Throughout the semester, Subject to Change (STC), the university’s improvisational comedy troupe, has been hosting 11pm shows in the Stern Quad on the first Wednesday of every month. Due to the cold temperatures, this final December quad show was held in Jepson 118 in order to accommodate the crowd, though this did remove the usual “roundabout” staging. I was surprised at the turnout, considering the stress of finals week and the cold temperatures, though it seemed like many in attendance were there for a study break. Generally, the audience for their shows is comprised of students from many different clubs and friend groups, as was the case for this show.

Of course, with any improv comedy, audience participation is a large part of the performance. We made a few suggestions for emotions and situations to be used throughout the show, and they did take one of our suggestions: “itchy”. STC’s performances usually include various games with a few of the group’s members. One such game included two comedians in a scene, though the performance area was split up into “emotional zones” of “jealous”, “agitated”, “itchy”, and “elated”. As the scene progressed, some of the lines stated throughout the scene elicited an uproar of laughter from the audience, which at this point in the show had almost filled the room. While most of the jokes throughout the show elicited some giggles from the audience, much of the physical comedy drew laughs from the crowd, as many of the groups’ members are known for their physical comedy.

One game consisted of a talk-show style panel on the topic of shoelaces, though the panelists’ arms were actually those of another comedians, as the panelists tucked their arms behind their backs. Of course, this created a great opportunity for more physical comedy, with one set of arms even managing to put Chapstick on her panelist. However, as the scene began to drag on, some of the comedians who were not immediately involved in the scene entered the audience in order to pose questions of the panelists. Their creative questions effectively reignited the scene, allowing the panelists to finish out the game strong.

Generally, STC organizes their audience participation into suggestion cards before the show begins. As each scene develops naturally under the creativity of each of the comedians, the audience’s response guides where the comedians go next. Some comedians will even break the fourth wall and appeal directly to the audience if they feel their joke unjustly flopped, or to relay their shock in the audience’s twisted sense of humor. Even though this was the last show of the semester in a different setting than usual, audience support and participation, through both direct suggestions and laughter, brought the energy that finals week at UR was missing.

As an avid Harry Potter fan, I was excited to see the second installment of the new series of films set up as a precursor to the novels. The first Fantastic Beasts film provided a new and interesting plot line, with many of the same quirks from the original novels and their film adaptations. However, I was a bit disappointed in this film, as far as plot progression, character development, and a lack of fantastic beasts. More importantly, I believe the audience at Bowtie Cinemas felt the same way.

It is important to note that no one in the audience of this Saturday 7pm showing of the film was under the age of 16. Frankly, some of the parents there with their teenage children seemed more excited for the film than the young adults they were with. We sat near an older couple, and a few other college-aged couples as well. The audience was largely adult, with the exception of a few groups of teenagers (sometimes with their parents tagging along). This age range seems representative of those who have read the original Harry Potter novels, as we discussed with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. As the audience was skewed more toward a young adult and middle-aged crowd, the film seemed to reflect this demographic as well.

As I mentioned before, I was disappointed in the lack of plot and character development in this film as compared to the original series and the first film in this series. I did note that the plot in this film made heavy references to modern supremacist movements and relationship dynamics that apply to teenage generations and older. Without giving much away, the plot followed a similar line as movements we may see on the news, which led me to believe that this series was directed more at young adults, including the now grown children to which J.K. Rowling initially tailored her novels (including myself). Much of the character dynamics were violent, though often this violence wasn’t fully explained or justified through the plot, hence my disappointment. Additionally, only one new fantastic beast was introduced, which again seemed disappointing, considering the title of the series.

Though the film included a few cute or funny moments, the audience did not respond much. Despite a few chuckles or gasps here or there, the audience remained largely silent and still. Perhaps this was due to the age of the audience, or the shared disappointment in the film. Either way, this film presents an interesting look on the demographic to which this series is aimed, and that demographic’s response.

This semester, The University of Richmond Department of Theatre and Dance performed Antigone, a play within the Oedipus cycle which we touched on in class. Having recently read Oedipus Rex, I already had a better understanding of the nuances of the plot and character dynamics. This helped tremendously, as I could tell many of the other audience members were confused by the motivations of the characters.

Because the show had a very short run in a theater as small as the Cousins Studio Theatre, all of the tickets for the weekend were sold out. Fortunately, I have a few friends who were in the production, and I was allowed to join the audience of Theatre Appreciation students for the cast’s Tuesday night dress rehearsal. Though the performance was superb for a dress rehearsal early in tech week, the audience was a bit lacking.

