In odd numbered years since the first October that the Blackfriars Playhouse was open, scholars from around the world have gathered in Staunton, during the height of the Shenandoah Valley’s famed fall colors, to hear lectures, see plays, and learn about early modern theatre. In 2019, the American Shakespeare Center’s Education and Research Department will once again host Shakespeareans, scholars and practitioners alike, to explore Shakespeare in the study and Shakespeare on the stage and to find ways that these two worlds – sometimes in collision – can collaborate. Past conferences have included such notable scholars as Andrew Gurr, the “godfather” of the Blackfriars Playhouse, Bill Rauch, Russ McDonald, Gary Taylor, Stephen Greenblatt, Roz Knutson, Tina Packer, Scott Kaiser, Stephen Booth, George T. Wright, and many more in five days full of activities. Each year we also honor a scholar who has made great impacts in the theatre field: previous honorees have included C. Walter Hodges (2005), Alan Dessen (2007), Andrew Gurr (2009), Stephen Booth (2011), George Walton Williams (2013), Barbara Mowat (2015), and Richard Hay (2017).
This conference distinguishes itself from saner conferences in a variety of other ways. First, to model the kind of collaboration we think possible, we encourage presenters to feature actors as partners in the demonstration of their theses. For instance, in 2009, Gary Taylor’s keynote presentation “Lyrical Middleton” featured ASC actors singing and dancing to the songs in Middleton’s plays; in 2015, Tina Packer and James Loehlin worked with ASC actors on scenes from Antony and Cleopatra with Blackfriars Conference participants witnessing rehearsal room challenges. Second, we limit each paper session to six short papers (10 minutes for solo presentations, 13 minutes for presentations with actors). Third, we enforce this rule by ursine fiat – a bear chases from the stage those speakers who go over their allotted time.
One to four short paper sessions are held daily during the conference, with approximately four to six papers each. Each session lasts 60 to 75 minutes. Each day of the conference will also include round table discussions, chaired by MBU faculty or ASC research staff, with up to 10 participants discussing specific areas of interest, which could include cross gendered casting, race, staging disability, new media tools and the interaction with performance, original practice/staging, and rhetoric. Early risers can also take advantage of our one hour Wake Up workshops prior to the start of the day offered by the education staff.