Thursday, February 7, 2013

On the Road: Alexa's Travels Part 1


Professor Huang on Shakespeare Around the World (Part 1):

Four continents. Three oceans. Two hemispheres. One summer. Lots of tasteless pretzels and “chicken or beef?” moments (otherwise known as in-flight meals) in between.

Shakespearean chatter between Scott Newstok and Alexa Huang via text messages. Alexa spoke on Hamlet and Ophelia as icons of modernity at the “Global Hamlets” Symposium organized by Scott at Rhodes College in Memphis, http://rhodes.edu/shakespeare/24761.asp
 
Travel opens our eyes to other cultures and our own, and who knew Shakespeare could take you places? To Norway, England, France, Germany, Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, China, Taiwan, Singapore, and beyond. There are signs that he is not a dead white man any more. At least not the Shakespeare industry. The Shakespearean oeuvre is alive and well, and high school and college English literature courses are increasingly transnational.

Over the past year, lecture and research trips have taken me to several interesting places and taught me new things about cities I thought I knew (such as London during the Olympics) and brought me to friends old and new in cities I have never visited before (such as Perth in western Australia). Here are some highlights from my picture diary chronicling these trips. 

In Spring 2012 I had the good fortune of speaking on “Touching a Universal Nerve: Drama in Translation” at a roundtable hosted by Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) Residency Program and University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Along with RSC artistic director Michael Boyd, University Musical Society director Ken Fisher, award-winning poet and playwright James Fenton, and several other luminaries, we explored the theoretical, artistic, and pragmatic implications of translating and performing, in English, The Orphan of Zhao, a fourth-century Chinese tragedy (also known as the Chinese Hamlet) and the first Chinese play to be translated and adapted in the West. Nothing is impossible, as it turns out, if you approach a play with a coherent artistic vision and honesty (ethical integrity). One year on, directed by Gregory Doran, the RSC’s bold new adaptation is currently being staged in Stratford-upon-Avon (until March 28, 2013).

A flurry of global Shakespeare events set the course for much of my summer travel, taking me to London and Stratford-upon-Avon before, during, and after the 2012 London Olympics to research transnational Shakespeare at work as England reinvents its post-imperial, post-war cosmopolitan identity. I also gave talks and met with British colleagues to plan for future study trips for GW Dean’s Scholars in Shakespeare.

As a fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library, I was writing on multilingual touring productions to England from 1950-2011, but when ambitious plans were announced for a World Shakespeare Festival in England, I decided to expand my study to cover the eventful and exciting year of 2012. Before setting out for England in late April I gave a talk at the Folger on “Reorienting Global Shakespeare.” Part of that talk found its way into a short blog post I wrote for the Shakespeare Institute’s Year of Shakespeare project: “What Multilingual Shakespeare Can Teach Us.”

I did not know what to expect from the performances at the London Globe except for rumors that they would have 37 companies from all over the world to perform 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in 37 languages, including sign language and hip hop which represented the United States in what was billed a cosmopolitan Cultural Olympiad.

What awaited me in London was truly a feast of languages, with a hearty side of international politics. During my interviews with two BBC programs and Folger podcast “Shakespeare Now,” I expressed my enthusiasm for the active role that literature and literary translation now play in cultural exchange and major international events such as the Olympics, but I also reiterated my skepticism of crudely executed plans that may create more of a façade for cosmopolitanism than mutually beneficial cultural exchange. It was an interesting experience to be featured as a “foreign-born” Shakespearean in those contexts, which I elaborated upon during my talk at the Academia Sinica Institute of European and American Studies (Taiwan) entitled "Professing English from the Margins.” Identity politics are often writ large in these times of intense nationalism under the guises of internationalism. One positive effect, though, is that this ambitious festival demonstrates that Shakespeare has been transformed from Britain’s export to import industry. The meaning of this “return” to England remains ambiguous.

Here is one of the pictures I took:

To put itself on the metaphorical map of the world, the London Globe set up this sign post telling its visitors the direction and distance from London’s Southwark to select cities that range from Kyoto to Moscow. In the presence of so many visiting theatre companies from afar and at an authentically fake postmodern “early modern” theatre called the Globe, I had a transhistorical, synæsthetic experience of the “airy nothing” of “local habitations” of texts and cultures on the move. 


My research trips have born fruit. With the support of the Folger fellowship and research assistance from GW doctoral student Haylie Swenson, I completed a 16,500-word article (which is probably too long for any one who cares to pick up the journal) that was published in Cambridge University Press’s Theatre Survey in January 2013. The full story behind such international events as the 2011 Edinburgh Festival and 2012 World Shakespeare Festival is in my article entitled “'What Country, Friends, Is This?'”: Touring Shakespeares, Agency, and Efficacy in Theatre Historiography."

Naturally, as someone who has co-founded an open-access digital video archive called Global Shakespeares, I was excited to see “global Shakespeare” coming to life in London, Stratford-upon-Avon, and so many other U.K. cities in 2012. 

Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour shrouded in mist on a steamy summer evening. This is what the crossroad of the (financial) world looks and feels like.
I went on to give a number of talks on related topics of multilingual and touring Shakespeares at New York University, Australian National University in Canberra, Curtin University (Perth, Australia), University of Victoria (Canada), Chinese University of Hong Kong, Lingnan University in Hong Kong, City University of Hong Kong, and National Taiwan University, among other places. Some of this material went into another blog post I wrote for Shakespeare Institute’s Year of Shakespeare project entitled “Shakespeare in Borrowed Robes.”

A rather different Victoria Harbour, in Victoria, British Columbia. An ocean away, but named after the same Queen. Victoria is possibly the Canadian city with the most British character. 












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