Shakespeare Association of America Annual Conference 2015, Day Two

Yesterday, I recapped Day One of Shakespeare Association of America Annual Conference 2015. And today I’ve got the skinny of Day Two.

We started with a single-session Plenary Session. It was, in a sense, like the other seminars, only this had just three experts–all big names–and the entire conference were the auditors (usually there’s at least 15 different seminars going on at any one time). So even though there was no official headcount given, it was a pretty huge ballroom, and it was pretty well filled. If there are over 2900 members and you figure 80% attend the event, that’s about 2300 attendees, and if 80% showed for the session, then that’s just over 1850 in the audience for this session. (and yes, I know there’s no real support for those percentages, but just go with me, here)

The Plenary Session was titled “Shakespeare and the Cut” with Bruce Smith from USC, Michael Dobson from the Shakespeare Institute and the University of Birmingham, and Thomas Cartelli from Muhlenberg College. Unlike yesterday’s session, there was no slow start here.

Smith spoke on “Rethinking Cuts in an Age of Distraction,” arguing that there are three kinds of “cuts”: to change perception, to employ different technologies, and for aesthetic purposes. Even the concept of an “uncut” version is fallacious at best, disingenuous at worst; it’s an illusion. He closed with a continuum of edited texts: from “seamed” and holistic on one end, and “tattered” and de-constructed at the other.

Then Dobson came in and stole the show. I knew of Dobson from the Hamlet-centric MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) from the RSC, the Shakespeare Institute, and the University of Birmingham. He didn’t disappoint, discussing how Hamlet has always been seen as long (with some hilarious criticism from Francis Gentleman, whose writings convinced actor/director David Garrick to cut the “rubbish” of the gravediggers scene from Act Five). He also answered the question “What is Hamlet now?” with the seemingly contradictory answers: It’s cut-proof; and It’s the sum of all previous Hamlets. And the rest is

Cartelli bemoaned having to follow Dobson, but he was more than up for the challenge, arguing that the “uncut” fidelity model often results in a lifeless result. If the cuts concentrate and clarify, then the result is a distillation, a stronger production. He then talked a little about some radical versions of Midsummer, Hamlet, and Twelfth Night, including an example of “algorithmic theater” where the compute generates the text after an algorithmic distillation.

Because I had such a great time on Wednesday night at the “Embodying Shakespeare’s Text” workshop, I attended the late afternoon session led by Langara professor Brad Gibson, this one called “Voice Intensive Workshop: Elemental Shakespeare.” The description had given me the impression that the session would be on both elements and the humors, something that is simply fascinating to me. Unfortunately, it was just on elements, and not all the great for me… the first session of the conference for which I wish I had chosen differently.

But that Plenary Session more than made up for it.

Tomorrow, I’ll have a wrap-up of the final day, and the whole shebang.

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