Earlier this month I presented my research on the dramatick opera Psyche at the University of Leiden. The organizer Jed Wentz had originally asked me to participate in a symposium on historical acting in 2020; sadly, that proved impossible because of the COVID pandemic. After several additional delays, the symposium finally happened, and it was everything I’d hoped for. For those of us who could arrive early, our intellectual appetites were whetted by the “OverActing” theatre festival, which considered the benefits of revivifying historical acting techniques in the modern theatre. Because of end-of-term obligations, I had to miss one of the key performances, a theatrical extravaganza on the first evening featuring 100-year-old painted scenery (you can find an image of the event above, and a YouTube trailer here), but I did attend a range of other activities, including performances of a cantata, a melodrama, and a series of silent films with live accompaniment. I also participated in a historical acting workshop led by Kat Carson.
The Actio! symposium followed close on the heels of the theatre festival; indeed, the scholarly symposium was a continuation of the performances we’d enjoyed over the weekend, as we reflected on the relationship between theory and practice. The symposium was one of my favorite kinds of scholarly activity: a small gathering of people exploring a topic together from a range of perspectives. The speakers came from theatre studies, musicology, and performance, but most of us had research interests that effaced the boundaries between these fields. Beyond the vibrant intellectual work we did at the festival and conference, on a personal level Actio! afforded me the opportunity to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen for three years and also to form new friendships. At the symposium banquet I discovered that one participant had familial connections to the small English village where my mother was born and another grew up 20 minutes away from my hometown in the US. It’s a small world, indeed.
My paper on Psyche drew on my historical research on dramatick opera, my experience staging similar works as part of the AHRC research project, “Performing Restoration Shakespeare” (2017–2020), and interviews with Sébastien Daucé, who recently recorded Psyche with his Ensemble Correspondances, and Katherina Lindekens, who served as a dramaturg for Daucé’s production of Cupid and Death. The post-paper Q&A session provided some intriguing research leads, which I hope to explore in a future conference paper or publication.