A site for posts by actors and crew working on a production of Sophie Treadwell's Machinal at Duke University (April 3-13, 2014).
And more than 500 years have passed since an anonymous dramatist – or more likely dramatists, one of whom may have been Shakespeare – wrote Arden of Faversham. First published in 1592, the play’s subject matter is the murder of a prosperous Kent businessman named Thomas Arden.
A new production opens at Stratford’s Swan Theatre next week, directed by Polly Findlay. It is a clever choice by the RSC. The knowledge that these events really did happen, that the handsome Tudor house in which Arden died still stands in Faversham, will add its ineffable dark allure. The decision to stage the production in modern dress will heighten the sense that here is a story for all time. Arden was murdered by his wife and her lover: they wanted rid of him, and they wanted his money. It happened in 1551, but it could be happening today. Divorce on demand notwithstanding, the classic domestic murder does not die.
Indeed its fascination is eternal, as is proved by the fact that at the end of the 16th century there was, just as now, a fashion for these bloody and essentially middle-class dramas. A Yorkshire Tragedy, for instance, was based on a 1605 murder case in which the outwardly respectable Walter Calverley killed his wife and two of his children. It is sometimes suggested that this play, too, was part-written by Shakespeare. Like Arden of Faversham, it has literary merit. Nevertheless one has to think that the audience appeal of these works would have derived at least as much from their rendering of actual events.
The account of Thomas Arden’s death in the Newgate Calendar – which describes how Alice Arden “wept like a crocodile” as she lamented her husband’s apparent disappearance – shows that the play stuck pretty closely to the facts. The real Alice hired two hit men who repeatedly failed at their task, and much of the play’s grotesque and giggly atmosphere is generated by their incompetence. At one point, for instance, a window is shut firmly on the head of “Black Will” as he is about to launch a murderous assault.
The first time I have ever used tools and built anything with my hands in the most basic sense of the word was when I did shop hours for Vanya. Despite my overwhelming feeling of ineptitude, I realized then as I did this time around that it actually a very rewarding experience because I am genuinely useful. I don’t just sit around holding the ladder, but I actually build stuff. It’s a great feeling. Almost as great as tearing it all down in the end. (I love the stapler remover thing—it was a small victory every time I yanked one out of the floor.) I also feel like participating in the building and striking of the set really cements the entire performance process together. We all work on building the space that is going to be ours for a couple weeks, and then, once our run is over, we all work together to take it down. It is somewhat cathartic. It’s not like we leave after the last show, and come back to see it disappear and Sheafer suddenly void—we take it down, just as we built it up. We start and finish the process together, and I think there’s something important and meaningful about that. Psychologically, at least. It’s also just a bunch of useful life skills that I appreciate having now. I can build things, y’all! (Somewhat.) Hooray for utilitarianism. (But DOWN with the machine!!!!)
Tech was a part of the process that I was looking forward to a lot, mainly because I was eager to see how all the artistic visions we had been hearing about and expecting for months (the shadow play behind the curtain, for example) would come together. I was excited to see how everything would look with all the jazzy final touches. Though no one enjoys the long hours, and though sometimes going over a certain scene or a specific moment dozens of times can get rather tedious, I found tech extremely gratifying. It was so awesome to see everyone in costume and witness the set transform with the light and sound and become a real world for us to walk in and live in for two weeks. It was a turning point—one that marked (in an exciting but still somewhat bittersweet kind of way) the final stretch of our long process. It felt like we finally had some sort of a finished product to share, which was a huge relief going into the first performance weekend.
Speaking of which, I think we were all really excited to be sharing our work with an audience by the time the first weekend rolled around. Something that had been ours for months was being opened to the reception, interpretations, and even critiques of others. It was pretty scary, but also quite invigorating: It presented us with a new challenge, one that asked us to take all the months of hard work and take everything we knew about the show and our characters and play it out to the best of our abilities, giving it 100% every night for every new audience, telling this story Treadwell wrote and Jules brought to life. Every evening as I arrived to put on my eye makeup, (a feat of its own), I felt like I was getting ready for a brand new experience, something that filled me with a decent amount of fear and anticipation, (how was it going to go tonight?), but also excitement and comfort, because I knew we all knew the play, and would know how to get through the night together.
The incredible sense of relying on other people for this production only made me more trusting in its success. My performance relied on other people’s performances, just as their performances relied on mine, and how we all relied on Kara and the light cues. It was truly a group effort. The success of the entire show was in our (shared) hands, and to see it happen every night in front of an audience felt really rewarding. Getting the live feedback from the audience was definitely an energizer. Hearing the laughs at certain moments that for us had ceased to be funny— (or had never occurred to us as being humorous, like that line “that’s kinda funny!” that I told Justin after the old Irishwoman joke…EVERY TIME it got laughs and I never understood/will never understand why)— emerged through the audience, breathing life into our characters and giving those moments a special place in the play. It was great to hear those kinds of responses, as well as the charged stillness I felt sometimes in the room, where I felt like they were really listening.
