Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Taymor post-mortem, part two, in which I take issue with more things, dive into Titus Andronicus, and finish with angst about respecting the text.

Continuing my wrap-up of Julie Taymor's talk at George Washington University's Global Shakespeares symposium this past weekend:

  • "I put on stage no more than Shakespeare did." Regarding the violence in Titus.  Well, maybe.  But even if that's a true statement (and I'm really not convinced it is, since you were working with better materials, more money, and more resources than Shakespeare was), nearly everything else you put out there is, in fact, so much more than what Shakespeare put up.
  • She claims to have pulled Lavinia's stumpy marsh setting from the text.  I assume she's referencing Act 2, Scene 4, lines 1-4: 
Demetrius:  So, go now, tell, an if thy tongue can speak,
Who 'twas that cut thy tongue and ravished thee.
Chiron:  Write down thy mind, bewray thy meaning so,
An if thy stumps will let thee play the scribe. 
And later, Marcus's lines 2.4.16-18:
Speak, gentle niece, what stern ungentle hands
Hath lopped and hewed and made thy body bare
Of her two branches... 
 I understand where she's coming from, but she's misrepresenting herself (and perhaps Shakespeare) here, if you ask me (which you didn't, but you're reading my blog, so I'm going to tell you what I think, whether you like it or not, which you presumably understand. So there).  What she means, I'm sure, is that she was inspired by Shakespeare's marvelous language and imagery here, and that those words gave her the vision of Lavinia stranded atop a stump in a marshy, stumpy wasteland.  I just wish she'd been clearer about this point.  Though she was speaking to a room of mostly Shakespeare scholars, who I'm sure understood what she meant, there were several undergraduate students in the room, and I'd hate for them to come away with a warped sense of what Shakespeare created.  On the other hand, after the afternoon wrapped up, I had a lovely, long conversation about Shakespeare with my dear friend Haylie, who's studying early modern literature at GWU, and it appears that she and I (and by extension, GWU and MBC) have fundamentally different ideas about Shakespeare.  Haylie and GWU fall into the post-modern, highly critical, quasi-experimental school of thinking about Shakespeare.  (I hope I'm not misrepresenting Haylie here.  I was really exhausted and I'm doing my very best to remember what she was saying.)  MBC and I fall into the original practices camp, which is based heavily on a healthy respect-bordering-on-reverence for the text and the language, and frowns on the conceptual and experimental approach to the Bard.  (Hey, look at me! I'm drinking the kool aid!)  
  • (Though again, if last night's MFA company performance of Dr. Faustus is any indication, not all the students are buying into the original practices line of thinking.  But that's another post for another day on different feelings.)  
  • (I'll just say this, and then I promise I'll move on: Arg, sexy devils. Arg, ineffectual re-gendering undermining the entire play.  Arg, inconsistent settings.  Arg, random, erratic costume choices.  Arg, essentially pointless "special effects."  Arg, an entire company with no respect for themselves, each other, or their work.)
  • "I think Shakespeare knows what he's doing." In reference to Marcus's very long speech after discovering Lavinia.  She continued her discussion of the speech to include the fact that she cut it in half because it's just too long to let an actor speak unchecked.  (My assumption is she thinks this holds true for film, but not for theatre.  At least, I hope she doesn't think that holds true for theatre.  If she does, heaven forfend she ever directs Hamlet.)  The speech in question here is 2.4.11-57.  It's a mildly lengthy speech, but by no means Shakespeare's longest.  It takes one minute to speak twenty lines.  So, Julie Taymor, you're opposed to letting one actor talk, uninterrupted, for two minutes?  Because if that's how you feel, then you clearly don't "think Shakespeare knew what he was doing," or at minimum, you think you know better.  Which you don't.  Because Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the entire English language, and you, while celebrated now, will not be taught in classrooms worldwide in 400 years.  This is making me angsty.  I should probably give up the ghost for the night.
Tune in later this week for the conclusion of Julie Taymor's talk, which touches on The Tempest and her recently closed, wildly successful, highly praised production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.  There will be more feelings.  

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Taymor post-mortem, part one, in which I offer tidbits and take issue with many things

While the symposium this weekend was certainly no Blackfriars Conference, it was full of scholarly delight and mind-expanding Shakespeare.  Cheers to my darling friend Haylie for organizing such a smashing event!

The highlight was (clearly) the two-hour conversation with Julie Taymor and Harry Lennix on Saturday.  Harry is kind of a big-deal actor, though the only thing I've ever seen him in is Titus, and I haven't seen that in many a year.  Recently he's been in Man of Steel, Ray, and The Blacklist, and he's got a lot of projects coming out this year.  I'm (obviously) most excited about Macbett, H4, and Romeo and Juliet in Harlem, in which he's playing Macduff, King Henry, and Capulet, respectively.  He's got a deliciously deep voice, he's very tall, and he's every kind of personable and sweet.  I was quite taken with him, and I wish he'd been able to talk more.  

