Measure still for Measure

For those who have been following the saga, Measure for Measure opened on Thursday.  At this point, it’s nearly halfway through a two-week run.  I was there to see the show opening night and, let me tell you, that was an interesting feeling.

I’ve been living with this project since last April when I sent an introductory e-mail to the director.  Over the course of June/July, we spent a great amount of time cutting the script and crafting an acting edition (the first time I’ve ever had the chance to do this).  Her goal was for the show to run two hours.

It ran two hours on the dot with a fifteen-minute intermission.

Getting prepped for final dress; you can see that I was eagerly telling such to my twitter feed

Getting prepped for final dress; you can see that I was eagerly telling such to my twitter feed

Since June/July, my level of involvement has ebbed and flowed.  I team-taught a text workshop to the cast (along with my colleague who was ADing the show) to get them acquainted with the language.  I called it the “quick and dirty method to opening up Shakespeare for actors who have never studied him before”.  Who says brevity is the soul of wit?

For the most part, it worked.  The product was definitely not conservatory-level, and there are notes I still would have given, but art is art and art is never finished nor is it ever completely satisfying to the true artist.  On the whole, it was a show which I enjoyed (and that’s saying something; anyone who follows this blog can attest to how harsh a critic I can be), a show which I was proud to present to my cohorts, and a show which I had the opportunity to see grow from a seed of an idea to a fully-mounted production.  That is a process which is always satisfying.

Over the course of working on Measure, I would occasionally get e-mails asking not-so-random (but sometimes seemingly so) questions.  Do Catholic churches ring out the time?  How long does it take to become a nun?  What does this word/sentence/phrase mean?  Some of these questions are things I could have predicted (seriously, “Prenzie”?), some of them I never would have imagined.  But that’s part of what was so exciting about this; in working closely with the text and the director, I had the opportunity to come to new understandings about a show I (honestly) hadn’t put overmuch thought into before.

One of the tasks which I enjoyed the most was crafting a timeline of the action.  When does this scene happen?  How much time passes between Act I and Act V?  (…the answer, for those who are curious, is somewhere between six days and three weeks depending on how much time passes between when Angelo takes office and when Claudio is arrested.  After I.ii, the rest of the play’s events occur over the course of five distinct days).  It was gratifying to be able to sift and sort the text and make some sense of it in a useful, tangible way.  This, ideally, is what my job would always be like; someone has a question which needs answering, they ask that question of me, I go through what I know best and find an answer.  Alas, if only everything were so simple!

My partner in crime, who was able to attend opening with me, told me he saw my fingerprints on the show.  That, if nothing else, is perhaps the most gratifying part of my job.  I also received a lovely e-mail from our department chair complimenting my work on the essays in the show’s program (double wonderful since those essays gave me such a headache when I was working on them).

2013-02-14 20.00.10

Opening night. Yes, I know, the set looks basically the same from final dress. Sorry for the redundancy!

So, I declare my first official project as a dramaturg to be a success.  I thoroughly enjoyed the process (even if sometimes it kept me up at night… literally.  I was up until 2AM the night before opening sending out notes to actors) and will gladly do it again.

…maybe after a little break though.  Twelfth Night is relatively time consuming and I do need to catch up on the desk-piles again.  I really wish my papers would start writing themselves.

Finals, Finals, Finals….

Multi-tasking at its best is the name of the game right now. As I begin to take the dive into deep-finals mode, here’s a list of things I have done/will do over the course of last week and this coming weekend.

  1. After much waiting, gnashing of teeth, and bating of breathe, it looks like we are a GO GO GO! for the launch of Offensive Shadows! About a year ago, my ever-wonderful partner in crime hatched the plan that we should co-host a podcast dedicated to explicating Shakespeare for the common man. He, as a normal smart
    Myself and aforementioned partner in crime during our visit to Gallow Green this summer.

    Myself and aforementioned partner in crime during our visit to Gallow Green this summer.

    person who has been adulterated by having a best friend doing a PhD in Bardy Goodness, had realized many things over the course of watching me at my work: 1) that Shakespeare (and theatre in general) is pretty neat! Like, much more neat than he had maybe at first thought. 2) That normal smart people (like himself) could definitely get into Shakespeare and connect with it if they had someone to talk to about it . 3) That I’m a good someone to talk to about it and, through the process of this talking to, we could help other people get into it as well.

