“Then” Shakespeare: Revisiting Original Practices
Moderator: Kevin Costa – Chesapeake Shakespeare Company
Panelists: Sarah Enloe – American Shakespeare Center;
Jeff Watkins – American Shakespeare Tavern;
Becky Kemper – San Francisco Shakespeare Festival
Friday, March 2, 2012, 11:30am-12:40pm
Major topics of session: Current thinking about Original Practices as a performance style and/or company point of view. Some companies describe themselves as OP companies while others have abandoned the designation. It has been a topic of conversation and debate. This panel will raise the question about the state of Original Practice Shakespeare and what its future may or may not be.
Kevin Costa: Welcome! Introduce panel:
Jeff Watkins, American Shakespeare Tavern
Becky Kemper, San Francisco Shakespeare Festival
Sarah Enloe, American Shakespeare Center
Sarah inspired this topic of conversation.
What is Original Practice? 6 years ago a discussion emerged that called it, “the new orthodoxy” and a there was a sense of revolution and controversy.
“Which was followed by heated discussion in the hot tub at Baja.” – Becky Kemper
Maryland Shakespeare Festival’s website and Jeff Watkin’s article are great sources.
Is it a movement? Or are people just dismissive about it?
Sarah: She spoke with her founding artistic directors, in 2001 they identified themselves as an Original Practices company, then in 2002 changed to the term Shakespeare Staging Conditions. They are still identified by scholars as original practices.
“We do it with the light’s on. We do it with a thrust. Two hours traffic on the stage.”
We draw from a group of resident artists (our “stable house”)
We play with gender casting
5 shows/12 actors
Only acoustic sound effects, contemporary music (which is original practice) Costuming from a variety of periods
16 titles a year, 52 weeks a year
20-30 hours of rehearsal, pull costumes from design stock, 100 lines per hour of text work.
Wren run (?phonetic spelling, need to check the term!): Actors arrive off book and rehearse before the director gets involved.
Becky: I’m struck by the power of language and labels. It started with chasing the idea of authenticity. What do we know? And it’s not about “history”. The term (original practices) was meant to be open and for theatre NOW.
It is a term that has been misunderstood and politicized.
Original practices falls into 3 categories:
- Physical conditions: it’s a thrust, lights are on
- The playing practices: the actor audience relationship, speaking at the speed of thought, integrated training. The use of music and interludes. The elimination of director. All based on text.
- Business practices: length of rehearsal. Length of run. Size of company.
It is an attitude of inquiry.
It’s not about doing it right; it’s about doing it NOW.
It’s about being curious and gleaning how and what was done then that informs what you are doing now.
Tom Berger, Folger scholar, “Anyone who tells you they know anything definitively about Elizabethan era is lying or and idiot.”
Attending an academic conference she heard original practice conveyed as misguided children not being factually correct.
Maryland Shakespeare Festival – trained in rhetoric, staged fights, arrived on Friday and did the show Saturday night with a prompter. It was a laboratory that took away all of the crutches. Trained to trust the text.
Kevin: Academics are suspicious of practitioners.
Patrick with the Globe calls it original practice and a question is how not to get put in the position of doing museum Shakespeare.
Jeff: After the Globe was successful. The idea was that they started to do original practices in a specific way (handmade underwear, original pronouncation, etc)
My definition of Original Practices: A desire to understand what the words meant to those who first said them and those who first heard them.
I came to Shakespeare late and was a street performer. I wanted to do Shakespeare with seeing what the play wants to be. In Georgia, we started with the foundations of interactive theatre. And it was successful.
-The Elizabethan performance experience at the American Shakespeare Tavern.
Tough time with critics who want to attack it.
Actual headline: Lame direction hobbles Taming of the Shrew.
Using the term original practices was armor and then we were invited to the Globe.
Poetry is by its definition complete. The more I did nothing to the play, the more it becomes what it wants to be.
I guarantee if you come to my theatre, “you will get it”. We have built an audience of normal people who come to see Shakespeare.
“We just love y’all” (audience quote from the American Shakespeare Tavern).
Shakespeare got rich and famous doing theatre.
I hate that this (session) is called “Then” because it’s so about NOW. In the modern theatre we spend a lot of time talking about the process. It’s like a vegetable that’s been cooked for so long it doesn’t know what it is.
For me, it’s a spiritual practice.
Sarah: Philaster: or Love Lies Ableeding and while walking past the Dragon store which sell D & D stuff there were 2 fourteen year old boys running to not miss the show.
People are going to the Blackfriars without knowing what is playing.
Becky: If you take the bells and whistles away, you need skilled actors who can play complex thought and access the words and emotions quickly.
We are actors telling a story.
Woman with orange scarf (might have been Tess Burgler – Ohio Shakes Fest):
I sometimes like “the lie” (of production).
There are pieces of our modern world that we want. The lie can also be great. The problem is when someone comes in and says “there is a right or wrong way”.
Jeff: There are people and then there are people who don’t pay for their tickets.
If I’d landed in Chicago or LA, I would have had an audience too polite to tell me how to do our plays.
Sarah: There isn’t a right way for us to do this, but it’s important that we are remaining true to our individual missions. When we are at the top of our game it’s because we’ve figured out something in this realm. We can all learn from each other.
Will (Richmond Shakespeare): What’s striking to me is that how much it’s about the audience. We started doing Shakespeare in a location where there was a crowd.
Jemma Levy (Muse of Fire Theatre Company): You would agree that you are doing something similar. But, it’s become insular, there are not many companies who move back and forth between the two styles. You use the tools that are going to serve that production. The sectioning off of OP through productions or companies harms us.
Sarah: I’m not saying that all plays should be done with the lights on. My personal belief is that I like Shakespeare better with the lights on.
Becky: It’s not all about light’s on.
Man with black shirt: At the next STA we should have a group arrive off book and do a play. I don’t ask actors to arrive off book. You have to strike a balance in your company’s culture.
Jeff: Our whole rehearsal structure changed after I saw Shakespeare In Love. We call it coming loaded for bear, we do not ask people to arrive off book.
Sarah: With our company, they started with a director and eventually moved to following the text.
Peter: I’m going to speak in incomplete sentences: Theatre, story telling around a campfire.
Shakespeare in the Park; the 20 year olds leave and it’s immediate feedback
Community Theatre Actor/Audience is the same pool
At night back to the campfire.
These presentations keep us honest.
Sarah: I have a confession that I would love to have a lighting designer at the Blackfriars to create the lighting of a cloudy London afternoon that gets darker as the play goes on.
Kevin G. Coleman (Shakespeare and Company): It’s worth knowing that these are practices that work. Live music or canned music? Talking to the audience or into the air? This is so much inside baseball. There’s an element in knowing your audiences. It’s worth knowing what your audience’s expectations are.
Sarah: Yes, it’s fun to play with people’s expectations.
“This is the myth that lives inside my head.” quote of the day coined by Kevin Costa