In this colloquy session, Jeremy Fiebig leads “Radical Hospitality/Radical Welcome in Shakespearean Performance.” This session focused on different forms of welcoming into theatrical spaces – through gender studies, casting practices, and backstage culture. The panel was introduced, with each speaker presenting what “radical welcome” can mean in various contexts. Fiebig established this idea, providing that radical hospitality and welcome come from the background of faith terms. This idea is “unrepentant inclusion to an extreme level, to artists, to audiences, to text.”
First, Alexa Alice Joubin from George Washington University (She/Her/Hers) presented “Gender Crossing in Shakespearean Theatre.” This presentation spoke to the inclusion of trans and non-binary actors, as well as characters, in Early Modern Drama and Shakespeare’s works. Joubin suggests that the term “cross-dressing” is a problematic one, primarily because moments of gender crossing and disguise, as with Rosalind becoming Ganymede in As You Like It, can be textually read as transness within the shows. She argues that “Conscious or unconscious uses of language affect social actions known as speech acts.” These speech acts or utterances, such as calling a character a specific name, have the power to bring the realities into being. This inclusion of trans characters in the worlds that Shakespeare wrote about and in the actors working on stage is essential because, as legislation in our country seeks to eradicate trans lives, artists and scholars have the responsibility to protect and support our own.
Second, Kim Carrell from Worcester State University presented “Shake-ing up Hamlet.” This presentation spoke primarily about holistic casting practices and what it means to be an inclusive director. The production he referenced was Hamlet, which he directed at Praxis Stage in 2019. He stated, “As director, I chose to empower the actors and their choices as much as possible.” His purpose as the director is not to prescribe movement or possibility but to allow actors to find their way, as he provided a “guiding hand.” Radical welcome existed in this work through casting without predetermination – his pathos was determined by the ability to convincingly play the part, regardless of race, gender, or age. And from there, letting the actors lived experiences become embedded in the work. For example, the actor who played Laertes in this production was non-binary; Carrell allowed them to decide how this character would be played and how they would present themselves. The actor chose Laertes to identify as a woman and present as the actor does in their own life. Costuming was left up to the actor to determine the story they needed to tell. Carell concluded that radical hospitality allowed for a hugely rewarding experience and impact. The ideas were brought and fueled by the experiences and identities of the cast actors. Positive reactions proved that this needs to be embraced!
Lastly, Fiebig, from Fayetteville State University (and also an S&P alum from ‘06!), finished off with a talk about inclusivity and how to break down that idea. He introduces the idea that the drama that we work with artistically can often bleed into our own lives, especially backstage. This can provide huge risks for both actors and practitioners alike. “Who gets to be included and under what conditions?” Radical hospitality has to be held in the same way as radical discernment – some theatre cannot be for every single person at all of the time. It’s not necessarily a means of exclusion. But because of neurodivergence, mental health, trauma, etc, sometimes viewing or attempting to work on specific theatre at specific times can prove intensely detrimental. Sometimes, it’s the responsibility of a theatre company not to put on a particular show because it will not serve the actors working or the community it is entertaining. Some tools to do this work most inclusively are democratizing play selection, hosting holistic auditions (where further questions and explanations about what is involved with the production are presented), and ethical exit strategies put in place – so actors can leave productions, if necessary. Fiebig concluded that the stakes are higher than we even process backstage. This discernment in who theatre is for is actually working to make it a more inclusive space.
In our first colloquy session, Allison Pajor leads “Teach it but how”: On-Your-Feet Pedagogical Approaches for Shakespeare. This session focused on how to physicalize Shakespeare and get students on their feet and engaged in the classroom.
Erin Sharpe Lekavich kicks things off with a lesson that helps students physicalize meter. She gave each syllable in a traditional iambic line a corresponding movement:
1- lean to left
2- stand up straight
3- bend knees
4- stand up
5- look to left
6- look straight
7- lift right arm
8- flex right arm
9- scoop left arm
10- hold up left hand
This choreography establishes the regular rhythm of an iambic line, so irregular scansion becomes exceptionally apparent when it occurs. Using a monologue from 3.2 of King Lear, students embodied the rhythm of each line. When they encountered moments of irregular meter, they identified it and found ways to adjust the physicality to account for and interpret the irregularity.
