Season Nine: Week 9

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“You guys made me feel like an ensemble member from the first day.”

Tuesday / October 29 / 2019
Written by Emma

Tonight was our first “real” session since adding about ten new members to our ensemble, and dang was it a good one! We all circled up in the auditorium, reminding one another of our names as we got ready to check in. One of our returning members quickly told a new member what these check-ins are about: a time to informally update the group on how you’re doing, with no pressure to participate if you don’t want to. After lowering the ring and getting a few quick updates, we got right down to business.

A returning member enthusiastically suggested that we start off the night with a game of “This Bottle is Not A Bottle” to get our creative sides warmed up. She explained the game to the group. The object of the game is to pass an item--a pen, a drumstick, or whatever is available--from person to person in a circle. Each person will declare what said object “is” before passing it off to their neighbor who has to interact with whatever imaginary thing you passed them, before changing it themselves and passing it to their neighbor. So, for example: “This Sharpie is not a Sharpie, it is a lion tamer’s whip!”

We went around the circle two times, all in all. Some of our items included: a guitar, lipstick, a cat on a leash, a fish, and the Declaration of Independence. As with all of our games, participation is completely voluntary, but we were pleased to have a quite a few newbies join in. Once that game came to a close, the same returning member asked if we could play “Wah”. “Wah” is a goofy exercise that involves dramatic pointing and, you guessed it, saying the word “WAH”. It is tough to put into words, but suffice to say that it is a great intro to get folks used to taking up space and making sounds--two things you need to do when performing. Due to all of the newbies, there was one slight modification to tonight’s game: “No one gets out!” We spent the next few minutes Wah-ing around our circle, laughing and loosening up before getting in to the text.

After a brief refresher on where we are at in the play, we dove in with Act IV scene III. In this scene, King Claudius is asking Hamlet what he did with Polonius’ body. Hamlet responds with some acerbic remarks and whitty turns of phrase, telling Claudius just where he can find Polonius. “He’s sayin’ if he’s not in heaven, check in hell--that’s awesome!” one woman said. At the end of the scene, Claudius sends Hamlet to England and secretly arranges for him to be killed upon his arrival (which is SO Shakespeare of him).

Once we were done reading the scene, one of the returning members congratulated a first-season member on the performance she gave reading for Claudius. “Good job!” she enthused as she started a round of snaps. Lauren asked the group what was going on in the scene, and if we had any thoughts or feelings about what was going on here. Spare a few remarks, the circle was quiet, so we moved on with reading Act IV Scene IV.

4.4 finds Fortinbras (Prince of Norway) on his way to invade Poland. Fortinbras, who has also lost his father and is seeking revenge for his death, mirrors Hamlet in many ways, though they differ significantly when it comes to the action they take (or don’t). When Hamlet crosses paths with Fortinbras’ army and hears that they are planning to engage in bloody battle over an insignificant piece of land in the name of honor, he is shook. He contemplates how many people will die for reasons unrelated to them, and how he has yet to take action against Claudius. He ends the scene by vowing to avenge his father with bloody action from this point forward.

“It feels different--he’s actually having a conversation,” one ensemble member said, describing how Hamlet feels changed in this scene. “He’s still in the middle of his existential crisis--questioning revenge, but that’s all that’s motivating him,” a new member intuitively stated. Agreeing, another member added, “He’s reasoning with himself.” We talked a little bit more about Hamlet, and then one woman piped up, “What’s [Fortinbras] fighting for?”

This question opened up some rich discussion surrounding the characters of Hamlet and Fortinbras. Some of the newer folks admitted that they were (understandably!) fuzzy on was going on. “I’m confused by all of this!” one new woman exclaimed. We took a time out to talk a little bit more about each character’s motives, role in the play, and personal history.

With everyone more up to speed, we started working the scenes we had read on their feet. As folks got in place to read the scene, a quick-thinking returning member grabbed two chairs and placed them in the middle of the stage, explaining how they could be used at any point if the actors so chose. One of our new members took the hint. Reading for Claudius, she stepped out on to the stage, speech loud and clear, and put her foot proudly up on one of the chairs. The overall effect was excellent! An entrance fit for a king, surely. We made our way through 4.3 and 4.4 with a healthy mix of new and returning folks reading.

