Andrew Albin

Albin's Undergrads Produce Innovative Website

The Fordham Medieval Dramatists (FMD) website debuted on May 20, 2015, extending the public life of the undergraduate group’s April 26 performance of the morality play Everyman and inaugurating a digital repository for the group’s activities. Interest in the website has been enthusiastic, with 311 page views and 88 unique visitors in the first three days after going live. FMD’s Facebook and Twitter account have seen similar enthusiastic reception, boding well for New York City’s only theater collective dedicated to dramatic experimentation with and lively performance of the plays of premodern England.

FMD consists of the students of Prof. Andrew Albin’s ENGL 3102: Medieval Drama in Performance, offered biennially as an Interdisciplinary Capstone Core course at FCLC in the spring semester. Students work as a tight-knit collective to read, discuss, adapt, and stage a medieval dramatic work of their choosing, from the ground up. Though productions adopt a variety of dramatic styles and approaches, FMD loosely models its principles for performance on medieval modes of play-making, focusing on non-professional actors, use of public spaces, creative collaboration, and the recruitment of local skills and talents. 

The FMD website supplies a wealth of student-generated content and offers a striking demonstration of the potential of the digital humanities to stimulate integrated intellectual work that bridges public, pedagogical, and virtual spheres. The centerpiece of the website is its Performances page, where visitors can watch the April 26 performance of Everyman in an embedded YouTube video filmed, edited, and produced by FMD students. Accompanying the film is a collection of student-generated critical commentary, examining topics as diverse as the temporality of music, costume semiotics, actor-audience interaction, the work of allegory, gender politics, and the deranging play of live performance.  Cross-references within each article virtually realize the web of conceptual connections that emerged between students during their semester’s worth of reading, writing, discussion, and performance. 

Thanks to its new virtual presence, FMD’s work has already gained wider audiences: at popular request, the film of Everyman was unofficially screened on the opening evening of Poculi Ludique Societas’s fiftieth anniversary Festival of Early Drama in Toronto, ON, to great acclaim. Fortuitously, the Royal National Theater in London also performed Everyman this summer with Chiwetel Ejiofor starring in the title role. (If you happen to be in London right now, it's still on till August 30!). This production was broadcast live to theaters across the world on July 16, accompanied by an #ntEveryman live-tweeting event. Encore screenings are still happening in New York City at the IFC Center (August 30-31) and Symphony Space (September 2). 

Though still very young, the Fordham Medieval Dramatists have already  made a significant impression with their hard work, critical thinking, and creative practice. With luck, the website will continue to foster the project FMD has undertaken and will act as a vivid home for medieval dramatic productions in NYC for many years to come!

Fordham Medieval Dramatists Produce Extraordinary Version of "Everyman"

The FCLC Medieval Dramatists, comprised of the students of Professor Andrew Albin's ENGL 3102: Medieval Drama in Performance, made their debut on April 26 at Summit Rock in Central Park (83rd Street & Central Park West) with their performance of the fifteenth-century morality play Everyman. Their production, free to the public, told the story of Everyman, who finds himself on Death’s doorstep and in need of guidance before he goes to meet his Maker. As he travels the road to the grave, Everyman encounters those things dearest to him and comes face to face with the choices he has made during his life. Everyman represented the culmination of ENGL 3102’s semester-long immersion in the dramatic texts and traditions of late medieval England; the result was a medieval play reinvented for modern audiences, one that melds festivity, community, and ethical searching with comedic flair and New York savvy. 

The production was inspiring, to say the least. Designed and realized from the ground up by the FCLC Medieval Dramatists, the performance of Everyman loosely modeled itself on medieval modes of play-making. Over the course of the spring semester, students worked as a tight-knit collective to read, discuss, adapt, and stage the play, with recourse to the wealth of talents they each brought to the playing space. Guided by Professor Albin, students read deeply into the corpus of medieval English drama in the original Middle English, accompanied by works of criticism, theater history, and modern critical dramaturgy. For the performance of Everyman, though, Prof. Albin took a back seat, facilitating students in their own creative exploration of the play they themselves chose to perform.

Though Everyman perishes at the end of the play, the Medieval Dramatists’s Everyman promises to have a life beyond its performance on April 26. Students recorded the live performance to create a film that will form the centerpiece of a media-rich digital archive of their efforts. Students contribute critical reflections on the play and their experience of performing it, expanding the public reach and creative dialogue of their semester’s work. Such an interdisciplinary project has benefitted greatly from the support of a variety of departments, programs, and offices, including English, Theatre, Medieval Studies, Media and Communications, New Media and Digital Design, Instructional Technology Academic Computing, and the Dean's Office.

