…wear it for an honour in thy cap… – HENRY V, IV viii

I have this cap.

I bought it blank and beige and added a patch I found on Etsy (from Storied Threads, if a cheap plug from a satisfied customer means anything).

When I was first given the job of dramaturg/text coach with Kentucky Shakespeare I joked about having a separate hat for the simple reason that I was and am also an actor with the company and it’s more fun to wear multiple literal hats than multiple metaphorical hats. Then I found the patch and cap and put them together and the cheap joke became real.

If you’re not an actor, you may not know this, but it is universally acknowledged to be Bad Form to give any sort of note to fellow actors. The protocol is to instead bitch about their choices that affect you while they’re not around, if my unscientific observations are accurate.

Now, the job of the dramaturg/text coach, in this company at least, occasionally requires less quoting Shakespeare than quoting the eternally meme-able Inigo Montoya.

But that’s not my favorite thing to put on a hat. Also, it’s not a particularly useful note. I prefer the patch for several reasons.

The season before I added this duty, I played Bottom for the company. The irony of this setup has never been lost on me. So even “Take paines, be perfect”, a rather useful thing to hear while working on a meticulously prepared Folio edition, was most recently spoken in this company by a pompous buffoon. Who happened to be playing Nick Bottom.

So I put it on the hat knowing everyone in the company knew this was a line from a fool (or two). And I also intentionally sewed it on a bit askew just because self-contradiction, thanks to Groucho and Bugs, is one of my favorite joke sub-genres.

Cheap chuckle at the first table read every time. But also people come up to me with “hat questions” (the term at which they all independently seem to arrive), much less of a mouthful or conceptual quandary than…whatever other term they might use. And when I come at an actor or director with The Hat on, they know some twerp of a fellow actor isn’t about to toss a Montoyism at them; a dramaturg is. Which comes with different protocols. Easier for everyone. I think. Simple solution borne from an overthought gag.

Though I suppose some other solution is not inconceivable.

Not working with the eye without the ear… – HENRY V, II ii

As I get back into the dramaturgical swing of things, for anyone interested (to be honest I have no idea at all whether that person exists, but when I look the nonsense, a disheartening amount of which skews toward evil, that gets published online, this bit of self-interested typography-based beigeness isn’t going to be the last straw that makes everyone pick up and leave the blogosphere (would that it were)), I’m going to lay out here how I put together the script editions I’ve been doing for the last couple of years.

I’m now working semi-simultaneously, if that concept even makes sense, on my eleventh through fourteenth, if I’m counting correctly, though I’ve done a few more cuttings than that. But they were sloppy affairs hastily downloaded then chopped down for time and casting. I hesitate to go back and look at them now much as one avoids high school yearbooks or TV shows beloved in adolescence – the fondness of memory won’t bear much scrutiny, and considering I’m on the topic of Shakespeare dramaturgy, suddenly the use of “fond” back there makes more sense, what with it meaning something only slightly more polite than “being a self-deluded dumb-ass” in Elizabethan parlance.

So I start out with the Folio. Not the one pictured above (thought good gravy do I know that page lately from Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead rehearsals). There are only a few of them and they’re kind of pricey, I understand. Or so the alarmed glass cases would imply. Not even from a facsimile edition, because I need something I can edit on this cruel and heartless rectangle on which I now type.

Lately the one I download is from InternetEditions.uvic.ca, because it only shows a line number every fifth line, and since I intentionally do away with line numbers (they only get confusing when you’re doing productions with Judicious Trimming), the fewer the better. (If anyone knows of a free downloadable version with none, do let me know.) I used to use the lovely, lovely editable modern-type versions of the late Neil Freeman, whose work still informs everything I do with these editions and which I keep at my side always while working on them; but they were made on Apples some years ago and the formatting can be technologically tricksy in a way that doesn’t really take me less time to deal with than making the changes I have to make (on a PC) myself.

