Ask Me About: What a dramaturg can do

10247217_10153139455092445_5224759453873456684_n“Remarks like that were embedded in my head and took up precious space that should have been occupied with other things but wasn’t.” – Ray Midge, The Dog of the South by Charles Portis

One of the things I enjoy about dramaturgy (and writing!) is becoming a temporary expert on all kinds of unexpected topics. And once I learn those things, I want to share them! “Ask Me About” is a continuing series of posts about trivia and knowledge I pick up in the course of rehearsals and research.


This is a slightly different (and much more self-aggrandizing, #sorrynotsorry) installment in Ask Me About. Rather than being about facts! and knowledge! that I picked up as a dramaturg, it’s about actions! and events! and stuff! that I did as a dramaturg as part of the production process.

Little Bee at Book-It closed back on May 17, but the process of winding it down took a little bit longer than that. Now that everything’s finished, I thought I’d sit down and make a list of some of the things I did. (Quantifying your achievements looks good on resumes, I am told.) Plus, I wanted to point my readers towards some of the amazing people I worked with and shine a light on their work.

So what did I do during Little Bee? Continue reading

Ask Me About: The Draft

“Remarks like that were embedded in my head and took up precious space that should have been occupied with other things but wasn’t.” – Ray Midge, The Dog of the South by Charles Portis

One of the things I enjoy about dramaturgy (and writing!) is becoming a temporary expert on all kinds of unexpected topics. And once I learn those things, I want to share them! “Ask Me About” is a continuing series of posts about trivia and knowledge I pick up in the course of rehearsals and research.


The actors asked: About the draft in 1969.

More accurately, we were trying to figure out what a young man in 1970 — particularly a military history buff, like Ray Midge — might think about the draft. What were the odds he might get conscripted?

Continue reading

Ask Me About: How do you pronounce Mexico?

“Remarks like that were embedded in my head and took up precious space that should have been occupied with other things but wasn’t.” – Ray Midge, The Dog of the South by Charles Portis

One of the things I enjoy about dramaturgy (and writing!) is becoming a temporary expert on all kinds of unexpected topics. And once I learn those things, I want to share them! “Ask Me About” is a continuing series of posts about trivia and knowledge I pick up in the course of rehearsals and research.


The actor asked: “I know ‘Mexico’ used to be pronounced ‘Meshiko.’ Can you find out anything about when and why that changed?”

¡Claro que sí!

The Nahuatl (Aztec) name Mēxihco pronounced “meSHEE’ko” (/meːˈʃiʔko/). This was transliterated by Spanish explorers as “Mexico” — in Medieval Spanish, the letter “x” represented the “sh” sound.

Aztec Ictapa alphabet.

By the end of the 15th century, the letters “j” and “x” were both used to represent the “zh” sound in Spanish (like the “g” in “genre” or the “si” in “vision”). However, in the 16th century, the usage evolved so that “j” and “x” represented the sound “ch” as in “loch”. (The voiceless velar fricative, if you’re fancy: [x].) So the name of the country was spelled both “Mexico” and “Mejico.”

In the 1700s, the Real Academia Español established that “j” should represent the “ch/[x]” sound, and “x” should represent the “ks” sound (explicar, extraño). Due to the multiple spellings of Mexico/Mejico and other place names (Texas/Tejas, Oaxaca/Oajaca), the letter “x” continued and continues to be used to represent the “ch/[x]” sound in some words in Mexico, even though “x” in Spanish words should be pronounced “ks.”

So the progression went:

meSHEEko
Mezhiko
Mehhiko

The Real Academia Español has the whole evolution of the letter “x” — it’s written in Spanish, but Google Translate will do an okay job translating to English.

Desturnell Mexico.tif

Wrighting drama

With the holidays come invitations holiday parties, and with parties come the questions of “So what do you do?”

Depending on who I’m talking to, I’ll tell them how I pay my bills — “I drive a food truck” — how I want to pay my bills — “I’m a writer” — or what I’m actually working on right now — “I’m interning at Book-It as a dramaturg.”

The first two answers are pretty easy for people to digest. The third . . . not so much. Non-theatre people have never heard of a dramaturg. And plenty of theatre people aren’t clear on what, exactly, a dramaturg is or does. Many artists haven’t ever worked with one.

As a result, I’ve spent seven years assuring people that dramaturgy is not a word I made up on the spot and trying to explain what it is we do, with varying levels of success.

DAMMIT GRIFF I thought I told you to stop making up animals Continue reading

Link

‘Authentic’ Shakespeare? Not Really.

‘Authentic’ Shakespeare? Not Really.

Samuel Barnett as Viola and Mark Rylance as Olivia in “Twelfth Night.”

