New Explorations

Spent this lovely, sunny Saturday indoors at the University of London. Normally this would make me sad, however, today it simply inspired and encouraged me. I attended the Womens Studies Group's annual Workshop, titled Women, Performance, Portraiture. This is a group of mainly history scholars who meet throughout the year for workshops, field trips, etc, and most importantly, to share their scholarly endeavors.

The day began with a keynote speaker - the brilliant Gill Perry. (more on her here: The paper she presented looked at art and the creation of feiminine celebrity, particularly in 18th century London society circles. Looking at the semiotics not just of the works themselves, but also at their placement, prominence, and re-location in manor houses throughout England, she made some intriguing suggestions regarding the role art played in creating and perpetuating myths of celebrity. There were many resonances for me in this lecture, notably the ideas of public vs private space - hearkening back to our thoughts about The Duchess of Malfi. I cannot begin to give justice to her argument in the lecture, however suffice to say that it sparked many ideas in me, and something creative will come from this.

The second half of the day allowed for each delegate at the workshop to bring a small 5-10 minute presentation on their own current work. This, too, was fascinating. I was humbled in the presence of these intelligent women and the brilliant research they are undertaking. For my own contribution, I brought a section of Forc'd To Woo, the devised response to The Duchess of Malfi that I had created before our group merged our individual work to create In Secret. I talked a bit about my process for creating theatre - looking at historical texts for modern resonances and stories that echo forward, telling us something about the human condition, and specifically the female experience. I also talked a bit about how this developed in performance, and my future plans for the piece. I had some great questions from the group, and overall they seemed encouraging to my endeavors.

On a personal note, I was sure I would be nervous speaking; I was in the company of accomplished and published scholars, a lowly MA candidate, and in theatre nonetheless. That said, I wasn't nervous whatsoever. I felt extremely confident sharing my work and responding to questions about how I had created the piece.

It seems odd for a theatre maker to find their best inspiration in a room full of academics, but alas, I tend to be unconventional.

Closing Time

My posting has slowed down significantly as classes wind down and assignments pile up. Our performances of interpretations of our Scene Study plays happened this week. First, on Monday, the Measure for Measure group presented their piece. I was really impressed by the way they merged all 8 scenes, individually conceptualized or devised, into a single evening response to the play. Some scenes worked better than others, but on the whole it was a highly enjoyable evening, presented by some talented individuals. I particularly liked the scene that turned one of the early scenes into a brothel; I have felt this seedy underbelly, the netherworld in this play, but so often people producing it are scared to "dirty up" Shakespeare. Kudos to my classmates for letting the Bard get messy!

Tuesday (yesterday) was our performance of responses to The Duchess of Malfi. Our class functioned a little differently, creating 3 separate short pieces on our own themes. I really loved seeing what the other two groups brought out in the text, looking at politics and power, and the other at game playing and fate. Our group's focus on women and power was successful, I think. I have a brief audience-video that I will post a link to shortly. Not the greatest vid, but a sense of what we did with the text, interspersing other plays that lend themselves to this theme. In many cases the text of those plays was undistinguishable from Webster's text; several audience members commented to us that our piece really affected them, made them think about violence and power, and how women even today are subjected to these injustices, these violations.

Elsewhere on my plate has been the portfolio process. I have used this blog as a starting point to create my written response to the course. It is finished!! I will be posting photos of the final creation tomorrow, before I hand it in.

Crisis of Faith

It is crunch time. So naturally, it is also the time when any other part of the universe (mainly transport) that can mess around with me does its best to make things difficult. Today, it was the return of the kid's flu, meaning that I was stranded at home when I should have been rehearsing and attending Scene Study for our impending Malfi presentation (one week today!!!!!! aaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!!!!!).

AND screw this. i wrote the whole blog post, and then blogger ATE IT. example of the above happening.

What you missed: me musing about the presentation, positive feedback that makes me uneasy and think I'm not pushing far enough, details about portfolio and essay status.

