In the final year, Louis Patrick Leroux and Cristina Iovita directed a large cast version of the original Baillie play with 23 actors in Concordia’s Department of Theatre. After three years of circling around the play, of responding to it, poking at it, deconstructing it, reconstructing it, we finally staged it more or less as Baillie had written it (after much editing, but without fundamental changes to story or rewritten lines). The use of video in this production allowed us, through visual and intimate codes, to fill in many historical and narrative gaps in the play. The web site was designed, integrating the artistic and academic streams of research. Finally, one last resonant response was created, moving out from Baillie and into Shakespeare, a core group of actors and designers from Witchcraft working with Louis Patrick Leroux created a video performance installation for a gallery setting.
On Dramaturgical Research in Hypertext and Performance
A Resonant Response to Joanna Baillie’s Witchcraft
Background on the Performance-Research Project
I worked as a playwright and dramaturg on "Hypertext and Performance: A Resonant Response to Joanna Baillie’s Witchcraft". Witchcraft has no record of performance in Baillie’s lifetime (1762-1851), and scant production after her deathi. In the first year of the project (2009-2010), Patrick Leroux and Cristina Iovita directed three adapted scenes from Baillie’s Witchcraft: A Tragedy in Prose (1836) with intervals, or contemporary responses, written by Patrick Leroux, Lindsay Wilson, and myself inserted between each. In the second year (2010-2011), Cristina led an acting workshop with a small group of performers, exploring performance and gestural codes of Romanticism, structures of affect in the body, and Baillie’s own “Introductory Discourse” on the virtues of stage performance in edifying the moral character of its (bourgeois) audiences and performers through the enactment and witnessing of unruly passions. In the final year, Patrick and Cristina directed an adapted version of the full play, which includes added interludes of pantomime, shadow play, finger plays, and music. This article attempts to 1) provide a narrative of dramaturgical process, 2) to document and elucidate the process (and problems) of adapting the play for contemporary staging, and 3) to situate the play historically and dramaturgically within the corpus of Romantic drama and culture.
Questions of Research and Dramaturgy
Year I (2009-2010)
In initial production meetings, academic and creative collaborators engaged in discussion and debate about how academic research and performance practice could and would intersect over the course of the grant, and how this intersection could be defined within the FQRSC definition of research-creation. My own theatrical and academic practice is rooted in production dramaturgy, which integrates performance workshops (or practice-as-research) with text analysis, archival and historiographic research. An enumeration of contemporary dramaturgical practice, following that detailed by Turner and Behrndt in Dramaturgy and Performance (2008), might prove useful here in considering how dramaturgy directly engages in research-creation, exploring what is commonly perceived by academics and artists alike as a gulf between scholarly and creative modes of production.
Production dramaturgy after Bertolt Brecht has melded scholarly modes of research with performance practices. The dramaturg, as Synne K. Behrndt and Cathy Turner note, must take into account both the composition of the fixed concept or script for performance, as well as the fluid nature of the performance event (4-5). Production dramaturgs maintain a physical presence in the rehearsal room, offering performance analyses and critiques of rehearsals and run-throughs. The principal task of the dramaturg is to ensure, along with playwright, director, and performer, that the composition of the play, meaning its overall structure or architecture from text on the page to all stage elements, corroborates the production’s and (in many cases) the playwright’s concept.
Dramaturgical work is archival, or dependent upon past (recent or distant) repertoires, documents, and library resources. It is also generative, central to the devising of new creative work. The dramaturg supplies relevant historical and contextual information on the content of the play, as well as providing a performance history for the play itself. In developing new work with playwrights, a dramaturg might contribute resource materials in the early stages of the writing and workshopping, or distribute relevant information to theatrical practitioners in rehearsalii. Dramaturgs, however, also play a more creative role in devising material for new works, depending on the producing company and/or director. My own mode of dramaturgical practice cites several predecessors and precedents, including Brecht’s productive dramaturgy and theory of adaptation, Elinor Fuchs’ poetic and planetary dramaturgy, which considers the playtext as a discrete world with its own semiological systems and rules, and dramaturg DJ Hopkins’ counter-textual experiments, which I will discuss later in this article. iii
The questions posed by a theatre practitioner interpreting a text for revival on the stage extend beyond the usual academic suspects of history and semiotics to include those of dramaturgy, scenography, and audience reception. How does one approach a text which has received little critical or theatrical treatment? What kinds of research need to be conducted and what do we need to know about Joanna Baillie in order to produce the play in a meaningful way? Who is the intended audience? Do we want to produce the play for a diverse audience with scant knowledge of Baillie’s work, or is this designed for specialists in the field of Romantic drama and literature? Who needs to know what and how will that knowledge be disseminated and shared in order for this to generate something of both scholarly and artistic merit? Are we aiming for a reconstruction (or museum piece), an adaptation of the original, or something else entirely? How does one conduct and theorize practice-as-research in a theatrical laboratory and how does it compare to more conventional modes of scholarly research?
Recipients of research grants under the FQRSC research-creation program are obligated to demonstrate and document how their projects “contribute to development of the field through renewal of knowledge or know-how and through aesthetic, technical, instrumental or other innovations” (FQRSC). The output or product of research-creation must be “developmental, original, or innovative,” and “build upon or question the status quo” of work in the same field; it must engender “greater recognition” in a wide community beyond the arts and academia in which it is produced, and enrich the “cultural heritage of Québec, the rest of Canada and the international community” (FQRSC). The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) website further defines research-creation as “[a]ny research activity or approach to research that forms an essential part of a creative process …and that directly fosters the creation of literary/artistic works […] suitable for publication, public performance or viewing,” and which addresses “clear research questions” while providing “theoretical contextualization” and a “well-considered methodological approach” (SSHRC). As collaborators on Hypertext and Performance, we have taken up the revisionist mandate of FQRSC research-creation discourse, positioning our own work as an intervention in the status quo of scholarship and popular knowledge on Romantic drama and female Romantic playwright Joanna Baillie.iv
The intervention of feminist historiography is in part the raison d’être of our project, and other related projects in the field. The dominant mode of scholarship neglects female authorship in the spirited age of Romantic heroes and poets, such as Samuel Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley. Hypertext and Performance, in contrast, is engaged in generating knowledge of Joanna Baillie by reviving a rarely performed play by a female writer whose credibility as a dramatist was undermined by the criticism of her contemporaries (Slagle 19). Baillie’s Witchcraft has no record of performance in Baillie’s lifetime (1762-1851), and scant production after her death, which led our own seasoned theatre practioners to ask (with reason) why that might be the case. Why was the play never staged in the period in which it was written? Why stage it now? What can be learned as a performer, dramaturg, director, or scholar through performance of these rarely staged or ill-regarded plays? Why produce what might be, in fact, a bad play? From the outset, academic and creative teams held doubts about the play’s artistic merit. So, the question remained in year one, why study and perform Witchcraft (1836) as opposed to other Romantic dramas, such as Baillie’s popular De Monfort, or Lord Byron’s Manfred?
