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Designing Shakespeare - Step by Step Guide

The material used in this section of the website started life as an academic paper prepared for the 2004 Conference of the Shakespeare Association of America, as my contribution to a seminar entitled ‘Comparative Visual Cultures’. In this paper I wanted to show three trends that relied heavily on the visual in the contemporary performance history of Shakespeare and to test out a way of incorporating visual resources in a written text.

The paper’s three sections, Politics and Performance of Place, Character and Representation, Audience, Actor and Space, were conceived of as the result of a workshop I conducted with colleagues working with the research resource I developed entitled ‘Designing Shakespeare: an Audio-visual archive, 1960-2000’ (http://ahds.ac.uk/performingarts/designing-shakespeare) This workshop, which was sponsored by Palatine, the LTSN Centre for the Performing Arts, gave me the opportunity to speak to colleagues about the ways in which they might use the resources I had created in their teaching. The three areas they identified became the three sections of the paper and the three areas of the website.

While the workshop had delineated these general areas it was up to me to determine examples which would illustrate the need for visual reinforcement of the argument I was making. The choice of the 1994 production of Coriolanus was very much influenced by my own experience of watching the production and by the comments made by the designer of that production Fran Thompson. The choice of Richard III was also driven by personal experience but this time of the contrast between the stage production, in which the setting was very ambiguous, and the film, in which the period was very much more realistic.

With the transgendered productions the selection was driven by the profile that was created by these productions. In each case a great deal of attention was paid in the press to the casting of the roles and how these decisions changed the plays. The final group of plays were taken from the repertoire at the Globe Theatre. Since the emphasis was on the space and how it was used any of the productions produced in this theatre could have been selected, however, I chose to focus on the production of As You Like it, again from personal experience, as the best possible example of the breaking down of the boundary between the audience and the action.

The paper was circulated to the members of the seminar as a Word Document in which I inserted links to individual images which highlighted the issues I was discussing. When the paper was translated to the website those images were then made into thumbnails which were embedded in the text. While the text remained largely the same I broke many of the paragraphs down into smaller chunks of text which I felt were easier to read on screen. I was also aware when presenting it in this fashion that the sections of the paper, while being linear in my mind, could also be used in a non-linear fashion. As a result I adjusted, the text slightly to taking a more self-contained approach to each section.

Finally, presenting the material online gave me the opportunity to add in a great number of auxiliary resources, in the form of production summaries, which gave much more information about the individual productions and links to additional web resources, such as reviews. The freedom to add an unlimited number of appendices of this kind makes the online version of the paper much more than an article. I hope that it provides instead a body of resources which could be used as a teaching tool to cover a range of topics in the area of contemporary performance of Shakespeare.

The aim of the paper was to create a new kind of writing that could be adapted to the web in a productive way. The experience of making the transition from the linearity of the essay to the more complex interrelationship of a range of materials on a subject with a suggest through-line proved illuminating. The sections of the resource had to become more autonomous but needed to be adapted to suit the online reading experience. I would suggest that working with a designer has increased my understanding of the most successful way of writing for the web and presenting an argument visually in a way that combines text, images, layout and navigation.

As a result of this experience I would suggest a few tips for creating resources of this kind:

  1. Begin with the ideas and the structure of the resource you would like to create
  2. Next, do some research about the resources that might be available to support your argument/area of study
  3. Try to write in short, concise paragraphs which contain just one key point
  4. Try to limit each section of the website to two pages of A4 of text
  5. Try to make the sections of the website both autonomous and linked to allow for non-linear use
  6. Draw on resources on the internet outside the one you are creating to set students on a journey of discover on the topic.
  7. Build the resource with the possibility of expansion at a later date

Creating resources of this kind is a very creative process. You may find that it turns into a collaborative project that your students might like to join in. Do not underestimate the excitement such a project could generate but also do not underestimate the time it may take.

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Introduction page 2 - Visual argument page 3 -  Politics and performance of place  page 4 - Audience, Actor and Space page 5 - Audience, Actor and space page 6 - Conclusion Current page

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