So, I am now about to start my second year in the Shakespeare and Performance MLitt program. This year holds a lot in store for me:
Dramaturgy, Pedagogy, and Tudor/Stewart History
An internship at the American Shakespeare Center
Auditions for the MFA program
And writing my Thesis (imagine that last word dripping blood)
Gulp. I've got this. I've totally got this. I've been typing away at the first draft of my thesis, it has been coming along much more easily than I expected it would. I've been doing so much reading over the past year and especially over the past few months that somehow I just know what I want to say. A year ago I was desperately looking for something to write about, but now it flows easily from my brain to my fingers to the Word document. So, First Years, do not fret, just read everything they assign you (it's a lot, I know) and then go to the library and read all the books you find interesting there (well, at least some of them, despite what Dr. Menzer will tell you, sleep helps too - although he is right).
As for the auditions, well, I think I know what monologue I want to use, I need to brush it up, chose what instruments I want to audition with and songs to play on them (not required, but there will be a lot of music playing for those that can), and I need to take a dance or yoga class to loosen up my body, all this thesis writing is making me stiff. I am trying so hard to not be nervous about these auditions.
I'm excited about the internship. I get to sit near to the stage manager during rehearsals and do what she tells me to, I can do that. Rehearsals I understand. I am most concerned with what would be appropriate attire. Professional, but something I can sweep floors and run errands in.
As for my last three MLitt classes, I'm looking forward to them. They are all in subjects I find interesting.
So, all in all, it should be an interesting year.
Two of my favorite people recently did a podcast together, so I thought I would share it with you. The host is actress Valerie Meachum, who played Titania when I directed A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2010. The guest is witty and cheerful (just my kind of person) singer/songwriter Emma Wallace whose music was part of my inspiration for that production.
I am at the beginning of the process of writing my thesis.
I will probably revise this ten times over the next few days not to mention the next year as I develop it but here is where my thesis statement is at the moment:
Shakespeare may just have been a brilliant word-smith and incredibly empathic but in “Do we not bleed?” Shakespeare and Otherness I challenge these assumptions, and argue that a more probable and human explanation would be that Shakespeare was able to empathize with his characters who didn’t fit into society because he was an Other himself. Through close readings of Othello, Merchant of Venice, and As You Like It I will show that Shakespeare wrote with the voice of an Other. I will look to his geographic, socioeconomic, and cultural background to explain the explorations his writing took outside the borders of Early Modern England’s cultural perspectives as evidence of his Otherness.
Any thoughts or recommendations? I'll be sharing more thesis stuff as time goes on, so you'll get to see it develop!
Here is something I wrote for Textual Culture that I thought you might find interesting:
from Physical to Metaphysical,
A Ghost Story containing a goodly number of practical examples as well as containing some history and some imagination and personal stories of the author, one N. Manca, a student and practitioner of theater, to be presented this 28th day of February, year of our Lord 2013, to Dr. Menzer, professor of the class Textual Culture, and Director of the Shakespeare and Performance graduate program at Mary Baldwin College.
The shadows of history stalk the boards of modern theaters. Not just the echos of dead kings, tyrants, and lovers, but their spirits too, otherwise known as “the role.” Juliet, Henry V, and Cleopatra, their wood and paper forms long ago turned to dust, remain ever-present. All one has to do is mention them or recite some lines of text to call them forth. The ghosts of these roles happily descend to possess an actor for a time, but they lack the staying power they had in their original form, for these new actors do not keep them for life but for a few weeks or months and then the role is gone, and the actor is left to hope for another one.
In the Early Modern era, actors were given their parts handwritten on roles that were theirs to keep. Bound at each end to a wooden stick, the actors could roll them as they read and so scroll through the text. Both the physical role and the role/part-in-the-play belonged to the actor for life. The actor could choose to give them away or to leave them in a will to someone. Actors may even have been able to (or allowed to get away with) editing their roles a little, although this may have policed itself, what actor wants fewer lines?
When an Early Modern actor was looking at his role for the first time his entire impression of the play was from his character’s point of view. He would not know what other characters said about his character, he would not know what percentage of the lines in the play were his, he would not have to read great speeches assigned to another part. No matter how long a speech came before each of his lines all he would see were a few words from other characters and then his lines in their entirety. His character’s name rather than the play’s name was at the top of the role, the entire role was about his character.
