Extra Sensory Perception

How the stage allows us to get inside another person’s experience

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, TheEthel Barrymore Theatre

Alex Sharp in The National Theatre production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in The Night-Time on Broadway at the Barrymore Theatre. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

“You never know someone until you walk a mile in their shoes,” goes the popular adage about trying to be less judgmental and more compassionate. The key to getting in someone else’s shoes is to imagine what his or her experience must be like, to feel what she or he must be feeling. This exercise is known as empathy.

One place that’s crackerjack at making empathy 3-D is the theater.

Since its invention, theater has served as a platform for dramatizing the human experience with all the joys, humor, complications, tragedies, injustices and awkward awakenings of the human heart. The stage also acted as a mirror, reflecting back at society what it refused to see—or, in many cases, was unable to see about itself until other people literally showed humanity what it looked like. The stage is a safe place to say uncomfortable things, to challenge the status quo, to make people laugh at themselves and others, to experiment with how to make abstract concepts concrete and in-the-flesh. Sometimes a play does all of these things while singing and dancing. (We’re looking at you, Book of Mormon.)

With the rise of interest in human psychology at the turn of the 20th century, a new challenge cropped up for playwrights and actors: how to capture the workings of the mind? We know Freud relied on his knowledge of Greek theater to name two of his bigger concepts (Oedipus and Electra complexes) and that psyche is the Greek word for “soul,” from the eponymous goddess. So, drama in real life goes hand-in-hand with the drama of the mind.

However, putting that mental activity on paper in dialogue and stage directions is not so natural. The key rests in the collaborative, team-based nature of manufacturing make believe: on stage and screen, other designers lend their skills to bring the vision of the mental landscape to completion. Set design, lighting, color palettes, sound and choreography become crucial to pulling the lofty, abstract ideas of “torment,” “sensory overload,” “insanity,” or “schizophrenia,” “addiction,” or “depression” into a detailed, concrete picture that audiences can see and understand. These elements help bring audiences to empathy, to the shift in perception that allows us to see into the soul of another—or ourselves.

movie-posters
Some of the best representations of the wacky, disjointed nature of thought occur on film. We’re thinking here of Charlie Kaufman’s body of work (Human Nature, Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) or Chris Nolan (Memento, Inception) or Pixar’s 2015 offering, Inside Out, the animated film where even emotions get emotions.

Theater plays tend to explore psychology not as a setting (like literally finding a portal into John Malkovich’s brain in Kaufman’s delightfully bizarro screenplay) but as character traits or as a theme. Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf scarred several generations with its unflinching examination of alcoholism and head games, and Peter Shaffer’s boy-who-blinds-horses drama, Equus, continued to make audiences squirm even when Harry Potter’s actor played the lead. And let’s quickly nod to Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, a frightful interweaving of psychological cruelty and children’s storytelling, that proved illuminating the deep, dark perversities of the minds of men was alive and well for this 2004 Laurence Olivier award-winner.

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Daniel Radcliffe, Lorenzo Pisoni, and Richard Griffiths in the Broadway revival of Peter Shaffer’s “Equus.” (Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

Back in the day, playwright Arthur Miller wrote in his stage directions to Death of a Salesman that the set should indicate titular salesman Willy Loman’s varying psychological conditions, and Ntozake Shange’s fierce use of dance and poetry to reveal the psychological effects of racism and sexism on black women pushed For colored girls who have considered suicide/When the rainbow is enuf to be nominated for a Tony® award for Best Play in 1977.

Yet theater still experiments with finding ways to do what Kaufman’s and Nolan’s films are able to do—namely, make a character’s mind the landscape of a story. Finding plays or musicals that take place inside a person’s experience of the world to put the audience inside the character’s worldview are few and far between.

Then there’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, TheEthel Barrymore Theatre

Original Broadway Company of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

This play (it’s not a musical), based on Mark Haddon’s novel of the same name, takes theater one step further. Curious Incident follows the events of the main character, Christopher, a boy who has a rather brilliant and extraordinary mind, after a neighbor’s dog is murdered. That mind, however, processes the world unlike most people’s minds. So, how does a production team build a play to spark compassion and empathy for Christopher? It puts the audience in Christopher’s shoes. Or, literally, in Christopher’s sensory experience.