Jane Scott Project scholars Jacky Bratton and Gilli Bush-Bailey have argued the case convincingly for reviving more marginal and marginalized plays, linking suppression and denigration of female authorship in the Romantic period to an academy which continues to privilege print as object of study, and thus, by extension, the canon of “legitimate,” published and (re)produced male writers. Reconstructive work on theatre has often gravitated toward canonical works, or “great plays,” but has failed to address those not thoroughly emblazoned in print culture. Yet, paucity of documentation and critical acclaim from the period of original production ought not be conflated with a lack of quality, argue collaborators in the Department of Drama and Theatre at Royal Holloway’s Jane Scott Project (2001-2002). The Jane Scott Project produced a workshop revival of burletta actress-playwright-manager Jane Scott’s 1816-1817 season at the unlicensed Sans Pareil/Adelphi Theatre in London. While the text offers “clues and suggestions,” the single historian/literary critic engaging in traditional research with a licensing text never intended for the stage will miss the many aspects of drama which are “not yet thought of in writing” (Bratton 4). Thus, the gaps or gaffs in what many collaborators thought to be a rather unskilled and clunky Witchcraft text might be reconsidered as effects of generic conventions, unwritten rules, production conditions, and other factors not manifest on the page itself. Or alternately, of course, they could be evidence of flawed writing. But what are we missing in attending only to text?
Titles, Genres, and Nations that Matter: Year One
Due to time constraints and project mandate, my consideration of the play in Year One was rooted in text analysis and in providing context, focused on the Scotland as a geographic, gendered, and dramaturgical apparatus, and designed to offer the artistic team an understanding of Baillie’s cultural milieu as well as the “playworld” of Witchcraft. First things first. Why Witchcraft? Why call a play Witchcraft if it contains no witches? Baillie’s use of craft in the title operates as a reveal of the play’s central conceit — rather than referring to the practice of sorcery, the craft is an hysterical social practice of scapegoating, the artificial (patriarchal and Catholic, in Baillie’s Renfrewshire) invention of the female witch as escape valve in the pressurized social world of her play. We are seduced by the craft, along with our surrogate in the play, Rutherford, the doubting minister of the kirk, reading the Scottish landscape as an enchanted otherworld until the last act, when English authority and (paradoxically) Scottish Enlightenment arrive in person and in an epistle to untie the witches from their stakes. How does the theme of witchcraft serve as a vehicle for Baillie’s exploration of unbridled passions in both women and men? Furthermore, how does the play’s situation in Scotland perform the supernatural world over and against the disenchanted world of enlightenment rationality and cognition? This play (considering its ending) reads like a progenitor and parent text for Arthur Miller’s study of hysteria in The Crucible, or even Caryl Churchill’s Vinegar Tom, both of which harness the theme of witchcraft as a dramatic tool for staging the dynamics of power, mass hysteria, and gender politics. Yet, unlike in Miller’s play, in Witchcraft, the supernatural feminine remains a possibility until the last act, never fully divested of its signifying power.
The second question was one of genre. The subtitle labels the play “a tragedy,” though that generic branding was under contestation and redefinition in the period, when high tragedy was synonymous with Shakespearean tragedy, and hybrid forms such as tragicomedy, domestic tragedy, and family romance were playing the most popular stages (Staves 3-6)v. What kind of tragedy is Witchcraft? Is it supposed to be, or can it be funny? Several of the low comic character scenes held more exposition than “local colour” or comic value for us, but nevertheless, they read as comic scenes.vi Dowd has suggested that Baillie hailed and “domesticated” the tragic genre to align herself with Shakespeare as great national tragedian, to lend credibility to her Scottish and “feminine pen,” and to distance herself from German melodrama “of any reputation.”vii Yet, Dowd argues that Baillie’s “sympathetic curiosity” is an adaptation of German melodrama’s pedagogy of the passions, and that Baillie exploits the techniques of Storm and Stress.viii We might read Baillie’s tragedy, then, as a hybrid form, iterative of several “national” genres at once.
‘How many times must [we] bleed in sport?’
The first stage of Hypertext & Performance (2009-10) concentrated a series of dramatic responses to Joanna Baillie’s Witchcraft: A Tragedy (1836), which, like the project as a whole, is further described as resonant. The characterization is both pointed and apt; my reply is cued accordingly. In place of a critical response, then, I would like to assay the critical purchase of this latter term, “resonance”: in other words, to acknowledge its suggestive power without necessarily accounting for or answering to it.
A critical response might begin by noting the discreet categories to which these two terms or characterizations belong. “Dramatic” designates a literary form, while “resonant” is a descriptive attribute of a particular instantiation of that form. Or again: while traditionally “drama” names an action or act, “resonance” might describe, among other things, the effects of the action or act (whether immediate or on-going), its enduring relevance (whether affective or political), or its remediated enactments, including, for instance, Patrick Leroux’s responses to a scene of Baillie’s play depicting “Women on the Moor”: Play / Blood / Flight. Clearly, this list of “resonances” is not exhaustive, and its items will invariably overlap. Nevertheless, each item on my list – each terminological innuendo just sketched – seemed to me to be at play at each stage of the project.
