Hello and welcome back to another colloquy session here at the Blackfriars Conference 2019. My name is Lauren Romagnano and I am reporting on The Tent Scene. This session is chaired by Theo Black and joined by presenters Jim Casey, Larry Weiss, and Caroline Bicks. We are also joined by ASC actors John Harrell, Zoe Speas, and Brandon Carter.
To start this session, we began by introducing both participants and auditors. Theo Black led this colloquy and serves as a professor at University of Cornell. Presenter Jim Casey works for Arcadia University, Larry Weiss is an independent scholar, and Caroline Bicks is a professor at University of Maine.
We begin by commenting on the rich, dense textual landscape of Julius Caesar and how it was a privilege to see the performance last night. Working with the tent scene between Brutus and Cassius, the presenters look to examine the Gary Logan method developed at Carnegie Mellon in order to recreate an actor focused exercise that moves from cue scripts to modern performance using what Theo Black calls “slapdash fire.” This method, called the Four Stage Method, begins with the actors reading the text to examine the individual meaning together. They then move into the second stage where after one character speaks, the next repeats their line before their own and making it a first person reaction of truth. This refers back to the Meisner method of performance. The third stage is hearing the text read in full aloud, taking the words and making them personal. Finally, the fourth stage moves into cue scripts without cues, where actors have the freedom to jump and overlap lines based out of the instant reactions to words that charge them or repeat.
After reviewing these rules with our actors, Brandon Carter reading for Cassius and John Harrell reading for Brutus, the presenters allow the actors to skip stages 1 and 3, as the actors are very familiar with the text at this point, and instead focus our attention to the second and fourth stage. During the second stage reading, auditors noticed how the actors had to accept the line before as truth and use that truth to pivot into their next point. With this excitement in the room, the actors were turned towards stage 4.
As the scene is staged, the tension and stakes are immediately apparent due to the overlapping of lines. When the scene ends, Theo Black opens it up to discussion. The actors begin to discuss how the overlapping take away from the language of the scene. While they bring tension in, these stakes can be as large on any night at the show and the actors would desire to be able to react accordingly. The conversation shifts to discussing the differences of using cues or catalyst words and terms, both of which create very different examples within the performance. With this in mind, we turn towards Jim Casey’s staging which allows the actors to fully speak on top of each other using cues he has identified.
This change in staging shows how emotionally charged the scene could be because it turned out that Brutus remained quite calm, while Cassius began to grow frustrated. Many commented that Brutus’s calm would even add more strain on Cassius. Many even continued this conversation by discussing how the rules of this performance vastly differed from that of the rules on the American Shakespeare Stage. However, the conversation stressed that this performance breaks the rules of convention and could be used sparsely in performance to be effective. However, in the classroom, this tool would be extremely useful as, professors noted, younger actors and students are hesitant to speak on top of their lines. Therefore, this exercise would be a useful tool to develop young actors confidence in performing in a high stakes performance.
The workshop ended by using similar tools to examine the entrance of Messala into the scene and how these tools can drastically change from a highly charged scene to one of intense emotions. The presenters thanked their performers and we concluded our session. Stay tuned for more conference coverage!