The set itself serves as Christopher’s psychological boundaries. His mind, a grid-based thinking system (as opposed to our floaty, nebulous artists’ minds), becomes the walls of the set, the grid illuminated in different ways throughout the performance. As audience members, we are thrust into Christopher’s perception of the world with its numbers, noises, chaotic choreography, indirect and disorganized language and baffling array of incomprehensible adult reactions to facts. Christopher and his pet rat Toby must solve the murder, and we tag along for the ride, strapped into the observer’s seat in Christopher’s worldview. Often, like Christopher, we find ourselves overwhelmed by the onslaught of movement, sound and unpredictability of every day living.

Frankly, it’s a stunning theatrical achievement. Perhaps, at least in this case, we can say we know Christopher by the end of the show, not because we’ve walked a mile in his shoes, but because we’ve watched two hours from the inside of his mind.

Curious about Curious? Then come see the show.

Leotard, Check. Make-Up Kit, Check. Valve Oil? Check.

The Patel Conservatory Gears Up for Another School Year

There’s no such thing as summer break for the faculty and staff of the Straz Center’s Patel Conservatory. We spend the summer months steeped in a camps, classes, workshops, performances and pre-professional productions like this year’s impressive mounting of an almost full-scale Les Miserables. So, we have just enough time to clean the mirrors and sweep the floors before we welcome our next season’s spate of students when the official school year starts Monday, Aug. 29.

While other school years start with a backpack full of composition notebooks, the Conservatory school year starts with small duffel bags stuffed with leotards, hairpins, dance shoes, make-up kits, music, reeds, valve oil and water bottles. No matter what class you’re taking, everybody needs a reusable water bottle. Our students also need plenty of traditional school supplies: paper for notes, pencils and three-ring binders.

In case any of our incoming students forgot what they’ll need for dance, theater or music class, we asked the tireless faculty to let us publish the must-haves for your first day of school.

So, scan these handy checklists to make sure you’re prepared for another exciting year of friends, rehearsals, creative challenges and unforgettable moments.

 

DANCE

  • Dance bag
  • Appropriate dance attire*
  • Appropriate dance footwear*
  • Personal hairbrush and hair spray (boys and girls)
  • Personal bobby pins, hair net (to match your hair color), hair ties (girls)
  • Performance make-up (refer to handbook for make-up suggestions)
  • Water bottle

*See your specific class information sheet

dance shoe collage

Did you sign up for ballet? Or tap? How about jazz? Maybe Flamenco? There’s a shoe for that.

dance - bobby pins

You can never have too many bobby pins. Ever.

dance - makeup

Our handbook has lots of helpful hair and make-up suggestions to get you show-ready.

 

THEATER AND MUSICAL THEATER

  • Performer bag (small duffel or backpack)
  • Pencil w/eraser
  • Folder or binder for sheet music & script storage
  • Highlighter
  • Scrap paper for notes
  • School appropriate movement/gym clothes
  • Jazz shoes or sneakers
  • Water bottle (healthy snack for classes/rehearsals longer than 2 hrs.)
  • Recording device (phone or tablet)
  • Personal hairbrush/comb & hair ties
  • Make-up kit for productions
theater_highlight 2_crawford long

A highlighter will make marking your script much easier.

theater - movement clothes

Make sure you are dressed ready to move.

theater - make up

Bring your make-up kit for dress rehearsals and performances.

 

MUSIC

  • Black, 3 ring binder (preferably with a matte finish that does not reflect light on stage)
  • Pencils (many!)
  • Water bottle, especially for singers
  • Extra paper for notes
  • Extra reeds for woodwind players
  • Valve oil for brass players
  • Rosin for string players
  • New set of strings
  • Scale and arpeggio sheets
  • Method books
  • Make sure your concert attire is clean and ready to go
Music - binder_crawford long

A black, 3-ring binder keeps all of your sheet music neat and tear-free.

music - Strings, rosin, pencil

Extra strings, rosin and a pencil are very important to have in your string instrument case.

music - method books, scale and arpeggio sheet, practice sheet

The one day you don’t have your book is the one day your teacher will ask you to take it out and use it in class.

For life-long learners in the adult classes, you can find similar information on the Straz Center website.

