Unstuck in Time

The days keep doing this thing where they blend together; one week rolls into another and I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished much of anything.  This is particularly funny given how many things are on my desk right now.  The main problem is I’m smack dab in the middle of a bunch of big projects and, for whatever reason, the projects I have basically completed feel very distant.

Measure for Measure closes this Saturday, but the bulk of my work on this show happened over the summer.  I’m proud to have worked on it, but for whatever reason the show’s run doesn’t feel like anything real or tangible.  Insert some comment about the fleeting nature of live theatre here.

Twelfth Night rehearsals continue and we’re starting to really have a show.  We did some

at least campus is looking really pretty... if a little soggy due to the great thaw

at least campus is looking really pretty… if a little soggy due to the great thaw

costume/prop digging last night and have most of our cast clothed (of course, I’m one of the exceptions since my quick-changes partnered with the two drastically different roles I’m playing make me exceedingly difficult to costume… but!  I have a vast wardrobe and a gay best friend to help; we’ll work it out).  Again, this doesn’t feel really real yet… we’ll see what happens when we start inserting props and costumes into the rehearsal space.

I got a big proposal off my team’s desk for my ASTR sub-committee, but the project’s in a holding pattern until it is approved by the big cheese Executive boards.  We are doing a wonderful job of hurrying up to wait.  The brief thrill of excitement at having submitted the proposal was quickly quashed by the dawning realization that we had created a lot of work for ourselves, but couldn’t do any of it until we were given the official green light to continue.  Work hanging over my head about which I can do nothing is perhaps the worst feeling in the world.  Ah well; provided the project is thumbs-upped by all official parties, it should be a very useful thing for the Graduate Student community.  Here’s hoping!

I’m working on a lecture for the class I’m TAing.  Actually, I’m writing this entry as a method of procrastinating from compiling my research notes.  I’m certain that this particular project will become more real-feeling as soon as it is anything more than a pile of disparate word documents.  Maybe a PowerPoint will help.  PowerPoints always make things more real.

Reading, reading, reading for my coursework.  This is a tiresome and thankless job and there’s always more to do.  Completing the week’s reading never feels like an accomplishment because there’s just going to be more dumped on your plate right after.  Really, finishing your assigned reading for the week just means you should be working harder on your papers, presentations, abstracts, or side projects.  Blargh.

board doodle from my ancient theory class.  This is what we do in Grad School.

board doodle from my ancient theory class. This is what we do in Grad School.

German progresses apace (though I took the weekend off to be with my family who came to town to visit me).  As the date of my exam draws loomingly closer (it’s in April, it’s not really all that close), I worry more and more about my own ability to translate anything not written for an eight year old audience.  I’m probably ready to step up my practice reading to something a little more convoluted than Grimm’s.  The Grimm’s tales are great and they were wonderful to get my feet wet, but I’m reading them pretty solidly now (with the occasional pause for vocabulary check).  The test is going to be administered on the level of academic-style writing; not exactly children’s fables.  Ah well.  Bring on the crazy grammar constructions and crammed-together German words.

Podcasting is a constant joy interspersed with panic at finding the time to do it.  The posting has been on hiatus for a few weeks due to my Partner’s real-life exploding all over him.  We should be back tomorrow with the wrap-up of Comedy of Errors and then onward next week to one of my favorite plays Love’s Labour’s Lost.  In case you haven’t already, go check us out!  We make great buddies for your commute!

So despite my busy busy schedule, nothing seems to be landing at the moment.  My life may be fast-paced and exciting, but it’s all a bit hollow right now.  I’m certain the feeling will pass; really what I want is a couple weeks off and somewhere sunny to go without worry about Renaissance playwrights.  Is that an awful lot to ask?

Well, in any case, I did have fun with my family.  Here’s some videographic proof.

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.

Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain

The storm rages outside and I have yet to give my dramatic rendition of Lear’s Storm speech so… watch this and forgive me… (I couldn’t do it the justice that Sir Ian does it anyway).

I did, however, get to bring my own storm to light yesterday. In an effort to send the cast of Measure for Measure off to the ball in style, myself and the assistant director ran a three-hour text workshop designed to give the actors some tools in their arsenal with which to tackle Shakespeare’s text.

The cast is rather large since the director really wants to capture the feel of a bustling metropolis. This is both extremely exciting and slightly daunting; with that many bodies the text workshop was going to be whatever the cast made of it. That much energy buzzing around could bolster itself or tear itself down depending upon the level of focus in the room. Luckily, the actors were receptive, came willing to learn, and (most importantly) willing to play.