This was a tough play to put on. Not just considering the balancing act of keeping hats on my head (that “To Business” hat… I will never forget the struggle of keeping it in place), but hard because there was (and is) so much at stake in this play. I felt a tremendous amount of compassion for the young woman the whole way through, and I admit it wasn’t easy climbing into her skin every day. It’s uncomfortable being in her position. But it also felt meaningful. I wasn’t doing it for nothing- none of us were- and her story is an important one. I am so utterly thankful that we shared it, and I hope it had an impact on those who came to watch it, as it definitely had a large one on me. Thank you all so much!
I was surprised to hear laughing in some parts that none of the cast thought was funny. These moments weren’t plentiful, but when they did occur it was a clear indication that the audience was present, engaged, and perhaps picked up on aspects that we as actors missed. I felt it particularly hard to gauge whether or not the audience liked the play during the performance because it’s not a funny play.
I think this hits to the very core of theatre. I think that theatre is an exploration of life and truth, but that means different things to each and every individual. Why did people laugh at certain points? Is it because they didn’t know all of the back story of the play and were not equipped with the research and knowledge we had? Was it because they were uncomfortable and didn’t know what else to do? Or was it because they truly thought it was funny?
Now, I do not know the answer and I may never know, but that’s ok. The fact that they laughed means that we hit a nerve, that we struck something inside their subconscious or conscious that made them think/feel and that’s pretty damn rad.
Way to go :)
My mom reminded me of something this past weekend when she said, many people go to the theatre to sit in the audience - to feel connected, to feel part of something.
One of the biggest reasons why I love the theatre is because it is, at its core, a collaborative and collective experience. This collaboration exists in many forms, each of which is integral to creating a work of theatre and yield beautiful, magical results that are sometimes unexpected and often greater than the sum of their parts. However, one collaboration that I think is often overlooked is that between the actors (or rather what is on stage) and the audience.
By inviting the audience to participate in the experience, the collaborative element is heightened. I often refer to this as “the happiness”, a feeling that often rolls over me as a wave - that we’re all in this together, that everything’s gonna end up the way it’s supposed to be, that we’re right where we’re supposed to be, that the group’s gellin, and that this moment is beautiful. This feeling, “the happiness”, creates an unbreakable bond between everyone at each specific performance and everyone who has ever seen the show – a bond that lives on, way past when the curtain comes down.
Personally, I do not think that theatre can exist without an audience. A theatre audience is another character and breathes life into a play and brings a palpable tension, excitement, and spark to the piece. Without the audience, the piece would, over time, become stale and stagnant.
In light of this, I think it is very important to challenge the audience and provoke questions that the audience must wrestle with. Is the Young Woman cray? Is her story universal? What are the social constraints placed upon women? Is anyone, men and women, adults and children, free of these social and cultural constraints? Asking the audience to think critically and differently, and thus forcing them to be active participants rather than passive observers, is one of the best things a piece of theatre can do. The audience is smart and to spell everything out for the audience would be both boring and rude and I think it’s wonderful that Machinal left so much to be interpreted.
LET’S DO THIS.
I’ve been building sets and working in tech since my freshman year of high school. Over the next eight years, I, along with many others, have built and struck the set of numerous plays and musicals.
My love for tech is knows no bounds. However, if I were to really stop and try to break it down and unpack why I love tech - I think it’s three-fold.
1. Theatre is about creating worlds. I love helping to visually bring a particular time and place to life (perhaps for the first time or maybe again) so that people can experience it and take it further. I love helping conceptualize, create, and execute (through lights, sound, costumes, hair/makeup, lobby display, build, and stage managing) the world that will transport the actors and the audience to another time and place - taking everyone involved on a journey.
2. I love watching a show and knowing I had a hand in creating it. Every time someone walked across the depression square, I couldn’t help but smile a little inside. From the moment I walked into the show ready to get to work, I was all in. The more work I do on a show, the more I feel a part of it. My soul was in the wood, the steel, the paint, and everything in between. As a result, strike is always a challenging time for me. On one hand I am sad to dismantle something that I have worked on and that has been part of my life for so long. On the other hand, strike is a very cathartic experience - it’s closure.
3. The people. The carps, the electricians, the board ops, the designers, the stage managers, the prop masters, the run crew, the FOH crew, the event management gang. These people are my family and I am truly going to miss them when I leave. I mean, don’t get me wrong, many of my best friends are actors and I love them to death and think they’re truly incredible. But that aside, tech people are my people. I don’t know whether it’s a result of the production meetings, the inordinate amount of time we spend together, or that we all speak a very similar language, but tech is a family and I am so deeply proud to be a member.Thank you. xoxo
Q: Where did the idea of the honeymoon come from?
The act came about in the early 19th century in both England and America. It might be related to the decline of direct family engagement in marriage negotiations. One of the first roles of honeymoons was as “a bridal visit.” You went and visited other relatives, basically introducing each other to them. Originally, they were almost like a period to ease the transition into coupledom. Women often brought a relative or friend along. You would visit other friends or family and bring along a female companion.
