We begin the session with opening remarks from Aubrey Whitlock, reminding conference-goers to be wary of seating as the audience will most likely double in size during today’s Keynote speaker Sir Trevor Nunn! Following that, Lia Wallace and Natashia Reinhardt announced the winner of the staging sessions that have occurred over the past three days across the Conference. Attendees at the conference received a ticket during registration that allowed them to personally choose which staged session they would love to see performed, which played a major role in swaying the vote. Congratulations to Liza Graham and her staged session George a Greene, the Pinner of Wakefield with 42% of the popular vote! With that announcement starting today’s session, there was nothing but good and positive vibes for our final day here at the 11th Blackfriars Conference!
Molly Seremet, Mary Baldwin University, “Behold God’s providence and his wonder of wonders”: Anne Greene’s Anatomical Redemption and the Stage of Female Bodily Anatomy
Molly Seremet begins her talk “‘Behold God’s Providence and his wonder of wonders’: Anne Greene’s Anatomical Redemption and the Stage of Female Bodily Autonomy” with some truly sensational dramaturgy surrounding Anne Greene, an early modern scullery maid who became pregnant out of wedlock, miscarried, was suspected of infanticide, and was subsequently physically abused by the judging body at her trial and presumed dead as a result. She was prepared for dissection, but revived on the operating table, to the surprise of a group of early modern doctors. In the staged version of this historical episode, the character is named Anne/Dorothea, with the other half, Dorothea, represented by a puppet which the actor playing Anne controls. Molly highlights the resistance of the doctors and other spectators to Anne’s “resilience” and explains that the other characters feel she is almost audacious to reassert her existence in reviving, which may be related to the understanding that an early modern female ought not to assume her own bodily autonomy, much less practice it when opposed by so many men holding an accepted viewpoint. She concludes by commenting on the representation of Anne’s postpartum body onstage and the sense of loss connected with an altered body, projecting the assumption that this information could inform modern performances of this play.
Clara Bissel, University of Minnesota, Real Bodies, Imaginary Print
In her paper Real Bodies, Imaginary Print, Clara Bissel from the University of Minnesota argues for the importance of print in relation to not just the words creating the text, but also the physical bodies when embodying the text in performance. By examining how print and printing presses influence our understanding of Shakespeare’s text, Bissel calls for attention regarding how printing not only influences our perceptions of these plays and poems, but also has an impact on character’s (and subsequently the actor’s) real bodies when performed on stage, especially in relation to aspects of their identity such as race, sexuality, and gender.
Bissel specifically discusses in her presentation that the print imagined on someone’s body expands not just to paper and ink, but in familial relations; specifically parental imprint on the child. MLitt students Ashley Wright and Katie Mestres performed various scenes from various Shakespearean plays, including The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, and The Merry Wives of Windsor to assist Bissel’s argument surrounding how the vulnerability of the female body, parental imprinting, and revealing character motivation can be depicted and influenced through printing. There’s an anxiety, Bissel stated in her presentation, surrounding “ideas about bodies and how character bodies are imagined through the actors’ bodies on stage”. And with such an emphasis on the Shakespearean text and printing, Bissel hopes to continue examining and interrogating the importance of printing; and not just print related to ink and paper or printing done in the printing house, but the imaginary, psychological printing on characters and their bodies.
Kerry Cooke, Mary Baldwin University, I seal, I cancel, I do what I will”: Letters and Dueling Secretarians in Edward II
Dr. Kerry Cooke engagingly examines the secretarial dynamic between Edward and Gaveston in Edward II, shedding light on its early modern homoerotic implications and the professional affirmation or “legalization” of such a dynamic through its essential nature, that of sharing political secrets and responsibility. She touches on the fact that a “closet” was the most private area of an early modern living space, a small room with the capacity to be locked, into which monarchs and their secretaries would frequently go to discuss state secrets. She highlights the irony in the homoerotic connotation between monarchs and secretaries and the physical reality of their needing to stay “in the closet” while exchanging sensitive political information. Secretaries possessed “class-jilting proximity” to prominent political figureheads, upsetting early modern class structures in ways which frequently upset would-be higher-ranking court officials. She emphasizes that it is the official condoning or “legalization” of an implied homoerotic dynamic through professional parlance that upsets Edward’s heteronormative court. This valuable context would benefit modern productions of Edward II interested in portraying the social and political nuance surrounding monarchs and their secretaries significantly.
Nicole Sheriko, Yale University, Early English Puppetry and Robert Greene’s Bazen Head
Nicole Sheriko of Yale University began their talk on Early English Puppetry and Robert Greene’s Brazen Head by advocating for the importance of puppets and puppetry in the theatrical world, specifically through the brass head puppet from Greene’s Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. Through this presentation, Sheriko argues for how objects, specifically performing objects, are foundational within the theatrical experience.
The popularity surrounding puppets and puppetry stemmed through its reuse through time and was eventually used as an object of advertisement. The brazen head in Greene’s works showcases how props within a company can drive the work. The puppet was used again in Alphonsus and can be found within the prop’s lists. The puppet’s theatrical power can be uplifted through its spiritual power as it draws from reformation contexts. As Sheriko demonstrated in their presentation, this brazen head would have reflected the religious iconoclasm through its potential placement in the discovery space behind the curtain. Additionally, the brazen head likely resembled a clown itself as there are recounts of clown behavior through the curtain in which the brazen head behaves the same way. Drawing the curtain to reveal the puppet could potentially resemble both church art and clown practices of the time. There is a distinct shift from the horrors of religious ideology and beliefs to humour with the brazen head itself breaking apart within Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. Sheriko shares in their presentation an example of this through the Cambridge Festival Student Creative Team. This group of students recreated a modern version of the brazen head resembling AI, with a new face emerging from old technology. The process of translating early modern theatre to modern audiences stitches together previous eras and moods throughout the building process. These puppets, as well as the art of puppetry, encourage recycling and reuse. They are not just statues or still objects, but rather, as Sheriko quotes: “An engine of future performance.”
Claire Kimball, Independent Scholar, Photographing Shakespeare in Performance: A Visual Dramaturgy
As dramaturg in resident at the since closed Brave Spirits Theatre, Claire Kimball analyzed how a dramaturgical eye could strengthen the visual record of a performance in Photographing Shakespeare in Performance: A Visual Dramaturgy. One of her beginning quotes was from a Tony Award winning photographers about their experiences photographing Broadway productions “The art in what I do is interpreting other people’s work. It’s not what I do.” The reality of the production photo we as consumers see often prioritizes marketing objectives. Dramaturgs however, when employed, are already in the room as participants in the space, not as voyeuristic visitors, but members of the process. Claire has been there through long processes of what moments are directors’ style, what are choreographers’ style. Dramaturgical photographers can analyse the difference between process and product having been in the space throughout the process, being prepared to capture time-specific shots. Production involved photographers can recall the importance of photographing completed sets, minute props, and seemingly insignificant moments as these can all be used as great memorable moments. We as theatre-makers can supplement as digital photographers for an archival goal rather than a marketable goal, so that archivists in the future have an opportunity to look at an image from the practice itself.