in 2012 and beyond.
You can see photos from these events on the ASC Facebook page. If you joined us in 2011, take a flip through and reawaken some memories. If you didn't make it to Staunton, then hopefully the pictures will inspire you to join us in 2012!

So what’s ahead for ASC Education in 2012? More access to more people. We hope to reach more students and educators than ever -- that means more classes coming to matinees, more young adults at ASCTC, more pre-teens at Midsummer Day Camp, more grown folks at No Kidding Shakespeare Camp, more attendees at our Teacher Seminars, more educators downloading Study Guides, more groups coming in for leadership seminars and other professional training opportunities, more podcasts featuring our actors and education artists -- more of you getting to do more with us.

I hope everyone has had a lovely and safe holiday season, and that we’ll be seeing you in the coming months. The Actors’ Renaissance Season ramps up in just a few days, providing a wonderful opportunity to witness firsthand the marriage of research and scholarship with theatrical practice -- so come see us soon!

15 December 2011

Remembering Bernice Kliman and H. Gordon Smyth -- A Special Message from Ralph Alan Cohen

Bernice Kliman and H. Gordon Smyth, two important friends to the ASC, died last week. They didn’t know each other, and they would be surprised to find themselves being remembered together in this piece. In truth, they were about as different as two good people can be. Gordon, a retired executive with Dupont, was a quiet and reserved man, the kind of upright citizen you expect to meet at the Rotary Club and have as a deacon of your church. Bernice was a retired professor from Nassau Community College, and the kind of gleefully uninhibited New Yorker you’d expect to see at a protest march with Bella Abzug.

Bernice first raised a family of four sons with her husband Merwin on Long Island and then began a remarkable career as a Shakespearean. At the Folger Shakespeare Library, she was the first reader at her desk when the library opened at 8:45 and the last one there when it closed at 4:45. After hours, she was the ringleader in getting the other scholars together for plays, concerts, lectures, and – especially – parties where there was dancing. She was a wonderful dancer and my memory of parties at the Folger Guest House and at Tom Berger’s Malone Society Dances at the Shakespeare Association of America always feature Bernice tearing up the dance floor in her colorfully patterned stockings – imagine Ruth Gordon doing a damned good Tina Turner imitation and you’ll be pretty close to what I remember.

Bernice didn’t like snobs and she was suspicious of the establishment, but she loved upstarts and underdogs – she was one – so she was immediately drawn to the work of the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express. A good show was all the credentials she needed in a Shakespeare company. At the Folger she became a vocal proponent of the SSE, and, when we offered our first teacher seminars (at the Dayton Learning Center), she was our featured visiting scholar (thanks to the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and our first ever grant). Later she brought us up to Long Island to do shows and workshops at at her college. She was one of those people’s whose high regard for our work made me know we were on the right track, and her remarkable enthusiasm put a favoring wind in our sails. Her great work, The Three-Text Hamlet, gives a side-by-side-by-side look at the three versions of the play, and is one of the indispensible books for a Shakespearean scholar. She did me the honor of letting me use an advanced manuscript for my production of the play in 1995.

By contrast, Gordon’s support was not so much moral as financial – generously so. At his funeral, the minister talked about the story in Luke of the Good Samaritan, and pointed out that loving your neighbor meant extending the idea of “neighbor” even to strangers. In a way, that’s what Gordon did with us. I don't think he cared that much about Shakespeare, but he and Mary Beth wanted to support young minds – their foundation sends deserving young people to college – and he cared about Mary Baldwin College and knew we were important to Cynthia Tyson and then to Pamela Fox.

I remember, during board meetings, his quiet dismay at our first attempts to be a sound business. I remember his dry comments and his pointed questions. I fancy, too, that he had a glint of amusement in his eyes, the kind of glint your father had while you were explaining to him why you needed a larger allowance. Whatever his misgivings may have been about our start-up, upstart Shakespeare company, it was Gordon who agreed to assure the mortgage our late, great Bruce Campbell had arranged for the Blackfriars.

Gordon and Bernice – the businessman-philanthropist and the scholar-teacher – so unlike one another except in their devotion to the idea that learning enriches, were part of our foundation. We are saddened at losing them. We celebrate their friendship and we owe their memories the best work we can do.

14 December 2011

'Much Ado About Nothing' Study Guide Now Available!

At last! I get to share the Study Guide for my very favorite play, Much Ado about Nothing. As I noted in a previous post, I've enjoyed this one tremendously, and I'm already super-excited about getting to work through these activities with attendees at our Winter Teacher Seminar.

Shakespeare Education: Much Ado about Nothing Study GuideHere is a ten-page preview for your enjoyment. This Study Guide includes the following activities:
  • The Basics: Getting your students on their feet, working with iambic pentameter, paraphrasing, exploring rhetoric, and turning your classroom into an early modern stage.
  • Line Assignments: A way to give your students ownership over a small section of text, which they will use in further language-based activities and staging explorations.
  • Too Wise to Woo Peaceably: Benedick and Beatrice are one of Shakespeare's finest couples, witty and brilliant and endearing. Better than all of that, however, they're both fantastically smart -- and in this activity, your students will explore the rhetoric of their scenes and discover how Shakespeare uses their language to show the audience that they deserve each other and belong together.
  • Perspectives: Slanderous Tongues. Much Ado about Nothing's plot revolves around an issue that your students experience every day in high school life: rumors. Your students will examine the language of slander in Much Ado and will relate Hero's unfortunate situation to their own lives. What words hurt the most? On what basis can a girl's reputation become ruined? How is reputation different from a male perspective?
  • Dogberry: Before malapropism was malapropism, it was something else entirely. From everlasting redemptions to odorous comparisons, your students will discover the comic gold that is Dogberry's creatively mistaken vocabulary.
  • The Gulling of Benedick and Beatrice: Your students will explore the staging requirements of two of the play's best comic scenes, when Benedick and Beatrice each hear their friends conspiring against them. Where can you hide the eavesdroppers so that the audience can see their reactions -- critical to the success of the scene -- without breaking the imaginative fiction that allows Benedick and Beatrice to believe that their gullers are unaware of their presence? These scenes take advantage of early modern staging conditions in creative ways, and working through them will get your students thinking actively about thrust staging, universal lighting, and audience contact.
  • Staging Challenges: Kill Claudio. Shakespeare's plays rarely fit neatly into the categories of comedy and tragedy that we've created for them, and a key example of this in Much Ado about Nothing is the moment when Beatrice challenges Benedick to prove his worth to her by killing the man who dishonored her cousin. Through active staging, your students will explore different potential interpretations of this scene and will determine which version they feel tells the best story.
  • Textual Variants: The earliest printed versions of Much Ado about Nothing have several textual oddities -- oddities which reveal that this play may be more closely related to Shakespeare's original manuscript than any other in the canon. Activities on speech prefixes and stage directions will walk your students through an examination of the transmission of text in early modern London.
  • Production Choices: A guide to producing a 1-hour version of the play in your classroom.

If you would like to purchase a downloadable PDF of this or any other ASC Study Guide, just visit our website. I'm already well into work on the Study Guide for Richard III -- the last for this artistic year! After which, my plan is to bring the 2010 set up-to-date with the modifications we introduced for the 2011s, and then I will start work on 2012.

08 December 2011

How did I get here?

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

Ah, the Blackfriars Conference 2011.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will you remember?

02 December 2011

Too Wise to Woo Peaceably

The Much Ado about Nothing Study Guide should be ready soon (and I hope I'll have a 10-page preview for you on Monday), and I just have to say, I'm enjoying this one more than probably ought to be allowed. I'm enjoying it so much, in fact, that I couldn't wait until the release to tell you what a good time I'm having.

