Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Thoughts of a new intern...

Greetings! My name is Natalie Anderson, and I am the newest intern in the Education Department here at the American Shakespeare Center. Let’s see…I am a native of Brownsburg, VA (a teeny tiny village about half an hour south of Staunton), and I graduated from Guilford College in Greensboro, NC in May 2009, where I majored in History and minored in Medieval and Early Modern Studies, as well as Anthropology and German Language. I have been obsessed with medieval history and culture since I was in seventh grade (read: geek), and studying the Renaissance has certainly long held allure for me as well. Since graduating, my travels have taken me to some interesting places. I worked as an archaeologist for almost a year at Montpelier, the home of James Madison, and I spent this past summer studying Medieval Latin at the University of Toronto. But, that whole time, I was constantly searching all over the US for some sort of internship where I could indulge my love of all things medieval and Renaissance. Unfortunately, these proved highly elusive. I’d almost given up when it suddenly occurred to me: there is the perfect resource practically in my own backyard. So, here I am, back in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley researching Renaissance theatre – life is pretty good right now.

My internship here in Staunton involves working on a project entitled “Rehearsal Tools of the ASC.” This basically means that I have a list of terms – rhetoric, stage directions, costumes, props, fight choreography, etc. – which I spend my time investigating. My job is to find out as much as I can about what these terms meant in the realm of early modern theatre, and how acting companies of the time dealt with each item. What were their rehearsal schedules like? What did their costumes look like? How did they choreograph fights and dances? The second part of this project entails comparing the original practices to how things are done at the ASC and in Blackfriars today. So far, it’s been a blast. Each simple word, I’m discovering, is like the tiniest of windows which opens up into this immense, fascinating world of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Sometimes, of course, the torrent of information opening such a window can unleash is overwhelming. Yet sorting everything out, while challenging, is also exciting. I’ve started with dance and fight choreography, and I often find myself lost in fencing manuals or reading about the types and style of dance popular in the Elizabethan court. I recently spent a day at Mary Baldwin’s Grafton Library, tracking down primary sources and taking advantage of their incredible selection of Shakespeare-related works. Honestly, while it isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, I truly enjoy historical research – losing myself in a different time, bringing words back to life across centuries, the thrill of the hunt – and I’m looking forward to everything that is to come.

In addition, last Thursday I spoke with Colleen Kelly, the ASC’s Director of Training, who provided me with some fascinating insights into Shakespearean theatre and the plethora of ways in which production companies interpret these complex conditions for modern audiences. This made me think: the acts of dancing and fighting, particularly, are signposts of their times. Thus, the way in actors present these elements in the theatre help to set the tone of a play in a major way. After all, a duel with rapier and dagger present a very different image from, say, a shootout or a street-fight with switchblades. Yet Shakespeare’s plays leave themselves open for any of these interpretations. These are the sort of things one gets to mull over as an intern at the ASC. Already I’ve have numerous “Aha!” moments – those electrifying times when, all of a sudden, my brain connects two dots it has never thought to connect before, and I learn something totally new.

The final goal is for my research to appear on the ASC website, in order that it might help students, educators, or simply anybody who is interested in the various topics. Hopefully the end result will be well-made and useful, but, for me, the most fun will be in the creation.

Natalie A.

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