Next up is Allison Pajor, who uses music to teach scansion to younger students. Using the same King Lear monologue, Pajor assigns each student a line of text. She then plays some classical-sounding music and instructs the students to interpret the line through movement. She asks, “What does this music sound like? If your line could sound like that, how would it look? How do different parts of your body move? Your head? Your knee? Your elbow? The small of your back?”. After a little while, she changes the music to something jazzier and tells the students to change their movements to match the line to the new music. Then she changes the music one final time to something closer to hip-hop. After letting the students experiment a bit, Pajor asks students to pick their favorite style of movement before going through the monologue altogether. Participants said that the different physicalities made the line emote differently, as well as changing the pacing and stressing of the line.
Third is Annette Drew-Bear teaching embedded stage directions. She begins the lesson with The Roving Knave’s video on embedded stage directions. The video is by an MBU graduate and offers a little history on embedded stage directions in addition to explaining the concept. Then she has her students complete a brief, written assignment on identifying embedded stage directions in the text. After giving them a good idea of what embedded stage directions are and how to find them, Drew-Bear has student volunteers cast themselves in a short scene and find the embedded stage directions within it. Here, she uses the gulling of Malvolio in Twelfth Night. The participants seem to have great fun embodying the text and showing their findings.
The fourth teacher is Elissa Wolf teaches how “thou” and “you” can communicate relationships and dynamics. Since “thou” is “warmer” and more emotional and “you” is “colder” and more formal, Wolf asks why, through pronouns, a character might be trying to create or close distance with another character. To demonstrate this concept, Wolf stands on the opposite side of the room from some student volunteers. She asks students to step forward when she reads off a “thou” pronoun and step back when she reads off a “you” pronoun. Having established that familiarity with the two categories, Wolf splits the volunteers into two groups. She assigns each group one character from a dialogue scene and has one student from each group read the character’s line. When one side uses “thou”, the character group steps forward, and when they use “you”, they step back. This creates a visual path of the relationship and shows if the characters are more interested in creating or closing distance.
Last but not least is Tiffany M. Waters, who looks at teaching rhythm to middle schoolers who might not be all that familiar with theatre. She introduces rhythm and meter through spellcasting and movement, using Puck’s lines from 3.2 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She starts the lesson with a movement-based focus game like Zip-Zap-Zop. Then she puts up Puck’s lines:
“Up and down, up and down,
I will lead them up and down.”
Waters marks the scansion for the students and tells them to move their “wand” up and down based on the stresses. Once they have mastered the rhythm and the movement, they can “curse” their teacher to become a puppet. If they do the rhythm and movement correctly, they can use their wand to physically move their teacher around the classroom (within reason, of course– no teacher should be forced to backflip just for the sake of scansion!). The teacher can also appoint a trusted helper to end the curse by saying, “Reverso!”
This was such a high-energy, informative colloquy! We’re so excited to see what comes next.
Barbara Bono, Chelsea Horne, Maria Horne– Place and Space in the Making of American Regional Shakespeares
There were 19 observers and participants in the colloquy Place and Space in the Making of American Regional Shakespeares, hosted by Barbara Bono Associate Professor at University of Buffalo, Maria Horne Associate Professor at University of Buffalo, Chelsea Horne Senior Professorial Lecturer American University DC. What underwrote this project was the fact that the Folger Shakespeare library was closed for four years for massive physical renovations, delayed for COVID. The academic programs across the country so linked to the library as consortium members, the graduate programs in particular, put their heads together and found ways to educate their young professionals finding Shakespeare all across America. The emphasis within this was finding Shakespeare within place and space, looking at Buffalo and New Orleans tracking Gilded Age and Antebellum Wealth and how those two things create growth in those cities and both high- and low-class productions. The analysis then tracked whether the two cities did or did not do Shakespeare through their approach and are now following through this approach extending across the rest of the United States. The analysis also looked at these two cities as the researchers were driven by their experience in Buffalo as one of America’s 10 most segregated cities and the fostering of exclusion within the city.
