Humans of the SED: Bridget Escolme, Part I – Authenticity in Early Modern Drama

I am constantly surprised at how old-fashioned some newspaper reviewers are. I’ve done a few cuts of Shakespeare texts, as a dramaturg, and with Hamlet it’s great because there are different versions of it printed in Shakespeare’s time, so you can use 400 year old editions of the play to help you cut it. One of Hamlet’s soliloquies is only there in one text, and because the director I was working with wanted a shorter version, that was one of the easy ones to cut. The Daily Telegraph reviewer was outraged! But given one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries thought it was all right one soliloquy down, I thought we could cut it if we liked! (And Shakespeare’s dead, so he won’t know…)

Bridget Escolme

Quite a lot of reviewers have a strictly realist idea of what theatre should be like. The idea that you can’t have in early modern performances people of different racial backgrounds, different ages, different sexes, seems daft to me. If you want to be really literal, you’d have to have to cast Measure for Measure with Viennese actors only. Those plays were made for an all male company, and no one cried: “What’s that young man doing playing that young woman?”. The actors told the story; women weren’t allowed on stage, so you told the story using men. Each casting is going to produce different meanings, and that’s fascinating.

The only claim for authenticity that I would make for cross-casting is that the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries were created for what we might now think of as highly meta-theatrical spaces. They weren’t made for theatres in which you sat in the dark and shut up apart from the odd laugh, and peered into a space that was pretending to be real. These were spaces where everyone could see each other, whether by daylight or candlelight, and the actor could just turn around and talk to the audience. So the idea that somehow the actor would erase his presence as an actor is quite silly; at the Globe reconstruction today, too, if an actor were to talk to him or herself for too long, it would seem odd and dull – , because the audience are palpably there.

1984 (the play) Review: Adapting Other Art Forms into Theatre

Thoughtcrime, Minilove and Big Brother all got the West End treatment with Headlong’s stage adaption of 1984, but why was making the show different from the book important? Well, because theatre… that’s why.

Video description: ‘Making an epic adaptation of something isn’t easy, but knowing how two art forms are different from each other sure helps. Also yes, this was the best title I could think of.’

Head to my channel to check out my other videos and find my social links: DaniSurname.

Humans of the SED: Martha (BA Drama), Part 2

Humans of the SED (HotSED) is our new series of interviews with the School’s students, alums, and staff. Here’s part two of our interview with BA Drama finalist, Martha.  Click here to read part one.

Best in Bow

It’s really clichéd, but having the wealth of stuff and people and culture at my fingertips has been really valuable. But also I honestly feel like I’ve grown up so much since coming to uni, thanks to being in London.

Roman Road is my all-time favourite place in the world. I don’t think I’ll ever leave Bow. I think I’ve found my place to live now. I actually love it. It’s at the start of its regeneration process, but it’s still really, really rough and ready.

There’s a lot of locals, and a lot of OAPs, which is actually really refreshing to see, and they’re just going about their daily lives. But then you can be sitting in a nice coffee shop eating non-gluten cake on your Mac, and you look outside and there’s local people going about their daily life, which is really nice. I don’t think you get that in London any more. I feel I live in a real place. And whenever I walk down Roman Road, there’s a real sense of community, because people have lived there all their lives.

I don’t want to move from there, but it’s only going to get more expensive.

I think Bow could have a more village-y vibe than Dalston. There’s a lot of cafes popping up, and funny little gift shops. Which I’m a little bit opposed to, but I also shop in them, so I can’t be that opposed to them.

Martha RumneyFuture

I’m definitely going to do a Masters. It was last year, I just realised – as soon as we had a break, like Christmas or Summer – I realised that I feel a bit lost without academia. I just quite like learning.

I don’t know if I’d do a Masters in Drama; I’m thinking I might do a Masters in Anthropology, like Social Anthropology. Because I think people are really interesting.

I’d love to do work in the theatrical environment, but with communities that are underprivileged. I want to make theatre a little more accessible, which sounds like a really huge aim, but I think by taking theatre out into communities and not branding it so much as ‘theatre’, we can do a lot. And by doing a Social Anthropology Masters I feel like I’d be more well-rounded to do that.

If I do a Masters or a PhD, I’d be interested in going to Goldsmiths, or maybe a different uni, to get a different identity. Because I think if you stay at the same university forever, you become a Queen Mary person, or you become a wherever person.

I do love it here; I’d either do my Masters here, then do a PhD somewhere else, or do a Masters somewhere else then come back here.

Employment

I have a real issue with the gender pay gap, which actually started in a module at uni, with Julia Bardsley – I did research into the pay gaps in lots of different industries, and also in university environments, especially the University of London, which was very eye-opening.

I think the main thing for me, as I’m on the cusp of going into the real world: the thought of not being paid as much because I’m a woman when I’m doing the same job as someone else makes me really, really angry. I think that’s such an injustice, and one that’s incredibly current.

Of course, women’s rights have really improved, but it’s one thing letting women have careers, but it’s another thing not paying them enough to support their families and to be able to live the same life as a man. I don’t understand how it’s okay.

In theory, I wouldn’t work for an employer who paid women less than men. But in practice, how do you find that out? Because wages are confidential. But if I did find out, I’d certainly have something to say about it.

