Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A sneaky interview with Laura Cole on Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus

Luara Cole returns to the stage to reprise her role in Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus.  Along with being the Education Director at the Atlanta Shakespeare Company, she is an actor around Atlanta and Off- Broadway!  Check out this quick interview as she talks about being a part of this year's production.

1.     What is your name and who do you play in Doctor Faustus?
I am Laura Cole and I play Mephistopheles and all the other characters besides Faustus (No joke, there are a few) 

2.     How long have you worked at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse?
This is my 22nd season as an actor here!

3.     Is there a moment in the show that resonates with you?
I love doing every moment of this show, but when Mephistopheles speaks about how compelling or beautiful humans are (he ISNT human but a fallen angel) I really enjoy those moments- he’ll never be human but is still stuck in Hell anyway.

4.     What is it like performing in the round as opposed to regular staging?
It is sometimes a challenge to keep all the audience in mind at every moment but most of the time I am thinking about them anyway so it isn’t too hard.

5.     What is different about this production as opposed to the last time you did it?
Hummm. That is a loaded question for me- I am almost 8 years more experienced, so that is a big difference in outlook, energy, shape.  The most obvious is a different actor as Faustus.  I love both my Faustus’ so it has been a joy both times!

6.     Is there something you want the audience to leave with after the performance?
I hope they enjoyed the swiftness of the story and the varied ways we tell the tale!

7. Who are these sound demons I hear about? Other Tavern actors in cloaks, that utilize all our sound sculpture knowledge in creating live sound effects as the play happens.

8. You start the show and end the show with candles.  What does that symbolize? Lucifer, bringer of light, is what I think first, and then for me there is an opportunity to be enlightened by science and knowledge that doesn’t work out in the end.

An Interview with Chris Kayser on Doctor Faustus!

We at the Atlanta Shakespeare Company are proud to have Chris Kayser with us in the title role in Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus.  His previous Tavern credits include As You Like It, Coriolanus, Murder in the Cathedral and Salome.  Chris spent 25 years as a Resident Artist at Georgia Shakespeare.  He has also been seen for many years as Scrooge at the Alliance Theatre in A Christmas Carol.  Other theaters where he has performed include The Horizon Theatre, Theatrical Outfit, Theatre du Reve, Actors Express and many others.   Here is a quick interview with him on the experience!

How long have you been in the Atlanta theatre scene? 
 I was born in Atlanta and I have been working in the theater here for over 40 years.

Is there a moment in the show that resonates with you?
The many moments of doubt that Dr. Faustus has are universal, I think.  Have I chosen the right path?  What is the cost of that choice?  What have I left behind?

What is it like performing in the round as opposed to regular staging?
You must keep the whole audience in mind at all times.  You have to keep moving, to spread your focus around the whole 360 degrees.

You start and end the show in complete darkness.  What does that symbolize for the character?
What Faustus doesn’t realize is that his choice is already made—that he is mired in an endless cycle where he begins and ends…in hell.  The darkness symbolizes that very well.

Is it hard as an actor to begin and end in darkness?
Technically, no it’s not hard to begin and end in darkness.  One gets used to that over the course of a career

Is there something you want the audience to leave with after the performance?
I would hope each audience member might leave thinking about what hell might be for them.  I want them to consider their own choices.  I hope they’ve been entertained.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Celebrating Christmas in Shakespeare’s Day

This December, our theatre has been filled with the sounds of Christmas music as our actors perform ASC’s version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  Our production illustrates the Cratchit family having Christmas dinner, and you might wonder, as you sit in the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, how people in Shakespeare’s day celebrated Christmas.  French scholar Francois Laroque wrote a very informative book, Shakespeare’s Festive World: Elizabethan Seasonal Entertainment and the Professional Stage, which explains how Shakespeare’s contemporaries celebrated Christmas.  In the Elizabethan era, Christmas festivities often began on the twenty-first of December, Saint Thomas’ Day, which ushered in nearly four weeks of celebrations.  The majority of the Christmas celebrations were held during the twelve days of Christmas, which began on Christmas day and extended to Epiphany on January sixth, and people enjoyed various celebrations on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and the eve of Epiphany.

Some traditions in the Elizabethan era were not that different from modern traditions.  Before Christmas Eve, people decorated their homes with holly and ivy.  Christmas trees did not gain popularity until the nineteenth century in England, but people in Shakespeare’s day brightened their houses for Christmas by burning a large piece of wood called a Yule log or Yule block.  On Christmas Eve, people sung Christmas carols, which in the Elizabethan era included festival songs.  Christmas Eve was a time to visit neighbors and join in village or communal celebrations.  As people celebrated with their neighbors, girls brought a wassail-bowl, or a large jug of beer and roasted apples, to each house, and actors called mummers performed plays about Saint George or Old Father Christmas.  The time between Christmas and Epiphany was filled with religious and secular celebrations.