Devise This

Workshopping our devised response to The Duchess of Malfi continues to go well. We have made a few adjustments to clarify the script we have created, and have come up with some really neat ways to visualize the story. We still have one enormous bit of physicality to work out, however aside from that have worked out basic blocking for the rest, and are unlikely to make many more script changes. A break on this for a couple days, then back in to share what we have done so far with Tom on Tuesday.

Class today was also focussed on devising, this time as a dramaturgical task. We each came to class with a couple observed quotes and situations from around London, from which we created two plays, and then performed the other group's play. This was a fantastic exercise, and one that would be great to help introduce people to devised work in a class or workshop. I should also add that it was greatly fun, and the stress-relief I think we all needed at this point.

And because I don't have enough going on, I have volunteered for the smash immersive show You Me Bum Bum Train. This ran last year in London to sold out audiences as part of the Barbican season, and a new Bum Train has been created for this year, at a new location. Because of the nature of the show, I can't really say more than that. I am really excited to have the chance to be a part of this!!


After a couple late nights and a lot of collaboration, our group have created our base script for our final Scene Study presentations this term. We are looking at Gender and Power in The Duchess of Malfi, specifically at the triangular relationship between the Duchess, Antonio, and Ferdinand, and pulling in other texts which comment on the nature of this relationship. First, we came up with our list of influencing texts:

The Dog In The Manger - Lope deVega
Boston Marriage - David Mamet
Something Unspoken - Tennessee Williams
Venus and Adonis - William Shakespeare
Top Girls - Caryl Churchill

From here, we sat together and compiled bits of the text from each that we felt might be useful to create a script from. Then, rather than try to battle things out, we each went away and created a script or mock up that used what we felt was useful, splicing the texts together, and thinking about shape. What occurred was remarkable; we came back with 5 scripts that were really 5 versions of the same play. We had used almost the same bits of text, often in the same ways or same places, just varying on the situation or setup.

From this, we sat together and hacked together the proper script, drawing from what each of us had done individually and creating the shape of the piece. We aimed to focus simply on the text, using the language, etc, rather than on things like stage directions or business. Our intention is to workshop what things will look like; who is on stage when, who says what, etc.

We were successful! We presented our concept and script to Tom, and he noted that the script was clear and the use of language was good. He gave us some tips on things that were awkward or not as strong, and also gave us some thoughts about what some of the pieces might mean, encouraging us to look outside the text to other ways of manifesting actions such as "cover her eyes"..which means something very specific, but also very vague.

First workshop is today, we're going to get this thing on its feet.

Do I even know that many words?

Just feel the need to actually put this in writing. In the next 3 weeks, we have:
- 8000 word portfolio of my work in Scene Study
- Create and prepare a performance of/in response to The Duchess of Malfi.
- 4000 word essay and 1000 or so word questionnaire in Theorizing The Contemporary

Sometimes it is important to say it. HOLY CRAP THAT IS A LOT!!!

Now that that's over.

We spent several hours working through a reading party in preparation for our Malfi presentation. We have opted to focus on The Duchess and Antonio's relationship, and the various ways it may exist, both in what we specifically see in the text, and in what we don't necessarily see. We are pulling from other scenes in Malfi, but specifically focussing on the Marriage scene in act 1. In addition, we're pulling from other similar relationships in texts like Top Girls, Venus and Adonis, The Dog In The Manger, Boston Marriage, and Something Unspoken. We are also looking at the stage as a "dirty" space, in response to an article we found in The Guardian about a photographer who went to Rwanda and photographed the sites of horrible atrocities during the genocide, but 10 years later...looking at what remains after. This all sounds great...but is a lot. We need to have a script draft to Tom by Tuesday. Woo!

Brief rehearsal for our acting space class, working on the scene from Three Sisters. I had an "aha" moment while working on it, realizing some shifts on when Andrij is or isn't paying attention or speaking to Ferapont. We present these scenes in class tomorrow, and then we'll see where Brian takes them from there.

