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Amphitheater Staging: In-the-Round or to the Front (and What About Asides)? RICHARD FOTHERINGHAM I W"hen the existence in Utrecht of the DeWitt/Van Buchel drawing of the Swan Theater became known in 1888, William Poel was already seven years into his inquiries into the best means of staging the public amphitheater and great hall plays ofthe English Renaissance.1 I mention this to emphasize that the discourse came before the fact: the belief that Shakespeare's plays are best staged as it was then imprecisely imagined they had once been staged—simply, without elaborate settings or time-consuming scene changes, with direct actor-audience address, "in-the-round"—had as much to do with reactions against the late nineteenth-century stage's pictorialism, with its set-changing interruptions and cut-and-paste revisions to Shakespeare's texts, as it had to do with presenting the Bard "authentically." We might note a similar phenomenon today: the decisions to build imitation Globe Theaters in the United States, in Tokyo, and in London long predated the 1989-1990 Rose and Globe excavations, which have modified but not essentially altered a phenomenon driven by cultural ideology, not discovered fact. If DeWitt had not been copied and that copy located nearly three hundred years later, it would have been necessary to draw the Swan for him, and indeed from Poel's time through John Quincy Adams in 1920 to C. Walter Hodges and those involved in the recent "Shakespeare's Globe" reconstruction in London, scholars have speculated visually in just this way, claiming DeWitt and the other contemporarypictorial evidence as authoritywhen itagrees with theirpreconceptions, arguing away 163 164Comparative Drama whatever does not. InterestinglyAdams's long-discredited designs are in manyrespects closer than anyone else'stowhatthe plan ofthe Roseturned out to look like (only Adams thought he was drawing the Globe). This may be some comfort to those responsible for the theaters, based on Adams's work at the Folger Shakespeare Library and at least six other places in the United States.2 However, what is at issue here is not disputes about architectural accuracy, but the unquestioned discourse that accompanies them. Not just the authenticity but the superiority ofantiquarian staging practices is assumed; theirinconsistencies and possible disadvantages are ignored. Such a belief confirms our prejudices in favor of everything that ontologically makes theater "theater," and not film or television, but tends to assume rather than demonstrate its own veracityand value. We are asked to believe not only that layers ofimportant, perhaps essential meaning were encoded in the scripts by original staging practices— hardly contestable—but also that these can be released to make new meaning only in spaces and with actors and audiences configured as the Globe's once were; not just that settings should not impede the pace of the storytelling,but that there should be no sets at all; notjust that actors should be liberated from the cage ofthe proscenium arch and be able to see the audience theyare addressing,but that theyshouldbe in the middle of an audience surrounding them on all sides. This is a less convincing antiquarian assertion, but one that has brought together stage historians and theater practitioners in the quest to discover what the original amphitheaters looked like and how Elizabethan actors performed in them. Some of the confusion caused by the uneasy mixing of historical scholarship and the assumptions and practices of our own contemporary theater profession can be glimpsed in the phenomenon ofmodern in-the-round staging, often claimed as a more "authentic" approach to Shakespeare in performance, but one which is then modified to make possible post-Stanislavsky acting methods and to satisfy modern audience expectations. If actors' eyes and faces are to be major signifiers, a veryartificial pattern ofmovement is required.Audience members in all directions are to see a subtle interchange oflooks and expressions—and even then will do so at best only 75 percent ofthe time (a one-eyed wink Richard Fotheringham165 brings it down to 50 percent). Further, for in-the-round stagingofcrowd scenes, or scenes with large props or set pieces, it quickly becomes impossible , as the stage fills up, to guarantee even minimally acceptable sight lines...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 163-176
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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