I would include among these stages the “finished product”, or, more precisely, the project’s very accomplished production of Joanna Baillie’s Witchcraft as it was staged on December 4th 2011. As a portion of a broader project that continues to evolve, it is inaccurate, if not misleading, to describe it in the terms I have initially proposed. Yet, if part of the interest of Hypertext & Performance — part of its theoretical traction as process and practice — derives from its interrogation of such ready-to-hand concepts like “finished” and “product”, the temptation it simultaneously extends to identify now this stage, now that, as a fait accompli is not without its own interest and significance. In a note appended to the production, co-director Cristina Iovita describes it as “not an exercise, but the result of one”. By calling this production “accomplished”, I second this description of the project a result, as opposed to (say) an exercise performed in and for itself. At the same time, by literary, critical, and theoretical dispensation, and as both an audience and consumer of culture, I am inclined to locate its value precisely as an exercise. Put another way, what I find most compelling about the project is, first, its sustained examination (which is by no means foreclosed) of the very idea of an exercise performed in and for itself, and, secondly, of what such an exercise might look like.
The term “resonance” arrives with its own critical baggage, of course. In the final chapter of Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture (1990), a watershed moment for New Historicist literary criticism, Stephen Greenblatt attempts to account for the peculiar “Resonance and Wonder” — as the chapter is titled — surrounding what might otherwise be mere tokens of power. Whether the power at issue is clerical (in the case of Cardinal Wolsey’s hat, now lodged somewhere in the library of Christ Church’s, Oxford), colonial (as in the case of Renaissance Wunderkammer), or textual (and here any number of examples would suffice), these tokens radiate a “charisma” and “energy” quite in excess of any contingent historical prestige conferred upon them. While there is something fundamentally sepulchral about this “resonance” — one thinks of John Donne’s “bracelet of white hair about the bone” — Greenblatt cautiously avoids “the implication that [it] must be necessarily linked to destruction and absence”. The key here, he writes, “is the intimation of a larger community of voices and skills, an imagined ethnographic thickness” (176).
This is not the place to survey further the philosophical or institutional foundations of this “imagined ethnographic thickness”. Nor it is especially useful to mark the resonance, real or imagined, of New Historicism’s necromantic fancies with the kind of fanatical conviction documented by an otherwise motley crew of texts, among which I would include Shakespeare’s Macbeth, James Hoggs’ Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Baillie’s Witchcraft, and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Nevertheless, the tension between an historicist faith in the power of resonance, and its avowed emphasis on the spectacle or so-called “materiality” of power, is pertinent. Like “response”, “resonance” speaks most directly (though not for that reason exclusively) neither to the specular, nor to the spectacular, but, rather, to audition. Whatever its content, a response is usually verbal or written. Similarly, resonance is above all a property of sound, irrespective of the semantic reverb produced by psychoanalysis, affective stylistics, or theoretical physics.
This sonic and aural orientation becomes especially charged in the context of theatre.
“Why resonance? For its responsiveness and for its deep-rooted echo of an original impulse.”
As artistic director Patrick Leroux suggests, we might be better served by listening for echoes than by excavating fools’ gold. Either way, since there are witches waiting in the wings, one might as well invoke angels; or at least the “angel” recorded by the Oxford English Dictionary (n. III. 10) as a “radar echo of unknown origin”. Let that authoritative voice serve, if you will, to mediate the false opposition I might have unintentionally drawn between a teleological or “results” oriented project on the one hand, and, on the other, a project more concerned to excavate an archaic origin. The former orientation certainly has its place in the theatre; for instance, it would include drama as act or action, and hence, too, “a movement towards”, something “ineluctable, unstoppable....”. However, by saying the project questions the very idea of an exercise performed in and for itself, I am also proposing we see it is a coven of sorts: that is, as an assemblage contrived of discrete voices, bodies, and scripts which is nevertheless obedient to its gestational character. In other words, the term “resonance” bears on the potentially generative suspension of “originality”, whether as a way of designating the historical source text or as a self-evidently meaningful way of characterizing works of art.
I said above that the sonic and aural “resonance” of this term gains a particular charge in the context of theatre – not, I would add, despite the unavoidable spectacularity of theatre, but on account of it. “Blood”, one of the “interactive film/video dramaticules” of Hypertext and Performance, is especially illustrative of this point. Or, better, “Blood” served to illustrate and articulate this point for me. This particular dramaticule pushed through theatre proper to the medium of film, to cinema, for its potential to record blood more “convincingly” and “intimately” than the theatre perhaps could, constrained (which is not the right word) as it is by real bodies performing live actions in real time. To the extent that its language corroborates my experience of “Blood” as spectator and auditor, I draw here on the Author’s Note. What made its depiction of blood – of adolescent girls dressed in the stigmata of collective anxiety, faith, and thwarted (and sexual) energy – intimate and convincing, though, has less to do with cinematic verisimilitude than with how the pellicle resembles nothing so much as an absorbent tissue first soaked in a colour (red), then extinguished in whatever off-screen fire seems to have browned and curled its outer-skirts, and then above all, perhaps, with the disembodied — though not re-corded — voices incanting Ave Verum Corpus.
These voices, like the whispered confidences of Violet and Murrey in “Women on the Moor”, or, in the same scene, like the “wild cries from ... women heard at a distance, and then nearer” — indeed, like the many murmured suspicions, suppressed (albeit barely) cries, and ejaculated allegations which together comprise the sonic texture of Witchcraft and its Resonant Responses — ... These voices, again, will be particularly resonant in a theatre that explores the affective, social, cultural and political valences of visibility and exposure.
And what theatre does not.
In a pale effort to immunize herself against the fearful “noble company” conjured by Grizeld Bane and, more generally, against the community’s rash spread of hysteria, Annabella rehearses her line: “There is nobody here but ourselves”. The line will be familiar to Hamlet’s audience: that is, to Gertrude, who, confronted with specter of her dead husband and the crime behind it, asserts that she sees “nothing at all … yet all that is I see” (Hamlet 3.4.129). No matter whether these spectral presences are in fact visible (or whether they are in fact), the ladies’ claims are performative contradictions. For we, at least, are here: a bit part in “all that is”. Ave Verum Corpus.
The kind of theatre that explores the affective, social, cultural and political valences of exposure is at least vast. But, to risk the obvious, it is also true to say that Witchcraft and the Resonant Responses it solicited are very much about the production and representation of a form of exposure often called “shame”. Like shame-cultures, in Bernard Williams’s sense of the term, or like the “culture of fear” to which we are presently – arguably – acclimatized, this phenomenon pays little attention to the borders of history, culture, or indeed personal identity. Shame is contagious. And blushing, one of the ways in which shame manifests itself, is quite literally contagious. With this in mind, 18th century assumptions about the correlation of strictly physiological or passional states with, say, religious fanaticism, which we tend to understand as a socio-political phenomenon, might seem less naïve. By extension, “temperance” might seem like a viable answer to bodily and social imbalances alike.
Still, then and now, here as there, the blush of shame is coded as feminine and is, as such, sexualized. And/or vice versa. Either way, I would characterize the relatively disembodied images and sounds projected by “Blood”, no less than the hyper-stylised gestures that punctuated the accomplished production of Joanna Baillie’s Witchcraft staged on December 4th 2011 (as well as the pointedly puerile enactments of “Children at Play”, though I have not had room to discuss it here), in terms of a peculiar restraint. In each case, the restraints enforced by time, place, action, and the bodies performing actions, give powerful voice to sensual pleasure, with all its potentially shameful entailments, as something that has to be smuggled in through the backdoor and, often enough, disguised as the moral condemnation of itself.
Although, as everybody knows, it is an ill omen to name the Scottish play in context of the theatre, Macbeth would seem an obvious point of comparison to Witchcraft and its Resonant Responses. Macbeth, that is, as opposed to Julius Caesar, from which I’ve lifted this essay’s title. But in this context, Julius Caesar’s peculiar resonance is accounted for by its half-hearted conviction that the wayward passions of a community can be appeased by — and, more graphically if not more horribly, appeased in — blood. Brutus offers temperate assurance: “Only be patient till we have appeased / The multitude, beside themselves with fear, / And then we will deliver you the cause / Why I, that did love Caesar when I struck him, / Have thus proceeded” (3.1.180-84). Caius Cassius offers assurance of another sort. Even as he is “smearing [his] hands in Caesar’s blood”, he anticipates the reenactment of this decisive historical moment: “... How many ages hence / Shall this our lofty scene be acted over / In states unborn and accents yet unknown!” (3.1.112-14). And, as he must, Brutus answers in kind, since Caius’s words are confirmed in their very utterance. “How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport, / That now on Pompey’s basis lies along, / No worthier than the dust!” (115-17).
Shakespeare’s political assassins resemble Baillie’s coven of hysterical citizens hunting for a sacrificial victim whose blood will appease their fears and, perhaps, provide their striated erotic desires a degree of perverse satisfaction. Ecstatic, washed in Caesar’s blood, indeed purified by it, they too regard their individual actions as the highly ritualized, already symbolic, and hyper-theatrical action of a single entity. Henceforth, each time Caesar “bleed[s] in sport” – each time the assassination is reenacted on stage, as it is being reenacted, “now”, on Shakespeare’s stage – “So oft as that shall be”, Cassius replies, “So often shall the knot of us be called / The men that gave their country liberty” (117-19). And here we are indeed: nobody but ourselves, a part of all that is for now.
Why Stage and Respond to Witchcraft?
First, there was the call. The Invitation: “We’ve been told that you’re a dynamic research-creation fellow who gets things done.”
-Yes, I guess, but I’m really taken with other projects right now.
- Might you be interested in staging an obscure romantic play by a neglected Scottish playwright who was once considered her era’s Shakespeare.
- You could film the scenes and integrate them onto our hypertext website, for study.
- No. Really. Filmed theatre never works.
- You could figure out what works. We want to see it staged, we want to engage with it as a performance object.
- Well, I don’t know, maybe. Is it any good?
- Closet drama. A bit difficult. Scottish dialect. Great parts for women actors. A bit of everything: it’s called a tragedy but it’s really a melodrama with funny parts...
I read it. I didn’t see why I should stage it to merely film selected scenes and attach them to an academic hypertext website. I wanted more. I wanted to engage with it, engage with that strange author whose style I frankly did not like, but whose drive, scope, and fundamental understanding of drama and stagecraft were fascinating. This was no closet drama.
This was a Big Play with a bit of everything. It was a neglected play with its sprawling, awkward structure: the improbable rebounding of the action, coup de théâtre after coup de théâtre and a final deus ex machina with the return of an ersatz witness saving the day. The play would need many cuts, some slight modifications (to remember some forgotten characters along the way), and other additions to help the contemporary spectator follow the narrative. Mostly, the play called for performance. I took up the challenge to engage with it, with scholarly colleagues and artists in the institution. Very soon, the project became much larger than I could have imagined. We were supposed to poke around the text, historical context, types of acting for two years, and then produce our own resonant responses to the source text. But everything went very quickly from the first fall workshops and we ran (often quite literally) with the project for three years.
We called our project a “resonant response” to Baillie’s Witchcraft. The project would span three years and be funded by the FQRSC. It was impossible not to think of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, even though Baillie’s play predated it by over a century. Might this be a case of what Pierre Bayard playfully calls “anticipatory plagiarism?” Works that “plagiarise” later works, in the sense that they are read as ur-texts for something else, something better known. Both plays draw upon witchcraft as a device, a theatrical and moral trope, exploring the effects of collective hysteria and of the private individual’s situation in relation to the social world and historical processes. This is not something far-removed. Witchcraft under Miller’s pen was an allegory for the Red Scare. We’ve gone through different hues of scares over the last few decades. Anything out of the ordinary, anything troubling can easily be pegged as suspicious. Not extra-ordinary, just plain suspicious. Bothersome. Alien. It’s worst, of course when the threat is from within. When it unsettles us in our very comfort, in our class, in our home. The pulsating Jessies of the play—young women overtaken by desire and utterly confused about it are not erotic—they are unsettling, they are bewitched. How can they lose control so completely? What have we done to deserve this upon our house?
