The Jig is Up: A Parting Glance at TSTP

“When you do dance, I wish you
A wave o’ th’ sea, that you might ever do
Nothing but that.”

The Winter’s Tale (IV, iv, 159-161)

Each and every Shakespeare’s Globe performance ends with a jig. That’s right, everybody dances. This custom cuts across genres as the star-crossed lovers, deposed monarchs, and bloody corpses we associate with tragedies and histories rise from the dead to trip the light fantastic just like the newly-married couples in the weddings that punctuate Shakespeare’s comedies. During my time here, I’ve seen everything from uproarious cabaret style burlesque in Measure for Measure, to soft-shoe tap in As You Like It, to a rather brief, ultra-manly display of hand-clapping and foot-stomping at the end of Richard II (hardly a jig at all; honestly, I felt jipped). These jigs look like fun, but they’re actually serious, meticulously choreographed fun.

As a connoisseur of cross-pollinating Shakespeare with contemporary music while busting-a-move, and other myriad forms of anachronistic silliness for my school’s annual Shakespeare festival, I was immediately fascinated by the idea of the jig, and mentioned this to Dickon Tyrrell and Brendan O’Hea, two cast members from the Globe’s current production of Measure for Measure who indulged our TSTP group in a post-show Q&A during our first week. I wanted to know how they felt about performing the jigs and how long the routines took to prepare. Well, it turns out that they take quite a while to prepare; rehearsals for the jig and the play begin pretty much simultaneously. As for how they feel about dancing, both actors agreed that while they didn’t necessarily look forward to learning the jigs, they accept them as part of the Globe’s culture, so they play along accordingly. Dickon went on to recall a story about one featured actor (apparently quite brilliantly typecast as Iago in Othello) who flat-out refused to dance, choosing instead to take a “dignified” bow amidst the rest of the company’s gleeful boogie-ing. I can only imagine who ultimately looked sillier.

It wasn’t long after this session that some enterprising TSTP comrades and I started to wonder whether our relatively low-key ( if not low-brow) performances from As You Like It would/could also end in a jig. At one point, there was talk of preparing an Irish step routine to “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, which in retrospect may itself have been a clear sign that we had no business dancing. So instead, our final (and unauthorized) “jig” on the Sam Wanamaker playhouse stage consisted of a song and hand movements furnished by Colin Hurley’s five-year old son. Here goes:

Oh my love is a-bubblin’ over
Oh my love is a-bubblin’ over
Oh my love is a-bubblin’ over
How do you do it?
[Sorry. You’ll just have to imagine the hand movements for now.]

If all this talk of dancing and singing of kindergarten songs sounds a little out of step with Shakespearean theatre, this is partly why Shakespeare’s Globe is such a wonderful place. Here, the idea is not so much to venerate Shakespeare and his works, as to celebrate them. Shakespeare is fun here because he and his works are rendered every bit as human and accessible as the playwright intended. The Globe, rooted in William Shakespeare’s genius and Sam Wanamaker’s tireless passion, is clearly dedicated to promoting Shakespeare’s universal appeal. As we speak, the Globe to Globe Hamlet tour is slowly making its way to every country in the world, and it’s not lost on me that anyone who lives in or can make it to London can access world-class theatre at the Globe for less than the price of a movie ticket.

Now that the dance is over for TSTP, I want to express my appreciation for the Globe’s inclusive philosophy as well as the ESU’s generosity and commitment to teachers; to Patrick Spottiswoode, Fiona Banks and the entire Globe Education Team; to an incredibly talented and merry band of “grown-ups” who molded us into thespians, and most especially, to a stellar group of 24 fellow learner-sojourners. Thanks to you, my three weeks in London have been a-bubblin’ over with the laughter, inquiry, discovery, and spirit of play that I look forward to sharing with my students and colleagues.  How do you do it?

As I Like It: A Random Recap at Week’s End (Part II)

Today’s plan is to have another relatively low-key Sunday after Friday’s heady (and late) performance evening and a long day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon yesterday.  My only real aim today was to attend orchestral mass at the venerable 1400 year old St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is an experience I didn’t want to miss while I’m right here across the bridge.  I’m glad I didn’t, as both the cathedral and the mass, which was sung by Aura Nova, the cathedral’s all female choir accompanied by The City of London Sinfonia, were magnificent.  A handful of the TSTP colleagues and I attended together and walked into church to the sounds of its beautiful bells and I, for one, came out feeling as if I had had a truly uplifting spiritual experience.  I’ve found that some major cathedrals can have trouble distinguishing their house of God selves from their tourist landmark selves, but I saw no hint of this at St. Paul’s, whose staff did an impressive job of making sure that people who were there this morning were there only to worship.  Here are some other notable thoughts and images from the past week. As always, click on the individual pictures for captions or enlargements:

Monday started with the ESU’s warm welcome at the beautiful Dartmouth House.