These days when someone is cast in a role it is no longer a physical thing. Roles, once very real physical scrolls, have become disembodied notions of character. As time aged and disintegrated the corporeal roles of the Early Modern playhouses, so the term “role” has escaped from its physical confines and transformed into a part someone takes on. The “role” of Motherhood, of Teacher, or in a broader sense the “role” of Women; these are not handwritten scrolls and not parts limited to the stage. They are roles that people take on and are identified by, even though these terms may not be part of the core of who a person is nor even how that person might identify himself or herself.
Nowadays actors receive a complete codex, printed script either pre-edited or accompanied by a list of edits. One of the first tasks an actor then has is to read-through the script and highlight all of their character’s lines. This highlighting practice is useful in rehearsal so that an actor doesn’t lose their place and is so common that I have known stage managers to hand out highlighters at the first read through. Some actors highlight their role in one color and their cue lines in another thus making the colored sections of the script resemble a strange neon codex version of the original roles. Looking at a script in a rehearsal room one can quickly fine which actor it belongs to by opening it up to see which role is highlighted. Unlike in the Early Modern era, an actor has a full awareness of just how many lines they have compared to other characters and to the length of the script. They know everything that happens when their character is not onstage and there is no illusion or mystery as to the whole of the performance.
When I directed As You Like It, I overheard the actors playing Rosalind and Orlando jokingly arguing about who had the more important role based on how many lines their phone apps told them they each had. With physical roles I like the image of a couple young actors running up to the balcony and letting their roles unroll to see whose was longer.
Some people now want to go back to the Early Modern method of giving an actor just their lines and their cues when assigning them a role in a play (although I have yet to see these lines given in role form by their directors). I have been told that the theory behind this method is that acting without prior knowledge of what is going to happen in the play including the goals and motives of the other characters on stage, leads to reactions that are more natural than when the actor playing the role knows all along what is going to happen next and why it happens.
I can understand the thought process behind this cue script method. In the play of Life, in which we are all characters, we know what is in our heads but no one else’s. We can guess what might happen next, but we do not know. When the unexpected happens, we have not had time to prepare our reactions; we just react. Watching those instant, uncontrolled reactions onstage is exciting, and the actor gets quite a rush from having to pay attention to the scene around them, uncertain of what comes next or how long it will be until they hear their next cue.
For my most recent scene in Directing class scene I gave my actors cue scripts that I had attached the pages together and rolled like the Early Modern roles and we had only one rehearsal (which one of the leads was unable to attend, so I coached him in a quick rehearsal on another day). On the performance day, I brought a bunch of masks and costume pieces for the actors to choose from and placed a plot with cue lines for all the entrances and a few instructions on it, I gave them some verbal blocking reminders and left them to perform their scene. During the performance, their blocking was a little off and one actor exited before he should have and left his scene partner standing on stage alone for a moment before he remembered and came out again, but on the whole they performed well, and there was a certain energy to the scene that many well-rehearsed scenes lack.
Most of the time actors put a lot of effort into assuming roles they’ve been cast in. “Taking on” a role is not a simple process, like putting on a costume. An actor will study and study the text, breaking it down into “bits,” “beats,” or “units.” They may write in a transitive verb for every sentence they must speak and keep a journal of all of their thoughts relating to their role. Actors will worry over motivations, intentions, objectives, counter-objectives, and what is their character’s overarching goal. Many actors put together musical track list to go along with their roles and do many physical and mental exercises to “find” their roles. Many hours and weeks of work are involved in an effort to call the spirit of a role to them so that they can perform it faithfully and well. When an actor does a good job of this, to an audience member who may never encounter an actor they see in a role off the stage, that actor is the embodiment of that role, especially if this is the only time the audience member has seen this particular play. In such a manner, the actor can become the character, and “own the role” in a way we refer to but do not mean in the same literal fashion as the actors of an Early Modern playhouses did.
So, a role is a strange thing, and has gone on a long journey. Roles were once handwriting on a scroll, but now they are transcendent spirits that have left their earthly, physical bodies to dance through time and space, briefly possessing actors when they were originally possessed by actors for life. The metaphysical roles now live on long after the actors who originally played their parts and the physical roles they owned are dead and gone.
I realize I often refer to the Shakespeare and Performance program, but that I should clarify how it works.
First Year MLitt
Your first term you take both Gateway to Shakespeare and The Language of Performance as well as one class of your choosing and audit Research Methods.
In Gateway to Shakespeare you read every (accepted) Shakespeare play and discuss them with American Shakespeare Center co-founder and the founder of our program, Dr. Ralph Cohen.