Much Ado about Nothing is my favorite play, and this has never been a secret to anyone who knows me. It was not the first Shakespeare play I read, but it was the first one I saw in performance, at the age of 12, in the little theatre in the basement of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. From that night on, it was all over for me. Much Ado had won my heart, and nothing since has had any power to tempt it away.

There's a lot that's good in this play -- the satire of courtship between Claudio and Hero, the insidious villainy of Don John, the overconfident antics of Constable Dogberry -- but for my money (and I suspect for many others' as well), this show is all about Beatrice and Benedick. They are both the head and the heart of the story, the greatest wits and also the characters who demonstrate the most tremendous emotional depth. I think theirs is the most emotionally real of all of Shakespeare's love stories, not least because it's a more mature affair than many others. Benedick and Beatrice have loved and lost and hurt before; Beatrice tells us this flat-out, though Shakespeare tantalizingly never elucidates the circumstances of their shared past:
Come, lady, come; you have lost the heart of

Signior Benedick.

Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave
him use for it, a double heart for his single one:
marry, once before he won it of me with false dice,
therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.
I like this glimpse of backstory not only for the magnificent potential for emotional nuance that it gives performers, but also because it provides Beatrice and Benedick with a more solid foundation on which to build a relationship. If they only fall in love with each other because their friends trick them into it, that would make them fairly shallow people, and it would not inspire a lot of hope for a successful future -- but if the love is already there and just needs to be rekindled, that paints a much brighter picture.

I've been working on an activity that I just can't wait to test out with the participants of our Teacher Seminar in February, examining the progression of their relationship through an analysis of how they use language. Shakespeare shows the audience, so clearly, that these two are meant for each other. No one else in the play uses language quite the way they do. For all the banter, quips, and Beatrice and Benedick are the only two who so consistently take each others' words, fire them back across, and set up for the next volley.

The rhetoric shows us not only how smart they are -- and these two characters are some of Shakespeare's most verbally intelligent creations -- but how well they work together. At the beginning of the play, those shared words and mimicked rhetoric are part of the battle, a game of one-up-manship they play with each other. By the end of the play, however, Beatrice and Benedick are using those same figures in a completely different way; instead of combating each other, they're working together, building off of each others' words instead of trying to tear each other down. There's still an element of challenge there -- essential, I think, to their relationship -- but it's no longer with the end goal of destruction. Beatrice and Benedick prove themselves a delightfully matched pair. From the "gay couples" of Restoration comedy to the comedies of manners in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the "screwball" comedies of the 1930s and 40s, and the sitcoms of today, their legacy is certainly a magnificent one.

15 November 2011

'Henry V' Study Guide Now Available

The ASC Study Guide for Henry V is now available. I got to stretch my historical muscles and revisit my medieval studies roots for this one, which was a real treat for me.
Here is a ten-page preview for your perusing enjoyment. Activities in this guide include the following:
  • The Basics: Getting your students on their feet, working with iambic pentameter, paraphrasing, exploring rhetoric, and turning your classroom into an early modern stage.
  • Line Assignments: A way to give your students ownership over a small section of text, which they will use in further language-based activities and staging explorations.
  • Staging Challenges: Dealing with Canterbury's seemingly interminable Salic Law speech -- and turning it into an exciting exploration of language and performance opportunities. The Salic Law speech may, at first, seem to represent everything your students fear most about Shakespeare: an enormous block of text, spoken by a high-ranking official, which doesn't appear to say anything of importance. This activity will help you show your students that there is humor for the mining in Canterbury's digressions, and that the entire speech is a set-up for a grand punchline.
  • Perspectives: How does Henry craft his language in order to motivate his men? And is he really such a glorious leader, or is there some disconnect between the Henry that the Chorus celebrates and the Henry that Shakespeare shows us in action? This activity examines the examples of leadership, both positive and negative, presented in Henry V: heroic Henry, not-so-heroic Henry, the flippant Dauphin, the aging Charles VI, the brusque Fluellen, and others. Your students will relate Shakespeare's various portrayals of leadership to modern politics, and will examine Henry's methods of motivation as compared to modern military recruiting techniques.
  • Perspectives: The Battle of Agincourt stands as one of England's most famous victories, but what were the historical realities? Were the English outnumbered 6-to-1? 10-to-1? Or just 4-to-3? Your students will explore contemporary accounts, secondary sources, and modern research to cast new light on the version of events Shakespeare portrays. They will also discuss the place that Agincourt holds in the English narrative of national identity and will explore what similar moments in American history hold that same position for us.
  • Rhetoric: Henry V is one of Shakespeare's very best speakers. He fits his speech to the occasion and his listeners remarkably well, changing his tenor, his vocabulary, and his rhythms for greatest appeal. Your students will examine those conditions throughout their exploration of Henry V, but how does Henry speak when he is alone with the audience? In this activity, your students will explore how Henry uses devices of repetition and substitution in order to build a rapport with the audience.
  • A variety of scenes for alternative stagings.
  • Production Choices: A guide to producing a 1-hour version of the play in your classroom
If you would like to purchase a downloadable PDF of the Henry V Study Guide, or of any of our other Study Guides, please visit our website. I've already begun work on the next offering: Much Ado about Nothing -- It's my all-time favorite play, so I'm quite excited about it.