Frankly, many students take classes similar to Theatre Appreciation in order to fulfill the Visual and Performing Arts general education credit, and they don’t necessarily genuinely appreciate theatre. Most of the students in the audience appeared bored as they wrote down a note or two every so often. As one of the few audience members genuinely interested in the production outside of class, I was disheartened to see so many yawns, including one man who appeared to fall asleep at one point.

Admittedly, ancient Greek plays translated into formal language don’t provide the most lively performances. However, as the play progressed and the actors portrayed their characters’ struggles more and more vehemently, I noticed some audience members begin to lean in and listen more intently. The man who fell asleep finally woke up during Tiresias’ warning to Creon, which was satisfying, considering the friend who had secured me a seat at the early performance played Tiresias. As the play grew more and more dramatic, plot lines were clarified, and motivations revealed, the audience grew more and more interested. At the end of the performance, the students in the audience seemed impressed with the production’s dramatics and the actors’ talent.

I was very happy with how the actual show went. Our scholars seemed very excited to be a part of the performance, even those who had originally expressed that they wanted no part in performing on stage. They were more than excited to get their makeup done and run through lines before hand, which was a relief to see. Some of our scholars even volunteered to fill in for the other groups, including our Ferdinand, who ended up playing Ferdinand for the entire play.

Overall, the scholars were very cooperative with us and the other actors in the play. When it came time for the performance, only a few scholars were nervous, though with all their friends on stage, they really seemed to have fun with things. They really made things less stressful than I anticipated, which helped not only their act, but the entire play run smoothly. I’m very proud of their hard work throughout the semester and during the performance. The end of the play was somewhat bittersweet, as some of the scholars were sad when they realized that Julia and I would not be coming back to teach theatre anymore. At the end of the day, I’m glad that we could provide a fun project for the few scholars interested in theatre, and I’m very happy with how the production as a whole turned out.

The final rehearsal with Higher Achievement Boushall was simultaneously our most productive and chaotic rehearsal. We actually started on time for the first time in a month, though we had our entire group back. The group had also just come from the gym, so they were all pretty hyped up. Once we got them into the music room and they saw the props, it took quite a bit of convincing to get the scholars to leave the props alone. While our scholars with lines were very excited to begin working with the props, those who hadn’t enjoyed the theatre elective from the start were not satisfied to leave the table of swords and funny hats alone. While some of the scholars worked on the pirate ship, others sat and watched, and a disgruntled few sat in the corner complaining. However, once everyone was settled into their costume pieces and various jobs for the day, we began rehearsing.

The props and costume pieces seemed to give a new confidence to the scholars who were performing, which made Act I much more interesting to watch for those who were not participating. Thankfully, no one hit anyone else with a sword, and the scholars handled the props very well. We finished reading everything through just in time for the end of the day, so I felt good about the amount of practice our scholars had with the scripts. At the end of the day, this practice didn’t matter as much as who would actually show up to the performance the next day. Unfortunately, the scholar meant to play Caliban told us that she couldn’t come to the performance. This was extremely disappointing, as she showed the most promise in her reading and performance skills. We finished rehearsal that day with a lot of scholars excited, either for the performance, or the end of their forced theatre elective.

This week was fairly similar to last week, in that we were only working with a few of the scholars while the rest worked on another project. Unfortunately, our Prospero and Ferdinand had been picked up early, so we had some other brave volunteers read the lines for their friends. We finally made it through the entire script in one go, so our other characters will be much better prepared when we run things through with the originally cast Prospero and Ferdinand two weeks from now. Script readings have gone well the past two weeks, our only challenges being volume and the scholars’ comfortability with Shakespearean language. However, we are still left without sailors, though we do have a few scholars willing to read for the nobles. Again, this seems like it will have to be a last-minute decision, depending on who is available and willing to help with the water and pirate ship on the day of the performance.

Hopefully when we return from Thanksgiving, we will have our entire group to help us finish the pirate ship and fill in for sailors and stagehands where needed. We should bring prop hats and the “water” next time we go, so that we can mark which hat goes to whoever and get our scholars used to their props before the performance the next day. Maybe the realization that the performance is impending will inspire some of the scholars to participate more, though ultimately, it depends on who shows up on any given day.

This week was a little more productive, though we were initially frustrated by our group setup. When we arrived, the teacher with our group offered students who didn’t want to participate in theatre to continue working on another project with her. Of course, this seemed like a much better option for our scholars, which was initially annoying, as we lost about half of our group. However, that left us with the scholars who were genuinely interested in reading parts or working on the pirate ship, so it ended up being a very productive rehearsal. We got through nine out of ten pages of our script in about 25 minutes, which gave our interested scholars the opportunity to read through their parts without distractions. We still have yet to cast the roles of the boatswain, nobles, and sailors, though it seems like those roles need to be decided the day of the show, depending on who shows up and is willing to read a line or two.

