In a recent interview, Anne Carson points to the risks of reducing works of theater to moralizing objects and object lessons: ‘[W]orks of art don’t have a message, do they? They offer experience and possibly a transformation.” How do the multifold adaptations of literature across the material book, illustration, and digital text shape the experience of readers? How specifically do performances function as imagined spaces where communities both ancient and contemporary can reflect on the social realities of human experience through myriad forms? Can the liveness of performance retain its precious salience in a world of social media and polemical sound bites? What can theater reveal to its audiences about the dissemination of information, artistic consumption, and production?
In a collaboration involving poet, playwright, professor and author Anne Carson, visual artist Robert Currie, Haverford College faculty members Laura McGrane and Deborah Roberts and Philadelphia-based theater company Lightning Rod Special, this PACC initiative ‘Play, Media Text: Making it Live’ will contemplate what the performances of the past have to say about the future of performance. Working with texts from the classical period and eighteenth century through the contemporary moment, our project will culminate with an immersive, theatrical reading of Carson’s never-produced play KRAPP Hour. How does this piece encourage its audiences to reconsider how they get information, how it is made and disseminated, who fills the airwaves and talk shows, and why should we trust any of it? Throughout the collaborative, students and community members will inhabit theater as adaptive social practice through workshops, readings, and live performances.
This project was active during Spring 2019, in addition to a significant planning phase preceding the active semester as well as a follow up once the semester had concluded.
Anne Carson is Canadian poet, essayist, translator, and Classicist whose work treats Classical subjects in what has been called a postmodern fashion. Carson’s genre-averse approach to writing mixes poetry with essay, literary criticism, and other forms of prose, and her style is at once quirky, inventive, and erudite.
Robert Currie is an artist.
Lightning Rod Special
Scott R. Sheppard is an OBIE Award-winning theater artist living in Philadelphia and New York City. He is a Co-Director of the Philadelphia-based theater company Lightning Rod Special. Recent credits: Underground Railroad Game (co-creator/perfomer), which was named by the New York Times in 2018 as one of the top 25 plays in the past 25 years and is currently touring nationally and internationally; Pig Iron Theatre Company’s 99 Breakups and Period of Animate Existence (deviser/performer); PITC’s Gentlemen Volunteers (performer); George & Co.’s Holden (co-creator/performer); Lightning Rod Special’s Sans Everything (co-creator/performer) and Arden Theatre Company’s The Stinky Cheeseman (performer, Barrymore nomination). Scott is a recipient of the Independence Foundation Fellowship in the Performing Arts, OBIE Award winner for Best New American Theater Work, and a recipient of Edinburgh’s Fringe First Award (Underground Railroad Game). Proud graduate of the inaugural class at Pig Iron’s School for Advanced Performance Training and Guild Hall resident artist for 2018.
Lightning Rod Special
Alice Yorke is a Philadelphia-based actor, creator, director, and producer. She is a Co-Director of Lightning Rod Special, with whom she created and performed in Hackles, Let the Dog See the Rabbit, and Sans Everything; she is the lead artist on their newest piece, The Appointment, a satire with original music that reveals the absurdity, hypocrisy, and misogyny of the abortion debate in America. She recently directed White Feminist by Lee Minora, a scorching indictment of white women in feminism, the hit of the 2018 Fringe Festival. Her performance in The Gap at Azuka Theatre was recognized with a Bonaly Award for excellent performance and a Barrymore Award nomination for outstanding supporting performance. For five years she has been seen across music venues in Philly and New York at the wild dancer Candy Scrapple of Red 40 and the Last Groovement. She is a proud graduate of the inaugural class of the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training.
Associate Professor of English
Laura McGrane is Director of Visual Culture Arts and Media (VCAM) and Associate Professor of English at Haverford College. She served as Director of the Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities and is Principal Investigator for multiple grants in the arts and visual studies, including Maker Arts funding. Her work and workshops in eighteenth-century print culture and digital media integrate scholarship on interface and institutional approaches to digital humanities with the history of the book.
Professor of Classics
Deborah H. Roberts is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at Haverford College. Her research and teaching interests include Greek tragedy, ancient literary theory and the history of literary theory, the modern reception of classical literature, and translation studies. She has translated Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound (2012) and other Greek tragedies, and is co-author, with Sheila Murnaghan, of Childhood and the Classics: Britain and America, 1850-1965 (2018).