04 November 2011

Imprimis: Links and Tidbits -- 'Anonymous' Edition

As I'm sure you've all noticed, a movie came out last week which, despite its risible nature, seeks to ruffle feathers in the world of Shakespeare studies. Many scholars would rather not dignify the nonsensical issue with a response (not to mention our reluctance to give Emmerich more free publicity), but the matter has pressed itself sufficiently that the community has responded. If Anonymous realized its own fictional nature and were not attempting to masquerade its inventions as fact, perhaps we wouldn't have such a problem, but because Emmerich has taken to the media, smugly pronouncing himself the savior of truth, and because Sony has begun distributing supposedly "educational" packets to high schools (I've seen them; they're alarmingly misleading and ethically irresponsible) -- those conditions provoke the defense that Shakespeare deserves. The kid gloves have come off, and rather than dancing delicately around the issue, many scholars have attacked the issue head-on and free of hedging. I submit here, for your perusal, a smattering of the reviews and opinions published in response to the Anonymous absurdity.
  • James Shapiro, author of Contested Will, took to the New York Times in defense of Shakespeare: "Promoters of de Vere’s cause have a lot of evidence to explain away, including testimony of contemporary writers, court records and much else that confirms that Shakespeare wrote the works attributed to him. Meanwhile, not a shred of documentary evidence has ever been found that connects de Vere to any of the plays or poems."
  • The Times also has a piece by Stephen Marche, which not only disapproves of the attempt to portray the film as educational but also derides the conspiracy theory in general: "No argument could ever possibly sway the Oxfordian crowd. They are the prophets of truthiness. 'It couldn’t have been Shakespeare,' they say. 'How could a semiliterate country boy have composed works of such power?' Their snobbery is the surest sign of their ignorance."
  • An editorial in the Washington Post sought out opinions from James Shapiro, the Folger's Michael Witmore, and eminent period scholars Eric Rasmussen and Stephen Greenblatt.
  • Simon Schama advises, simply, "Don't buy it" in regards to Emmerich's spurious claims. "None of which would matter very much were there not something repellent at the heart of the theory, and that something is the toad, snobbery—the engine that drives the Oxfordian case against the son of the Stratford glover John Shakespeare. ... The real problem is not all this idiotic misunderstanding of history and the world of the theater but a fatal lack of imagination on the subject of the imagination. The greatness of Shakespeare is precisely that he did not conform to social type—that he was, in the words of the critic William Hazlitt, 'no one and everyone.'"
  • A public radio commentary fights the idea of privilege attached to the Oxfordian theory: "I could never stand before a class of high school students and tell them that great writing, and a deep understanding of humanity can only be achieved by the educated elite."
  • Woman About Town links the "controversy" to other conspiracy theories. "It was only as the centuries passed and Shakespeare’s work began to be seen as the pinnacle of artistic achievement that it was that ‘doubts’ emerged. And the biggest reason appears to have been plain old-fashioned snobbery and frustrated romantic yearnings."
  • Jonathan Hobratsch for the Huffington Post presents 10 reasons why Shakespeare is Shakespeare.
  • Slate.com has a movie review, complete with podcast, demonstrating that even objective reviewers with no dog in the fight find the whole premise absurd. The podcast is particularly interesting for what the reviewers have to say about the relationship of modern actors to the conspiracy. Another article on the same site asserts the need to defend Shakespeare: "To remain silent in the face of stupidity this blatant is to acquiesce to a kind of culture-destroying ugliness. ... Most of all, I hate the way they pride themselves on the vain, mendacious conceit that they’re in on a grand historical secret deception that only they have the superior intelligence to understand. It’s an insult to everyone else’s intelligence if they’re taken seriously."
  • James Ley challenges Sony's choice to promote the fictional movie as educational: "There is something pernicious about the way Anonymous is being promoted. The 'teach the controversy' strategy, beloved of those whose arguments are on the wrong side of the evidence, is now apparently so normalised that an implausible work of speculative fiction can be brazenly offered as an exercise in historical revisionism and an educational tool."
  • Skeptical Humanities also challenges the movie presenting fiction as fact: "So, no, Anonymous is NOT just a movie: it is a huge propaganda machine that wants desperately to sway viewers and students."
  • Stanley Wells and Paul Edmondson, from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, have written an e-book which they’ve made freely available. Shakespeare Bites Back synopsizes the argument nicely and also advocates that we stop using the term "anti-Stratfordian" and begin calling a spade a spade with the term "anti-Shakespearean". Additionally, Edmondson and Wells discuss the issue in a short podcast, Wells has a piece in the Telegraph, and a series of posts from back in June demonstrates that Shakespeare solidly wins the debate.
  • Finally, the Utah Shakespeare Festival solicited responses from a number of scholars and practitioners from Shakespeare institutions around the country. When they asked the ASC for our thoughts, Sarah was kind enough (and brave enough) to let me reply -- so if you want to know what I personally think about the issue, my argument is encapsulated there in a 500-word essay.
I'm also in the process of finally reading Shapiro's Contested Will, which Simon & Schuster sent to me for a review, so hopefully I'll be able to post that soon. It's also worth noting what several of the scholars who've weighed in have pointed out: this conspiracy is not something that dominates the field of Shakespeare studies. It is a distraction from real work. As entertaining as it sometimes is to spork a ridiculous fiction, I think we'll all be quite pleased when the movie flops (as it's reportedly doing), the hype dies down, and we can go back to arguing about the finer nuances of scansion, pedagogical technique, and the merits of Q1 Hamlet.

30 October 2011

Blackfriars Conference 2011 - Hamlet Conversations

Christina Sayer Grey here for the last presentation of the 2011 Blackfriars Conference. It's been a lot of fun to live-blog for you all this week. Enjoy!

Ralph announces that this panel was suggested by Rene Thornton, Jr.

Moderator: Matt Davies

Hamlets: Khris Lewin (2005 at the Blackfriars), Benjamin Curns (2007 at the Blackfriars, Actors' Renaissance Season, Q1), James Ricks (2001 at the Blackfriars), John Harrell (2011 at the Blackfriars), and Thadd McQuade (1995 with SSE, also played Hamlet in the German MFA project)

Matt says that the purpose of this panel is to talk about what it means to play Hamlet here versus playing him elsewhere. This panel will be in the format of an extended talkback.

Contest: Best Collective Noun for a Group of Hamlets (the best one I've heard, A Sulk of Hamlets)

Q: Why do you think that Hamlet chose you?
T.M.: I think that's a question for the directors.
J.H.: I think I'm a Polonius, but I never saw Hamlet on my path. It was always something for other actors to do, so I never paid much attention to it. I never thought I would play it and I never thought I wanted to. The Hamlet you see now is what I, personally, see the play to be from a very virginal perspective.
B.C.: It was my 2nd Renaissance Season. I had had really terrific parts in the first season, but I wasn't carrying any of the plays. When I heard they were planning to do the Q1, but I didn't know what that meant. I just asked to have my mind floated along in the pool of names, just to consider me. My understanding of Hamlet is that its unique in that the lead character has a scene with every other member of the company.
M.D.: Hamlet is interesting because Hamlet is the only character who really knows what's going through the whole play.
K.L.: First gig out of college. I was 21 and I was the understudy for Hamlet. I remember sitting at the first rehearsal, and the guy playing Hamlet seemed too old to play Hamlet to me. That's when I felt that Hamlet chose me. And then when I finally played him for real, at 33, that miraculously felt like the perfect age.
J.R.: That sense of being chosen - "why is this happening to me?" and using that. You get to have a relationship with everyone else onstage with you.

Q: Why is this role considered the testing ground for actors? What is with the prestige? Does it deserve its reputation?
B.C.: Of course it does. It demands of the actor a lot of different things. You have to build relationships with every other in the play and, in this space, build a relationship with the audience. And, you're in 90% of the play. That, in a way, makes it easier. You don't have time backstage to get nervous.
J.H.: Shakespeare as a cultural figure seems to get lucky sometimes, but the thing about Hamlet as a great part makes me, as an actor, way more self-conscious about performance than I've been in any other part. And that's a big factor in the part, too. The role and the actor ramify in that part. It doubles the experience.

Q: Which is the character that you, as your Hamlet, most connected with?
J.H.: Horatio, which surprised me.
K.L.: It's amazing - I really felt a special connection with all of the characters at different times.
B.C.: For me, it was the ghost, hands down. Shakespeare writes this amazing scene - "I know you have a million lines before and after this scene, but in this moment "'list.'" The ghost gives the best pieces of advice to the actor playing the role in this speech. The ghost has so much to say, and Hamlet is required, in that moment, to listen.
J.R.: The ghost, as well. We really played with tenderness in that scene. The audience, though, was the relationship I paid the most attention to. I tried to befriend them as much as I could.
T.M.: It's much more for me about the actors playing the roles than a particular character on paper. Horatio, though, is an enormous challenge. What is he doing there except to act as a witness and a fellow audience member. The room can alter it quite a bit, of course.

Q: Hamlet's Theatricality - for Hamlet the audience becomes a major character that he has to deal with. How much did the audience become a mirror for you, playing at the Blackfriars?
B.C.: It made the role way easier. If I had to do it in the dark, I'd find the role much more challenging. "To be or not to be" - the inclusivity of the pronouns.
J.R.: I found it liberating and very comforting. We miss a huge opportunity when we put up that 4th wall. To that extent, the role becomes the actor.

Q: Hamlet can, in some ways, be an isolating part, but in this space, he's never alone in a very obvious way.
J.H.: I'll buy that.

K.L.: To the other Hamlets, how did you use the house for soliloquizing? Stagecraft-wise?
J.H.: I started by doing the "too, too solid flesh" speech in the DSR corner. That first speech is nerve-wracking and that acted like a security blanket almost.
K.L.: From center stage, that first speech made me feel like an insect under a microscope.
B.C.: That speech is a place where you feel like you're being judged as an actor as well as the character.