I go through it line by line and change the appropriate letters to their modern equivalents – when i=j or u=v or vv=w and the like. If there’s an overarching goal in these editions, it’s to find a balance between 1) letting actors with sense but varying degrees of Shakespearean experience feel able to stand up with script in hand and block and stage the show without having to squint constantly at ancient typographical choices, and 2) still maintaining almost all the utterly essential but non-grammatical punctuation and the eccentric capitalizations and spellings of the era.

Find/Replace is my lifesaver here, but I still have to go line by line. Loue and iustice prevail, but in a way that doesn’t either cross the eyes or make one sound like a Pythonesque exaggeration of a chinless twit.

There are visually troublesome words that get modern spellings for the sake of clarity. A small but frequent word like “I’ll” is a good example. The Folio spells “Ile” which is really weirdly hard to look at on the page and interpret immediately. I’ve never heard an argument that those two spellings have some different meaning, significance, or pronunciation, so…ease on the eyes wins.

There’s also “I” which depending on context could be the pronoun for first person singular or the affirmative “Ay”. And, Shakespeare being Shakespeare, sometimes both. Judgment calls and/or side notes have to be made.

And the occasional what-the-hell word gets the dustbin – I find charm in (the word) murther but I can make a solid argument for saying murder with a “d” based in the comfortable pronunciation of the definite article in almost every English dialect. I find Mervailles in the magic of Prospero but I’d rather a give a living audience preference over a dead one when it comes to experiencing Marvels. And I do wish travaille could still be said in a way that could imply both travel and travail at once. But you can’t act a footnote.

And of course the obvious typos of the sort that centuries of editors have come to consensus on, or in some cases haven’t. (I keep an Arden next to the Freeman and my beloved Shakespeare’s Words by the Crystals and they pretty much get me through all this.) Freeman was big on this, too, but it still fascinates me how many small moments of scholarly dispute sound just fine when spoken aloud and apace. Even things that probably were mistakes are often covered by the fact of fallible human characters speaking them. There are too many examples of this for a single one to stand out right now, but I’m sure one will come up as I’m working on these.

Then the cut suggestions, which are less a part of the edition proper than part of my work with the directors. All the issues ranging from the human bladder to airplane traffic to words irrevocably broken from connection with modern American communication (let’s start with “niggardly”) factor in to this preliminary shot at editing for our specific audiences.

I’m adding two new wrinkles to this season’s work. The first is a set of facing page notes. The actors are always encouraged to get their own editions and use the notes from those, but I don’t see what harm can be done be transcribing some of the more useful notes from other editions to ours. Plus the pronunciation guide I always hand out but which I’m convinced no one ever looks at might have more impact if it’s right there near the relevant words, as well as the relevant Freeman edition notes about one thing and another dealing with Folio Matters.

The second is the possible use of a font called Dyslexie. I’m not personally aware of anyone in our previous or current casts having to deal with this, but reading an only-slightly-edited Folio script is probably the closest a person without dyslexia comes to understanding it; an artistic community also tends to be disproportionately filled with folks who learn in all sorts of different ways. I can’t see where going ahead with this would do anyone any harm, so I’m going to print at least our first version this way and see how it goes.

Looking back over all this has suddenly made me anxious even though I’m well over half done with scripts that won’t be looked at until March (or if I’m realistic April) by actors who haven’t yet been cast or even auditioned and who won’t start rehearsal until May.

So I’m calming down. But I’m also stepping away. From the blog. Slowly. I need lunch.

…what stern ungentle hands/ Hath lopp’d and hew’d… – TITUS ANDRONICUS, II iv

Yes, yes, last night was the first audience for Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Macbeth, but next week Kentucky Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus will also open, for which I did the dramaturgical leg work, which is to say providing text coaching for the cast and butchering the script down to a honey-baked ninety minutes. I’ve asked myself fairly often in the last couple of months whether referring to my cutting work on this particular play as “butchering” or any of the other gruesome jokes the story inspires will ever cease to amuse me and the answer thus far seems to be a resounding “No; no, it won’t.”