So we set out on our quest. We are going to cover all of the plays in (roughly) chronological-to-being-written order (as much as we can), omitting the War of the Roses cycle for its own special run in the middle of the series. We will be releasing one episode a week and each play will have between three and five episodes dedicated to it. The episodes will include discussions of the play’s major themes, things to watch for in the play, information about dramaturgy, history, textual notes, and special readings of snippets by our very talented friends.

In short, if you like Shakespeare, or think you might like Shakespeare but have no idea where to begin, or know nothing about Shakespeare and would like to learn, or would really like to listen to the dulcet tones of my voice on a regular basis, you should definitely check us out!

The first series (released this weekend) is a set of preview episodes on Titus Andronicus. Through the process of recording these episodes, we learned a lot about the podcasting process and, by learning a lot, didn’t produce what we thought was our best work. As a result, these episodes will be a taste of what Offensive Shadows has to offer, but won’t be exactly what you’ll get in the real deal episodes.

Our first real deal stuff will be out the following Monday and will focus on Two Gentlemen of Verona.

  1. Prepping the last of my presentations of the semester. This talk is on the work I’m doing for my paper on William Brown’s 1821-22 production of Richard III. Some pretty nifty and exciting stuff if you like early American theatre.
  2. Wrapping up research on my two finals papers and transitioning into writing mode. This is one of the more difficult stages of the research process; when is enough enough? There is always something more to learn and when do you walk away from the books and begin to write? For term papers, I constantly have to remind myself that I am not writing a book, I am not expected to know everything about a topic, and I am definitely not going to be able to dig up every bit of archival evidence available. I tend to research until I can see (very clearly) my research looping back in on itself. What I mean by that is that if I’m reading the same facts or the same re-printed letters, looking at the same sketches or the same scripts, or if my sources start to reference each other, it’s pretty clear that I have enough to write a 15-25 page paper. There’s always the lurking gremlins, and generally there will be something you’ve forgotten to verify that will rear its ugly head when you’re elbow-deep in the writing process, but for the most part my philosophy should do you as a general rule.
  3. I turned in my essays on Measure for Measure for Prologue (Tufts’ Drama publication that comes out in conjunction with each of the shows the department puts on). For Measure, I had to write two 800-1000 word pieces; one a dramaturge’s essay (fondly referred to as “Page Three”, guess why?), and one a sort of op-ed piece about some issue which the play brings up (“Page One”). These essays, short as they were, caused me no undue amount of stress. Prologue is disseminated fairly widely and a good amount of eyes will be upon my work for it; it’s yet another way that we graduate students can bring honor and glory to the department. Have I done it with my pithy writing skills? Stay tuned to find out!
  4. Prepping my abstract for submission to the 2013 Comparative Drama Conference. I had a great time at this conference last year, and have been helping the conference
    The CDC conference hotel.  AWESOME!

    The CDC conference hotel. AWESOME!

    chair get an official conference twitter feed on its feet. I’m pretty excited about the possibilities that social media can bring to a national conference like this, so here’s hoping my abstract wows them enough to ask me down there to speak!

So that’s me right now. Excuse me as I take a deep breathe and head down deep into the land of paper writing. I think I’m well-prepared for it at least; and I know that I will always have my trusty French press at my side. Small comfort on this long and winding road to slay the semester’s final chimeras.

Have a great weekend!

Measure still for Measure

Yesterday, I got to listen to the first full read-through of our cast do our cut of Measure for Measure.

This was a new and different experience in several ways.

Firstly, this is my first time dramaturging a production. While this isn’t the first time I’ve been on the “other side” of the table (i.e. not acting), I definitely have much more experience as an actor than I do as a member of the production team. As such, to be sitting behind that big folding table listening intently rather than partaking in the reading felt like wearing someone else’s shoes. While they were the correct size for me, they weren’t quite worn in for my feet and the shape was unfamiliar (though, really, it’s a shoe, so how unfamiliar can it be?). At the end of the day, theatre is theatre and Shakespeare is Shakespeare and, while both can supply endless permutations of difference, they are both places I know well. So, while it felt new to be sitting in the Big Comfy Dramaturge chair with all the responsibilities and privileges allotted to that, it still felt like home.

