On Michael Olsson's talk

Today, Michael Olsson gave an excellent talk about Shakespeare, or rather about a study that he completed through interviews of 36 participants from Canada, Finland and the UK, who were all involved as actors, directors, designers or dramaturages with Shakespeare productions. Each semi-structured interview lasted on average about two hours but ranged in length from one to three hours. Olsson described the interviewees as different respondents than an average group of respondents, because of their frequent involvement in interview experiences. Instead of having to encourage them to speak, he had to encourage them to speak in a different way than they were used to: instead of providing sound bytes for media, he had them talk beyond the sound byte and about the more personal aspects of their engagement with Shakespeare.

In his talk, Olsson stressed not remaining confined by Dervin's approach to sense-making from 1999. A listing of some of Dervin's online references can be found here. The article that I believe Olsson was referencing can be found here using the following doi if you have access to the UofA libraries databases: doi:10.1016/S0306-4573(99)00023-0 otherwise please find an abstract at the following site. Regardless, the article discusses Dervin's version of Sense-making ['Dervin's version, 10 March 1999'] which describes the bridges that are built, usually implicitly, between metatheory and method (Dervin, 1999, page 727), or in otherwords the connection between the act of seeking knowledge and the method of seeking it out.

Olsson argues that with reference to Shakespeare, and likely in most other matters, sense making is not so straight forward. Rather, research in this field should include social context, social/collective sense-making, power relations, less purposive information behaviour, affect, and embodiement among other areas. Making sense of Shakespeare is more than reading the plays in books. Instead it involves emotion, learning from the social environment of other actors, and the director, ongoing relationships with the text, the play and other individuals involved, and with the time period in which it is performed. In order to be appreciated, the performance needs to be relevant to the audience. Emotion is more crucial to sense-making than logic, and emotional truth of Shakespeare is key to appreciation. Add that to one's understanding of the conventions of the genre and one has several key aspects to how one makes sense of Shakespeare.

Two elements of Olsson's presentation style caught my attention. The first was the fact that he rewarded those who asked questions with little mini Koala toys, since he came from Australia (I asked him how he came up with his specific methodology and received a Koala, though his answer was by no means straightforward).
Another aspect of Olsson's presentation was the use of multimedia in his presentation to help engage his audience. Pictures and YouTube clips were used (one of which he planned to use but could not as it had been removed from YouTube). My favorite clip is this one where Peter Sellers performs A Hard Day's Night (a song by The Beatles), in the same style as Laurence Olivier's interpretation of Richard III, showing that context does indeed play a crucial role in the understanding of Shakepeare, even in such imitations! I highly recommend watching it!