Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Titus Andronicus: A map of woe.

          When most scholars discuss Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, they are usually speaking on the cycle of revenge that revolves around the Andronici family and the tribe of the Goths.   This, Shakespeare's bloodiest revenge tragedy, was one of the earliest and most popular of his lifetime.  Its popularity waned after his death, but it has been having quite a renaissance in theatres in the past 40 years.  Though the high death toll and violence is not unique to Titus Andronicus (King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet- also boost large body counts), there is one aspect of this early play that is quite exclusive to this story; the character of Lavina is raped, her hands and tongue cut away. Though this occurs off-stage, it is this act of violence and the re-entrance and presence of the wounded Lavinia that makes Titus Andronicus a play that is feared, remembered, and used as a ready tool for reflection and discussion on our current society.

Costume Renderings for Lavinia
(Act I and II) by Lindsay Pape

Costume Renderings for Lavinia 
(Act III, IV, and V) by Lindsay Pape

        As the actress playing Lavinia this summer, I was set with the task by the director, Vincent Carlson-Brown, to research and explore the physical and emotional consequences of violent acts against Lavinia.  Along with our Assistant Director, Maggie Fisher, I started to work through the mountains of journals, thesis papers, and scholarly works that have been written on this subject. 

       As helpful as each book, video and article was, we were still looking to speak with some experts that deal with violence and trauma on a day-to-day basis.   I looked to the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and the Women's Center for Advancement to continue this discussion and exploration.  Luckily, I was put into contact with Dr. Tara Muir from DVC and we arranged a meeting with her and her colleagues.  Prior to our meeting, Maggie and I met with Vincent and were given a map of the the character and the violence she deals with from which to structure our conversation with the experts.  We poured over what questions and details we could request from this opportunity.  With our heads and hearts full, we met with staff members from both DVC and WCA, prepared to be given a barrage of technical information and practical facts that we could work into our rehearsal process.  Instead we received an open conversation, a meeting of minds that informed more than countless hours with text books did.  With passion and experience, these women offered their thoughts on Lavinia's trauma; they asked questions of me that I had not thought of, offered ideas, images and personal experience.  We spoke for hours, losing track of the time, as five women sat and discussed one of the most violent theatrical acts against a woman in literature.

      After this experience we knew Nebraska Shakespeare had to give our audince the opportunity to take part in a similar discussion.  This play is not one to be trifled with lightly, nor one to present without dicussion and critcal thinking, so we have asked DVC and WCA to join us on July 2nd at 6:30 for the Nebraska Shakespeare Scholars Forum- 'Titus Andronicus: Themes of Violence' to openly speak on the tragedy of this play and what we can take away from such a horrific act.

        Below are talking points created by the director in response to the so-often asked question: "Why is Nebraska Shakespeare producing Titus?"  These questions are what we wrestle with everyday in rehearsals.  These questions and more will be discussed at the Scholars Forum on July 2nd.  We hope you can join us in finding some answers to Shakespeare's continuously and shockingly relevent questions.

Titus Andronicus Talking Points from the director, Vincent Carlson-Brown:
What can be more profitable than watching on the stage a reflection of human life; to be made wise from their example, those who have trod the path of error and danger before us?  How do we choose to connect with each other in light of our most horrible depravity?  How do we re-establish our humanity, and recover from the grief and loss having been through our darkest hours?    

Shakespeare asks the questions that can help us discover a truth about ourselves.

Have a great Wednesday.  
Hope you will join us on the Green on July 2nd
Sarah Carlson-Brown

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