A more appropriate debut performance for Fordham’s medieval theater troupe could not be imagined. Everyman asks difficult questions about our values, our ties to the world around us, our bonds with each other, and our relationships to ourselves.  In the hands of the Medieval Dramatists, it has become a thoroughly local play, in dialogue with the culture of New York City and taking place in Central Park at the heart of Manhattan. Mindful of its rootedness in the Catholic culture of the Middle Ages, Everyman turns a critical eye on that culture and interrogates it, asking us to do the same for our own through laughter, inquiry, and play.

To see the continued activity and media surrounding this production, go to Twitter and Instagram: @fordhameveryman #RIPEVERYMAN, Facebook, or write the Medieval Dramatists at fordhammedievaldramatists@gmail.com or Prof. Andrew Albin at aalbin@fordham.edu.


English Faculty, Students Engage at 2014 Mullarkey Forum

Fordham’s fifth annual Mullarkey Forum took place on Wednesday, November 19, 2014.  The talks by Fordham English faculty, which were organized around the theme of “Multimedia Texts and Performances,” spanned a wide range of topics and time periods, from plays to lectures to autobiographies, and from the medieval era to the present day.

Mullarkey Chair Jocelyn Wogan-Browne  on screen from across the pond. 


Mullarkey Chair Jocelyn Wogan-Browne on screen from across the pond. 

The event began with an introduction from English department chair Glenn Hendler.  Hendler lauded the forum as an opportunity for the faculty to share their research and ideas with their students and colleagues.  He also introduced the Thomas F. X. and Theresa Mullarkey Chair in Literature, Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, who organizes the event each year.  Although Wogan-Brown was out of the country and unable to attend this year’s Forum in person, she joined us via Skype, hovering over the proceedings on a small laptop screen like a benevolent ghost.  

The first of the afternoon’s two panels was chaired by Lenny Cassuto.  It began with Stuart Sherman’s talk “Do, Do, Do What You’ve Done, Done, Done Before: Theatrical Repetition and the Live Documentary.”  Sherman’s lecture took us to eighteenth-century Drury Lane, where competing playhouses put on elaborate re-imaginings of that year’s disastrous Shakespeare Jubilee.  These “live documentaries” enacted a “resurrection of the ‘real’” that had never actually taken place, and provided their audience with new iterations of this event every night.

Next Lea Puljcan Juric, who joins us from Croatia by way of NYU, presented her work on “An Illyrian Twelfth Night.”  Juric used extensive archival research to answer the question, “What does it mean to produce a real Illyrian play of Twelfth Night?”  By reading descriptions of Illyria—the actual place in the northwest Balkans—that were written by contemporaries of Shakespeare, Juric aimed to add more nuance to contemporary criticism of the play’s setting and to reveal the ways in which present-day Western stereotypes of Eastern Europe may influence our reading of this play.  

Sarah Zimmerman’s “William Hazlitt’s Lectures against Lectures” addressed the difficulty faced by modern literary critics studying lectures delivered prior to the invention of recording devices.  In researching Hazlitt’s lectures, Zimmerman turned to notebooks, letters, autobiographies, reviews, and newspaper articles as well as Hazlitt’s own notes to understand his lectures as a performance and not merely as a text.  Zimmerman showed us how Hazlitt used the medium of the lecture against itself in order to express his growing disillusionment with the “self-improvement culture” of the early 1800s.

The second panel was chaired by John Bugg.  The first speaker, Andrew Albin, presented “Communities of canor: Hearing Angelic Song in the Office of Richard Rolle of Hampole.”  In his reading of Richard Rolle’s Officium, Albin explored the way in which sound provided Rolle with access to the spiritual world.  As a text that attracted readers from the laity as well as from religious orders, Rolle’s Officium occupied a liminal status, straddling the boundaries between heaven and earth, inner and outer, learned and unlearned. 

The next lecturer, Trish McTighe, a visiting scholar from the University of Reading, gave a talk entitled “‘That bog’: Beckett’s Landscapes on the Irish Stage.”  Beckett’s depiction of the vague landscape in Waiting for Godot resists the easy consumption of the Irish landscape that the 1950s tourism economy encouraged.  Such tension is with us even today, as tourist attractions like the Beckett Festival attempt to familiarize an unfamiliar landscape, even as Beckett’s own work acts against this. 

Elizabeth Stone delivered the final talk of the day, “New Technologies Beget New Genres: Final Cut Pro and ‘Back for the Summer’: A Multimedia Autobiographical Essay.”  In this lecture, Stone described her own foray into a new form of autobiographical expression: creative video.  Stone explained how working in this new medium helped her to distinguish between her selves as author, narrator, and protagonist.