Scene Study at Birkbeck today focused on Violence again, a fitting theme for the seeming violence going on in my brain right now over all this workload. Looking at Oedipus, we discussed the act of rendering himself blind, the level of violence in this...and also at ideas like Justice. I had some great points in the class about the function of the violence and the blinding...and also on the subject of the concept of justice as the Greeks saw it; not as individual justice as we see it now (justice as fairness). Rather, justice for the Greeks was justice for the collective. Oedipus' punishment isn't to match his actions or responsibility, but to mete out the impact his actions have had on the larger society.

Finally we looked at some performances of Greek Tragedy or responses to it (Oedipus directed by Tyrone Guthrie, and Mouth Full of Birds) and discussed whether it is possible and/or effective to stage Greek Tragedy in an "authentic" way...and if we do if it is still tragedy. I really strongly feel that the plays and ideas themselves are tragic, however if we try to present them realistically, they lose their impact and become a museum piece, or a piece of comedy. The way we can engage now with the violence to make it truly meaningful is to distance our audience (and possibly even the characters) from it. Expressionism first comes to mind as a means to this, however things like media can also be a way to stage the violence and make it still shock and inform us.

Brain Ache

Today was a mountain of aching brain in many ways. Began with missing my train....getting to rehearsal late. My scene partner wasn't there....waited about 45 mins and then he came downstairs...we had been waiting for each other in separate rooms! So clearly no rehearsing accomplished.

Scene Study was good: We read and discussed Act 5 of The Duchess of Malfi, and then Tom spent some time directing short scenes in the play with different people. What really came out of this was how important the text is, and how slowing down and making sure the actors mean the words they are saying, without any "extras" of acting on top of it can really make the play come alive. It is remarkable just how little acting we need to understand the play. We then got to pitch our proposals for final Scene Study presentations on Duchess; my group's pitch was successful...hooray! More on this process later...tomorrow we meet to try to put together the script.

Then on to Theorizing. We spent the class looking at media in performance, and what theatre means in a mediated age. This included watching clips of performances from various companies who work with media in their practice...specifically several from the Wooster Group. I found these rather difficult to deal with; Wooster work in relation/response/interaction with classic or canonical texts, looking at the effect that media has on them. They use a lot of microphoned voices, really showing the mechanics of producing sound, and using the microphone's power to silence other actors who don't have the microphone. At the same time, they use various images, often many at once....simulating channel surfing as we do it on TV. There is a lot of ambient sound, screeches, enhanced voices from the microphones, videos, etc, simultaneously...which combine (in theory) to really make the audience aware of the work they are doing as audience members.

Now in theory, I agree with this idea...alienating the audience, really engaging them with the mechanics and not letting them be lulled in by emotion or character. In the video clips we watched, however, I wasn't able to get this. The onslaught, primarily the sound, made it impossible for me as a spectator to make a choice on where to focus; in fact, I tried to jump around, but soon just disengaged and stopped watching/listening. We debated in groups the means with which Wooster try to achieve this alienation, discussing the techniques above. Each on their own, or even in reasonable combination, I find these all to be exceptionally useful. I must say however that the combination, layering them all at once, just made me angry as a spectator. In all honestly, if the full show were like that, I would likely leave. Someone put forward that perhaps the point is just to agitate or provoke the audience. Maybe it is...but provoke them to what? for what? It seems to me this is likely just to end in resentment.

I think another area of frustration is that most of these, as I stated above, were attempting to interact with a canonical text...but the words of the text, even the ideas, felt lost in the pandemonium. What is the point of "interacting" with a text if the text is lost in the muddle? Why not just look at an abstract idea instead?

Now all this said, it is based on a few short video clips on the internet, which likely have the inherent sound engineering problems of videotaped theatre....and didn't show the full production. I am now rather curious to see a production by Wooster, just to see if in its entirety, live, it hangs together.

Beautiful Words

In preparation for our Duchess of Malfi presentations for Scene Study, I have spent some time looking at various sources. Some essays or books on the subject of the Play or women in that period, and also historical texts. One I came across was Early Modern Women Poets: An Anthology Edited by Jane Stevenson and Peter Davidson. This anthology is fairly new, published in 2001, and I found it particularly helpful as it contains a wide variety of female poets, both aristocratic and working class, chronologically from around 1500 to 1700, and holds some biographical and contextual information.

