What follows is a rambly, diary sort of reflection on the process of preparing, putting together, and someday realizing my dream of a “read not dead” project. I blogged on this before, and some stuff is a recap (sorry, I do tend to repeat myself), but enjoy! (Now go read a non-Shakespeare early modern play, darn it.)
I’ve been asked several times why I don’t teach, and my reply is that I just don’t have the gift of patience teaching in a classroom requires. I am consistently in awe of my teacher friends and how they keep their cool with difficult students and in impossible situations. (So much respect for them!) On the other hand, if you asked me what I’d do in a perfect world, I’d tell you that I’d be working with a theatre company, doing a little dramaturgy and leading talk-backs and curtain discussions. I suppose, then, I do want to teach, but not in a classroom.
Fast forward a year or so after finishing my MA. I decided that rather than be frustrated by the fact that I’m not a dramaturg leading discussions after Shakespeare plays, I’d take a lesson from my old friend Dr. Frank N. Furter and quit dreaming it. I’d be it. I’d put together a casual reading of an early modern play and hold a discussion afterward. Since I’m a perpetual student, after graduating I’d enrolled back at my university as a non-degree seeking student (I get to keep my library rights, so bonus), and I decided I’d contact the school and see if there was any interest in my idea.
I emailed a couple of my former literature professors, as well as the prof that led an online theatre appreciation class I’d recently taken. To my surprise (and relief) they all loved the idea and suggested other professors I might contact. Each professor I spoke with was encouraging and supportive. One theatre professor told me he’d been waiting for someone to suggest this very thing! One of my former literature profs gave me a great idea for the play to use: Lyly’s Galatea. I agreed that yes, Galatea was the one! If you’re not familiar with it, it has everything: cross-dressing, questions of fate/fortune, concepts of sexuality, gender, and relationships, gods, goddesses, and nymphs…and a sea monster. With the play selected, I could get to work. If nothing else, I’d have a better appreciation of a play that had a huge influence on my buddy Will Shakespeare.
What I envisioned for this project was, as I said, a very casual, laid-back reading of the play. I went to a new plays festival to see how they handled their readings; they had music stands at the front for their scripts, and each came forward to read their part. That didn’t appeal to me, and since I hoped to have non-drama majors attend, I didn’t want the reading to be on stage. Sitting around a table in a classroom seemed boring, so I got the idea of sitting on the grass on the lawn in front of our library. Passers-by could stop and listen and join in the discussion afterward. It was different, no pressure, and I hoped it would sound inviting to all kinds of students. I wanted to include everyone who wanted to participate; if we had math majors, awesome! Biology, great! These students would bring an entirely different insight to the play, and their input could lead to some exciting and intriguing discussion.
I had a copy of the Revel series Galatea / Midas, and I downloaded another copy of the play from the Folger EMED site, but I began to wonder if the play was too long for a reading and discussion after. Early modern play lovers (like me) would be in heaven, but for anyone else, it might be deal-breaker. During a discussion with a former professor/mentor of mine who is now a dear friend and colleague (now that I’ve styled myself an independent scholar, I can say that!), she made a remark that has stuck with me, and I am forever grateful. “Cut the play, cut characters, cut whole scenes or acts if you want. This is your project! You’re the artistic director, you’re the director of the play, make it yours!” WOW. I’m an artistic director. WOW. I still like the sound of that. (And thank you again, if you’re reading this. You know who you are.)
Reader, I did just that! Galatea has a subplot of rustics, and I cut the heck out of poor Rafe and his fellow clowns — right out of the play. That brought the length down to about an hour and a half, and also made the story focus more clearly on Galatea, Phillida, and their relationship. I also cut the prologue and epilogue; I felt at liberty to do that because not only is their purpose patronage and getting the play extended for another performance or two, they aren’t always written by the author. Again, this keeps the focus on Lyly and his text. After these cuts, I read through the play and began a more specific edit based on the Revel edition. I glossed some of the more unusual early modern words and phrases, relying on the Revel when necessary. After that, I read through again and tweaked the punctuation a bit. This was based on my own experience of reading the play and consisted of changes I felt would help non-early modernists with the often-weighty syntax.
With the script finished, I set to work on finding some good background info on John Lyly (I picked this from the Globe website: https://blog.shakespearesglobe.com/post/163633720708/who-was-john-lyly-this-august-sees-two-plays-by) and a short summary of the play. I didn’t want to get too in depth about the play, because I wanted ideas and discussion to grow organically from the experience of reading. I made up a flyer that was eye-catching and meant to suggest that this reading was meant to be interesting and fun, not just a sit-in-your-chair-and-learn kind of thing. I also wrote up some short character descriptions for the organizational meeting so attendees can think about who they’d like to play. The organizational meeting will allow me to judge participation and see if doubling (or tripling!) might be necessary; I will then assign parts and hand out scripts. I plan to give participants the option of picking their character, and after those who are interested in a specific character are happy, the rest can be assigned at random. The character descriptions are light-hearted; one character, Hebe, I described as right out of a melodrama. Like I said before, I don’t want to sway anyone’s impression of a character, but I also want to emphasize the humor in the play.
With the new semester now underway, I reconnected with my list of professors and let them know all was ready. The response was incredibly supportive, and the organizational meeting is booked for the end of January. During the meeting, based on the schedules of the participants, we’ll set the date for the actual reading; I’m thinking mid-February. I’m excited, but very anxious. If I get 8 or so participants, I’ll be happy. A dozen or more and I’ll be ecstatic!
In part two, I’ll reveal if the organizational meeting is a success or failure, and in part three, I’ll blog about the actual reading. If you’re lucky (?) I might do a part four, reflecting on the project as a whole. Thanks for reading!