Final Thoughts from ‘A Man for All Seasons’

by Adam White, dramaturg

Well, the show is closed, the stage is packed up, and our production crew and actors are off to their next projects; A Man for All Seasons has officially concluded.

It has been a pleasure being the dramaturg for this production. I’ve learned quite a bit about dramaturgy, the life and times of Sir Thomas More, and, well, I couldn’t quite get a way without learning some life lessons too. I learned that simple truly is best and that you have to ‘meet people where they are at,’ to teach and communicate ideas effectively. Overall, it’s been an educational and challenging experience for me, and I feel proud for having done it. I’ve never been on a production team before this show, and I can’t wait for my next opportunity!

As we part ways, I leave you all with one final segment of interviews with BYU English professors Rick Duerden and Brandie Siegfried. May their observations inspire you to think more critically and deeply of history and to dive into the crucial stories the inform our society and culture today:

A Compilation of Interviews about BYU’s ‘A Man for All Seasons’

by Adam White, dramaturg

A Man for All Seasons fares well with audiences and critics alike! The show is sold out, and those of us who’ve worked on this production feel very proud of that.

If you haven’t seen the show, didn’t get a ticket in time, or just missed the lobby display while at the performance, check out this eight minute clip of interviews that we are featuring in the lobby display!

A huge thanks to our interviewees (Brandie Siegfried and Rick Duerden from the English Department and Joseph Skousen and Mallory Gee, two members of our cast), as well as Bobbie Lee, our editor and filmmaker.

Enjoy!

Understanding Thomas More Through His Texts

Utopia by Thomas More

by Adam White, dramaturg

The written word is so ubiquitous in our media-drenched culture today that I, personally, do not stop to consider the gravity of texts of the past nearly as often as I think I should. How can one be so contemplative on the historical function of writing if the pressure is on to keep up with what is being written right now as to stay relevant?

Perhaps this is why I am drawn to the dramaturg’s role; the dramaturg is often called upon to look back and dig deep, and it’s in the looking and the digging that I gain insight into the world of whatever project it is I am working on (Now, how to constructively contribute that insight to a project is a whole other issue…).

In looking and digging for A Man for All Seasons, I have found that Thomas More was quite a prolific author (For a full list of works attributed to More, start here). While Thomas More would become best known for his trial, he also wrote many influential documents. Arguably, the most notable of his works is Utopia, a fictional work about an island society whose form of governance and culture is a striking critique of More’s England. This work would not only introduce the word ‘utopia’ to the English language, but would also open up a whole new genre of Utopian fiction in Europe!

To get a quick taste of More’s writing style, I’ve included quotes from his works below. Maybe this is obvious, but I think its important to note that these words and works point to the man Thomas More was, or at least who he aspired to be. Honestly, after being so immersed in the play A Man For All Seasons, I find his words to be refreshingly sincere.

How do the following quotes influence your understanding of Thomas More?

From History of King Richard III:

“Men use, if they have an evil turn, to write it in marble;

and whoso doth us a good turn, we write it in dust.”

From More’s Utopia:

“What you cannot turn to good, you must at least make as little bad as you can.”

“Extreme justice is an extreme injury: for we ought not to approve of those terrible laws that make the smallest offences capital… as if there were no difference to be made between the killing a man and the taking his purse, between which, if we examine things impartially, there is no likeness nor proportion.”

“Man’s folly hath enhanced the value of gold and silver because of their scarcity; whereas nature, like a kind parent, hath freely given us the best things, such as air, earth, and water, but hath hidden from us those which are vain and useless.”

From Debellation of Salem and Bizance (1533):

“Heretics be they that obstinately hold any self-minded opinion contrary to the doctrine that the common known Catholic Church teacheth and holdeth for necessary to salvation.”

From A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, which More wrote while in jail (1534):

“I never saw fool yet that thought himself other than wise.”

“Many a man buyeth hell with so much pain, that he might have heaven with less than the one half.”