In year one, we were supposed to simply explore. We did more, much more. Three playwrights, three directors, and nine actors created nine short pieces: three excerpts from Witchcraft and six resonant responses (theatre, film, dance) grew out of our explorations. We engaged with, we resisted; we spoke to, with, and about the play. We were curious about Witchcraft. Our pieces explored early twentieth century stigmata in young French Canadian Women, the contemporary South African albino organ trade feeding local witchcraft, as well as gruesome folk-tale used as a dubious pedagogical tool. We presented these as part of the Congress for the Humanities and Social Sciences held that year (May 2009) at Concordia. We had done what we hoped to work towards over three years. And yet the first year was barely over. The second year, I asked my PhD student (and well-seasoned director) Cristina Iovita to direct a focused gestural workshop drawing upon nineteenth-century romantic gestural codes as a starting point for a more careful and systematic engagement with the elusive material. Working alongside with students and professional actors, Cristina found a convincing mode of actor training which allowed us to better engage with Baillie’s work and her own thoughts on theatre. These gestural codes of the early Romantic era, while initially seeming stiff and arcane to a modern actor and audience, were thought in the period as natural reactive or proactive movements. Yet, these gestures were codified for an era before naturalism, before “method,” before minimalism and mumbling. Cristina’s own experience with commedia dell’arte helped mediate this overt theatricality and take it for what it was: actors as projectors, through rhetorical tradition, of an audience’s take on stage archetypes.
For year three, we worked on the much anticipated website charting our process, following three pathways to Witchcraft: the historical, the performative, and the resonant response. We hope that this will be of use to scholars, students, and artists interested in creative process.
Also, we were invited by the Department of Theatre at Concordia to direct a very large cast version of the original Baillie play with 23 actors. We, not the royal we, but two directors, Cristina Iovita and I, codirecting. And a head dramaturg, Joanna Donehower, another PhD student with professional theatre experience, who had been very much at the heart of the dramaturgical and historical project from the start. And many, many other student dramaturgs, designers, assistants, crew (too many to name here). It took us three years of circling around the play, of responding to it, poking at it, deconstructing it, reconstructing it, to finally stage it more or less as Baillie had written it (after much editing, but without fundamental changes to story). Matralab and Hexagram-Concordia, two research-creation centers at Concordia with which I am associated allowed us to bring in contemporary stage-craft complements: multimedia/video elements hopefully well integrated into the nineteenth century work. I was fascinated by the elaborate stage-craft of much of the theatre of that era. Dazzling! Exciting! In a horses-on-a-treadmill kind of way. Must contemporary plays used video? No. Why this one? Because it was part of our engagement with the very idea of the “hypertext and performance” of the original work. A hypertext is a non-linear link bringing the reader along an alternate route, a simultaneous, yet divergent reading of the initial word or sentence. Every sentence has its double, its alternate reading. Video here allows us, through visual and intimate codes, to fill in many historical and narrative gaps in the play, in a hypertextual manner. But it also acts as a complementary fantasy/dreamscape. On stage, the actors are appropriating nineteenth century gestures and emotional play. Pedagogically, the multimedia aspect enables actors to do film/video work, something they don’t experience in their theatre training, while also engaging with explicitly theatrical gestural work.
The result was, in a sense, overshadowed by resistance and frustrated compromise; it was torn between two media, two aesthetics, two sensibilities, two ways of approaching storytelling. We hoped that these two streams would complement each other through the mediation of theatrical production which is first and foremost a collaborative art. An art of happy compromise and fruitful accidents. (Not that there aren’t unhappy compromises and occasional recriminations; as long as these feed the process, we’re fine). Theatre is like a sponge. It doesn’t need to be bone dry; quite the contrary. The show is the thing. Everything else is rhetoric, posturing, and ego. The year three production in the Department of Theatre ended up being a solid, beautifully crafted, layered, and textured production which we did in relatively little time with a huge student cast, in the context of a departmental production. Many multimedia elements were cut at the last minute, during tech week. Some will return to haunt the project, others will extend it into more of a performative video installation logic. In any case, the three public exercises, the multimedia-heavy production of our “Hypertext and Performance” resonant responses at Congress for the Humanities in May-June 2010, the actor-based Romantic gestural codes demonstration at a conference on Melodrama in May 2011 (organized by Concordia’s Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Society and Culture), and the full-blown and full-cast production in the Department of Theatre in November-December 2011. These were three extraordinary opportunities to fully invest a play, a style, a world-view, and to engage in a creative and intellectual process which opened up a sense of possibility and responsibility when reading older works.
Why stage and respond to Witchcraft? Because the opportunity came along and it made sense to engage with existing “neglected” and slightly off-kilter historical work which still resonated today. Because there was much to explore, much to discover, many formal and aesthetic challenges to take up. Maybe also because of the Scots—I grew up in Glengarry County, Ontario, Canada, where there were still traces and faint echoes of Scots in the English spoken there. And because of the crazy structure of the play which sought to reconcile melodrama with high drama, national allegory with tragic harmatia, and the private lives of women with public discourse.
The design process of the Hypertext and Performance project, over three years, took several directions, given the various contexts in which Witchcraft, its resonant responses, or a combination of both, were produced.
In year 1, the nine scenes and plays were presented in the Hexagram Black Box for the Canadian Congress of Humanities and Social Sciences which was being held at Concordia. During the initial fall workshops exploring Baillie’s Witchcraft and the team’s initial responses to the work, Louis Patrick Leroux sketched an initial drawing of three screens framing the stage action, and allowing for shadow play and projection. This sketch came to define the minimalist design and projection-heavy aesthetic of the first year. Designers and techs involved included Isabelle Duguay (costumes and props), Mathieu Marcil (lights), Jeremy Eliosoff (special effects), Adbelhamid Bouchnak and Louis Patrick Leroux (film), Michal Seta (video projections), and Julian Menezes and Chimwemwe Miller (sound design and composition).
