Experiences of the Directing Group for Fast Times at Morality High: A 1980s medieval morality play
“Justice and Equity in the English Morality Play” by J. Wilson McCutchan in the Journal of the History of Ideas (Jun. 1958)
In a brief article in the June, 1958 edition of the Journal of theHistory of Ideas J. Wilson McCutchan analyzed the development of the character of Justice in the English morality play of the late Medieval and Early-Modern period. In early morality plays such as the Castle of Perseverance, McCutchan noted that Justice appeared as one of the Four Daughters of God, advising to condemn the character of Mankind in the Castle of Perseverance. Justice is considered a “theological concept” rather than a character focusing on legality and legal procedure. This is also true in morality plays concurrent to Perseverance, such as Salutation and Conception, Ludus Coventriae, and Processus Satanae.
However, in later morality plays such as Respublica, published in 1553, Justice increasingly becomes a judicial figure on matters of legal pronouncement, gradually moving away from the abstract Daughters of God. For the purpose of our production, McCutchan’s analysis proves useful in displaying the evolution of the various conceptions of the Daughters of God from abstract virtues to more recognizable authority figures. We as the directors use a later interpretation for the Daughters of God, with them updated as teacher or administrator characters separate and above the virtues.
Despite creating less-abstract virtues and Daughters of God characters in our production,Justice and the other Daughters of God remain under the authority of the Principle Godfrey (God) character and despite reconciling in agreement, they must adhere to his pronouncement on Mankind’s fate and ultimate choice for salvation over the objections of Truth and Justice. The alteration of these characters from abstractions to
Blocking “The Castle of Perseverance”
Blocking “The Castle of Perseverance” took many hours and many meetings between the directors. During our first meeting, we divided the script into sections, and then blocked a particular number of pages a night based on these sections. We also came up with a rehearsal schedule that could suit everyone’s individual schedules based on these sections of the play, which (needless to say) was quite difficult.
When beginning to rehearse with the actors, we emphasized how even the littlest bit of blocking required quite a bit of acting, or even overacting in order to create kind of stage picture we wanted. For example, the Virtues and Vices are blocked to walk off the stage in their groups, and in doing so, their individual characters need to be portrayed in every step that they take. For example, Sloth is blocked to walk off stage a number of times, and so he was directed to walk as obnoxiously slow as possible, mumbling and groaning about how everyone else needs to walk slower.
We also used height in order to differentiate the Virtues and Vices from Doctor Godfrey and Vice Principal Death, who are always seen higher from the rest of the cast when on stage due to their power. Doctor Godfrey especially is disassociated from the teachers and students, appearing on his own platform, and requiring everyone to look up at him when talking to him.
We approached only a small number of problems when blocking, and they all seem to have been resolved. Many actors had trouble keeping their faces to the audience, and sometimes would speak to other cast members while having their backs completely turned, making it hard to hear their lines. Using the proper stage hand so that the audience could see every single movement actors make was also a bit of a struggle at first, but after teaching actors how to fix this, our job was done.
The Audition Process: Casting the Characters
To begin to get a feel for how people feel on stage, we had everyone read in class, both from the Medieval text and from our re-created text of The Castle of Perseverance. From these in class readings, the directors were able to learn which of our classmates would be more comfortable in larger (or smaller roles), and which roles would best fit individuals in our class.
One of the main factors was certainly that the students listed their preference as far as roles, and the directors tried to follow that as closely as we could. Then spent one or two days in class having several people read for each of the parts, so that we could make decisions. All five of the directors cast the play together, and tried to match preference with ability to act out the role. After this was completed, we compiled a cast list with understudies for the larger roles, and double cast a few parts (including the daughters of God).
One problem we did run into with casting was that we should have checked schedules ahead of time to see which of our classmates had more free time than others, but in the end we were able to work that out with the individuals who had bigger roles. We were also able to discover quickly which students fit better into certain roles, especially according to preferences (and in some cases, we must admit, personality). We really worked on pushing the dynamic between the virtues and the vices as far as character development and blocking goes, which is something we are still working on.
Symbolism and Practicality in the Set
In working with the set, we had originally planned on using a large portion of the back of Breidenbaugh, extending to the platform outside the JosephTheater. The platform was originally intended to be Dr. Godfrey’s platform from which he could watch the events as they unfolded. However, we soon realized that the stage was too large and the platform was too far from the audience and the rest of the action for the parliament of heaven scene to take place. Thus, we had to condense the set, using little more than the stairs for our production.
In addition to this, we attempted to symbolize the division between the virtues and vices by adding a dimension of physicality to the staging. Thus, the virtues were always positioned on the right side of the set and the vices were always on the left. Further, Angel is also always on the right side of Manny and Demona on the left in a second attempt to symbolize the division between the two different groups.Similar to this, we also attempted to demonstrate the omnipotence of both Dr. Godfrey and Vice Principal Death by elevating them above the rest of the action. Although Death did not have his own platform like Dr. Godfrey did, he was still positioned above the virtues, vices, Angel, Demona, and Manny to symbolize the control that he has over all of them. Through these actions, we attempted to symbolize the relationships between the various characters.
MODERN CONTEXT, MEDIEVAL STYLE
Though we have updated the language and setting of The Castle of Perseverance, we are actually performing it in a style very close to that of an actual medieval play. The modern conception of acting as a deeply emotional and realistic art is actually a very recent development – “Method acting” is a 20th Century invention. Since medieval plays were comprised of stock characters and historical figures, there was no need to go into depth regarding the “internal life” of the character. Action was more important than emotion, and breadth was more important than depth. Especially in morality plays, the purpose of medieval theatre was to impart a universal moral message to a large demographic of people, so the creation of easily identifiable characters was important. Another contributing factor to the less personal nature of medieval acting was simple practicality. Outdoor theatre in a parade or festival format requires over-exaggerated gestures and speech. The use of slapstick and direct audience address helped accommodate both the practical reality and the moral intention of medieval theatre.
Perhaps one of the biggest similarities between Fast Time at Morality High and The Castle of Perseverance is the nature of our production. Much like our medieval predecessors, we are a troupe of amateurs. Medieval actors were not professionally trained – the concept did not really exist. Instead, guild members would pool their untrained talents and combined resources to create the productions that we now study.Due to limited resources and requirements of mobility, medieval plays did not emphasize realism in acting, blocking, or set. These constraints led to the development of a more presentational style of theatre, which is a type of theatre that calls attention to a play’s theatricality in an abstract and symbolic way. The stage diagram of The Castle of Perseverance clearly does not depict a set that attempts to portray the objective world accurately. In the same way, we are presenting a highly stylized, very suggestive vision of a moralistic 1980s high school.
 J. Wilson McCutchan, “Justice and Equity in the English Morality Play”
Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 19, No. 3. (June, 1958), p 405-406.
 Ibid, p 407.