Improbable Fictions, Spring 2017

I’m pleased to announce the spring 2017 lineup for Improbable Fictions! We’re organizing a wide variety of events this semester, including workshops on Shakespearean appropriations and two separate staged readings, one of Shakespeare and one of the early modern Spanish playwright Pedro Calderon. For the first four events, we ask that you RSVP to nrhelms@ua.edu to indicate your interest.

  • Sunday, Jan 29th from 7:00 to 9:30pm, a cold reading workshop of Meredith Noseworthy’s What Vicious Loves. 301 Morgan Hall.
  • Tuesday, Feb 7th from 7:00 to 9:30pm, a cold reading workshop of work by Diamond Forde. 301 Morgan Hall.
  • Sunday, Feb 26th from 7:00 to 10:00pm, a staged reading of Meredith Noseworthy’s What Vicious Loves. 205 Gorgas Library.
  • Thursday, Mar 30th from 7:30 to 9:30pm, a staged reading of Perdon Calderon’s Life is a Dream, directed by Deborah Parker (parkerburch@comcast.net). 205 Gorgas Library. Contact Deborah for details.
  • Sunday, April 16th from 7:30 to 9:30pm, a staged reading of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, directed by Annie Levy (aglevy1@ua.edu). 205 Gorgas Library. Contact Annie for details.

Finally, I’d like to note that the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies is thrilled to be hosting the American Shakespeare Center’s “Hungry Hearts Tour 2017” for two (FREE!) productions at the BAMA Theatre, February 10-11: The Two Gentleman of Verona and Romeo and Juliet.

Both performances begin at 7:30 (with pre-show music beginning at 7:00PM). These shows are free and open to the public. Seats will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

This is a rare opportunity to see a longstanding, professional Shakespeare company perform free of charge (most of the host institutions are charging admission for ASC shows, but we are making them available to students, faculty, and members of the community for free to encourage as broad and large an audience as possible).

We have a dedicated webpage for the ASC shows: http://english.ua.edu/grad/strode/asc

The website includes more information about both performances as well as a brief history of the ASC and its unique, high-energy performance style based on Shakespeare’s original staging conditions.

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SPOKEN WORD: 2016 Kentuck Festival of the Arts

Here’s the schedule for the Spoken Word Tent at this year’s Kentuck Festival of the Arts! Improbable Fictions events are below in bold:

Saturday, October 15

9:30 am, Steven Hobbs
10:30 am, Improbable Fictions, The Letters of Augusta Evans
11:30 am, Jack Day and the OLLI Storytellers
12:30 pm, Tall Tales and Telling Truths
1:30 pm, Steven Hobbs
2:30 pm, Improbable Fictions, Selections from American Literature
3:30 pm, Tall Tales and Telling Truths

Sunday, October 16
9:30 am, Tall Tales and Telling Truths
10:30 am, Steven Hobbs
11:30 am, Improbable Fictions, The Letters of Augusta Evans
12:30 pm, Tall Tales and Telling Truths
1:30 pm, Jack Day and the OLLI Storytellers
2:30 pm, Steven Hobbs
3:30 pm, Pure Products

Jack Day’s daddy used to spank him for telling stories, but Jack grew up to become a storyteller with the stage name of “Storytelling Day.” Jack loves to tell tall tales, personal stories, folk tales, multi-cultural stories, stories crafted to communicate life-lessons, and Bible stories. He teaches storytelling at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Alabama, and has invited several of his students to share the stage with him at Kentuck. The OLLI offers courses for adults who desire to continue to study. One of the courses taught is storytelling. OLLI storytellers have stories that they want to tell and that you will enjoy hearing.

Steven H. Hobbs is a storyteller, educator, lawyer, poet, historian, actor, and community organizer.  Hobbs sees himself as a story framer, one who structures stories around history, law, entrepreneurship, culture, and life.  Storyteller Hobbes likes to share stories of wisdom, humor, and the triumph of the human spirit.

Improbable Fictions is a staged reading series sponsored by the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies at the University of Alabama. The series was co-founded in 2010 by Nic Helms and Alaina Jobe Pangburn as a way for students of English Literature to see classic plays in performance. For this year’s Festival, IF has partnered with UA’s W.S. Hoole Special Collections to present a reading of 19th century novelist Augusta Evans’ letters.

Pure Products is a reading series run by English Instructors Eric Parker and Abe Smith from the University of Alabama who hope to create a tighter writing and arts community in the Tuscaloosa area. This year, they will host bi-weekly open mic nights, alongside monthly Northport Art Night readings. All readings will be held at Tea Town Alabama: 412 22nd Ave Northport, AL (next to Mary’s Cakes).

Tall Tales and Telling Truths is a new community group of storytellers organized by Wescott Youngson and focused on tales of diversity and personal experience.

Bechdellian Shakespeare

This Thursday!

