Monday, January 31, 2011

Verse-Speaking for the Classical Actor

In the past few days since my last post, I have been eyes-deep in ADK Shakes work. While the immersion is absolutely wonderful, the downside is that I have (almost) completely neglected my reading for class! So after this post, I will be immersing myself in Arthurian Romances and Dante. Lots of immersion happening.

Here's a peek into the muddle that is my brain ... I have been painstakingly going through our Bookend scripts of Titus and Tempest, recording errors from our read-throughs of the 23rd. These are usually small errors in memorization -- transposing two words, perhaps missing or adding a word here and there. So I'm compiling them in order to email out a written record to each actor. Yesterday morning was also our first Board Meeting of 2011 and our big project is researching venues for touring our productions this summer -- pssst, upstate NYers -- leave a comment if there's a place you're dying to see ADK Shakes tour! In the vein of the summer, I am at a snail's pace with casting but it's like a constant hum in the back of my head :: visions of headshots, flashbacks of monologues, visualizing the coming productions. The buzz will hopefully come to rest by mid-March and everything will be settled. Until then ...

What has been occupying much of my brainpower the last few days is -- at bottom -- the language itself. How it gets performed. And how I want to hear it performed. I just did a quick Google search on the percentage of verse vs. prose in Shakespeare's plays and found this book by Ulrich Busse. It has a really cool table on page 66 which indicates that 76.95% of the complete works is written in verse. 76.95%!!!!!! This is exactly why we require actors to audition with a verse monologue! This, of course, leaves only 23.05% of the entire Shakespearean canon that is written in prose. And it really, really, really gets my goat when I hear an actor speaking the verse lines of Shakespeare like they are contemporary prose -- even more so when I know they have been directed to speak it that way. Speaking verse as though it is utterly pedestrian prose muddles the meaning. It disturbs the musicality and the rhythm, which ultimately undermines one's appreciation in listening to it. And to revisit my big research question of last semester -- in the end, I think it can also destroy the authenticity of a performance.


Romeo and Juliet, Summer 2010
When Patrick and I first set out on our journey of Shakespeare IN THE RAW, we were placing the highest emphasis on the text of the plays themselves. By extension -- emphasis on the verse! (If anyone has seen the third season of Slings & Arrows, Charles Kingman comes to mind here...) Patrick is a percussionist so the rhythm of the verse comes quite naturally to him. Not all of us are such natural musicians, of course, but I am inclined to think that musicians have a one-up on actors in this case. One example, and then I'll step down off my soap box (for now). This summer, we produced Romeo and Juliet and I gave a note to our Romeo (who, incidentally, is a wonderful musician). There's one line in the balcony scene that I consistently hear mis-read wherever I go, and I wanted to make sure he was going to hit the emphasis I wanted. The emphasis that *ahem* the verse gives us. 
With Love's light wings did I o'er perch these Walls, / For stony limits cannot hold Love out, / And what Love can do, that dares Love attempt: / Therefore thy kinsmen are no stop to me. (II.ii)
Specifically: "And what Love can do, that dares Love attempt" -- I consistently hear this line read with emphasis on the nouns and verbs, the so-called "important" words: "And what Love can do that dares Love attempt", right? No! The verse tells us otherwise! This is a complete thought, a stand-alone thought. "That" is not a linking word here -- it is the key to the meaning of the thought. "And what Love can do, that dares Love attempt." And if we ignore the verse, suddenly the thought does not make sense.

So. The point of this rant is to respect the verse. Use the verse. Iambs are our friends. Next time, maybe I will rant on the opening speech from Richard III. And to all my Bookend actors, in particular, and to our acting community in general, I hope you will take this very sincere message to heart. I love the poetry of Shakespeare's work. Let's not obscure it by trying to turn it in to prose. Let it sing. (And PS - as an added bonus, you'll also find the memorization so much easier!)
 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Thinking Ahead

In these early years of ADK Shakes's growth, it's a trial to figure out the seasonal rhythm. I feel like I need to be thinking a whole year ahead (or more) -- constantly. As soon as we closed our first summer season last August, I was already thinking ahead to Summer 2011. The Bookend Project goes up in just a few weeks, so of course I am thinking about our entire 2012 season and beyond.

