NEXT CONFERENCE: OCTOBER 22-27, 2019
In odd-numbered years since the first October that the Blackfriars Playhouse was open, scholars from around the world have gathered in Staunton, during the height of the Shenandoah Valley’s famed fall colors, to hear lectures, see plays, and learn about early modern theatre. In 2019, the American Shakespeare Center’s Education and Research Department will once again host Shakespeareans, scholars and practitioners alike, to explore Shakespeare in the study and Shakespeare on the stage and to find ways that these two worlds – sometimes in collision – can collaborate.
Past conferences have included such notable scholars as:
- Andrew Gurr, the “godfather” of the Blackfriars Playhouse
- Bill Rauch
- Dymphna Callaghan
- Russ McDonald
- Ayanna Thompson
- Gary Taylor
- Gina Bloom
- Stephen Greenblatt
- Ann Thompson
- Roz Knutson
- Abigail Rokison
- Tina Packer
- Scott Kaiser
- Gail Kern Paster
- Stephen Booth
- Tiffany Stern
- George T. Wright
Each year we also honor a scholar who has made great impacts in the theatre field: previous honorees have included C. Walter Hodges (2005), Alan Dessen (2007), Andrew Gurr (2009), Stephen Booth (2011), George Walton Williams (2013), Barbara Mowat (2015), and Richard Hay (2017).
This conference distinguishes itself from saner conferences in a variety of other ways. First, to model the kind of collaboration we think possible, we encourage presenters to feature actors as partners in the demonstration of their theses. For instance, in 2009, Gary Taylor’s keynote presentation “Lyrical Middleton” featured ASC actors singing and dancing to the songs in Middleton’s plays; in 2015, Tina Packer and James Loehlin worked with ASC actors on scenes from Antony and Cleopatra with Blackfriars Conference participants witnessing rehearsal room challenges. Second, we limit each paper session to six short papers (10 minutes for solo presentations, 13 minutes for presentations with actors). Third, we enforce this rule by ursine fiat – a bear chases from the stage those speakers who go over their allotted time.
One to four short paper sessions are held daily during the conference, with approximately four to six papers each. Each session lasts 60 to 75 minutes. Each day of the conference will also include roundtable discussions, chaired by MBU faculty or ASC research staff, with up to 10 participants discussing specific areas of interest, which could include cross-gendered casting, race, staging disability, new media tools and the interaction with performance, original practice/staging, and rhetoric. Early risers can also take advantage of our one hour Wake Up workshops prior to the start of the day offered by the education staff.
Colloquy submissions are now closed.
Dates to Note:
October 22, 2018: Call for Papers Open
May 15, 2019: Call for Papers Close
October 22-27, 2019: Tenth Biennial Blackfriars Conference
Stay up to date.
Introducing a new Colloquy Format
For the Tenth Biennial Blackfriars Conference, colloquies will take one of three formats: Research Paper Discussion, Actor Facilitated Exploration, and Round Table Discussion. All colloquies are 75-minute sessions. This new format paves the way for focused, research-driven exploration and discussion of Early Modern theatre practice and academia.
Research Paper Discussion:
Research Paper Discussion colloquies are limited to nine participants. Participants are required to submit an 8-10 page paper and abstract on the subject of their colloquy by September 1, 2019. Papers will be distributed to all colloquy participants and each paper should be read by participants prior to the start of the conference. Abstracts will be shared with all conference attendees and auditors, who will receive a copy at the start of the colloquy. Participants will briefly provide an overview of their paper during the colloquy; the majority of the colloquy will be dedicated to a discussion led by the colloquy leader and a question and answer with both the colloquy participants and auditors.
Actor Facilitated Exploration:
Actor Facilitated Exploration colloquies are limited to five participants. The colloquy leader will choose a piece of text to explore within the colloquy. The text can be a single scene, a single moment, or a selection of scenes and/or moments. Colloquy participants will work with ASC or MFA actors to explore the possibilities within the text. Colloquy participants should collaborate with one another prior to the start of the conference on what they wish to explore during the colloquy. Actor scripts are due by September 15, 2019.
Round Table Discussion:
Round Table Discussion colloquies are limited to nine participants. The colloquy leader will choose an article, set of articles, or book relating to the subject of the colloquy for all participants to read prior to the start of the conference. Participants should submit one to three discussion questions or points of interest to their colloquy leader by September 15, 2019. The colloquy itself will consist of a discussion, led by the colloquy leader, among all colloquy participants on the selected writings. The discussion will be followed by a question and answer period with colloquy auditors.