Some specific ones that stood out (tho I am not sure whether any of this will bleed into my work....)

Anne Kyme nee Askew - 1521-1546 -
The Balade Which Anne Askew made and Sange whan she was in Newgate

Lyke as the armed knyght
Appoynted to the fielde
With thys world wyll I fyght
And fayth shall be my sheilde.
faythe is that weapon stronge
Whych wyll not fayle at nede
My foes therfor amonge
Therewith wyll I procede.
As it is had in strengthe
And force of Christes waye
It wyll prevayle at lengthe
Though all the devyls saye naye.
faythe in the fathers olde
Obtayned ryghtwysnesse
Which make me verye bolde.
To feare no worldes dystresse.
I now rejoyce in hart
And hope byd me do so
For Christ wyll take my part
And ease me of my wo.
Thu sayst lorde, who so knocke
To them wylt thu attende
Undo therfor the locke
And thy stronge power sende.
More enmyes now I have.
Than heeres upon my heed
Lete them not me deprave
But fygght thy in my steed.
On the my care I cast
For all their cruell spyght
I sett not by their hast
For thu art my delyght.
I am not she that lyst
My anker to lete fall
For euerye drysling myst
My shyppe substancyall.
Not oft use I to wryght
In prose nor yet in ryme
Yet wyll I shewe one syght
That I sawe in my tyme.
I sawe a ryall trone
Where Justyce shuld have sytt
But in her stede was one
Of modye cruell wytt.
Absorpt was ryghwysnesse
As of the ragyng floude
Sathan in his excesse.
Sucte up the gyltelesse bloude.
Tan thought I, Jesus lorde
Whan thu shald judge us all
Harde is it to recorde
On these men what wyll fall.
Yet lorde I the desyre
For that they do to me
Lete not them tast the hyre
Of their inyquyte.

Lady Mary Wroth - 1587-1652
Sonnet II

Love like a Jugler comes to play his prize,
And all mindes draw his wonders to admire,
To see how cunningly he (wanting eyes)
Can yet deceive the best sight of desire.

The wanton Childe, how can he faine his fire
So prettily, as none sees his disguise,
How finely doe his trickes; while we fooles hire
The badge, and office of his tyrannies.

For in the ende such jugling he doth make,
As he our hearts instead of eyes doth take;
For men can onely by their flights abuse

The sight with nimble, and delightfull skill,
But if he play, his gaine is our lost will,
Yet Child-like we cannot his sports refuse.

Anne Finch - Countess of Winchilsea - 1661-1720
A letter to Daphnis

Sure of successe, to you I boldly write,
Whilst Love, does every tender line endite.
Love, who is justly President of verse,
Which all his servants write, or else rehearse.
Phoebus, how'ere mistaken Poets dream,
N'er us'd a Verse, 'till Love became his theam,
To his stray'd Son, still as his passion rose
He rais'd his hasty voyce, in clamerous prose,
But when in Daphne, he wou'd Love inspire,
He woo'd in verse, sett to his silver lyre,
In moving Verse, that did her heart assail,
And cou'd on all, but Chastity prevail.
The Trojan Prince, did pow'rfull numbers joyn,
And sleeping Toy, again in flames was drest,
To raise the like, in pittying Dido's breast.
Love, without poetrys refining aid,
s a dull bargain, and but coursly made;
Nor e're cou'd Poeetry, successful prove
Or touotch the soul, but when the sence was Love.
Oh! cou'd they both, in absence now impart
Skill to my hand, but to describe my heart.
Then shou'd you see, impatient of your stay,
Soft hopes contend, with fears of sad delay.
Love, in a thousand pleasing motions, there,
And lively images of you appear.
But since the thoughts, of a poetick mind,
Will n'er be half, to sulables confind,
And whilst to fix, what is conceav'd we try,
The purer parts, evaporate and dye.
You must perform, what they want force to doe,
And think, what your Ardelia thinks of you.


