I have just returned from Shakespeare Camp and OH MAN am I excited.
In this case, “Shakespeare Camp” is the 2013 Blackfriars Conference. Held every other year, the conference is hosted by the American Shakespeare Center at the Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton, Virginia. On odd numbered years, this sleepy little town (charming to us city-folk) plays host to the hoard of Shakespeareans who descend en masse to give papers, hear keynotes, drink copiously, and network network network.
This year, I gave a paper on my work surrounding the African Grove Theatre’s production
of Richard III. It was received extremely well and I spent the rest of the conference in scholar heaven with loads of encouragement, plenty of questions, and oodles of intellectual fodder. Sometimes, it really takes another eye to help take your work to the next level. In this case, I had a couple hundred eyes and I’m so excited by all the questions and feedback that I got.
This was a very long conference. I didn’t make it down until Wednesday afternoon, but it technically begins on Tuesday evening and stretches until Sunday. Essentially, that’s a week’s worth of work that we all miss to come and play with each other at the Blackfriars. By the end of the conference, you’re tired (sessions begin at 8AM and often don’t end until midnight, and that’s not even counting post-panel drinks and networking at the hotel bar which is amongst the most important part of what we do at conferences), you’re stressed out by the amount of work that’s lurking on your desk and has accumulated since you’ve left, but you’re invigorated.
For me, the beauty of a good conference is the amount of inspiration it provides. I always know that a conference was worthwhile if I come home really ready to attack my work so that I can meet newfound goals provided by the conferencing atmosphere. Especially given the amount of mental drain that I’ve experienced over the past several months due to the examination process, this was a much-needed rejuvenation.
Another very neat aspect of these things is that since everyone goes to them you get to meet people from fellow graduate students all the way to superstar academics. On Friday morning I sat in a keynote given by Russ McDonald. It was interesting and he was absolutely charming, but here was the best part:
Six years ago, in my undergrad, I spent a summer researching in Stratford upon Avon. It was one of the first times that I had a taste of what “real” research is like, and certainly was the first time I had been given the opportunity to do archival work. It was the first time that I really realized this could be a life choice, that I could possibly spend the rest of my life doing this. I’d say that, while it wasn’t my first date with Will, it was definitely the moment when things got serious.
As preparation for that trip, I had to read several introductory articles and books (including things by McDonald… Russ, not Old). I will be honest and say that it’s not something I think about every day, or even every week, but as I sat in that keynote address, I suddenly remembered the feeling of reading that work. The over-arching wonder that I was going to be visiting (and living in) Stratford; that I would walk those streets; that I would see those shows in that place. When I remembered that, everything just clicked into place and I had a feeling of vertigo. How far had I come in six years; how much had I experienced. It all flew past me like some sappy eighties montage culminating with a thunking landing on that seat in the Blackfriars playhouse.
So here’s to the last six years; and the next six years; and all the intervals in between.
Let’s see how productive I can be in the interim between Blackfriars so that next time (October 2015) I can re-encounter old acquaintances with new vigor, new stories, and new bylines on my CV.
So now: back to your regularly scheduled programing.