2019 Blackfriars Conference colloquies
Research Paper Discussion
Fandom and Early Modern Theatre
This colloquy asks both how fan communities have shaped the early modern stage – both historically and in contemporary practice. The early modern theatre was a commercial enterprise that thrived on celebrity culture fed by consumers who might, in the twenty-first century, be defined as fans. This colloquy not only asks how fans have shaped the history of Shakespeare’s theatre, but thinks about how fans – who include academics, theatregoers, tourists, and teens – support the continued cultural relevance of a corpus of early modern texts to contemporary culture and facilitates the growth of such companies as the ASC, the RSC, the Globe.
Leader: Louise Geddes
Max # of Participants: 10
Leadership Pedagogy and Early Modern Drama
Some believe that leaders are born rather than created. However, recent pedagogical trends indicate that many believe leaders can be taught (if not created). One development in leadership pedagogy is the use of fiction as case studies to examine both strategies of leadership and the soft skills that leaders need to be successful. Publishing companies, like SAGE Business, are even publishing case studies for teachers and students based on classical literature, such Homer’s texts and Greek drama.
In this vein, I would like to invite the submission of research papers that explore aspects of leadership pedagogy using Early Modern drama. Possible areas of interest:
- exploring examples of both good and bad leaders and what can be learned by their successes and failures
- focusing on specific traits in a character, such as decision making or emotional intelligence
- examining rhetoric as a tool of leadership
- using classroom activities that focus on scene work or role playing to examine leadership traits or to teach soft skills.
Priority will be given to papers that demonstrate practical approaches which participants and audience members can readily adopt (or adapt) for their classes.
Leader: Rhonda Knight
Max # of Participants: 12
Shakespeare and Ethics in Times of Uncertainty
The crux of this discussion rests on the deceptively simple question: Why do we treat people the way we do? As imperfect humans, it is not uncommon to find ourselves being amiable toward others when we need something, only to turn against them when it is to our advantage. Shakespeare’s plays are a trove of examples of this characteristic mutability: Characters forge relationships which change or alter when a crisis arises and their ethical or moral judgements are thus abandoned or reconsidered. This colloquy asks participants to examine the way Shakespeare explores ethical dilemmas, especially in times of uncertainty or crisis. Questions that might be explored: How does political turmoil sway a character into abandoning or forming relationships to their advantage? What are the ethical implications of characters pursuing strategic relationships? How does a character’s justifications affect their categorization as a villain, hero, or a something else entirely? Any theoretical lens or approach is appreciated to elucidate why the characters treat each other the way they do in times of crisis. Colloquy members can also draw upon current political events to build their argument.
Leader: Brittany Rebarchik
Max # of Participants: 14
Scholarship on Original Practices
Our colloquy’s theme will be a based on the new central mission of The Hare: An Online Journal of Untimely Reviews in Early Modern Theater. A publication of the Mary Baldwin Shakespeare and Performance program, The Hare will exclusively feature, as of late-October of this year, untimely reviews of old scholarship–with authors invited to interpret “old” creatively. We do not accept, however, traditional reviews of recent publications. These brief, provocative pieces revitalize current debates and approaches through the recovery and reassessment of neglected works¬–books or articles–that contain the potential for new conceptual frameworks and methodologies. The theme of this colloquy will be untimely reviews of scholarship in Original Practices. We invite scholars to submit 8 – 10 page reviews of ignored or potentially misunderstood old books or articles relevant to the Original Practices movement. Reviews may focus on old texts traditionally considered to be part of OP scholarship, and yet relegated to passing footnotes and bibliographies; or old texts not traditionally brought into dialogue with OP scholarship, and yet destined to invigorate contemporary analyses in this field. Depending on the nature of the work generated in the colloquy, there will be the potential for the publication of a special issue of The Hare based on Original Practices, featuring invited, revised versions of these colloquy papers.
Leader: Dr. Casey Caldwell
Max # of Participants: 10
Staging Eavesdropping in Shakespeare
This colloquy will explore eavesdropping scenes in Shakespeare. While engaging our texts with actors, we will ask questions like: to what extent is eavesdropping contingent on physical proximity, and to what extent can it be performed at varying physical distances? What theatrical techniques enhance the suspension of disbelief, and how are these techniques layered in the scripts? How does movement help facilitate (or prevent) eavesdropping? At what point is eavesdropping a mere theatrical convention, and at what point is it a literary device that helps to further plot, character, or audience/actor relationships?
