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

scotland-pa-original

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!

Deliver Us From Eva, Program Notes

Here you can find the program notes for last week’s screening of Deliver Us From Eva.

deliver us from eva poster

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare

Although we are accustomed to thinking of Shakespeare as the author of The Taming of the Shrew, this title is first formally established in reference to an anonymous play entered in the Stationers’ Register in 1594. The Stationers’ Register comprises the records maintained by the Stationers’ Company of London, which was a guild which has operated under royal charter since 1557 to regulate practices within the book trade, from printing to bookbinding and bookselling, and in this case it alerts us to what appears to be the first printing of a ‘bad’ quarto version of Shakespeare’s play, probably reconstructed from memory by actors of The Taming of the Shrew. The date of The Taming of the Shrew is a complex question, as there are only scant records about early performances, including a reference again from 1594 to a play called ‘The Tamynge of A Shrowe’ in Philip Henslowe’s Diary which was intriguingly played in the same week as Andronicus which may well have been another early Shakespearean work, Titus Andronicus. However, whilst the first known official attribution of The Taming of the Shrew to Shakespeare comes to us through the First Folio of 1623, the combination of printed and manuscript archival records strongly suggest that this is one of his earliest dramatic creations, and scholarly consensus currently points to a composition date between 1590 and 1591.

            As one of Shakespeare’s earliest works, it is interesting that The Taming of the Shrew draws extensively upon Renaissance comedic pop culture for its narrative: although very few direct sources have been identified for the play’s main characters, the forthright and unforgiving Katherina and her would-be suitor Petruchio, the idea of woman-as-shrew, or scold, was a stock subject for jestbooks in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The ‘scolding of a shrew’ is listed as one of the ‘six ill sounds’ of the world in a joke book in the mid-seventeenth century, the Merry Drollery of 1661 offers guidelines on ‘how to choose a shrew’ in its ‘Advice to Bachelors’, whilst in 1693 a ‘merry Poet’ recalls a tale in which a ‘newly married man’ offers his ‘shrewd wife’ as the best form of torture to punish a wolf who has been ravaging local villagers. Along with Shakespeare’s own Katherina, these examples represent an intriguing combination of deep-rooted misogyny with humor in a way which can be deeply unsettling to modern audiences. It is worth considering the fact that in Richard II in 1597 Shakespeare uses the adjective ‘shrewd’ to indicate the danger of a very sharp sword, and for modern spectators, the shrew may yet be able to transform from a standing joke into a cunning and worthy opponent for her male detractors.

Deliver Us From Eva directed by Gary Hardwick (2003)

In this adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, Eva Dandridge (Gabrielle Union) is a Los Angeles Health Inspector whose career attributes of perfectionism, directness, and bouts of officiousness are not well-received when she applies them at home to minister to the personal lives of her three sisters. Each of the three younger sisters’ plans are thwarted by Eva’s interference, and by reconfiguring Shakespeare’s sisterly dynamic between Katherina and Bianca in relation not only to Eva’s personal qualities but also her professional life, Hardwick’s film begins to elucidate a slightly different picture of the modern-day shrew than that put forth on the early modern stage. For although Eva is, in her own words, ‘uncompromising’ and ‘wear[s] it as a badge of honor’, she is true to her word when she states of ‘principle’ that ‘maybe the world is in short supply, but I am not’. Indeed, Eva takes the concept of the early modern shrew and uses it to launch a stinging attack in a battle of the sexes as she describes ‘women who aspire to culture, and men who aspire to scratch themselves’. In keeping with the source material, Eva hits so hard with her sweeping critique of all men that her words venture into misandry, but as director Hardwick has stated, she emerges as a ‘turbo-feminist’. As in Shakespeare’s play, a potential suitor is recruited for Eva, the ‘Master Player’, Ray Adams (LL Cool J), who is paid by Eva’s three brothers-in-law to distract, seduce, and then dump her. The brothers-in-law hope that Ray will be a sufficient diversion to stop Eva from interfering with their lives. However, after a rocky beginning, it is Eva’s very resolve and intelligence which seduce Ray, and when their relationship blossoms the brothers-in-law find that the newly-content shrew poses an even greater problem than she did before.