Lightning Rod Special: Scott R. Sheppard and Alice York, Co-Directors
Lightning Rod Special is a Philadelphia-based original performance company that creates raucous and contemplative works to ask questions of ourselves, our audience, and the world at large. Our work engages a highly collaborative, actor-driven approach; LRS creations are finely crafted extensions of the raw and thunderous discoveries born from spontaneous inspiration.
Like scientists, we start each project with a hypothesis and, following artistic investigations, find our way to completed pieces of theatre that twist the ordinary into the alien, provoke debate, and stir what lies dormant in the corners of an audience’s mind. With big hearts, we tackle lightning rod topics in ways that scramble theatrical conventions and intellectual assumptions.
Exploding complex questions with precision and play, Lightning Rod Special makes live performance from the ground up.
Photo Credit: Lightning Rod Special
Anne Carson & Robert Currie, Lead Artists
Artists in Residence
“Anne Carson was born in Toronto, Ontario on June 21, 1950. With the help of a high school Latin instructor, she learned ancient Greek, which contributed to her continuing interest in classical and Hellenic literature. She attended St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto and, despite leaving twice, received her BA in 1974, her MA in 1975, and her Ph.D. in 1981. She also studied Greek metrics for a year at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Since bursting onto the international poetry scene in 1987 with her long poem “Kinds of Water,” Carson has published numerous books of poetry, including Float (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016); Red Doc> (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013); The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry; Autobiography of Red (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998); and Short Talks (Brick Books, 1992).
Also a Classics scholar, Carson is the translator of Electra (Oxford University Press, 2001), If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho (Knopf, 2002), and An Oresteia (Faber and Faber, 2009), among others. She is also the author of Eros the Bittersweet (Princeton University Press, 1986).
Reviewers have praised the range of Carson’s verse, consistently describing her poetry as inventive, visionary, and highly unique. Scholars often discuss the influence of her academic history; Roger Gilbert has noted, “unlike many academic poets she deploys her scholarly voice as a dramatic instrument whose expressive power lies partly in its fragility.”
Her awards and honors include the Lannan Literary Award, the Pushcart Prize, the Griffin Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship, and the MacArthur Fellowship. She was also the Anna-Maria Kellen Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, Germany.
Carson was the Director of Graduate Studies in Classics at McGill University and taught at Princeton University from 1980-1987. She has also taught classical languages and literature at Emory University, California College of the Arts, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan. She currently teaches in New York University’s creative writing program.
Float (Alfred A. Knopf, 2016)
Antigonick(New Directions, 2015)
Red Doc> (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013)
NOX (New Directions, 2010)
Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)
The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001)
Men in the Off Hours (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000)
Autobiography of Red (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998)
Plainwater: Essays and Poetry (Alfred A. Knopf, 1996)
Glass, Irony and God (New Directions, 1995)
Short Talks (Brick Books, 1992)
Eros the Bittersweet (Princeton University Press, 1986)”
Robert Currie asked that he be described as an artist.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Wall Street JournalRead less
Refashioning the Classics Course Visit w/ Anne Carson and Robert Currie, Lead Artists
2:15-3:45pm, VCAM, Haverford College,
Artists Anne Carson and Robert Currie took over Deborah Robert’s course ‘Refashioning the Classics: Dramatization and Illustration’. Anne and Currie posed a series of prompts for the students including an exercise in making 10 drawings and then creating a movement or a sound that expresses that drawing and a small group assignment to perform something both inside/outside a boundary.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Bursese
Sometimes It's Necessary to State the Obvious w/ Anne Carson and Robert Currie
Reading & Performance
7:30-9pm, Sharpless Auditorium, Haverford College
Why Theater Should Be Dangerous w/ Lightning Rod Special
Presentation & Discussion
12-1:00pm, Haverford College, VCAM Lounge & Community Kitchen
Lightning Rod Special makes a case that theater should be revitalizing our democracy through provocation and complexity. Part discussion, part rehearsal, part communal meditation: witness how Lightning Rod Special asks dangerous questions through a radical practice of devising original theater. They will demonstrate creation methods and have an open conversation about how they approach new performance work. Lightning Rod Special company members are Barrymore and OBIE Award-winning artists who have toured their work all over the world. Known most recently for “Underground Railroad Game” which was named by the New York Times as one of the top 25 plays in the past 25 years.