Secondly, this is the first time that I’ve ever participated in editing an edition of Shakespeare. To know that the story being told was one that I helped to shape (and one that I have some amount of control over) was absolutely thrilling.

Third, my job in this production is to be an expert. I am sitting in that room because I have a degree of knowledge about an aspect of the show that nobody else in the room has. As such, some things are my job to comment on, correct, observe, and shape. While this is, in the end, a show that belongs to the actors and the director, it is my job to make them look good and ensure that they aren’t missing something big, historical, textual, Shakespearean, etc. In other words: I am the champion of Shakespeare in that room. I am

my job, ladies and gentlemen

his sword and shield, his chosen paladin (… oh what I would give to put that on a job description or in my CV). This is an immense privilege, but also a huge responsibility. If I miss something, it’s missed. If I fail to explain something properly, it is also lost to the ether. I must be ever-vigilant, ever-watchful, and ever-articulate.

It is still very early in the process and, as such, we have more of an amorphous blob of a show than a cohesive unit. There is a great deal of work to be done on all fronts; a first read functions only to get the words in the air and to give some sense of direction for the actors and designers. As such, there are problems that can be spotted at this juncture and corrected early (and problems that must be spotted and corrected early), and things that can only be warning signs.

Examples of things that I found yesterday which were important to note at this stage (pun intended):

*Minor across-the-board pronunciation issues. If ever you do Shakespeare, read Shakespeare, or see Shakespeare that you want to comment upon; note this: the word “doth” is pronounced “d-uh-th” not “d-aw-th”. This one drives me crazy and you hear it far too often. “Troth” is another commonly mispronounced Shakespearism (pronounced “Tr-oh-th” not “tr-aw-th”), though I didn’t hear this one yesterday so they must be doing well with it. I would say that most of my job revolves around ensuring correct pronunciation and clarity of meaning by providing definitions to obscure words (or things that have fallen out of the common usage). If you wind up working on a show without a dramaturge, just make sure you’re pronouncing things properly. The easiest way to make yourself look like a know-nothing onstage is to go up there without knowing how to say your lines.

*A few textual notes which are specific to Measure and, unless you’ve spent a great deal of time with the show, you may not notice on your own. For example: the word “whore” pops up again and again in this show and, often times, it’s internally nested. Isabella says “abhor” a whole lotta times (which is funny because she’s a nun and is constantly preaching chastity and virtue). There’s even a character named “Abhorson”. Actors need to be aware of these things and sensitive to them, but they are easy to gloss over if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Shakespeare police to the rescue!

*Some juicy ways to use the language that, again, unless you’re specially trained would be easy to miss. Shakespeare is a master of words and, as such, a master of providing words which can help you act. When you are speaking them, you need to use them. Devices such as onomatopoeia, alliteration, and repetition of sounds/full words can provide acting clues and, if you ignore them, you wind up delivering a flat reading of a full text. Alerting the actors to these clues is the first step towards colorful Shakespeare.

 Like I said, this show has a long way to go before it is ready to open, but luckily we have a lot of time to make that happen. I’m really looking forward to seeing this show grow and supporting it along the way. The actors are starting with a good, solid foundation; if they can build at a steady rate, the final production is really going to be something worth seeing.

The Rosalind Diaries; Entry Four: Shakespearean Healing

I suppose it shouldn’t be funny to me really, but I do find a recent discovery of mine rather amusing.

Without fail, no matter how crazy my day has been, no matter how discombobulated my state of mind is when I enter the theatre, a good rehearsal will always set me straight.