If the notion of arpeggio sheets, jazz shoes or two hour rehearsals get you as excited as it does us, know that it’s never too late to sign up for Patel Conservatory classes for yourself or your family and friends. View classes and register here.

back cover

 

 

 

Treasure Hunt: The 20-Year Search for the Lost Lines of Tampa’s Cuban Playwrights

Show @ Círculo Cubano copy 2

Show at Circulo Cubano.

In the early 1990’s, a young professor in the Department of Modern Languages at Carnegie Mellon University happened to join a walking tour of Ybor City with renowned local history experts, Dr. Gary Mormino and E.J. Salcines, during a small gathering of peers at the University of South Florida.

The tour concluded in the ornate theater at Centro Asturiano, one of the many Ybor City social clubs and mutual aid societies, a relic of the turn-of-the-century heyday of Ybor as a cigar boomtown. As Dr. Mormino launched into his explanation of the Spanish history of the club, E.J. Salcines leaned to the ear of the young professor.

JoyceBabyCermeño+EmilianoElChavalSalcinesP.P.T_1 copy

Joyce Baby Cermeño and Emiliano El Chaval Salcines.

“I grew up in this theater,” he whispered, voice full of nostalgia and mischief. “This was our life.” Under the script of the formal lecture, E.J. Salcines, sotto voce, wove an enchanting picture of growing up in the rich culture of Ybor City, an anomaly in the American South—a thriving, interdependent, multi-immigrant society devoid of racial violence despite the ethic discrimination of the times. He shared colorful anecdotes of music and theater, of seeing Placido Domingo’s parents perform on the very stage of Centro Asturiano.

The young professor, Dr. Kenya Dworkin, whose dissertation concerned the Cuban identity between colonial rule to the first republic, fell under the spell.

“The idea that the Cubans here were continuing the tradition of Cuban-style theater from the island, adapting it and presenting it to the local community fascinated me,” says Dworkin. “But I knew nothing about it.”

CastofItCan'tHappenHereRehearsal copy (1937)

Cast of It Can’t Happen Here rehearsing in 1937.

She returned to Pittsburgh with a new intellectual curiosity on fire: given the importance the Ybor City cigar workers played in Cuban independence, what about Cuban theater of Tampa? The cigar workers organized that, too. What were the plays like? Who was writing them? What did they say about the people, the times?

She needed artifacts, evidence.

Surely, somewhere, someone had a stockpile of manuscripts from this creative outpouring of Cubans in Tampa.

She searched. She found nothing.

Then, Dworkin stumbled upon one other scholar—just one, out of the entire United States—who cared enough to peep into the cultural history of Ybor City, one of the most fascinating social experiments of the American 19th century.

Dr. Nicolás Kanellos, Brown Foundation Professor for Hispanic Studies at the University of Houston, was directing a major national research project: Recovering the U.S. Hispanic Heritage of the United States. He had one reference in his book.

Martí-Maceo Theater Circular 1940 copy

Martí-Maceo Theater circular, 1940.

Dworkin eventually learned through E.J. Salcines that the New Deal Works Project Administration funded one Spanish-speaking theater company through the Federal Theater Project, and that company came from Cubans and Spaniards in Tampa/Ybor City and performed at Centro Asturiano.

“Then I discovered from looking into this group that at the Library of Congress there was a small collection called the Fernando Mesa Collection. In the Mesa collection, I found several photographs and paraphernalia. Mesa was a Tampa native and very involved. He had a collection, so I thought he was dead,” says Dworkin.

Manuel Aparicio copy

The Centro Asturiano made history in 1936 when the WPA Federal Theater Project opened to the public under Manuel Aparicio, noted actor and director.

On summer break from the university, Dworkin traveled to Tampa on the trail of the missing manuscripts and in search of anyone who could fill in the gaping holes on the subject. She remembered visiting the offices of La Gaceta, the oldest family-owned, minority-owned newspaper in the country, on her tour with Gary Mormino, so she stopped in. Unannounced.

“The editor ended up being very charming, but at the time he gave me that ‘go away little girl, you’re bothering me’ attitude. Put his feet up on the desk. I thought, oh my gosh, this isn’t going to go anywhere,” says Dworkin. “Then I mentioned I was in Washington at the Fernando Mesa collection. All the sudden his eyes opened, he put his feet down, and calls out to his secretary, says ‘Call Fernando Mesa, someone wants to talk to him.’ So—to my shock—Fernando Mesa was alive.”

