Season Seven: Week 14

Tuesday

We revisited Act IV scene ii and the ongoing debate about Lady Macduff’s son’s age. We are still divided on this – some really think he’s under the age of 11, and some feel firmly that he’s older. We discussed textual evidence for both interpretations, and then one woman said that she thought he might be a young teen with the mentality of a younger child. I asked her what evidence there was in the text for that – I hadn’t seen any – and she pointed out specific passages that illustrated her point. So it’s there.

One woman likened this interpretation to the child in Mad Max, also humorously offering, “Back then, the life span was, like, thirty… So at ten, you’re, like, half dead.”

Things started to get a bit heated, and I reminded everyone that there are many aspects of this play on which we’re never all going to agree, and this is one. It’s going to be up to the woman who ends up playing the character.

One woman was extremely frustrated with the whole conversation. She came down on the side of him being a young child, and she really didn’t see the merits of the other interpretations. She was sitting next to me, and I leaned over and said, “I can see that you’re upset. This is a little frustrating for me, too, because I agree with you. But there really are openings for other interpretations. And you’ve gotta ask yourself, how much does this matter? Is this a hill worth dying on?” She cracked a little smile, visibly relaxed a bit, and said, “No, it’s not. You’re right.”

In the meantime, I discussed some things aside with a couple of ensemble members. I talked through where we were on casting with a longtime member, who had some great input. Another woman asked me what I thought about a woman who dropped earlier this season due to a conflict rejoining – it turns out her conflict isn’t happening. We are going to put it to the group to see what they think.

At that point, programming for the evening was canceled per the facility, so we ended about an hour early. It was an abrupt end to the meeting, but we’re not in a time crunch right now, so it won’t hurt the work we’re doing.

Friday

It turned out that tonight needed to be a time for sharing and support, as well as some planning, so we never got around to scene work. As previously stated in this blog, though, it’s very typical for us to ditch productivity in favor of accommodating heightened emotions this time of year, so it was still a very positive night.

Our check-in was extremely long. Usually it takes about 15 minutes, and tonight it took 45. The things that were shared were very personal, and I can’t record them here, but I do want you to know that the ensemble was as wonderful as usual about lifting each other up, giving advice where appropriate, being encouraging, and giving whatever space was needed.

Finally, we caved, grabbed chairs, and sat in a circle. We talked about some potential projects for the group, and we talked about casting. It was decided that we would cast the play on Tuesday with whomever is there. The people who were present said they would try to get the word out to everyone else not let them know.

Many people were also concerned about the number of others who have recently dropped. That has happened for a variety of reasons. I realized that most people in the room have only been in the group this year or since last year; the latter was an outlier in that no one left the group until very late in the season – and then it wasn’t very many people.

I asked them to try not to get discouraged – that it’s actually typical for us to lose a number of people over the holidays. I suggested that we go ahead and cast most of the roles and then consider adding a new group of people in January or February. My guess is that that’s what we’ll do. It’s impossible to anticipate who might drop and when, so, even though we have enough people to cast the play right now, there’s no guarantee that everyone will still be around for the performance. Particularly because a few ensemble members want only small roles, it’ll probably be our best bet to add 5-10 more people.

Season Seven: Week 13

Tuesday


We were a little unfocused to begin with tonight, but we got back on track pretty quickly after playing one of our favorite circle games. It got very silly, to the point where nearly everyone in the room was laughing. Then, feeling more relaxed and ready to work, we got back to exploring scenes from the play.

We began with Banquo’s murder. As the women moved through the scene on its feet, it became clear how complicated the scene is even though it’s so brief. More often than not, the facilitators take a somewhat passive role as the ensemble members work out staging challenges, but this scene presented so many challenges and so few obvious textual clues that I jumped up to help before anyone could get too frustrated. And honestly, at this point in the process I feel okay about doing that. There are some women in the ensemble who have an innate knack for staging, but most do not, and seeing examples of how it can be guided helps to spark ideas in them. That leads to confidence in taking over later.

That said, once I nudged them in a certain direction, they took it over and further developed the ideas. I stepped away and simply encouraged rather than continuing to put forth my own ideas.

We moved on to Act III Scene i. Before anyone could even ask who wanted to work, one of the women said, loud and clear, “I wanna be Banquo.” Another woman said, “You just read Banquo.” “No,” said the first woman firmly. “I mean I wanna be Banquo. For real.” It’s really exciting to see her becoming so invested in the play and so assertive about her role in the ensemble. She was in the ensemble last year, and it took awhile for her to come out of her shell. At no point, though, did she assert herself like she’s doing this year. The entire nine-month process is important, and this is why performing at the end is imperative: that’s when things crystallize for most of the women. She behaved very differently after our performances, even in our wrap up, and she came back this fall with fierce dedication, ownership, and enthusiasm.

We read through the scene before putting it on its feet. It went well, but I didn’t realize that the woman reading Banquo had wanted to read through it by herself beforehand because she has trouble processing the language while reading aloud. The others jumped in to encourage her and give her some tips. One woman reminded her to breathe on the punctuation – something we talk about a lot, but that is tough to remember in the moment. Another woman suggested that she also take a moment to breathe whenever things start moving too fast. “Take a breath, then keep going,” she said. A longtime ensemble member recommended working with the language on her own as well. “I like to walk around in the rhythm of the words,” she said.

The woman playing Macbeth absolutely nailed the “To be thus is nothing…” soliloquy. So far she is the only person who’s expressed interest in playing the part. I’m curious about whether people are staying away from it in deference to how much she wants it and how beautifully she performs it or because they truly don’t want to play Macbeth. She’s not domineering in the least – I have no doubt that if someone decides they are interested, it will be a friendly “competition” – but I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

I asked them how the scene had felt. The woman who’d read Lady Macbeth said of Macbeth, “It’s like he’s angry, but he’s also scared.” The woman who’d read Macbeth shook her head and said, “Less angry, more fearful. And yet he’s also king, and that makes him pompous.”

