Thesis Festival 2019
by Jeff Miller

The annual S&P Thesis Festival is an opportunity for the program’s second year students to showcase their work in front of fellow students, faculty, and members of the community and receive critical feedback that will aid them in writing their thesis papers. Each scholar is given fifteen minutes to present their thesis topic, followed by a five-minute question-and-answer session.

“Supernatural: The Rhetorical Language of Shakespeare’s Fantasy Characters and their Significance to the Plot” by Nicholas Hopf
Nick started off the event by examining the way in which the language that supernatural characters from three of Shakespeare’s plays distinguish them from the more earthly characters. Hopf used Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the three witches from Macbeth, and the Ghost in Hamlet to as cases, citing metrical variation and the use of rhetorical figures as evidence of their otherworldliness. 

“Le Petit Mort: Sex and Death in the Mind of the Elizabethans” by Rosemary Armato
Rosemary gave definition to a brand new term, the “dead trick,” a trope of faked deaths within early modern plays. She looked at how the use of both “bed tricks” and “dead tricks” in Measure for Measure and All’s Well that Ends Well, which are both considered “problem plays,” can give us as scholars and theater makers a deeper understanding of how both devices operate in Much Ado About Nothing, which is not necessarily considered a problem play.  

“heckity heck, i crave death: Identifying Hamlet in Generation Z” by Abygail Merlino
Abygail shared a plethora of memes and images depicting Hamlet in order to uncover the way in which young people, particularly those of Generation Z, connect with the character. Abygail argues that Generation Z has developed a unique relationship to Hamlet based on their own close readings and their views on mental health health and gender identity.

“In Every Way Authentic: The Importance of Non-Academic Shakespeare Studies and a History of the Smithfield Shakespeare Class” by Emily Hurst
Emily gave us a peek inside the world of an all-women’s Shakespeare Class in Smithfield Virginia, Emily’s home town. Emily revealed that this particular group of women has been meeting for generations, and she argued that such groups are vital for individuals that may not have access to higher education programs. 

“How Can We Make the Audience Laugh?: Using Theatrical Viewpoints and Rhetorical Catechresis” by Nami Hirota
Firstly, Nami clarified that her presentation would be focusing exclusively on Viewpoints, and not on rhetoric. Nami drew on personal experience, sharing an anecdote of her own failure to make the audience laugh within a role, which sparked her interest in comedy. She studied the Viewpoints method of examining theater, and how by isolating and focusing on particular areas, she could understand what made people laugh.

“Shakespeare’s Cartoon Canon: The Animation of Adaptation” by Jason William Steffen
Jason argued that with all the film presentations and adaptations of Shakespeare that exist, there are very few Shakespeare plays presented as cartoons. While there are many allusions and parodies of Shakespeare in cartoons, Jason claims, few are willing to do a full play in Shakespeare’s language. Jason then presented the first scene of a cartoon he drew and voiced, Twelfth Night

“My Poor Foole is Hanged” by Madison Little
Madison argues that Cordelia makes an ideal double to the Fool in King Lear. Madison further explains that in Shakespeare’s company, the actor most known for playing the clowns of Shakespeare’s later plays, Robert Armin, might have played Edgar rather than the Fool, based on the number of different roles Edgar must take on throughout the play.

“A Foole’s History” by Kelsie Blocker
Kelsie led us through Shakespeare’s two most famous fools, Will Kempe and Robert Armin, and how their styles of comedy influenced the roles Shakespeare wrote for them. She then compared their comedic styles to the way contemporary comedians build their sets.

“An Expecting Aesthetic: The Portrayal of Pregnancy Onstage in Early Modern England” by Summer England
Summer’s thesis looks at the way that pregnancies have been portrayed on stage throughout history. In particular, she focused on Sarah Siddons, an actress famous for portraying a multitude of roles throughout her career while pregnant herself. By having both a male-presenting actor and a female-presenting actor each perform a monologue while wearing a pregnancy belly, Summer demonstrated that in a modern society, seeing a man play a pregnant woman can come across as campy.

“Rump Drolls: The Illegal Public Theater that Took Place Under Cromwell’s Nose” by Emma Rose Kraus
Emma Rose introduced us to Rump Drolls, a form of underground theater that took place during the Interregnum, a period in which theater was supposedly outlawed by Oliver Cromwell. These shorter, usually comedic performances had a history of being broken up by law enforcement.

“Early Modern Marriage and Women’s Struggles for Separation” by Kara Headley
Kara began by expressing her dissatisfaction with the ending of Shakespeare’s comedies, and how ending a play with marriage might not mean a happy ending for the woman involved. Kara then explained how few ways a woman had to escape a bad marriage, while men had many.

“The Bard’s Technique: A 21st Century Acting Technique” by Sarah Duttlinger English
Sarah began by listing some of the existing forms of acting currently in use and lamenting the lack of a specific training program that makes use of the type of specific linguistic rigor and use of the audience that Shakespeare training gets. She then proposed the creation of a new form of training that she would be developing called “The Bard’s Technique,” which would focus on applying knowledge of verse, rhetoric, and audience contact to contemporary plays.

“Crying “Nuncle”: The Performative Past and Theatrical Future of Professional Wrestling” by Jeff Miller
Jeff began his presentation, but was interrupted by another, heckling student, whom he promptly slammed onto the stage, pinned, and then received a title belt. For his presentation, Jeff explained that modern professional wrestling is a form of theatrical performance, and gave examples of theater practitioners who are bringing the worlds of theater and wrestling together. He then revealed that he would be devising a production of a Shakespeare play performed in the form of a professional wrestling show. He then performed a short scene with Rosemary as Oberon and Titania respectively, to give a taste of what such a performance could look like.

“Reclaiming the Reputation of the Early Modern Actor” by Spencer Mayo
Spencer’s presentation pushed back against the popularly-held historical “fact” that actors in Early Modern England were held in poor regard. He cited Edward Alleyn and Richard Burbage as examples of well-esteemed actors who came from land-owning backgrounds but chose to pursue acting anyway.

“Live from the Blackfriars, It’s Saturday Night!” by Mili Koncelik
In a presentation that made use of oversized cue cards such as one might find on a television set, Mili made comparisons between the rehearsal conditions between the rehearsal conditions of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and the rehearsal practices of Early Modern plays. She argued that having a greater knowledge of the connections between the two forms can help us in developing new forms of entertainment. Mili then finished the day of presentations by calling all of the previous presenters to the stage for a SNL-style finale while closing music played.

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