This event is free and open to the public, lunch provided.
Photo Credit: Haverford College Communications
Topics in 18th-century Literature Course Visit w/ Lightning Rod Special, Nonprofit Organization
1:30-4pm, Haverford College, Woodside Meditation Room
Scott R. Sheppard and Alice Yorke, co-founders of Lightning Rod Special, led a movement workshop for students in Laura McGrane’s course ‘Topics in 18th-century Literature: New(s) Media, Performance and Print Culture’. The students experienced a slice of LRS’ creative process, learning to move like a puppet and “not acting” in a scene LRS calls a “re-do”.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Bursese
"Lecture on the History of Skywriting" w/ Anne Carson, Robert Currie, Lead Artists, & Faisal bin Ali Jaber
7-8:30pm, Christ Church Neighborhood House, 20 N American St, Philadelphia
Anne Carson will perform a ‘Lecture on the History of Skywriting’ with her collaborator Robert Currie and Faisal bin Ali Jaber, an engineer from Yemen whose brother-in-law and nephew were killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2012.
The performance will last roughly 45 minutes with no intermission and be followed by a Q & A session with Anne Carson, Robert Currie and Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, her biography below.
This event is free and open to the public. Image by Andrew Kist.
Shelby Sullivan-Bennis is a Senior Staff Attorney at Reprieve U.S., working on abuses in counter-terrorism and other national security concerns. She represents several prisoners currently held without trial or charge at Guantánamo Bay, as well as multiple victims of America’s overseas targeted killing program. Shelby has previously worked as criminal defense counsel in terrorism cases being litigated in the Southern District of New York – notably, that of Nazih al Raghie (“Anas al-Liby”), a Libyan national extra-judicially rendered to the United States to stand trial for charges relating to the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. She has also worked for the Legal Aid Society (state criminal law issues), the International Rescue Committee (immigration cases), and as pre-indictment defense counsel for Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility (CLEAR), at the CUNY School of Law. She holds a B.A. from the University of Rhode Island and a J.D. from the City University of New York School of Law. She is admitted in New York and to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and Southern District of New York. Shelby is a Member of the American Bar Association, the New York City Bar Association (and its Committees on Capital Punishment and International Human Rights), and the National Lawyers Guild.
Photo Credit: Colin Kerrigan
Topics in 18th-century Literature Course Visit w/ Anne Carson and Robert Currie, Lead Artists
1:30-4:00pm, Haverford College, Woodside Meditation Room
Lead artists Anne Carson and Robert Currie visited Laura McGrane’s course “Topics in 18th-century Literature: New(s) Media, Performance and Print Culture”. During the visit, Carson and Currie engaged the students in a discussion about publishing, answering questions about both the technical and creative process.
Carson shared two versions of her 2010 book “Nox” – the original, one-of-a-kind, handmade version and the published, trade edition by New Directions. She walked the group through the process from conception to distribution, pointing out a few pivotal moments where the project shifted either from practical necessity or at times, Carson questioning if the book should be available to the public at all. Currie and Carson also brought original letterpress and silkscreen prints from a previous residency for the students to take home.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Bursese
"The Appointment" Original Screenplay written and performed by Lightning Rod Special
8:00-9:30pm, Fringe Arts, 140 N Christopher Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia
“The Appointment” is a musical satire about the American abortion debate. Associated risks include dizziness, cramping, choreographed musical numbers, emotionally manipulative informed consent handbooks, God’s wrath, and rampant misogyny.
Side effects will last for the foreseeable future. Don’t worry. That’s perfectly normal.
A dark satire with original music, The Appointment examines the misogyny, hypocrisy, and absurdity of the contemporary abortion debate in America. The work unpacks the economic, societal, and political systems that disempower groups of people from making informed reproductive decisions.
Laura McGrane’s course “Topics in 18th-century Literature: New(s) Media, Performance and Print Culture” traveled to Fringe Arts to watch the performance. After the show, the students were invited backstage to talk with LRS’ co-creator and lead artist, Alice Yorke, about their initial reactions and experiences.
