Saturday, January 31, 2009

Briefly Noted: Upcoming Beowulf Performance


Thanks to a heads-up from my Brooklyn College colleague Michael Meagher, here's something for medievalists and particularly Old Anglophiles in the tri-state area:
Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage

Flawed heroes, sympathetic monsters and haughty professors collide as this hefty poem is rescued from the grasp of 1,000 years of highbrow analysis and transformed into a defiantly raucous musical. Presented by San Francisco's infamous Shotgun Players and New York's infectious Banana Bag & Bodice, this new SongPlay is an irreverent dissertation on art versus criticism in blood soaked Scandinavia! Written by Jason Craig, music by Dave Malloy, directed by Rod Hipskind.
April 9-19th at the Abrons Art Center. For those of you in the region teaching Beowulf this semester, maybe it's not too late for a field trip?

As for me, I'm of course offput by the distinction they draw between art and criticism. As we've seen repeatedly around these parts, and has been enshrined in a certain important volume, the best criticism is a "raucous...collision."

EDIT: Okay, I just posted this, but, what gives?: "rescued from the grasp of 1,000 years of highbrow analysis"?! First off, is there a tradition of engagement with Beowulf preceding Thorkelin? If so, Mssrs. Craig, Mallory, and Hipskind need to shock the academic world with their discovery! Second off, does this "rescuing from the grasp" business mean that the poem itself is poor struggling Grendel and "highbrow analysis" is Beowulf himself? Aargh, methinks this haughty professor needs some mead.


Eileen Joy said...

The poster itself is worth the price of admission. But what Viking/Geat/Beowulf worth his salt would wear Band-Aids? [haha]

Mary Kate Hurley said...


Anonymous said...

sorry, im totally google alerted to any new mention of the show; but i got excited by your blog because the truth is we would LOVE to have classes, professors and academics coming to the show, and have been wondering how to make that happen. the piece is very much about the tension between the poem's original audience (mead-drunken everymen) and its current (sober academics and often forcefed students), and the often encountered perception of the piece as a chore to be gotten through in english class, rather then the rousing meadhall yarn it once was...we've tried to find a balance between the two points of view, and tried to honor the place and reverence that academia and analysis has given the work.

we are definitely not from the academic world, and im sure our piece and our perception of the poem is riddled with inaccuracies...first and foremost we've tried to create a piece of entertainment (and yes there are certainly factual inaccuracies in our ad copy, oy). but we're also very invested in engaging in dialog about the work and the many contrary ways in which it is perceived.

so please, if you all have any ideas on how to promote this dialog and make this a compelling experience for classes and students (study guides, talkbacks?), and how to promote the piece accordingly (other blogs, lists?) we'd love to hear from you. you can contact us at bananabagandbodice at

dave malloy (composer)

Karl Steel said...


I'd honestly love to be able to take a class to it, and CUNY actually loves to give us money to take students to the theater, BUT Brooklyn College gives us that money only for Brooklyn shows. However, other CUNY schools might have a similar deal, but w/ their own borough. So (and, now that I think of this, you've probably already done this): why not send your press release to every English department in the tri state area and see what happens? Send two copies: one to the department in general, and another directed to the department's medievalists. Depending on the "adult themes" (barf, hate the phrase, but you know what I mean) of your material, you could probably get a positive response from some of the highend high schools in NYC too. In terms of other blogs, there's a few other Anglo-Saxonist blogs out there, most notably Unlocked Wordhoard: I'm sure this is right up its alley.

Of the bloggers here, I'm actually the least qualified to offer opinions about Beowulf and its scholarship. So, grain of salt, but my sense is that Anglo-Saxonists do need some shaking up: see here. However, bear in mind that Tolkein's justly famous monsters of Beowulf essay itself did much to return fun to the poem, and this was, what?, 70+ years ago? Again, I'd recommend getting your hands on a copy of The Postmodern Beowulf.

Honestly, however, I LOVE the idea of the poem itself as Grendel needing to rescued from academics as Beowulf. It's a brilliant image and one, I think, that resonates strongly w/ my co-bloggers own work on the poem.

Anonymous said...

thanks karl!
i passed this on to our producer and publicist...yes, we were going to press release schools, but its good to know they have budgets for such things. and ill check out unlocked as well.

and yes, ill absolutely check out the postmodern beowulf, sounds really interesting.

thanks again, and let us know if youll be in town!