Notes from Cass Morris at the Blackfriars Shakespeare Conference in Staunton, Virgina, October 27:
Beth Burns, Hidden Room Theatre:
"Original Practices at Hidden Room"
Beth Burns introduces her support team from Hidden Room, noting that she met her dramaturg for The Taming of the Shrew at a previous conference. She positions herself clearly on the side of practitioners as opposed to strict academics, but states that she tries to make her practice as well-grounded in scholarship as she can. She thanks the scholarly crowd for "letting me steal your work, as I do do and will do today."
Burns discusses her experiences with Original Practices and notes that, while different companies and scholars have different views on what that means, they all come down to: "let's not fight the text; let's go with it." She's curious about the idea of "male playing female, and what that does to the text," particularly what it does to jokes -- which she doesn't like to cut just because the reference isn't relevant. She wondered if the idea of men playing women would balance out the gender issues in Shrew. "What I found instead was, actually, a love story. A really sexy love story." It also produced a theme of identity.
She noted two challenges: 1) to get the audience to believe the man playing a woman as a female character, and 2) to make the audience perceive the relationship displayed as a heterosexual one, not a homosexual one. Her actors from Hidden Room then present the introduction between Kate and Petruchio (2.1), in (as in her production), late-sixteenth-century costumes and (lead-free) makeup. The scene is fast-paced and full of action, with a Kate visibly enjoying the challenge of sparring with Petruchio, and a Petruchio utterly unwilling to part company with her. Kate also seems moved (though somewhat uncomfortable) by a Petruchio speaking to her sexually -- as, this staging seems to suggest, no other man has ever done.
Burns notes that the scene is "a veritable cornucopia" of the techniques they use. She notes that, to make the steaminess palpable, they don't just go for the obvious sexual jokes, but also those words that "sound sexual" by virtue of their sonic qualities or the face-shapes the sounds cause. They also explored "non-standard touch", to break the expectation of the usual courtship interactions. She moves to the next scene, which she hopes will cause us to look at gender role and power.
In the "sun and moon" scene, 4.5, Kate's concession to Petruchio's declarations comes with more than a light touch of sarcasm -- but she laughs when Petruchio address Vincentio (an impromptu substitution of Matt Davies) as a fair mistress. When Kate gets the joke and flirts with Vincentio, Petruchio intervenes a bit hastily, to cut off a kiss -- which represents, as Burns points out, that she's now playing on an even field with him. They move to the final scene: 5.1, on the street -- the "kiss me, Kate" moment. Their frenetic energy slows to tender regard, but loses none of its passion.
Burns brings her actors out and first asks Ryan (Kate) about building the character. He talks about placing her "center" low, to ground her and also give her grace. Burns and Judd (Petruchio) talk about building the "uber-macho" Petruchio, who Judd describes as "the archetypal alpha male" who goes beyond the typical plateau of gentlemanly behavior.
Matt Davies opens up to questions from the audience for either presenter.