Dworkin’s sincere fascination on the subject of their plays and theater works led Mesa and Salcines to trust her enough to let her into the real world of Tampa’s Cubans. She was allowed into the men-only cantina at Centro Asturiano to hear the tales of Ybor’s golden age of cigar workers and their social contributions as actors, singers, dancer and playwrights.

Salvador Toledo & Chela Martínez 1948_1_1 copy

She found herself the lone female in the Saturday Cuban/Spanish coffee klatch and the Sunday Sicilian coffee klatch. “I was one of the boys,” she says, “and in time they would say anything in front of me.” Eventually, she met the wiliest rooster of them all, the local legend Salvador Toledo, who was the most prolific of all the Ybor cigar worker playwrights and a great comic actor. After coming around for years and immersing herself in the community, Dworkin found herself with a proposition to become a permanent part of the family. Toledo, at 88 years old and a widower, offered her a marriage proposal, which she respectfully declined.

SalvadorToledo+HisFumas copy

Salvador Toledo and his fumas.

“I felt more at home there [in Tampa] than anywhere on earth except maybe New York. I fell in love with the people who were resilient. Inspirational. By the time I started hanging out at the cantina, I was already obsessed. I was truly fascinated by their stories, and no one had paid attention to them except Nicolás.”

From 1995-2008, Dworkin gathered evidence. She collected hours and hours of video and audio interviews, photos, whatever she could get her hands on. In an unmarked folder at USF, Dworkin finally discovered what she’d been after: manuscripts of the plays. Despite what she knew after the hours of interviews—that there had to have been hundreds and hundreds of plays—the folder contained a mere seven scripts. “It was a disappointing yield,” she says.

Familia Tinguillo1947 copy

A page from the script of Familia Tinguillo, 1947.

During the years, Dworkin found other plays tucked away in suitcases or stashed as afterthoughts in homes in West Tampa and Ybor. Her book took shape, the names of people and their creative contributions to the soul of their American life inked into the pages of history.  But where were the rest of the manuscripts?

Dworkin’s big break came when word arrived that a trove of artifacts from the Cubans was in the Circulo Cubano, the Cubans’ mutual aid society and social club. But before she could mine the archives, another scholar intercepted the works, retained them at his house and withheld access to certain people working on Cuban identity—especially in regards to race and class. Dworkin and her book, stymied by professional rivalries, sat idle for 10 long years.

1942-cuban-club-show(Robertson&Fresh)www.floridahist ory.orgeventscuban-club-theater copy

The audience at a show in the Circulo Cubano (Cuban Club), 1942.

Patience proved her virtue. The professor eventually bequeathed the stash of Cuban cultural artifacts to USF’s Special Collections. Finally, Dworkin was able to see what he’d been hiding. “I found out he’d turned in the theater material to USF,” she says. “I was in Tampa last August and September [2015], and that’s when I found the major stash. But, I’ve been unable to finish my book for 20 years.”

Dworkin found 47 physical plays in the USF stash which she says “is very incomplete” due to the appearance of a register book listing an additional 81 plays by Tampa Cuban playwrights. The sheer volume of their work—mostly slapstick comedies mixed with social commentary, explorations of their new American identities, racism and their perspectives of salient issues like the atomic bomb and the plight of black Cubans in Havana—speaks to the surfeit of Cuban creativity in Tampa and the cultural need to express and share in their artistic talents.

“At the time, there was no art person to archive what they were doing. They didn’t see the value the way I do, looking from a historical perspective. The plays were lowbrow, farce . . . something ‘the workers’ did. The performances were ephemeral, many scripts were handwritten. Making plays was part of their everyday life. Little did they know how valuable it would be later,” she says.

Un blackout en Ybor City pg-1

First pages of the script of Un blackout en Ybor City.

Un blackout en Ybor City pg-2.jpg

First pages of the script of Un blackout en Ybor City.

 

But the value, in time, rose to the surface. Years ago, Dworkin came to Tampa to give an intimate talk at USF about her research, to read letters penned by Tampa Cuban and Spanish actors to Roosevelt to not disband the Federal Theater Project. She pulled her favorite letter from the bunch and read it. From the silent crowd, a man stood and said, “That was me. I wrote that letter.”