This is so, SO interesting. Elizabeth Dalton writes in the Wall Street Journal about whether the current run of Twelfth Night on Broadway is really as “authentic” to Elizabethan staging practices as it could be:

These Shakespearean boy actors could indeed have appeared girlish. Although the age of puberty now seems to be heading rapidly downward towards kindergarten, in Renaissance Europe it was quite late. Even in mid-19th-century England the average age of menarche—first menstruation—was 17, so it must have been at least that late in Shakespeare’s day. The nutritional and other factors involved in the onset of puberty presumably applied equally to boys, who tend to mature later than girls. Thus the audience might well have believed Malvolio when he says of Viola disguised as Caesario: “Not yet old enough for a man . . . ; one would think his mother’s milk were scarce out of him.”

Continue reading

The winter of our misconceptions: the discovery of Richard III

In a world that’s often frustrating/depressing/daunting, it’s nice to be reminded that there’s some amazing stuff happening too:

LONDON — A team of archaeologists confirmed Monday that ancient remains found under a parking lot belong to long-lost King Richard III, successfully ending a search that sparked a modern-day debate about the legacy of the reputed tyrant.

Details of the findings were released hours after DNA tests came in late Sunday. The 500-year-old remains were discovered five months ago, using ancient maps and records to uncover the ruins of the old friary where Richard III was laid to rest.

If you’ll pardon my French, holy shit. I was somehow unaware of the fact that Richard III’s remains had been lost for 500 freaking years — lost! The last Plantagenet king’s body actually lost, buried who knows where!

On the right, the reconstruction of Richard III's face. On the left, a living gentleman who I think might be Richard's descendant. WOW.

THEY RECONSTRUCTED HIS FACE. That is a guy who died 500 years ago! SCIENCE! Seriously, every time I look at this picture I freak out a little. It’s like time travel.

The historical Richard III and his time period is not my academic wheelhouse — I know much more about the Tudors — but the opportunities presented by this discovery for the Shakespearen community are almost as exciting as the opportunities it presents for the historical community.

Richard III is well known as one of Shakespeare’s most compelling villains, sharing the stage with Iago in Othello, Macbeth and Lady M in Macbeth, Angelo in Measure for Measure. He is a bald-faced villain, turning to the audience at the beginning of the play and telling them “And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, / To entertain these fair well-spoken days, / I am determined to prove a villain / And hate the idle pleasures of these days.” Just straight-up, “I’m going to be a villain — and you’re going to watch.” He breaks the fourth wall regularly, in the first half of the play in particular, making the audience a co-conspirator and accomplice as he rises to power through guile and violence. We watch in fascination as he goes from scorned and deformed younger son, to king, and at last to desperate, unhorsed soldier.

We love to hate him now, in America, where all we know about him is that he’s deliciously creepy. Imagine how its original audience in the 1590s must have felt. Ruling England was Elizabeth I, granddaughter of Henry VII, the man who killed Richard III and claimed the throne for the Tudors. Anyone watching Richard III would know the ending, and (assuming one liked the Tudors and Queen Elizabeth, which isn’t exactly a foregone conclusion) the play offers plenty of chances to boo the terrible House of York and cheer for the final victory of the House of Tudor, and therefore cheer for the current monarch.

In that way, Richard III is one of the most overtly politicized plays Shakespeare wrote. In fact it’s often called, with good reason, propaganda. Over and over it reminds the audience that Yorks = bad awful ew gross, and Tudors = noble righteous awesome yay! And as such, a lot of historians and critics have characterized Richard III as a hatchet job on the actual historical Richard III.

Perhaps the most significant way the discovery of Richard’s remains will tie in to the way we think about Shakespeare’s play is his hunchback. The play describes Richard as a “bunch-back’d toad” (twice, thanks Margaret), “deform’d, unfinish’d,” “foul deformity,” etc., and productions throughout the centuries have portrayed him with varying levels of hunch, from Anthony Sher with a hunch as big as his head and a pair of crutches, to Kevin Spacey’s severely twisted body, to Laurence Olivier’s downright athletic soldier of a king. (I’ll never forget watching Olivier’s performance and bursting out laughing when Richard jumps off a platform and slides down a rope in the throne room, because Olivier does not give a damn.) These remains tell us what Richard would have actually looked like: his spine had a “striking curvature” due to scoliosis, which would have made one shoulder higher than the other. (The right, if I’m interpreting the pictures correctly.)

My guess is that it’ll still take a long time for us to get it through our heads that Richard was no Quasimodo. 500 years of propaganda is hard to shake off. And Shakespeare’s Richard will always primarily be a villain; as flexible as Shakespeare’s texts can be, the fictional Richard strikes me as too charismatic, too powerful, too forthright to ever be erased or to deviate too far from his stated course.

But I think, with the success of things like The Tudors and The Hollow Crown, and this discovery, the time may just be ripe for a new Richard, and a new look at this son of York.

Here are a bunch of links that I think deserve to be highlighted: