Prompt – Unexpected Sources

When I was conducting some research at the University of California in Santa Barbara on The Master Builder, one of Ibsen’s late plays, a computer search brought up an article by an unfamiliar author about an unfamiliar subject. The title piqued my interest – “The Poet as ‘Master Builder’” – and so I took steps to secure a copy. Mary Carruthers’ paper primarily addressed a trope in medieval culture that compared poetry to architecture; this alone hardly casts new light on Ibsen’s play, since many authors conclude that Ibsen’s architect, Halvard Solness, is a thinly disguised self-portrait of the poet himself. But Carruthers’ interest in the trope goes further than simple cultural ephemera; she notes a systematic attention to the art of memory in medieval culture, and its influence on medieval art and thought. I

I had read about ars memoria – the arts of memory – in other sources, from The Day The Universe Changed to The Aegypt Cycle by John Crowley. But I hadn’t encountered a study of its medieval form, nor had I noticed how widespread or influential medieval arts of memory might have been. I knew Ibsen’s play, more than many of his others (such as Hedda Gabler, which spends little time discussing the past), tended to revolve around memory – contradictory memories, suspect memories, invented memories, and memories literally re-forged and invented on stage during the action. The Carruthers paper didn’t provide a direct point of analysis for Ibsen, but it suggested a field of studies – a more generalized approach – in which I might examine the varying roles of memory in different theatrical works. Ultimately, this article led me to the topic of my Ph.D. disseration, The House of Memory.

What sources have you encountered off the beaten path – by accident or by chance or by a passing stranger – that have suggested new avenues for research, or unforeseen sources you hadn’t yet considered?

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Three Professionals (Kaitlyn)

Here are three professionals in theatre history/dramaturgy I would like to meet:

  1. Dr. Faedra Carpenter – She is a theatre historian, dramaturg, and professor at the University of Maryland at College Park (a graduate school I am applying for). I have emailed her today and waiting for a reply.
  2. Lauren Halvorsen– She is currently the literary associate at the Studio Theatre in Washington DC. She has dramaturged on multiple projects and was a literary manager of the Alley Theatre in Houston, TX.
  3. Anne Hamilton– She is a freelance dramaturg and the founder of Hamilton Dramaturgy, which acts as a consultant service for new playwrights in New York City. She has worked with many notable people and theatre companies. She also has a podcast called Theatrenow! , which interviews with female theatre artists in the United States (which I planning to start listening to). Here is the link if you want to explore it with me: http://hamiltondramaturgystheatrenow.com/I chose these women because they are examples of how a career in theatre, specifically theatre history, can allow for a variety of careers including professorship, dramaturg, literary manager, and consultant. I’m not sure how my career will go, but it’s comforting to see that there are endless amount of paths one can take.

Prompt: Research – Tangential or Distracting Sources

In Ibsen’s Forgotten Merman, Barbara Fass Leavy provides an essay-length chapter on “Hedda Gabler and the Huldre,” examining Ibsen’s play in light of (and as informed by) popular Scandinavian folklore with which both author and audience were familiar. Were our production approach for the current AC version of Hedda Gabler more postmodern or explicitly mythological, this chapter would provide a treasure trove of specific narratives and references, and the means to seek out visual and movement-based tools to facilitate those references.

But this production is not; it tends to emphasize the tactics of individual relationships within the larger social whole, and not focus on any one specific interpretive schema or meaning-making approach. That is to say: while Leavy provides much valuable material for fruitful readings of the play, and the references she elucidates provide excellent background for any production, this work doesn’t directly address a specific research need in our preparation of Hedda Gabler.

Leavy’s project, for instance, demands that she address the potential significance of character names – what associations they carry for the audience, as well as potential symbolic significance.

“… Hedda could be placed directly in the tradition of the demonic havfru who lures men to their doom. Therefore it is worth pursuing the possible connection between the names “Hedda” and huldre. From Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology, Ibsen would have found a connection between the goddess Holda and the Norwegian huldre,”

a specific form of Norwegian fairy who closely resembled human women (the only difference was that huldre could be detected by the presence of a long cow’s tail under their skirts). Leavy makes reference to an Icelandic tale called “Hildur, the Queen of the Elves,” and adds

“… that some variation of the name Hilde is often taken by the huldre after marriage to a mortal and conversion to Christianity. … Finally, Hilde is also a variant form of Hillelil, the name sometimes given to the “Demeter” and sometimes to the “Proserpine” figure in the Rosmer ballads. In any event, the resemblance among a series of names becomes striking to contemplate: Huldre, Holda, Hildur, Hilde, Hillelil, Hedda” (Jacobsen & Leavy, 213-4).

I’m a sucker for intertextual references, and mythological correspondences like these drew me to Ibsen studies in the first place. But they will not prove of immediate use in this production of the play, as fascinating as this work is from a historical and literary perspective.

What works or texts have you encountered that at first seemed useful, but have turned out instead to offer distracting tangents? What sources have you encountered that you may need to table or set aside in order to keep your work focused and the scale of your project under control? What material have you encountered in your research that will make an excellent source for an entirely different project?

Prompt: Research – Central/Definitive/Essential Sources

I came across a tome in a bookstore’s performing arts section called Ibsen’s Forsaken Merman: Folklore in the Late Plays, by Per Schelde Jacobsen and Barbara Fass Leavy (NY: NYU Press, 1988) and knew I’d found a valuable source. In addition to meticulous examinations of correspondences and references in Ibsen to Scandinavian folkore and myth, the book includes careful analysis of the sources that inspired Ibsen – the poetry, songs, sagas, ballads, and epics of medieval skalds. It contains an absolutely invaluable resource not easy to find elsewhere: “On The Folk Ballad and Its Significance for the Literary Arts,” in which Ibsen analyzes the recurring patterns in poetic structure between medieval poets and contemporary forms (including drama). In a sweeping theoretical discussion, he argues (at one point) that Scandinavian audiences seek to participate in the work rather than simply perceive it passively. Describing “poets of the south” as concentrating their form such that audiences remain passive in contemplation of it – e.g., “the sculptor and the painter give almost a total, a manifest expression of the thought they had.” With a volk-ish nationalism that would later mellow, Ibsen argued that Scandinavians had never felt satisfied by such relationships.

“None of these art forms have, then, really become national property with us. The Scandinavian is not quite at home within these confines where he cannot, according to his own desires, add on to what is already there. He does not want to see the products of his own imagination, his concepts and beliefs, rendered in finished form from the hand of someone else. All he demands is an outline of the drawing – he will finish the work according to his own demands. He does not … want the artist to point to his work and show where the core is, he wants to look for the core himself …”  (Jacobsen & Leavy, 299).

Ibsen’s essay, however early in his career he wrote it, supports the notion that he was as interested in how art functions as what it’s about, and that audiences (specifically, the audiences he wished to serve and chose to address) craved incompleteness, or to put it another way, sufficient openings and ambiguities in a work to invite their cooperation in making sense of the whole. While this relates to several larger arguments to be made about Ibsen and his work, it also supports an approach to Hedda Gabler, for instance, that emphasizes potential interpretations rather than definitive ones; it also supports a methodology that seeks to provide opportunities for audience reaction without declaring or defining what form those reactions should take. This essay might be used to make the case that in Ibsen, there is no “should” in staging, just the competing “shoulds” deployed by the characters themselves.

What have you found that works for you – perhaps something that has shaped your view, or confirmed that you are not alone in taking it? What material have you located that provides support for a central thesis? What sources have you located that you would use to defend your views? What texts have you found that you could use to illuminate your research question directly, providing examples that are central to your work?

In a comment below, or an edit below this line (with your name attached), identify one such source and what you anticipate will be most useful about it.


List 3 people…

working in the World of Theatre that you want to talk to.

Then pick one that you will actually reach out to.

This is an exercise in forming connections and experiencing the power of networking.

Another Bogart Chapter: Content (Kaitlyn)

This chapter is vital to looking at theatre and its purpose in the modern world. Content really looks at the idea of how theatre and community relate to one another. Bogart defines content as ‘the meaning or message contained within a creative work as distinct from its container, exterior appearance, façade, form or style” (107). For theatre, she distinguishes that the content, the message, is other people; it’s how we, as human beings, relate to one another. The idea that theatre is needed in order to look at ourselves (individually and as a society) and figure out what we need to look at, focus on, and share with one another. Bogart shares that some ways to do this are:

  1. Begin with necessity
  2. Develop perception
  3. Find out what is missing
  4. Learn what you need to know
  5. Develop patience

On a personal note, this chapter speaks deeply to my values as a practitioner of theatre. I have developed two strong beliefs about theatre: 1) Theatre (and art in general) is about community, both within a show and with an audience and 2) Theatre can be a tool to point something out in society that needs to be examined. This chapter hits these two points straight one. Also, this actually resonates well with the observation Kendall and I noticed about how little to no plays have been written or performed that examine college shootings despite their prevalence in America.

Career/Life Goals (Kaitlyn)

This is a difficult task and I’m not sure I articulated everything I wanted. But I tried:

Career Goals:

  • Graduate with a degrees in Theatre and History
  • Attend Graduate School for either Theatre History & Performance, Theatre Education, American Studies (with special focus on musical theatre’s impact on American Culture), Museum education, or Public History (maybe looking at how dramatic performance can help connect history to the public) OR get a great job/internship (that at least allowed me to pay rent and eat).
  • Get an internship/job either at a theatre (particularly a children’s theatre), museum, or cultural center
  • I really want to work with people. I don’t like this idea of art, theatre, or history as being so elite and academic that the public can’t enjoy it. I hope to be both an advocate of the fine arts and a connection point between the public and the arts.
  • Also, at some point, I really want to work at a children’s theatre. I love kids and I think people (including kids themselves) don’t realize the talent and potential they have. I would love to help them discover it and show it to the world.

General Life Goals:

  • Get a job
  • Pay off student loans
  • Get married
  • Have children (and truly be there to support and love them)
  • Volunteer to help my community in whatever way I can
  • Continue acting and being involved in theatre (outside of the job)
  • If I ever have a significant amount of money, give back to the arts