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Our scenes are on YouTube now!


Version 1: in Latin


Version 2: in English, with aggressive Dorippa


Version 3: in English, with weepy Dorippa

We had come up with a foolproof plan to shoot all three scenes with minimal changes in between.  We planned to start with the Latin version, then to shoot the English version with angry Dorippa, and to conclude with the “sad wife” version  (which required costume changes for Chris and Chris).  Everything worked out well in spite of a few minor challenges.

Because of lighting issues, we changed our shooting location, but fortunately we did not have to make significant changes to the blocking.   We also had a moment of being concerned about the order of the scenes, since Dan and Steve would have to trade off a body mic, but that worked out OK.  Doubling the Cook’s Assistant and Syra was a good choice; Syra’s appearance at the end of the scene got a big laugh in all three versions.

The Latin version went well, and we were very glad we did not have to re-take any of that scene.  It felt a little bit faster than we had ever done it in rehearsal.  I think part of that was picking up the cues, and part of it was the excitement of being in front of a supportive audience.

English version #1 was also a success, but we had some trouble with lines in the middle of the scene.  Steve and Chris valiantly soldiered on, but the scene went far enough off the rails that we decided to go back and start over in the middle.

During the sound check for English version #2, the audience got a preview of Chris W as the weepy wife, carrying a box of tissues with yellow flowers that matched her sweater.  Chris B jumped a few lines, but covered well.  One memorable difference in this scene is that the Cook delivers the line “Do you want me to call the police?” to Dorippa.  In both other versions, this line (“Vin m’experiri” in Latin) is a direct threat to Lysimachus.  It’s still a threat to him here, but not quite as direct.

We had a great time filming the scenes and are hopeful that our choices will be useful pedgagogically.  Chris B has already suggested that he might use the clips to encourage students to do practical projects in his courses by sharing the embodied knowledge he got from filming these scenes.

Thanks are due to Sharon James, who provided most of our props from her own kitchen.  The oversize, double-ended wooden spoon was a big hit!

Session 11: July 16

Today we rehearsed twice: we did all three versions in the Forest Theatre and then met at 4:00 PM to work on the Latin version and one English version.  Ada Palmer and Fred Franko observed our rehearsal at 4:00, and we appreciated their feedback (in particular their encouragement about our ability to make Latin sound natural, sort of like we are speaking an archaic version of Italian).

As we wrap up our rehearsal process, I thought it would be fun to look back on our email exchanges from before the Institute began.  Here’s what I wrote to Chris, Chris, and Steve about my initial response to the scene:

“I was drawn to this scene because I’m intrigued by the role of the cook as a funny character, and I’d be most interested in compiling a list of funny cooks/caterers to start exploring potential interpretations of the scene.  For example:

Cook as heavily-accented other (Swedish Chef, Yan Can Cook, French cook in Disney’s “Little Mermaid”);
Overbearing gruff Cook (Vic Tayback as Mel in “Alice”; Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi);
Coldly Competent Caterer (Kristin Bell’s Character in “Party Down”);
Completely Incompetent (everyone else on “Party Down,” Phoebe helping Monica on “Friends”)”

We did not explore all of these possibilities in staging our scene.  Indeed, much of our focus has been on the marital relationship between Dorippa and Lysimachus.

Why are cooks and caterers funny characters?  I think a lot of it has to do with power dynamics.  The Cook is hired help and could thus be considered to have a position of low status.  But Cooks tend to be hired for important meals, and thus they see families in high-stakes moments.  If all goes well, a Cook or caterer will probably go unnoticed.  And a family may enjoy themselves in spite of bad food or might have an unpleasant time together in spite of a wonderful meal.  In either case, cooks and caterers frequently have privileged access to knowledge about domestic conflicts.

In our discussion with Fred Franko, the character of Chef from “South Park” came up.  Chef is a great example of a Cook whose knowledge (in particular, his sexual knowledge) can change the power dynamic of the group he serves.  In the different versions of our scene, the Cook has varying degrees of knowledge about the domestic situation he has entered.  But he certainly has an impact on the relationship between Lysimachus and Dorippa, whether or not he knows what kind of impact he is having.