In year 2, we shifted the scenographic design dialogue with the actor and acting convention, given the nature of the gesture-driven workshop on early romantic acting codes. The principal “designing” had to do with costumes and some props. Deborah Sullivan, who had worked on the costumes in year 1, took over the design duties. The workshop presentation was given in a rehearsal space in the Department of Theatre for a crowd of scholars attending a SSHRC-funded conference on Melodrama which our colleague Dr. Marcie Frank had organized at Concordia.
Late in year 2 and into year 3, once the Department of Theatre programmed a full production of Baillie’s Witchcraft, the department assembled a student design team to work over the course of an entire semester, a full year before the production, in dialogue with co-directors Louis Patrick Leroux and Cristina Iovita. Design students, Danielle Laurin (costumes), Dominique Coughlin-Villeneuve (set), Michela Fisher (lighting), Hannah Gorham-Smith (props), and Matthew Kolaitis (sound), worked under the initial watchful and supportive eyes of Amy Keith and later Veronica Classen. Some of their initial sketches, emotional responses to the play, and designs follow. Additional designers and operators from outside the Theatre department joined the team as well, these included Julian Menezes (musical composition), Nika Khanjani (video filming and editing), and Julian Stein (video operating and editing).
Design Research Process: Costumes
JKD: Can you describe your research process, from page to stage?
Danielle Laurin (Costume Designer): I tend to approach design based on a mix of emotional response and script analysis. One does not necessarily come before the other, but rather, they interact and feed off of each other. This is something that I very much depend on in order to follow through most fully on my ideas.
The actual words of the text are, of course, very important to this process, and the first step I take after reading a text is to highlight all the words that seem to hold something essential to the story, or that hold some sort of inspiring visual imagery. I then make a list. This is list is then deconstructed and pasted into a sketchbook, word by word. This is the starting point of my research. Shortly after and/or simultaneously, I begin dramaturgical research, meaning that I start to inform myself about the location, the era, the social context, and the references that exist within the play. Once armed with both historical and emotional research, I begin constructing preliminary designs. At this point in the process, the collaboration with the other designers (set, lighting, props) was really important for me in terms of creating a strong design that would flow through all facets of the show.
In terms of confection and production, and especially in the case of creating the costumes for Witchcraft, it was important to me to follow the rehearsal process closely, to see what direction the directors were taking, and to identify the specific needs of each character. Though we had drawn “final” design renderings, and I had a “final” projected outcome in the back of my mind, it was important to leave room for the unexpected. This way the play and the design remain harmonious and can mutually benefit from each other.
Design Research Process: Props
JKD: Can you describe your research process, from page to stage?
Hannah Gorham-Smith, Prop Master: The design process began in January of 2011 by reading the play and each of us coming up with our initial reactions to the text in the form of a visual emotional expression. From there we began researching the period and after meeting with the directors we started looking into some of the themes that they were interested in. I chose to look into the ideas of layering and reflections. I found multitudes of images which showed mirrors, reflections and distortions. I looked into the idea of the circus and the distortions, viewpoints and assumptions that the general public has about the "other". I also found a lot of research images on book art and layering. The idea of mirrors and distortion ultimately inspired some of the central ideas within my designs. I designed an open "mirror-less" cheval mirror, which the actors could use to create the illusion of reflection and distortion, as well as give the eerie unstable feeling of an other worldly presence. This central idea was also echoed in the design of the chairs which had the round-backed shape of the period but were again empty, causing the actors sitting in them to feel unsteady and precarious in their situations. I linked this central idea with the character lights of the three leading ladies, Grizeld Bane with her circular rock (cut), Annabella with her oval mirror and spiky candle holder (cut) and Violet with her circular and even mirror. Grizeld Bane's light represented her connection with nature, Annabella's oval mirror, represented something not quite right, there was something off about her, whereas Violet's mirror was perfectly round and golden, she was the innocent. The main themes of the play that I delt with were as I said before the ideas of distortion, uncertainty, reflections and eeriness, as well as nature and hunting. I brought nature into the castle itself by giving all the props for inside, such as the candelabra's and the benches a feeling of dampness, the dampness of Scotland. In terms of hunting, I wanted to bring the literal hunt into the castle with the antler candelabra's but also the metaphor of hunting people, hunting witches, into the audiences subconscious. At the beginning this was a period show, but slowly throughout the design process we worked the props and set down to a more conceptual design. The props were in keeping with the period in type but the style was conceptualized to work with the metaphors of the show. A lot of adjustments were made throughout the production and rehearsal process but what ultimately ended up onstage was the distilled design and the key messages.
Music and Sound Design
Witchcraft Production – Year III
Baillie Waltz with Vocal Harmony
Shortn'in Bread – Ballad
The Attic (acoustic guitar)
Annabella & Grizeld Bane's Theme
The Well below the Valley
Annabella & Grizeld Bane's Theme
Grizeld Bane's Theme
Excerpts from the Actor Resource Guide, Year 3
Witchcraft: A Tragedy in Prose by Joanna Baillie
Directed by Cristina Iovita and Louis Patrick Leroux
Areas of Research
The table of contents (below) provides a glimpse of the compiled research strands taken up by the dramaturgical team and given to the cast and crew of production over the last three years. We have excerpted segments from the full-text of the actor resource below.
Table of Contents
Joanna Baillie: Biographical Information
Brief History of 17th and 18th c. Scotland
Overview: Dynasties, Empires, Religion
England, Ireland and Scotland Relationship: “Anglo-Scot Relations: An Introduction”
Highlander, Lowlander: “Clanship”
Witchcraft in Context
Jacobism and the Enlightenment, the Radical War, Lowland Clearances, and Socioeconomic Status
Q & A with the writers of The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft
Graph: Number of Witchcraft Trials Reported in Renfrew County
“The Survival of Witchcraft Prosecutions and Witch Belief in South-West Scotland”
Maps of Renfrewshire and Other Places
Class Structures Within The Play Demystified
“The Socio-Political Structure of the Middle March”
18th Century Society Outline
Romantic Acting Code and Melodrama
Romantic Theatre and the Gothic
Romantic Acting Styles – Anna Sigg
Baillie’s Theory of Acting – Anna Sigg
The Glossary of Terms: Manavit / Donehower
Clarke, Norma. “Baillie, Joanna (1762–1851).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Jan. 2006. 14 Sept 2011.