Q: How have Original Practices affect your develop of the role? What was the relationship of O.P. to your Hamlets?
B.C.: OP version of special effects. How can we use "magic doors" and sound cues for the ghost? Ostensibly, the scene calls for five people, but it's really an all-call for the supernatural elements.
K.L.: I did Hamlet two years later in a traditional theatre, we had lights and fog, etc. Was there a precedent for using mist?
Lauren Shell (from the gallery): Yes.
J.H.: I like how this kind of space...the advice to the players - making this really advice to Hamlet from himself. It made for a very interesting little puzzle when relating to the role and this space.

Q: Hamlet wasn't a Blackfriars play, it was a Globe play. Hamlet ribs the groundlings and some scholars have said that it make him an elitist. Are there groundlings in this space?
J.H.: You are being ruthlessly upstaged by the players. There are always people who are WAY more interested in the dumbshow than in anything Hamlet says.
T.M.: In this space, the groundlings are above in the gallery. It's very tangible, that split and it's very exciting. Different communities/audiences on different levels.

Q: In this space, does Hamlet then throw the "groundling" lines up rather than down?
J.H.: I always pick the one person on the stools who isn't paying attention because there is one, inevitably.

Q: A show of hands for who has or is about to play Hamlet - What's the experience watching someone play Hamlet in this space?
A (Justin): It seems like such a wonderfully intimate venue. It's enclosed and you can feel like the audience is always so close.
Q: And you did your Hamlet in a graveyard?
A (Justin): We started in a 19th-century opera house and I felt it was harder to reach the audience in that space than it was outdoors.
A (Daniel): This space is quite similar to the Winedale space. It's surrounded by audience on three sides. You can touch/get in the face of someone in the front row. It allows you to connect very personally with the audience members, convince them that they're the person about who you're talking.
A (Bob): Outside in central Texas. It's very hot. The challenge of the role is less about the lines than just the physical exercise involved in performing the role. At Winedale, audiences are constantly fanning themselves and shifting around. It makes it impossible for the actor to stay still the whole time. Added to the manicness of the character.

Q: In "all occasions," there is a passage - "will and strength and means..." 26 consecutive monosyllabic words, begins and ends with a caesura. So, basically - pause, 26 monosyllables, pause. Have you thought about what that's all about?
J.H.: The leaden ratio - that speech happens at the moment the audience most palpably wants Hamlet to shut up. And, you are out there saying something that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
Q: Act - motive, intention, and performance. If you apply that concept to what Hamlet is saying -
J.H.: If he just changed to the past-tense "If I HAD cause and will..." it would make so much more sense.
T.M.: I think that the thing is what Mamet called the 'Kitten monologue' - someone grinding the play to a halt with a jarring, nostalgic moment. It's like a play-sized caesura. It's a different flavor for Hamlet. He can misrepresent himself to himself, self- deception. I think it's an interesting moment that, if you're looking for fluidity, continuity, and rationality, it's clear why it gets cut, but it can be a moment where Hamlet and Fortinbras can suss out the differences in their characters.
K.L.: I didn't do it here, but I did it elsewhere. And it's interesting - it's the last big speech, it's the only one not at the castle. And it's the turning point after which he acts - he deals with R&G, he gets involved with pirates, he gets his revenge. He becomes this sort of action hero-y character offstage.
J.H.: And, I found it incredibly easy to memorize.

Q: Offstage - why do you think Hamlet goes to Ophelia's closet and what it he trying to do there?
J.H. [laughs]: What are they generally trying to do there?
B.C.: If you believe that he goes there directly after the ghost scene, he goes there to tell the person he trusts the most, but when he gets there, he remembers he's sworn to secrecy and so stands there in silence. He hopes to find a support system, but can't.
K.L.: It's one of those near misses. Like, if only that servant could read and didn't have to ask Romeo...
J.R.: Jim had us rehearse that scene to get a reference point.

Q. In this particular theatre, we're willing to join you on an imaginative journey, do you think it matters how old Hamlet is?
J.R.: Modern audiences certainly relate to college Hamlet and his buddy Horatio. I think it assists their understanding.
K.L.: It is such a wonderful role, and I want to see all kinds of different Hamlets. I want to see Hamlets of all kinds.

Q (Maxim): If you could give yourself advice as you were playing Hamlet, what advice would you give?
B.C.: Ask for help. In a season with no director, I was really fortunate to have Rene as Horatio and he set aside time to sit with me as I worked the soliloquys. Rather than feeling like you have to carry the show, take in as much information and feedback as possible.
J.R.: I would tell myself...give myself permission to fail. I came in with a lot of preconceived notions and couldn't allow myself to let them go.
M.D.: It brings up the thought - is this the sort of role you should really play twice?
J.H.: I wish I could have been able to relax about it.

Q: Is it difficult, as Hamlet, to be directed? Since it's such a dominating part?
T.M.: Not at all. I think I would have been a lot more at sea if I hadn't had Ralph as the director. The director can be a very useful pressure to create a clear form. Otherwise, the part could just spill everywhere.
J.H.: The best directors at least give you the illusion of ownership. I feel that I can answer for everything I'm doing on the stage.
J.R.: I felt that Jim was an ally and really helped in fleshing out each of those relationships, one by one.
B.C.: It's great to be asked a lot of questions. As to ownership, the answer is yours. A good director won't tell you the answer but encourage you to ask the question.

Q (Paul Menzer): To Ben, could you talk about doing the Q1, a Hamlet that is familiar and so different.
B.C.: I always thought that "there's the point" would get a giggle because it's jarring. But, the Q1 feels like the difference between an action film to an arthouse film.
K.L.: It's just so exciting to have that feeling.
T.M.: The German translation version is structured differently even from Q1, but there are still recognizable bits. And those were the moments where the audience could get onboard with something familiar before something strange and jarring happened. Hamlet is in our cultural consciousness and there are a lot of people who may not know the play well enough to be jarred greatly by the differences.

Q (Casey Caldwell): On the subject of Folio and Q1, what is it like working with a play that has different, somewhat competing versions?
B.C.: Simply, I ignored all the other versions.
K.L.: I had a fifty email exchange with the director that was like a bargain - bartering lines. I did miss some stuff that wasn't there, but how long do you want to make the evening? Every line can help you as an actor.
J.H.: We worked from the Oxford and Jim had done the cut. And, usually I'm a bargainer, but in this case, I just went with it. I only asked for one line back. And then, trying to learn the Q1 sequence was very confusing. I had learned Hamlet's path one way and that was Hamlet. So, learning that different version of the character was cool.

Q (Rene): Is there a part of Hamlet that you don't like?
J.H.: Osric. I don't understand why he's there and I don't think I ever will.

Q (Tom Berger): When you offer a conflated version of Hamlet, that doesn't exist. It's a 19th century play.
J.H.: It's really a 21st-century play. We've taken these pieces and played with them more.
T.M.: But, it only matters if you're trying to authorize it in some way. In the playing of it, does it really matter?
K.L.: It adds to the mystery of what is this Hamlet.

Collective nouns: A Procrastination, A Prevarication, A Bedlam

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session XI

Hi! I'm Julia, I'll be liveblogging Paper Session XI from 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

Moderator: Tom Berger, Saint Lawrence University

"Lyke unto a right weather woman":
Prophecy and Performance in William Percy's Mahomet and His Heaven

Daniel Keegan, University of California, Irvine

Keegan's main purpose in discussing Mahomet and His Heaven was to show that the play is worth studying by students of Renaissance drama, although perhaps not worth performing. He showed that the Weather Woman element is an important key to the theme of hybridization in the play, a theme that is important to understanding characters within the play, and also to understanding Islam.