Today, for instance.  In an outrageous dose of universal insanity, I managed to double-


book my lunch hour thereby nearly missing an important meeting for my show because I was at an important meeting for my podcast.  One phone call from my director and a frantic drive from Burlington to Somerville later and I was late, albeit intact.  Halfway through that meeting, the AD (a colleague of mine) mentioned we should wrap things up since we both had to be at another meeting that I had heard about but apparently didn’t put in my schedule.  Luckily, meeting two didn’t run up into rehearsal for show two (but these two surprise meetings did manage to eat what I thought was an afternoon which I had to myself and my writing or, more likely, my lines).  Luckily, I had woken up early to hit the gym before my day started so that I’d have the afternoon to do work.  Also luckily, I had hit my script pretty hard the day before so I was prepared for rehearsal.

I got to rehearsal out of breath, out of sorts, and out of my mind.

But Shakespeare.  The act of making Shakespeare.  Speaking the words, feeling the emotions, being in a real theatre on a real stage with my fellow actors grounded, centered, and utterly soothed the insanity that had been the day away from me.

It’s still a dream to be Rosalind.  I wake up in the mornings and can’t quite believe that I have this amazing opportunity.  Then again, my life tends to work this way; hazy hopes coalesce years later in ways that I never could have foreseen when I first hatched the aspiration.

Things are not-so-slowly clicking into place.  I managed the entirety of rehearsal tonight sans script in hand (though many calls of “LINE!” were made).  I am hoping to progress forth free from the tethers of the page, though of course will need to return to it between stage-times to really dig into my text and find the specificity that Shakespeare demands.

Today’s discovery: levity.  As I have previously mentioned, my ways tend to be bullish.  I see a target, I throw myself after it.  Onstage, this will manifest itself as flat and one-dimensional.  If I play one thing until I achieve my objective, I will be playing that one thing the ENTIRE SHOW since the point of a play is not to satisfy the characters (especially the main characters) until the very end.  As a result, the counter-points to any single emote or tactic will help to highlight that tactic.

This came into play in I.iii when Rosalind is banished by Duke Ferdinand.  At this point, Rosalind busts into some eloquent yet severe verse and demands certain explanations of the banishing Duke which he does not give her.  Hammering this with a constant aggression, even if that aggression builds, will only make the audience feel like they’re being yelled at.

And so, counterpoint.  Rosalind does stop herself twice to throw honoraries at the Duke.  These are good moments in which to show restraint, an attempt at calming one’s self, or whatever acting choice I decide to make.

Sounds simple and self-explanatory when I break it down that way.  Also sounds like something they teach you day one of actor training.  Funny how easy it is to forget the basics when you’re fretting about your lines, worrying about hitting your marks, listening to your scene partner, and trying to keep the scene fresh and not get stuck in the rut of “this worked, let’s do it again”.

Tomorrow; there will be not enough coffee in the world

In any case, I should to bed as it is currently half past eleven and, for some unholy reason, the university decided to hold a mandatory TA orientation at 8:30 AM tomorrow.  Let’s look at the logic of this for a moment: a mandatory gathering of graduate students during which one hopes to impart to them information which is vital to the rest of their teaching career.  This gather, clearly extremely important, to be held at 8:30 on a Friday morning the week before classes start so that their still-summer-sodden minds are awash with the blinking confusion of “semester hasn’t started yet”.  I wonder what the powers that are truly believe the attendance percentage of their incoming TAs at this meeting will be.  I assume this belief is nothing short of delusional else some semblance of sanity would have kept them from propagating the clearly inhumane treatment of already underpaid nearly-slave labor workers.

Yet another thing to add to my list of “won’t dos” for when the revolution comes and I instate myself as stringent but benevolent dictator over the ivory tower.

I’m wondering if I should order a large leatherback chair, or if I should go with the traditional crown and scepter to denote my status.

Maybe I’ll have the revelation tomorrow as I drive my still-sleeping carcass to orientation.


Is This the Beginning of Zombie Shakespeare?

I just got done with a dramaturgy session with my director for Measure for Measure (the show I’m dramaturging this year at Tufts and keep promising to fill you in on).  During the drive home, I was all prepared to write a nice long post about the process, how things are going, what a dramaturge actually does, etc.

…but then one of my friends posted this trailer on my facebook wall which clearly made it all but impossible to do anything but comment upon it.

I’m so egregiously excited that I’m having trouble formulating words.  Zombies?  Hamlet?  Spoof movies?  These are a few of my favorite things.  Add chocolate peanut butter, yarn, and shopping and you’d have a giant ball of Dani-crack.