Leader: Emma Atwood
Max # of Participants: 5
The Tent Scene: Process & Playscape
In this session, scholars/practitioners are asked to bring methods for illuminating the tent scene from Julius Caesar (A4S3) as a dialectic of shared/inter-acted text – conjoining your approaches with a rehearsal/performance technique called ‘The 4-Stage Exercise,’ (developed by Gary Logan in response to seeing Patrick Tucker’s original ‘Cue-Script’ work, then paired with inspiration from Sandy Meisner) in seeking methods to maximize both depth & spontaneity in reanimating the textual interplay of Shakespeare.
The ‘4-Stage Exercise” includes removal of the “cue” convention: each character freed to speak/interject once their requisite line-catalyst(s) are heard.
How does reframing the conception of ‘speech-giver’ as dominant in stage focus (in part modeled upon a readerly conceit of textual sequentialism) in favor of emphasizing how multiple speakers may persuasively inter-act with/upon each other (fundamental to cue-script conceits and methodologies) work to enfranchise students/performers/audience? What recalibrations of dynamic soundscape and dramatic spectacle, as well as potential political ramifications in terms of textual ownership & disruption, emerge from these processes?
What other vectors & illuminations may the tent scene serve, that strike participants as worthwhile to explore in reanimating this text?
Leader: Theo Black
Max # of Participants: 4
TAME THAT B!#@H: Perception, Relationship and Revelation
A workshop actively suspending judgements surrounding The Taming of the Shrew in order to reveal deeper guidance the play has about how we identify ourselves and defy identification. Reimagining sections from the Christopher Sly Prologue, the Wooing scene, the Wedding, and their Return to Padua, this colloquy will use an ensemble approach in which each actor plays both sides of the Katharine/Petruchio duo and enriches and supplements the text with an exploration of Shakespeare’s meta-theatrical structure.
Leader: Nisi Sturgis
Max # of Participants: 10
Props and Scenery: How Sparse Were They, Really?
Scholarship holds that properties were sparse on the Elizabethan stage, and scenery almost non-existent. This colloquy aims to examine those beliefs. Participants will present short papers. We’ll exchange those papers with each other in advance. And after each paper is presented, we’ll go around and discuss it.
We’ll have actors to illustrate points that we are making. How would they, for example, accommodate the absence of a specific property? How might they act the same sequence differently if they had that property? The actors will be encouraged to join us in our discussion.
I’ll present a paper of my own concerning Henslowe’s inventories, the auspices of which I discussed in a 2015 RES article. (I also argued there that the stage’s many severed heads usually were made to resemble those of the actors in character.) The inventories suggest, I will argue, that properties and scenery were much more common than we suppose. But I’ve been proved wrong before.
All points of view on the subject are welcome. That’s how we get to the what’s what.
Leader: Michael J Hirrel
Max # of Participants: 5
The power of the Blackfriars — Finding the human and three dimensional in Jacobean staging
Working with Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi we will examine the Duchess/Antonio section of Act 1 Scene 3 and explore the architecture of the text to unlock its painfully organic and fragile beauty. The primary tools are “turns” (changes in target, tactic, and emotional state) and “point of view” (personal momentary connection with the audience). We will also investigate ways to discover and activate the undercurrent of pain and longing that is so humanly palpable in the text.
Leader: Christopher Marino
Max # of Participants: 14
Round Table Discussions
Embedded Performance Studies Scholars
Confluenza: Embedded Performance Studies Scholars with “Confluence of Interest.” The colloquy will invite those who are embedded scholars with formal relationships to specific theater companies as well as those who would like to write about productions with which they were involved in a research capacity (i.e. — as dramaturge) to discuss how to approach productions on which they have consulted in subsequent scholarly research. I borrow the notion of a “confluence of interest” from the Journal of the American Medical Association (2015) to describe not a disease, but a research relationship of close collaborative proximity, which nevertheless works to mitigate bias. The best articulation of a performance studies scholar’s confluence of interest that I have yet seen appears in the Preface to Paul Menzer’s Shakespeare in the Theatre: The American Shakespeare Center (2017). There, Menzer details his quarter-century-plus relationship with the ASC as fan, employee, board member, and Director of the Shakespeare and Performance graduate program at Mary Baldwin University, “which operates in partnership with the ASC” (xv). Menzer traces the razor-thin line separating his critical, scholarly work from the creative endeavors of the ASC, noting that the relationship “grants me unusual insight . . . into the company and unrivalled access to its operations past and present” (xv) – insight that constitutes the precise kind of expertise rigorous performance studies scholarship needs, but that can raise concerns about scholarly objectivity.