What I love about being in school at the same time as being helmsman for choosing an ADK Shakes season is that I have the opportunity to delve into problems and questions both as a scholar and a theatre practitioner. The Bookend Project has been a consideration largely of violence and revenge. How do these things change over the course of Shakespeare's career as a playwright? Obviously this is a Bookend Project, so I only have the opportunity to stage the bookends of his career.  Someday I hope to consider the whole arc with more of the "middle"-- Hamlet, Othello, Much Ado, etc.

At the moment, however, I think I'm going to jump ship from the primarily revenge-oriented question. I am just not sure I want to spend the next decade with it. I am already thinking in terms of a dissertation project -- which will definitely take up (at least) the next decade of my life! What do I want to spend the next 10 years living and breathing and sleeping and eating and thinking about constantly? A revenge project would be pretty cool. But I'm not ready to commit. Sorry, revenge.

Battle of Agincourt.
Henry V = Ultimate King?
In the very broadest of terms, I am thinking about gender relations (in which cross-gender casting will figure heavily), power and politics, and the nature of kingship (which incidentally is also a big question in my Medieval Romance class -- probably more on that throughout the semester). At some point, I also want to begin looking outside the works of Shakespeare alone and possibly outside the Early Modern/Renaissance period. For this reason, I'm really excited to delve into the question of kingship in my Medieval class. I'll be reading around in a lot of Arthurian Romance and thinking about Arthur as the ultimate king.

I won't leave you without another plug for the Bookend Project. There's buzz going around the St. John's campus -- and St. John's students get in for FREE with their Storm Card. So to my theatre-going public, reserve your tickets now for $12 at adkshakes.ticketleap.com. Otherwise, it's $15 at the door! Don't miss it! And of course, come February 27, it will be full steam ahead towards Summer 2011.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Rarer Action :: a sneak preview

I am beyond excited to share some really amazing news! I just received an email this morning notifying me that an abstract I submitted to a journal this fall was accepted for publication! I've been pinching myself for the last twelve hours. What an amazing opportunity -- to be published in my first year of graduate school. WHAT?!?!?! At some point soon, I need to quell this excitement enough to revise and expand my paper into a journal article for 

Cahiers n°5 - The Rhetoric of Violence in the Early Modern Era.


At the moment, I am still basking so please enjoy the abstract I submitted. I think I like it! And it's a good thing, too, since I will be spending the next several months working on it. After our amazing read-throughs today for Titus and Tempest (separate post to follow), I am even more excited about this article. Next up... turning it into a conference proposal!

Enjoy!


************

“The Rarer Action”: The Transformation of Shakespeare’s Revenge Play
from Titus Andronicus to The Tempest

Tara Bradway - Doctoral Fellow, English, St. John’s University, New York, USA
  Artistic Director, Adirondack Shakespeare Company

The purpose of this article is to combine a literary analysis of violence and revenge in Titus Andronicus and The Tempest with an evaluation of its physical representation in a specific dual theatrical production of these two plays. 
By considering unusual pairings of characters across the two plays, I seek to answer how the notion of vengeance has entirely transformed from Titus Andronicus to The Tempest. I am specifically examining how the portrayal of violence has altered through doubling the roles of Lavinia and Caliban as played by the same actor. In Titus Andronicus, Lavinia offers perhaps the starkest image in all of Shakespeare of the tortured body. Although the notion of revenge is quite transformed by the end of The Tempest, the tortured body is not absent from this play. Caliban, styed in the hard rock (1.2.342-3) and threatened with physical punishment by Prospero, uses language and curses to cope with this abuse.  Lavinia, deprived of her tongue and hands, must find an alternative means of communication to discover her torture to others. I am interested in examining how the use of language becomes a means of coping with torture. For these two characters, language operates as a way to feed the cycle of vengeance. How is this cycle broken?
I will be exploring this question in a dual theatrical production of Titus Andronicus and The Tempest entitled “The Bookend Project” which I will be directing in February, 2011. For this project, I am employing a company of thirteen actors who are cast in multiple roles in both plays in order to explore the ways in which different characters handle or are subjected to the violence of revenge. This article will discuss how my production with the Adirondack Shakespeare Company specifically addresses the portrayal on stage of Lavinia’s tortured body in Titus Andronicus and of Caliban’s in The Tempest by the same actor. Overall, in this production I plan to analyze the arc of Shakespeare’s revenge play from the very beginning to the end of his career, examining the transformation of violence from vengeance to virtue.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Jitters.

