As we gathered today, the vibe in the room was, again, quite relaxed and confident. During check in, our Lady Macbeth shared that she’d felt “like a supernatural actress” on Friday. We agreed that she’d been amazing! She said her favorite moment was when another woman broke character, but she didn’t, and it made that second woman snap right back into the scene.
As usual, this third performance was our smoothest. As one woman said last year, “The first one is a mess, the second is the best, and by the third we’re just ready to be done!” Our Porter went all out this time, though. She has really loved playing this part, particularly with her rewritten/improvised monologue, and tonight she totally hammed it up. “I just wanna DRINK… and open the gate… and DRINK… and open the gate… You know what I’m saying?”
One of the women, who was dealing with some personal (and totally legitimate) issues, finished up her scenes, folded her costumes, and quietly told me she was leaving. I thanked her for coming in the first place. But then just a few minutes later, I saw her sitting in the house, watching intently with a smile on her face.
Our Young Siward , who had had such a break through during our first performance, was full of joking swagger this time as she got in place. She turned to Kyle and said, “Watch me go squash this shit!” Then she paused and said, “Just kidding… gimme back the script.” She was fantastic, though. And I’m not sure what happened at the end of the scene – maybe she fell a little farther from the curtain than usual – but instead of dragging herself off as rehearsed, one of the other women grabbed her wrists and pulled her off on her stomach, both of them cracking up.
The show ended, and our audience gave us a standing ovation! One woman had made a sign for our Lady Macbeth, which she waved as she cheered. As we closed the curtain and began cleaning up, the woman who had been sitting in the house burst through the curtain. “Oh my god, that was so great from the audience. It’s way funnier from out there!” (Yes, this is Macbeth, but our Act V got pretty silly.) “I never watched the people before! They were like –” she showed us how they leaned on the seat backs, gasped, commented, laughed, etc. I’m glad she stayed and got to have that experience!
And that was that for our Season Seven performances!
We gathered around a table on the stage tonight, a cheerful little group happy to be together one last time this season and sad to go a couple of months before beginning our work on Twelfth Night. One of the women jokingly pulled out the “sign” I’d made for her in Week 6, when I poked fun at one woman who wouldn’t stop talking by scrawling “I AM A CHATTERBOX” on a piece of paper and handing it to her. I then got on a roll and made “signs” for everyone. And this woman still had hers! (BANQUO’S BFF). “I can’t believe you still have that! That’s awesome!” I laughed. “I save everything from this class,” she said, showing us all of the little mementos she’d gathered along the way.
It was a really interesting wrap up. Usually it’s started out as kind of a “lovefest”, and then we’ve gotten into the operational stuff, but this year we kind of jumped around. It was no better or worse than in years past. It was just different! And I think that’s pretty typical of this ensemble: the work is important, and we are there to work – but the people are even more important, so if we go off on a tangent because someone needs to express herself, that’s more than all right.
Our Lady Macbeth had to leave just a few minutes in. She rose to her feet, saying, “I just wanna say something before I go.” She paused and looked at Kyle. “You can write this down, Kyle,” she said. We all laughed, and he picked up his pen. “I struggled this year. It’s really hard when you have stories on your heart, and you want to attend to that only.” (She’s a writer and is nearly always mid-project.) “I was determined to fight through it. Next year I want to come and be more into it.” She turned to our Macbeth, saying, “You were an amazing husband.” We laughed again, but she wasn’t done. “Me not giving 100% wasn’t fair to the people around me—” she made it clear she was talking specifically about our Macbeth— “She didn’t judge me or look down on me.” A few people were shaking their heads, but she continued, “Hopefully next year I’ll have more of a balance, and I’ll try to treat Shakespeare like the real world. I’ll be more dedicated next year.”
Another woman finally broke in, saying, “No, you didn’t give it 100%. You gave it 110%!” Lady Macbeth shook her head. “Well,” continued the woman, “Then I can’t wait to see 120% next year!”
Our Macbeth then caught Lady Macbeth’s eye and said, “Can I say something in response?” Lady Macbeth nodded. “I’m gonna out myself here. I was skeptical when you came back [she’d left the ensemble for a few months], and I had someone else in mind for the part who didn’t work out.” She paused, eyes locked with her main scene partner. “I’m so glad it was you. I couldn’t have asked for a better person.”
Our Lady Macbeth fanned herself with her hands, saying, “I’m not about to cry—I’m too smooth!” She then thanked us all for a great season, told us to have a wonderful summer, and walked off the stage into the house. She turned to wave, walking backward. And then she kept waving. And walking backward. And waving and walking backward. All the way to the door.