There was some more back and forth, and, while it wasn’t heated, there was clearly some frustration building. “Maybe we can marry what you two are seeing,” I said. “Could we maybe call it ‘intensity’ rather than ‘fear’ or ‘anger?’” They agreed that that word was accurate.

It was a great night. We took the time we needed to get on the same page and then worked collaboratively and effectively. While we are generally not overly “productive” during this season, that’s not the point. Until we get on the other side of the holidays, it’s really about easing tension and stress, and continuing to develop our bonds as an ensemble.


Friday
 

Tonight during check-in, one of our ensemble members read us a poem she had written. It absolutely floored us; several of us had vocal reactions throughout. We enthusiastically praised her when she had finished – the poem was raw and real; gritty and elegant. It was a wonderful moment of coming together for all of us, and, I hope, provided a deeper sense of comfort with the ensemble for the woman who’d read.

We continued our exploration with Act I, Scene iii, in which Macbeth and Banquo meet the witches and are then informed that the prophecy about Macbeth becoming the Thane of Cawdor has come true. The first three women to read the witches decided to begin sitting on the floor, which they envisioned as an open field, just kind of chilling and talking. That was interesting and gave us a very different perspective on the witches’ relationship.

We were in a classroom tonight, so we worked in the round. The woman reading Macbeth said that she had felt strange taking the asides while being so physically close to the others on stage, but another woman said it had worked well because Macbeth had turned her back to the others each time; it had made the separation very clear.

We talked then about how we could build upon what we had just done. One woman envisioned the witches circling Macbeth and taunting him. Her idea gave me the idea that the same effect could be accomplished by having them do the opposite – moving away and making him follow. Another woman said that that would be effective in actually leaving Banquo out. Either approach could tell that story visually.

That led to a further discussion about the witches’ delivery and pacing. Should their three “hails” be delivered slowly? quickly? overlapping? We decided to try it a few different ways.

Our witches began seated again, but they got tongue tied and stopped. I encouraged them to start over and really enjoy themselves. Another woman suggested that they jump up for the story about the sailor and his wife.

“It seemed more real,” one of the witches said afterward. “You guys were feeding off each other,” said another woman. The woman reading Macbeth had also gained some clarity. “He’s weighing the pros and cons,” she said.

We then switched up casting, and I ended up reading one of the witches with two longtime ensemble members. We’ve been working together for years and have a chemistry that definitely enhanced our exploration. And it was so fun to read with them. Two of us began by crawling out from under the tables, and we improvised together very effectively; for example, we all began circling Macbeth at the same time without planning it, and we laughed at many of the same lines.

But, as usual with these two, as soon as the scene was over they focused on the others who’d read. The woman reading Ross had, in a moment of totally unexpected inspiration, read his lines as if she were extremely bored. It had actually seemed painful for her to speak the words. “I loved how you did that, man,” said one of the women who’d read a witch. “It was so freaking dope.”

But the group steered us back toward talking about the witches. “Did I move too much?” asked one. Everyone emphatically said no. “I liked that you were having fun,” said Kyle. The first woman said that she’d fed off of the two of us, particularly my physical commitment. “Do you know how much I was holding back?” I asked her. “With more rehearsal, we could all go even further.” One of the women likened our interpretation to the sisters in Hocus Pocus. She had even decided which sister each of us was.

We then looked at Act I Scene ii, specifically the Captain’s speeches. The woman who first read that part had previously been very focused on Hecate and upset that the entire character might be cut. Kyle had been working with her to identify another role that would satisfy what she wants to accomplish, and this was one of them. She lolled in a chair and delivered her lines clearly and effectively. “It felt great!” she said when the scene was over.

One of the women then jokingly nagged another woman who has been hesitant to read very much thus far – she had quietly told me earlier in the evening that she’s been trying to make room for the others since they have been so excited. But she was convinced to try the Captain tonight. The woman who’d done the convincing turned to me and said, “See, Frannie? I got the skillz.”

And she was FABULOUS. She read that part like a trained actor. There were levels vocally; she relished the language; she painted pictures; she took her time. It got us really revved up.

Throughout the evening, I approached each ensemble member to get an idea of what roles they’re interested in playing. I was intrigued to find that there is no overlap so far in people’s first choices. It’s possible that that will come – there were a few people absent – but it’s equally possible that we could cast this the old-fashioned way: just sitting in a circle and talking it out. That would be so fabulous. We’ll wait and see, but I don’t think casting is far off.

Season Seven: Week 12

Tuesday

 

We began tonight with a fairly long check-in. This is a particularly difficult time of year for incarcerated people, and we tend to relax our structure to make room for everyone to share and get as much support as she needs.

We’ve been so focused on reading the play that we haven’t done as much improv as we’d like, so we spent some time playing “Freeze,” which is a fantastic game for getting used to thinking on our feet. It’s also really fun. Even though some of the scenes were duds (… many of those were mine. I was the weakest link tonight, without question.), we had a good time and gave each other a ton of support. During one scene in which two women were running a marathon in Africa while being chased by wild animals, several women who were watching started making animal noises to give the actors more to work with. In one quiet moment, one woman made some… interesting… “animal sounds.” The woman next to her slowly turned to look at her, barely containing her hilarity, and said, “Dude, what kind of animal was THAT?” The woman who’d made the sound shrugged her shoulders – she didn’t know, either – and we all laughed.

As we reflected on the game, a new ensemble member shared that she was worried about making a mistake on stage – improv experience or not. Those of us who’ve been through the mill on this reassured her in our usual way: we’ll all have your back; the audience generally won’t even know you’ve screwed up; we’ll all do it; some of our favorite moments are our biggest mistakes. And then, of course, we had to spend a little time reminiscing about those screw-ups – how funny they were, how we dealt with them, and how much we treasure those memories – even more so than the “perfect” moments.

The first scene we explored was the first scene of the play. It’s so brief that we were able to go through it a number of times. We experimented with the rhythm of the language and finding physical movement. One woman suggested that perhaps the witches operate “like the Fates in Hercules – they already know what each other is thinking.” Some of us were into that idea, and we tried it out. It worked pretty well, and we’ll definitely continue to experiment!