I teeter between being a let’s-do-the-whole-thing-uncut-at-proper-speed-in-tights-won’t-it-be-glorious purist and an if-Orson-could-put-it-in-a-blender-so-can-I scissorhanded madman. My goal, in latter mode – and I’ve always been given either a required maximum running time or a significantly reduced cast size in these cases – has always been not to break the poor thing’s spine, but to adapt to the circumstances.

For example, when I was hired for Titus, I was told a) ninety minutes and b) modern mafia/Tarantino setting. (It will be performed in a storage warehouse – floor drains! – behind a gay bar in an area of Louisville known as Butchertown*. Writes itself.) So knowing that the space will be that intimate, when I cut for time I can take liberties with some lines like Marcus’s

          Alas, a crimson river of warm blood,

          Like to a rosy fountain stirr’d with wind,

          Doth rise and fall between thy rosèd lips,

          Coming and going with thy honey breath.

That’s lovely, but if something has to go, let it be something describing a visual to the cheap seats, seeing as we’ve eliminated the cheap seats and put everyone up close. They will notice the blood pouring from her mouth and Marcus still has plenty to say about it. In a perfect world I’m able to leave a stage direction to replace what’s been excised. If the beautiful pentameter provides useful info for the way the actor is being told by the text to respond ( “Gee fellas, I’m almost crying” is restated about eighty ways in the Folio) I’m careful about leaving that information in the right place even if the seven lines telling her to almost-cry are gone.

Beyond that, there’s the setting. Titus in this case is not just being played in a 21st century warehouse behind a club; it’s more or less set in one. So instead of shooting mean-spirited message-laden arrows around to make Titus’s feelings about Saturninus known, the same story point is made by visual means. (I won’t say how just yet – you’ll have to see the show if you’re in town.) And in some cases, the Tarantinocity is sold with soundtrack choices that do the job some of the language did before. And lots of blood. Did I mention blood?

The following is both preciously obnoxious and utterly unexaggerated. I have occasional conversations with Will about my choices. I try not to have them aloud for my wife’s sake, but I have them. The Will in my head is not a dainty poet. He’s a playwright whose shameless prime interest is in people liking his show. And if I have to explain to him changes in stagecraft over the last four centuries, so be it.

Me: They can’t just pee against the wall anymore, you know; they have to line up.

Will: Then by all means let’s put a bladder break in here for the sake of their attention.

Me: Great. Now, we’ve reminded them of this bit of info four times now. The people are all facing the stage, there’s a spotlight on the actor, they’ve paid $20 a pop and almost no one in the balcony is soliciting a prostitute. How about we cut two of the reminders?

He almost always understands. Then I have to explain electricity and economics, and it’s this whole thing, and I have to make him go away until I need him again.

(For the record, he looks exactly like Sam Crubish from the Bugs Bunny cartoon “A Witch’s Tangled Hare” (1959) co-starring Witch Hazel, but with darker hair. This, too, is utterly unexaggerated.)

I don’t feel nearly as bad about judicious prunings like this in a script like Titus, which like a few others is primarily a Plot Being Told and not, like say Winter’s Tale, a kind of opera, in that the story can be quickly summarized and much of the point of the evening is vamping about what’s going on in the characters’ emotional innards. Not that the innards aren’t important in Titus. (NEVER GOING TO STOP AMUSING ME.)

That’s your unasked-for glimpse into what I’m thinking when I go about these little enterprises Irving called, as I believe I said on here somewhere before, “arrangements”. Of course, Irving had his Macbeth wig arranged so it would “unfix” as the text demanded (if that’s really the word), and I’m just some over-read Midwestern actor with a blog, so. Grain of salt.

 

 

*and if anyone from Play, the bar in question, is reading this and is interested in an idea I have for a hilarious gender-bent Moliere adaptation to be done on your really splendid and enticing drag stage/runway, contact me. It would be brilliant.