Things have been quiet here for the past few weeks — life didn’t quite kill the blog, but kept it pretty much dormant. Now that I have a few days of calm, though, I wanted to write two posts: this one, looking back on the past year and what happened to dispositio, and a second one that’s looking forward into next year and beyond. Advance warning: they’re both rather more about me than my posts tend to be. They could be very boring.
This blog has been around for about a year and a half now. It started, kind of hilariously, as an outlet for my rants about Canadian politics — of which I ended up writing three or four. At the time, I also thought I’d be writing about baseball (post count so far: zero). And I said this: “If things get really desperate, I might write about Shakespeare, too, but for now, I hope it won’t come to that.” I kind of meant that. As things developed, the vast majority of my posts had something to with either Shakespeare or theatre. I realized that it made great sense to turn conference papers into blog posts. That relatively off-the-cuff pieces on current research projects were an excellent way of engaging other scholars in the kinds of discussions one sometimes, though rarely, has at conferences. (Tenure is a wonderful thing in that regard: a few years ago I would have been very worried about putting work-in-progress online, especially materials and references not otherwise easily available.) It also turned out that the endless stream of nonsense people spout about Shakespeare provides a near-unlimited source of fuel for blog rants; I was somewhat less surprised to find out that I take pleasure in writing such rants. And I discovered that I enjoy reviewing the odd performance.
It’s this last aspect of my blogging that’s been both the greatest surprise to me, and that precipitated the most unexpected change in my writing here and in the focus of my academic work. Over the last couple of months, I’ve blogged largely about contemporary theatre — always an issue close to my heart, but not one I had ever written about as an academic. I’ve started thinking about topics I had never really paid enough attention to: funding issues, mostly, but also the question of performance spaces, their size and distribution. And I’ve begun to write, and therefore to think, much more concretely than before about what exactly bothers me about the theatrical scene of my home town. Kind of amazingly, and humblingly, people have read and commented on what I’ve been posting, and those conversations have been among the most gratifying exchanges I’ve had on here — primarily because they’re pretty much unpredictable to me (I know what happens when you say X about Shakespeare: I’ve had many of those discussions. How theatre people react to an academic’s perspective is much more intellectual terra incognita for me).
One other positive effect of this new focus has been that I have seen far more shows in Toronto this year than ever before. On the flipside, I feel a new obligation to see things I might have ignored in the past, simply because it would seem a little rich to rant about a theatre scene I’m not keeping up with. That’s a mixed blessing. As a theatre historian and a literary scholar, I’m used to dealing with inert material — there is always new stuff to discover in the archive, but the archive itself is relatively stable; and it’s perfectly acceptable to reinterpret old documents, to think new thoughts about texts that haven’t changed. The pressure of thinking about live shows, performances that need to be watched right now, or tomorrow, or else they’ll be gone, is of an entirely different nature, as is the way one thinks and writes about them: I can read and reread 16th-century texts over and over again, after all, checking my reactions and interpretations against the evidence I’m drawing on, but when writing about live theatre, I pretty much rely on my sieve-like memory. Archival research takes a lot of time, as does theatre historical writing, but both are much easier to schedule — with live shows, on the other hand, life tends to get in the way. And then there is the problem that almost everything I do manage to see confirms the complaints I’ve voiced here so frequently: not that what is staged in Toronto is bad (much of what I’ve seen has been technically “good”), but that most of it is predictable, unsurprising, unshocking, unenlightening. Lots of solidity, very little risk. So that is a little dispiriting.
Lack of time is frustrating, too. Things I really wanted to write about this year, but simply couldn’t find the time for: Joss Whedon’s delightful Much Ado About Nothing (at TIFF) — which I loved, but don’t ask me why (sieve-like brain). Small Wooden Shoe’s Antigone Dead People — a really, genuinely remarkable treatment of a classical piece, that used intermedial devices far more interestingly than the big-budget intermedial juggernaut of the fall, Tear the Curtain (another show I wanted to write about, though with much more ambivalent feelings). I would have loved to continue my debate with Jacob Zimmer, the show’s director, about theatre as story-telling and the relationship between classics and contemporary plays — discussing his production of Evan Webber’s version of Antigone from those angles would have been fun and enlightening, but I just didn’t have the time. And I really wanted to write about CanStage’s production of Max Frisch’s The Arsonists, which, while flawed, was one of the more refreshing efforts at staging a well-worn piece of theatre in new ways, in ways that departed (shock! horror!) from the text quite significantly, and in ways that almost made the theatre feel cool — that may even have attracted a crowd other than faithful season subscribers.
It’s become a bit of a rattle-bag, this blog; but in its rattlebaggish nature, it reflects my work pretty accurately. The one post I wrote about university politics has a lot to do with my job as department chair. The various pieces on theatre history, and on the question of what popularity may have meant in the early modern theatre in particular, will all be part, in one way or another, of a book that I’ve been developing for a while now. The posts about marginal notes in playbooks come out the major research project for which I currently have funding. The nature of that beast has shifted quite a lot over the years; it’s now likely to become a database recording annotations in as large a proportion of the extant printed plays from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as I can get my hands on. Rather curiously, I don’t think I wrote a single sentence about the two plays I’ve been editing all year long, Edward III and The Book of Sir Thomas More, although that work took up a very significant share of my time. And I’m not planning to become a TV critic — so the popular post on Steven Moffat’s sexism will likely remain a one-off.
All the performance stuff… well, that’s partly my German-born self’s frustration speaking; it’s partly my former wannabe director self speaking; it’s partly informed by my existence as a professor in an English and Drama department, where I get to watch the difference between what I see in our theatres and what happens when you let loose the imaginations of a vibrant group of young actors (and my writing on these issues here has already had an effect on my teaching, as I’m now running a separate section of my Shakespeare class for our theatre students, focused much more strongly on performance than in previous years). Most remarkably, it’s given me a new research project (more on that anon) — a project I had not seen coming at all.
That’s to say, blogging, as far as I’m concerned, is anything but a trivial activity. It’s become a major part of my academic and intellectual life. What I find most rewarding about this format is not the sense of having an audience, though that’s certainly a welcome change from academic publishing; it’s the discussions and conversations posts can spark, the sense of participating in a larger shared endeavour, of being part of a discussion of issues and questions other people also care about passionately. So I’ll end by thanking you, dear reader, first for coming here; but even more for your comments, your questions, your critiques, and your responses.
- Berlin, Day 17: Coriolanus (Shakespeare / Sanchez), Deutsches Theater Kammerspiele
- Berlin, Day 16: Hedda Gabler (Ibsen / Pucher), Deutsches Theater
- Brecht, Baumgarten, Blackface
- Berlin, Day 14: Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare / Eidinger), Schaubuehne
- Berlin, Days 10 to 12: Too much to say, too little time…
- Now I wish I'd stayed in Berlin through the weekend -- cleary missed a great discussion! Regietheater, auf Englisch theatertreffen-blog.de/tt13/allgemein… 4 hours ago
- Stand up to Rob Ford! Sit-in for answers! rob-ford-sit-in.squarespace.com #TOpoli 14 hours ago
- Berlin, Day 17: Coriolanus (Shakespeare / Sanchez), Deutsches Theater Kammerspiele -- my last review of this trip! dispositio.net/archives/1595 4 days ago
- Landed! This is the longest I've been without theatre (27 hours) in 18 days. 4 days ago
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