Lunchtime Colloquia 2019-2020 | Atlantic World Research Network

Lunchtime Colloquia 2019-2020

Lunchtime colloquia will meet in 2017-18 on varied weekdays (see below) and different formats from 11:45 am-1:30 pm. We usually meet in MHRA 1607, the Research and Partnerships conference room on the first floor of the Moore Humanities and Research Administration Building’s research wing. Colloquia will be led by colleagues from varied disciplines, but with a shared purpose: to explore life around the Atlantic Rim in ways that will spark new approaches, provide useful responses to work-in-progress, and reflect on the shared project of transatlantic studies.

Date Topic Presenter(s)
Friday, February 21, 2020
“Interrupted Railway Modernities: Precarious Train Journeys in Fiction and Cinema” Dr. Johannes Riquet
Associate Professor of English Literature at Tampere University in Finland
Wednesday, April 29, 2020
4:00-5:15 pm
“Pandemic Theatre: Doing Shakespeare During CoronatimeA Zoom Q & A” Ethan McSweeney
Artistic Director, American Shakespeare Center, Staunton, VA

“Interrupted Railway Modernities: Precarious Train Journeys in Fiction and Cinema”

This colloquium engaged with the cultural history of the railway journey in literature, cinema, and the visual arts as a multisensory and specifically modern experience of multiple accidents, interruptions, and interferences. Starting with a discussion of the poetics of contingency in early railroad fiction, Professor Riquet examined the figure of the train at the intersection of modern physics and modernist aesthetics. Then he turned to narrative, poetic and perceptual interruptions and interferences in railway crime fiction and cinema, as well as in Cold War cinema (including the 1977 James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me) and terrorist fiction, ending with a discussion of the changed significance of trains in the postindustrial present. Professor Riquet briefly presented individual case studies as well as an outline of his book-in-progress on this subject. During discussion, participants shared thoughts on the overall book design as well as, more specifically, the relationship between (as well as the entwinement of) British and American perspectives. The Lady Vanishes? Strangers on a Train? Murder on the Orient ExpressSnowpiercer?

“Pandemic Theatre: Doing Shakespeare During CoronatimeA Zoom Q & A”

Ethan McSweeney was named Artistic Director of the American Shakespeare Center in June 2018 and made his Blackfriars Playhouse directing debut with Julius Caesar followed by the world premiere of Julianne Wick Davis’ musical The Willard Suitcases.

His internationally acclaimed work over the past two decades has been distinguished by both its remarkable diversity and breadth of achievement. In New York, his direction includes the Broadway revival of Gore Vidal’s The Best Man (Tony Award nomination, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards) and the premiere of John Grisham’s A Time to Kill; the off-Broadway premieres of John Logan’s Never the Sinner (Outer Critics and Drama Desk awards) and Ellen McLaughlin’s adaptation of Aeschylus’ The Persians, as well as world premieres by Kate Fodor, Jason Grote, and Thomas Bradshaw, among others.

Nationally, his work on new plays, musicals, and revivals has been seen at most of the major institutional theatres in the country including the Guthrie, the Goodman, the Old Globe, the Denver Center, the Alley, Dallas Theater Center, South Coast Rep, Center Stage, the Wilma, the Pittsburgh Public, Westport Playhouse, the Arena Stage, and the Shakespeare Theater Company in Washington, DC, where his string of acclaimed classics includes: The Tempest, Much Ado about Nothing, The Merchant of Venice, Ion, and Major Barbara.

Internationally, he has spent two seasons at the celebrated Stratford Festival in Canada, staged multiple productions for The Gate in Dublin, and recently toured his production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the Macao Arts Festival in China. His productions have been nominated for more than 75 awards and claimed 30 wins, including four for Best Director: Twelfth Night (Helen Hayes Award, 2017), A Streetcar Named Desire (Irish Times Award, 2013), A Body of Water (San Diego Critics Circle, 2006) and Six Degrees of Separation (Star-Tribune Award, 2003).

This Zoom event, originally scheduled as a lunchtime colloquium, was first planned to feature McSweeney and the work of the Blackfriars Playhouse, the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s indoor venue which opened first in London’s Blackfriars district in 1608, now rebuilt and open since 2000 in Staunton, Virginia. McSweeney, known internationally for his mastery of theatrical spectacle, has recently turned towards the intimate, “unplugged” world of what he calls “Slow Theater,” with no technological enhancement but light, and performed according to the original practices of the Tudor-Stuart playhouses of Renaissance times.

The COVID emergency changed not only the venue and time, but also the topic, as McSweeney offered to join us virtually and answer questions, some sent to him in advance, and some during the event itself. Here is a brief sampling, below.

Question: “In Shakespeare’s time it was not uncommon for playhouses to be closed during plague-time. Given that live theater is a social art that is profoundly challenged by social distancing, whether Renaissance or modern, how might your theatrical practice be influenced not only in the present but in the medium and longer-term by the current COVID crisis? Might you choose different themes or modes of presentation than face-to-face theater? What will drive the decision to keep the lights out or “do it with the lights on” again at the Blackfriars?”

McSweeney responded by agreeing that this modern plague makes immediately relevant the instability of public health and the public theater in Shakespeare’s time, collapsing that chronological distance between early modern and modern in pretty alarming ways. Like many live classic theaters, Blackfriars exists to be close and in person, and so this shutdown is an artistic and existential shock. Nevertheless, temporary recourse to digital streaming of performances done by the ASC company who constitute a performative living “bubble”—sharing accommodations and life together while socially distancing from audiences—allows us to pursue our mission under these stressful conditions, while looking eagerly forward to the end of plague-time, when the normal interactions of players and hearers, actors and audiences, can resume.

Question: “Slow Theatre–I’ve been enjoying listening to and reading your words on this idea. The jail that is our personal sense of time—our sense of time is everything; our job, our daily structures, our relationships, our very identity. When do we get to escape that?”

McSweeney responded by saying that we come to the theatre to slow down. We come to the theatre and the arts, especially all the performing arts, to disrupt time, as during sleep and dream. Of course, we can do this for moments in watching TV or film but nowadays we can always pause the film to pee or answer an email. The theatre demands that we leave our sense of time at the door. This is true for audience members and for actors. As a theatrical artist I get to disrupt my sense of time when I go to work.

Question: “How do we get our brains around the question, “What is live theatre after coronavirus?’”

McSweeney responded that our collective and personal sense of time will certainly be altered after this experience. Despite all the current practical concerns about sitting closely in a room—including a theater—with a lot of other people, we will miss that increasingly and come to cherish that contact even more when it returns. So live “slow theater” will, if anything, have an even brighter future, I believe, after the pandemic recedes.