Joanna Baillie’s ambition was to write plays that could be acted. The criticism that she had no understanding of practical stagecraft and that her plays were torpid and dull in performance rankled throughout her life, and she was always delighted to hear of a production being mounted, no matter how humble it might be. She believed that critics had unfairly labelled her a closet dramatist, partly because she was a woman and partly because they had failed to read her prefaces with care. She pointed also to the conventions of the theatre in her time, when lavish spectacle on huge stages was the order of the day. Twentieth-century scholars have recognized her importance as an innovator on the stage and as a dramatic theorist, and revisionary critics and literary historians of the Romantic period concerned to reassess the place of women writers are acknowledging her significance.
Devine, T M. Clanship to Crofters' War: The Social Transformation of the Scottish Highlands. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1994. 1-7. Print.
Most medieval Scottish chroniclers...draw distinctions between the ‘wild Scots’ and the ‘domestic Scots’, the elements which for centuries thereafter distinguished the Highlander in the Lowland mind. The differences in both speech and dress were clear, but even more significant, however, was the perceived savagery and lawlessness of the Highlander. He was a figure of menace who did not share the ‘domestic’ and ‘civilised’ virtues of the Lowland people. ‘Wyld wykkd Helandmen’ as Wyntoun described them, were viewed as racially and culturally inferior to other Scots and were seen as a threat. Above all, Highlanders were a different race, who were ‘hostile’ to the English people and language.
Gascoigne, Bamber. "Act of Union: AD 1707, History of Scotland." HistoryWorld.net. Encyclopedia of Britain. From 2001, ongoing. Web. 14 Sept 2011.
Given the centuries of hostility between Scotland and England, with warfare even in the 17th century under a shared Stuart king, the union of the two kingdoms seems to come with surprising suddeness. The motivation in 1707 is largely economic for the Scots and political for the English. Scotland has recently suffered a disastrous failure in setting up a colony in 1698 in Darien, on the isthmus of Panama. Tariff-free access to all English markets, both in Britain and in the developing colonies, seems commercially a rather more attractive option. For England, engaged in lengthy wars with the French (who are sympathetic to the exiled Stuart dynasty), it is attractive to remove the danger of any threat from the country's only land border. The union of the kingdoms creates an island realm. The Act of Union abolishes the Scottish parliament, giving the Scots instead a proportion of the seats at Westminster. There is unrest and warfare in Scotland during much of the 18th century because a strong faction, particularly in the Highlands, supports the Jacobite cause (the claim to the throne of the exiled Stuarts). This discontent erupts twice, in the rebellions of 1715 and 1745. But the majority of Scots are content with a new role in a kingdom united under the title Great Britain.
Goodare, Julian, Lauren Martin, Joyce Miller, and Louise Yeoman. "Introduction to Scottish Witchcraft." The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft. University of Edinburgh, Jan 2003. Web. 13 Sept 2011.
Many 'witches' were defined as witches by their neighbours, through a process of gossip and quarrelling. Witches were believed to be malicious and vengeful. If someone suffered a misfortune after a quarrel, they might conclude that the other person had bewitched them in revenge. The Scottish Witchcraft Act was repealed in 1736 when the British Parliament decided to repeal the parallel English act. The 1736 Act abolished the crime of witchcraft and replaced it by a new crime of 'pretended witchcraft' with a maximum penalty of one year's imprisonment.
Groundwater, Anna. The Scottish Middle March, 1573-1625: Power, Kinship, Allegiance. London, England: Royal Historical Society, 2010. 46-53. Print.
Society throughout Scotland was stratified horixonally into nobles, greater, lesser, and bonnet lairds, and those below. Cutting vertically through these layers, was the grouping formed by kinship, whereby one kindred could contain members of all socio-economic levels from the richest noble to the poorest tenant. In the Highlands these groupings became known as clans. Blood ties bound these groupings but these were reinforced by understood obligations of service, obedience, maintenance, loyalty, and a sense of common identity. (Marriage consolidated these alliances.) The structure, ties and obligation of kinshop helped to maintain the authority of the elite, and provided a framework of power that the crown could utilize to effect its policies in any region.
Henderson, Lizanne. "The Survival of Witchcraft Prosecutions and Witch-Belief in South West Scotland." Scottish Historical Review. 85.1 (April 2006): 52-74. Web. 14 Sept 2012.
During the era of the Scottish witch-hunts, Dumfries and Galloway was one of the last regions to initiate witch prosecutions, but it was also one of the most reluctant to completely surrender all belief in witches until a comparatively late date. In the late seventeeth and early eighteenth centuries south-west Scotland, better known for the persecution of covenanters, took the practice of witchcraft and charming very seriously indeed, and for perhaps longer than other parts of Scotland, though the area has received surprisingly little scholarly investigation. The trial evidence is not incompatible with that found elsewhere though there is less demonic content. Accusations of witchcraft in this region were mostly concerned with the troubles of everyday life, agricultural problems, family tensions and disagreements between neighbours. From 1670 to about 1740, the very decades that were giving birth to the Scottish Enlightenment, learned interest in the supernatural was actually on the increase and the topic received an unprecedented level of questioning, investigation, and scrutiny. Ironically, the 'superstitions' that
both church and state had been attempting to eradicate for some two hundred years were now being used to defend religion against the growing threat of atheism. The zeal of the ministers does seem to have contributed to the endurance of witch beliefs in the South West, as elsewhere. Against this backdrop, the survival of witch belief and the continued prosecution of witches in southwest Scotland is examined, thus contributing to our understanding of the individualistic nature of witch persecution and the various dynamics at play within the Scottish witch-hunting experience.
Houghton, S.M. qtd. in Purves, Jock. Fair Sunshine: Character Studies of the Scottish Covenanters. London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1968. 195-203. Print.