Even Christmas songs from Shakespeare’s era were not that different than they are today.  George Wither’s song “Christmas Carol,” written in 1602 encourages merriment and holiday cheer:

 “So, now is come our joyfulst feast;
Let every man be jolly;
Each room with ivy leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
Though some churls at our mirth repine,
Round your foreheads garlands twine;
Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
And let us all be merry.
Now, all our neighbours’ chimnies smoke
And Christmas blocks are burning...” (Laroque 149).

Happy holidays!

Submitted by Samantha Smith 

Monday, November 28, 2016

An Introduction to the Wars of the Roses By Samantha Smith

In Henry VI, Part One, the Earl of Warwick responds to the scene in which nobles picked roses in the Temple Garden to represent their allegiance to the House of Lancaster or the House of York with this prescient prediction: “And here I prophesy: this brawl today,/Grown to this faction in the Temple Garden,/Shall send, between the red rose and the white,/A thousand souls to death and deadly night” (2.5.124-127).  His prediction proves true for both the nobles and the common people as the events of the three parts of Henry VI unfold.  As civil discord grows into organized conflict, Somerset, the Duke of York, Prince Edward, and King Henry VI all die, while the commoners’ lives are interrupted and sometimes destroyed by the civil war, as highlighted in the poignant scene in Part Three when Henry observes the lamentations of a son who unwittingly killed his father and the cries of a father who unknowingly killed his only son. 

In Part Three, Henry rightly describes the conflict as “civil war” (1.1.197) but the series of battles depicted in Parts Two and Part Three had another name: the Wars of the Roses.  Historically, the Wars of the Roses lasted from 1455-1485 and were a series of conflicts over succession to the English throne that were eventually resolved in the foundation of the Tudor dynasty with coronation of Henry VII and his marriage to Elizabeth of York.  Scholars are quick to point out that the Wars of the Roses were more than just a clash for power among the nobility, but, for the purposes of understanding the three parts of Henry VI, we will focus on the struggle between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. 

The quarrel between the Lancasters and the Yorks began in conflicts between the grandsons of King Edward III, who ruled England from 1312-1377.  Edward III had seven sons; the first, Edward, Black Prince of Wales, the third, Lionel, Duke of Clarence, the fourth, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and the fifth, Edmund of Langley, Duke of York, are crucial to the rise of the conflict that led to the Wars of the Roses.  John of Gaunt’s son, Henry Bolingbroke, deposed Edward’s son, Richard II, and became Henry IV, the first Lancastrian king of England.  Henry IV’s son was the famous King Henry V, whose son was King Henry VI, whose death brought the swift end of Lancastrian control of the crown.  While Henry V was admired for his achievements in conquering much of France, some people viewed all the Lancastrian kings as usurpers.  Many people, including Hall, whose Chronicles Shakespeare relied on in writing Henry VI, viewed the deposition of Henry VI as punishment for his grandfather’s sins in keeping with the message of Numbers 14:18 that promises God will “[visit] the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” 

Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, traces his claim to the English throne through his mother, the granddaughter of Edward III’s third son, Lionel, Anne Mortimer, who married her cousin, Richard, Earl of Cambridge, the son of Edward III’s fifth son, Edmund of Langley.  York’s claim to the throne rests on the perceived illegitimacy of Henry VI’s claim because of his grandfather’s usurpation of King Richard and the assertion that the descendants of Edward III’s third son should take precedence over the descendants of the fourth.  The Earl of Warwick explains York’s thought process: “Henry doth claim the crown from John of Gaunt/The fourth son, York claims it from the third./Till Lionel’s issue fails, Gaunt’s should not reign;/It fails not yet, but flourishes in thee/And in thy sons...” (2.2.54-58).  In Henry VI, as in history, the Yorks initially triumph; Henry is killed and Edward IV becomes King.  The Wars of the Roses officially concluded after the reign of King Richard III and his death, when Henry Tudor, whom Henry VI predicts “will prove our country’s bliss” (4.6.70), was crowned Henry VII in 1486, establishing the Tudor dynasty and ushering in a new age of stability and intellectual and artistic advancement associated with the Renaissance.

For an overview of the Wars of the Roses, including all of the facets of the conflict not covered here, check out Martin Dougherty’s 2015 book, The Wars of the Roses: The Conflict That Inspired Game of Thrones

Friday, November 18, 2016

Shakespeare: Dramatist, Not Historian. By Samantha Smith

The three plays that comprise Henry VI are classified as histories, but they were never intended to be precise accounts of historical events.  These plays were not historically accurate biopics but large-scale entertainment meant to amuse, captivate, and inspire audiences with scenes of valor, cunning, passion, humor, and English patriotism.  Shakespeare drew heavily on the historical chronicles written by Edward Hall and Raphael Holinshed as sources, and he did accurately depict some historical events in Henry VI.  However, he frequently deviated from history when it suited his needs as a dramatist, omitting historical facts, condensing timelines, inventing characters, and embellishing historical incidents.