We then moved on to Act II Scene iv, in which the characters mull over the night’s strange events and what’s happening with Macbeth. The women jumped into it pretty quickly, and then one of them stopped so they could take some time to look over the language and start over. After clarifying some of the more challenging passages, they tried it again, and we understood what they were talking about much better.

I guess I was really enjoying the conversation after that and not taking notes, so I’m not sure where this came from, but one of the women joked, “Angus. You know his daddy was the steak guy.” There was a pause. Then Kyle said, “It’s true. Angus is the Thane of Steak.” We all burst out laughing. The silliness of the improv game clearly had not worn off.

We reflected a bit more on the scene. One woman felt that when Macduff enters, he should be tired and worn out. “Like he’s coming in and just sitting down at the bar,” she said. We all liked that idea. Another woman, who is older than many of the others, resisted the idea that the Old Man needs to be played as extremely elderly. She reminded us that “old” would have meant something a bit different in Shakespeare’s time. “Just because he’s ‘old’ doesn’t mean he’s decrepit,” she said. Then she darted a sardonic look at a younger woman who frequently needles her for being an “old lady.” That woman jumped, laughed, and said, “What?! I didn’t say anything! YOU’RE A LOT OLDER THAN ME! That’s all I’m saying!”

We gave the Captain’s speeches a go, with a longtime ensemble member playing the Captain. She said she wasn’t sure if she could do it. “You’ve done this before!” I said, reminding her of a particularly tricky monologue in The Taming of the Shrew that she absolutely nailed. “Paint the pictures just like you did then.”

And she did. A few others stayed in the playing space with her to listen and react. One of the women took that quite literally, gasping, jumping, even grabbing her arm each time she shared new information. This, in turn, led the Captain to become more and more animated, which, again, fired up the woman reacting. We were loving it. They kept playing off of each other, gaining steam. The listener even began to react with words, albeit words that I probably shouldn’t write in this blog… They all came from her heart, and it was hilarious, but out of context some of it might seem offensive. It wasn’t, though. It was great.

“Yeah!” said one woman after they’d finished (and we’d finished laughing). “I could feel it. Even without following along… And the audience was giving back to her, too.” The two women agreed that they’d felt extremely connected. The listener said, “Everything she was giving me, I just had to give it back.”

“That’s acting!” I said excitedly. “You connect with your scene partner, and each time she gives you something, you build off of it. And then she builds off of that. You feed each other. That’s what it’s all about!”

We gathered, then, to raise our ring of energy back up. We knelt together, slowly lifting the ring, and as we let it go and I thanked them for their work, the young woman said to the older woman, “Oh, man. That was a heavy one. I was worried about you for a sec. I didn’t know if you were gonna make it, old lady.”


Friday
 

Meeting the day after Thanksgiving is always a little iffy, but, given how challenging the holidays are for our ensemble members, we always make sure at least one facilitator can attend so that whomever needs it can take a break with us and have some fun. Tonight Matt and I were both there.

The beautiful CBS Detroit piece about our program aired Thanksgiving morning, and most of our ensemble members got to see it. So did most of the prison, apparently – an announcement over the PA system let everyone know that the piece would be on about twenty minutes before it aired.

Everyone loved it, although there were some jokes about how “the camera really does add ten pounds.” One woman said, “Even [name] and Frannie looked like that, and they’re tiny!” “Hey!” I said, “I thought I looked good!”

Several of them shared that friends at the prison weren’t the only ones who saw the piece – friends and family at home did, too. Some of them got phone calls from loved ones right away saying how proud they were. Those women were absolutely beaming. What a gift.

We spent a long time playing goofy circle and improv games. We just really needed to have a good time together. The improv game we chose was a bit challenging, but it provided some great opportunities to learn more about each other. It was one woman’s first time ever being on stage, and we gave her a huge round of applause. Another woman had difficulty getting through the scene, and the others began shouting suggestions and encouragement to her. Afterward, she said she felt bad about her performance, and the others jumped in to tell her all of the things she’d done well. Another pair did a hilarious scene in which they were students on a field trip sneaking around the White House. It ended in chaos as they tried to hide from a teacher. “I mean, everyone knows that if you go to the Oval Office, you’re gonna get tackled,” said one of the women.

One of the women has been wanting to explore the scene in which Lady Macduff and her son are killed. She played Lady Macduff, and she found herself becoming extremely angry during the first part of the scene and staying in that heightened state. When the scene ended, she shook her head. She said she had realized that if she’s going to get that angry, she’s also going to have to calm it down. “I’m angry at his father for leaving me,” she said, “But that ‘What wilt thou do for a father…’ That’s not angry. That’s, like, she’s upset, and her son’s being a smart alec.” We ran the scene again with her new approach, and it worked much better for her.

We asked the woman who’d played the son how the scene had felt to her. She said that the hardest part was the beginning – she hadn’t been sure of what she should have been doing. After that, she felt that some of what she had done worked.

This led to a debate about how old this kid is. Several women’s instincts were that he is a preteen, while some of us thought of him as being younger. We looked at the text for clues and found evidence for both interpretations. So how should we do it? “It all depends on how you want to tell the story,” I reminded them.

One woman wondered if maybe this is a situation where a little kid overhears his mother’s conversation and she doesn’t realize it till he calls her on it. There’s evidence in the text to support that. We tried it, and it worked well. A couple of us then tried playing the son at different ages and decided that we’re going to have to see how anyone interested in that role feels – playing a little boy is not natural for all of us!

We ended on a good note, and I was really glad that we were able to have such a fun night together. It’s never easy getting through this time of year, but that doesn’t mean we back off. We never back off!

Season Seven: Week 11

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Tuesday
 

Written by Matt

Today we had a journalist and videographer from Detroit’s local CBS station at our meeting. Despite his trunk full of equipment, we got into the prison in record time. In the programs building, we were met by a group of administrators, including the warden himself.

Far from being thrown off by the camera and administrators in the room, the women seemed energized as they came in. It has usually been true that the worries they have about being on camera while doing the—often silly—things we do in warm-ups usually disappear in a few minutes. Soon after we begin, few women glance at the cameras, and our meetings proceed mostly as normal.

The biggest difference this time was that for much of the session, as we explored scenes and talked about characters on stage, the camera was trained on a series of interviews. Frannie interviewed several of our participants, and was herself interviewed, as the rest of the ensemble continued as usual. The interviewees seemed a bit jittery but happy to discuss the program. More about those interviews from Frannie below!

As the interviews went on in the back of the room, it was business as usual on stage. We focused on having fun with the scenes today, letting them live a bit onstage, and getting used to inhabiting the characters rather than on the mechanics of blocking or staging.

First up, a new member performed the Porter’s long monologue from II.iii, and with gusto! Her Porter was a mix of wit and physical comedy, sassy and brash and plenty inebriated. Her clear understanding of every word in the text—even in this looping and complex speech—was on full display as she emphasized the Porter’s dirty jokes both with her intonation and body language. It was a tour-de-force, and it got the attention of everyone in the room, even momentarily interrupting the interviews that were being filmed.

Act II, scene iii turns dead serious with the discovery of Duncan’s corpse, and the women playing the entourage that files on after the Porter finally lets them in transitioned sharply from slapstick comedy to horror and political intrigue. Afterwards, a few of the women mentioned that they found a lot of humor—dark humor—even as the dead king is discovered and the characters mourn (or, in the Macbeths’ case, dissemble). We agreed to return to the balance of pathos and humor in that scene later, when we could discuss it with the entire group.

Act IV, scene i is the witches’ last official appearance in the play—and the source of the famous “double, double, toil and trouble” incantation—and we went at that scene with an eye simply to making it fun. The witches threw themselves into their sing-song speeches, and several women played apparitions, warning Macbeth of the coming dangers, though he doesn’t understand their import yet. After the scene was over, we agreed that it would be both exciting and challenging to stage—so much is happening, there are so many characters and so much important information given to Macbeth and the audience. We noted that we might need to spend extra time working on making the scene clear without losing the spectacle of it.

Finally, we delved into II.iv, which follows the discovery of Duncan’s body and the flight of Malcom and Donalbain. One member, in her third season, took the lead as the Old Man at the center of the scene. Fully embodying the Old Man’s world-weariness and humorous outlook, she resisted suggestions that her character’s warnings about horses eating each other and other unnatural events were completely serious.

“I think he just likes telling stories,” she said. “He’s seen a lot. There was a just a war and a whole lot of chaos, and this feels like entertainment to him. What does he have to lose?”

After the third or fourth run-through of this short scene drew to a close, so did the evening. As the prison administrators filed out, we put up the ring and left.

From Frannie

The ensemble had previously agreed that they would be more comfortable being interviewed on camera if I were asking questions rather than the reporter (who was wonderful!), and he graciously agreed to do it that way. He gave me questions to ask that addressed much of what we talk about on a regular basis, and their answers were genuine, beautifully worded, and full of the passion, insight, and determination that I’m privileged to see on a regular basis. It was fun and touching to do this with them.

When it came time for my interview, a longtime ensemble member who thrives on being a goofball asked if she could interview me. She ended up being the person to whom I spoke during the interview, even when the reporter asked the questions, and that was a truly moving experience as well. I make no bones about how nervous I always am about being interviewed on camera, and she supported me through those nerves the same way in which I’ve always supported her. That was an incredible feeling.

I’m asked these kinds of questions frequently, but it rarely happens in the room with these remarkable women – and never in exactly this way. She took notes as I spoke (jokingly aping the way that I constantly take notes during our meetings), and she stopped at certain points just to beam and smile back at me. I wish I could do every interview this way. I always mean every word I say, but those words felt like they had more gravity when I said them directly to her.


Friday

 

After a long check-in, during which several ensemble members shared some upsetting experiences they’ve had recently and others jumped in to support them, we dug back into our play, determined to finish reading it.

This was an interesting evening for me, as a longtime ensemble member had brought in her reflections and stream-of-consciousness writing following last Friday’s emotional discussion, and I split my focus between reading that and participating in the reading and discussion. Even though I had to multitask, I was floored by the depth and beauty of what she had written. She reflected on each person who had shared – what she knew of them, their past behavior, and their history with SIP – and she reflected on the impact that the evening had had on her. Then came the poems and the songs. She’s spent years in the group and has never had a night like that. I haven’t either. And I’m so grateful that she shared her thoughts with me.

We revisited Act V scene v, as many ensemble members left last week before we had finished it. One woman was immediately incensed by the treatment of Lady’s death. She felt that she is such an important character that this merits more than just two lines. I asked her why she thought Shakespeare wrote it that way. “Because she’s a woman,” she said immediately, bitterly, sarcastically. She got very heated about this seeming dismissal of a character who arguably drives many of the play’s events. She was particularly miffed that the death happens off stage.

Another woman said, “Just because it’s one line doesn’t mean it can’t be made into more.” She said that she thought there was a possibility of staging the scene so that Macbeth would see the suicide happen toward the edge of the stage in a somewhat symbolic manner.

“Do we know it was suicide?” I asked. “It says it was,” said one woman. “Where do you see that in the text?” I pressed. Several people started combing through the scene to see where they’d gotten that idea. “I don’t think it’s there,” I said. A few women tossed around opinions about why Lady would have committed suicide; one said that her guilt had made her weak. Another hesitated and then said, “It takes strength to commit suicide. It really does.”

Before we could continue down that path, one woman said, “Oh!” She had found the direct reference to suicide – in the No Fear Shakespeare character description. “Yeah, that’s where I got it, too,” said another woman.

“Oh, that’s so interesting,” I said. I reminded them that this version of the play is meant to be a study guide to aid people in understanding the content, and there’s little (if any) nuance to it. “It’s a widely accepted interpretation that she commits suicide,” I said, “And I think that’s why it says so in that description. But it’s really not in the actual text, is it?” We all agreed that it isn’t.

One woman shared that she really didn’t think it was suicide. “I think she died of a nervous breakdown,” she said, referring specifically to a possible cardiac arrest while sleeping. We pondered that, tossing ideas back and forth. There were many differing points of view.

“This is what’s so cool about this play,” I said. “Remember when we read the first scene, and we said that we immediately felt apprehensive and off balance? We’re meant to feel that way throughout the whole thing. Nothing is settled – everything is up for interpretation. It’s disorienting. And that’s the point.”

The woman who had initially been so upset about Lady’s death was even more infuriated now, continuing to focus on the mention of suicide in the book’s character description. “Why’d they have to put that in my head?” she said. She wished that she had gone in without that idea – she wondered what her own interpretation would have been.

I was really excited by this discussion – I talked a lot tonight! I jumped in here, saying that this is a great example of what happens when these plays are approached by people who think they “know” them – who’ve been taught what they’re “supposed to be.” It shuts down creativity and discovery in a big way. “That’s one thing that I love about working on these plays with you,” I said. “Most of you approach them without those centuries of tradition bogging you down, and you interpret them in these original and eye-opening ways… I’ve learned so much in this group. You’ve all taught me so much.”

It turns out that there are quite a few people in our ensemble who agree that Lady’s death should be given more attention. We toyed with the idea of staging the death as a pantomime. The woman who first introduced the idea said, “It would be a silent scene to the audience can get an interpretation of what’s going on.” Many of them felt that it could be overlooked otherwise.

We went back to the play, reading through the final battle scenes and applauding when we reached the end. “Thoughts?” I asked.

“What happened to Fleance?” asked one woman. “Aha!” I exclaimed, accidentally throwing my pen in the air (like I said, I was really excited), “That’s always the first question!” Another woman said, “I’m just thinking… Finally! I was ready for that dude to die.”

But the conversation stayed focused on Fleance (this happened immediately upon finishing the play this summer at Parnall – nearly the exact same conversation). “Maybe the witches said that stuff about Banquo just to sir Macbeth up,” said one woman. “Maybe it’s not actually true.”

“Or Malcolm might give the throne to Fleance because he doesn’t have any sons,” said another woman. “Or he could give it to any descendant of Banquo.”

What about Donalbain, asked one person. “Donalbain’s just out – he’s not coming back,” said another woman emphatically. “I don’t think Fleance is either. He doesn’t know who he can trust, who set up Banquo, who’s in it with Macbeth. It could still be dangerous for him in Scotland.” Another woman disagreed, saying that she thought that Fleance would get the throne and Donalbain would return.

We wrapped up at that point. I remarked that, while we are thrilled to have our wonderful male facilitators, there is something nice about meeting just as a group of women. “I know,” said one woman. “I like them, but I’m more comfortable when they’re not here. I feel like I can open up more.” I said that I got where she was coming from, adding, “The thing is, though, those guys might as well be women.” A longtime ensemble member laughed, nodded, and said, “They really might as well be.” The first woman smiled and said, “I know. It’s just different.” I said again that I knew what she meant and assured her that if she ever wants to open up more with them here, I just want her to know that she’ll be safe. She said she’d keep it in mind.

Since the ensemble first decided in 2013 that they wanted to bring in male facilitators, we’ve touched base frequently about how that works. The consensus has always been that we value having their perspective, which is different from ours, but that we need to be very picky about which men we bring in – they need to have a great deal of sensitivity, warmth, and respect for women. So far, so good – these guys are really fabulous. I do understand what she means, though. And I’m really glad that she was honest about it.

Season Seven: Week 10

Tuesday
 

The ensemble began with a couple of improv games this evening, continuing to build trust and laugh together. But we want to get to the end of this play, so before long we hunkered down to read some more.

We got those who were absent on Friday up to speed on Act IV scene iii, and then we continued on to Act V scene i, the famous sleepwalking scene. Several women mused that passion used to bring Lady and Macbeth together, and now guilt is tearing them apart.

“That sucks,” said one woman. “They just can’t deal with the consequences. I just don’t understand how they didn’t even think about how they would feel after they killed him.” Another woman replied, “I didn’t think about how I would feel after I tried to commit my crime. I got caught, thank god. If it had gone through, I don’t think I could have lived with myself afterward. But you don’t think about that stuff before.”

Another woman said, regarding her crime, “I knew what I was going to do and why.” Drawing a parallel between herself and Macbeth, she continued, “If I get caught, I could lose a lot, but if I do it, I could gain so much more… When I did get caught, I refused to see the actuality of my crime. And then when my guard was down when I was asleep, my Banquo would come to me… Thank god I had help and didn’t kill myself, but I could have got there. It was slowly driving me insane, and I had to get ahold of myself… Once I accepted responsibility, my ghosts subsided.”

In response, Kyle asked what Lady Macbeth could have done to take responsibility. This same woman replied, “She has to see that she’s the one who set the ball rolling. But she could have stopped it from going as far as it did a long time ago… ‘Honey, maybe we’re going too far… Maybe it’s time for us to allow things just to happen.’” Another woman agreed that Lady could have intervened, but that she would not have asked for outside help. “You can’t just tell on your old man,” she said, and the first woman agreed.

Another ensemble member took it back a few minutes in the conversation. “You were caught and doing time when you were talking in your sleep,” she said. “You have a conscience. Maybe this is her finger print to get caught.” We asked her to elaborate. “Maybe it’s because nobody knows… When people commit crimes and leave fingerprints, they get caught. Her fingerprint is talking in her sleep.” Another woman, pointing to a particular passage, said, “That’s what the doctor says.” She read the lines aloud to us. “Pillows talk,” she said.

We returned to the ongoing theme of how responsible each character is for the play’s events, focusing on the witches. One woman argued that the responsibility is really not on them. “They also planted a seed in Banquo’s mind,” she said. “Macbeth is responsible.” She took the metaphor further to illustrate her point, saying that Macbeth took that seed and cultivated it while Banquo just let nature take its course. And she brought that back around to her own experience. “Someone else gave me the idea to do what I did. And I went, ‘Hmm…’ But I did what I did.”

One woman maintained that the witches are still in there somewhere, pulling strings. She’s not the only one who thinks that, but I’m getting the sense that the majority of the women are drifting away from an interpretation that leans heavily on the witches’ “magical” influence.

“They have bad communication skills also,” said one woman, explaining that they should have talked things through instead of letting this chasm grow. “They’re not talking to each other, and it’s making their crazy even harder… Even if you’ve really fucked up, you can still make an effort to fix it… You can still try to do better.”

“You could be in the same room with someone, and be going through the same thing, and have no idea. I’ve been there,” shared another person.

The conversation wrapped up as our time ended. We’re all excited to keep rolling on Friday – we should be able to finish this first reading very soon.
 

Friday
 

We continued on with Act V tonight but did not end up finishing the play due to an extremely intense but important conversation.

We began with Act V scene ii, which is pretty straightforward (the rebels obscure their numbers by shielding themselves with tree branches), and then we rolled into Act V scene iii, in which we hear from Macbeth that he is ready for battle and completely unafraid.

“He’s becoming overwhelmed because of his conscience… He’s kicking his own ass,” said one person. Another said, “He knows he messed up… He doesn’t care if he lives or dies because he doesn’t have the friends and loyalty he used to have.” The first woman said, “Who would have thought of a C-section?” Another said, “He’s cocky. He’s too sure of himself.”

I asked about the intent behind the prophecies. One woman said she thought the witches were trying to appease Macbeth. Another thought that they were trying to throw him off. I posited that it’s worth exploring how literal the prophecies are versus how he takes them.

The conversation continued. “I feel like cuts have been made,” said a longtime ensemble member. “It seems like there’s stuff missing. Lady Macbeth goes from this dominant person to, like, this fragile vegetable.” Another woman agreed. “You don’t really see what happens to Lady Macbeth. But you see all of Macbeth.”

I asked if maybe, when staged, we could see the beginning of Lady’s unraveling during the banquet scene. Then the sleepwalking wouldn’t come out of nowhere. Or, I pondered, is it better if it does come out of nowhere? Maybe there’s a reason for that. “Maybe she does see the ghost!” exclaimed one woman.

Another ensemble member asked us to return to the prophecies, making a joke about being constantly interrupted by another woman (who laughed). She said it really hadn’t occurred to her that “of woman born” would exclude a C-section. I asked everyone what they had thought when they first read the scene.

“I thought Hecate was going to bring the trees to life,” said one woman, citing specific parts of the text that gave her that impression. “Because his head was getting too big and she was finna bring him back down.” Another woman thought that the witches would employ trickery, while another thought that the prophecy about Birnam Wood referred to an earthquake or landslide. Yet another woman asserted that she’d immediately thought about soldiers cutting trees down to use as weapons and shields; she said also that the “of woman born” language brought to mind “test tube babies.”

We also talked about the conversation between Macbeth and the doctor regarding Lady Macbeth’s mental state. “He’s becoming cold to her,” said one person. “She’s the least of his worries,” said another. The first woman nodded, saying, “She’s not important to him anymore. She’s not – I just think he don’t have time for her to lose her mind.”

“It’s like Richard in the scene with all the messengers coming at him,” exclaimed one of last year’s ensemble members. “He’s gonna haul off and smack the doctor.”

We read Act V scene iv, which is another straightforward “going to war” scene. And then we arrived at Act V scene v. We made it as far as the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” monologue, and then we paused to let that passage sink in a bit.

I encouraged one woman to read it aloud slowly, allowing herself to really feel the language and breathe into it. “He’s just done,” she said afterward. “Life comes and goes, and it’s nothing but an illusion… Almost like it’s not real. It’s just –“

“Maybe he feels like it’s not real,” another woman interjected. “He’s not in the moment.” The first woman nodded, saying, “He’s on the outside watching it happen.” Another woman chimed in, “He might be numb to what is happening… It’s her as well as him.”

Another woman volunteered to read the piece a second time, and, again, I encouraged her to take her time and let the words do the work. “It feels like he’s just done,” she reflected afterward. “He’s stepped outside himself. Whatever happens is gonna happen – nothing he can do about it.”

“You get what you get, you do what you do, and then you end up dead… He’s empty. He’s drained. There’s nothing left,” said one woman. “Oh my god,” said another, “I’ve been there.”

“It makes me think of my family’s reaction to my crime,” said another woman. Softly, from the other side of the room, I heard someone say, “Oh my god, that’s what I was thinking.” The first woman said that her family had “seen something coming” and that that wasn’t the same as being numb. She told us about this in more detail, but I’m not recording it here in order to avoid identifying her.

“I remember that gut-empty feeling when my sentence was handed to me, and sitting all night in the tank just empty. I imagine that felt pretty similar [to Macbeth],” said another woman. Another woman continued to ponder numbness. “We have expectations,” she said. “People let you down, and let you down, and let you down… It makes you numb.” A new ensemble member agreed, saying, “You keep people at arm’s length.” Many others nodded.

The woman who spoke of her family’s reaction took it back to the feeling of being sentenced and going to prison. “I’m sure you were feeling so much,” she said. “I’m not sure… It’s a shock. When I hear numb – to me, that means you don’t care. But numb is, it hasn’t hit you yet, and you’re afraid of what you’ll do when it does hit you.”

“You go through little shit all the time, but then something big happens. And till something else hits that level, nothing else compares,” said someone else. Again, there was nearly universal agreement.

One woman then said that the worst thing ever to happen to her was prison, and several people said they disagreed – that prison had benefited them in some way, as horrible as it is – for some, it saved their lives, gave them a wakeup call, and/or taught them surprising things about themselves. Prison is terrible not just because they are missing out on their own lives, but because their friends and family are missing out their lives, too.

But that was not what that first woman had meant, and she was determined to make us understand. She detailed the lead up to her crime and the crime itself – that time in her life and all of the decisions she made that led her to prison – that was what she meant by saying that prison was the worst thing that had happened to her. She was brutally honest with us and was clearly becoming upset.

Another woman agreed – she emphatically said that she agreed, locking eyes with the woman who’d been speaking. She also committed a violent crime, and she told us in graphic detail about events in her life that built up until “all of that from my past came out on one person.” She drew clear parallels with the first woman’s experience, again emphasizing that she had been heard and understood.