In The Language of Performance you learn about using scansion and rhetoric to inform your performance choices using the rhetorical method pioneered by your professor, Dr. Ralph Cohen.
In Research Methods, Dr. Paul Menzer, the director of the program, guides you through your first term and gives you the tools to do Early Modern research effectively.
In your second term one of your classes is The Performance of the Language which takes the skills you learned in The Language of Performance and applies them to actual performance and play production work, lead by Doreen Bechtol and Dr. Matt Davies, the professors who run the MFA, this class is also a small sample of the kind of work that will go into the MFA year.
Second Year MLitt
Students in their second year are taking classes and each working on preparing a thesis. The standard MLitt thesis, as I understand it, is around seventy pages (just seven ten page chapters, I keep telling myself) and can be based on documented and or performance based research. One student is doing his on the Apocrypha (plays that might be written at least in part by Shakespeare and were at some point attributed to him but are not part of any Complete Works
) and for part of his research he is putting several of them on as really fun staged readings.
Fall of your second year is also when you audition for the MFA company if you want to continue and get an MFA in addition to the MLitt.
Post Bac students are people who already have had some graduate school or even a Masters degree who just want the MFA degree. They do their first year like the other students but they audition for the MFA their first Fall and they skip the second year and the writing of the MLitt Thesis.
The MFA year forms the students into a functional acting troupe with five plays to put on with different styles and focuses. As I understand it, the MFA students start their day at nine with classes and lectures and then start rehearsals for their different productions at one. The new MFA Company model is a very intense but seemingly rewarding program that would be beneficial education to anyone planning to go into professional theater or theater education.
There is another group associated with this program and they are the BaMLitts (love the name - Bam! Litt!). They spend five years getting a Bachelors degree and an MLitt instead of the six years that the two programs would ordinarily take.
Also, the directing class I'm taking is holding auditions this Saturday (Feb. 9) at one in the Francis Auditorium on the Campus of Mary Baldwin College if any local readers want to come out for them! Here is Facebook's Calendar link
. Hope to
Last Friday Dr.Cohen gave a fascinating talk on the history of the Blackfriers. The blackfriers seems to have housed an eclectic artistic community of rich and common, puritans, and actors. Here are some photos from Dr. Cohen's talk.
I'm directing the final scene of A Winter's Tale for my Directing final, but I have to prepare like I'm going to do the whole show. Here is my scene chart and doubling chart for a cast of twelve. When I uploaded the scene chart the lines uploaded strangely, you have to imagine the ones that are missing. I'm not sure how to fix that, but I'm sure everyone reading this blog has a good imagination.
I had such a great time putting on the Classical/Epic short version of Pericles. Condensing a play into about six minutes and bringing out elements that revolve around a certain theme is a great exercise as a scholar, actor, and director. I put together the script and I used excerpts from a translation of the original source, Apollonius, as well as a few from our script of "Pericles," to supplement the story and then I filled in the details around them. If anyone would be interested in seeing a copy of the script let me know. It was a great experience working with my classmates on this collaborative effort. Together we came up with a lot of creative ideas.
Roving Shakespeare, the M.F.A. company, will be doing "King Lear" later this month. I have loved everything they have done so far, their shows are very colorful and creative.
Preview is Sunday, January 26 in Masonic Blue
Opening Night is January 28 in the Blackfriars Playhouse
Performances begin at 7:30 pm.
These are pay as you like it performances.
The new term starts today and I just had my first class, Performance of the Language. We will be studying and then putting on a production of the play Pericles. I am very excited. I will play Lysimachus and third pirate, so I am very excited. Our whole first year is taking the class at once, which is wonderful because we're such a tight knit group.
The first half of term we will explore the play together and we are to focus on exploring rather than interpreting the play, a wonderful approach which should generate some beautiful creative work.
This week we are focusing on seeing the play through three different storytelling lenses: the Epic/Apollonian; the Romantic/Medieval/Gower; and the Early Modern/ Shakespeare's Contemporaries.
We have been divided up into three groups and we are to spend about two hours putting together a 5-7 minute production of Pericles each group with a different focus which we will all present on Friday. Mine is the Epic/Apollonian focus, which is great because I'm a fan of the Odyssey, Greek myths, and also very familiar with the Mediterranean, so I was hoping to be in this focus group.
I'll keep you updated with more information on this fun assignment as the week develops!