WIL Festival 4.1: “Macbeth”

 When I talk to friends and colleagues about original practice (O.P.) performances, their first response is usually a skeptical one. Part of that resistance stems from an assumption that anything trying to return to an early moment or wellspring is a museum artifact: stagnant, static, lacking flexibility and topicality. If you’ve been to an OPS Fest performance, however, you will note that there are no hose, doublets, of ruffs, nor is original pronunciation or any kind of accent used. (I should say accents are used, but typically to draw attention to comic or class distinctions.) So what is “original” about these performances? It’s in the practice.

As any musician will tell you, one practices alone and one rehearses with a group. As is mentioned in the pre-show talk every night, the many-month-ed rehearsal of contemporary theatre was not a feature of the Renaissance. One memorized in private, and then came to do the show. To use another musical simile, OPS Fest capitalizes on the performance technique of a prima vista or “sight-reading”: to perform a piece of art upon first sight. Part of being in a professional orchestra or jazz combo relies on the fact that you have played so much music that your brain can more quickly pick up the patterns and anticipate the shape of a melodic line accurately at relatively first sight. It is a matter of a great deal of practice and exposure to a lot of material quickly. In an O.P. performance, you are seeing actors capitalize on having seen chiasmus, litotes, and other rhetorical figures so many times before that they understand how to deliver them, despite not having seen this particular case in front of them before.

In both advertising and performance strategies, OPS Fest replicates period practices.

In other words, O.P. is about experimenting with how sixteenth and seventeenth century players made theatre, not what. It is about the conservation and rehabilitation of a set of tactics and strategies, rather than the preservation (and possible mummification) of the content of a specific play. Take, for example, the A-frame sidewalk signs you’ll see guiding you to the performance space (pictured above). They use the same graphic art taped to the sign that you will see on posters throughout the neighborhood in the weeks before the show, as well as on the cover of your program. While there were no sidewalks or such signs in the period, there was this exact kind of printing redundancy for advertising. When printers were requested to make a run of copies of a play to sell, they printed a number of extras of the title-pages. These “playbills” were posted around London advertising the playbooks, who lately performed the play, and where you could buy copies. So while the specific design, paper stock, and ink aren’t the same today, the practice of it most certainly is. So how did the WIL Fest staging of its second tragedy, “Macbeth,” fair under these conditions?
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December Blogroll: Best of 2016

Dear readers,

This was an exceptional year personally, professionally, and publicly. We had a rocky election. The Shakespeare community had debate with the (still-ongoing) #1Lear debate and the discovery of a square Curtain theatre. I got a tenure-track job and moved to a recognizable coast.  I find myself, as we close on final exams and essays, reflecting on my favorite posts here on Bite Thumbnails this year.

The Suffering of Mephistopheles

This student approach to Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, a block-buster of the late 1580s and ’90s, came up with what I felt was a brilliant approach to the Seven Deadly Sins interlude. In particular, the treatment of Mephistopheles and Wagner popped a few new questions open for me in terms of the characterization of Faustus, and to what degree the play anticipates our emphasizing with him.

When Birnam Burns: The Silence, Stress, and Sacrifice of Macbeth

Because Shakespeare films are few and far between, it was nice to get a chance to review this limited-release film chocker-block full of talent. While only about a third of the Shakespeare text was used in the film, it was an interesting interpretation, situating PTSD into a feudal Scottish setting  without valorizing bloodshed.

“Mirthful comic shows”: Original Practices, Richard III, and the Curtain

By attending the Blackfriars by Southwest conference, I had a chance to catch  a play in a quirky recreated-Globe setting on a riverbank in Austin. Something between a national park hike and Medieval Times™, Audiences were convivial, comfortable, and I suspect feel less of the pressure to perform a kind of learned, conscientious, and attentive set of behaviors linked with high art.

February Blogroll: Post-Job-Search Edition

Last winter I reflected on the job-market process—a particularly arduous process that cycles once a year and puts one in a place where you don’t know if you will continue in your study that took on average six year to master. If you do, there is no guessing where you will end up geographically. A number of folks have found this post useful, so I include it here as one of your favorites.

I saw a number of performances that either didn’t make it onto the blog due to the new semester at a new job (A Civil War ChristmasParfumerieLittle Shop of HorrorsHold These Truths, The Good Woman of SetzuanThe Oregon Trail) or have been published elsewhere (Coriolanus, Love’s Labour’s Lost and I, Malvolio). I am looking forward to seeing more of what the Portland area has to offer and sharing my thoughts.

Many thanks for reading!

Flying over Mt. Hood, Oregon.
P.S. Some other great year-end best-of lists: