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‘Philosophy in a Gorilla Suit’: Do Shakespearians Perform or Just Perform-a-tive?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2007

Peter Holland
Affiliation:
University of Notre Dame, Indiana
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Summary

At the Thirty-Second International Shakespeare Conference, held in Stratford-upon-Avon, at the Shakespeare Institute, in August 2006, Andrew Lavender and Simon Shepherd offered ‘A Presentation in 13 Bits’ about Shakespeare performance in a postdramatic theatre, a twenty-first century theatre of digitization, effect, and affect. Appearing together, Lavender and Shepherd alternated in addressing the audience of Shakespearians, with Lavender at the podium and Shepherd elsewhere, a bit to the side, sometimes near or on, and sometimes roving around, a table, which, it later became apparent, housed some props. Lavender and Shepherd told the Shakespearians that today’s theatre increasingly depends upon the kinesthetic and the phenomenal; a significant source of an audience’s engagement with the onstage action, they contended, is the ability of visual stimuli directly to affect the bodies of the audience.

The Institute had prepared for presentations requiring digital projection, and a large screen loomed behind the podium. Many speakers availed themselves of technology, showing photos or data or offering up summaries of their major points, but the screen was in use even when a speaker read a paper and presented nothing more: the speaker’s head and shoulders were projected onto the screen behind him or her, somewhat disconcertingly in my opinion, for I never knew where to focus my attention, large head or small. Of all the speakers, Lavender and Shepherd made best use of the available technology when, late in their presentation, Shepherd began to discuss Macbeth and slowly revealed his hands to be covered in blood. Scooping up a video camera, Lavender began to film Shepherd, circling him as he spoke, so that a close-up of the bloody hands projected onto the screen. In the next of the thirteen bits, again thanks to Lavender’s camera, we watched on the screen and in person as Shepherd undid the effect – slowly, he poured bottled water on his hands, washing them carefully to avoid getting the blood on his nicely tailored and very pale linen suit, and then drying them on the sheets of paper from which he had just read.

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Shakespeare Survey , pp. 141 - 153
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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