The opening session of KiSSiT: Shakespearean Thresholds features Jami Rogers and Ildiko Solti within and without the theatre and performance. Dr Rogers discusses casting politics on stage and in cinema focusing on the portrayal of race in the media (from Benedict Cumberbatch to James Earl Jones). Dr Solti, on the other hand, explores how movement on stage engages audiences in two different productions of Measure for Measure.
Jami Rogers (Warwick):’This great role has been diminished’: Critics, race and Shakespearean theatre
In 2004, the Financial Times critic Alastair Macaulay argued that the role of Othello had been “diminished” by the late twentieth century convention of having only black actors play the part. The threshold for Macaulay had been what he perceived to be another poor performance as Othello. Yet since Paul Robeson’s appearance as Othello at the Savoy Theatre in 1930, language has been a major weapon of critics and journalists opposing ethnic minority performers’ appearances in Shakespearean theatre. This paper examines critical responses by arts journalists and critics to these performances, helping to contextualize discriminatory casting patterns in contemporary theatre as part of a larger discourse guided by the media.
Dr. Jami Rogers trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) and holds an MA and a PhD from the Shakespeare Institute, the University of Birmingham. Prior to obtaining her PhD Jami spent 10 years working for PBS, the American public service broadcast television network, first at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. and then for 8 years at WGBH/Boston working on Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery!, where awards included a Primetime Emmy from the Academy of Arts and Television Sciences. Most recently she was Research Assistant on the AHRC-funded Multicultural Shakespeare project at the University of Warwick, where she was the lead researcher on the British Black and Asian Shakespeare Performance Database. She was Visiting Lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton in the Drama Department and has taught at the Universities of Birmingham, Warwick and the British American Drama Academy. Jami has lectured on Shakespeare and American drama at the National Theatre in London and works regularly with director David Thacker at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton.
Ildiko Solti: Crossing the line: full light 3D space as a means of provoking the audience into action in Measure for Measure
The symmetry and balance suggested by the title, Measure for Measure, sits oddly with a play that crosses the line in so many ways – generically (as a problem play), structurally (by muddling up the purpose of the main action as set in motion by the Duke), and emotionally/ethically (none of its characters are above the occasional unsavoury demeanour). Any of these features would frustrate audience expectations and behaviour, but their dominance appears to suggest that such frustration of ‘normal’ beahviour may actually be the purpose of the play. But why antagonise your audience in such a blatant way, or indeed why produce a play in which there is no feature that does not require some, or a lot of, ironing out?
I suggest that the original conditions of production in the full light arena, casting the audience as the streetwise filth of Vienna, makes ‘crossing the line’ their basic function morally, formally (through their leading light, Lucio) and even existentially (as bystanders, they are implicated in a series of ethically compromising situations that are aesthetic as well as (in complete light) fundamentally social. Looking at Act 2 Scene 2 in detail, I will contrast key points in the action as they are realised in a full light amphitheatre and on a proscenium stage, showing how the spatial structure of the visible arena is used to engineer this intensely bizarre engagement which cajoles the audience to tackle, and even relish wrestling with, some quite uncomfortable and impossible-to-solve existential/philosophical problems.
Ildiko Solti is an actor-director, researcher and teacher. She trained in Dramatic Arts at Macalester College, St Paul, MN, USA. Having returned to Hungary, she obtained her MA at Eotvos Lorand University, and was Artistic Director of an English language theatre company, The Phoenix, in Budapest. In 1999 she moved to London where she has been teaching and conducting research and experiment in performance, focusing on Elizabethan/Jacobean working theatre reconstructions through the method of research through practice in performance (PaR). She holds a PhD from Middlesex University.