“I have to honor their memory,” Dworkin says. “What they did here is a tremendous value as a window into a community. They lived a curriculum of culture, supported all the other social clubs and their art. They want to be acknowledged for what they did and for the value of the role of theater in this community.”

Dr. Dworkin’s book, tentatively titled Before Latino: How Cuban Theater in Tampa Shaped an American Immigrant Society, will be the first of its kind to document the excitement and value of the performing arts to our Cuban community of Ybor City.

Kenya C. Dworkin

Dr. Kenya Dworkin

 

If you have artifacts to share with her—programs, photos, manuscripts, anything—or if you are interested in having her tell more stories of her adventures with the colorful characters of Ybor City with your group or organization, please contact Dr. Dworkin at kdworkin@andrew.cmu.edu.

 

Art as a Survival Tool Series: V

Speak and Be Known

The theater as a place of personal and social power

Stella adler quote

This blog is the last in a series of five on Art as a Survival Tool, blogs that examine the crucial role art plays in the fulfillment of the human experience.

When pernicious ideas overtake the rules of man, performing arts emerge as an antidote to social ills. Theater, in particular, acts as the literal stage for protesting inequalities, persecution, cruelty, and all manner of governmental power trips from tyranny (Caryl Churchill’s The Mad Forest) to illogical unreasonableness (The Capitol Steps).

The Capitol Steps began as a group of Senate staffers who set out to satirize the very people and places that employed them.

The Capitol Steps began as a group of Senate staffers who set out to satirize the very people and places that employed them.

Theater, as a survival tool, serves as a knife, rope and matches: in any circumstance, theater preserves culture, giving people hope and shelter when all feels lost. In some historic instances, theater allows the voice of the people to survive under censorship, brutality and strange disappearances of significant people (Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman). Theater also allows us to say what can’t be said or talk about difficult subjects. From Greek anti-war works like Lysistrata, operas such as Madame Butterfly that subvert the colonial appropriation of the East by the West to Tony Kushner’s AIDS opus Angels in America, theater history teems with passionate works speaking up and speaking out for people and cultures under the threat (or in the process) of being overpowered.

angels in america

Tony Kushner received the Pulitzer  Prize for Drama in 1993 for his play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes.

Amiri Baraka was pivotal force for understanding racism in America.

Writer, poet and music critic Amiri Baraka was pivotal force for understanding racism in America.

One such group making the rounds in America recently is Belarus Free Theatre, an underground group resisting the country’s authoritarian regime under Alexander Lukashenka. Subject to raids, imprisonment, expatriation and beatings in Belarus, the troupe members and audiences who come to see their clandestine performances in such spaces as private apartments and woods persist despite these political and police threats. Their defiance of state-controlled art and subject matter to continue to talk about social issues in Belarus won international support, inspiring documentary filmmaker Madeline Sackler to create Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus. The troupe performed their latest work Trash Cuisine in New York this summer, raising awareness about their philosophy of theater being a crucial voice in the cross-talk of society

Despite the growing social reliance on screen technology, theater continues to enervate the human condition precisely because it is immediate, it is in-your-face. There is something undeniably effective in being with living, breathing human beings enacting, feeling and speaking to some piercing truth of the human condition, especially when we ourselves may lack the ability to express it. This way, we can speak and be known—even when it is another speaking for us.

Gender Bender

By David Jenkins, guest blogger

Roxanne Fay (Feste) and Maggie Mularz (Viola, as Cesario) in a rehearsal for Jobsite Theater's production of Twelfth Night. Photo by Crawford Long.

Roxanne Fay (Feste) and Maggie Mularz (Viola, as Cesario) in a rehearsal for Jobsite Theater’s production of Twelfth Night. Photo by Crawford Long.

Part of life in the performing arts includes the many international scholars who study theater, music and dance, writing on these topics and delving into impressive intellectual inquiry into the art forms and why they matter. One area of interest naturally includes the examination of sexuality and gender identity in many famous plays. In fact, one of the most well-known playwrights to consistently incorporate switched gender roles was William Shakespeare, particularly in his comedies. Jobsite Theater, our resident theater company, opened Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night this week, which includes the character Viola, a woman-pretending-to-be-a-man-who-is-in-love-with-a-man-while-a-woman-who-believes-she-is-a-man-loves-her. Typical Shakespeare! To discuss the context of these gender switcheroos, Caught in the Act enlisted the help of David Jenkins, Jobsite’s Artistic Director and PhD candidate in Communication, specializing in performance studies.