Shakespeare’s decision not to incorporate the historical Henry VI’s bouts of extreme mental illness into the plays bearing his name had a profound effect on the narrative of Henry VI.  The historical Henry VI was so incapacitated by illness that other government officials, including the Lord Protector, were forced to completely take over ruling the kingdom several times during his reign.  The tenor of the plays of Henry VI would be very different if Shakespeare had included depictions of Henry’s illness.  

Instead, Shakespeare’s illustration of Henry as an incredibly pious, virtuous man who perhaps lacked the forcefulness required to navigate court intrigue and defend his crown, fit more with popular perceptions of Henry VI, who was revered and respected for his piety.  King Henry VII unsuccessfully attempted to have Henry VI canonized as a saint, and a popular cult developed around Henry VI during Henry VII’s reign.  Public regard for Henry VI steadily grew after his death, and Shakespeare’s depiction of the pious king would have appealed to many of his sixteenth-century audience members.

Henry VI, Part One provides a multitude of examples small and large of Shakespeare altering or adding to historical facts.  While we don’t have any personal writings in which Shakespeare explained his thought process, scholars have posited why Shakespeare might have been inclined to stray from historical details.  Sometimes Shakespeare changed historical facts because they were not crucial to the plot.  For example, the list of French towns that the English messenger says have been lost in the beginning of the play are historically incorrect but the intended effect of demonstrating that the English are losing the land that Henry VI’s father famously won in France remains.  Shakespeare invented new, fictitious characters like the Countess of Auvergne, whose attempt to imprison Talbot in her castle provides a moment of levity in the play and reinforces Talbot’s power in France.  

Shakespeare greatly condensed historical events to create a play that covers decades of history in three hours; for example, Joan of Arc convinces the Duke of Burgundy to defect from the English in one scene in Act Three, whereas in reality his defection took place four years after her death and was the result of ten years of negotiations between him and the French nobles.  Shakespeare also relied on biased depictions of historical figures when he knew it would appeal to his audience; his portrayal of Joan of Arc as a conniving sorceress catered to a very pro-English, anti-French audience.  

Shakespeare changed historical details to create scenes with higher stakes and dramatic intensity; whereas the historical John Talbot was one of Talbot’s several sons and was a grown man with children, Shakespeare’s John Talbot is Talbot’s sole son, and he is young and unmarried, making his death and the subsequent end of the Talbot bloodline more poignant. 

Shakespeare continued the trend of choosing historical accuracy when it fit his needs as a dramatist in Part Two and Part Three of Henry VI.  Shakespeare overlapped historical figures who did not meet in real life to create tension; the shared dislike between Margaret and Eleanor is historically inaccurate because Eleanor’s disgrace and downfall happened four years before Margaret came to the English court.  Shakespeare established Margaret as a powerful, forceful woman at court immediately after her marriage, having her collude with Suffolk to bring down Gloucester and having her fight for power on Henry’s behalf, whereas the historical Margaret was only fifteen and relatively politically inexperienced when she married Henry, and she did not immediately get involved in power plays at the court.  The affair between Suffolk and Margaret was largely Shakespeare’s invention after he expanded on historical hints of Suffolk’s interest in Margaret.  

Shakespeare invented York’s involvement in the Cade rebellion, and he drew more on the Peasant’s Revolt than the historical Cade rebellion in his depiction of the rebels, who, in reality, were reasonably educated middle- and upper-class artisans.  At the end of Part Two, Shakespeare incorporated the Duke of York’s son, Richard, into the battle, although the historical Richard was only two when the battle of Saint Albans took place.  That was not the only time Shakespeare changed a character’s age in Henry VI; in Part Three, he decreased the age of York’s youngest son, Rutland, which made his murder by Clifford more shocking.

These are just a few examples of Shakespeare’s changes to history in Henry VI.  For more information, check out Peter Saccio’s book Shakespeare’s English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama, from which the examples of Shakespeare’s adherence to and deviation from the historical record in Henry VI listed in this blog were taken.  For more information about Henry VI’s legacy, look into David Grummitt’s book, Henry VI

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Come See Henry VI By Samantha Smith

For the past several months, our theatre has been filled with the sound of words that are about 425 years old as our company worked to rehearse and perform all three parts of Henry VI.  I have looked on with admiration as the director, Jeff Watkins, and the cast worked ever diligently, filling the building with the sounds of their efforts.  York’s railings against the crown greeted me as I came to work and Henry’s lamentations reverberated around me as I left.  Trumpets sounded every morning and swords clashed every afternoon as fight choreographers created battles and actors practiced them.  And more than once, when I waited for a battle to finish so I could walk through the theatre, I pondered why these plays, sometimes criticized, often overlooked, and rarely performed, are still so compelling after four centuries. 