The major guiding questions through this project have been: Interested in what are regions, counties, areas, how do these communities’ intersex and intermix by gender, class, culture, etc? What cultural work does Shakespeare and especially the performance tradition perform? What endures?
Artistic Directors from Baltimore Shakespeare Factory (Lauren) and from a new Shakespeare Company in Maine (Cece) were in the room and had major questions about how to apply this work to their organizations. Maine being the whitest state in the United States created a concern about bringing actors of colour for the Hamlet project. What happens when the hyper-locals, as the entire state of Maine feels like a small town, goes global? Baltimore City is incredibly segregated along York Road, but the population who comes to see the show is almost entirely from DC even though it is Baltimore locals who are looking for work. There is a phenomenon within artistic boards that the board is all white as the founder of Shakespeare is white. The divide is huge, but companies that previously thought they couldn’t access Shakespeare are starting to access it and collaborations are starting to be made between Latine, Black, Indigenous, etc. theatres and Shakespeare companies. A lot of the conversation in the room seemed to come down to Bell Hooks’ work about not sharing ownership of spaces or ownership of text.
Shakesperiences saw all 42 plays across North America in 2018 the overall thought was that Shakespeare was very homogenous, very white with only a few people of colour. The major difference between all of these productions is the location, ranging from beaches, to cliffsides, to vineyards. Rather that bringing Shakespeare to the community, the best productions make the community a part of Shakespeare. In South LA, Shakespeare is for people of colour and for people who are neurodivergent. Telling them Shakespeare is mostly white would be absurd. Inclusivity is other things than just race. This led to a conversation about the universality of Shakespeare and whether or not it is in fact universal and rather a quote was given by Walt Whitman “I am large, I contain multitudes” in regards to utilizing Shakespeare to serve diverse communities.
In regards to outdoor spaces and theatre, there was a reminder given that they are often drastically underfunded and as such Shakespeare is free and has large casts. This can create community involvement and allow for fundraising opportunities rather than truly making the choice to engage with Shakespeare as a text. This followed up with the point about how a festival can also disrupt a community in general even against what the community may say they want (ie. Oregon Shakespeare Festival). While a community may want an all-white company, does that create the optimal form of art? Does that serve the art? Spaces hold honour or don’t and what does that mean to the community? Who owns the space? How do regional North American dialects apply to Shakespeare? These were all questions raised towards the end of the colloquy. The colloquy wrapped back up with a point being made that if we as scholars want to engage with diverse communities it is key to engage with these communities beyond attempting to cast or use them, but to instead engage with them on cultural levels, protests, and throughout our lives. Trust is earned over a lifetime and broken in a moment, how are we honest as scholars, performers, directors, dramaturgs, designers, and storytellers in our engagement? This is an ongoing project.
Dr. David Sterling Brown, Trinity College, Shakespeare’s White Others—Book Signing
The sunny November afternoon shines through the window wall in the Blackfriars lobby, as Dr. David Sterling Brown signs copies of his book, Shakespeare’s White Others. He places streamlined, modern stickers sporting pink and orange block letters on crisp inner covers as conference attendees linger around the table for a precious moment to discuss Dr. Sterling Brown’s brilliant work and, occasionally, his dynamite, glittery nail polish. His gracious manner reflects so many speakers who have already presented today, his gentle maturity reminiscent of Dr. Paul Menzer, while his self-assured way of expressing his experience and personal connection to his work calls to mind Patricia Akhimie’s fascinating struggles editing Arden Shakespeare’s fourth edition of Othello. He discusses how a fun-oriented environment can make highly racially-charged topics easier to broach in performance and academic spheres, and how interpreting Shakespeare is synonymous with interpreting art generally; if an individual can do one, they can do the other. One autograph seeker laments the negligent lack of awareness some Shakespeare scholars still entertain with regards to Shakespeare’s connections to race, prompting Dr. Sterling Brown to exuberantly exclaim, “Shakespeare and race go together!” By the end of half an hour, his stock has been exhausted, mirroring his book’s condition online, being presently back-ordered there as well—which comes as no surprise to anyone he shares this unfortunate information with from this point on, resorting to signing and distributing pamphlets with purchase information to his overflow of eager academic readers.