We began with some standard warm-ups (stretching, vocalization, etc.) and proceeded

Sometimes actor training looks like this; Royal Shakespeare Company; Summer 2006

into an exercise designed to help them simultaneously embody the text and give/take energy. They each picked a line at random out of an envelop of pre-prepared lines, and we divided them into two circles of eleven. From there, we had them pass a ball around their circle while saying their line. We got to play with tempo, volume, targeting, and work on the beginnings of ensemble-building. I find that this exercise presents a graphic stimulus for energy exchange and demonstrates to a group of actors what it means to match energy and help your scene partner onstage. If you throw the ball too hard, your partner has trouble catching it. Too soft, and it will fall short. You need to be ready to grab and go, and listening to what’s going on so that you know when you need to go.

This point made, we moved on to a head/guts/groin exercise where the students practiced delivering their lines with different intentions to different targets on a partner. The three primary targets are the head (an appeal to the intellect), the guts (an appeal to the emotions), and groin (an appeal to the primal animal portion of ourselves). We had them do this at varying distances; from close enough to touch to across a broad expanse of the room. This exercise teaches focus and helps a young actor get used to the notion that no line should ever be delivered to dead air or left wandering into the vast nothingness of the theatre. Every single bit of text needs a very specific target and intention; whether that target is onstage or off.

Next, we talked about some mechanical things. Scansion, meter, rhyme, verse structure, poetry v. prose, etc. This was perhaps the most difficult portion to teach as it requires the most lecturing and, in a room where the energy is already buzzing from being up and about for so long, it’s hard to focus down on something so academic (even for a brief time). The actors were champs though and really bit into this section, asked some good questions, and worked with me to ensure that they understood what I was preaching.

Lastly, we turned to some speeches we had asked them to pre-prepare (not memorize, just be familiar with and have on hand). Here, they were able to take what we had discussed and discovered and apply it in a setting where they could take risks, ask questions, and try things without being set in any one choice since the speeches were sample text and not necessarily text which belonged to their characters. Everyone got a chance to play and seeing what they turned up (and what they understood from each other) helped to drive home the work we had done over the course of the evening.

The most important thing to do during workshops like this is to keep the energy moving. The workshop leader always needs to have a finger on the pulse of the room; understand when your students are tired and know how to give them a break without letting the bottom drop out of your thought progression. Know where you need to go slowly so that the students have time to think and process. If you can possibly integrate some kind of exercise to drive a point home, do that.

There are three basic types of learning: audio, visual, and kinesthetic. Most people learn via a combination of the three. If you can find a way to appeal to all these learning types simultaneously, your point has a higher likelihood of sticking. In addition, while a picture may be worth a thousand words, an experience is worth ten thousand. Let the students feel what it’s like to succeed using your methods. With this experience banked, they are much more likely to a) want to do what you’ve asked them to do, b) learn more methods from you since the first one worked so well, and c) listen to what you have to say in general. There’s nothing like proving you’re right to make a group of people believe in your wisdom.

One of the things I’ve always admired about good acting teachers (and directors, for that matter) is that they almost seem omniscient. There’s a way about a good acting teacher that pierces deep down to your very soul and uncovers insecurities that you could never before put into words. They have, somehow, the ability to weed out the things that make you weak as an actor (and human being) so that your true strength shines through.

Sometimes actor training looks like this; Shakespeare & Company; Summer 2007.

It’s also what I’ve always found so intimidating about teaching acting. While I know a lot and have a lot of experience (and, by the way, an abundance of modesty), I’m hardly omniscient. I’ve had many great acting teachers and coaches find a way into the deepest recesses of my soul and it’s changed me not just as an actor, but a human being. How can I possibly hope to assert myself amongst the ranks of people who have near-godlike powers of observation at their disposal?

As I found out yesterday, the years have given me the wisdom to teach, and the confidence to command a room. I felt really good walking out of workshop, and I think it was extremely useful to the cast to have that experience. I am looking forward to working on Measure and definitely looking forward to what this cast churns out. They’ve got some acting chops, let’s see if they can bring this work to bear on some pretty difficult and problematic text.

Three is Company

Right now, I’m living with some really interesting roommates.

You may recall last year at about this time when I announced that my current couch-surfer was RSC director Peter Brook. This is a similar situation. I find that, when you’re truly in the thralls of research, the process takes on a body of its own. It whispers to you in the night, alternately taunting and teasing you, sometimes telling you things you had never thought of before (though for me, it usually waits to do that until I’m in the shower).

Right now, my research doesn’t have a face (it’s so much easier to personify when it does). More, it has a body. I’m living with a few different projects and, consequently, a few different plays.