“There’s so much you can do with Hamlet’s character,” one returning member said. “I wish I could learn all them lines.” Another returning member smiled as she turned to her and said, “You’re on ten today!” On ten, indeed! This returning member was opposed to the very idea of a speaking role this time last year, and now she is talking about Hamlet’s character. This comment led to some deeper discussion of Hamlet--in particular, how he is being treated by his friends and family. Some returning members were explaining how Hamlet’s love interest and friends had all been sent to discover why he was acting crazy, when another woman interjected.

“I don’t think he was ever crazy,” she said. “He wasn’t playing crazy, either. I think it’s all real. I think they want to convince him he’s crazy!” She spoke clearly and firmly, addressing the whole group. “We’ve all felt rage, but it’s not crazy--it makes us do bad things, but I think we’ve all done that. At this point, Hamlet’s not buying anything,” she said with a faint smile. “Hamlet’s gonna do what Hamlet’s gonna do.”

As we discussed Hamlet in 4.4, one of our new members piped up. “He’s literally lookin’ at this dude [Fortinbras] all tough, and [Fortinbras] doin’ somethin’, and [Hamlet] isn’t doin’ nothin!” She continued, breaking down how Fortinbras’ action was making Hamlet feel insecure. As the conversation moved on, she continued to flip through the book, reading. A few minutes later she spoke up again: “I was reading the first part, and [Hamlet] is going through it!” People around the circle nodded in agreement. “I don’t think he’s trippin’. I think the mom and the king have some conspiracies. He’s valid, and if that behavior makes him seem crazy, you don’t know what crazy is.”

This new member was on an absolute roll! “Do you think the ghost is his thoughts?” she added as an afterthought. Eyes widened as we started discussing this possibility, that King Hamlet’s ghost is just “[Hamlet] reassuring himself.” Another new member chimed in, “The ghost is his way of thinking ‘You’re seeing it this way’.”

We could have kept at it for a lot longer, but unfortunately, our time was up. It’s going to be exciting to see all of the gifts these new members will bring!

Friday / November 1 / 2019
Written by Kyle S.

Today was my first session with the newer ensemble members folded in, and the energy in the room was joyful - and contagious. We started slow with a few check-ins and passing out scripts to the new members. Then to start us out, a returning member suggested a rock-paper-scissors style game to get everyone pumped up to move forward in the play. The concept was that everyone started as an “egg” and to evolve, you had to win in a game of rock-paper-scissors with another “egg.” If you won your round, you evolved from an “egg” to a “T-Rex” and had to compete with another “T-Rex” to level up again. It went like this until you evolved to a “farmer,” then a “business woman,” until you reached the peak of evolution: Beyoncé. The game got everyone laughing, moving, and engaging with new folks. I’m sad to say I was one of three who was never able to make it to the “Beyoncé” level...but everyone helped me through the loss.

With everyone hyped up on that Beyoncé energy, we dove in to Act IV Scene V. This scene sees the rebellious return of Laertes, who has been away in France. He returns to his father, Polonius, slain and his sister, Ophelia, gone mad with grief. To avenge his family, he storms the castle, trailed by a mob of followers, to confront Claudius who he believes responsible. The consensus from the ensemble was that Laertes is coming in and demanding answers, and that he’s going to give Claudius a run for his money. As one newer member said: “He’s kinda my hero. I’m gonna name my dog after him.”

The meat of the scene, though, and what spurred the most conversation in the ensemble, was Ophelia. We see her in the scene having gone mad with grief and calling out Claudius and Gertrude for their parts in the tragedy that has befallen everyone in the play. One of the returning members wondered if her madness was genuine, or if Ophelia was taking a page out of Hamlet’s book by tricking everyone. One of the newer ensemble members followed up by saying it makes sense that she has lost herself, having “lost all of the men in her life.” Having lost her father and having been abandoned by her love, she wondered if the return of her brother could save her “before it’s too late.” I think one of our newer ensemble members summed it up in the clearest way possible: "She's in her feelings."

When the group put the scene up on its feet, they extracted all the humor they could out of a very dark and twisted moment. Our Gertrude for the day lightened it up with reactions to the chaos of Laertes’ and Ophelia’s entrances. The woman who played Ophelia used the entire space to her advantage, rolling around on the ground and using her fellow actors as props. When another woman asked to see a little more sadness in her madness, our Ophelia gave us a haunting mixture of laughter and tears that brought it home.

As one of the returning members mentioned to me at the beginning of the session, the special thing about doing Shakespeare with a group so new to it is that nobody is weighed down by any preconceived notions of what “needs” to be sad, or serious, or dark. As we head to the end of the play, and move towards the heaviest moments yet to come, it’s refreshing to see the ensemble holding tightly on to the humor between the lines.

Season Nine: Week 8

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“I don’t know, I just changed, man!”

Tuesday / October 22 / 2019
Written by Lauren

Today a number of new members were added to the ensemble! We started out by doing our usual orientation, playing a name game, them teaching them The Ring exercise. In traditional new-member form, we then asked each person our three questions: What brings you to Shakespeare? What do you hope to get out of the experience? What gifts do you bring to the group? Many people said they wanted something new to do, and were looking to get out of their comfort zone. One woman has a background in literature, and another is just a big fan of Shakespeare. This is looking to be an invested group of new members!

After the three questions, the floor was opened to returning ensemble members to share their experiences in the group. The first woman to speak explained how the group often operated like a family. She started out feeling “crippled,” but now she doesn’t hesitate to jump into a script. In her first year, doing monologue work helped her relate to her own life experiences. In her time with SIP, she has grown as a person, and has learned how to express herself through writing. She added that she appreciates the respect and dedication that the facilitators bring to the group, and that the group has been her primary source of healing.

The next woman said she was nervous starting out, but ultimately the group saved her. Even if she isn’t involved in every aspect of every session, just being present helps her state of mind. Another woman, who is now in her second year, also said she was nervous starting out, but coming to the group helps her get through the week. She also mentioned that she is looking to have a bigger role this year. The final woman to comment started out saying, “I don’t know, I just changed, man!” She got through her initial stage fright after initially deciding she wasn’t going to be a performer and ended up on stage!

We rounded out the session with one woman giving the new members a summary of the play thus far, while another woman chimed in with additions. This should get everyone on the same page for continuing the play at our next meeting!

Friday / October 25 / 2019
Written by Lauren

Tonight we had a small group. Given attendance, we decided not to continue reading the play, but to discuss the material we have already read. One member shared thoughts that she had in regards to staging the play. She called the concept, “Two Sides to Every Story”. Her thought is that Hamlet would be present during all of the scenes where others are conspiring. He could be hiding behind a room-divider or a piece of furniture. We also discussed the logistics of setting up flats in a way that Hamlet and/or the ghost could walk behind them and be slightly concealed but still obviously present to the audience.

We ran the “play within a play” and started to discuss it. In discovering sarcastic humor in Hamlet’s character, one woman said that Hamlet is like life. You HAVE to laugh through the depression. Another woman added that she totally sees the humor and sarcasm in Hamlet’s character. Yet another woman added that the play within the play is really deep, but she wanted someone else to elaborate! This led to discussing the role of Gertrude and her mirrored counterpart in the “play.” The discussion focused on whether she was privy to the murder of the king, and why Hamlet would have written his motherly character in the “play” to deny the new king’s advances before marrying him. The consensus was that she was written to try and save face.

While discussing this, another woman discovered in her book a history of women playing the role of Hamlet. This opened discussion of how the dynamics would change between Hamlet and Ophelia, or Hamlet and Horatio, at the end. The same woman added that it will be interesting to see how our Hamlet will be portrayed with his descent into madness. Another suggested that he could just be pretending to be crazy before actually going mad. The two women discussed Hamlet’s potential turning point, and agreed that it is likely the murder of Polonius.

Season Nine: Week 7

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“100% of us have felt like Hamlet.”

Tuesday / October 15 / 2019
Written by Maria

“He uses words that exercise your brain and your mouth—it’s amazing.”

Today we picked up where we left off in Act 3 Scene 3 and dove into reading Act 3 Scene 4, where Hamlet confronts his mother.

“I almost get the feeling that [Hamlet’s] listening in and spying on them a lot in this play,” said one woman as we discussed the way that Hamlet enters the scene. “If Hamlet was spying, he knows that’s not the king [hiding behind the curtain],” said another. We also started to wonder about Hamlet’s mental state at this moment. He has just left the king alive, and, according to one woman, he is running in at 100 on anger; we can see that Gertrude is really afraid of her son. “I feel like he wants to roll up a newspaper and smack her on the nose,” one woman said. Another reminded us that there are a lot of ways that a line could be said, and that various interpretations all work within the scene. We just have to decide which one we want to go with.

If Hamlet was spying on Gertrude and Polonius, is he confronting her compliance with the plot to murder his father? Is he not thinking at all and letting his emotions take control now that he has verified the Ghost’s story to be true? Does he want someone to pay and doesn’t really care who that person is? One of our leaders pointed out that “it’s always necessary to go back to the beginning and [see how Hamlet has changed]. Once he knows this is the truth, he snaps, and now he knows for sure.” As we sit around our circle and discuss a scene, sometimes it can be easy to forget the journey of the characters and the play—it all moves so much faster when it’s all put together, especially after we make lots of cuts!

We then agreed to put the scene on its feet, but, because there is so much lengthy dialogue between Gertrude and Hamlet (which can sometimes be intimidating), we decided that any time someone was done playing a character, they could tap out and someone else would jump up to take their place. This also gave an opportunity for us audience members to capitalize on inspiration if we wanted to try something with a certain character in the moment.

“The two women in the play are being used more than utilized,” one women commented. Another immediately and strongly jumped in: “I agree, but I don’t think they’re ignorant.” Almost everyone in the group has agreed that Gertrude knows something about the old King Hamlet’s death. One returning member didn’t agree, but midway through the scene, everything changed for her. Jumping up (and interrupting the scene), she exclaimed, “Why did Gertrude send Polonius away? She knows!” She then tapped in to play Gertrude with this new revelation. “She knows that Hamlet knows that she knows what happened” agreed another woman.

“This is the most oniony thing I’ve ever encountered,” one woman said. She is being paroled soon, and she lamented that she would not be around to see our performance of this play—though, laughing, she said that she wouldn’t stick around just so she could! “The only thing more confusing about this play are our thoughts about this play!” she concluded.

When we ran the scene again, we decided to focus on the interaction between Hamlet, Gertrude, and the Ghost. Does Gertrude see the Ghost? How does her seeing or not seeing the Ghost inform how she interacts with her son? The Ghost comes to Gertrude’s defense, but that doesn’t mean that she is innocent—maybe he still loves her even after her betrayal. “The two women in this play are being used for prey. They have no voice in the play, but they still have knowledge,” one woman reflected. “They can see, just not do anything about it.”


Friday / October 18 / 2019
Written by Emma

A couple of times every season there comes a session that, for one reason or another, has lower attendance than normal. These small rehearsals can yield some truly incredible discussions and idea-swapping that feel a bit more down to earth than when we meet in larger numbers. Tonight happened to be one of those evenings. All in all, there were eight ensemble members present by the time we finished check-ins to lower the ring. Our troupe, though small in numbers, would prove to be mighty in textual analysis!

On Tuesday, the group had run Act III scene 4 two times with slight tweaks: once with Gertrude not seeing the Ghost, and once with Gertrude seeing the Ghost but not reacting. For readers not incredibly familiar with the play (and I must admit that I am a member of that group!), 3.4 is the scene where Hamlet confronts his mother, Gertrude, about having so swiftly re-married her late husband’s brother after his death. Hamlet additionally stabs and kills Polonius, who is eavesdropping from behind a curtain and trying to get information regarding Hamlet’s perceived insanity (though, as one woman so perfectly put it last week, “Who is in [Hamlet’s] corner?”). One ensemble member suggested that we start the day by doing 3.4 a third way, with Gertrude seeing and reacting to the ghost of her deceased husband.

A group of mostly returning members volunteered to act. One woman seems to have really taken a shine to Hamlet, and she hopped up to read almost immediately. We talked briefly about staging, and dove right in. One newer member was reading as Gertrude. She held her hand up throughout the scene as though she was toting a grail, even as her jaw dropped upon seeing the ghost of her husband. The actor playing the Ghost also seemed to be playing with physical traits of the character. She glided around the other actors, as though she was trying to actually float. It was an interesting effect, even as the rest of the scene seemed to lose some steam.

When we finished, I asked everyone how they felt about it. “When I close my eyes and imagine this scene, [Gertrude] doesn’t see the Ghost,” a new member said. We went back and read some of the dialogue to see if there were any clues as to whether Gertrude was really seeing the Ghost or not. After a bit of discussion we decided that, like with so much of Gertrude’s character, it’s really unknown how much she legitimately knows. This will be an interesting moment for whoever’s playing Gertrude to come back to later in the season!

We settled back into our circle for some more reading. The next two scenes of the play, Act IV Scenes 1 and 2, are incredibly short, especially when compared to some of the purely behemoth scenes that come before it. We made a plan to work through each one reading and on its feet, then see if we could do them back-to-back on their feet. In 4.1, a shocked Gertrude tells Claudius that Hamlet has just killed Polonius, and Claudius reacts to the news. 4.2 finds Hamlet after disposing of the body, with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern trying to pump him for information. These scenes are collectively four or five pages and really do fly by.

Starting with 4.1, one of our newer members (who has described herself as being anxious about reading and performing) quickly raised her hand to read for Claudius. A returning member read for Gertrude. The scene went by quickly, and we stopped to break down the nuts and bolts of what was going on here. “Their [Claudius and Gertrude] relationship--this scene gives a lot of that,” one woman chimed in. Expanding on this, I pointed out that there weren’t many other places in the play where we get to see Gertrude and Claudius truly on their own--even in this scene, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern pop in and out briefly. Still, they are given almost an entire (albeit, short) scene to talk alone. Why would Shakespeare do this? We decided that this is a tool to put Gertrude and Claudius’ characters in the spotlight. “Claudius is just looking out for his title of the king,” one woman stated, pointing out how seemingly cavalier he is about the death of his right hand man. “There is an element that Polonius isn’t an important figure in their court,” another woman agreed.

After running 4.1 on its feet, we moved on to reading 4.2. This scene is, more or less, Hamlet acting erratic and calling out his friends for being two-faced and spying on him. One of our returning members, who stated at the top of the season she didn’t want a large speaking role, read for Hamlet. Smiling, another member said, “Why do I feel like in three months you’re gonna be sayin’ ‘I wanna do Hamlet’?” Some neat staging ideas also came up while we were reading 4.2. One woman shared that she had a vision of the stage being literally divided--that a theme she kept coming back to was “Hamlet Vs The World”, and that this would be a way to visually represent the pain and isolation he is feeling. We also talked about getting a gauze or tulle fabric to be used as “fog” for when the ghost is present.

We read 4.2 twice, then stood up to act it out. In the middle of our first standing run-through, a woman who had had to leave earlier walked back into the classroom. She slowly made her way to her seat, not taking her eyes off the action. When we wrapped, she said, “I’m seeing a lot of Kramer in Hamlet right now.” People around the room smiled, and I excitedly asked her if she would like to give it a shot. She gladly obliged. We were quickly running out of time, so we decided to run 4.1 and 4.2 back-to-back and see how it went.

The second Kramer-Hamlet stepped out onstage, bobbing her head and talking to herself, we were all obsessed. She delivered the dialogue in a choppy, sporadic way that somehow worked perfectly. We ran out of time to get deep into discussion about what worked and what didn’t, but suffice to say that there are a lot of fantastic ideas accumulating!

Season Nine: Week 6

Tuesday / October 8 / 2019
Written by Emma

“How will this fadge?” I whispered to myself as I made my way to the programs building. Tonight marked a big milestone for me: it was my first time acting as a solo facilitator! The sensation could be equated to the first time riding a bike without training wheels—the action is all there, it’s just a matter of perfecting your balance. Part of finding that balance, for me, meant taking very lean notes and focusing on helping to guide the group’s activities. As a result, today’s blog lacks the usual quote-age that I try to include. Thank you, dear readers, for your understanding!

Folks were ready to talk and get to work. After checking in and lowering the ring, we agreed that we should do a quick, non-improv game to get things started. A returning member suggested that we play “the question game”. I wasn’t around the last time we played this particular game, but I was not to worry. The woman who suggested it explained the exercise in detail: the objective is to turn to a person adjacent to you and ask them a question. They, in turn, must ask a question to a person who is adjacent to them, and on and on. It sounds simple enough, right? In practice, however, it requires one to overcome one’s social programming of wanting (needing?) to answer a question when it is asked. If you fail to ask a question, or repeat a question, you are “out” and take yourself out of the circle.

By and by, our circle shrunk. Folks would get stuck on certain topics (“colors,” for example) and would ask the same question twice, thus being eliminated. As questions flew back and forth, I somehow found myself among the last three players remaining. Then it was down to me and a returning member. She and I shot questions back and forth at one another until I finally asked a question goofy enough to crack her up, winning me the game! (I chalk it entirely up to beginner’s luck.)

We decided to switch gears to text. We left off on Friday having read through Act III Scene 1, and after a quick catch-up for anyone not present, we dove right in to Act III Scene 2. During this scene, Hamlet is having a dramatized version of the murder his “ghost daddy” (as one woman has oft put it) described to him replicated in front of his uncle to gauge his reaction. Of course, before and after the play, there is gratuitous angst from Hamlet. So, essentially, this scene contains a lot of lengthy dialog and a play within a play. Super tricky to pull off? Yes. But were we goin’ for it anyway? You bet.

Almost every character is featured in this scene. We were a few folks shy of a full cast, so we broke down our reading into chunks: before the play, during the play, and after the play. Much to our surprise, we made our way through an entire first read in 35 minutes! This included breaks to summarize that were led by some of our returning members, but also included contributions from some newbies. One highlight included a returning member volunteering to read the wordy part of Player King (the actor who is playing Old Hamlet in the play-within-a-play). Last season, this woman worked incredibly hard to master her lines, and it showed in the excellent enunciation and pacing with which she read Player King. A few folks around the circle commented on this, and she smiled and softly thanked them.

It was time to try the scene on its feet. First, we discussed how to rearrange the room so we could set up a clear audience and stage that were both onstage. One longtime ensemble member shared a vision of having the actors in the actual audience during production, and we talked about some of the logistical challenges that could pose. When we had a good enough grasp of things for the moment, we got started. Our Hamlet stood by a row of chairs convincing Horatio to keep an eye on the King to see how he reacts to the play. During this back and forth, the actors stood in more or less the same spot. It seemed like they were locked in by the text, despite both having great experience and skill. Just as I was about to make a comment, another ensemble member walked onto the stage and opened up the space. Like a hypnotist snapping their fingers, the movement of the rest of the scene was suddenly fluid and natural.

The play within a play, in particular, was incredible. In order to pull this off, the actors need to be EXTRA dramatic about what is happening. Our Player King and Player Queen did an excellent job. Player King collapsed to sleep on a makeshift bed made of chairs, and the Player Queen dramatically fell to the ground when she discovered him. The overall effect felt very Twelfth Night, and it definitely got the job done.

When we finished running it once through, we still had about twenty minutes left in rehearsal. We talked about how the scene felt, and everyone agreed that it went very well. There must be something in the air, huh? Then we discussed where we feel the people watching the play (Polonius, Claudius, Gertrude, Hamlet, Ophelia, Horatio, Guildenstern, and Rosencrantz) would be sitting in relation to one another. One woman pointed out that Horatio may not even be sitting with the others—he is there as Hamlet’s friend, and is not necessarily part of this royal posse. Maybe he is off to the side, lurking in the shadows?

Another interesting discussion happened while discussing the back and forth between Ophelia and Hamlet in this scene. One woman pointed out that Gertrude is Queen, and as such, is an “ideal woman.” Her only statement on the play is that the “lady doth protest too much”. Ophelia sort of mirrors this sentiment earlier in the scene. While Hamlet is making rude comments towards her, she simply says that she doesn’t think “anything.” Could this be a statement on how sometimes these seemingly passive actions ultimately end up having dire consequences? This is definitely something to keep in mind as we move forward with the text.

As we did the scene on its feet a second time, the transitions felt significantly smoother. We didn’t need to stop and re-assign roles—people simply hopped in where they were needed, and the thing went off without a hitch. It is clear that there is a lot of natural talent in the group this season. The thing we lack, thankfully, is the fussy ego that so often accompanies such talent.

We raised the ring into a happy room and said goodbye, satisfied with the hard work that had been done.

Season Nine: Week 5

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“I found feelings I didn’t know I had.”

Tuesday / October 1 / 2019
Written by Kyle Fisher-Grant

For the first time in more than a year, I went in as the sole facilitator tonight. The participants afforded me the same generosity as always, with veterans stepping right up to the plate and making sure I was up to speed on the group’s work on Hamlet. In many ways, it was one of those quintessential Shakespeare In Prison nights I’ve had a hundred times before.