Act 4 of The Duchess of Malfi presents all sorts of difficulties for directors/actors, and for the audience. Webster has been plodding along in a heightened, but relatively "normal" place of lies and deceit. Then we get to act 4 and all hell breaks loose. It has been said that Strindberg takes a moment that in a naturalistic play would be a minute and makes the whole play of it. Webster has done this in act 4...for all intents and purposes, really, we could just see the duchess be strangled, having heard of the torture. Instead, Webster gives us these gloriously juicy scenes with Ferdinand offering her a severed hand, madmen in her chamber singing and dancing, a disguised Bosola, executioners, coffins, and two deaths. Not to mention the marathon speeches of Bosola and Ferdinand at the end of the act. So given all on EARTH do you put this on stage?

For yesterday's class, my group was charged with preparing act 4 scene 2. We were all agreed that there is a need to step outside of a naturalistic approach; first, because there are a ton of characters and we only had 5 people, and second because we needed to make the violence real, shocking, and not silly for a modern audience. We played around quite a lot, trying out ideas, working collaboratively on what might work. We ended with the idea to be influenced a bit by plays like Marat/Sade and have this scene located in a common room of an insane asylum. All chairs were placed around the full playing space, mostly single chairs, but the odd pairing...each facing different directions toward the front of the room, where the duchess sat alone, facing out to the crowd. All other performers were placed amongst the crowd as their neutral madmen, and popped in and out of the scene as various characters, contributing to the Duchess' terror. Our goal was to really help the audience feel her resignation, feel uneasy about what was coming at them, and ensure that everyone had a different perspective of what occurred in the scene, some seeing things that others missed and so on. The action moved around the space so sometimes audience members from certain places could only hear the text, not see the actor. This worked quite well in presentation, most comments indicated that this had really worked for them, the cacaphony of sound and position of the text distanced over the large space helped with the sense of the time and place.

Our second issue was all of the violence in this scene. Two strangulations, some dead babies. We opted to make the strangulations highly expressionistic; the executioner for the Duchess and later for Cariola faced away from the audience, never touching the victim, but doing a gesture of strangulation which was mirrored by the person dying. From here, Bosola's directions would snap us back to the madhouse and the "executioner" would return to their chair. Again with the children, we made use of the madmen; the scarf that one madman had worn was left at a chair, and became a baby to indicate the dead children.

Overall this premise worked quite well, and would be good to investigate further. Might it be possible to stage the play in this way in its entirety?

The Rehearsal - Jean Anouilh

These are truly terrible people. I read once that a critic told Anouilh that he writes people whom you would never want to meet, and I agree completely. They are self-centered, pretentious, and never deal with the issues in front of them without a great deal of superficiality. The play centres on a Count and Countess, married for many years, but with "arrangements" of agreed upon, in fact known and vetted, mistresses and lovers to keep them engaged.

They do nothing; there are no higher aspirations, intellectual challenge, they simply keep up appearances and meddle in one another's affairs. What we see is the result of stagnancy, immobility, not caused by too little means, but rather caused by excess. The only moral person we see is Lucile, who works for her living, and is "brought up" by the Count as his lover..raised up as it were to the "better" class. Yet she, when confronted by the horrid behaviour of these people, leaves.

This play felt like a modern scenario for The Duchess of Malfi, only not just the gossip of court, but actual information about the lives of others. An interesting foil to what happens in duchess. Not as bloody, but in many ways just as sad.

A little gem from Anouilh:
Actors, they're quite impossible. As soon as they open their mouths, they fall head over heels in love with the sound of their own voices. And they expect us to share in their delight. No, seriously, they do. There is nothing less natural on earth than what passes for naturalism on stage. Don't go thinking it's enough to be life-like. For a start, in real life, one has to work with such terrible material. We live in a world that has completely forgotten the correct use of the semi-colon; we never finish a sentence properly, it always goes dot, dot, dot...because the mot juste always escapes us. And then that 'naturalistic' way of speaking which actors are always claiming to have. All that stammering, hesitating, 'umm'ing and 'ah'ing...why ask five or six hundred people to pay good money to sit through that? But they turn up and they love it. They recognize themselves. But the point is that theatre has got to do better than that. Life's all very well but it lacks form. Art must use every trick in the book to lend it one. To be more real than real life.