Some of these quotes are statements you may see embedded on the marvelous set designed by Eric Fielding. I’m writing this as dress rehearsals are beginning, and let me tell you: It’s almost chilling to see Bolt’s play come to life out on an stage informed by More’s own words.

*****

Bibliography:

Duerden, Richard. “A Man for All Seasons.” Telephone interview. 31 Jan. 2014.

“Sir Thomas More Quotes and Quotations.” Sir Thomas More Quotes and Quotations. Luminarium. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.

On Doing Cool Things Just to Be Cool

Everyone wants to be cool.

By Adam White, dramaturg

I want to step aside from the history of A Man for All Seasons this week to more closely examine a very important part of the dramaturg’s tool kit: the lobby display.

The dramaturg’s lobby display — at least from what I’ve heard from my most recent collaborators — has a pretty bad rap. Specifically, I’ve heard that the dramaturg’s lobby display far too often strays into being, well, a little too high-school-book-report. Too many poster boards, too much rubber cement, and way too many crafts.

Not to say that the dramaturg can’t make a lobby display using the materials found at the local Hobby Lobby, but maybe this general sense of dissatisfaction with the dramaturg’s lobby display needs to be more closely examined. After all, what good is a lobby display if it just conjures up feelings of ‘meh’ in the audience? Or worse, what if the lobby display is just so tacky that audience members literally grimace as they walk by? (We’ve all done it. Don’t deny it.)

In putting together the lobby display for A Man for All Seasons, I’ve thought about the question of what makes a good lobby display a lot, and the problems one might run into in creating a good lobby display. Not wanting to go the ‘book report route,’ the biggest hurdle that I’ve ran across as dramaturg is being ambitious without direction, or wanting to do cool things just to be cool.

I recently ran into this one in designing the lobby display for A Man for All Seasons. BYU’s dramaturgs have been wanting to do a digital lobby display for quite some time, and with this production we had a director who was willing to try it out. My initial concept, then, was to hook up an iPad to a monitor so that the lobby display would be this system where people could pick clips of interviews with the cast to watch using an iPad interface that they could then watch on the monitor. Elementary, simple (in theory), and somewhat novel for a lobby display, right?

Well, not so fast. Creating this lobby display and being really jazzed about it was going along swimmingly until I met with a faculty member who was willing to help me find the technology I needed to execute the initial lobby display plan. I pitched the idea to him and he wasn’t as jazzed as I was. In fact, he just had one question for me: “Why?”

And I honestly didn’t have an answer for that, other than that I wanted my lobby display to not look like a book report. I also really didn’t think that was a problem until he asked the question.

I’ve since created reasons for why I want a digital lobby display for A Man for All Seasons. It fits well with the play’s thematic elements and concepts, and I’ve articulated the story I want the lobby display to tell to myself and my collaborators. If it all comes together right, it will enhance the production, and that is what my lobby display should have been doing all along.

Just as thinking too small for the lobby display or having an afterthought lobby display can harm a production’s value, so can being innovative without purpose. In my opinion, my job as a dramaturg is to enhance a production, to only tell stories or share thoughts that prop up the story the production team and the actors have weaved together.

Hopefully, us dramaturgs can move elevate our craft locally so that lobby display don’t inspire ‘meh’ in our audience members. The best direction to move in is asking that question, ‘What does our story need?’ and let that shape the lobby display.

And it if we end up with a poster board when it’s all said and done, well, maybe that’s okay.

Maybe we should save it for the science projects.

 

 

 

Flipping the Definition of Conscience: ‘Capital-I’ vs. Community

by Adam White, dramaturg

It is fascinating how a history can morph over time! Depending on the information available and who’s telling the story, history’s facts can be rearranged, modified or even disappear. There are many sites where this phenomena may be examined, but the one most pertinent to those of us working on this production of A Man for All Seasons is the difference between that way that Bolt’s Thomas More feels ‘conscience’ and how Thomas More the man understood the term.

