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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: August ::
Re: Performing 'The Tempest
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1508  Tuesday, 15 August 2000.

[1]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Monday, 14 Aug 2000 11:55:33 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1502 Re: Performing 'The Tem

[2]     From:   David Bishop <
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        Date:   Monday, 14 Aug 2000 14:56:13 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1502 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'

[3]     From:   Marcus Dahl <
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        Date:   Monday, 14 Aug 2000 20:06:48 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.1502 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Monday, 14 Aug 2000 11:55:33 -0400
Subject: 11.1502 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1502 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'

David Lindsey wrote:

>(And, incidentally, this production, with a male Prospero played by a
>female actor, and colour-blind casting elsewhere, raised what seems to
>me a more generally interesting question about what happens to our
>perceptions of this, or any other play when neither the colour nor
>gender of the performers actually signify.

It seems to me that there is a very simple theatrical solution to this
conundrum, and I can't see why everyone is offended or amused whenever I
suggest it: adopt a less naturalistic, more conventional approach.  Let
us concede that in our "real" world, and in the world of the play-- set
anywhere but in a sci-fi Neverland-- color and gender matter greatly,
and may even be the issue explored. However, we would prefer that they
not hobble our artists' careers as they help us liberate our
imaginations to consider such matters from a wider, disinterested,
perspective. All actors will wear paint, or body suits.  The defining
"we" community-- "English", Trojan, whatever-- will be painted one
color, those defined by the text as "other", another.  Age and gender
will be indicated by wigs and prostheses, armor carapace the whole body
to indicate a warrior-- none of this running around near-naked in the
name of costume authenticity!-- and actors adapt certain conventions of
movement to facilitate these illusions, along with illusions of rank,
attractiveness, health...

This is not to advocate replacing the ideal of psychic depths with that
of surface: rather conventionalizing the surface beyond the personal
peculiarities of the actor's physical instrument, to make it easier for
both actors and audience to concentrate on the shared depths within.

 >A similar problem was raised
>in the Leeds Tempest where the Lords were played as men by women, and
>where a shackled Ferdinand was played by a black actor - as also
>happened in Noble's RSC performance.  If, at one level, we are meant to
>ignore gender and colour, how then does this affect the resonances that,
>in Jonathan Miller's productions, for example, were made possible by
>casting both Ariel and Caliban as black, indigenous inhabitants of the
>island?)

Geralyn Horton, Playwright
Newton, Mass. 02460
http://www.tiac.net/users/ghorton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Bishop <
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Date:           Monday, 14 Aug 2000 14:56:13 -0400
Subject: 11.1502 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1502 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'

David Lindley raises some interesting questions about the Tempest.
Trying to understand them makes me wonder how knowing so much about the
play and its stage history affects our experience of each production.

Trying to make Caliban a victim of colonialist oppression faces the
problem that Prospero and Miranda must retain a lot of the audience's
sympathy, without drastic distortion of the play, while the comic-butt
Caliban has lines about his once being king, the pinches he suffers, his
dream of riches about to drop upon him, that seem almost inevitably
touching. Prospero's harshness also needs to be harsh to contrast
dramatically with his concern for Miranda--as well as for Ariel and
even, at least originally, for Caliban--and his choice of virtue over
vengeance. While those who know how to read a production's perspective
can perhaps see what's being got at, and criticize it justifiably for
being one-sided, does the less-informed audience--of whom, with respect
to David Lindley, I count myself one--absorb all this one-sidedness so
directly?

Shakespeare seems to value orderly rule over passions and rebellious
disruptions within and without, and to show the need for a vigilance
that does not become too trusting, too utopian--too Christian?; while he
also recognizes the urge for freedom this ordering intensifies. This
two-sidedness seems something like the trunk and main branches of the
production, whose limbs and outward flourishes may be trimmed only at
the edges without killing the tree. Not that I think either that those
who know should renounce their knowledge. How and when our feelings
about Caliban and Prospero sway one way or the other obviously
depends--and how it depends is worth telling, if we can. Do we need some
kind of bifurcated consciousness to take it all in? Lindley's comments
on color- and gender-blind and -sighted casting point in that direction.
One small question I had was why Antonio's effort to convince a slow
Sebastian to kill his brother would tend to diminish the sense of evil
in Antonio.

David

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcus Dahl <
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Date:           Monday, 14 Aug 2000 20:06:48 EDT
Subject: 11.1502 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.1502 Re: Performing 'The Tempest'

Just a quick thought on the Redgrave Tempest at the Globe.

I agree with David Lindley about the poverty of Redgrave's
performance...(bland at best...sententious and ludicrous at worst)
however I thought the performance of the cast as a whole rather
interesting. To me it highlighted a recurrent theme of (at least modern
contemporary) Shakespearean interpretation- namely the problem of how to
play straight roles...I watched a bunch of bored adolescents (listening
to walkmans etc ) watch the performance and noted how the only roles
which interested them were either comic (Trinculo et al) or dark
(Antonio et al). I always think this modern problem (note it
particularly in comedies: As You Like It -Orlando is dull;
Merchant of Venice - Portia is dull) is an explanation of Hamlet's ever
lasting popularity -whether  stage, film or text...Hamlet combines all
three key Shakespearean types- The Orator, The Comedian and The Bad Guy
- as far as I can see no other play in the canon does this as well ( i
particularly admire the streamlined Q1 Hamlet- though I think Richard
III has a similar generic structure) .Many of the interpretative
problems of staging (and reading) Shakespeare derive from the singular
attempt to reconcile the witty comic characters with the faltering and
largely uninteresting two dimensional straight roles (Prospero et al).

Cheers,
Marcus
 

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