Mission: direct three, ten-minute scenes from Curculio to be performed in Latin for the 2009 Langford Conference Playing along with Plautus at Florida State University. Grex: Plautus seminar graduate students of my own graduate mentor, Kenneth Reckford, with whom I had co-directed Curculio nearly 20 years before. Planning, scene selection, blocking, costuming, Latin memorization: three weeks. My rehearsal time together with cast: a few hours, one day prior to performance. Logistics: email relay with cast members and conference director. Outcomes: farce; lifelong learning/teaching experience in comedy and oral Latin. In light of these unusual performance conditions, this paper will highlight the challenges, successes, and areas for promising improvement encountered in this project. I will utilize still shots and video clips to provide visual and aural context for the final performances.
Difficulties: 1) little face-to-face interaction with cast, and severely collapsed timeframe for preparations; 2) daily email communication of stage directions, characterization, costume suggestions, and text-editing and interpretation for 200 lines of Latin; 3) reliance on the cast to regulate editing, pronunciation, and memorization of Latin dialogue, as well as basic practice of the blocking in my notes without my immediate feedback; 4) I learned last minute that part of our limited rehearsal time would be in front of 200 area high school students.
Achievements: 1) students were actively engaged at every level of the process, from editing and translation to rehearsal and role-playing—their independent work meant that when I arrived we were able to workshop through difficult spots they had encountered, and I was able to direct and adapt the vocal characterization, gestures, and movements during our limited time in the actual performance space; 2) more with less—simple, inexpensive props (leno wielding plunger against miles’ ‘overcompensating’ sword; gaudy bubble-gum-machine rings) and costume pieces (cheap beard and orientalizing turban/towel for Cappadox leno; cook/dream interpreter as Freud) added to the comedy and clarity without complicating preparations; I selected scenes with lots of potential for slapstick, action, and plot miming and provided acting/movement suggestions for every two lines of text; 3) high school students offered a practice audience for an impromptu workshop session; 4) responding to scholarship—knowing she was a conference co-panelist, I took Amy Richlin’s staging questions (Rome & the Mysterious Orient 2005:106) on a double entendre (ll.584-5) as a creative challenge; 5) enhancement of academic dialogue at the conference through comic relief, oral Latin, and educational performance applications.
Enhancements: I would now tap into stronger digital capabilities through Cloud media, such as document sharing, social networking, video chat rooms; two more weeks would have allowed smoother communication and fewer jitters for inexperienced, but capable, performers.
The promise offered in this project is that organization, creative collaboration focused on humor, and clear communication, energy, and encouragement, even at an exhausting pace, will advance the academic understanding of comedy and performance, in general, as core elements in modern Latin curricula. Scholars and students engaged each other and Plautus in a genuinely multi-media conference experience.