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Readers
Steve Burch
Mark Hughes Cobb
Alanna Fagan
Erin Hildebrand
Mark Hulse
Annie Levy
Bert McLelland
Courtney Parker
Deborah Parker
Mary B. Prondzinski
Will Ramsay
Sarah Scarr
Exa Skinner
Matt Smith
Elizabeth Thiel

Directors
Steve Burch
Mark Hughes Cobb
MK Foster
Nic Helms
Courtney Parker
Deborah Parker

Respondents
Prof. Michelle Dowd, Hudson Strode Program
Zoё Winston, Women and Gender Resource Center

The Bechdel-Wallace test, created in 1985, applies three simple criteria to fictional works:

  1. Does the story have two named female characters
  2. who have a conversation together
  3. about something other than a man?

The test can begin to tell us whether or not women have active roles in that fictional world.

Shakespeare’s plays seldom pass this test. After all, he wrote plays during the English Renaissance, a time when women were forbidden to act. That meant that boys and young men would dress as women to play the women’s roles. Perhaps Shakespeare couldn’t create many female characters because he couldn’t find enough skilled actors to play the parts.

Even so, today we’re left with a body of Shakespeare’s works where women have far fewer voices than men. Can those voices still speak for women’s experiences over four hundred years after they were written? And how can we, as actors, audiences, and readers, make sure that the Cleopatras, Desdemonas, and Margarets are not drowned out by the Octavians, Othellos, and Richards?

Scene and Soliloquy Summaries

Please note, while tonight’s scenes stage only one moment of physical violence — Cleopatra’s suicide — they do contain verbal abuse, descriptions of rape, and accounts of murder and trauma. Shakespeare’s stories depict a wide range of women’s experiences in the Renaissance, and much of that involves violence in all its forms.

Merchant of Venice, Act V, Scene 1

Portia and Nerissa are kicking back, having a cool beverage — metaphorically —  after having gone through elaborate disguise, trickery and insightful wit to bring justice, or perhaps mercy, its kinder cousin, to Venice. Though a good bit of what comes before and after in Merchant is about love and bonds, at this point the friends take a moment to notice the little things, to feel how context can clarify or obscure, and revel in the feeling of grateful relief that comes at the completion of an arduous task. Bonus: Listen for a line Willy Wonka paraphrased.

Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1

In this stellar, much-quoted monologue from a show rich with those, Portia, in disguise as a male legal scholar, has found her strength in being able to speak from behind a mask. It’s not that being in drag made her stronger, but that being a male in the 16th century meant being freer to speak truth to power. Here she connects god to duke to Shylock, to establish the lines that can connect them all. She’s giving Shylock an out, a chance to back off his demand for a pound of flesh, before lowering the justice boom on him.

As You Like It, Act III, Scene 5

Shakespeare predicted “Oh no she di-ent!” 400 years ago, and one of his sharpest-tongued practitioners is Rosalind, with a fire and wit like Beatrice’s, brought out when in guise as Ganymede. Here she’s met with the rustic Phebe, who is being pursued by the equally sheepish Silvio, who longs for Phebe, who has instead cast her eyes on this new dude Ganymede. Where Viola, being lusted after as Cesario, pushes Olivia to reconsider the worthiness of her suitor Orsino, the rougher Rosalind rebukes Phebe, urging her to settle for Silvio.

Richard III, Act 4, Scene 4

Old Queen Margaret, the Duchess of York, and Queen Elizabeth lament the deaths of husbands, brothers, and sons from the hand of newly crowned King Richard and Elizabeth learns to her horror Richard’s next victim in her family is to be her daughter. While these women all have names and have lengthy scenes and talk about power and survival, the fact is they all focus on the King and his evil plans. Bechdellian? Perhaps.

Antony and Cleopatra, Act V, Scene 2

This is the final scene of Antony and Cleopatra. They have been defeated by a very young Octavian. Antony has already killed himself, and in this scene Cleopatra meticulously stages her own suicide. It is important to keep in mind this is still the Roman Republic – Octavian is not yet the Emperor Augustus. The only royalty in the play is Cleopatra. What is interesting about this final scene is the contrast between Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt, in her dealings with Octavian and what is revealed when she speaks about Antony.

Othello, Act IV, Scene 3

Just before this scene, the jealous Othello has made his decision to murder his wife Desdemona, suspecting her of infidelity. Desdemona has intuitions about her coming death, and she and her maid Emilia discuss Othello’s erratic, abusive behavior and the unequal standards society places on men and women’s sexuality. While this scene clearly fails the third step of the Bechdel-Wallace test (the conversation must be about something other than a man), what we see here are two close friends struggling to navigate a world perilous to women.