As you know by now, I’ve been serving as dramaturge for Tufts’ February production of

book piles next to my desk… teetering dangerously on the brink of collapse

Measure for Measure. Over the summer, the director and I put hours into creating a two-hour cut of the script (no small task, especially for a text-purist like yours truly). Now, we’re girding to enter the rehearsal process. This also means that it’s time for me to send my deep thoughts on the play to the theatre manager for inclusion in the program/department newsletter thingy. I’m also preparing to teach what we’ve lovingly dubbed “Shakespeare Boot Camp” this weekend; a three hour text workshop tag-team-taught by myself and the AD in order to ensure that our cast doesn’t go into the rehearsal process without some tactics to deal with Shakespeare’s language. All of these things should be a lot of fun, it just means that dystopian governments and broken chastity vows are constantly at the back of my mind. Not the most pleasant backdrop for your day, let me tell you.

There’s a lot at stake in Measure (and certainly a lot at stake which speaks to us particularly in an election year). We’re dealing with a city built on crumbling foundations. We’re dealing with an aging government that can no longer connect to its people. We’re dealing with extremists; extreme absolutists, extreme libertines, and extreme fundamentalists. We’re dealing with characters who disguise themselves for various reasons and utilize that disguise to trick each other into pursuing courses of action which would otherwise have proved impossible (or at least unpalatable).

We’re also dealing with a comedy that isn’t all that comedic. The ending seems a mere nod at the conventions of comedy (every one of the play’s four marriages are forced/arranged either by law or circumstance). Death is an ever-present force on the stage and at least one character suffers a grisly demise during the play’s action. The play includes a rape or near-rape (depending on how it’s staged). Oh certainly we have a few clowns to lighten the mood, but there is nothing airy or fairy about Measure‘s deeper themes (or even its not-so-deep themes).

The instinct to call Measure a “problem play” and leave things at that is one that I find horribly simplistic. It’s like calling Richard III a history. While I understand the need for short-hand categories, reducing Shakespeare’s more complicated works to one catch-all word does them a disservice. Yup, Measure has its problems, but the play is so much more than those problems. The problems open avenues of exploration through which we can delve into something deeper; what makes a comedy? What does a comedy need to have? If a play has all those things, can it still be something else?

My desk right now with books and sundry stacked work

In addition to this, a second specter has been haunting my footsteps similar to its iconic title character’s father. Hamlet seems to be everywhere I turn (more so this semester than usual). In a little over a week, I will be in Nashville at ASTR speaking about a paper I wrote which involves Garrick, Hamlet, Shakespeare, and the canonization of all three. Hamlet remains the most-referenced play in my studies, there are at least two productions of the show going on in Boston right now, and I’m relatively certain that the other night I dreamed I was performing the “too too solid flesh” speech in front of an audience of extremely intelligent (and extremely receptive!) chimpanzees…

Is Hamlet is in this fall? Is it my personal bias? Or is there just something about Hamlet?

That’s not even to consider the two research projects/seminar papers which are still in their budding stages at the moment. I haven’t yet immersed myself in them completely enough to be having haunting visions or dreams, but it’ll happen sooner rather than later.

Suffice to say that things are getting pretty crowded over here. I’m pretty sure that I could build a fort with the library books on the floor next to my desk, and (as usual) the deeper I plunge into the semester, the more appealing this course of action becomes.

Password is “foul fiend flibbertigibbet”. No boys allowed.

…except my man Will. And maybe a certain Danish Prince.

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-

WHYYYYYY!?!?!?!?!?

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.

Goodnight!

Migrating

Over the weekend, good friends and readers, myself and my partner in crime will be migrating DaniProse.com to its very own server.  You shouldn’t notice much change on user-side (at least for a bit…. I do plan to add some shiny new features as soon as I have access to my back end (… insert rude joke here)). 

 For now, please enjoy the following list of random quotes which have appeared in my life during the past few days:

 Partner: We still need to migrate DaniProse….
Me: Oh, yea!  To my very own Server!  And I shall be Queen of the Server!  And all shall love me and despair!
Partner: Well… it’s a shared server…
Me: Do I still get to be Queen of it?
Partner: Of course!  AND the Princess!
Me: AND ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR!

QP: What are you doing today?
Me: Learning German…
QP: Again?
Me: It takes a lot of time!
QP: ICH LIEBE DICH!
Me: ….. ich liebe dich weiter!

Director: Okay, we need to cut approximately 4,500 words from this script.
Me: *cracks knuckles, grabs red pen, eats a piece of chocolate*
Director: You go, girl. 

…it should be noted that when I came into work the next day, there was a small array of beautiful hand-crafted chocolate on a plate by my chair.  I looked at my director, “Is this a bribe?”
Director: If it gets you to cut more, I’ll provide chocolate. 