The way Bolt’s Thomas More performs conscience is best encapsulated in his passionate declaration: “…what matter is to me is not whether it is true or not, but that I believe it to be true, or rather not that I believe it, but that I believe it.” When it comes to moral matters and decisions, Bolt’s More centers moral authority in himself. Despite what the people and institutions around him may espouse, he follows his own inner voice because his inner voice alone determines what is right and what is wrong.

This is a very Protestant Thomas More… and Thomas More was a Catholic. He was devoutly Catholic. While the Thomas More of A Man for All Seasons and the Thomas More of history share similar opinions, make similar decisions and ultimately suffer the same fate, the Thomas More of history would probably have much to say on the dangers of the reasoning behind Bolt’s Thomas More’s decisions. To use a quote from from a letter to his daughter Margaret, More believed that:

“[A man] is not by a law of one realm so bound in his conscience, where there is a law of the whole corps of Christendom to the contrary in matter touching belief, as he is by a law of the whole corps.”

And here, in this quote, lies the key to why Thomas More stood up to King Henry VIII.

In Thomas More’s time, the Catholic Church was the Christian community. The English Reformation was brewing, but had not boiled over; it would take a few more years for Reformation ideas to catch on and revolutionize faith in Europe. Thomas More spent his life combating the ideas of William Tyndale and Martin Luther because he believed their ideas would divide Christianity and would ultimately destroy the Christian world. Thomas More envisioned a more united Europe, a Europe banded together in common faith. King Henry’s decisive moves to separate the Church of England from the Church of Rome were acts that, by conscience, More could not abide.

So it wasn’t necessarily individual conscience compelled More to stand to up to King Henry, it was a community conscience — an obligation to the whole body of Christendom — that spurred him. It would be the Protestants of the 16th and 17th-centuries who would champion ‘capital-I’ conscience, who champion the individual. Thomas More was a champion for ‘we’, for ‘us.’

Does this difference between Bolt’s Thomas More and the Thomas More of history tarnish A Man for All Seasons? Bolt’s use of the Thomas More story to drive home a theme of integrity to ‘capital-I’ conscience may seem exploitative, but I think that the tension between the historical Thomas More and his subsequent interpretations has important implications for us. When is it important to act on what I believe to be right and wrong? When do I choose to go with what my community believes to be right and wrong?

Are my beliefs the same as my community’s beliefs? Where do they differ and why?

It seems that there is much to learn from how we tell history.

Bibliography:

Duerden, Richard. “A Man for All Seasons.” Telephone interview. 31 Jan. 2014.

Guy, J. A. Thomas More. London: Arnold, 2000. Print.

The Acts of King Henry VIII

By Adam White, dramaturg

 

What were the acts of legislation King Henry VIII championed that Thomas More opposed? What were the laws Thomas More stood up against, the laws that ultimate led to his execution?

While A Man for All Seasons mostly references the Act of Supremacy of 1534, there were actually two more acts that were passed in England that play an important role in the story of Thomas More and King Henry VIII: the Submission of the Clergy Act of 1533 and the Act of Succession of 1534 (also known as ‘The First Act of Succession’). Understanding all three acts clarifies what King Henry VIII was changing in England and what Thomas More opposed; both historical figures are illuminated in these documents.

Let’s take a brief look at each:

Submission of the Clergy Act of 1533

This act went into effect shortly after King Henry VIII was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Because of this law, the clergy could not meet in convocation without the King’s permission, nor could they create constitutions or propose canon changes with the King’s approval. All existing canon had to be approved by a royal committee as well. While the Church of England had already begun to separate itself from the Catholic Church, this act approved by both church and state widened the gap between the two institutions. Much of the original act has been changed or repealed since 1533, but you can see the text for the Submission of the Clergy Act of 1533 here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/aep/Hen8/25/19

The Act of Succession of 1534

This act was the last in the flurry of legislation passed at the beginning of 1534. This was the law that declared King Henry VIII’s marriage with Catherine of Aragon invalid and his marriage with Anne Boleyn official. This also meant that King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s children were declared bastards, and that any offspring King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn had would be England’s true royal line. Read the text of this act at http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/firstactofsuccession.htm