Yesterday was my first day of school for the semester. I had my first 19th Century Brit Lit: Politics & Aesthetics class. Today I have my first Dante & Joyce class. Honestly, this is the first time in my many years of school that I have not had first-day-of-school jitters. I wasn't worried about who I knew in my classes, what I should wear, or if I could handle the work.

No, folks, our read-through for The Bookend Project is tomorrow and I have my first-day-of-school jitters about that! Thankfully, I am not worried about what I should wear to the read-through or who I'm going to sit with. I would not even say that I am worried. That is not the right word. I am psyched!

We have been fortunate enough to gather together a truly extraordinary baker's dozen here for this project. Four actors have been through THE RAW process before, but the other nine are newbies to our particular brand of insanity. Everyone has been privately working towards their characters since the beginning of December, and it is now time to share with the group all the work we have been doing. Tomorrow at noon, we will be gathering on the Queens Campus of St. John's for the very first time and I cannot wait to see what these amazing actors bring to the table.

Also, we have succumbed to the wiles of social media -- we are on Twitter! You can follow us @adkshakes and I will try to tweet a bit tomorrow to let you know how the read-through goes! Of course, don't forget that tickets are on sale for The Bookend Project now. For an advance discount, buy your tickets online at adkshakes.ticketleap.com.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bookend Project -- TICKETS

TICKETS NOW AVAILABLE!

Advance tickets are on sale now for The Bookend Project: A Study in Revenge :: Titus Andronicus and The Tempest.

If you purchase advance tickets online they are $12 for Adults and $10 for Seniors. At-the-door tickets will be $15. ATTN: St. John's students will get in FREE w/STORMcard ID. All seating is general admission. We are proud to partner with TicketLeap to sell tickets online: adkshakes.ticketleap.com

The schedule for The Bookend Project is as follows:

QUEENS CAMPUS:
Friday, February 18 -- Titus Andronicus
Saturday, February 19 -- The Tempest


D'Angelo Center
Fourth Floor, Room 416 C
St. John's University
8000 Utopia Parkway
Jamaica, NY 11439

On-street parking available. For map and directions,  click here.


MANHATTAN CAMPUS:
Friday, February 25 -- Titus Andronicus
Saturday, February 26 -- The Tempest

Saval Auditorium
St. John's University
101 Murray Street
New York, NY 10007

For map and directions, click here.

All performances are at 7:30 p.m.  Doors open at 7:00 p.m.

The Artistic Company of The Bookend Project:
Virginia Bartholomew
Tara Bradway
Gemma Fearn
Caroline Gombe
Ross Hamman
Shannon Harris
Melanie Arii Mah
Collin McConnell
Laura Montes
Duane Allen Robinson
Joann Sacco
Tobias Shaw
Patrick Siler
Aaron White

Saturday, January 15, 2011

De-Facto Director no more.

This week I am deep in notes for the Bookend Project, a little more heavily in Titus at the moment. It is so strange for me to preparing a text completely in a director's mindset instead of an actor's. I've de-facto directed in the past, but even then I have always been in the show as an actor too. So it is really weird to be going through a script and not have to memorize any part of it. While I am unspeakably excited to see what my amazing cast is going to bring to these two productions, I am a little upset that I don't get to be on stage with them.

