Monday, February 24, 2014

Taymor post-mortem, part three, in which I get angsty about gender, move from a critique of JT to a critique of my program, and conclude my disagreements

Ellen, I hear ya!  Your patience is rewarded, as I finally make the time to finish my FEELINGS.

Continuing my wrap-up of Julie Taymor's talk at George Washington University's Global Shakespeares symposium at the end of January:

  • Taymor calls Midsummer "sloppy," but also a masterpiece.  Can it be both?  I think Midsummer is as near as Shakespeare ever came to a perfect play.  Isn't a "sloppy masterpiece" an oxymoron?  I don't think there's anything "sloppy" about Midsummer, unless you're looking at what editors and compositors have done to it over the years.  I'm particularly irked by what the editors of the most recent Norton edition did to it.  And just last week, in my textual culture class, I learned that an error made by a compositor in the printshop (when Midsummer was being prepared for its second quarto printing) managed to work its way into the accepted text of the play and that error has survived for 400 years.  So who, exactly, is being sloppy here?  It's certainly not the man himself.
  • I mean, the structure of the play is sound.  We have three fully-developed plots that progress and interweave and then are nicely resolved at the end.  Where's the slop, Julie Taymor?  Ugh.  FEELINGS.
Moving on to Taymor's film version of The Tempest, which was inspired by a stage production she did at some other point in time:
  • Taymor said that she didn't intend to do Tempest with a woman, but ended up with Helen Mirren sort of by accident, since she didn't have an actor already in mind for the role of Prospero.
  • Though Taymor clearly regendered Prospero for the film, she seems to be explaining her choice of using Helen Mirren because she's just a great actor (which she is). Okay…so WHY was it necessary to regender the role instead of just cross-gender casting it?  She spoke at length about the complex, lengthy, and difficult task of regendering the language in the script, but did not explain why she thought it was important to tell the story with Prospero as a woman.  Woman Prospero turns The Tempest into something different than what Shakespeare wrote; there's no getting around that fact. 
  • (Full disclosure: one of the second-year students in my program is working on a thesis right now about regendering some of Shakespeare's "villains" ["villains" in quotes because the characters she picked for regendering are Iago, Tybalt, and Shylock, only one of which is an actual villain], and I'm having really strong FEELINGS about it that are informing my reaction to the fact that JT clearly regendered this role and didn't speak to the reasoning behind it except to say that HM was the right choice for the role because she's so damn great.)
  • (Okay, and also because the MFA company in my program just did a regendered production of Faustus that was horrifying in that by regendering, they highlighted every awful trait that generally goes with being a woman [flighty, fickle, easily distracted by a sexy man, etc].)
  • The thing about regendering is that no one has so far been able to provide me with an argument in its favor that I find satisfactory.  (Thesis girl's argument for it is "why not" [seriously, every time she's been asked why, that's been her answer], the MFA company's argument is [I think] that they want the undergraduates at this all-girls school to be able to identify with the character and imagine themselves in that role, and JT's argument seems to be just that HM is a great actor, which she is.)  But there has long been a theatrical tradition of cross-gender casting, and there have been some high-profile productions in recent years with major roles being cross-gendered (excluding the all-men and all-women productions that spring up from time to time, which I believe is a different subject entirely).  Regendering just isn't necessary for the story, and is often detrimental or ineffective for the characters.
Clearly I have some FEELINGS about gender and the way my program is dealing with it right now.  There was no opportunity to ask questions at last night's installment of the Thesis Festival, so I'm brimming over with them today.  I imagine I might have a chance to ask questions at today's session, and if I have anything new to add, I'll write a post-mort of that as well.

If you're interested, here's the official live-blog of last night's session: http://asc-blogs.com/2014/02/23/mfa-thesis-festival-2014/  It gave me FEELINGS (the event, not the live-blog, which I haven't read).  (Actually, no, the live-blog gave me FEELINGS as well, but only because I was sitting directly in front of the person responsible for doing it, which meant there was no escape from the furious clickety-clack of ridiculously fast typing.)

That's it! That's all she wrote!

1 comment:

Ellen Margolis said...

Brava on your gendering, regendering, cross-gendering thoughts! I'm not against any of the above, but there it has to live within a coherent concept!

What is the Midsummer error you mention that survived for so long?

Great to read about all you're doing and thinking about!