The Act of Supremacy of 1534

This would be the first in a couple of Acts of Supremacy in English history. This act named King Henry VIII ‘the only supreme head of the Church of England called Anglican Ecclesia.’ This was also the act that required all the citizens of England swear an oath that Anne Boleyn was King Henry VIII’s true wife. Read the text for the First Act of Supremacy here: http://www.britainexpress.com/History/tudor/supremacy-henry-text.htm

It is readily apparent after a brief scan of these text what it was that Thomas More disagreed with. His loyalty to the Catholic Church made it impossible for him to approve of this rapid and radical change, the English Reformation.

King Henry VIII’s perspective is perhaps a bit more difficult to discern. He certainly achieved his goals of gaining control of the Church of England, severing the Church from the Catholic Church, and declaring his marriage to Anne Boleyn valid, but what were his personal convictions? How did he come to believe in this change? Was it simply because he desired a male heir and wanted a new wife, or was there deep spiritual belief that guided his actions?

These are questions to approach in another post, I think. It is fascinating to think that much of the Protestant movement we owe to men like King Henry VIII and reformers like Martin Luther, and yet Thomas More (to whom we also much) saw these men as threats to Christianity.

Truly, diving into history reveals the nuances in our relationships with many icons and institutions around us that we may take for granted.

 Bibliography:

“The First Act of Succession, 1534. Full Text.” The First Act of Succession, 1534. Full Text. Luminarium Project, n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.

“Henry VIII.” The Official Website of The British Monarchy. The Royal Household, 2008. Web. 02 Oct. 2013.

“Henry VIII ‘s Act of Supremacy (1534) – Original Text.” The Act of Supremacy (1534) Original Text. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2014.

“Saint John Fisher (English Priest).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.

“Submission of the Clergy.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Nov. 2013. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.

“Submission of the Clergy Act 1533.” Submission of the Clergy Act 1533. The National Archives (UK), n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.

 

Robert Bolt, Master of Historical Drama

by Adam White, dramaturg

Screenwriter and dramatist Robert Oxton Bolt was born near Manchester, England in 1924. He received his education first at Manchester Grammar School and next at Victoria University of Manchester. After serving in the Royal Air Force in World War II, Bolt finished his schooling at Exeter University.

Bolt developed a deep love for the subjects of English and History during his education and decided to utilize his passions by teaching in country schools. Although school children can find both subjects to be rather tedious, Bolt had a superior talent in making curriculum vivacious and enjoyable. During his time as a schoolteacher, he also wrote radio plays and stage plays. It would be the success of his play Flowering Cherry in 1958 that would enable him to end his teaching career and pursue writing for film and the stage full time.

Robert Bolt is probably best known for the epic scope of his films. He is a sampling of his finest film work:

Lawrence of Arabia (1960) is the story of T.E. Lawrence and his experiences in Arabia during World War I. Bolt and co-adapter Robert Wilson received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for their work on this production.

Doctor Zhivago (1962) is a film adaptation of a novel of the same name written by Boris Pasternak. Zhivago remains one of the highest grossing films of all time, ranking eigth after ticket price inflation. Bolt also received an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the film.

A Man For All Seasons (1966) was released six years after the stage play. Bolt also won Best Adapted Screenplay for this film.

Besides his work in the theatre and in the movies, Bolt was very politically active. He was first involved party politics as a member of the Communist Party, but left after he found himself unsatisfied. He then began to involve himself in anti-nuclear war causes, joining the Committee of 100 in 1960. This group of influential people rose education and awareness around the issues of nuclear war, and staged demonstration against the use of nuclear weapons in warfare. In 1961, Bolt spent a month in prison for participating in such a demonstration in Trafalgar Square.