What a learning experience this is going to be! Our read-through of both plays will take place this coming Friday. I will be taking down errors in memorization, notes on choices in scansion, the time of scenes ... but for the first time in a RAW production, I do not have to worry if I have memorized all my lines well enough. This actually me feel completely unprepared for Friday! I don't have my lines memorized! Wait ... I don't have lines. I have to juggle both plays in their entirety and thirteen actors. I want to balance each actor's preparation and interpretations with my own.

The Bookend Project marks not only my first RAW as a non-actor, but our very first production as a company with a real, honest-to-goodness, not-de-facto director. I am so curious how this will change things for the acting company. Usually Patrick or I will de-facto-direct, meaning that each actor is for the most part free to interpret their characters as they see fit, determining entrances and exits and minimalist staging on their own. They will bring questions to us and we will stage the more complicated scenes, offering much less direction than a typical production. This is more in line with original practices where there was no person whose job title was "director." With only thirteen hours of rehearsal for each show, I am curious to see how having such a person will (hopefully) streamline rehearsal, focusing each actor and their interpretation of the work.

To those few veterans we have in the Bookend Company: I hope you will offer some constructive feedback next month on how the process is different from a typical RAW. To our new company  members: I hope you are excited for the thrill of the RAW and will offer some feedback as well on how our rehearsal process is different from other companies with which you have worked. To our audience: As strange as it will be for me, I am so excited to be sitting in your seat for the very first time. I am looking forward to the ride of my life.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2011.

It's nice to be back after a break! The holidays are over, and this is the deep breath before the plunge of the semester beginning. I am officially back in school as of next Wednesday, January 19, and I have the sneaking the suspicion that this semester is going to fly.

Before the semester begins though, I am awash with "things to do" for ADK Shakes and trying not to feel overwhelmed by the to-do list. I am in the throes of casting for the summer season -- a herculean task that I cannot even begin to discuss. I am also deeply immersed in the Bookend Project -- our dual production of Titus Andronicus and The Tempest, which goes up next month. Our read-through is coming up fast -- January 21 -- and then it is a scant couple of weeks until rehearsal and performance. I'm clocking it -- 13 hours of rehearsal for each show. Insane!

The summer seems to be approaching fast as well. Not only am I considering casting, there are also revisions needed for the Midsummer script and an overhaul of the Merchant script. And we are in negotiations for an original script for our children's production. The best news of the moment is that we received a grant from the Lower Adirondack Regional Council for the Arts (LARAC), and we are so thrilled and grateful! This is helping to make possible a widespread touring production through Warren and Washington Counties. I am incredibly excited to attend the Awards Ceremony in March to accept this grant.

I also have some school-related things to attend to before the semester begins -- two books to read, another short reading assignment, and some conference proposal submissions.

In terms of this blog, I really loved having a particular question to pursue last semester so I am hoping I will have another such burning question hit me over the next few weeks. Maybe it will emerge from one of my courses: Medieval Romance; 19th Century Politics and Aesthetics; or Allegory & Epic (Dante & Joyce). Or possibly from my preparation for the upcoming summer season? We shall see. But no matter what questions emerge, I have to say how incredibly fortunate I feel at the start of 2011. Last year at this time, I was working at a job that did not light me up, feeling terribly downtrodden, and generally just not excited about life. In the past year, I was accepted to as a Doctoral Fellow in the St. John's University English Department, helped to pilot Adirondack Shakespeare Company's inaugural Summer Festival Season, and finished my first semester of graduate school with straight A's. Holy *insert expletive of your choice here*!

Having this opportunity to be back in school pursuing a doctoral degree is extraordinary, and to be able to pair this work with Adirondack Shakespeare Company is a joy. I am looking forward to 2011 with great expectations for the Bookend Project, for our second annual Summer Festival Season, for my coursework, and with a sense of appreciation and gratitude for all of you who share this work with me. Love, joy, and peace to you this coming year.
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