Julie Taymor, on the other hand, while clearly a great artist, did not seem like a person I'd want to hang out with.  I'm not really sure how libel/slander works, so that's all I'm going to say about that.

Rather than try to create an accurate summation of the afternoon, I'm basically just going to transcribe my notes from the talk, but I'll turn it into complete sentences for you.  There are some direct quotes that I was very careful to record accurately and keep in context.  This was also quite illuminating for me, as I was able to gauge just how much I'm drinking the kool aid of my program.  (Hint: it's a lot.  I've got a near-total buy-in to the point of view that's being taught here.)  Here goes:

  • I always forget that Julie Taymor does non-Shakespeare work, like The Lion King and Across the Universe.
  • Before the talk began, they showed a 7-ish minute reel of all of JT's major projects of the last several years--Oedipus, Lion King, Titus, Frida, Magic Flute, Tempest, Across the Universe, etc.  Seeing them all together like that, I'm profoundly struck by how much it all looks the same.  I have complicated feelings about that.  I don't quite know how to articulate them, but I'll just say that I think this is a little more pervasive than just having a distinct, signature style.  It feels flat, repetitive, staid.  (Asyndeton.)  
  • After The Lion King went up, JT was in talks to direct The Cat in the Hat. She turned it down because her vision didn't work with what they [my notes are unclear on who "they" are] wanted.
  • "[Titus] puts Quentin Tarantino into Mary Had a Little Lamb!"  I laughed at this.  It's true, Titus is a whole different kind of gruesome. 
  • JT's first concept for Titus was to set it in Vegas at Caesar's Palace. 
  • "I do think Shakespeare on film is easier" for understanding the language, because of the ability to have close-up shots of the actors; to see their lips move makes it more comprehensible to the audience.  Also, the actors don't have to work as hard to project.  My reaction: This seems like a very narrow view of thinking, and also seems to devalue and diminish your audience.
  • Recorded several of the performances of the last week of the run of Midsummer; may try to distribute it to movie theaters a la NT Live.  Wouldn't that be a treat?  The reviews were great, and I'd like to see it.
  • Pacino was attached to Titus for a year before they got Hopkins.  Pacino just wouldn't commit.  That's an interesting choice.  I don't know that he's right for that role.  However, that's colored by Anthony Hopkins's incredible performance--it's hard to imagine someone else doing that.
  • Hopkins did the hand-chopping-off scene in ONE TAKE.  That's it.  There were no additional shots.  Boom.
  • I might have been misunderstanding this, but it sounded like she was advocating the use of concepts and visual devices to help people hear and understand the language.  I fundamentally disagree with this approach.  If you have a good actor who's spent time with the text and is prepared, you don't need anything else--in fact, adding anything else is going to be a distraction that will prevent people from hearing and understanding the language.  As proof of this statement, I present the American Shakespeare Center and all the work they're doing there.  Specifically, Allison Glenzer, Gregory Jon Phelps, John Harrell, Benjamin Curns, Rick Blunt, Tim Sailer, and Rene Thornton, Jr.  Incredible actors who get inside the text and make it their own.  And yes, they use costumes and props to help tell the stories, but they certainly don't need them.  Any one of those seven, and probably any one of the rest of the resident or touring troupes, could stand on stage--or anywhere--and make you understand the language with no costumes, no props, no nothing.  Just them, and the words, and you.  (Polysyndeton.)  And it would be incredible.
Thus ends the first third-ish of my notes.  Now, dear friends, it is time for me to sleep.  Tune in maybe tomorrow, maybe later in the week, for part two of my notes!

Monday, January 20, 2014

An idiosyncracy, or, a bunch of random thoughts that should never see the light of day, but I'm bored, so here we go.

In response to a query from one of my colleagues today, I want to make a list of the things I drink regularly:

Hot chocolate (in cold weather)
Apple cider (in cold weather)

Occasionally I'll drink apple juice in the mornings, and I go through phases (every other year or so) where I enjoy some gatorade.


This weekend I'm going to a Shakespeare symposium at George Washington University.  Julie Taymor is the keynote speaker AND it's free.  I'm beyond excited.


It was 50F here today, and we're supposed to wake up to 8 inches of snow in the morning.  I don't understand the weather on this side of the country.  I'll be very happy to move back home to the great state of Oregon, which leads me to my next point…


Oregonians are particularly fierce about how awesome our state is; a point that I was aware of, but that was pointed out to me again this weekend by my good pal Marshall and his lovely fiancee Tess. I feel like I should apologize for or defend this, but I don't think I need to.  Oregon is awesome.  Deal with it, everywhere else.


Or, you know, we're just drinking our own kool aid.