Friday ended with our rain-soaked but still spectacular debut on the Globe stage.  We’re not allowed to videotape and putting this experience into words is a challenge at best.  I only hope the pictures (and the beaming faces) can somehow convey the magic that was Friday night.

Catching an early bus (I mean coach–there IS a distinction here) to Stratford-upon-Avon from Victoria Station felt crazy after only getting around three hours of sleep, but it now seems only fitting to have gone on a literary pilgrimage to Shakespeare’s home town.  I went with a wonderful group of fellow TSTP-ers, attended an incredible matinée performance of Othello at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and enjoyed my first fish and chips on English soil at the famous pub, The Dirty Duck.

I love and appreciate colorblind casting in Shakespeare plays, but honestly, I wasn’t sure how the casting of two Black actors to play Othello and Iago respectively was going to work since a large part of Iago’s power stems from his status as a Venetian insider coupled with Othello’s own insecurities about his “otherism.”  It worked though; don’t ask me why.  This  is easily the best Othello I’ve ever seen.

All the Globe’s a Stage

Tonight’s our first official TSTP performance, which also marks the end of my first two weeks here at Shakespeare’s Globe, and I’m in a constant state of exhilarating fatigue. On Wednesday, we started our sessions at 5pm, which should have been my cue to sleep in, but I found this impossible to do. I am by nature a lark; plus I didn’t want to miss the bowl of porridge I’ve come to rely on for a somewhat healthy breakfast. So after a failed attempt at post-breakfast snoozing, I took myself to the Tate Modern which is practically adjacent to Bankside House. This idyll was somewhat marred however by the groups of noisy teenagers that would invariably walk by while I was marveling at a Picasso.  I’ve decided that I only like large numbers of adolescents ten months out of the year.

Our five o’clock class  was the second of our three sessions on Movement with Glynn MacDonald.  It’s difficult to express the combination of inspiration, trepidation, and hilarity that defines Glynn’s sessions.  Suffice it to say, that this time, a few of us had to practice embodying our As You Like It  characters by singing a theme song we associate with him or her while making a stage entrance.

From Movement, we went to dinner (where we all ate ravenously), then dress rehearsed the ensemble scene with Colin Hurley, and our selected  As You Like It vignettes with the individual scene directors, or as Colin calls them, our “grown-ups.” Scene rehearsals eventually made it onto the Globe Stage by 11:30 and lasted until 2:00  AM Thursday.

The morning resumed with two hours of Historical Dance (Yes, this is different from Movement) facilitated by  the delightful Huw Prall.  Looking around at our group, I could tell that just about everyone shared my sore legs (from Glynn’s earth stance) and bleary eyes (from our starry night) but Huw had us promenading, threading-the-needle, farandoling, and surprisingly, perspiring in no time.  Then it was lunch, followed by Close Text Analysis with James Wallace, then more Voice with Sarah Case.

If this sounds exhausting, well, it is, but it also feels exhaustive, which I love.  Certain adjustments have clearly been made for our limited three-week time frame; however nothing feels distilled. This is a truly immersive experience in that we’re learning to teach Shakespeare through performance by becoming performers ourselves.  And to do so in the Mecca of Shakespearean performance, which is peopled with such talented, hard-working, generous, and yes, demanding administrators and practitioners, is an indescribable experience.  For tonight though, in Irving Berlin’s words, “Let’s go on with the show!”

Uncasing a Cunning Instrument – Shakespeare & English Come of Age

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A composite image of what Shakespeare may have looked like at age 13.

The language I have learn’d these forty years,
My native English, now I must forego:
And now my tongue’s use is to me no more
Than an unstringed viol or a harp,
Or like a cunning instrument cased up,
Or, being open, put into his hand.
That knows no touch to tune the harmony:
Within my mouth you have engaol’d my tongue,
Doubly portcullis’d with my teeth and lips;
And dull unfeeling barren ignorance
Is made my gaoler to attend on me.
I am too old to fawn upon a nurse,
Too far in years to be a pupil now:
What is thy sentence then but speechless death,
Which robs my tongue from breathing native breath?

(Richard II, Act I, scene ii)

These are the words of Sir Thomas Mowbray to King Richard after he is sentenced to permanent exile  in Shakespeare’s Richard II.  As the Globe’s Education Director, Patrick Spottiswoode, pointed out in one of our sessions, here Mowbray laments not the loss of spouse, family, or friends, he bemoans instead the prospect of his linguistic isolation in a 14th Century known world where the English language was considered a backward outlier at best.  On the Continent, one spoke the Romance languages.  Otherwise, Europe’s well-educated studied and wrote in Latin; the very well-educated could also do these in Greek.