            Deliver Us From Eva is an African-American Shakespearean film adaptation, and Hardwick stated that one of his greatest motivations in making the movie was ‘to see Eva on screen. [He had] never seen a woman, much less a black woman, like her in a movie’, and in Eva’s sharp-tongued, witty exchanges the shrew appears less and less like an irritating scold and more and more like an empowered hyper-achiever. Indeed, not only is Eva herself a powerful female character, but her three sisters, Kareenah (Essence Atkins), Bethany (Robinne Lee), and Jacqui (Meagan Good) are likewise outspoken and forthright, allowing this adaptation to suggest that a modern incarnation of shrewishness may actually be more shrewd than shrew.

Dr. Emma Annette Wilson

Reviews of ASC’s Tour, Method in Madness

The American Shakespeare Center’s 2014/2015 tour Method in Madness is coming to the University of Alabama on Sunday, March 1st to perform Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Details are here. Some of our graduate students recently attended Method in Madness shows in Birmingham, and I want to share their impressions of the great work ASC is doing.

"American Shakespeare Center --June 2014 -- This photograph is licensed to American Shakespeare Center for its advertising and marketing purposes. Other uses, or use of this photograph by third parties, without consent of the photographer, are prohibited."
Patrick Earl as Benedick and Stephanie Holladay Earl as Beatrice in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. Photo by Michael Bailey.

ASC’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Cumberland School of Law, 2/14/15

The American Shakespeare Center’s touring production of Much Ado About Nothing hoists the audience out of Shakespeare’s Messina and drops us, bell-bottoms and all, at a disco somewhere between Love Boat and An Officer and a Gentleman.

Here we witness the “merry war” between Beatrice and Benedick set to a soundtrack of brass and bravura. The accompanying spectacle is fully of heady effusiveness. In suitably irreverent style, the cast takes up the revelry of Shakespeare’s language and recontextualizes it with a little glitz and a lot of guts. What we end up with is a celebration of Shakespeare’s playfulness—the ASC’s Much Ado is a touch campy and a dash cartoonish, and the actors embody this conceit with aplomb.

Stephanie Holladay Earl’s Beatrice is by turns acerbic and sassy. Without sacrificing any of the character’s assertiveness, she balances Beatrice’s defiance of early modern social norms with a tenacious sense of humor. Her performance, ultimately, is both engaging and charming.

As Benedick, Patrick Earl tempers swagger with a boyishness that emerges into maturity as the play progresses. He plays the commitment-phobic soldier with hyperbolic bravado, and through the transition from lothario to lover, Earl’s Benedick remains eminently likeable.

Doubling abounds in this cast, and the actors rise to the task with impressive versatility. Susie Parr effervesces as Hero, while Andrew Goldwasser and Stephen Brunson are riotous as Dogberry and Balthazar, respectively.

This reimagining of Much Ado owes much of its success to its distinctly twenty-first century comic delivery. In a Messina of powder blue suits, Gilligan’s Island slapstick and KISS-themed masquerades, it’s the counterbalance of fond nostalgia and optimistic silliness that gives the ASC’s production its (considerable) charisma.

~Chris Emslie

Andrew Goldwasser as Faustus in DOCTOR FAUSTUS. Photo by Michael Bailey.
Andrew Goldwasser as Faustus in DOCTOR FAUSTUS. Photo by Michael Bailey.

ASC’s Doctor Faustus at the Cumberland School of Law, 2/14/15

Though Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is probably the most well-known Elizabethan play outside of Shakespeare, the drama is not often performed by modern theatre companies. Staging the battle for its protagonist’s eternal soul, the play asks significant questions about heaven and hell, fate and free will, knowledge and power. These questions were addressed cleverly, and in many cases effectively, by the American Shakespeare Center’s production of Doctor Faustus as part of their Method in Madness tour. The company tackled a difficult and ambitious text yet managed to produce a play was both entertaining and thought-provoking.

