Shakespearean Dramaturgy, Sets, Assassination, & Theatre
by Pollyanna Eyler, dramaturg
“In every lineament, branch, shape, and form”
-Leonata, Much Ado About Nothing, Act V Scene i
Come See the New Shape of Things at BYU’s Pardoe Theatre
When it comes to Shakespearean theatre, if you want to be “in the know” it may depend on “who” you know. For Shakespeare and other plays, it may help to know a dramaturg. Beyond the power of a google search engine, dramaturgs make it a habit to not only find great pieces of information, but they also keep in mind a variety of resources beyond the internet. In this and the following blog posts for Much Ado About Nothing, several Shakespearean secrets are shared which were discovered through research in online databases, printed archives, and interviews with the cast, crew, designers, and faculty. Here are some behind-the-scenes interviews that showcase the transformation students made as they designed, created, and even perform in this production, all the while transforming the Pardoe stage into Shakespeare’s Globe.
Behind-the-Scenes Q & A with Scenic & Prop Designers & Creators
BYU Student, Assistant Scenic Designer for Much Ado About Nothing, and Scene Shop Employee.
- As an Assistant Stage Designer, what portions of designing did you get to do? I worked on a lot of research. I built a concept model and helped draft the elevations. Because I work in the scene shop, I also got to work very closely with our head painter as she found the colors and techniques that would work best for our set.
- You made a 3-D model of the set as part of your concept presentation. How much and what kind of materials did you use? Lots of foam core. I also used paper and wooden dowels to support the heavens in the concept model. Our head Scenic Designer, Nat Reed, built the white model, also from foam core using scale copies of the plans as texture.
- What’s your secret to painting the two types of marble? All of the scenic painters in the shop watched an awesome DIY marbling video from a YouTube channel called “Behind the Scenics.” We then used this technique, which included basing, sponging, spattering and feathering, on all the marble we made. The white marble includes 5 colors and the red marble includes 3 colors, plus some special gold veining.
- You also work in BYU’s Scene Shop. What was it like to help design and then create the set for Much Ado About Nothing? Because I work in the scene shop I got to work on building, painting, and load in. It was very exciting to see the step by step process of something I helped design come together. It also made the process feel more personal, as I could give immediate clarification on plans or feedback on how a certain paint job looked.
BYU Student and Scene Shop Employee for Much Ado About Nothing
- As a scene shop employee, how did you fortify the second story balcony of the Pardoe Globe Theatre to hold so many actors? In scenic construction, we try to make things as safe as possible for the actors. Our technical director Travis Coyne is very aware of the set and has us add extra fortification if he sees any potential problems. I know we added a lot of bracing and angle brackets to the back of the set to ensure stability.
- What other skills did you use besides set construction? Building sets takes a lot of communication. It is a team effort. For the Much Ado About Nothing load-in, it was all hands on deck. We carried in pieces, took out chairs, added stairs, and so much more. Without our Supervisor and Technical Director communicating the steps, things would have gotten so confusing. I’m grateful that I get to work with organized and efficient people.
- Is there anything else you want to share about working at BYU’s Scene Shop? Building sets is such a rewarding job. I love that we work together to make something beautiful and then work together again to safely demolish everything. It’s a never-ending cycle. I love that we reuse pieces from past shows and incorporate them into the construction of new shows. It’s almost like doing archaeology! You’ll find pieces that are painted from past BYU productions such as Mousetrap or Radium Girls and then paint them to look like something new.
BYU Student, Prop Shop Employee, and Actor in Much Ado About Nothing
- What was it like to work on props for a show you will perform in? It’s been a pleasure to both work on and perform in Much Ado About Nothing. As far as props are concerned, my biggest project in this show is the flower garland in Act 2 and its fabric covering.
- Did you learn any new skills in prop making? The garland is made of steel wire that is rigged to hooks and loops to be hoisted. The wire is wrapped and covered with a variety of flowers chosen and ordered specifically for our show. The most beautiful aspect of this prop, as it relates to the creation of the show, is that we had to test and experience failure on multiple prototypes of the same concept. Though this often times inspired frustration, the feeling of taking it back to the shop, trying something new, and then it ultimately working out is incredible.
- Is there anything else you want to share about working in BYU’s Prop Shop? This type of involvement has refined my perspective as a performer and being on stage while seeing something I put so much work into paying off is a blessing.
These are just some of the many “Behind-the-Scenes” Shakespearean Secrets. For more hints, keep reading the rest of this and other 4th wall blog posts on BYU’s production of Much Ado About Nothing. If you really want to be in the know, consider learning how to do dramaturgy work by enrolling in TMA 380 – Dramaturgy 1; under the direction of the unflappable instructor Shelley Graham, the dramaturgy program is flourishing!
“Go in with me, and I will tell you my drift.”
-Don Pedro, Much Ado About Nothing, Act II Scene i
“Some treason, masters: yet stand close.”
-Watchman, Much Ado About Nothing, Act III Scene iii
The Globe Theatre Implicated in High Treason
History records several assassination attempts and crimes of treason against Queen Elizabeth, all of which were unsuccessful. One plan, in February of 1601, was unusual in that it called upon the assistance of The Globe performers. The Globe was paid 40 shillings ( $562.5 in today’s USD) to perform Richard III, especially the deposition scene. The actors were reluctant to perform the play because it was considered too controversial at the moment. However, since 40 shillings was more than they took in for an average performance, they agreed. The reasoning behind this particular show was to stir up protestors in the audience that would march down and seize the court. The hope was to force Queen Elizabeth’s hand in dismissing one of her cabinet members, Robert Cecil, whom many thought to be deceiving the Queen.
There were several courtiers behind this scheme, but the main proponent was Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1565–1601). The plan seemed foolproof, but on the morning of the uprising, the Earl was summoned to court by four messengers. Devereux jump-started the rebellion immediately without waiting for the result of the performance. The Earl kept the four messengers hostage in his home, gathered whomever he could (around 200 men), and headed toward their destination. However, the Mayor was forewarned and calls of treason were attached to this march and therefore confidence in the plan waned, along with numbers. By the time Devereux reached the outer walls of the castle, only a handful of rebels were by his side. The Earl and his cohorts were tried that day and executed within a week. The owners and performers of The Globe theatre claimed no foreknowledge of their part in these acts and fortunately, they were not held accountable. How would execution for treason in the middle of his playwriting affect Shakespeare’s fame? How do popular entertainers and entertainment entities skirt the law today?
“Be cunning in the working this, and thy fee is a thousand ducats.”
-Don John, Much Ado About Nothing, Act II Scene iii
“I came yonder from a great supper”
-Borachio, Much Ado About Nothing, Act I Scene iii
When you leave the theatre, do you remember to take your playbill, food, drink, etc.? The audiences of the 1600s were not as mindful. In the 1990s, while excavating the ground to build a foundation for a new Globe Theatre, several items related to evidence of concessions were found:
- Grapes seeds
- Fig seeds
- Blackberries seeds
- Raspberry seeds
- Plum seeds
- Oyster shells
- Capon bones (a capon is a specially raised male chicken)
“I’ faith, I thank him; he hath bid me to a calf’s head and a capon”
-Claudio, Much Ado About Nothing, Act V Scene i
Nearby, in another theatre excavation, the original Rose Theatre also used by Shakespeare and his fellow actors, there were more unique discoveries. Diggings here located the remains of a large fork. 400 years from now, what will they find under your favorite theatres?
“for indeed I promised to eat all”
-Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing, Act I Scene i