Wednesday, August 23, 2006

S&C's Praxis

I'm posting from Ferrisburg, Vermont, where my brother and sister-in-law live. This is my annual trip. Delightfully, my sister and her husband also made it up, this year, so that for the first time in years I am spending time with all my siblings at once. Of course, this was a scenario for disaster, in the past, but now... well, we're all in our forties, and have substantially mellowed. I love these people.

Last weekend, I took a side trip to Lennox, MA, to see Shakespeare & Company's productions of HAMLET and MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR. I was anxious to see the company's pedagogy and philosophy put into practice. I wanted to see teachers I had during the One-month Intensive get up and perform, themselves; among others, I got to see Tina Packer do Gertrude and Michael Hammond (who once got notably pissed off at me) do Master Ford. I also got to see four of my former, fellow students perform in both MERRY WIVES and in the Green show. I found being in the audience instructive.

The company's dogma is starkly visible in practice, for good and bad. On the good side: the language is handled with more attention to the rhetoric and logic of argument than I've ever heard, so that I heard beats I never knew were there. The dialectical movement of both dialogue and speeches were clear not only in the famous bits, but also in customarily minor moments. On the bad side: the physical life on stage--even in MERRY WIVES--was both static and sloppily designed, which surprised me. Neither HAMLET nor MERRY WIVES had the beautifully articulated and choreographed movement of any of the shows I saw this season at OSF.... In fact, OSF's production of KING JOHN is a highly instructive comparison to S&C's HAMLET. Both productions were very still--both could be described as static--and both stressed the clarity of argument (which is especially crucial in KING JOHN, which is all about hard-to-follow political machinations.) But, there was not a wasted motion--or pause--in OSF'S KING JOHN; the players beautifully counterpoised in a dancerly manner which always made the language clearer. S&C HAMLET, on the other hand, put all weight on the language. The action seemed too loosely blocked. You couldn't know what was going on by just LOOKING at the stage as you could with the OSF show. Fascinating.

My conclusion? S&C turns out to be too dogmatic for my taste, when it puts theory into practice; for me, it loses nearly as much as it gains by so carefully tending the language. There are also some oddities: Tina Packer is quite strict about actors breathing at the end of verse lines most of the time, so there were pauses in the verse that sounded quite awkward, even if they made the sense clearer. Though, on the other hand, I must also say that my companion--who has less experience in hearing Shakespeare--not only appreciated the accessibility of the S&C approach, but also found both shows hugely enjoyable. She was thrilled by the slapstick of MERRY WIVES and deeply moved by HAMLET (I sat behind her during HAMLET and so got to watch her react with fresh eyes and ears to matter I know pretty well; it was wonderful to watch her jump, and go "oh no," when Laertes scratches Hamlet with the poisoned tip of his epee.) I came away from the experience less eager to do another workshop with S&C and more open to finding the strength in other companies' approaches.


p.s. Please excuse the awkward prose and weirdly shifting syntax and tense changes. I'm typing on a screen that's too small.

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