The Canonical Bard:
Ninagawa Yukio's Attempt to Dismantle the Altar of Shakespeare in Japan

Sara Boland-Taylor, University of Illinois

Boland-Taylor presented Ninagawa as an interesting Japanese director who struggled against the way his countrymen viewed and performed Shakespeare as a pageant of Western culture. In his work, he made great strides in owning Shakespeare, using such creative tactics as setting The Tempest in a rehearsal at a prison, which eliminated the need for extraneous elements (such as blond wigs) that otherwise were considered necessary for performance of Shakespeare plays. Ninagawa crossed the ancient with the avaunt-garde in an attempt to embrace Shakespeare, and encouraged his audiences to do the same.

Rousing the Audience in the Sleep-Walking Scene:
Lady Macbeth as Faustus Figure

Anne Gossage, Eastern Kentucky University

Gossage posited the idea that instead of a crazy or asleep Lady Macbeth, she should wake up during the sleepwalking scene, so that her hysteria and anxiety are not from false visions but from the realization that the reality she fears is her reality; she has not dreamed it. Gossage also showed Lady Macbeth as a vice character, descending through the pit at the end of the scene while the Doctor and the Gentlewoman watch as the good and bad angels from above.

"I Have Given Suck:"
The Maternal Body in Sarah Siddons' Lady Macbeth

Chelsea Phillips, Ohio State University

Phillips discussed the career of Sarah Siddons, who in the 18th century performed many of Shakespeare's female roles while pregnant with her various children. Phillips focused on Siddons' portrayal of a pregnant Lady Macbeth, because this choice in particular highlighted and transformed many of the references in Macbeth to children and motherhood, and also brought the subject of Banquo's children's succession to the throne to an interesting question.

"Dearer than a friend":
The Satire of Relationship Dynamics in The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Cass Morris, American Shakespeare Center

While many productions try to rush past the awkward ending of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, or somehow correct for its strangeness, Morris suggests leaving the troubling moment as it is. She believes that Shakespeare was deliberately bringing to light the problems with the classical model of a divinely inspired male friendship, and she showed in her paper that Proteus and Valentine are following that model perfectly. Morris suggests that Sylvia's silence after the attempted rape and after Valentine's offer of her to Proteus is so far out of character that she could only be doing it on purpose to draw attention to the strangeness of the situation.

29 October 2011

Blackfriars Conference 2011 – Plenary Session X

Hello - Charlene V. Smith here, welcoming you to Saturday afternoon of the 2011 Blackfriars Conference. I'll be liveblogging Paper Session X from 2:30pm to 3:45 pm. The session is moderated by Farah Karim-Cooper from the Globe Theatre, and the presenters were assisted by Mary Baldwin MFA actors A. J. Sclafani, Linden Kueck, and Angelina LaBarre.

Annalisa Castaldo, Widener University
"Here sit we down...": The location of Andrea and Revenge in The Spanish Tragedy

Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy opens with the entrance of the Ghost of Andrea and the figure of Revenge, and presumably they both remain onstage for the entire play. Castaldo mentions a footnote in an essay by Barry Adams pointing out Scott MacMillian's assertion that the characters would have appeared on the main platform of the Rose in full view of the audience.

Castaldo suggests that this set up is a ridiculous waste of two actors and stage space. Castaldo compares the play to Taming of A Shrew, where Sly, onstage for entire play, repeatedly interacts with the action. In contrast, Andrea and Revenge sit still, pretend that the actors cannot hear them, speak only to each other during breaks in the action. Andrea and Revenge act more like a modern audience than an early modern audience.

Other plays of the time suggest interaction form audience, so Castaldo wonders if an non-interacting Andrea and Revenge located onstage would have in fact been distracting to the audience. With that thought, Castaldo wonders how might the characters have moved around the stage? Where would they have been?

In the very first scene, Revenge says, "Here sit we down, to see the mystery." In an indoor theatre, they could take gallant stools. But there is no evidence that the Rose had seating onstage. Would stools have been preset? Would the actors have carried them on with them? Castaldo thinks these options seems unlikely. These problems can be solved if the characters enter above.

Further evidence for this idea comes in 3.2, during Hieronimo's famous "O Eyes, No Eyes" soliloquy. His speech is interrupted by a letter which falls from above. The letter comes from Bel-imperia, so it would make sense that Bel-imperia drops it from her balcony. However the stage direction from the printed text is ambiguous: "a letter falleth" suggesting instead a supernatural element. Castaldo argues that Revenge drops the letter, which he can do so from above.

Castaldo also points out the stage direction that appear between acts three and four, "enter Ghost." The previous action upsets Andrea and Castaldo says the "enter" indicates that Andrea appears onstage and shouts up to the sleeping Revenge, who is still above.

Castaldo ends her presentation with a strong recommendation that the ASC produces The Spanish Tragedy, a statement that is met with enthusiastic applause from the audience (much of it, admittedly, mine).

Jeanne McCarthy, Georgia Gwinnett College
The Two Blackfriars Theatres: Discontinuity or Contiguity?

E.K. Chambers conjectured that both Blackfriars theatres were located in the same place in the monastery. Later scholars have imposed great difference between the two theatre on what McCarthy calls "slim evidence." Scholars have come to view the first Blackfriars as inferior in location, size, and ambition, a failed attempt that was corrected with the second. McCarthy suggests this comes from a selective reading of the evidence.

Many scholars push first Blackfriars into northern end of the upper floor in the old buttery. This conclusion is based on misunderstandings of audience access, room size, and roof height. Documents from the period speak both of divided rooms and also one great room, suggesting a mutability of space. McCarthy points out evidence authorizing the removal of walls.

McCarthy argues that the desire of scholars to seek a permanent purposed built theatre in the Blackfriars is anachronistic. The documents are evident, instead, of a fluid, transformable sense of space.

Joe Falocco, Texas State University – San Marcos
"What's in a Name?": Defining an Appropriate Nomenclature for Elizabethan/Original Practices/Early Modern/Renaissance/ Shakespearean Staging

Since late 19th century, theatre practitioners have sought to emulate the staging conditions of Shakespeare's playhouse. Falocco's paper investigates what we should call this movement. Early incarnations were known as Elizabethan Revival. This causes problems, the chief of which is the name Elizabethan is historically inaccurate. Early Modern is more accurate, but few people outside of English departments know what that means. Falocco says that calling the movement Renaissance Staging would avoid these pitfalls, but unfortunately would cause tension with disgruntled medievalists.

The term Original Practices has gained some popularity recently, though there has not been complete agreement over what these practices are. This term has been associated strongly with Mark Rylance's tenure at the Globe and the New American Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta. Theatre historians, however, have pointed out the Globe's ahistorical use of the yard for entrances, exits, and processions. At the Shakespeare Tavern, the audience is seated in front and does not surround the playing space. Nor does the tavern consistently employ universal lighting.

Jim Warren, Artistic Director of the American Shakespeare Center, told Falocco that everyone used to refer to Shakespeare's staging conditions. Falocco suggest Shakespearean Staging as a viable alternative to these other terms. However he admits that this terms shortchanges Shakespeare's contemporaries and also causes confusion, as every production of Shakespeare play is in some sense Shakespearean staging. But, Falocco argues, the benefits of name recognition might outweigh these drawbacks.

Ann Jennalie Cook, Vanderbilt University and Sewanee School of Letters
Light and Heat in the Playhouses

Cook begins her presentation by noting that even in our original practices productions we don't fully realize the influence of light and heat in the early modern period. The availability of light regulated activity in the early modern period. Torches and candles were expensive. Whatever happened at night involved spending money.

It was, additionally, really cold most of the time. The period was consistently colder than temperatures have been in the 20th century. Weather conditions caused permanent snow on Scottish hill tops and frequent storms brought rain and crop destruction. The Thames River froze solid at least eleven times during the 17th century.

1601 was the coldest summer in 2,000 years. The weather, like the light, had monetary implications. During the period, the price of fuel climbed steadily. Clothing was also expensive and shoes were a necessity, not a luxury.