Humans of the SED: Martha (BA Drama), Part I

Humans of the SED (HotSED) is our new series of interviews with the School’s students, alums, and staff. First up BA Drama finalist, Martha.  

First memories of QM

Probably arriving into Albert Stern, which is where I lived in first year, and it was a massive house. It’s really different from every other hall, and just the sheer amount of people that would say hi to you.

You’d get the same three questions every time: “Hi, what’s your name?, what do you study?, and where do you come from?” it was really boring. And by the end of it, do you know what, I was making things up.

I loved Albert Stern. All my best friends are from there now, loved it.

Dogs of War Theatre Company

I founded – with David Loumgair – the Dogs of War Theatre Company. It’s going really well. We did an Othello adaptation called Not What I Am: Iago was a woman. Then we did a community thing in Stanley Halls in Croydon, where we got verbatim bits from the community.

We set it up so we could have more vocational skills that we developed ourselves, and because I’m interested in providing opportunities for young people.

It is a massive challenge. Because we do all the logistical stuff ourselves, which you don’t learn at uni.

Now we’ve been R&D-ing our new show, pencilled in with VAULT in November. We recently applied to Arts Council England, but unfortunately didn’t get the money; but we’ve given ourselves enough time to reapply. We’ve had some fantastic advice from the Arts Council: we’ve found them so, so helpful.

We had a rehearsed reading two nights ago, and one of the girls who was reading for a part met a very famous scientologist who’s friends with Tom Cruise. And he said “Do you want a sponsor?” ‘Cos their billionaires. So we’re like “Yes”.

We may be converted to scientology. Is it worth it for my craft?
Martha (BA Drama)

Sunglasses

I always wear sunglasses on my head, and people always say it’s really stupid. It also helps push my hair back, but I argue it’s only just September, and everyone’s saying we’re going to have an Indian Summer, so basically, I’m being prepared. For life.

I’m not a fashionista. Definitely not. Absolutely no. I’ve been asked this recently by someone.  I’m not anything. I’m definitely not a hipster. I think I’m just…I don’t know. Does one have to put a label on oneself?

Everyman Review: Theatre that’s Relevant to Now

Cocaine, glitter and vaguely Shrek-looking masks definitely outlined the National Theatre’s production of Everyman as being vastly different from the original, but in this video I discuss how these choices made the play relatable to the kind of people we are today, while still remaining true to its original purpose.

Video description on YouTube: ‘To a society that praises individualism, NT’s adaption made Everyman as relevant today as it was in the Middle Ages. Let me know your thoughts on Everyman, adaptions or how society’s changed, in the comment section!

Head to my channel to check out my other videos and find my social links: DaniSurname.

England and the Continent: Reflecting on National Boundaries

At the moment I’m working out how many double chocolate cookies to order for a symposium I’m organizing this month called National Boundaries in Early Modern Literary Studies. The event will gather early career researchers from across the UK, France, Italy, Holland, Germany and Croatia to make new friends and talk about how we all might work better together. Planning and participating in the symposium is helping me to think more about what it means to do ‘English’.

The Renaissance was a multilingual place, but we often study the period one language at a time. As a graduate student I ran into a problem that people studying pre-modern English literature often face: that in general the writers we’re reading had language skills that are much better than ours.

In sixteenth- and seventeeth-century England any boy who went to grammar school, or girl who was privately tutored, would study Latin intensively and might also have picked up some Greek, or learned other vernacular languages through phrase books and foreign travel. Latin and French were international languages. English, which pretty much no-one on the Continent spoke, was not.

When I chose to study French and German to A-Level, and then picked English for an undergraduate degree, I sort of knew that studying languages alongside English made a useful combination (e.g. for learning grammar). But I hadn’t realized how foreign languages could expand my sense of what studying English is.

I ended up writing a doctoral thesis on British responses to a sixteenth-century French poet called Guillaume de Saluste Du Bartas. Now my research has developed to the point where I routinely work on Scottish, French and Latin sources, and need to seek out advice and discussion from people with different expertise. So there’s a real practical value in being able to chat with colleagues from a range of different disciplines and backgrounds over cookies.

The British Academy, who have provided generous funding for September’s symposium, have been running a languages programme to promote the value of language skills for the humanities and social sciences. Queen Mary’s English department is a natural home for multilingual English studies since there are several research groups that are demonstrating how knowing a language, any language, besides English is a valuable asset for studying English.

There’s the team at Global Shakespeare who are examining the Bard as a global cultural phenomenon whose plays and poems have been translated into every major language and performed and adapted in many theatrical traditions. The Centre for Early Modern Mapping, News and Networks investigates international communication networks in early modern Europe. And the department has numerous members working on postcolonial studies and world literatures who are examining how English culture became a global culture as it came into contact with other languages.

Thinking about England’s cultural relationship with the Continent is especially timely as the debate intensifies ahead of the coming referendum about whether we should draw a thicker national boundary between Britain and the European Union. One job for English studies is to improve our understanding of how far and in what ways this island’s cultures have, for better and worse reasons, intermixed with other cultures. Reading across languages helps us hear the voices that went into making our language and literature in the present.