Of course, English has since come a long, long way.  Today it is the dominant ( and arguably universal) language of business, diplomacy, and entertainment– and we English speakers (Americans in particular) benefit from a privileged, often complacent, position in which the world has a vested interest in being able to communicate with us in our own language.

The incredible program at Shakespeare’s Globe which I’m taking part in is sponsored in part by the English Speaking Union, which is headquartered here in the U.K. but has 60 branches around the world.  Yesterday our TSTP group attended a welcome tea at the beautiful Dartmouth House which houses the main branch.  It occurred to me that in light of Patrick’s  talk, the ESU’s existence and its mission, for ” members and alumni [to] engage in dialogue and the exchange of ideas and opinions using English as a common language”, is clearly something that would have astounded Thomas Mowbray, and  certainly Shakespeare himself.

As it turns out, William Shakespeare and our modern English came of age together, and one would not be the same without the other.  The English language literally grew in Shakespeare’s lifetime, as scholars used Greek, Latin, and the Romance languages to doctor and lengthen monosyllabic Anglo-Saxon words into longer, more complex ones.  Add to this the visionary things Shakespeare and other writers did with meter and rhyme, and the stage was set for the dynamic language we know today.

One of the things I find most refreshing here though, is The Globe’s commitment to Shakespeare performance in all languages and across cultures.  Last night, our group attended a performance of Richard III at The Globe  which was performed entirely in Mandarin Chinese.  While there was a significant percentage of the audience who clearly spoke or understood Mandarin (they got all the jokes and laughed accordingly), most of us did not, and we were simply doing our best, sans Shakespeare’s all important language, to follow the basic plot.  Indeed, several of my colleagues reflected on how this experience gave them new insight into what school must be like for their ELL students, the type of “student” the exiled Sir Mowbray did not want to be at the age of 40.  Without a doubt, the mere existence of international productions like this one help to solidify the idea of Shakespeare’s global influence and universal appeal, but the fact that it’s all rooted in English is truly remarkable when considered in historical context.  I hope Mowbray is somewhere feeling a little less lonely.

As I Like It: A Random Recap at Week’s End

Today I wisely refrained from making definite plans. Rest has been at a premium during this first hectic week, and most of us have been feeling sleep-deprived. So after my morning porridge (this term seems to be preferable to oatmeal), I grabbed my laundry and headed for the basement. The rest of the day I spent in joyful solitude, by turns napping, reading, calling home, and updating this blog. The adventure continues tomorrow with a networking tea at the ESU headquarters. For now, I’m sharing a few thoughts and pictures:

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Not to steal Will’s  thunder, but I’m also a Chaucer geek, so I couldn’t resist snapping this photo of The George, i.e. the original Tabard Inn from The Canterbury Tales.

Friday began with a 7AM rehearsal on the Globe stage itself. Here I am making an entrance on the right with my scene partner. Our director, the gracious Fergal McElherron is guiding us from the yard.

Friday began with a 7AM rehearsal on the Globe stage. Here I am making an entrance on the right with my scene partner. Our director, the gracious Fergal McElherron is guiding us from the yard.

Saturday morning’s small group assignment had us “re-membering” Shakespeare by visiting and analyzing his likenesses at several sites throughout London.  Click on the gallery photos for captions.

We started serious ly rehearsing As You Like It on Friday and saw the Globe's raucously joyous production on Saturday night. I had a scare when I misplaced my original ticket but the ticket office was kind enough to replace it when, at the last desperate minute, I showed them my TSTP badge and begged.

We started seriously rehearsing As You Like It on Friday and saw the Globe’s raucously joyous production on Saturday night. I had a scare when I misplaced my original ticket but the box office was kind enough to replace it when, at the last desperate minute, I showed them my TSTP badge and begged.

Glynn MacDonald and The Gilded Stage

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We shall not cease from exploration,

and the end of all our exploring

will be to arrive where we started

and know the place for the first time.

–T.S. Eliot

This has been an incredibly transformative experience so far, but it felt particularly so on Thursday. The morning began with our first movement session with the incomparable Glynn MacDonald, who is the absolute truth. She is at once elegant and stately; bawdy and blunt. In short, just about what I’d like to be when I grow up. The room is dim and eerily quiet when we walk in and see Gwynn for the first time: She is a mature woman who wears her years like a vintage couture gown. Our nervous laughter dissipates; she seems to have an uncanny ability to size people up and proceeds to do just that, starting with our clothing.

