Saturday, November 26, 2011

Trip to Blackfriars

I went to Staunton, VA, for the second time in 2011 in October, for the Blackfriars Conference on Shakespeare in Performance. IT WAS GREAT!!!!!! (end of post, stop reading)

No, it really was great. And, I bought a rug! So, everything worked out in the end. While I was there, I saw The Tempest, Henry V, and Tamburlaine by Christopher Marlowe. I also went on a $hakes binge and bought a bunch of cheap recordings of his plays on iTunes, so I listened to Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew, Julius Caesar, and some lectures by an Oxford professor, Emma Smith, on Shakespeare's plays.

I will be writing about all of those performances and "readings" in other posts. Right now, I'm gonna summarize the conference. I took copious notes, so, good on me.

Caroline Lamb discussed how a de-braining might have been performed on stage, noting that Tourneur prompts his audience to expect a brain by using the word seven times in "The Atheist's Tragedy." Some performers make this very bloody and gory, one even showing the audience a chunk of bleeding brain after the execution. She sees this as a "corporeal correlative" to the knowledge that Danville is a traitor--instead of spilling his guts, he spills his brains.

Genevieve Love asks us to consider, in "Alarum for London," if fat is prosthetic. Stump's stump is meant to show an absence, the missing leg, which the actor is not actually missing; the fat burgher is acted by a skinny actor, and his fat belly becomes an addition. In this case, the actor is missing what the role demands. Is a theatrical role more like a paunch or a stump?

We had presentations on paper on stage--how it was used and re-used, and what it signified. We questioned whether Banquo was the 12th or the 13th ghost in the line of kings, concluding that he was probably the 12th, since most acting companies could only support 14 people on stage. We discussed sex acts in Shakespeare--were blowjobs a thing back then, or not?

Alisha Huber gave a really interesting presentation on trumpet calls on stage, with her point being that these calls served as auditory signifiers that the audience would be likely to have recognized from Mile-End drills. They can convey information as complex as nationality and, if a theater company recognizes this and is consistent, an audience can learn to recognize and "read" these sounds as well.

Scott Kaiser gave an awesome speech on the parts of Shakespeare's wordcraft, showing us how to recognize a figure of speech and convey that figure of speech through inhalation, highlighting operative words, choosing a focal point, envisioning an image, and performing an action. He also tells actors to perform the subtext by showing us when a character comes to a realization or a decision.

I was really interested in presentations that discussed what an acting company is, or can be, in general. Andrew Phillips-Blasenak studied a particular period at the RSC in which the director chose to nurture a company by changing the audience/actor dynamic, encouraging everyone to have a lead role, and making the directing process collaborative.

There were presentations about the necessity, or non-necessity, of certain props; about schtick in Shakespeare and how, even if we choose not to have it in the play, having actors use schtick while rehearsing can be a useful tool; a presentation about all the Fletcher plays (hilarious!); early-modern lighting techniques; light and heat in Shakespeare's playhouses; using Shakespearean text in classes for law students; and "what is original practices?"

Finally, I heard two great presentations at a breakout session about Shakespeare in the Classroom. Shirley Kagan, a director, asked us, when using original practices, is the director dead? She said that in a few important ways, directing is not dead. A director is in charge of script selection, cutting, casting, staging, pacing, and arcing (or coming up with a cohesive point of view of the play and organizing the rest around that). And Brian Herek showed us several interesting tools for working with Shakespeare digitally: "Word Hoard," and TAPoR being the most interesting to me.

Yay conferences! Yay note-taking!

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