Both factors of heat and light affected season attendance and governed activities in the playhouses. Cook wonders how often performances were curtailed or canceled due to weather? How many groundlings remained shivering until the end of the performance? To sit out of the rain and weather in an outdoor playhouse cost more money. Indoor playhouse likewise had a higher cost of admission.

Considering these elements will help us understand the plays better, Cook argues. Shakespeare's text clearly makes references to weather, season, and time. A Midsummer Night's Dream takes place at a time of year where the light and weather allow for lovers to sleep on the ground, and for rude mechanicals to rehearse in the woods. "Sleeping in mine orchard," as mentioned in Hamlet, was only possible for a limited period of the year. Looking at the season and the school schedule at Wittenberg, Cook suggests that Hamlet would have been at Elsinore when his father died. Cook states that the action of the plot of Hamlet begins in early September and "the days thereafter grow steadily colder."

Nova Myhill, New College of Florida
"The Concourse of People on the Stage": An Alternative Proposal for Onstage Seating at the Second Blackfriars

Ben Jonson's prologue to The Devil is an Ass is concerned with the physical restraints the stage-sitters put on the actors. Thomas Dekker makes similar observations about the behavior of these audience members in his plays. The Blackfriars recreation we are currently sitting in allows for eighteen occupants of Lord's Chairs in box like area, behind a half wall, and places twelve gallants stools on stage. This Blackfriars recreation follows scholarly opinion that assumes a small numer of spectators onstage. Andrew Gurr, for example, restricts the number to "as many as ten."

Myhill asks what would happen if we stopped looking at Jonson and Dekker's descriptions seen as satiric exaggerations. What if we maximize the possible number of onstage audience members rather than minimizing it? This thought brings up two areas of inquiry: how many stage-sitters were there, and where would they have been located.

Myhill tells about a strage law case in 1609 where a theatre employee was accused of receiving 30 shillings a week for the stools on the stage of the Blackfriars unknown to everyone else. Myhill states a cost of six pence per stool, extrapolating that according to the case, sixty people hired stools. Were there enough already onstage that sixty more would have been unnoticed?

One scholar has proposed that there were no boxes at the second Blackfriars, simply side seating, though an illustration from the time shows that there were. Myhill proposes that perhaps the boxes were located at the rear of the stage, allowing for more spectators on the stage itself.

Myhill ends by pointing out that the estimates of ten stage sitters, or even twenty to thirty, that scholars suggest can not produce the effects mentioned and bemoaned by Jonson and Dekker.

Lauren Shell, University of Virginia, Technical Direction MFA program
Lighting Effects in the Early Modern Private Playhouses

Shell states that we must realize that lighting design is not a modern concept. It began as early as the ancient greek and roman theatre, where plays called for torches brought onstage for certain moments. Here at the Blackfriars recreation we assume an even wash of light onstage and through out the house, but Shell argues that lighting effects were more nuanced that that and points out that text of the early modern plays we study suggest lighting effects.

Shell then discusses evidence of lighting effects in books and manuals from the 17th century. Some of these manuals provide instructions for how to achieve these effects. Shell then demonstrates her own models of possible early modern lighting machines.

First is a device whereby lit candles have covers over them. These covers are attached to ropes and can be lowered and raised, effectively dimming and increasing the level of lighting. Proof exists of such a device being used in court masques, so it seems probably that the same device could have been employed in private playhouses. Shell points out the difference between the stage directions "as if groping in the dark" and "a darkness comes over the place." These directions are not the same. The first deals with perceived darkness; the second, actual darkness.

Shell then demonstrates how colored lighting would have been created by placing containers of colored liquid in front of candles, the forerunner to modern day gels. Shell then shows a device where candles are surrounded by microreflectors that could be swung open and closed, creating a sudden burst of light.

Inigo Jones and Ben Jonson first collaborated on The Queen's Masque of Blackness. Jonson's text contains verbose descriptions of stage effects, including lighting effects. Future masques that Jonson worked on do as well. These effects, when employed in the private playhouses, brought the sophistication of court to the common man.

Blackfriars Conference 2011- Staging Session IV

Hi, Deb Streusand here. This afternoon I'll be liveblogging Staging Session IV at the Blackfriars Playhouse from 1:00pm to 2:15 pm.

Seeing Ghosts: The "sensible and true avouch of mine own eyes."
Kate McPherson, Utah Valley University and Freddie Harris, University of Utah

McPherson recounts a recent talkback conversation, after a performance of the ASC's current production of Hamlet, concerning why Horatio, Marcellus, and Barnardo can see the Ghost but, later, Gertrude cannot. She discusses the unpredictable behavior of the Ghost in the context of Early Modern playing conditions. ASC actors Daniel Burrows, Allison Glenzer, Patrick Midgley, Chris Johnston, and Rene Thornton perform Act 1, Scene 1 as they have staged it in the current production. Harris reminds us how central the Ghost is to the play as a whole, and describes how this Ghost represents a stage innovation, a more complex and humanized Ghost, no longer in the conventional Senecan mode. Harris discusses the Ghost's split into three separate apparitions during the "'Tis here. 'Tis here. 'Tis gone" portion of 1.1. She explains that this behavior is typical of an Early Modern ghost, and suggests that Early Modern audiences did see Hamlet as a ghost story. She describes how some nineteenth century productions used multiple Ghosts. The actors experiment with staging the scene differently, with Barnardo and the others entering from the house, and an invisible Ghost, whose paranormal nature is represented primarily by the actors' reactions, with the addition of one of the stage doors slamming at its exit. Harris explains that this version of the staging is intended to emphasize the ghost story element of Hamlet, creating an atmosphere that is as paranormal and terrifying as possible. She asks, "how can the unseen ghost convey the dread of those dark nights?" and posits what we have just seen as the answer. Discussing the idea of staging multiple ghosts, she rejects the hypothesis that elaborate special effects are required to stage the scene this way. She recounts a story recorded by an Early Modern monk of a man who encounters a shape-shifting ghost. Making the Ghost invisible to the audience in the first scene, in order to stage a shape-shifting, multiple Ghost, is justified because of the Ghost's later ability to choose not to be visible to Gertrude, Harris argues. McPherson discusses the dependence of the believability of the Ghost on the actors' gestures. She clarifies that she is not proposing that Early Modern companies would have used an invisible Ghost, but that this staging is a method of creating the same reaction in a modern audience that the Early Modern audience would have experienced. She describes the "personation" style of Early Modern acting and discusses how contemporary actors might have portrayed their fear of the Ghost. Reminding us of the play's metatheatrical nature and its preoccupation with acting as deception, she argues that this play, more than any other, depends on the participation of our imagination. She asks, "how do we get at the heart of an Early Modern play" in a modern Original Practices production? Using an invisible Ghost allows us to get past a modern audience's cinematic expectations and achieve a powerful emotional effect in the audience.