In 1978, Bolt suffered a severe stroke that forced him to relearn how to speak and write. This event marked a change of behavior for Bolt, who chose to abstain from wine and quit smoking after his stroke. Despite his health challenges, Bolt continued to produce new work for the rest of his life. His later works include the play Vivat! Vivat Regina! (1970) about Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I of England and the films The Bounty (1984) and The Mission (1986), which were also film adaptations of historical events. Truly, Bolt remained a lover of history and its intricacies throughout his career.

Bolt passed away in 1995. He is survived by his wife Sarah Miles and four children.


Calder, John. “OBITUARY: Robert Bolt.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 23 Feb. 1995. Web. 19 Sept. 2013.

Lyall, Sarah. “Robert Bolt Is Dead at 70; Oscar-Winning Screenwriter.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 Feb. 1995. Web. 07 Jan. 2014.

“Robert Bolt (English Playwright and Screenwriter).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sampling the Legacy of Sir Thomas More

by Adam White, dramaturg

What do Vladmir Lenin, Pope Pius XI and Bill Clinton all have in common?

Well, they’ve all had a run in with Sir Thomas More, in one way or another. Let’s take a look at three sites where the legacy of Thomas More intersected with the worlds of these men.

Site #1: Vladmir Lenin and the Obelisk of Alexandrovsky Gardens 

Obelisk of Revolutionary Thinkers, prior to the 2013 modifications

The year is 1918. We are in Alexandrovsky Gardens, Moscow.

This place is known as the first park built in the Soviet Union’s capital, and is a place of monuments and memory. In 1914, an obelisk is erected in Alexandrovsky Gardens as a celebratory monument to 300 years under the rule of the Romanov dynasty.

This year, though, the Bolsheviks are in power, and Vladmir Lenin decides to modify this monument to reflect the times. All traces of the Romanov dynasty on the obelisk are erased and replaced with a list of revolutionary socialist thinkers approved by Lenin.

Thomas More’s name is included. This is because Thomas More wrote a book called Utopia, published in 1516. In this work, More wrote of a fictional society that was ideal and good, but could never be achieved. In fact, the word ‘utopia’ was coined by More with this publication. It was More’s ideals for a communistic democracy that Lenin admired.

Just last year, the Russian government once again modified the obelisk. The list of thinkers has been erased, and the new obelisk celebrates the Romanov dynasty. The monument was unveiled November 2013.

Site #2: Pope Pius XI Canonizes St. Thomas More

Pope Pius XI

The year is 1935. Europe is tense; Hitler is gaining power in Germany and the threat of totalitarianism feels very real. It is in this moment that the Catholic Church announces the canonization of Sir Thomas More as a saint.

St. Thomas More’s sainthood sends a powerful message to the world. He is a symbol of moral integrity and bravery in a very troubled time.

That being said, More’s elevation to sainthood isn’t all rosy; More was very involved in suppressing the Lutheran faith during his time. There were raids, burnings and even executions enacted by More with the goal of extinguishing the Reformationist spirit. Some would say that his resistance to the Lutheran faith bordered on madness.

Certainly an interesting intersection in history.

Site #3: Bill Clinton and His Impeachment Trial

Floor proceedings during Bill Clinton’s Impeachment trial.

It is January 14, 1999. It is the Impeachment Trial of President Bill Clinton and Congressman Henry Hyde makes the opening statement. And who does Congressman Hyde quote at the opening of the impeachment trial? None other than Sir Thomas More:

“As the playwright Robert Bolt tells it, More was visited by his family, who tried to persuade him to speak the words of the oath that would save his life, even while, in his mind and heart, he held firm to his conviction that the King was in error. More refused. As he told his daughter, Margaret, ‘When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then – he needn’t hope to find himself again. . . .’ Sir Thomas More, the most brilliant lawyer of his generation, a scholar with an international reputation, the center of a warm and affectionate family life which he cherished, went to his death rather than take an oath in vain.”

Hyde then went on to stress to the Senators the gravity of the trial. No doubt Hyde meant to draw a comparison between the moral integrity of Thomas More and Bill Clinton.

Isn’t it fascinating that Bolt’s Thomas More now speaks for Thomas More?