In 1637 Charles I and Laud try to impose the full liturgy and hierarchy of the Anglican church on Scotland, where James I - in his more tactful early period - has put in place a workable compromise between the presbyterian and episcopal systems. This solution has held good for several decades. Now the king's demands lead to riots in Edinburgh, in 1638, and the emergence of the Covenanters. It has been a tradition for members of the Church of Scotland, when confronted by a crisis, to covenant themselves to a shared cause. They do so now in a National Covenant, first signed in Greyfriars' churchyard in Edinburgh in 1638 and then circulated throughout Scotland. A new and ominous factor in political and religious life appeared during the early 17th Century. It had not been entirely absent during the late 16th Century, but after James VI’s accession to the English throne in 1603 as James I, it increased in strength and importance, and ere long resulted in a long drawn-out campaign between Episcopacy and Presbyterianism.
Lambert, Tim. "Life in the 18th Century." LocalHistories.org. World History Encyclopedia, 2003. Web. 14 Sept 2011.
In the 18th century a small minority of the population lived in luxury. The rich built great country houses. The leading architect of the 18th century was Robert Adam (1728-1792). He created a style called neo-classical and he designed many 18th century country houses. In the 18th century the wealthy owned comfortable upholstered furniture. They owned beautiful furniture, some of it veneered or inlaid. In the 18th century much fine furniture was made by Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779), George Hepplewhite (?-1786) and Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806). The famous clockmaker James Cox (1723-1800) made exquisite clocks for the rich. However the poor had none of these things. Craftsmen and labourers lived in 2 or 3 rooms. The poorest people lived in just one room. Their furniture was very simple and plain. During the 18th century superstition declined. In 1700 many people believed that scrofula (a form of tubercular infection) could be healed by a monarch's touch. (Scrofula was called the kings evil). Queen Anne (1702-1714) was the last British monarch to touch for scrofula. Despite the decline of superstition there were still many quacks in the 18th century. Limited medical knowledge meant many people were desperate for a cure. One of the most common treatments, for the wealthy, was bathing in or drinking spa water, which they believed could cure all kinds of illness.
Stones, E L. G. Anglo-Scottish Relations, 1174-1328: Some Selected Documents. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970. xiii-xvii. Print.
The intercourse between the kingdoms of England and Scotland is one of the main political themes of British history until 1603 and indeed the existence of two kings in ‘one poor island’ gives the place a special interest in the history of Europe. We must attempt here to draw attention, very briefly, to the most significant changes which became apparent in the relations between the two kingdoms. In the first place, Anglo-Norman civilisation penetrated deeply into Scotland and affected both church and state to such a degree that, in the Lowlands at any rate, society came to resemble very closely that of contemporary England. Secondly, the territorial boundaries of Scottish power moved southwards, causing disputes over territory and homage between the two kings. Thirdly, as the Scottish church moved from the isolation of its ‘Celtic’ period to become manifestly a province of the Western church, the need became evident to decide where its allegiance lay.
Clarke, Norma. “Baillie, Joanna (1762–1851).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H.
C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. Jan. 2006. 14 Sept 2011.
Devine, T M. Clanship to Crofters' War: The Social Transformation of the Scottish Highlands.
Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1994. 1-7. Print.
Gascoigne, Bamber. "Act of Union: AD 1707, History of Scotland." HistoryWorld.net.
Encyclopedia of Britain. From 2001, ongoing. Web. 14 Sept 2011.
Goodare, Julian, Lauren Martin, Joyce Miller, and Louise Yeoman. "Introduction to Scottish
Witchcraft." The Survey of Scottish Witchcraft. University of Edinburgh, Jan 2003. Web. 13 Sept 2011.
Groundwater, Anna. The Scottish Middle March, 1573-1625: Power, Kinship, Allegiance.
London, England: Royal Historical Society, 2010. 46-53. Print.
Henderson, Lizanne. "The Survival of Witchcraft Prosecutions and Witch-Belief in South West
Scotland." Scottish Historical Review. 85.1 (April 2006): 52-74. Web. 14 Sept 2012.
Houghton, S.M. qtd. in Purves, Jock. Fair Sunshine: Character Studies of the Scottish
Covenanters. London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1968. 195-203. Print.
Lambert, Tim. "Life in the 18th Century." LocalHistories.org. World History Encyclopedia,
2003. Web. 14 Sept 2011.
Stones, E L. G. Anglo-Scottish Relations, 1174-1328: Some Selected Documents. Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1970. xiii-xvii. Print.
A Transitional Resonant Response
In Year 3, after having staged the full production of Baillie’s Witchcraft and designed the present web site charting the intellectual and creative process of the project, we concluded with the creation of one last resonant response to our own previous work on Baillie but which also opens onto a forthcoming project, Cymbeline Materials which is part of the McGill Shakespeare Group’s “Shakespeare & Story” research program.
“Milford Haven” is a performative video installation for a gallery setting conceived and directed by Louis Patrick Leroux which involves videographer Nika Khanjani, designer Danielle Laurin, actress Miriam Cummings, actor Christian Jadah, and video projection artist Mihal Seta. The work was developed in winter 2012, rehearsed and filmed in Spring 2012 and will be premiered in Montreal in the fall 2012.
The theatrical performance, conceived for wide screen and immersive video experience is based on Leroux’s response to Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and Boccaccio’s Decameron. The original French text by Leroux has been translated by Alexander St-Laurent.
Imogen, the daughter of the English king Cymbeline, and virtuous wife of Posthumous, has been the object of a rather macho debate. The husband, while bragging about his wife’s virtue, accepted a bet with sly Roman, Iachimo, who vows to seduce her and bring proof of his success. After having gained access to her chamber and spying on her, he does return with a detailed description of her as well as a trophy, her bracelet. Her husband, furious with a sense of cuckolded deceit, has her ordered dead by her footman, Pisanio. The monologue takes place as Pisanio has just left her in Milford Haven, under the false pretence of a heartfelt meeting with her husband. Rather than killing her, he abandons her there, still wearing her chastity belt.
The piece explores the timeless topic of women’s sexuality and men’s attempts to bind it, when they consider it their own, or to unleash and harness it, when it is withheld from them. Refusing to be mere property or game for sport, Imogen seeks agency and responsibility. She is alone, in Milford Haven, in those last moments of her life a daughter and wife of—.