Report from Utah: Wooden O Symposium, day three

So. The last day. No matter how long a conference, three- or five-day, it always feels like a hangover that last morning. Exhaustion and information overload takes its toll. And so it was with day three (Wednesday) of the Wooden O Symposium at the Utah Shakespeare Festival on the campus of Southern Utah University.

Of course, what better way to battle this than with a shot of energy. And we got that with another undergrad panel. Four presentations, ranging in subject matter from masquerade and performance as gender, to gender fluidity, to Benedick as romantic heroine, and finally to lunar mythology in Midsummer. All well-thought-out. A couple were obviously uncomfortable in presentation mode, but they’ll get used to this. One I thought could have benefited from visual aids. But really, I was very very impressed. I’m pretty sure I could’ve never pulled that off as an undergrad.

Next up was an actor’s panel from the previous night’s As You Like It. As always, it’s wonderful to listen to professionals talk about their craft. As more literary-based, we scholars (and yes, it’s a bit presumptuous of me to include myself here) need to never forget that what we see on the page was never meant to be there, it was meant to be staged, to be heard. And that concept of all the acting choices and clues coming from the sounds of the words came up again and again.

We then got a short break for lunch, which I used to meet with my Romeo and Juliet Time expert. I presented to him some of my ideas on the subject; about midway through, a couple more attendees came in, and they were all in agreement: I’m full of crap. Just kidding. There’s a paper there. And that felt good.

Then it was time for the last professional panel. Three presenters this time. And for these higher end papers, it felt like too much. It was hard to absorb and then discuss three separate concepts, especially when they went from Richard II and history as erasure, to the battle of revenge and grace in Much Ado, to the Hal/Falstaff friendship shot through the prism of Christianity. Enjoyed all of them, but the grace piece really hit me. Most presentations, when they bring in the Bible feel exactly like that: brought in, imposed. But not this one…this felt perfectly integrated. It was a great way to end the panels.

But not the conference. We had one last 45-minute session, all of us in a circle, talking about epiphanies we had, what the symposium was (an attempt at a definition for future marketing), and what could be improved. It was really productive.

But there was a specter hanging over the proceedings. The Symposium has taken some heat for allowing undergrads to present. Questions of the lack of rigor. I’m torn. I get the criticism. You want this to have “respectability” and some equate this–as many conferences and journals do, too–with doctorate holders and doctoral candidates only. And so not only are the undergrads out of the picture, but me, too. I get that, and I see the argument…and yet, some of the ideas presented by undergrads this week were deep, thoughtful, well-reasoned, and solidly defended (and opened the eyes of some of the older presenters). So what do you do?

I don’t know.

Regardless, this experience has been wonderful. I thank Michael Bahr, Education Director of the USF, and his entire tireless staff for creating a great conference with an atmosphere of collegiality and cooperation (as opposed to confrontation and territoriality). I definitely want to come back. Maybe with that Time paper. Maybe with a Titus/Tamora paper percolating in my cranium. Who knows.

All I know is that I feel revitalized.

And that’s a good thing.

It’s just a little sad to say goodbye…

[of course, sadness was alleviated a little by a phone call I got while packing: the audition I attended before the conference turned out OK… I’ll be playing Brabantio in a fall production of Othello for a local Shakespeare company…rehearsals start Monday.]

2 Replies to “Report from Utah: Wooden O Symposium, day three”

  1. Thanks for this day-by-day description. It’s been fun to follow along. I think the mix of expert and student presenters is a great way to both widen the current conversation, and (one hopes) to perpetuate it by keeping the next generation engaged.

    And have fun with Brabantio, too!

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