When originally staged, Twelfth Night might have been more believable to a general audience than it is today in terms of all the characters on stage believing that female Viola was male Cesario, the young man she pretends to be. In Shakespeare’s day, women were not allowed on stage, so those famous female roles, from Juliet to Lady Macbeth, would have been played by boys.

So, follow me here: we would have had a boy actor playing a woman who was pretending to be a young man. Not too hard to buy, right?

But, we might also take this circumstance a step further in terms of gender confusion in that the male actor playing Orsino, the object of Viola’s affection, is in love with Olivia, who would have been played by a boy, and the boy-acting-like-the-girl-pretending-to-be-the-boy in Viola. Then we have a boy playing Olivia who is also in love with boy/girl/boy Viola.

Whew.

Katrina Stevenson (Olivia) and Maggie Mularz (Viola, as Cesario) in a rehearsal for Jobsite Theater's production of Twelfth Night. Photo by Crawford Long.

Katrina Stevenson as Olivia and Maggie Mularz as Viola, a woman-pretending-to-be-a-man-who-is-in-love-with-a-man-while-a-woman-who-believes-she-is-a-man-loves-her, in Jobsite Theater’s production of Twelfth Night. Photo by Crawford Long.

Twelfth Night becomes a fascinating site of study when we consider both the fluidity of gender as a social construction and the continuum of human sexuality.

I should offer a few definitions so we’re on the same page:

Sex refers to the parts a person is born with and though most people are born with male or female genitals around 10% of the human population is somewhere between these poles, not to mention those who surgically alter themselves, and so we should view biological sex not in terms of two or even three positions but as a whole continuum (Fausto-Sterling 2000).

Gender is social construction, something we (individuals and/or society) place on a body. Judith Butler (1988) offers that gender is “a stylized repetition of acts through time” making it a performance unto itself. Simone de Beauvoir is often quoted as saying that one is not born but rather becomes a woman. Gender has historically been used as a way to set the norms of behavior for men and women in any moment in time as a method of social control.

Sexuality then refers to whom any of us are attracted to. These three concepts are mutually exclusive of one another. Gayle Rubin (1984) argues that we must separate them when we discuss human behavior to gain a better understanding of ourselves.

Roxanne Fay plays the role of Feste, a man, in Jobsite Theater's production of Twelfth Night. Photo by Crawford Long.

Roxanne Fay plays the role of Feste, a man, in Jobsite Theater’s production of Twelfth Night. Photo by Crawford Long.

Drawing these definitions back to Twelfth Night, we can see how the confusion in terms of who is actually what and who is really into whom might provoke thought and discussion among audience members. What is “normal” for a man or woman, what really defines masculine or feminine, what do these designations even mean and who do they serve? Can we control how or why we fall in love with another, and what is it that drives us to even love at all?

Shakespeare in performance has the opportunity to reinforce gender roles, as we can do with Lady Macbeth’s femme fatale machinations to the virginal and helpless Ophelia who Hamlet casts aside. But, in a case like Twelfth Night, it can challenge and subvert those same roles. I try to avoid what Penny Gay (1993) calls “radical chic” in making choices on stage that are done just in the name of being non-traditional (“Oooh, let’s do Troilus and Cressida dressed as panda bears!”), but, in our production, I’ve cast the part of Olivia’s fool Feste as a woman dressed as a man. I purposefully left all references to Feste as “he,” “him,” and “sir” specifically to the end of creating an ambiguous space that destabilizes what terms like man or woman really even mean. It has also given us a really interesting moment to play on stage as Feste, at one point, is able to show the audience (and Viola) that s/he sees through “Cesario’s” disguise. That moment is not set in Shakespeare’s text, but is possible for us to communicate through the actors’ delivery and interaction.

Chris Holcom as Orsino and and Maggie Mularz (Viola, as Cesario). Photo by Crawford Long.