Titus Andronicus, Act II, Scenes 3-4

Tamora, conquered Queen of the Goths, and Lavinia, her archenemy’s daughter, meet in an isolated and dark forest.  While her sons look on, Tamora seeks revenge on Lavinia’s family for the humiliation she suffered at the hand of Lavinia’s father, Titus Andronicus.  Ultimately, Tamora’s sons enact her revenge by raping and mutilating Lavinia.  While no physical violence occurs onstage in our scene, the language is some of the most graphically violent in Shakespeare’s works. Two named women engage in a power struggle using the weapons they know best: unadulterated violence and womanly virtue.  While the topic of their conversation is not a man, men’s actions have propelled them toward this life-or-death moment of confrontation.  Men weave through the action of this scene silently and seamlessly – does it pass the test?

Shakesfilm: Richard Burton’s 1964 *Hamlet*

On Monday, August 22nd, at Tuscaloosa’s Bama Theatre, the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies presents Richard Burton’s 1964 *Hamlet,* the first film in our Shakespeare in Film Series for 2016-17. Film starts at 7:30pm, and the concession stand will be open.Free and open to the public!

For more information about the film, visit:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Burton%27s_Hamlet

For information on upcoming films, visit:
http://english.ua.edu/grad/strode/films

Richard_Burton_ArenaPAL_002_PREVIEW_ArenaPAL

This is actually Burton playing Hamlet in 1953, but the photo was too good to pass up. See: http://arenapal.blogspot.com/2014/07/richard-burton-more-rare-images-revealed.html

Love’s Labour’s Lost, next week!

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Back for its 14th season, Tuscaloosa’s The Rude Mechanicals will present Shakespeare’s comedy “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” 8 p.m. each night, June 1-4, in The Park at Manderson Landing; in case of rain, the show will move indoors to the Allen Bales Theatre, Rowand-Johnson Hall on the UA campus.

Free admission. Live pre-show music begins at 7:30 p.m.

Patrons should bring blankets, chairs or other seating material. For more, call 348-0343.

The Facebook Event

IF in March

We’ve got two staged readings this month: Machiavelli’s Mandrake on March 10th, directed by Jacob Crawford, and Aristophanes’ Women at the Assembly on March 25th, directed by Prof. Steve Burch of UA’s Dept. of Theatre and Dance and held in conjunction with the Dept. of Modern Languages & Classics conference “Women, Democracy, and the Ideology of Exclusion.” Both shows will take place at the Tuscaloosa Cultural Arts Center (620 Greensboro Ave). Stay tuned to our Facebook page for details! And don’t forget Strode’s next Shakespeare in Film offering on March 23rd, Trevor Nunn’s 1996 Twelfth Night.

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Women of the Assembly copy

 

IF Spring 2016

Just a brief note about everything IF will be doing this spring:

  • There will be a production of Aristophanes’ The Assembly Women, directed by Steve Burch, on March 25th at the Tuscaloosa Cultural Arts Center. The production will be part of “Women, Democracy, and the Ideology of Exclusion from Antiquity Through the Early 20th Century”, an international conference will be held at 205 Gorgas from March 24-25, 2016, organized by Prof. Tatiana Tsakiropoulou-Summers (Modern Languages and Classics): womenanddemocracy.ua.edu
  • In conjunction with UA’s EN 208 courses (World Literature II), IF will hold informal readings and film screenings about once a month in Morgan 301, featuring the work of Voltaire, Dostoyevsky, Beckett, and Soyinka. Details TBA on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/313455652125964/
  • Finally, the Strode Shakespeare Film Series continues, starting tomorrow (Jan 13) with Billy Morrissette’s 2001 appropriation of MacbethScotland, PaFor details, check out our department page: http://english.ua.edu/grad/strode/films

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We hope to see you at one of our many events!

~nrhelms

Program Notes for Scotland, Pa. by Tyler Sasser:

Macbeth

Theatre people always say that Macbeth is the unluckiest of plays, particularly for actors who literally risk “breaking a leg” should they bid each other “good luck” before a performance. Such a hapless reputation, however, has not taken away from the immense popularity of the Scottish play. With Romeo and Juliet, Juliet Caesar, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth has long been a staple of American high school education. The Scottish play often serves as our introduction to Shakespeare, if not to theatre more broadly.

One reason is because of its brevity. At merely 2,000 lines long, Macbeth is approximately half the size of Hamlet. Macbeth speaks almost 30% of those lines, thus making him more central to his play than any other Shakespearean protagonist, except Hamlet who speaks about 38% of the lines in his play. Since we spend so much time with Macbeth—by comparison, Lady Macbeth essentially exits the play in 3.4, only to return briefly in 5.1—audiences and readers at times find themselves identifying with him. Bloody career aside, Macbeth’s intense human desire to see his ambitions realized—no matter the cost—can become very personal for us.