We started right in on Act 2 scene 2, where Hamlet is talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (which someone said sounded like the name of a law partnership). There was a fair amount of text comprehension that we needed to slog through before we could really start cooking with gas. The ensemble seemed to have a little difficulty hearing the sarcasm coming from Hamlet with the text alone; once they really understood it, our Hamlet was all-too-willing to let it rip on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. With that moving along, the staging ideas started coming, and one member wanted to try the scene a few different ways. We spent a fair amount of time talking about the line, “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.” It was nice to be back.

Then we arrived at Act 2 scene 3—with the soliloquy: “To be or not to be,” where Hamlet is arguably at his lowest point. We all felt it was worth it to spend some extra time with the speech; what ended up happening was that we went through the text line by line, making sure we understood every turn of phrase. Everyone participated, and one woman, who has been in the ensemble for several seasons, commented that “this is now [her] favorite play”—that she knew exactly how Hamlet felt at that moment, and was amazed that he was able to articulate it so exactly. “I’ve been in this position—I know his exact pain. Whether to live or die is a hard one to make.”

Several members wanted to attempt the speech; one in particular wanted to go first so that nothing impacted her interpretation. She was very active in her portrayal, moving around the stage, very animated. I told her that this is contrary to many of the famous portrayals of the speech that are out there. (Certainly more active than the Olivier version the group talked about watching tonight on TCM!) She said, “He’s having an anxiety attack and needs to move!” Two other ensemble members tried the speech, and then they goaded me until I took a shot.

We had a lot of rich discussion about whether Hamlet knows the end of the speech before he started, or whether the speech is his way of working it out in real time. Both interpretations leave room for a lot of really interesting ways an actor might bring the soliloquy to life. We had spent a long time talking about some intense language, and I felt it necessary to point out that Hamlet ends up choosing “to be” at the end of the speech. He contemplates his own death, but does not choose death in the end; furthermore, he does not stay at that lowpoint for much longer. We spend the rest of the play seeing just how Hamlet moves on from his darkest hour.

We unanimously felt as though we had spent a long time in this dark part of the text, and an improv game was most definitely in order. One woman was having a very bad day, and the group left it to her to choose the game. She said that she would choose it, but that she wasn’t going to play. We all said, ‘fine,’ and successfully hid our smiles and “I-told-you-so’s” when she got up and played after only a few minutes of laughing with her ensemble. It was a great way to end the night.

Friday / October 4 / 2019
Written by Lauren

The ensemble was anxious to jump back into reading the play tonight, so that’s where we started, reading Act 3 Scene 1 to completion.

One woman, who has been skeptical of many things in the play thus far, wondered if Hamlet even wrote the letters that were given to Ophelia. Then discussion turned to Hamlet’s feelings towards Ophelia and women in general. Another woman thought that Hamlet says such cruel things to Ophelia in order to push her away. A few others discussed and agreed that Hamlet’s words aren’t necessarily attacking just Ophelia, but women in general, since he sees all women as a replica of his mother. One woman also said that Hamlet knows Polonius is spying on him, given his line, “Where is your father?” Hamlet has been very astute up until this point, which led this woman to believe that he is in on what’s going on.

When we got the scene on its feet, a woman who is terrified of acting stepped into the role of Hamlet. This was very difficult for her, but she said that she wants to get over her fears. The ensemble was incredibly supportive as she worked through the scene, including Hamlet’s giant monologue. While the scene was being acted out, two women caught something new. One wondered if Hamlet heard Claudius earlier, since his own words in regards to women wearing makeup are almost exactly what we hear Claudius say. She added that this is Hamlet’s way of letting Ophelia know that he knows what they’re doing. Another woman added that Hamlet may have fallen out of love with Ophelia because he is jaded about his mother. Another added that his perception of the world has been shattered.

Moving on in the discussion, a number of women spoke about how relatable the content of the scene is. One woman stated that we can all relate to the “To be or not to be” speech. A veteran of the group said that even if we cannot relate to Hamlet’s exact situation with his mother, we can all relate to that sense of betrayal. This is why she loves Shakespeare so much: he gives people the words to express themselves when they can’t think of the words themselves. It can be very therapeutic. Another woman related, saying that it’s easy for people to look down on the choices you’ve made when they don’t know the options you’ve had to choose from. Everyone agreed with that sentiment.