"Remembrances of Yours": Properties, Performance and Memory in Shakespeare's Hamlet 3.1
Kathryn Moncrief, Washington College

Moncrief reminds us of the play's fascination with memory, citing a plethora of references to it, and specifically emphasizes its concern with the consequences of forgetting. She ties this theme to the play's prominent props, especially Hamlet's tables, Ophelia's flowers, and Yorick's skull. Her presentation turns on the question of what exactly Ophelia gives to Hamlet in 3.1 of the Folio version. She remarks that given the specificity of the other props tied to memory, it is notable the text is not specific about Ophelia's remembrances. Providing a detailed gloss on "remembrances," she emphasizes the theme of gifts, as Ophelia later calls these "rich gifts," in contrast to the love-gifts that Claudius uses to win Gertrude. Moncrief provides a few other examples of courtship gifts in Shakespeare, such as Desdemona's handkerchief, and discusses the convention of love-tokens in the Early Modern Period. She draws our attention to the handout she has provided, which reproduces several portraits of Early Modern ladies holding what may be love-gifts, along with a picture of a poesy ring. She explains the significance of the poesy ring, and reminds us of Hamlet's mention of "the posy of a ring" during the Mousetrap scene. Poesy rings contained a short message whose meaning was sometimes difficult to interpret, which is appropriate to Hamlet. She returns to her previous question--what are these remembrances, and how do we stage this moment? The handout reproduces stills from several recent movie versions, which Moncrief illuminates by reading the list of props used as remembrances in each movie, as well as in several other productions. She proposes that we draw on the Early Modern significance of trading love-tokens and what it would mean to remember as we work on different ways of staging this scene. Moncrief asks the audience to make suggestions for staging and reminds us of important questions about the staging, such as whether Hamlet accepts or rejects the returned remembrances, reminding us how the props take on a stage presence of their own. First, ASC actors John Harrell and Miriam Donald play the scene as they do in the version of the current production which uses the First Quarto order of events, with the prop they use, a small bundle of letters. Hamlet accepts the bundle in this staging of the scene. Next, Moncrief shows us the contents of a box of props she has brought for the audience to choose among, including a bunny puppet and a varsity letter jacket. The audience chooses to make Ophelia carry every prop, while wearing the jacket. Moncrief asks Harrell, as Hamlet, to accept the props. The bunny puppet plays a prominent role in the scene that follows. Hamlet returns all the props to Ophelia before the first "get thee to a nunnery," then retrieves one of the books to read about women's falsehood, then taking a bundle of flowers to kiss at "those that are married already, all but one"--kiss--"shall live." Moncrief asks Donald what she would do with all props once left on stage. Donald replies, "hold it. Get it off stage." Next, Moncrief requests that the actors do the scene with Hamlet refusing to take the props. The actors use a single book and a pile of letters. Refusing the props, Harrell portrays a more remote, calm, amused Hamlet. Moncrief requests that Hamlet first take and then abuse the props, which this time consist of a stuffed kitten and the pile of letters. Harrell asks the stuffed kitten "are you honest?" before throwing it into the audience. He scatters and tears the letters, prompting Donald to portray a humiliated and annoyed Ophelia. Harrell slips some of the letters down into the trap, and even eats them! Finally, the actors perform the Folio version of the scene, which most conference-goers have not yet seen, because it was the Quarto version that the actors performed on Thursday night.

A questioner asks about whether anyone has used a glove as a "remembrance," given the prevalence of glove imagery with love in the other plays. Moncrief replies that she has found no record of such a use in a modern production so far.

ASC actor Rene Thornton asks Harris and McPherson about when they would have the Ghost appear, if it were invisible in the first scene, and what it would be like when he appears. They talk about multiple ways of staging, and how one might use an invisible Ghost even during the scene when he is speaking.

An audience member mentions the 2001 First Quarto ASC production of Hamlet at the first Blackfriars Conference, in which Hamlet read the letters they used as "remembrances" in the scene where he speaks to Polonius about his reading matter.

A question for the actors: Do Hamlet and Ophelia love each other? Harrell discusses how the props might demonstrate different degrees and aspects of love. Moncrief describes the Mark Rylance Hamlet in which Ophelia took off her jewelry and returned it. Donald talks about the version of the scene in the First Quarto, in which she can only give Hamlet back the ring she is wearing and the letter Polonius just has read, which feels less manipulative to her than giving him more props, which she would have had to go collect.

Questioner Steven Urkowitz discusses the textual differences in the First Quarto version of this scene, and asks whether Harrell had incorporated the less aggressive Hamlet of that version into his characterization. Harrell replies that he has researched that version of the scene, but chosen not to incorporate it into his characterization directly, since that is not the text they are using for the current production.

Question for the actors: How frequently do they come in from the audience, as they did in one of the versions during Harris and McPherson's presentation? Chris Johnston describes their frequent use of this tactic on tour, referring to a recent touring production of Hamlet in which the actors made this choice.

An audience member discusses the benefits of an invisible Ghost in the first scene, which heightens the epistemological stakes--what should we believe about the Ghost, especially in 1.2?

ASC actor Daniel Kennedy, who portrayed the Ghost in a recent touring production, mentions that they never portrayed the Ghost as he is described, that is, in full military armor, and how if we did see him in this way, seeing terror in such a martial figure would create great fear in a Christian audience.

A questioner asks how we can replicate the impact that the Ghost would have had on an Elizabethan audience for the modern audience. McPherson discusses the possibility of using sound effects for the Ghost. Another questioner cites a production that used a naked, ghastly figure for the Ghost, and asks what the implications of such a staging might be. Harris asserts that at the time, people did not doubt the existence of ghosts, making contemporary audiences fairly radical different from a modern audience. The questioner mentions Hamlet's statement that "the spirit that we have seen may be a devil." McPherson expands on the religious implications of the devil's appearing in this form.

Sally Southall of Thomas Dale High Center for Performing Arts moderates this session.

Tiffany Stern Keynote

Hi, I'm Julia, I'll be liveblogging Tiffany Stern's Keynote from 10:30-11:15 today.

Tiffany Stern - University College

Dr Stern gave a talk in three parts about fairs in England and their relationship to theater of the period. First, she discussed some of the differences and similarities between Early Modern theater and fairs. Fairs were highly sanctioned, approved by both the local government and the private aristocracy, and they had their own internal legal system including courts, and juries made up of booth-holders. Theaters of the time could only wish to be as legitimized as the fairs. On the other hand, both theaters and fairs were places of entertainment and commerce, and they tended to attract a certain low-life stratus in the form of pickpockets, and prostitutes. The second part of her talk covered several references to fairground activities within Early Modern plays, including trained monkeys who played dead and came back to life if certain names were evoked, (as Romeo is conjured by the name Rosaline), a performer called an "interpreter" who narrated puppet shows (Hamlet could interpret if he could see the puppets dallying), as well as several references to shadow puppets ("life's but a walking shadow, a poor player.."). The third part of her talk went further into Early Modern puppetry, as puppetry was the one form of theater allowed to remain open during the Interregnum in England. Stern also showed how certain of Shakespeare's characters developed a new life as puppets in future hodgepodge works.

Blackfriars Conference 2011 - Plenary Session IX

The snow is falling, but the conference continues apace! Undaunted by the precipitation, we're back for Plenary Session IX, moderated by Marc Connor from Washington and Lee University. I'm Cass, and I'll be live-blogging from 9am to 10:15am.

Iska Alter, Hofstra University, and William B. Long, independent scholar: "Love's Labour's Lost Once, Love's Labour's Lost Once Again: What Happens When Plays Move House"

Alter opens by stating that they intend to demonstrate that, in addition to text, actors, costumes, sets, and the other typical components that contribute to a play's meaning, the theatrical space also contributes to its effect. Long takes over, discussing a theory that Love's Labour's Lost is the precursor of the modern "college comedy", characterizing the King of Navarre and his friends as "frat boys" in a recent Globe production. He notes that critics who saw the production at the Globe and those that saw the production on tour came to the same conclusion, but noticed other discrepancies. Long believes these differences were due to the difference in the space.

Long cites several contributory factors to the different effect in different spaces: the size of the performance space itself, the relationship of actors to audience, and the movement of actors in the space. Long details the space he and Alter saw on tour, a proscenium with a fully-seated audience. Though the stage provided opportunities for the actors to leave the stage and engage with the audience, Long believes that the effect fell flat. At the outdoor Globe, the "complex geometry" allowed for greater audience engagement, with the audience member "shifting and swerving" to keep up with the verbal sparring between characters. He also details the "almost physical equality" between actor and spectator when an actor changed levels, moving from a standing position to a crouching or recumbent position, which would place him on eye-level with the groundlings in the pit.