Chris Holcom (Orsino, the object of Viola’s affection) and Maggie Mularz (Viola, as Cesario). Photo by Crawford Long.

When presented with two options: male or female, gay or straight, masculine or feminine, we cannot but help uphold that very binary which always privileges one term over the other. In fact “male” is only truly defined by what it is not: “female.” We can similarly apply that to any binary: the one thing only has meaning in that it is not the other. When we begin to look for those third terms such as androgynous, bisexual, intersex we disrupt binary and place things in continuum which is necessarily ambiguous terrain. Kenneth Burke (1945) notes that in this ambiguous territory, true transformation takes place. And, yes, it’s also what often freaks people out about someone who defies categorization or passes as one thing when they are in fact another. It freaks us out because in that moment we’re forced to reckon with what we think we know.

Judith Butler (2004) observed we need to resist the urge to resolve those tensions that create these kinds of spaces. I’ve tried to do that with Twelfth Night. Perhaps people will get it, and if they don’t, to be perfectly honest, it won’t get in the way of them simply enjoying themselves in the theater for a few hours with a first-rate performance.

As a director, I believe what we do on stage is part of a conversation, a dialogue, even if the audience doesn’t always speak back. It’s an exchange: as artists we get immediate feedback from what we’re offering them which can come in the shape of anything from laughter and sighs to bored shuffling of feet and people uncomfortably leaving the theater. In my belief that ambiguous spaces can often be transformative, I try to “resist conclusions” as Dwight Conquergood (1985) says so that the conversations can continue among people or even just in the individual mind as people go back to their lives outside of the Shimberg Playhouse.

In other words, I don’t need to put a pretty bow on the end all the time. Let the work speak for itself and let people think.

When presented with questions by students (even audiences or critics) as to why Shakespeare matters, Twelfth Night’s tensions about gender, sexuality, and our ability and urge to love is one of the first things I point to. We still struggle with these concepts. I can point to teenagers committing suicide over not being understood, people of all ages facing violence over how they choose to live their life, even our own state and local governments fighting the people over who gets to count when it comes to marriage.

— David M. Jenkins is the Producing Artistic Director of Jobsite Theater. He is a doctoral candidate and teaching associate in the Department of Communication at the University of South Florida, where he also teaches as an instructor in the Department of Theater.

Find this stuff interesting? You might like these books:

As She Likes It: Shakespeare’s Unruly Women, Penny Gay

Upstaging Big Daddy: Directing Theater as if Gender and Race Matter, Ellen Donkin and Susan Clement

Theatre and Sexuality, Jill Dolan

The History of Sexuality pt. I, Michel Foucault

Undoing Gender, Judith Butler

Sexing the Body, Anne Fausto-Sterling

 

Works referenced:

Burke, K. (1945). A Grammar of Motives. London, University of California Press.

Cima, G. G. (1993). Strategies for Subverting the Canon. Upstaging Big Daddy: directing theater as if gender and race matter. E. Donkin and S. Clement. Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Press: 91-105.

Conquergood, D. (1985). “Performing as a Moral Act: Ethical Dimensions of the Ethnography of Performance.” Literature in Performance 5: 1-13.

Fausto-Sterling, A. (2000). Sexing the Body. New York, NY, Basic Books.

Rubin, G. (1984). Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality. PLEASURE and DANGER: exploring female sexuality. C. S. Vance. London, Pandora.

How It Works: Rodgers+Hammerstein’s Cinderella

Big, blockbuster Broadway musicals come with singers, dancers, fabulous costumes … and many trucks. How do those whopping set pieces end up on Carol Morsani stage? The answer is lots of (literal) manpower. We took some after-hours and behind-the-scenes photographs of the “load-in,” which is the usually very quick turn-around time between when the show trucks arrive to when the curtain rises on the opening performance. Here is a look at the shape a Broadway musical is in when it gets to town.

Two trucks arrive at the Straz Center on the first day of load-in for Cinderella.

Two trucks arrive at the Straz Center on the first day of load-in for Cinderella.

The view from the back of the trucks in the loading dock, and onto Carol Morsani stage. The loading dock at the Straz Center is truck-level and stage-level. This allows for easier load-in and load-out of shows.