Musings on our Lady Duchess

While working on Act 4 of Duchess, and also along the side thinking through how I might like to approach the play for our end of term presentations, I have been thinking considerably about what in this play affects me. First, and probably most importantly, I find the character of the Duchess to be interesting not only as an actor, but as a spectator watching this woman's life. For the title character in the play, we see remarkably little of her, and know much more about those around her first-hand. From what we see...she lies to her brothers and says she will not marry, takes things into her own hands and marries her servant, keeps this a secret from her strong-willed brothers....but proceeds to have children with this unknown husband. Once she is discovered, she faces her imminent death with grace and strength, not fighting back (though she does take a mild detour away from Malfi...) and ultimately dying before the play itself is completed.

At the same time, we see that due to her power and status, she has Antonio wrapped around her finger; she exerts her power over him psychologically and sexually, seemingly taunting him, daring him to step out against her brothers, which she must know he cannot and will not do. Yet despite her power due to rank of birth, she is ultimately powerless as a woman who cannot decide for herself what her future will hold. Her line in act 3 really sums up her journey in the play for me - "Why should only I, of all the other princes in the world, be cased up like a holy relic?". It is precisely this that is the tension of her existence in the play; she is a prince, and should be free to act as she pleases. Were she a male, her actions (regardless of their moral value) would be accepted, never questioned....certainly she would never be condemned to death. Yet Webster isn't exactly painting us a picture for women's empowerment; rather he seems to present us with a hierarchy of power, everyone is controlled by someone, despite illusions of freedom.

image: Gustav Klimt - The Flower Garden

All Over The Place

Today began with Scene Study; presented our work on Act 3 of Duchess. This went well; we found some nice moments and shifts in the text that I think showed a clear understanding of what Webster is getting at. I am still finding that we weave in and out of understanding in our presentations...likely because we move directors each week, so everyone gets a go. Next week we are off, the following week we have been assigned act 4. This time Tom took the two key scenes, and asked two groups to prepare each. We'll then discuss and compare the two interpretations for what did and did not work. This is rather exciting. My group have been given the madman scene, and all of us want to try for a non-naturalistic representation. We meet Thursday to sort this out. Our only limit is that we must stay true to the text.

Theorizing tonight was both good and bad for me. Good in our initial conversations about the ephemerality of theatre, and what remains afterward; reviews, photos, notes, criticism and essays....This sparked an interesting conversation about criticism, which led well into the latter half of our class, where we had two visitors - Dr Karen Fricker, and Andrew Dickson. Dr Fricker is a theatre critic, and lecturer at Royal Holloway. Andrew Dickson is the Theatre Editor for the Guardian (curator of what I think to be the most important source of information on theatre today, the Guardian Theatre Blog). The two talked about their path to their current positions, and then about the role of the critic, good critical writing, and the changing face of criticism with social media and blogs. Then they opened the floor to questions.

Here is my gripe: I have been observing the British tradition from the inside for two months now, including the opportunity to see the plays that are then reviewed by esteemed critics such as Michael Billington and Lyn Gardner. What I am finding is that the review is in many ways a review of the history of the play more than it is a review of the production itself. Similarly, the two revival productions I have seen (unfortunately couldn't make it to Marat/Sade) were entirely reverent to the original production in as many ways as possible. We talked a bit about the symbiotic relationship between reviewers and performers, about the need to get reviewed to be "legitimized" and Dr Fricker suggested that smaller fringe companies should make use of social media in this way. What I think she fails to understand is that to an arts council, blogged reviews don't count as legitimacy when you are writing a grant application.