Half-Lies and Half-Truths: An Introduction to BYU’s A Man For All Seasons

by Adam White, dramaturg

Robert Bolt, author of ‘A Man For All Seasons’

“The man who tells lies hides the truth, but the man who tells half-lies has forgotten where he put it.” – Robert Bolt, author of A Man For All Seasons

It’s a thought-provoking quote isn’t it? Interestingly, Bolt in his witticism makes no claim as to who’s bad or who’s good in his observation of liars. The word ‘forgotten,’ actually, may imply a certain absent-mindedness about the man who tells half-lies. Generally, there is no ill will in one who is absent-minded… That’s something one simply is, for better or for worse. It wouldn’t be much of a jump, then, to say a half-liar may be a well-intentioned person; after all, what’s the other half of a half-lie? Isn’t it a half-truth?

It is with this frame of mind we come together to consider A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt, a historical drama set in 16th century England in which the valiant Sir Thomas More maintains the moral high ground in the corrupt courts of King Henry VIII. Sir Thomas More sacrifices his all for what he believes to be right and true, and ultimately More is sentenced to death for his unwavering belief.

Certainly Sir Thomas More’s sacrifice is admirable, even remarkable. If learning lessons and morals is the purpose of theatre like A Man For All Seasons, then I am of the opinion that this story has the potential to encourage every viewer to be a better human. That being said, there are a myriad of reasons theatre artists make theatre, so perhaps I’d be doing the artists involved a disservice by pigeonholing this production as propaganda for honorable living. In the same vein, I think it would also be a disservice to say that A Man For All Seasons, though a historical drama, is wholly accurate in its portrayal of Sir Thomas More, King Henry VIII, and the host of characters who populate the play. To be frank, this play does not portray the events as they really happened, but instead portrays the events as Bolt willed them to happen. To use Robert Bolt’s terminology, A Man For All Seasons is, in some sense, a half-lie (and to use my word, then, a half-truth). And perhaps this is not all that surprising; such is the nature of historical drama.

However, if A Man For All Seasons is a half-lie/half-truth and Bolt is right in saying that half-lie/half-truth’s are told because one has misplaced the truth, I can’t help but wonder where the story of Sir Thomas More shed the complete ‘truth’ (truth, I guess, being historical accuracy) and started to take on other interpretations, new layers of meaning.

Based off of the research I’ve done, I’d say the story of Sir Thomas More took on a life of its own the moment More was beheaded. That isn’t me being macabre. Honestly, once this legend was uninhibited by its central figure’s existence, Thomas More’s and Henry VIII confrontation took off and became a myth that resonated with people across cultures and times. (A phenomena which I will explore in my next post.)

Thomas More

This practically universal draw of Sir Thomas More’s example underlines this story’s significance. While historical ‘truth’ may be have been absent-mindedly left behind hundreds of years ago, it seems to me that it was never malevolently left behind. Indeed, the reason this story has survived the ages may be that it is now confidently owned by of the Western world. It is our story, in some archetypal, Campbell-ian way.

It’s from this angle I approach dramaturgy for A Man For All Seasons. Next week, I’ll be taking a look at specific sites in history where Sir Thomas More’s story cropped up once more to play a part in Western history.

 

 

Works Consulted:

Afoniya. “On the Removal of a Moscow Statue.” Afoniya’s Blog. N.p., 10 July 2013. Web. 16 Jan. 2014.

“Obelisk in Aleksandrovsk to a Garden Restored with Mistakes.” Rupaper.com. N.p., 31 Oct. 2013. Web. 16 Jan. 2014.

“Rep. Hyde’s Opening Statement.” PBS. PBS, 14 Jan. 1999. Web. 16 Jan. 2014.

“Sir Thomas More (1478-1535).” Thomas More. Oregon State University, n.d. Web. 16 Jan. 2014.

“Unveiling of a Restored Obelisk Commemorating the House of Romanov’s Rule.”President of Russia. N.p., 4 Nov. 2013. Web. 16 Jan. 2014.