Leader: Regina Buccola
Max # of Participants: 9
When Shakespeare’s Language in Not Enough
A frequently stated myth is that Shakespeare is all about his language, yet there are many scenes in which audiences would be lost without seeing the actors, such as keeping track of the fifteen speakers in Love’s Labour’s Lost 5.2, especially when eight of these characters speak while disguised, or Macbeth 3.2 in which the ghost of Banquo appears twice with only hints that there is a ghost and that it is Banquo. This colloquy explores scenes when Shakespeare’s language is not enough to tell the story and the solutions that have been used by producers of Shakespeare radio broadcasts, audio books, and productions for the visually impaired to tell Shakespeare’s stories when the actors cannot be seen.
Leader: Michael P. Jensen
Max # of Participants: 15
“Them’s Fightin’ Words”: The Language of Violence in Shakespeare’s Works
Shakespeare’s plays are chock full of violence: from the famous duels of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Richard II, to the full-scale wars depicted in plays such as Macbeth, Richard III, and Henry V, to the moments of intimate violence and grisly murder in plays such as Othello, Titus Andronicus, and Coriolanus, to potential moments of more slapstick comedic violence in plays such as Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Twelfth Night. This violence is immediate and present, an undeniable part of the Elizabethan world picture and, thus, represented liberally in Shakespeare’s plays. Perhaps the only thing more prevalent than instances of actual violence in Shakespeare are instances of the language of violence being used to describe a character or situation. Tybalt is characterized using coded language from Elizabethan dueling manuals, Sir Toby Belch uses duello code to goad Viola into defending her “manhood” from “challenger” Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Helen and Parolles use the language of war to discuss the tribulations of the virgin against the assaults of men. In this roundtable, participants are invited to imagine the language of violence as a vital lens through which to examine Shakespeare’s plays. What revelations does this bring about Shakespeare’s characters? What insight can this lend to Shakespeare’s works? What can this help us to discover about performance? And, perhaps most importantly, what does it mean for contemporary audiences that Shakespeare’s plays are so heavily coded with period violence? Do audiences need to understand duello code to fully understand Shakespeare’s plays?
Leader: Danielle Rosvally
Max # of Participants: 8
Accessing Shakespeare Beyond Text: Concept, Vision, Age, Gender, Race, and Identities
The question of access is embedded in the American Shakespeare Center’s mission, the mission of theatre companies who share its approach to revealing text and stagecraft, and the many teachers and directors who share its commitment to train audiences, students, and artists. How can we best provide access to the early modern text? To its demands of staging? To its language? These are the questions that drive not only pedagogical approaches to the plays of Shakespeare and the early modern period, but to the artistry on stages across the country and world.
While much of the conversation in classrooms, rehearsal rooms, and in training contexts centers around revealing the text and, to a great degree, the historical context of early modern performance, relatively little discussion has taken place around the function of concept and artistic vision and its service of (or its ability to obscure) access, and the tension of concept and vision against close reading, textual primacy, and staging conditions.
What, for example, does it mean to access to relocate Shakespeare to the Empire period? To World War II? To the Spanish American war? Can an original practices production set in 1950s Hawaii be accessible? How does one costume a performance in contemporary dress while being sensitive to intergenerational access points? Does song choice, such as in preshow music or with a modern interpolation of a song into the text, enable or hinder access points? What happens if the more accessible choice is the replacement of a troublesome word in the text (i.e., “niggardly”) or the substitution of an actor of color for a fair-haired Portia — one that requires excision or replacement of the text? Are single-gender performances by definition inaccessible? Are Shakespeare companies colonizers?
This roundtable discussion invites directors, artistic directors, and actors, particularly those engaged at the professional and collegiate level, and especially those artists who struggle with access to wrestle with these and other related questions.
Leader: Jeremy Fiebig
Max # of Participants: 16
Performing Ethnicity on the Early Modern Stage
I’m interested in exploring the way difference is performed, particularly with regards to race and ethnicity. The focus would be on physical and vocal performative clues in texts where characters are specifically highlighted as “other” – think MacMorris in Henry V, Captain Whit in Bartholmew Fair, Tamora and her sons in Titus Andronicus, etc. I’m coming from exploring Irish characters and the way they are marginalized through physical and vocal representation – vocabulary and accent, and specific mentions of their frames and stature.
Leader: James Byers
Max # of Participants: 10