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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: September ::
The Globes Audience in the Future
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.1656  Monday, 6 September 2004

From:           John Reed <
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Date:           Saturday, 4 Sep 2004 15:36:23 -0700
Subject:        Re: The Globes Audience in the Future

I don't much like theater, believing it compares unfavorably with
movies.  I'm in the mood for a longer post, and I've probably posted
some of this harangue before, but I can't remember exactly which parts,
so I'll apologize for being redundant (if anyone is keeping track), but
not for being heretical.

Someone (actually it was my brother) said he thought plays were somehow
"phony" - which I thought was a little surprising, since he has worked
as an actor.  But I don't think that's it.  Plays seem lacking in
poeticism by comparison.  I'm not sure how to elaborate on that: plays,
some of them, have poetry, of course, but it's not enough.  I think it
has to do with how all the story telling elements are handled
individually, and together, in order to create impact.  In a movie most
of the poeticism comes in from the combination of the moving image
(mainly the editing) with the sound (mainly the music).  Given an
identical "story" and moving from a cinematic version to a theatrical
version, the impact is reduced because the poeticism is reduced - often
it seems a (modern) play is basically a movie with no music and no
editing: in other words with most of the poeticism drained out of it.
Even if the play has poetry, the delivery of the poetry is either bad,
pseudorealistic, or ineffective, so the poeticism due to the poetry is
squelched, and there is not much left.  In order for the total impact of
a play to compare with that of even an ordinary movie the poeticism due
to the acting would have to be very much increased, and I don't think
modern actors or directors are even trying to do that, or if they are it
is buried underneath other imperatives that neutralize the attempt.

I have the feeling (even though, as has been pointed out, my feelings
are not important) that the acting on the original stage, the original
Globe stage was different, better, and more poeticistic than now.  Not
long ago I made a sort of pilgrimage to the New Globe stage, where I saw
an all female rendition of Much Ado About Nothing, which I disliked, of
course.  My objective was not to like the play, but just to see it - or
anything -- at that venue (so that my life could be somehow complete).
I foolishly purchased expensive seats and got stuck in the "Gentlemen's
Room" which is a kind of box area above the stage and to the left.  You
are looking down on the stage, and straight across it.  And if you are
in the second row (of two) your view is largely obstructed by the people
sitting in the first row.  It would have been much better to have been a
groundling.  But the most notable aspect of the play was experiencing
the responsiveness of the audience in general, but especially the
groundlings, which was at a much higher level than any other audience I
have been a part of - which is to say they oohed and aahed a lot.  I
(again) have the feeling that the original audiences were more
responsive yet, and probably went so far as to volunteer catcalls from
time to time.  I was planning on testing this idea myself by uttering
the phrase "Hey Beatrice, nice tits" at some point, and there was a
really good point near the end, but I decided not to.  I think it would
have been too much.  I saw an afternoon performance and couldn't help
noticing the sun, which was in the south, shone on the audience, leaving
the actors and the stage and the background, in shadow.  I think they
have it turned the wrong way.  If they had the stage on the north side
it would be better: because the sun wouldn't be in the eyes of the
audience, and, the actors, if they were at all forward on the stage,
would stand out more because they would be illuminated while the
background is in shadow.  So you'd have a better figure/ground
separation, but perhaps that's a minor point.

But as for the interaction between audience and actors, I don't think
(nor do I feel) that the architecture of the stage (or the wardrobe or
the lighting) has much to do with it.  Convention, convention,
convention, oh how convention is the better part of theater nowadays.
The one advantage theater has over movies is that it is live: the actors
(and sometimes the characters) are right there in front of the audience.
  I can't help feeling that were the characters to acknowledge the
audience that would go far towards maximizing the feeling of aliveness
(as it should be), rather than, as now - where the characters mostly go
out of their way to ignore the audience - it is minimized.  So I wonder
what proportion of the lines were delivered aside in the original
production.  I have the feeling it was pretty high, much higher than
nowadays, perhaps as high as 20 percent.  And if we want to deliver
aside lines aside, what about dialogue?  An interesting question (which
has probably never been proposed before) is what percentage of the
dialogue lines were delivered aside?  Zero percent?  Or could a
character switch from delivering dialogue to another character, and then
start talking to the audience as if the audience were that other
character.  I just have the littlest inconsequential feeling it happened
from time to time.  If it did happen (as it is a pregnant and unforced
conclusion) then the modern director actor writer has his work cut out
for him to identify just when it did happen...unless of course we want
to deliver a performance according to modern pseudorealistic norms, in
which case it doesn't matter.  It's so much easier that way, anyway.

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