First, we’re instructed to remove the “dingle-dangles” a/k/a the ID badges that read “This card is to be carried at all times.” We hop to it post-haste, and I take the initiative of also removing the shocking pink scarf I’ve draped around my neck. When it’s time for my inspection, Gwynn gives me kudos for both the “gorgeous” scarf and for taking it off. She then makes me promise that my earrings won’t kill anyone before moving on to the next victim.

It’s hard to ignore the sense of nervous anxiety that creeps into the room when Glynn announces that she’s going to play some music to see how we move to it, but this is neither Soul Train nor So You Think You Can Dance. We’re directed to walk– in and out of a circle, around the room, knees straight (bent knees suggest a comic stance), heel first then ball of foot. From there we graduate to “tits and pecs” and the all important “ass work”, all of which is meant to introduce four Shakespearean archetypes (  sovereign, magician, warrior, lover) and heighten awareness of each persona as we attempt to embody different characters.

This first session with Glynn and the voice session that follows make me more aware of my physical presence and the sheer mechanics of being than I think I have ever been. Among the many “Glynnisms” I remember her sharing: “The humble man doesn’t think less of himself, he thinks of himself less.” and “Trying to find in ones own physicality is the embodiment of grace.” The movement and voice lessons transcend both education and theatre; I find myself invigoratingly exhausted by them both.

After a hasty lunch, we head to the Globe stage for a matinée performance of Richard II. The set design people here are quick-change artists, and the stage has been transformed into burnished gold, with the addition of a long catwalk, perhaps as a cheeky nod to Richard’s love of fashion and flattery. This time, a few TSTP buddies and I scope out space at the rear of the yard, right in front of the bays containing the seats. The production begins with Richard’s coronation, lots of unusual London heat and sunshine, and an abundance of gold confetti; it soon becomes clear that I’m standing in confetti central. By the end of the first scene, I manage to dust some of it out of my ‘fro thinking I probably still look like a disco ball, then I realize I don’t care. There’s something about this whole experience that makes running around with a halo seem perfectly appropriate.

Game On, Groundlings! (TSTP Days 2 and 3)

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The Heavens of Shakespeare’s Globe from my groundling spot at center left of the stage.

The nine o’clock start time yesterday felt so much earlier than Monday’s 9:45, and I managed to be late enough for breakfast to realize just how long that line can get.  Bankside house is a curiosity when one considers the sheer variety of people in terms of age, background, purpose for travel etc., all gathered in this college meets summer camp environment.  Add to that the honest to goodness bar in the basement, which turns out to be rather posh in contrast to the rest of the surroundings, and it’s almost surreal.  I’m settling in rather nicely though.  This morning I discovered their delicious oatmeal, which should save me from eating a full English breakfast every day.

Yesterday was all about plays and players, starting with our first session with our scene directors for the portions of As You Like It we’ll be performing in groups on both The Globe and Sam Wanamaker Playhouse stages.  Each of our four groups was assigned an experienced Globe actor to direct us.  As part of Group A, my director was the super chill Fergal McElherron, whom you can listen to/read about here:  http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/discovery-space/adopt-an-actor/archive/quince-first-fairy-played-by-fergal-mcelherron/pre-rehearsal

During the roughly 90 minute session, we read through the original scene and began working on the abridged version we’ll be performing.  Fergal assigned us our parts ( Jaques for me) and off we went.  This was followed by an unusually long but welcome midday break, after which we attended an informative lecture on Measure for Measure, which we would be attending that night.

The notion of seeing Shakespeare’s plays like 16th Century peasants, or groundlings, sounds pretty romantic until you’re faced with actually standing still for about three hours.  The best way to do this while maintaining what is undoubtedly the best (non) seat in the house is to get there early and make a bee-line for the stage.  Not only do you get the best view of everything (for better or worse), there’s the added benefit of being able to lean on or against the stage when you stop feeling your lower extremities.  Such planning, it turned out, involves the same skill set as scoping out a  big screen TV on Black Friday: camping out obscenely early (around 6pm for a 7:30 show) and waiting.   Our intrepid crew made it happen though and our happy little heads lined the perimeter of the stage in lieu of the nonexistent footlights.

The show itself was amazing–at once spectacular, hilarious, bawdy, and every bit as morally and politically problematic as Shakespeare intended.  I expected to lose feeling  in my legs and feet by the time I left; I had no idea that it would be because I’d be levitating.

Today’s sessions were mostly observational in nature except for a  warm and spirited Q&A with two members of the incredible cast of Measure for Measure.  Onward.