Our pirate ship is coming along, slowly but surely, so hopefully next week while we continue working on blocking the scenes (and getting our scholars to speak up) the rest of the group can finish coloring the pirate ship. Maybe the addition of props will get some of the disinterested scholars on board with the acting portion of this theatre elective. All in all, I’m excited to move through the script a little quicker now that we’ve assigned roles and our primary actors are more comfortable with their scripts. Hopefully by next week we can figure out a way to maintain the attention of our non-actors in the group, assuming we have the entire group next week.

This week was a bit less hectic, though we did begin a bit later again. For this shortened rehearsal, we ran some quick auditions for anyone interesting in reading lines. We had quite a bit of interest in Miranda’s part, as well as Caliban’s role, surprisingly. Those who did not wish to read agreed to act as sailors or other minor characters, especially because that meant that they could color in the cardboard pirate ship while we ran auditions. By the end of the rehearsal, we had a pretty good idea of which scholars were interested in which parts, so next week we can begin to focus on those scholars a bit more. The scholars were definitely happy to work on something besides reading in their theatre elective, and the pirate ship is well under way.

Next week may take a bit more planning now that we have our actors more or less in place. We need to decide how to divide roles and lines, let alone make it through the whole script at least once. Once we begin blocking scenes, I am a bit worried about those scholars who are not particularly interested in acting and their cooperation when it comes time to do something besides color the pirate ship. It might be helpful to bring their prop hats to get them in character in a week or two, but this could also be a distraction. If anyone has started using props yet, I’d love to hear how that went!

This week was not as successful as the last, due to a number of factors. We started about 15 minutes late, as our scholars had not been dismissed from the class before quite yet. Per their request from the last week, we introduced a new game, Elves, Wizards, Giants, though it took quite a while to convince them the game would be fun and explain the rules (effectively a more active Rock, Paper, Scissors). We didn’t settle down to read the script until halfway through our time, and settling 20 fifth graders down to read Shakespeare was no easy task. Most of the scholars were disappointed to learn that they did, in fact, have to read again, while a few scholars just outright refused. However, we did have some of our more interested scholars try and get their friends into it by using funny accents and trying to tackle big passages, which was exciting to see. By the end of our time, which was cut short by another 15 minutes, we had only gone through about 2 pages, though I’m not sure we could have gotten much further.

For the next time, we promised to start with their favorite game, Froggy Murder, since we did not have time to finish with a game this time around. Many of the scholars were more interested in knowing their characters than actually reading through the parts, so it may be time to start picking out our sailors and spirits to help us with the less literary aspects of the play. At this point in the timeline, we should start focusing more on our scholars who are actually interested in having lines and giving them the opportunity to work on their accents and their reading skills. Hopefully, next week we will have our full time to play our theatre games and begin to divvy up the parts. Hopefully, once the scholars see this elective as more than just reading, they’ll be more excited to participate.

I’m not sure if I buy into Taunton and Hart’s argument that the apocalyptic language in King Lear was a reference to James’ reaction to the Gunpowder Plot. They refer to the fear of separate kingdoms and a new ruler as “apocalyptic” (pg 713) in order to place King Lear in an apocalyptic framework. To me, placing King Lear in a doomsday framework is a bit of a stretch. Admittedly, James’ rule brought much anxiety to England, as many citizens did not trust him to rule effectively. This distrust finds its parallel in Lear’s corruption after handing his legitimate power as king over to his daughters, though this transfer of power does not necessarily invoke doomsday imagery.

Taunton and Hart reference the storm in which Lear is caught, as well as his mad ramblings, though Act III Scene 2 is up to interpretation. In order to make the leap from Lear’s experience in the storm to James’ fascination with Armageddon, Taunton and Hart assume that Lear’s storm-driven madness represent an apocalyptic mindset. Lear’s madness can represent the end of his rule, as well as the madness in which his kingdom descends. However, whether or not that madness is truly apocalyptic still remains up to personal interpretation. If audience members don’t make the connection between Lear’s madness and Armageddon, the apparent reference to James’ apocalyptic fascination and rhetoric is even more difficult to find. While apocalyptic rhetoric may have helped James appear as a hero for stopping the Gunpowder Plot, there is not enough clearly apocalyptic language in King Lear to make this connection between Lear and James.