I’ve been working with the New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme on Abbey Wright’s forthcoming production of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. At one point, one of the actors thanked me for “all my work” with them. Now, obviously I used “work” twice in that sentence, but a better definition for this part of my job would encompass “playing around in a rehearsal room whilst simultaneously making my research do something practical and seeing amazing characters come alive in front of my face” (this is, for me, the greatest joy and secret of directing or dramaturging plays: people voluntarily act out your favourite plays for you, in front of you, in ways influenced by your suggestions and wishes), rather than anything suggestive of painful industry or anxious effort. In addition to knowing the texts with a terrifying and hungry accuracy, actors routinely and almost upsettingly ask the best questions. This is true whenever I get into a rehearsal room. Generally these questions nag me forever. Usually, answering them (when I can) exposes something fascinating, offensive or just plain weird about the way theatre works and has worked. Days spent in theatres are my best professional days. I can’t wait to see Ghosts in action.
I’m also researching for my new project at Magdalen College’s Calleva Centre. At the moment, I’m hugely interested in (and reading everything possible about) casting in theatre – especially Shakespeare. The above trip to the New Vic was very helpful, since (PLOT TWIST) actors have quite a lot to say about the casting process (rather more, in fact, than existing scholarship). So far, I’ve been reading lots about colour-blind casting, gender-blind casting, and disability-conscious casting (in order of volume). I’m definitely looking for more actors, directors, and (above all) casting directors to discuss this with.
I have moved into my new office. It is up a lot of stairs. I am working to publicise a charity abseil (more on that soon). That will involve a lot of stars too.
DRAMA AND PERFORMANCE SEMINAR SERIES
Faculty of English, University of Oxford @ St Cross Building, Room A, Manor Road, Oxford.
Wednesday, 2 May at 5:15 Shearer West (University of Oxford)
“Actors, Artists and Celebrity: Thomas Lawrence and the Siddons family”.
Wednesday, 16 May at 5:15 Julie Holledge (Emeritus Professor Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia and Professor II, Centre for Ibsen Studies, University of Oslo)
“Six Stages of Separation: Using network analysis and visual searching to theorise the global production history of A Doll’s House”.
Drama and Performance, English Faculty, seminar room A. Wednesday, 2nd November 2011, 5.15 p.m.
Dr. Andy Kesson, University of Kent
“Marlowe, Lyly and Victoria: staging queer characters in the Renaissance, and straightening them out in the nineteenth century.”
Everyone (undergraduates, graduates, faculty) with an interest in drama and/or performance is welcome, regardless of subject background. Wine and soft drinks will be served, and there’ll be the opportunity to go on to dine with the speaker afterwards.
[Bio: “I am Lecturer in Early Modern Studies at Kent and a guest lecturer at Shakespeare’s Globe, where I speak to and work with actors, audiences and students. My work focuses on performance theory, book history, representations of the body and sexuality on and off the stage, reception theory, pedagogy and the history of English as a scholarly discipline. I am currently working on two books, one entitled John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship, an examination of the period’s best-selling writer and his relationship with his contemporary and subsequent literary culture (MUP, 2011). I am also editing a volume of essays with Emma Smith (Magdalen College, Oxford), provisionally entitled The Elizabethan Top Ten, exploring the concept of the best-selling work in the early modern period. Other current projects include a collaborative workshop with Steve Purcell (Southampton Solent University) and the Pantaloons acting company investigating the relationship between words and action onstage. This is part of a wider gesture experiment which will be the first academic use of the Globe stage to examine gesture and language. I’m also planning an interdisciplinary two-day conference in January 2012 on the concept of the early modern. As lecturer in early modern studies I am keenly aware that my job description is a mystery to many people and a contentious label for many specialists, and the conference aims to clarify and contest the potential meanings of ‘early modern’.”]
Jean Cocteau, La voix humaine (1930); Francis Poulenc, La Voix Humaine (1958)
Cocteau’s La Voix Humaine is a play for a single actress, who speaks on the telephone to a lover who has left her. The audience hears only what is said by the woman. The main issues are about voice and the body: what can one hear in a voice; how does bodily presence and technological intervention affect how one speaks and what one hears. The speaker supposes she can hear in the voice whether one is lying – though she fails to hear in her lover’s voice a lie she discovers by other means; and she claims one can tell from the voice what a person is doing (“J’ai des yeux a la place des oreilles”) – though her lover fails to penetrate lies about her own actions that the audience sees she is telling. The play also raises issues about how the voice is affected by technology –both how one speaks (because speaking to an instrument, not a person; or because of hearing indirectly, through technological intervention); and whether the audience supposes it understands what it hears differently from the lover, because, as well as hearing the speaking voice, it sees the speaking body. The action also presents suicidal depression; the speaker describes treatment for a failed suicide attempt (with a drug overdose), and the play ends with her apparently strangling herself with the telephone cord –with her lover’s voice (“J’ai ta voix autour de mon cou”). What can be heard in the voice may also be a subject relevant to diagnosis.
The play was used as the libretto of an opera by Poulenc. I shall consider both the play and the opera, using recordings by the performer for whom each was written — for Cocteau, Berthe Bovy; for Poulenc, Denise Duval. I shall also use a video recording of scenes from the opera by Denise Duval, and a television production of the play (1966, English) in which the woman was performed by Ingrid Bergman.
[Biography: David Fuller is Emeritus Professor of English and former Chairman of the Department of English Studies in the University of Durham. From 2002 to 2007 he was also the University’s Public Orator. He has held a University of Durham Sir Derman Christopherson Fellowship, and fellowships at the Huntington Library, the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies of the University of Toronto, and the Yale Center for British Art. He is the author of Blake’s Heroic Argument (Croom Helm, 1988), James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ (Harvester, 1992), Signs of Grace (with David Brown, Cassell, 1995), and essays on a wide range of poetry, drama, and novels from Medieval to Modern, including work on Chaucer, Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Blake, Shelley, Keats, T. S. Eliot, William Empson, and the theory and practice of criticism. He is the editor of Tamburlaine the Great (1998), for the Clarendon Press complete works of Marlowe, of William Blake: Selected Poetry and Prose (Longman’s Annotated Texts, 2000; revised 2008), and co-editor (with Patricia Waugh) of The Arts and Sciences of Criticism (Oxford, 1999). His edition, with Corinne Saunders, of a version of the medieval poem Pearl modernised by Victor Watts was published by Enitharmon in 2005. He trained as a Musicologist and has written on Jacobean stage music, on opera, and on ballet. His current research is on Marlowe and Shakespeare in modern performance, including a book on the Sonnets to be published by Continuum in the series Shakespeare Now!]
Convenors: Sos Eltis (Brasenose), Sophie Duncan (Brasenose), Laurie Maguire (Magdalen), Ben Morgan (Balliol), Emma Smith (Hertford), Tiffany Stern (University).
(this is my first time co-convening Drama & Performance. I feel both privileged and over-excited. Please do come; D&P is the most friendly & sociable of any of the Oxford seminar series I’ve attended, and engaging for anyone working or interested in performance in any/all aspects. We feature a wide range of speakers, both academics & practitioners, at all stages of their careers. Seminars may be paper- or practice-led. Undergraduates, postgrads, faculty of all institutions and none: you’re very welcome! Do get in touch with any questions.)