In 2019, Lightning Rod Special presented a rolling two-city presentation of The Appointment, our musical satire about the American abortion debate. In February, we presented the piece at Philadelphia’s FringeArts for a two-week run.
The piece was eventually nominated for an astounding seven Barrymore-nominations (including Best Musical) with Brett Robinson taking home a win for Outstanding Supporting Actor. All performances in Philly and New York were accompanied by opportunities for audiences to learn more about local reproductive rights efforts. We partnered in Philly with Women’s Medical Fund, Allentown Women’s Center, and Councilmember Helen Gym to give audiences direct, actionable suggestions for how to be involved. At a LongTable panel, audiences got to hear from and ask questions of people working at the local, regional, and national level in the fight for abortion rights. Audiences were also able to participate in a Crafternoon and a late-night Sex Ed Trivia Night, hosted by Dr. Timaree Leigh. New York audiences were connected with local organizations, WHARR, Pro-Truth, NYAAF, and Abortion AF.
Image Credit: Lightning Rod Special
Topics in 18th-century Literature & Refashioning the Classics Course Visit w/ Lightning Rod Special, Non-Profit Partners
2:15-3:45pm, Haverford College, VCAM Create Space 006
Actors Scott Sheppard and Alice Yorke shared their work and practice as members from the lead non-profit partner, Lightning Rod Special. This visit to Laura McGrane’s course “Topics in 18th-century Literature: New(s) Media, Performance and Print Culture” and Deborah Roberts’ course “Refashioning the Classics: Dramatization and Illustration” was a hands-on workshop which served to culminate the topics, theatrical practices, and methods covered in both courses throughout the semester.
In this collaborative workshop, students from both courses were brought together to an empty gallery space in the VCAM building. In earlier course visits with LRS, each class learned varying theatrical exercises. This workshop drew on those different methods and prompted the students to work towards the same narrative. LRS showed the students photos of animals and reptiles, working on body movements that would conjure up the essence of that being. The students were brought up in groups of four to create a short, non-verbal narrative – an improvised play – while LRS called out stage directions and motivations for the “characters” in the scene.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Bursese
1:00-2:30pm & 4:00-5:30pm, Haverford College, VCAM
Witness and engage in a reading of Anne Carson’s KRAPP Hour, adapted and staged as a live performance by Lightning Rod Special at Haverford College in the new Visual, Culture, Arts, and Media (VCAM) building. In the first iteration of this never-produced play, originally published in Granta Magazine in 2014, Lightning Rod Special cracks open the world that KRAPP Hour dares us to imagine.
Photo Credit: Haverford College Communications
"Norma Jeanne Baker of Troy" Original Text by Anne Carson, Commissioned by The Shed in NYC, and Performed by Ben Whishaw and Renée Fleming
3:00-4:30pm, The Shed NY, 545 W 30th St, New York, NY
Haverford faculty, students, staff and collaborators traveled to The Shed on Sunday, April 28th to see Anne Carson’s new work Norma Jeane Baker of Troy Part opera, part theater, part performance piece, in Norma Jean Baker of Troy “Ben Whishaw and Renée Fleming star in a dramatic work by Anne Carson exploring the lives of two iconic beauties millennia apart”.
About “Norma Jean Baker of Troy” from The Shed:
“It is 1964. An office manager has hired one of his stenos to come in at night and type out his translation of Euripides’s Helen, but his obsession with the recently dead Marilyn Monroe kidnaps the translation.
Norma Jeane Baker of Troy is a spoken and sung new work by poet, essayist, and scholar Anne Carson that reconsiders the stories of two iconic women—Marilyn Monroe and Helen of Troy—from their point of view.
Starring actor Ben Whishaw and soprano Renée Fleming, and intimately and powerfully staged by director Katie Mitchell in The Shed’s 500-seat Griffin Theater, Norma Jeane Baker of Troy explores who has the right to tell a woman’s story, and how those stories reverberate through our culture.
“The #MeToo movement has given us new ways to think about female icons like Helen or Marilyn Monroe, new ways to revolve the traditional male version of such events 360 degrees and find different, deeper sorrows there,” writer Anne Carson says.
Photo Credit: Stephanie BurseseRead less