Afternoon, all you fine folk! Allie Dawson again, reporting live from the Blue Ridge Room at the stonewall Jackson for the Colloquy Session V: Theory and Originial Practice. Our chair is Casey Caldwell of Northwestern University, with Paul Menzer (Mary Baldwin University), Matthew Kozusko (Ursinus college), Will West (Northwestern University), Stephanie Shirilan (Syracuse University), and Emily Coyle (Graduate student at New Brunswick University) as presenters. The session runs from 2:30 to 3:50 pm.
Dr. Caldwell begins, telling us that theory and Original Practice is a perennial standing discussion in this conference. The term can be thought of in a more literal sense, or in the way it is used in the professional world today. This year, the presenters decided to first read two theoretical texts. The only sort of mission statement for these texts was to engage with them in some way within the realm of original practices. One could use the theory to think practically, or use it to critique contemporary Original Practices. Each presenter will give a summary as to how they each engaged with Original Practices. Afterwards, Caldwell will start us off with a discussion with the presenters, and then draw the auditors into the discussion.
The presenters give some comments as to how their papers interacted with the readings, with The Politics of the Aesthetics by Jacques Ranciere as the most commented upon. Dr. Menzer used Ranciere's figures of emancipation to think about particular anecdotes regarding the credulous audiences who interrupt performances because they are somehow caught up in the performance, and the way these anecdotes speak to the stupefied audience. What, he asks, are these anecdotes actually about when they posit the idea of audience so stupid they believe what is happening? In Kozusko's paper, he mentions how Ranciere made sense of whether we have any obligation as scholars and pedagogues to police the readings of Shakespeare, in the context of rehabilitative programs.
For Coyle, Ranciere's distinctions made more sense of Troilus and Cressida, since the character's and audience's awareness of the characters origins in Chaucer and Homer hangs over the entire play. What interested West is that neither of the authors read cared much about Elizabethan theater, since neither account for changes in states of affairs. Since change is "invisible" to them, they think nothing of Elizabethan theatre, understanding only an ideal version of ancient theatre and more modernist forms.
Caldwell then, by way of clarification, reads a passage of Ranicere: boiled down, Ranciere's point is that the spectator should be emancipated from the critiques to which he is subjected. The spectator not detached from spectacle, spectatorship, rather, is an active thing. To makes sense of this, Ranciere has recourse to pedagogical experience. Making an extended comparison between the "ignorant schoolmaster" and the "ignoramus", Ranciere says, in a sense, it's good to be an "ignoramus": everyone walks in capable of interpreting and learning things.
The OED, Caldwell continues, provides two sense of “ignoramus”: as a legal term, it means either we do not know, or we take no notice. “We” is embedded in the Latin roots, and the first meaning connects directly into idea of emancipated spectator. The second sense speaks to the fantasy that the audience will always pay attention to every word. He asks, how is that term at play in the presenter’s papers?
West expresses his admiration of Kozusko's paper, which focused on the often predictable narrative surrounding the theatrical experiences of prisoners finding redemption through the reading of Shakespeare. In Menzer’s account, it seems the knowledge you come to as a prisoner is a different kind of knowledge than a director showing you something in Shakespeare. Kozusko says the prescribed experience requires the prisoner does get the reading right. He illustrates this with an example: a prisoner saw in Macbeth’s own justification for the murder of Duncan the thought process that led him to join a gang. Kozusko believes the fiction is the need for the narrative to get the interpretation "right".
West, in response to K’s question, says, as regards reading Shakespeare, everyone seems to be pursuing their own truth. A scholar may come to the prisoner, and while the prisoner’s reading may not be ‘right' from a textual standpoint, it’s a beautiful and true reading in facilitating his redemption. Which of these, R asks, would we say are not a good reading?
Colye adds that there are several layers: it seems to her the emphasis in Kozusko’s paper is the purpose of this narrative. It seems the obstacle less so about the prisoners themselves, that what we are doing as spectators of the prisoners. Do we have an elevated consciousness of what goes on in prison? Will we do anything to solve the problem inherent in the justice system? Shirilan asks the presenters to talk more about what emancipation looks like, specifically what is emancipating about Ranciere.
West suggests there is something not wholly satisfying in a model suggesting there are only two models of a spectator, who are emancipated or not. Instead, emancipation comes in different conditions. Rancier suggests spectators are emancipated already, though without realizing it. Something like Brecht would be needed to make them know. What West would look for is a spectator who needs not fall into such neat categories.
Menzer then gives his take, thinking about the difference between a stupid and a stupefied audience. He recalls experiences where his senses were so absorbed in the theatrical event it deprived him, momentarily, of words, but many early modern theatrical anecdotes want to think of the stupid audience, who credulously attempt to intervene in the unfolding spectacle, which is somewhat disingenuous. Coyle says she’s attracted to the idea of the collective spectators, and feels we need to accept the ignorance at the center of all these plays, that it's impossible to know or care about these characters, since they are not yet subjects.
West says the idea he hangs onto is that redistribution, of the words on the page and the bodies on the stage, may be where emancipation lies. the things you do when going to the play change the way you go the play. He admits he is uncertain whether this is really deep or really obvious. Still, he continues that you attend a play to either explore a set of conditions which will broaden your mind or spirit, rather then have knowledge slapped on them
Now the floor is open for questions. An auditor mentions how, in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, he heard a man audibly protest Shylock's forced conversion in Merchant of Venice. While that man may not believed it was actually happening, he did believe what was represented.
Menzer says a major part of Ranciere's piece concerns passivity in reaction, but he contends there are all sorts of ways to be an active member of the audience without intervening in the onstage action. The reaction, as with the man at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, might be towards the story, illustrating a different kind of emancipation than historical or artistic. Caldwell clarifies that Ranciere is more interested in the moment when, for instance, graduate students overcome the idea of needing to read everything before writing that chapter or that paper. Ranciere says all learning really starts is when you start with what you have, and then make a decision. That is the kind of activity of the spectator that interests him. One can see Hamlet, taking things from it and extending those things to one's real experience, without necessarily being educated.
An auditor then expresses his appreciation of Menzer’s distinction between stupid and stupefaction. The latter, he says, represents some kind of defamiliarization. You are moved so much, you don’t cognitively figure out what the experience means till afterwards. West explains such a moment is a realization that you may never be in possession of this knowledge. Shirilan mentions the important thing here is ecstasy, ex stasis, or, the transport of the sense and imagination.
Moving to Original Practices proper, another auditor says she thinks about the way Original Practice which allows us to reconstruct how the plays were received by the original audience—the unmediated sense-scape, and what it means to be audience in that kind of environment. It shows the value of OP, and how it emancipates the audience
West, in response, discusses the OP that imagines unlocking the secrets of Shakespeare's heart, and the more experimental kind that plays with early modern theatre practices as a means of exploring his plays, adding that he thinks the latter is probably more emancipatory.
The question is, what should audiences be ignorant about? In response, Caldwell says it a question we should ahve thought about the whole time, and one good to continue thinking about. With that, the session concludes.