Each panel generated interesting discussion between the audience and the panelists, which then continued over delicious refreshments. The Fifth Mullarkey Forum--made possible once again by the generous support of Thomas F.X. and Teresa Mullarkey--was a great success in bringing together students and faculty, and we look forward to many more such events in the years to come. 

Written by Margaret Summerfield

Sound Studies Scholar Andrew Albin

The sound of a New York City subway roaring beneath an apartment building at night will usually startle a newcomer. Over time, though, the sound becomes familiar and gradually fades, until one day that same New Yorker might stop hearing it altogether.

“In a way, you become a New Yorker when you become accustomed to the sound of the subway running by,” said sound scholar Andrew Albin, Ph.D. “Those two very different relationships to that sound, [being startled versus not hearing the train at all], are tied to two different identities.”

Albin, an assistant professor of English, works in an emerging field in the humanities known as sound studies. The field explores how we experience sound and what meanings sound holds for us as individuals, within our communities, and in our social and historical contexts.

“Sound scholars are interested in the full range of sound experiences—speech, soundscapes, music, environmental sounds, animal sounds, imagined sounds, and so on,” said Albin, who also specializes in medieval literature. “[How do] social, cultural, material, environmental, and historical [factors] influence the way listeners actually hear those sounds?”

Some questions that a sound scholar might tackle include: Did medieval audiences listen to music with “different ears” than modern audiences, who listen to reconstructions of medieval music on iPods? Does our experience of sanctity change based on whether we worship in a hushed and hallowed Catholic cathedral versus among the jubilations of an evangelical church? How does growing accustomed to the screech of the subway become a sign that you’ve become a New Yorker?

“The silence of the countryside or the hubbub of the city… can inform the ways you conceive of yourself, the way you understand your community, the values you hold, and even the texts you read and music you listen to and how you listen to it,” Albin said.

“Sound scholars are finding ways to talk about that. They ask, ‘What are the meanings that are attached to these sound experiences? Why do they take the shapes that they do? What patterns are emerging and what does that tell us about the culture in which we live?’”

Albin’s current research focuses on the works of 14th-century English mystic Richard Rolle, who was famed for his alleged ability to hear the sound of angels singing. His auditory experience of the divine sets him apart from other medieval mystics, whose mystical experiences of God were primarily visual, or even avoided the five senses entirely. This peculiarity, however, made Rolle a controversial figure.

“His critics were very skeptical of him,” Albin said. “Their response was to complain there’s no way to say for sure whether or not he is hearing angels singing. More likely than not, they said, he’s probably just enjoying a rich diet, drinking lots of wine, and hallucinating.”

Nevertheless, Rolle became one of the most widely read authors in medieval England. He went on to pen a mystical treatise, the Melos amoris, of which Albin is doing the first English translation. In it, Rolle writes a sort of “musical” text, full of alliterative and rhythmic prose, to gesture toward the beauty of angelic song and illustrate how the devout soul can become like a “musical harmony, a perfect fourth,” Albin said.

Rolle’s mysticism spread throughout northern England, launching angel song to what might have been No. 1, had there been medieval music charts. However, this ability to hear angelic song was not bestowed upon just any believer, Rolle stipulated. The ability meant you were one of God’s “predestined elect” and thus guaranteed a place in heaven. With their promise of spiritual supremacy on earth and a reserved seat in paradise, Rolle’s claims began making waves in the socio-religious hierarchy.

“You can claim to hear it and nobody can prove it one way or another. And to claim you hear angels’ song potentially means that you acquire a kind of social cache, a spiritual authority that allows you to move around in social categories that you didn’t have access to and to speak in arenas you otherwise couldn’t speak in—especially if you’re a lay person,” Albin said.

“It becomes this widespread phenomenon where people are hearing angels left and right. So the mystics of the following generation write documents explaining to people that they may think they are hearing angelic song, but they’re actually not—they’re thinking too hard or wanting it too much and hence deluding themselves into thinking it’s happening.”

In addition to translating the Melos amoris, Albin is collaborating with Sine Nomine, a musical group in residence at the Pontifical Institute for Mediaeval Studies in Toronto, to bring Rolle’s mysticism to life.

“One manuscript of the Melos amoris has two items in it—one is the treatise in Latin and the other is a gathering of music notation. And no one has noticed that these two are next to one another,” Albin said.

The group will perform a concert in December of 2015 featuring Rolle’s music and a recording of the performance will be packaged with Albin’s translation, which is due out in 2017.

“When a medieval text that’s all about angels singing is put next to a collection of medieval music, you have to think there’s something interesting going on there,” he said.

Written by Joanna Mercuri and published in Inside Fordham on November 17, 2014