Session 10: July 13

We started today by running the Latin version of the scene, and the work we have done on it so far has really paid off.  Chris W. and Dan are much more comfortable with their lines, and we both think that with some study over the weekend we will be good to go for a final rehearsal on Monday before taping on Tuesday.

One thing Dan has noticed is that his knowledge of French causes interference with Latin syntax.  When the Cook says, “Haecin tu est amica, quam dudum mihi te amare dixti, quom opsonabas,” Dan wants to change the word order, because in French the personal pronouns would go in different places (“C’est ton amie?”) and in both French and English the verb “to love” would not come before the verb “to tell.”  This is further exacerbated by the Cook’s other line about what Lysimachus has told him about hating his wife, because in that case the verb “dixeras” comes before “odisse.”  He hopes that being aware of this interference will help him to remember those two lines.

Both in English and in Latin, the Cook’s sudden realization that Lysimachus wants him to leave is difficult to remember.  This might be because there’s a discussion of leaving, then the Cook attacks Lysimachus again by saying “If you’ve got problems, it is not my fault,” at which point Lysimachus says something about how miserable he is, to which the Cook responds, “Now I see what you want. You want me to get lost!”  Which is very funny, because that is what Lysimachus has wanted since the Cook arrived.  And on an intellectual level, it makes sense that this would be funny as a sudden realization.  But as an actor in the scene, it’s not easy to remember when this “sudden realization” is supposed to happen.

Session 9: July 12

12:00 noon: We met in Gerrard Hall and made a contingency plan for using that space in the event of weather issues.  We had decided earlier in the week that it would be ideal for us to do all three versions of our scene in the Forest Theatre, using the upstage setting that was (secondarily) recommended by the videographers.  It’s not ideal to have Syra hide in the closet for the whole scene, but we think perhaps her lines can just come from somewhere off-camera.  We worked a bit more on the Latin version of the scene.  We also worked with cooking props for the first time, and one of our Cooks got so carried away using a ladle to stand in for the beloved who is kissed and cuddled by a hungry lover that he forgot his next line.  We made a quick plan to run all three versions of the scene at the Forest Theatre at 4:00.

4:00 PM: We had a bit of an audience for our afternoon rehearsal in the Forest Theatre: Kenneth Molloy, Seth Jeppesen, and Gian Giacomo Colli stuck around for a while after their Pseudolus E rehearsal, and Mary Kay Gamel stayed with us the whole time.  Seth was kind enough to be on book for our Latin version of the scene, and Mary Kay did the same for the last English version.  We had not worked on the “downtrodden wife” version of the scene in a while, because we have been having more fun with the angry wife.  So we worked on that today for a while.  We feel great about all three versions of the scene, and we just need to make sure our lines are memorized (and that the Cook or the Cook’s assistant remembers to run around to play Syra, which we let slide in all but one version of the scene today).  We also decided to shift our 8:00 AM Friday rehearsal to noon.

Session 8: July 11

Having solidified our blocking pretty well, we worked today on getting off-book for both versions of the scene.  As a non-Latinist, I (Dan) am finding it frustrating when I know what my next line means but am unable to come up with the words.  (Chris said, “Egon’istuc dixi tibi?” and I replied, “You totally said that.”)  It’s even worse when I know part of the line and have a vague sense of the rhythm, but I can’t paraphrase my way to the end. Today I said, “Dar ergo sis iube.  Something, something d’illi ponunt.”  Also, I noticed today that the Cook swears by Hercules a lot, and those lines are especially challenging to remember.

We spoke our way through the Latin version three times, and we had certainly improved by the end of that.  We then spoke our way through the English language versions, again taking note of the more challenging spots.  The toughest part is the argument between Dorippa and Lysimachus about what he is going to tell her about the girl in the house. We also timed our third run of the English version, which was just under nine minutes.

Working with a philosophy of simplification, and given the demands on Gerrard Hall, we have asked to film all three versions of our scene at the Forest Theatre at the end of the Pseudolus shooting on Tuesday.  We feel confident that we will be ready to go and that we can get through them quickly, since we have minimal costume changes in between.

Session 7: July 9

Last night, Chris B. sent out an email with some thoughts about Lysimachus’ character and costume.  Here is an excerpt: “I feel that, as a character, Lys is somewhat easygoing except when a friend gets him in trouble with his wife. We could play him up as a bit clownish using something along the lines of [an] orange polo and shorts.”  We haven’t talked very much about Lysimachus as a character up to this point.  Our rehearsals have focused much more on making strong choices about Dorippa and the Cook, and Chris has done a great job being the comedic “straight man” and reacting to changes in the other two major characters in the scene.

Today we started our rehearsal by running lines in English and Latin.  (Not surprisingly, our memorization is better in English.)  Niall Slater listened to our English and Latin versions, and asked us some questions about the English translation we are using.  After hearing Tim’s explanation of the videographers’ suggestions for the Forest Theatre, we decided to take a field trip over there today to try our Latin version in the space where we want to perform it.  We were pleased with the results. We also ran one English version while we were there, and Steve and Dan have decided that the Cook’s Assistant will take one of the Cook’s lines.

This Friday, we worked mainly on the Latin version of the scene, using much the same blocking as the English versions of the scene (but pairing the stronger wife with the more antagonistic cook).  Acting out the text in Latin with movement was helpful for solidifying our line intentions and (we hope) for memorization.  As we worked in Latin and discovered that the scene works very similarly in both languages, we decided that it might be more interesting to present the Latin scene in modern dress instead of using the masks and tunics.  Chris W. showed some pictures of possible costumes for Dorippa, and we discussed the possibility of purchasing a chef’s hat for the Cook.

Session 5 (July 3)

Bolstered by yesterday afternoon’s workshop on iambic senarii, which allowed us to hear Dorippa’s and Lysimachus’ lines pronounced metrically, we all felt much more confident about our reading of the scene in Latin today.  Chris B. had also worked individually with Tim Moore on the scansion, and their further delving into the text led to some changes of elision.  It took us about eleven minutes to read the scene in Latin, which is quite a bit longer than our English versions have been.  Moments after we finished this reading, Serena Witzke came in to take our picture and to offer some advice about thrift stores.

After reading through the scene in Latin once, we worked on staging it in English with Steve observing and offering direction.  Since our previous rehearsal had involved a more confident Dorippa, we started today with Chris W. playing a more downtrodden Dorippa.  We agreed that the downtrodden Dorippa pairs well with an antagonistic Cook.  When we switched to working on our second English version of the scene, with an angrier Dorippa, the shift in the power dynamic of the relationship between Dorippa and her husband became very apparent.  Because of the acting choices Chris W. made, Chris B. was forced to respond differently, making Lysimachus a much more nervous character.

We anticipate that we will do the two English versions in Gerrard Hall and the Latin version at the Forest Theatre.  We discussed some costume and prop ideas, and Sharon James offered to bring in some cooking supplies for us.  (We think it would be fun for the Cook to have a metal bowl and a ladle or whisk, while the Cook’s assistant is weighted down with buckets of other items.) We are planning to bring in some potential costume pieces on Friday.

Session 4 (June 29)

Today we began by reading through the scene in Latin, noting that Chris Bungard’s reading of Lysimachus in Latin sounds much angrier than it does in English.  We then discussed our multiple versions of the scene, concluding that we would like to do the two English versions in Gerrard Hall and the Latin version in the Forest Theatre.  We also raised questions about how contemporary we wanted our adaptations to be: given that the language is more contemporary, would it be possible for Dorippa to call Syra on a cell phone or press an intercom button to send Syra on an errand?  In our different takes on the role of Dorippa, we thought it might be interesting to have Syra present as a confidante in the more distraught version, while having her enter only when called in the version where Dorippa is more collected.  We also took a first stab at blocking the scene, with Steve playing the Cook and Dan as his assistant.

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