Advance, Retreat, Maneuver: Getting Going at The Globe

It all begins here.

It all begins here.

The title of this post is a shameless rip-off of one of the techniques we learned on the first day of TSTP, but I think it speaks to the day as a whole, so, with apologies to Colin Hurley whom you’ll meet later in this post, I’m going to misappropriate liberally here, starting with breakfast:

Cafeteria tray in hand, I advance in the line manned by a trio of curt no-nonsense ladies, point to the scrambled eggs, receive the fried eggs instead, wisely retreat without argument, and maneuver towards the extra carbs which I’ll be having for breakfast in lieu of protein.

My next advance is far more pleasant as I find fellow TSTP classmates with whom to share the morning meal. After breakfast, we retreat to our respective rooms for bags and brollies (of course it’s raining), then maneuver the three minute trek to the Globe.

The day begins with a little history of Shakespeare’s Globe and its founder, Sam Wanamaker, introductions to the lovely Globe Education staff, including the very funny Patrick Spottiswoode, Education Director, and meet-and-greets with the 24 teachers who’ll be my classmates for the next three weeks. The Globe’s approach to education, especially for school-aged children, is expressed in two words: “Lively Action” (a/k/a performance), and after preliminary tours of the big stage and the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which includes a rather lengthy Q&A on the use of “naked flames” via real-life candles in a wooden playhouse, we retreat for lunch and return to begin putting this lively action into practice.

The afternoon’s workshops are held in a rehearsal room at The Globe’s Sackler Studios, where we had done our preliminary introductions earlier in the day.  The proverbial party gets started the moment Fiona Banks, our facilitator, directs us to push our chairs aside; there’s no retreat from there:  We self-reflect, draw pictures, improvise scene tableaux, and play “Crocodile, Crocodile, May I Cross the River?” in what seems like record time.  This, it turns out, is just the warm-up for Colin Hurley, our first acting coach, and the source of this post’s title.

A sardonic “Hello Bastards” is Colin’s unique, not undeserved approach to us as he enters a room full of people (myself included) having retreated to our smart phones upon Fiona’s departure, and it’s all downhill from there in the best possible way.  Colin’s session is a crash course in loosening up and losing control, which he only appears to do during the chaotic “circle time” in which he attempts to learn our names.  We progress from the initial circle to three circles of performance: soliloquy ( “Now I am alone.”), dialogue (“Hello, my friend.”) and addressing a crowd (Hello Everybody!).  Eventually we graduate to a few lines of As You Like It, our performance play, and the actual technique I’ve only vandalized here ’til now:

1. Advance: Look over the line, then speak it directly to your partner while taking a step toward him/her.

2. Retreat:   Your partner does the same while taking a step back.

3. Maneuver:  React to your partner by speaking the next line while stepping forward, backwards, or to the side as appropriate.

I’ll be using this one a lot– both in and out of class.

Shall I Prepare Me for a Summer’s Day?

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Alas, the wait is over and my Summer 2015 Sojourn at Shakespeare’s Globe in London is about to begin!

Anyone who knows me can tell you that my feet have barely touched the ground since I found out a few months ago that I’d be taking part in The Globe’s three-week Teaching Shakespeare Through Performance program.  The program, a joint project of Shakespeare’s Globe and The English Speaking Union of the United States (https://www.esuus.org/esu/programs), offers American middle and high school English or Drama teachers intensive, play-filled, and practical approaches to teaching Shakespeare.  Teachers attend lectures, performances, participate in workshops, and ultimately perform scenes ourselves right on the legendary Globe stage!

Many teachers attend this and other programs in the UK (at Oxford and at The University of Edinburgh) through the sponsorship of the ESU’s local branches.  I am the immensely grateful  recipient of a British University Summer Schools (BUSS) scholarship from the Princeton, New Jersey branch.

For now, the key is not to over-pack; a quick look at the picture of my real-life suitcase at the top of this blog will indicate how much of a challenge this is for me under any circumstances.  The prospect of packing for a London summer however makes it even more daunting.  It goes without saying that I’ve packed a light hooded rain jacket and of course, a compact brolly (brolly = umbrella; just showing off my “English”:)).  But from what I read, last week’s weather hit the 90-degree mark for the first time in decades, causing people to wilt like lilies during long, non-air conditioned tube rides, so I also can’t forego the sleeveless tops and gossamer fabrics.  The solution?  I’ll take the weather in stride, and my fashion cues from an onion.

What fates impose, that men must needs abide;
It boots not to resist both wind and tide.
(3 Henry VI, 4.3.60)

Click “Follow” to stay tuned…More to come next week.