CLAS Acts May 2019

Monthly newsletter of the TT faculty of CLAS


Big breath now.  Breathe OUT, it’s over.  Allergens notwithstanding, breathe in again.  More than a few of you may join me in feeling that after a long, hard winter, and a momentous, incredibly productive year overall, we’ve really earned a little spring. 

Spring is a time of changes, and our office has a few of those, too.   First, Gretchen Galbraith will be leaving GVSU, as previously announced, after 26 years in a variety of positions including as our Associate Dean for Faculty, Resources, and Scheduling, to take on a great new challenge as the Dean of Arts and Sciences at SUNY Potsdam in July.  We will miss her savvy, and her grace.  Please join us for an open house on May 13, 2:30-4pm in B-4-243 MAK.  Her position here lends itself to make connections with faculty at some momentous times in their lives.  Many of you will have also served with her on committees and task forces over the years.  I hope you can stop by and wish her well.

On May 1 we will be saying farewell to Cindy Driesenga who has been the face of our front desk and the voice on the phone when you contacted us.  The beautiful posters you receive around the first of each month to promote the happenings in CLAS are her work. 

As you can imagine, departures are always a time to rethink and reconfigure, and we’ve been doing just that.  At the last Unit Heads Meeting we provided a sketch of the distribution of duties among the ADs.  By mid-June these will be up in full detail on the website.    We appreciate your patience in this time of transition, and while we need to feel the same pain you do, we’ll figure it out, and we rededicate ourselves to providing the level of service to which you are accustomed. And we aspire, in the future, to maybe getting even better.

But enough about us.  I have a couple particular thank-yous this year. Thank you for all your adaptability and extra effort when, just as the semester was hitting full stride, we were slammed with an unprecedented week off for Arctic cold and mountains of snow.  Thank you too for something that may not seem a burden, but is surely work at a busy time of year: putting on all the celebratory events that make the end of the academic year so special for our graduating seniors.  I attended as many as I possibly could without cloning (our CMB colleagues are working on it!) and Associate Deans fanned out to go to others, all because this is a juncture at which attention must be paid to the accomplishments of our students.  I appreciate all the less visible hard work to make these achievements a reality.  It is also a time to congratulate our colleagues moving into retirement.  Their lifetime contributions are staggering: they helped build the place we love to work--not just the brick around us but the teaching character that surrounds us--and we very much hope they will not be strangers.

May is a time for you to take that deep breath, and pursue your spring and summer plans whether that be teaching a course, assisting with programs supporting our existing or incoming students, diving into your research or learning new skills.  Make time to recharge, too. You’ve earned it.


Preparing to Be Big--Serial Team Teaching in a Highly Collaborative Art

Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion

be your tutor: suit the action to the word, the

word to the action; with this special o'erstep not

the modesty of nature: for any thing so overdone is

from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the

first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere, the

mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,

scorn her own image, and the very age and body of

the time his form and pressure. Now this overdone,

or come tardy off, though it make the unskilful

laugh, cannot but make the judicious grieve; the

censure of the which one must in your allowance

o'erweigh a whole theatre of others.


For almost 26 years, the Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival has provided the opportunity for our students, whether theatre majors or not, to know what it means to tread the boards with the words of the Bard on their lips.  To lift the curtain on what must prefigure their Shakespearean debut, we have to go back well prior to the audition.

On March 15, six months before the main stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will open, in the theatre rehearsal room of the Haas Center for the Performing Arts, the nervous energy is running high as students assemble for the Shakespeare Audition Workshop.  Some of the students have already served a year’s apprenticeship as part of the Green Show or Bard to Go which develop their skills and are pathways to joining the company of the main stage production.  Many of the students clearly know one another and they swap stories of productions they have recently seen.

Katherine Mayberry calls the proceedings to order for this two-hour workshop that will help students to prepare their monologues, or even to select an appropriate monologue, and learn the expectations of an audition for a Shakespeare production.  Katherine (an alumna of Grand Valley, a founder of the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare company, and having studied in London) has been part of the Festival Committee and a teacher in Theatre for many years and serves as the workshop facilitator. 

She is ably assisted by Scott Wright, a ten-year veteran of the Pigeon Creek company and Grand Valley guest artist in productions such as The Tempest, and Amanda Grah, who has more recently joined Pigeon Creek and has New York theatre and film credits.

While the production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be directed by Professor Roger Ellis, the three thespians providing the Audition Workshop will lay vital groundwork for this production and the larger Shakespeare Festival that is already a layered collaboration of directors, actors, dramaturgs, designers, builders, stage choreographers, and musicians.  

These three address themselves to the deceptively simple instruction on the audition poster to, “Please prepare a 1-minute monologue and 16 lines of a Shakespeare play, preferred”.   The Workshop provides the sort of development of these audition pieces to safeguard the budding actors from strutting and fretting and being called back no more.

Over the next two hours, fifteen students with selected or borrowed monologues learn to choose a part they could conceivably play, not to worry too much about picking an overdone piece (with only 36 plays in the corpus, aren’t they all?), to get some knowledgeable feedback on any cutting, and above all to know what thou art saying.

A review of resources both at Grand Valley and through the wonders of the online Oxford English Dictionary, and the holdings of the Folger Shakespeare Library provides a strong recommendation to the students to the use scholarly editions of the texts and study word-by-word the ways in which language may have changed over time.

How not to run over-time, how to dress, a reminder to be nice to the stage manager and all personnel, a recommendation to accept the role offered unless there is a scheduling issue, an admonition against displaying disappointment, and what to interpret as successful —the advice is both germane to the Shakespeare audition and to most job seeking.

Next the workshop moves into a series of exercises that better acquaints the students with their texts, helps them understand the different requirements of prose and poetry, makes physical the procession of phrases, and renders palpable the work accomplished by the punctuation.  Already the readings have evolved, and the paired-off students start to nod their approval of each other’s improvements.  Time-honored exercises involving two chairs, “walking the punctuation,” “the museum tour”, “breaking things into beats,” and “gestural paraphrase” soon make distinct in the students’ minds what the components of their chosen monologues are and make possible more accurate paraphrasing.

Some of the advice seems worthy of a philosophy of life: “Make big choices rather than no choice,” and “Be prepared to be big.”

Language and gesture are paired in ways hyperbolic then subtle to ready the students for a range of requests from the director.

Then Laban movement analysis (a technique borrowed from dance) is applied to the vocal pyrotechnics of the actors.  A process of winnowing, what to keep and what to edit, ensues.

The workshop, like the monologues themselves, forces a series of choices between the energized and the contemplative, the vocal and the gestural, larger or smaller, collaborative or solo, actor or spectator, the newness of a cold reading or that which is as familiar in the mouth as household words.

The workshop ends with a debrief in which the actors comment on the artificiality of the audition, its challenges.  The time has flown by.  And then with claps and clicks the students approve of the journey they have just taken.  They have a fortnight to edit, polish, and seek individualized coaching before one minute and approximately 16 lines will decide how their star rises. 

Katherine, Scott, and Amanda provided the scaffolding on which others would then build three productions and in the process of making the play the thing, the actors gain a sense of occasion, rigor informing their choices, and the confidence to go big.