By following the “basic principles of Renaissance theatrical production”, the ASC ensures that the strength of its offerings lies primarily in the performances of its actors—and the actors in Doctor Faustus did not disappoint. Andrew Goldwasser delivered a magnetic performance as the titular doctor who, seduced by the promises of necromancy, sells his soul to Lucifer for twenty-four years of all the knowledge and power he could desire. Stephanie Holladay Earl played his devilish companion Mephistopheles with the perfect balance of charm and control, wit and wickedness. By interacting with the crowd throughout the play, Earl, Goldwasser, and the other actors quickly pulled the audience into the production, making them complicit in Faustus’s “hellish fall.” A second strength of this particular production was the sophistication of its visual effects, despite the restrictions of the company’s limited touring equipment. These effects were especially apt in conveying the horrors of hell: the use of fire in the production was both dramatic and impressive, and the movement of faceless devils, twisting and contorting in brown body suits, was surprisingly eerie and effective. Comprised of nuanced performances and stunning visual effects, the ASC’s Doctor Faustus was a compelling production of Marlowe’s most enduring tragedy.

~Emily Pitts Donahoe

You can find photos of ASC’s recent shows (and food truck experiences!) at their Tumblr. As always, if you have any questions about our upcoming events, feel free to contact Nic Helms via wordpress or at nrhelms at crimson.ua.edu.

Hamlet!

On Sunday, March 1st, the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies will host the American Shakespeare Center’s Method in Madness Tour. The ASC will be performing Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Morgan Auditorium that night at 7:30pm with pre-show music beginning at 7:00pm. The show will be free and open to the public. Seating is limited and available on a first come, first seated basis.

Revised Hamlet Poster March 1 8.5x11

IF presents William Shakespeare’s *The Tempest*

10922026_10203346628838690_1152133061_n

Jan 15th, 2015, 7:30pm at the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center in downtown Tuscaloosa. Starring Michael Witherell as Prospero. Our script can be downloaded here: The Tempest, adapted by Steve Burch and Emily Pitts Donahoe

RSVP to the Facebook event!

As You Like It!

Improbable Fictions presents a staged reading of Shakespeare’s As You Like It on Thursday, December 4th, 7:30pm, at the Dinah Washington Black Box Theatre. The reading is directed by Deborah Parker, assistant directed by Jacob Crawford, and the cast includes students and faculty from UA and members of the Tuscaloosa community. If you missed our show, you can find an audio recording here:

IF presents As You Like It, 12.4.2015

Duke_Forest_spring_Oak_high

Cast (in order of appearance):

Orlando …………………………………………………………….. Bert McLelland

Adam …………………………………………………………………… Glen Johnson

Oliver …………………………………………………………………… Nic Helms

Charles, the wrestler………………………………………………… Matt Smith

Rosalind …………………………………………………………. Dakota Park-Ozee

Celia …………………………………………………………… Alexandra Ferretti

Touchstone ……………………………………………………… David Ainsworth

LeBeau ……………………………………………………….. Emily Pitts Donahoe

Duke Frederick ………………………………………………….. Deborah Parker

First Lord………………………………………………………… Alison Wheatley

Duke Senior……………………………………………………… Richard LeComte

1st Lord…………………………………………………………… Gabrielle Perkins

Corin…………………………………………………………………. Renwick Jones

Silvius……………………………………………………………… Jacob Crawford

Amiens…………………………………………………………………… Matt Smith

Jacques…………………………………………………………………. Steve Burch

Audrey…………………………………………………………….. Alison Wheatley

Oliver Martext……………………………………………………… Glen Johnson

Phebe……………………………………………………………… Gabrielle Perkins

William………………………………………………………. Emily Pitts Donahoe

Jacques de Boys……………………………………………. Emily Pitts Donahoe

Sponsored by the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies.