We all know that Shakespeare grew into one of the greatest dramatists the world has ever seen, and so it is fascinating to look on the three parts of Henry VI, the earliest history plays he wrote, and see glimpses of rhetorical features that became staples of his later, more famous historical plays, like the two parts of Henry IV and Henry V.  As he did in writing his other history plays, Shakespeare relied heavily on source materials like the historical chronicles written by Hall and Holinshed while crafting the three parts of Henry VI.  However, he showed his inclination to deviate from his sources and the historical narrative, making alterations that condensed great swaths of English history into plays that could be performed in three hours and making changes to historical fact to create more emotionally moving scenes and more compelling characters.  

Through the conversation between Talbot and his son before they die in Part One, the moment Suffolk and Margaret share before he leaves England in Part Two, and the time Henry muses on his longing for a simpler life in Part Three, Shakespeare demonstrated his gift for creating deeply moving, if historically unfounded, scenes.  Through the depictions of pious Henry, ambitious York, and vengeful Richard, Shakespeare captured a spectrum of humanity and raised questions about duty to God, country, and family.  Scholars rightly argue that Shakespeare’s most nuanced work and best writing came after Henry VI, but the compelling narrative Shakespeare created in these three plays is a testament to his early talent.  

Ultimately, Shakespeare revealed in Henry VI his ability to create exciting entertainment that captivates modern audiences as much as it did Elizabethan spectators.  With ambitious usurpers, family squabbles, court intrigue, broken allegiances, love affairs, murder, riots, witches, pirates, battles, and heads on pikes, the three parts of Henry VI are basically Game of Thrones with more poetry.  So pick a side, Lancaster or York, red rose or white, and join us as the Wars of the Roses play out at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse for the next two weekends. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How Shakespeare Wrote for a Royal Audience in Macbeth

Like so many admonitions given to young writers, “write for your audience” held true long before the phrase gained popularity in freshman composition classrooms.  Writers have always known that for a work to be moving, let alone commercially successful, the syntax, word choice, and subject of the piece should appeal to the particular audience for which it is intended. 

Shakespeare excelled at knowing and writing for diverse audiences that included apple sellers, merchants, nobility, and royalty.  Shakespeare’s appeal to so many distinct groups stemmed from his judicious choices in composition, creating characters of all socioeconomic levels, employing humor ranging from bawdy and scatological to esoteric, and featuring widely popular themes of patriotism and a national sense of superiority to England’s neighbors.  Scholars sometimes highlight Macbeth’s line “No, this my hand will rather/The multitudinous seas incarnadine,/Making the green one red” (2.3.59-61) as an example of how Shakespeare paid attention to the varied educational backgrounds of his audience by innovatively using the adjective “incarnadine” as a verb, shortly followed by an illustration of what an incarnadine sea would look like. 
King James I
Queen Elizabeth I

One of the most important audience members who saw Macbeth was King James I, the successor of Shakespeare’s former patron and monarch, Queen Elizabeth.  Scholars believe that Shakespeare took into account King James’ fears about assassination, his pride in his lineage, and his interest in witchcraft when writing Macbeth.  The play’s focus on assassinating a King dealt with one of King James’ main fears and a topical concern for the nation just a year after Guy Fawkes was thwarted in his plan to blow up King James and all of parliament in 1605.  The trauma of seeing Duncan’s regicide would have been lessened for King James by the play’s emphasis on the downfall of Macbeth, Duncan’s assassin, and the restoration of Malcolm to the Scottish throne.  King James traced his heritage to Banquo and his son Fleance, who escapes the murderers that Macbeth sends to kill him, and scholars suggest that Shakespeare emphasized Banquo’s virtue compared to Macbeth’s treachery as a compliment to the King, who saw Macbeth at his court.  

Scholars also posit that Shakespeare’s inclusion and portrayal of the witches was influenced by King James’ interest in witchcraft.  Beyond believing that witches sought to harm him at various times throughout his life, King James also wrote a book called Of Demonology, in which he asserted that witches were women who had masculine features who cursed people through their conjuring.  Banquo describes the witches in terms similar to King James’ depiction: “you should be women,/And yet your beards forbid met to interpret/That you are so” (1.3.42-44).  Shakespeare’s incorporation of elements intended to appeal to King James demonstrates his skill in writing for a royal audience.  

Submitted by Samantha Smith