We went back to our discussion about what’s been working and what hasn’t. One of our main frustrations has been attendance; this is something we’ve always struggled with, and I’m honestly not sure that there’s a cure-all. But we keep trying. One woman, who’s been particularly frustrated, suggested that people who “flake” be asked to take a year off from the program till they can “get themselves together”, as some people have voluntarily done in the past.
Others bristled at this. One woman reminded us that we don’t know what others are going through. She said we should practice forgiveness and not keep anyone out, specifically citing at least one person who’d had a small role. Another woman expressed doubt, saying, “It’s not about, you’ve got a big role or not a big role. You make waves in the ensemble. Every man helps the next man — we’re all in this together.” The second woman said she agreed, and she pointed out that the woman she thought the first person was talking about had dropped the ball only because she was having a terrible day and knew we would pick up the slack.
The person who suggested taking the time off clarified that she was talking about multiple people, and things that had happened throughout the year. She looked at me and said, “I’m gonna be real, okay?” I nodded and said, “Yes, please.” She said that there were signs early on from many of the people who ended up having commitment problems, and that I’d ignored those signs and let things “fester” too long. I thanked her for that criticism and said, to her and all, that that’s an ongoing struggle for me; I get this criticism every year. “This is where I really need your help,” I said. “Sometimes I don’t realize the extent of what’s going on, or I don’t see it because I’m focused on something else. It’s not talking smack about someone to bring a potential concern to my attention. It’ll just help me know what to look out for and when it’s time for action.”
Another woman then spoke up. She thought she was one of these people. She said that she’s been in a bad spot for months and knows she’s been off. She believes she could have tried harder and done better, and she feels like she let everyone down. The woman who brought all of this up assured her that she hadn’t been talking about her. “You came, you told us you were having a hard time, and you gave it your all.” But this woman shook her head, saying, “No, I didn’t. I know I didn’t.”
She then explained that one of the people who’d been referred to by name had also been going through a very bad time, and she repeated that we just never know what someone else might be going through. “We shouldn’t blacklist people. I was a mess, but I showed up,” she said. “We let [NAME] back in the group, and she killed it…. We all do this as a family, because that’s what this is.”
Another woman, who was in the ensemble last year, built on that, saying that she had gone through a very hard time, particularly later in the season, and ended up quitting. “I was going through a lot, and I didn’t talk about it, because I’m not good at that stuff.” She said she’d had to get herself together before coming back. “We’re all so different, and we communicate so differently. Some people just don’t know how to express themselves.” She said she was “so glad” we’d let her come back, and we told her effusively how glad we were to have her back. We talked for a while about the journey she’s been on; I’m not going to detail it for confidentiality’s sake, but this was the first time she’s ever openly discussed any of these details with the group, and I think it was an important step for her.
So we landed on forgiveness. In Shakespeare, except for in very rare circumstances, everybody gets a second chance. And a third chance. And a fourth chance.
Another woman asked if she could have a few moments to express herself. “I’ve said it before,” she said. “Technically, this is my third season… In Romeo and Juliet, Frannie took my role because I went to seg. With Taming, I went to seg. When I came back this year, I thought, “I’m not doing it this year.” You don’t know how many times I would’ve went to seg, could’ve went to seg — but I wouldn’t let myself. I took on such a big role because I knew it would give me the ambition and the motivation to move forward, because of you guys. If they told me to pick one group for the rest of my time here, it would be Shakespeare, no competition. This Shakespeare group has strengthened me. You guys are my comfort zone.” She began to tear up. “I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do… I’ve been depressed since Tuesday… This was my sanity, and I don’t know what I’m going to do for the summer… But at least I know there are people in this compound who actually care. I want all you guys to know, individually, you all have your own strengths. And don’t let anyone take that away. I hope to see all of you next year. And thank you all for not judging me. You don’t understand the impact you have on my life.”
She specifically called out the facilitators. “I wasn’t going to let you in, but now we have the outside program, I feel like I can commit. ‘Cause I’m not gonna have much, or hardly anybody, when I go home, and I’m gonna need that support.” Without hesitation, I said, “You’ve got it.” Boom. That’s a big reason why we’re so excited about Shakespeare Reclaimed. The potential longevity of these mentoring relationships has already motivated her to stay in the group, stay out of trouble, and do her very best work. I’m so very grateful to be able to offer her that.
We continued to talk about group practices and policies till we were out of time. As much as this summer might drag without our twice-weekly meetings, we know that we’ll come back together in the fall, and that that ring will be waiting for us when we do.