Another woman shared that prison itself wasn’t the worst thing that has happened to her, but the accompanying loss of faith was. That said, she’s become more self-reliant, and she recognizes that as being a good thing. Another shared her own experience of having survived trauma and committed a crime, only slowly coming to fully understand its gravity and feel remorse (as opposed to the others, who felt it immediately). She said that “feeling is a good thing because it makes you realize what you’ve done so you don’t make the same mistakes.”

A new ensemble member then began to describe her past and her crime, and as she spoke, the words poured out faster and faster, the emotions coming from deeper and deeper within her. The trauma she’s survived is nearly unspeakable – I don’t know how she had the strength to speak it – and she feels intense remorse for her crime. A longtime ensemble member who sometimes struggles to feel or express empathy for others jumped in as things started to spiral, drawing on her own experience to reassure this woman that she understood what she was saying. And then she began to emphasize that there is hope in this woman’s situation – that she will go home some day and have the opportunity to make things right. The longtime member spoke only to the woman who’d been sharing, focusing on her completely, not speaking to the rest of us at all. She did not give up eye contact – she held it firmly. She reached with her energy deep into the woman’s heart and caressed it, lifted it up – that’s the only way I can describe what this looked and felt like.

The new ensemble member was clearly affected by this, and she shared more with us. Her emotions became difficult for her to control. She began to shake and cry. Another woman quietly went to her and gave her a (completely appropriate) hug. “You’re okay,” she said quietly, and the other woman placed her hand on the encircling arm, closing her eyes, calming down.

I really don’t know how to describe these moments except to say that the air felt full of that embrace – that compassion, deep empathy, and reaching toward healing came from all of us and was palpable. I’ve never felt anything like it – not in our ensemble; not anywhere.

Still holding the new ensemble member, the woman who’d embraced her said, “We need to give her some wooshes.” This is an exercise we do in which we encircle one ensemble member and make a large physical gesture of lifting them up while saying, “Woosh!” It sounds silly – it is kind of silly – but it really does make us feel better. We “wooshed” our new ensemble member, who said it felt weird but smiled. We wooshed a few others, too.

Intense – incredibly intense. Unprecedented. While we’ve had many honest and emotional conversations over the years, we’ve never had one like this, with so many people giving so much of themselves, in such detail, and lifting each other up as they did. I’ve been processing this evening for days now, and I don’t feel like I’m done. I’m so grateful have been included in this kind of introspection – to have been allowed just to sit, listen, and give all of my energy to people sharing so bravely. I don’t know what else to say about it – I don’t know that I have the words. But if I find them, I’ll let you know.

Season Seven: Week 9

Friday


Tonight two of our ensemble members checked in to let us know that they are temporarily leaving the group. One is a new member who has apprehensions about working specifically with Macbeth, and she says she’ll be back in the fall. The other is a woman who stayed on from last season. Her reasons for leaving are personal and have to do with taking the best care of herself that she can right now. She also intends to return next fall.

In cases like these, we regret that we won’t be able to work with these folks anymore, but we celebrate their decisions because they reflect empowerment – and that is our goal. These women know what they need right now, and Shakespeare is not part of that. And that’s completely fine.

We read Act V scene i, in which Malcolm tests Macduff, the latter finds out that Macbeth has massacred his family, and the two decide to get revenge. It’s a long scene, and the only one that takes place outside of Scotland. Why is it here?

“Maybe it’s the light at the end of the tunnel,” said one woman. “And then they go back to the darkness.” Another woman built on that, saying that it reminded her of a superhero movie in which the bad guys create a state of doom and gloom, and the good guys make a last ditch effort to save everyone. “It’s the turning point,” she said.

“It’s a safe zone,” said the first woman. This inspired a riff from me (facilitators will absolutely contribute to these discussions and spitball while welcoming others to jump in and build). I pondered the consequences of Macduff’s leaving – his being in a safe zone while leaving his family behind – and how that space is polluted by the news of his family’s deaths. Nothing is clean in this play – the fog and filthy air follow him. The chaos is so intense that one can’t get away from it – it follows one everywhere.

The ensemble liked these ideas and kept building on them, which led to a discussion of how that chaos is created. “Macbeth goes total kamikaze,” said one woman. “He wants to destroy everything. We still get to that point as people… ‘Let’s kill ‘em all.’ I know I do. But I don’t think about the consequences. I just think I’m tired of the headache, people getting killed… It’s a good thing I’m not God.”

The conversation continued, fleshing out what she’d said. And she continued to wrestle with her thoughts. “He has no counsel. You need counseling – people who will motivate and calm you down and convince you not to do that crazy thing. You’ve gotta have counsel. I don’t do that stuff because I have you guys.”

He has the opposite of good counsel. One woman asked if the witches could have put a spell on him. Lauren pondered that such a spell could have been simply words or actual magic; either way, they’re playing puppet master. The woman who had been more or less leading the conversation said that the witches narrow things down in a way that is typical of abuse. “People manipulate you to think you have less choices than you do. They make it black and white.”

The conversation moved from the witches to the couple. Is Lady Macbeth the one doing the manipulating? One woman thought so: “It’s like… Power, money: let’s do this.” Another woman asked if we thought that Lady and/or the witches truly plant the seeds or if Macbeth has always been like this. Lady says he’s always had ambition but no drive to do the unsavory things he needs to do to accomplish his goals, but we need to take that with a grain of salt. Is it there waiting to be brought out? Or does she force this to happen?

“I know that has never worked with my husband,” said one woman. She told us a story about her husband allowing someone to take advantage of him (in a very minor way) because he felt that they needed what they needed more than he did. She smiled and said that he’s incredibly “nice” and a pushover, but that’s part of why she loves him. “Humans are humans,” said one woman. “Yeah,” said the first woman. “I’ve been trying to change him for 31 years.”

I jumped in and asked how this woman’s insight could affect our view of the Macbeths – if her husband truly does not have the ability to be anything other than “nice,” there is no way she could bring that out. But Lady does the opposite for Macbeth.