I will begin with the following confession: I have seen nothing more about this film than this trailer.  I’ve done a small amount of research just to try and ground myself in some film-facts and figure out when it will be released to the general public (no answer as of now, by the way, much to my chagrin and dissatisfaction).

But based on what I’ve seen, I couldn’t be more excited if I tried.  A movie that deals with Shakespeare reverently but playfully?  A movie that makes fun of itself while simultaneously touting some good old fashioned Shakespearean values?  A movie that has the potential to be one of the most hilarious Shakes-scene of our times?

The film’s basic premise is that a group of indie film-makers want to make a version of Hamlet but lack the budget for a Kenneth Brannaugh-esque period piece.  Jokingly, they say the only thing they could make on their given budget is a B zombie film… so they solve their problem with a creative re-mix of both.  Midway through, their backer is found dead and so they become enrapt in a plot to cover up her death to ensure a green light for their film.  I’m sure that this causes plenty of outside complications as well, but I’m less concerned about those at the moment.

With the prospect of a zombie Hamlet, My mind immediately jumped to the possibility of the Norwegians being zombies led by a sort of lich-lord Fortinbras.  Denmark could almost literally become a prison due to high security measures set in place in order to prevent further zombie invasions and, upon the collapse of the court at the end, the zombie masses enter to find the corpses of the Denmarkian royalty.

The inclusion of zombies also problematizes death within the play.  What kind of outbreak are we dealing with?  Runners or Shamblers?  Nanovirus or witch doctors?  If nanovirus, then Claudius could well be made into an arch-villain having infected King Hamlet with the virus and making him patient zero of the outbreak.  Hamlet’s ghost could instead be a return of the shambling King as a sort of covert super-zombie come to wreck revenge upon the individual responsible for the attack.  If Witch Doctor induced, there could still be a measure of this creation-against-creator as King Hamlet would be unable to lift a hand against his Lord and Master now-King Cladius and thus must have his son act as agent.  Alternately, in a world where zombies are created by magic, ghosts become equally plausible.  King Hamlet could be a sort of revenant, requiring a flesh body to perform deeds upon the living and thus spurring his son to the task.

 This also complicates Hamlet’s killing of Polonius, as when he hears a rustling in the curtains of his mother’s bedchamber he could potentially believe it to be an undead foe and, thereby, shoot said foe in the head before it leapt out to attack.  Polonius becomes an unfortunate victim of the country’s political strife as opposed to the sacrificial lamb of Hamlet’s madness.

Ophelia’s death is similarly complicated, and the possibilities innate in a zombie-infested Denmark make richer her last scene in which she appears onstage having run mad.  Perhaps she has been bitten by her risen-from-the-dead father and her not-quite-a-zombie-yet fever is the cause of her madness.  Alternately, anyone can go crazy in the world of the zombie holocaust.  The uncaniness of the walking dead and the permeation of casual death into society will just do that to a person.

Also; what does this mean for Act V?  Does the royal court lay dead at the feet of the zombie invaders only to rise themselves as mindless brain-nommers?  Is Horatio the only human left alive in a world now peopled by the walking dead?

Since the film isn’t actually a zombie version of Hamlet but rather about the making of a zombie Hamlet, I don’t truly expect my questions to be answered.  I do, however, very much look forward to seeing it and firmly believe that I will have found a new go-to “bad day” movie.

…and if anyone has the money and inclination to actually direct a production of Hamlet set

“…Is this the end of Zombie Shakespeare?”

during the zombie holocaust, please oh please oh please hire me.  I’ll do anything to be involved in that production.  I’ll even put myself on your line and audition to be a piece of meat… I mean… actor.  But mostly, I want to find a reason to have to research what kind of duel you would possibly be able to stage while the zombie hoards were shambling at your door.  Pistols won’t cut it due to the multiple touches, but I could definitely see claymores or battleaxes coming in handy and thereby the Princes being versed in their usage… or maybe bludgeoning weapons are the way to go since cricket bats are definitely a staple of the zombie genre.  That, however, would complicate the poison premise, but we could maybe make it work somehow…