Macbeth was first published in the Folio (1613), the collection of Shakespeare’s plays published seven years after his death. It most likely was written near the end of 1606, and it is often identified as the last of the so-called “great tragedies” of Shakespeare (Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello). As is so common in Shakespeare, the playwright borrows his narrative from another source. In this case, Shakespeare turns to the famous Chronicles (1577) of Holinshed, a popular history of England, Scotland, and Ireland familiar to the playwright and his contemporaries. Chronicles tells the story of Lady Macbeth, a high noble woman and cousin to King Duncan, whose husband and son are murdered. Macbeth marries her, and becomes king after Duncan dies in battle. As in the play, Macbeth never fathers a child.

Shakespeare significantly alters this history, and in the process provides us with fast-paced action and tragic characters. To be sure, Macbeth is a dark and bloody play. Probably the most famous and controversial (and there are many) adaptation of the play is Roman Polanski’s 1971 film, produced in the aftermath of the murder of his pregnant wife Sharon Tate by members of the Manson Family. As you will see with Scotland, PA, the play does not always inspire gloomy productions, but it is simultaneously unsettling and compelling. It forces us to realize, with Macbeth, that “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more.”

Scotland, PA

Scotland, PA irreverently repackages Shakespeare’s Macbeth into a 70’s style mystery, and like all good satire, this one is based on disgust.

Writer-director Billy Morrissette began drafting his script while forced to read Macbeth in high school and flip burgers at Dairy Queen. Of his employment, Morrissette disingenuously states, “I hated my boss, and I wanted to kill him.” Hence, while Shakespeare’s play is about murdering the king of Scotland so Macbeth can take his place, the movie is about murdering the owner of a burger joint so Mac can become owner. The movie also is about the fast-food style bloodbath that follows.

Joe “Mac” McBeth (James LeGros) and Pat McBeth (Maura Tierney) are unhappy with their life working at Duncan’s, a burger stand operated by Norm “The King of Burgers” Duncan (James Rebhorn). After Mac is passed over for promotion, the McBeths elect to take things into their own hands and make true the prophecies of one fortune teller (Amy Smart) and two stoned hippies (Tim Levitch and Andy Dick). Scotland, PA faithfully follows in the tradition of Macbeth being Shakespeare’s bloodiest drama, as a gruesome murder brings the amiable scatterbrained Lt. Ernie McDuff (Christopher Walken) to investigate.

Anyone familiar with Macbeth will enjoy, even if superficially, the parallels Morrissette creatively imbues into his movie, such as Pat’s grease-stained hands. Yet despite the comedy, Scotland, PA maintains much of what makes Macbeth memorable. For instance, LeGros’s Mac resembles a feckless Macbeth easily led by his wife, and Tierney’s Pat recalls traditional performances of Lady Macbeth when she challenges her husband’s manhood. Further, this fast-food themed appropriation uses food and hunger not only for laughs, as when viewers see Christopher Walken with a carrot hanging out of his mouth, but also recalls its Shakespearean original. With approximately 30 references to consumption, Macbeth is chock-full of food-related imagery, whether Macbeth’s metaphorical hunger for ambition or the physical hunger noted by the witches. Even one of the most famous lines from the Scottish play—Lady Macbeth’s lamenting that her husband is “too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness”—suggests a dramatic concern with nourishment. The film’s fantastic soundtrack, composed almost entirely of Bad Company songs, also makes telling connections between play and film. “Bad Company” playing as Mac first approaches the stoned hippies (i.e., witches) is a hard rock caution, and “Can’t Get Enough” sums up the ethos of both Mac and Macbeth.

Morrissette happily dedicated Scotland, PA to all the burger flipping students who, like himself, read Cliff Notes instead of Shakespeare. If you are one of those people, then bon appetite!

Lucky Number Seven

It’s hard to believe the life that Improbable Fictions has had thus far: twenty five separate staged readings since 2010, covering Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Euripides, Elizabeth Cary, and Terry Pratchett, readings that have drawn on actors and audience members from the University of Alabama and the community of Tuscaloosa. It’s my pleasure today to announce a few details about the seventh season of IF. (Wait a moment, I’m quickly checking my math…yes, SEVENTH SEASON).

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Wednesday, October 7th, 2015, 7:30pm at the Tuscaloosa Cultural Arts Center (here) IF will present Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, adapted by Alaina Jobe Pangburn and myself back in 2010. You can find the script here (Helms.Jobe.Twelfth Night Script, Aug 2015), and if you’re interested in participating you can reach me at nrhelms@ua.edu. Hopefully this time around I’ll just be directing and won’t have to play Orsino as well!

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015, also at the CAC at 7:30pm, IF will present Shakes’ Hamlet, adapted and directed by Jacob Crawford, whom you can reach at jcrawford1@crimson.ua.edu.

We’re also working on a reading of Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine in December and a possible performance at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts in October. Details will be announced when I have them!

~nrhelms