I'm meandering a bit here...but another point of contention for me is the idea of authority in the critic's perspective; with blogs and comment trails, twitter reviews and facebook...where is the authority of the "published" professional critic? As Dr Fricker suggested, the value is found in the analysis of the production, not the mere reporting of person x playing part y, and a value judgement...but an actual critical analysis of what was shown and what it means. The response to my query on this was simply to read Lyn Gardner. Now I have the utmost respect for her...but heaven knows she isn't the only reviewer! What about the hundreds of thousands of non-theatre "people" who stumble into work as a critic? How are they performing a valuable function that serves the dialogue for furtherance of this thing we call theatre?

Anway, a bit of a rant, and some inconclusive ideas right now....but food for thought.

image: Jackson Pollock - Summertime

We're sill friends...

Today's dramaturgy class was great. We were learning about the side of the dramaturg's job that focuses on understanding classical texts, either to defend a decision to portray them in a way (EG as a tragedy) and in terms of managing the length, making informed cuts to the script to meet a production's length requirements.

This was lots of fun. Each group had to construct an argument either to show the play as closer to tragedy as Aristotlte describes it, or to another form; for Malfi it was a Melodrama, and for Measure it was comedy. It was really informative to have to craft an argument to support a side, even when you may not necessarily agree with that position as it pertains to the play. We got a bit snippy with one another in the spirit of debate as well.

Prior to that we rehearsed Duchess. My group has been assigned act 3 scenes 1 and 2, so one of the most juicy scenes in the play, where the duchess is found out by ferdinand. Once again I have been cast as the duchess, which makes me quite happy, as I find her to be a completely fascinating character. We have crafted a very still, frightening scene which clearly illustrates her movement from trying to cover up what is perceived to be her indiscretion, and "coming clean" so to speak. I am really excited about this scene, and hope we can bring something that really surprises and moves the class and Tom.

And you know we are really down to business when I'm reading Nietzsche on the train at 11:30pm. Preparing for my Theorizing assignment which involves writing a questionnaire to engage theoretically with one of the performances we have seen. We don't need to answer the questions yet, but rather do need to provide a bibliography that will support answering the questions....and then for our final assessment in this class will be a questionnaire engaging with two of the performances, which we then need to answer. It is an intereting mix of essay writing, and preparation for the idea that we'll likely one day be in a position to be creating exam or essay questions ourselves. That class has a lot that is structured to position us as tutors and educators, which is exciting. And terrifying.


It has now been nearly 4 weeks of the MA. The time has just flown by, I can't even conceive of what I've managed to do already. Directed a scene from Duchess, performed in a scene, created a presentation, read a mountain of plays (some required, some chosen). Agreed, disagreed, viewed 3 performances (two for school), had to turn down 2 amazing experiences (Marat/Sade, and Ralph Fiennes masterclass). Been amazed by the skill and talent around me, both in tutors and fellow students.

What is really resonating with me is the theme of choice. In the characters, in myself, in those around me. We were debating a bit yesterday about who the main character is in the Duchess of Malfi, and the role of the duchesss in the story. Are we meant to feel sorry for her? I don't necessarily thing we are to feel sorry for her, but I do think that the play as a whole hinges on her making a choice. Another student debated with me that she is selfish and doesn't think of the impact her choice to marry/have kids will have on others.....I'm not sure I agree on that being the case. She chooses not the specific act of marriage/kids against her brothers' will; she chooses power. Power over her own life, and those directly related. And what we see is the consequence of someone choosing power; ultimately her downfall. I don't see the Duchess' situation as necessarily female - even a man, choosing power (Macbeth anyone?) will suffer a downfall. For me, this is the tragedy in the play. Of course there are hundreds of other perspectives, social norms, etc, that play in to the situation, why her choice causes these events...but again it all comes back to choosing power.

The other major topic of choice for me is selecting the play on which I will write my dissertation. Somehow this feels like the most significant choice of my academic life; what if I choose poorly? What if the play I select doesn't align with my ideas about theatre any longer by January or February...what then?? Realistically I don't see this changing too much, but the idea of making such a significant choice, standing up for rather frightening.