….later in that session when we hit a bit long speech… 

Director: (looks at me) Have some more chocolate! 

Have a fantastic weekend, and I’ll catch you on the new server!

Dramaturgy

Alright, now that I’ve been distracted by zombie Hamlet, I suppose I should actually check in about this giant project I keep alluding to.

Tufts Drama does three department shows a year; one in the Fall, one in the Spring, and one bridging the gap between the two semesters.  This year for show number two (the gap-bridging show), we are doing Measure for Measure and I have been appointed the project’s dramaturge.

Besides being one of the best words in the English language, “dramaturge” is actually a really fun and exciting position to hold.  The dramaturge is the person on the creative team who does all the research for a given show.  That research can be pretty expansive and weird at times; how do you pronounce this word?  Is this prop period?  What did they mean when they said this?  Where would this character have gone to school?  Would that character have read this book?  In addition, as resident scholar, the dramaturge is often asked to help edit a playscript of a show to create a performance edition.

As resident Shakespearean, I was called upon to lend my brainpower to the project and, as you can imagine, I’m having a blast.  Over the summer, we’re creating our actor’s edition which, while this may sound like a tedious and boring task, is one of the funnest incarnations of work I’ve ever had the pleasure to deal with.

My director has requested that the final show run no longer than two hours.  As Measure for Measure is a show of 2,938 lines which runs approximately three and a half hours in performance when uncut, this is no small task (especially to a text purist like me).

To make these trims (and to make the show read to a contemporary audience when the actors are going to be undergraduates with no specialized training or expansive experience), our process so far has been as such: we meet for three hours once or twice a week and read the entire script aloud to each other.  As we go through, we have found ways to either cut, trim, or keep lines.

 So, basically, for three to six hours a week plus the time I spend adjusting the actual text afterwards, I go into work, read Shakespeare aloud to my director, explicate the passages with her, bat around ideas about how to make this work onstage, find ways to explain what some of the more archaic words and concepts are, and try to figure out if these words/concepts will read to a modern audience and, if not, how can we alter or cut them to do so?

Yea, it’s pretty much my dream job.

The cutting battle is slightly blood because I, as I mentioned, am a text purist.  My director is not.  She is very open to hearing my ideas and defenses about why something should remain, but it does mean that I have to go into a session prepared with sword and shield to defend the text.  This, honestly, is my favorite part and really why I got into the field I am in.  In order to make something stay, my director must understand why it’s important.

My director is a very experienced very talented woman, but not someone who has had extensive experience directing Shakespeare and not someone who has had my experience training with and utilizing the text.  We come at things from very different angles and this makes for a more-than-interesting battleground over the text itself.  She works in the extremely practical (or, as she puts it, “popular”) mindset.  I work in the more traditional (but not stodgy!) mindset.  Together, we represent two sides of a divide which has plagued my field for generations.

Shakespeare Studies as a field is divided into two battlegrounds: the English department and the Theatre department.  As a subset of the theatre department, you also have the scholarly thespians, and the practical thespians.  All of these factions bring different mindsets to bear upon the text.  The English people are all about the book and text analysis, sometimes edging over into history (not of performance techniques or even performance in general, but rather of the events surrounding both the writing of the play and the play’s events).  The scholarly thespians deal with history of performance as well as contemporary performance, edging into how this is of use to actors.  The practical thespians are all about performance.

So we’re not of COMPLETELY different camps (at least I’m not in the English department), but we are definitely on two sides of the scholarly/practical divide.  Coming together to create this project is really what I wanted when I decided to get my PhD.  I love Shakespeare.  Period.  I love everything about his plays, how they’re performed, and how audiences react to them.  Having the opportunity to craft both a set of amateur actors’ experience with Shakespeare as well as an audience’s experience with Shakespeare is the ultimate gratification for me.

 

This process is also teaching me a lot about theatricality and the meeting of the great divide within my field (something which, honestly, I thought I had a better handle on having been an actor in a past life).  Where does literary studies meet performance studies and how far can one straddle the boundary without falling into it?  Also; how can we communicate meaningfully across this boundary without smothering the other side’s instincts and without disrespecting the other side’s experience?

As a field, I think these are giant questions which we are going to be working on for many years to come.  I certainly don’t have readily available answers.  It is all too easy for both sides of this divide to go into expert mode and disregard the other side entirely and, because of the odd power structure of a theatrical production, this can result in a lot of hurt feelings and bruised egos.  Any of us can choose to cover our ears and sing loudly “I’M RIGHT!”.  But what do we learn from that?  And, more importantly, what do our students learn from that?

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…