Q: Women brought friends with them on their honeymoon?
That needs to be put in context. At the same time as there was this huge increased emphasis on the couple relationship and being in love — instead of marriage as a utilitarian arrangement — you were getting a redefinition of male and female roles. That was a reaction to the fears of instability, because once marriage is based on love, how do you keep people married? I think in part, as a probably unconscious reaction to that, love got redefined, and male and female roles got redefined.
The idea became that men and women are total opposites and they need each other to complete each other. The man is believed to need a woman to have access to emotions and caregiving; and the woman, who is increasingly defined as economically dependent, rather than a coproducer on the family farm, needs a man to have access to the practical parts of life. In some ways, it was a very good arrangement for making men and women think that they needed each other, but in other ways it turned them into strangers. Lots of research shows that one of the results was a sense of marriage trauma on the part of women.
Q: Marriage “trauma”?
I found lots of letters from the 19th century where women would refer to men as the grosser sex — and this is totally unlike the past. There was a sense of, “I have so much more in common with other women, how will I make this transition to this guy who I need but don’t understand at all?” I suspect that honeymoons arose — totally unlike we think of them today, as getting away from your friends and family to focus on your own sexual intimacy — it was like, “Let’s slow down this traumatic transition.”
Q: How has the meaning of the honeymoon changed over time?
In the early 20th century, people began to see the downsides of the division of labor and the rigid sexual distinction between nurturing females, sexless females, virtuous females, and then males being all the opposite of that. There began to be a real emphasis on sexual adjustment, on getting mutual sexual pleasure. In the early emerging profession of marriage counseling, people began urging the man and the woman to go [on vacation] together, to make time and effort for this.
This is not something men thought of much before the 20th century. In fact, when the first marriage advice book came out for men by Marie Stopes, she got letters from men saying, “Thank you so much, I would never have initiated foreplay with my wife for fear she would think I was treating her like a mistress.” So this sexual tension and estrangement, which I talk about as a sort of coping mechanism in the early draft of the love-based marriage, began to be a real problem. I think some of the emphasis on the honeymoon came as a result of people saying, “You have to learn to get physically satisfied with each other.”
This, of course, was also completely jumped upon by the emerging resort and vacation industry. Until the 1940s and ’50s, honeymoons and other vacations were usually something that you drove to rather than flew to.
HUSBAND: Well, we’ll get our money’s worth.
Yes. I will stop one of these days, but I keep finding these interesting stories that make me think of the show. This article is a Q&A with “marriage historian” Stephanie Coontz.
Finally! What I wanted to show in our last meeting: a compilation of your Machinal warm-ups with special focus on your “Machine” improvisations. Apologies in advance for the shaky camera work, personal giggles, and the shift from horizontal to vertical orientation for the clip from our final performance.
oh… seeing this gave me a funny feeling in my stomach. oh dear, i am starting to realize that this wonderful project has finished! the machine of theater keeps on chugging though…
This weekend and early week next come out and support your fellow theater artists at Duke:
Book by Alfred Uhry
Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown
Drew Klingner’s distinction project
Produced by Hoof ‘n’ Horn
Reynolds Theater, Bryan Center, West Campus
April 10-12 & 17-19 at 8 pm
April 12, 13 & 19, 20 at 2 pm
New Works Festival
in collaboration with senior seminar
Sheafer Theater, Bryan Center, West Campus
April 17-19, 8 pm
Final class showings for Professor Hemphill’s Solo Performance class
April 21, 7 pm
Final class showings for Professor Conceison’s Translation Studies class
April 22, 7:30 pm
For weeks , sometimes months, she creates the fabric of a universe born from her mind within the confines of her 3 x 6 m studio. She does so with infinite minutiae and extraordinary patience, in order to exclude any ulterior photographic alteration. Thus materialised, these worlds turn real and concretise : imagination reverts to the tangible and the photo imagery of such fiction testify as to their reality. In the midst of each of these sets stands the artist : those self-portraits however are never frontal, since it is never her visual aspect she shows, but rather her quest for an identity, her desires and her frame of mind. Her imaginary is a catharsis which allows her to accept social repression and frustrations. The moment required to set the stage gives her time to meditate about the causes of her interior conflicts and hence exorcise them; once experienced, they in turn become portents of hope.
(via JeeYoung Lee)
From top to bottom: Nightscape, Nightmare, This is Not Enough, and Anxiety.
I know … show’s over, but I saw this on The New Yorker’s Facebook feed today and beyond the name double-take I did (given last spring’s Young Jean Lee’s LEAR) I also flashed on Jody’s question in the Senior colloquium about expressionist art. Another amazing example of the world according to the artist’s subjective point of view. I particularly liked the last image of “Anxiety,” which seems to be perfect bubbles of white paint that have the effect of boils on the skin of an everyday domestic arrangement. Completely put me in the mind of how the Young Woman might see her home space(s).
Some of my favorites from the work of Les Todd (Duke photographer). One of these will probably be the one that goes on the wall in the main office.