Overall, I am feeling good in the course; there are always moments that bother me, but surprisingly they have been on the academic side more so than on the practical side of the course. This is surprising, as generally one thinks that the subjective artistic side will be where disagreements form. Instead, I feel like each day, each tutor seems to re-affirm a thought or inclination I have had about creating work, approaching the work. Conversely the academic side sometimes bristles against my sensibilities; I keep wanting to yell out to challenge the reduction of theatre to a series of symbols, influenced and informed only by what the audience brings to the theatre. Shouldn't good work allow audience members to interact on all levels? Whether "well-read" or not at all....whether they come with a lot of theatrical viewing experience or not. This was really getting to me, so I have been reading in full the argument for phenomenology in the theatre in the States text. I am hoping that positioning the idea in the full argument will help me better understand, for right now it is feeling reductionist, and making me angry.

I should clarify the image as well - for me, this close up looks like someone reflecting on choice, how to proceed, what comes next. There is a mixture of despair and hope.

image: Edvard Munch - The Sick Child


Wow. What a day. Began with a meeting about Ludus Danielis at King's College to learn some details about the production, budget, expectations, etc.

Then to rehearsal, and quickly after to scene study where we did our presentations. I was feeling anxious heading into today, as although I felt our group had a good idea and concept, I was nervous that we were under-rehearsed. We managed to pull it off though, with some nice comedy and a great pulling in of the facts. Our Current Affairs in 1613 discussion was framed as Question Time, including the epic long intro music, and fiery debate. This was well received by the class and by Tom which was great. I was also really rather impressed by the quality of research and creativity in presentation from my classmates. It was amazing to see creative individuals engage with historical research in a theatrical way to produce a product that would be informative and entertaining. I did leave the class feeling overwhelmed with information. Because of the performance based nature of the presentations, I almost felt like I had sat through 6 fringe plays in 3 hours, my mind agreeing to one reality after the next, which is mentally exhausting!

We've now divided Malfi Act 3, and begin rehearsals Thursday. As we continue to progress, I am increasingly interested in the techniques to dig into the text and find the best way to crystallize the message and images of the play in the performance.

Then on to Theorizing. This was an interesting class, focused on discussing the impact of architecture and structures in the theatrical performance. We discussed a lot of immersive theatre techniques, and site specific techniques, in many cases specifically related to Decade. What I really continue to come back on with this production is a feeling that they set me up, but then failed to deliver. The security entrance mirroring US Customs set the stage for post 9/11, then the restaurant positioned the audience in the building pre 9/11....and then the majority of the show was reflective, from a position once again post 9/11. Rather than having the impact that immersive theatre should, it just made me more aware of the artifice of the thing.

Have our first assignment in Theorizing due Nov 4 that I can get started on too; we are to write a questionnaire to engage with one of the plays we have seen for the course, to tease out specific questions on a theme. I find this assignment rather interesting, as it is preparing us for the practicality of essay preparation, but also in a way preparing us for the potentiality of teaching, and eliciting intellectual scholarship from others.I am rather excited to begin this.

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.

A Lusty Widow

Began with rehearsals on Act 2 of Duchess of Malfi today. I am playing The Duchess, in her expectant but secretive state in scene 2 of the act. The rehearsal was bumpy, working with so large a group (and 3 directors!) but overall we managed to develop a good sense of what Webster is intending and what is going on, along with the blocking. I must admit, The Duchess is quite fun to play, particularly in this scene. As a young Duchess (for she is still quite young) she has a feeling of entitlement, and also of defiance against those who want to restrain her or fit her into a mould. More rehearsals Tuesday, then presentation.

Then our first dramaturgy class with Paul Sirett. Such fun! We began with looking at the function of dramaturgs as they relate to new plays. We read several new short plays as "readers" for a literary department of a company, then debated the merits of each as something potential for our fictional company to pursue and potentially produce. It was interesting to hear what people took from the various plays, and the debate over some got fairly intense. Mountain of homework for this class (we only have 4 total, so have to jam it in!) including writing an External Report to the Literary Department on one of the plays.

As well, I have taken on a project (along with two classmates) to direct a Medieval Latin play for King's College with their MA students. The production takes place in April 2012.

image: Helen Mirren as The Duchess of Malfi (1981)