November 09, 2010

The Gesture Lab and London Shakespeare Seminar

A busy weekend in London. Last Friday to Sunday saw the Gesture Lab take place at Shakespeare's Globe, then on Monday the London Shakespeare Seminar welcomed Evelyn Tribble and Roslyn Knutson. I hung about for both, while also getting in some dedicated British Library time on an article I've been preparing for hopeful publication.

The Gesture Lab, organised by Farah Karim-Cooper, brought together scholars and practitioners to interrogate the role of gesture in theory and production. This included: exploration of early modern gesture manuals and the information they provide regarding early modern methods of communication and stage presentation; the conscious use of gesture in actor training and in the creation of performance; the interpretation of unconscious and deliberate gesture by audiences; and the problems of understanding and representing gesture in textual and historical practice.

I won't go into the papers in great detail, but the range of presentations was extremely stimulating. Special mention must be made of Paul Menzer and Thadd McQuade's indescribable double-act that opened the conference, which introduced most of the key theoretical debates in a lucid, hilarious and interactive presentation unlike anything I'd ever seen before. It also set the tone for a fantastically integrated event that kept up a coherent conversation throughout the three days, despite a range of disciplines as varied as actor education, theatre history and behavioural psychology, in Geoff Beattie's introduction to his research on unconscious gesture (Beattie famous to many television viewers as the on-screen psychologist for Big Brother!).

The practical workshops, meanwhile, grew organically out of the debates and allowed us to play with gesture in its own language. Tom Cornford directed a stunning group of actors (including Jamie Ballard, a favourite of mine) through the Closet scene in Hamlet using a range of Chekhovian techniques that used formal gesture to draw out the physical dynamics of the scene. Meanwhile, in the session most relevant to my work, Steve Purcell, Andy Kesson and the Pantaloons took to the Globe stage to try out Robert Weimann's theory of locus and plateau, demonstrating different takes on a number of scenes that took greater or lesser account of the physical environment of the playhouse.

Flash forward to Monday, and Tribble (who presented at both events) gave an enlightening paper on early modern skill. This was followed by Ros Knutson's introduction to the Lost Plays Database, a hugely important new resource that has already done a great deal to rehabilitate the potential of lost plays to inform on our knowledge of theatre history. Knutson's work has been hugely influential on my own thinking, and it was a pleasure to finally get a chance to hear her talk.

I've since come down with flu, which is part of the reason for this extremely cursory overview of the events, but I'm still feeling hugely inspired by the work I've heard over the last few days. I'm already seriously rethinking my approach in sections of two of my chapters, and would love to find a way of thinking more seriously and methodically about gesture and repertory that will benefit the rehabilitation of the apocryphal plays.

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I’m Peter Kirwan, a final year doctoral student in the English Department at Warwick, and this is my PhD blog.

Conferences, reviews, articles, thoughts and links relating to my interests in the Shakespeare apocrypha, early modern drama, authorship and performance.

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