Richard III

At 7:30pm on Wednesday, Oct 1st, Improbable Fictions will present a staged reading of Shakespeare’s Richard III at the Tuscaloosa Cultural Arts Center (just down the block from the Bama Theatre). Pre-show music begins at 7:00pm. This reading is free and open to the public.

The Facebook Event

If you’re interested, you can find our adaptation of the script here: Richard III, cut

NPG 148; King Richard III by Unknown artist

Fall Shakes Events, 2014

There’s an abundance of Shakespeare in Tuscaloosa this fall! Here are some of the offerings.

10632810_10154599233745608_1213823397185234385_n

Workshops:

This fall, Improbable Fictions will be hosting a series of one-hour workshops on Shakespeare in performance. Our first event will be this coming Thursday, September 11th at 7:30, when Mark Hughes Cobb will lead a workshop entitled “Rude Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing and Outdoor Performance.” Mark will discuss the history of the Rude Mechanicals, a Tuscaloosa Shakespeare troupe, and will break down key skills actors and directors use when preparing Shakespeare’s plays for a contemporary outdoor setting. Audience participation will be encouraged.

Later workshops include: September 25th: An Introduction to Shakespearean Acting, led by Prof. Seth Panitch; October 16th: First Folio Techniques, led by Nic Barilar; and October 23rd: Speak the Speech, led by Prof. Steve Burch.

All workshops will be held downtown at the Paul R. Jones Art Gallery, 2308 6th Street, Tuscaloosa at 7:30pm each evening. These events are free and open to the public, and are sponsored by the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies at the University of Alabama.

Films:

Shakespeare Film Posters jpg

This year the Hudson Strode Program in Renaissance Studies begins a Shakespeare on Film series at the Bama Theatre in downtown Tuscaloosa. All films are free and open to the public. We’ve scheduled a range of films, some you’ve no doubt seen and loved, others you’ve not. We offer a teen Taming in Ten Things About You, which stars Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt and we offer an African American Taming in Deliver Us From Eva! We offer the unnerving noir of The Bad Sleep Well, in which a young Japanese executive tracks down his father’s killer; we balance that Hamlet with To Be or Not to Be, a serious comedy starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, shot during World War II. We offer song and dance in West Side Story and Love’s Labor’s Lost. We offer Robby the Robot and film’s first $1,000,000 budget in Forbidden Planet. Inspiration is offered for a lot less; in Shakespeare Behind Bars, one can appreciate the efforts of theater professionals working with inmates as they try to change their lives. Please enjoy for the first time or again! 

Here is the line-up:

* September 15, 2014: Strode Film SeriesTen Things I Hate About You
* October 13, 2014: Strode Film Series – Shakespeare Behind Bars
* November 4, 2014: Strode Film Series – The Bad Sleep Well
* December 16, 2014: Strode Film Series – To Be Or Not to Be
* January 19, 2015: Strode Film Series – West Side Story
* February 16, 2015: Strode Film Series – Deliver Us From Eva
* March 11, 2015: Strode Film Series – Forbidden Planet
* April 27, 2015: Strode Film Series – Love’s Labour’s Lost

All films start at 7:30pm, and are free and open to the public.

Staged Readings:

Improbable Fictions will present two staged readings this semester: Richard III on Wed, Oct 1st, directed by Nic Helms, and As You Like It on Thurs. Dec 4th, directed by Deborah Parker.  Both staged readings will be held in the Dinah Washington black box theatre at the Tuscaloosa Cultural Arts Center. Shows start at 7:30pm, with pre-show music at 7:00pm. Free and open to the public.

On Stage:

The University of Alabama’s Department of Theatre and Dance presents Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, adapted and directed by Seth Panitch, from November 18-23. The play is set in 1920s New Orleans, and will involve elements of jazz and voodoo. Tickets can be purchased online or at UATD’s box office on campus.