The view from the back of the trucks in the loading dock, and onto Carol Morsani stage. The loading dock at the Straz Center is truck-level and stage-level. This allows for easier load-in and load-out of shows.

Preparing the stage lights on day one of load-in for Cinderella.

Preparing the stage lights during day one of load-in.

More trucks arrive for day two of load-in for Cinderella.

More trucks arrive for day two of load-in for Cinderella.

Looking into the trucks parked in the loading dock.

Looking into the trucks parked in the loading dock.

The horses arrive in one of the trucks on day two of load-in.

The horses arrive in one of the trucks on day two of load-in.

Close-up of the horses.

Close-up of the horses.

I spy a pumpkin hiding in a pile of props!

I spy a pumpkin hiding in a pile of props!

Putting set pieces and props together for Cinderella.

Putting set pieces and props together for Cinderella.

More Cinderella stuff off the trucks!

More Cinderella stuff off the trucks!

A vegetable cart for the tour of Cinderella.

A vegetable cart for the tour of Cinderella.

Set pieces and props for the tour of Cinderella.

Set pieces and props for the tour of Cinderella.

A look into the orchestra pit on day two of load-in for Cinderella.

A look into the orchestra pit on day two of load-in for Cinderella.

Setting up more scenery for Cinderella on day two of load-in.

Setting up the scenery for Cinderella on day two of load-in.

Dixie’s Dream Tupperware Party

Dixie Longate of Dixe's Tupperware Party.

Dixie Longate, guest blogger.

This week “Caught in the Act” was commandeered by the saucy, red-headed Tupperware wonder Dixie Longate whose show, Dixie’s Tupperware Party, opens in the Jaeb Theater October 15.

I was looking at the Straz Center’s site to see my pretty picture rotate on the screen between other amazing shows and I saw there was a blog on here. I remember my daughter, Wynona, telling me that blogging is the thing that everyone is doing, so I figured I would take this one over for a second and scribble down something. But what should I write about?

Then it hit me like a family-sized vacation pack of Pop Tarts. I am hoping that loads of people attend my Tupperware Party this week, but who would I be all tingly down in my no-no place to see walk in for the party and join y’all?

I would love to have people like Brad and Angelina there because they have so many mouths to feed and would probably buy a ton of Tupperware. And The Rock because I want to see if his big hands can open some of our tiny bowls. George Clooney because he is George Clooney. And Sandra Bullock because I know she is friends with George Clooney and if she comes, he is much more likely to show up. And Steve Martin because he just makes me giggle, and I’m sure he would show me things about Tupperware that I didn’t even know. And definitely Tatiana Maslany who plays all those different clones on Orphan Black because even if she is the only person who came, it would be a full party. And maybe Diana Ross if she isn’t busy because I want to see how she gets her hair through a doorway.

And there wouldn’t be a Tupperware Party if Brownie Wise wasn’t there. She created the Tupperware Party in the first place, so there is no dang doubt that I would want her to be there with me. Nothing would make me happier than to see her sitting at the party seeing how far the fantastic plastic crap has grown.

I would serve them all cocktails and talk about the sheer amazingness of the different items that would make their lives easier. Of course the wine bottle opener would be in the hands of every single guest within the first 10 minutes. I have never seen a corkscrew open a bottle of wine this daily and this quickly. No wonder I have one in the glove box for emergency traffic jams when I am just sitting there in bumper to bumper traffic and feeling parched. I reach into the back seat into my stash of wine and grab me a bottle, whip out my corkscrew and grab the bottle between my thighs. A couple of quick turns on the corkscrew and that bottle is opened and being enjoyed before you can say “cottage cheese jello mold.”  Who’s excited? Every damn person at my party, that’s who. They will all be sitting there with their mouths opened when they experience the fantasticalness of that cork popping out of that wine bottle.

I would show them the rest of my stash and then eagerly swap stories between nibbles of chips from one of my Party bowls. I would ask them all kinds of questions about their amazing and glamorous lives, but let’s all be honest here, they aren’t going to want to talk about themselves at all when they get this close to Tupperware. I mean, who would, really? Once you see it, it really changes your life. True story!

I can’t wait to see y’all at the party and see who you might be sitting next to. If it looks like you are sitting by 518 pounds of hair, it’s Diana Ross.

– Dixie, Your Tupperware Lady