What do we know?

Today began with rehearsals for our Malfi scenes, followed by Scene Study class with Tom. Our group presented our scenes from act 2 to moderate success. Tom noted that the understanding of the text and ability to present the text was good, however the level of conversation was missing, as a result of the pace being too quick. Stepping back. I definitely see this as well. In addition he challenged some of the choices our director made, particularly as they related to the Duchess; these were actually things that I had questioned in rehearsal, but stepped back to honour our director's wishes. While I agree the choices were odd, I do think that good learning came of doing things this way; it really made evident the importance of establishing power and status in a scene, even if you want to break with some of the conventions of the style.

After the second group presented, and we talked through what Webster was doing with the play, Tom took a few minutes to direct an Act 1 scene for us. He played with the Duchess, Ferdinand and the Cardinal, in a more informal setting. What really stood out in his direction was the sibling dynamic; for the first time we saw them as siblings, each of whom has some power. I was able to believe that the Duchess from this place would rebel against her brothers. Tom's note, and I think it a very important one, was to make sure to establish what we know about the relationship of the characters. If we get caught up in staging, power struggles, etc too soon, we risk losing the very base of their relationship.

Next week are our presentations; my group will be presenting on Current Affairs in and around 1613 when Webster wrote this play. Looking forward to the result of everyone's research!

Theorizing the Contemporary tonight focused on understanding the actor as a symbol. We discussed this both in reference to actual performances (Fiona Shaw, Irish production of Hedda Gabler) and fictional performances (George Clooney as Hamlet). There was a significant focus on the role of celebrity in our understanding of a play in production; the expectations we bring to the theatre in the audience, and also the argument that we bring along the other characters this actor may have played. I am not sure I agree with this; while watching The King's Speech (for example) I wasn't seeing Mr Darcy. I want to work at clarifying my argument on this. I don't necessarily think that the actor isn't informed by previous roles; a large role like Hedda Gabler sits with you for life, and will inform how a performer approaches future roles, even subconsciously. But (for me anyway) I don't feel like that happens as an audience member. That said, I do think that we might bring previous performances from other actors...for example, I couldn't help but compare Shaw's Hedda with my personal favourite, Glenda Jackson.

Finally we split into two seminars to discuss this at length. My group focused on Othello, and two particular productions; first with Lenny Henry, and second with Laurence Olivier. In further depth we discussed the role of style, historical context, and celebrity in an audience's understanding of the play.