Alter takes over to discuss the differences created by light and sound, and how those factors contributed to the "raucous and bawdy" atmosphere. The indoor space attempted to emulate sunlight, but Alter felt that the conceit only "reinforced the artificial". She discusses the difficulties presented by the ambient sounds at the Globe, but suggests that those were less distracting than the reverberations of actors' voices in the indoor space. She concludes by saying that scholars ought to examine more frequently what happens when a play written for one space moves elsewhere.

Christine Parker, Victor Valley Community College: "Thomas Middleton's Use of the Gallery Space"

Parker proposes that Middleton uses the gallery to highlight characters who act with moral depravity. She prefaces her consideration with reference to A Game at Chess, a black pawn (representing a corrupt Jesuit) spouts Latin from the upper space, "in an attempt to inflame anti-Catholic sentiment". She concedes that Middleton does use the gallery for the usual conventional reasons, but that, more often than other early modern playwrights, he uses the space thematically. She cites The Changeling, where corrupt characters often occupy the space; also in The Witch, Women Beware Women. Parker connects this use with a reversal of expectations; corrupt rather than romantic, and elevating characters who would not typically be given status by rank.

She moves back to consideration of A Game at Chess, Middleton's play which was banned for religious and political reasons, partially for fear it would lead to anti-Catholic riots. She describes several politically controversial scenes which place devious or low-ranked characters in the gallery space. She thinks that the black pawn's position in the gallery was "an incendiary device". MBC actors present a short portion of the scene, and Parker states her belief that the intimidating effect of the Latin preached "as though from a puplit" would have been inflammatory in the original performance.

Amy R. Cohen, Randolph College: "Grand Scope and Human Scale: How Size Matters"

Cohen begins by jocularly confessing that she "betrayed her father" by choosing classical studies over early modern, due to the fascinating considerations presented by Euripedes. She comments on Aristophanes's opinion of Euripedes and Euripedes's response to criticism, also comparing Euripedes's use of low-status characters to the typically high-status concerns of Aeschylus and Sophocles. She then moves to the practical circumstances of performance space which contribute to a play's success, comparing the large outdoor Theatre of Dionysos to the small indoor Blackfriars Playhouse. She shows a Greek-style mask, large and thus easily seen,. Cohen cautions that "our actors can look like children, or tadpoles, or bobble-heads", especially if an outdoor performance moves into an indoor space. She thinks that, in an indoor space, it takes the audience twice as long to begin ignoring the masks in favor of the performance. The size, she thinks, reflects in the characters as well as in the masks, that plays written for an enormous space requires characters "of mythological proportion", and that those large characters may feel awkward in a smaller indoor space. The smaller space "requires characters on a more human scale, however noble or royal they may be".

The difference in the spaces leads to the differences in the plays written for them. Cohen also believes that this leads to Shakespeare's success in mixing high and low characters, "where Euripedes sometimes fails". The comic characters in Shakespeare "enhance, rather than diminish" the effect, even of deeply tragic plays. She anticipates that further exploration will reveal more about why Greek tragedies are the way they are, how that large scale affects the audience, and how it is successful in an appropriate space. In the "reach out and touch you" scale, she would like to speculate: Whether the size of the theatre is one of the circumstances of performance that allowed for the inclusion of low-status characters even in tragedy. She finishes by admonishing that early modern scholars remember, when discussing how their playwrights improved on the ancients, "that: we're bigger than you."

Jennifer Low, Florida Atlantic University: "Perspective and Painterly Technique in Jacobean Staging"

Low presents an aspect of art history relevant to early modern staging, first noting the visual parameters of an indoor space like the Blackfriars Playhouse. She posits that Dutch painting of the period was appropriate for use of the discovery space, as the techniques of Dutch painting used same frames, perspectives, and architectural settings which have a similar effect as that the audience experiences in an indoor early modern theatre. She speculates on the visual pictures created by scenes in The Changeling, discussing the delayed revelation of the visual, which augments both the audience's anticipation and their shock. MBC actors present the crucial scene of Beatrice-Johanna's mutiliation and death in two different ways: entering through the stage right door, or revealed through the discovery space.

Low argues that the tableau is more effective when using the discovery space. This would also provide opportunities for props and set pieces that could have "filled out" the image within the discovery space -- such as a bed, or a medicine cabinet (to augment the medical and pseudo-medical themes in the play). She posits that Beatrice-Johanna's revelation is then an invasion into other characters' attempts to restore rationality and normalcy. Low suggests that the original production tied the emotional experience to the optical experience, which would be stronger with the discovery space staging. The discovery space also offers an opportunity to present different sights in foreground and background (relating again to the Dutch painters' techniques).

Melissa Aaron, Cal Poly Pomona: "Play It Again, Hal: The 1605 Revival of Henry V"

Aaron relates the story of the 1605 revival of Henry V, which had to compete with the spectacles of James's court and the inventions of Inigo Jones. She positions the play in relationship to the company's financial state at the time of the first performance and at the time of the revival, arguing that material concerns could very well affect play creation and selection. The turbulent financial state of England at the time encouraged dependence on royal patronage, which led to a different concern: "How do you avoid becoming a fully-owned subsidiary of King, Co.?" Aaron examines the repurposing of plays for both the new space of the Blackfriars Playhouse and for the expansion of royal patronage, using the example that, if you get your hands on a bear suit, you find an excuse to use it (and our in-house bear demonstrates). Playing companies were also affected by new outbreaks of plague from 1603-1609; playhouse closures also enhanced dependence on the king's beneficence.

Aaron then traces the fortunes of the King's Men from 1603 to 1605, both the closures of the theatre and the court performances and attentant payments given by the king. She notes that Othello and Macbeth were written in this period, and also that The Merry Wives of Windsor seemed to be a favorite for royal performances. She suggests that, by the Christmas season 1605, the King's Men desperately needed a new play that Queen Anne had not yet seen. Henry V, with its dependence on imagination over theatrical spectacle, performed on January 7, follows a day after the performance of The Masque of Blackness, an elaborate spectacle. Aaron speculates that the King's Men were reducing, reusing, and recycling, using plays that had originally been in the same seasons together, economizing even in the face of Jonesian competition. The acquisition of the Blackfriars Playhouse allowed the King's Men to go back to a more independent company, less directly attached to royal patronage.

Peter Kanelos, Loyola University Chicago: "Ghost in the Machine?"

Kanelos interrogates why we, late-modern, have the originalist impulse to gather in an early modern space and re-create early modern productions. He wonders if it's a romantic impulse, a nostalgic fit -- then suggests the opposite, that "this enterprise, while it appears retrograde, is actually an intently post-modern one". He traces the impulse back to William Pole in the late 19th-century, who aimed to correct misconceptions about Elizabethan stagecraft that had developed over the past centuries. Kanelos positions this idea in relationship to Stanislavski's theories of acting, developing at the same time and, Kanelos argues, stemming from the same conditions and desires. He discusses the period's concerns with authenticity and the inwardness of character. "For all three, language and action are opaque, in need of literary analysis." It was the actor's duty to probe beneath the language for the true meaning. The 20th century, he says, created a widening gulf between artistic performance and academic analysis.

Kanelos then discusses how the post-modern ideas relate more to what seems true of the early modern plays: that there is nothing beneat the surface of the text, that everything about the character is there, in the words. "Early modern theatre created the illusion of inwardness." He says that we have reached an opposite of Stanislavski's principles.

Kanelos is then cut off by the bear, complete with a bear cub.