We returned to the topic of thinking before we speak and somehow controlling our rage. We reflected that while Macbeth overanalyzes at first, he progressively stops doing that and simply reacts in the moment.

We talked about the “illusion of certainty,” which led one woman to ask why, if Macbeth thought that what the witches said was certain, he didn’t just “chill and have babies.” He does at first, we reminded her. “But everything we do or don’t do changes the outcome of things,” said one woman. Another woman brought up how hard it is to just trust that things will happen. “If we as humans did that, probably none of us would be here [in prison]. You get a thought in your head – you want something – you manifest it. You get to the point where you’re just gonna do it. And then… How am I gonna keep people from finding out? And you keep doing things… Lies upon lies… If I would have just said that, I never would’ve been here.”

The conversation meandered at this point to a place where we were simply talking and getting to know one another better – laughing and poking good-natured fun. Although the topics moved away from the play, these moments are extremely valuable for building trust in the ensemble.

Somehow we got onto the topic of our performance of Romeo and Juliet years ago. One woman shared (as she does frequently) how much she loved that show. “I was jumping up and down and yelling the whole time,” she said. “When Mercutio died, I was like, ‘Oh no! He’s dead!’”

“Wait!” I said. “That was you? I’ve been telling this story for years!” We all laughed and she asked how I could not have realized that it was her. “I was back stage! I couldn’t see who it was!” I said. “Also, I’m pretty sure what you actually said was, ‘Oh, shit! That dude just DIED!’”

“You guys were so awesome,” she said. “I signed up for Shakespeare right away. That show changed my life.” How freaking cool.

Season Seven: Week 8

Tuesday

 

Tonight we welcomed in a number of new and returning ensemble members. It felt so good to have those familiar faces back in the room, and it was so exciting to start to work with our new participants.

We began with a fun name game and then circled up to ask our traditional three questions:

What brings you to Shakespeare?
What do you hope to get out of this experience?
What is the gift that you bring?

Those of us who’ve answered before took part again along with the new and returning members. There are so many of us right now that it took a while, but it was great to hear from people and to learn more about where they’re coming from. Some common themes were:

  • A desire to try something new.
  • Gaining confidence and knowledge.
  • A space that doesn't feel like prison.
  • The bonding that happens in the ensemble.

One woman who joined the group in September went particularly in depth about what brings her to our ensemble. "I started Shakespeare to try something new - I don't want to go back to the old things. It's brought me out a lot. I’m 33 and been cooking meth for 13 years. This is a big part of my life, and I wanna be somebody. I want to know what I like. I wanna stand out, and not as a meth cook or a dope fiend. I want to shine."

An ensemble member who is now in her third year responded to the first question by sighing sarcastically, shaking her head, and saying, "I don't know why I'm back. I try and quit every week." Everyone laughed. She told the story of how she was signed up for Shakespeare initially by mistake but showed up anyway. That was when we were toying with the idea of holding auditions, and she showed up ready to perform - but she was the only one who did. Several of us egged her on to do the hilarious impression she did for us that first day. It was just as funny as ever.

With the time we had left, some ensemble members requested that we play an improv game that we’ve played in the past. I’ve honestly never felt comfortable playing this one – it has some very real potential triggers – but group after group has agreed unanimously that they were okay with it.

Tonight, however, a few people left rather than play. Those who stayed had a lot of fun, but I felt conflicted to say the least. I pulled aside the ensemble member who’s been in the group the longest and asked what she thought. She agreed with me that the game should probably be retired to avoid making people uncomfortable. I’m going to try to figure out a solution that will strike a balance between the folks who love the game and those who don’t even want to be in the room while it’s being played.

Even though the night ended in a way that was not ideal, it really was a great meeting. All of our ensemble members are there to do positive work, and I’m very excited to get everyone all caught up and continue our exploration of the play.
 

Friday

 

It was cold and rainy all day, continuing into the evening. As a result, there were a number of absences and early departures. Even so, we got some good work done.

We first caught up the new members in the room on the play’s plot, characters, and themes. We then read and discussed Act IV scene ii, in which Lady Macduff and her son (and everyone else in the castle, off stage) are massacred.

Things really were off. I had been at Parnall that afternoon, where things felt the same way, so I think this was due, at least in part, to the weather. Our conversation about the scene didn’t go too far in depth.

There was some disagreement about the tone of the conversation between mother and child – how compassionate vs. how contentious should it be? There was also a question about whether the murderer in this scene is the same one who killed Banquo. We don’t know – that’s something we’ll explore.

There was also a lot of discussion about who this messenger (who warns Lady Macduff of trouble coming) is and where he comes from. Some of us think he lives at Macduff’s castle and simply got ahead of the people coming to kill everyone. Others think it’s the Third Murderer from an earlier scene. And others think the messenger is actually one of the witches. That led to a brief discussion about how we’ll need to compromise as an ensemble in our concept of the balance between the supernatural and the psychological – it’s going to affect casting quite a bit.

At this point, we seemed to hit a bit of a wall. One ensemble member suggested a new word game that she could teach us. It was really fun and definitely lightened the mood.

It seemed that there were going to be a number of absences next Tuesday, including those of facilitators, so the ensemble voted to cancel our meeting that day. We’ll pick back up again next Friday.

Season Seven: Week 7

Tuesday

Written by Frannie.

We spent our entire time tonight exploring Act III scene iv, in which the ghost of Banquo visits a banquet hosted by the Macbeths. We read through it, made sure everyone was on the same page in terms of plot, and then the discussion began.

“Is he drunk?” one woman asked about Macbeth, right off the bat. “Sometimes when we’re drunk, we say too much. I know I did.” We mused briefly that he certainly could be drunk, and then the conversation veered away from that and to a focus on the ghost – is it a hallucination or actually there?

“The ghost could be there to say, ‘I know what you did,’” said one woman. A woman with the other view suggested that if the ghost were a hallucination, it could be the manifestation of Macbeth’s guilt. And then another woman who feels that the ghost is real said, “Maybe the ghost followed the First Murderer back to who sent him – so he knows. He didn’t know it was Macbeth, but now he does.”

And how about the way in which Macbeth reacts, real ghost or not? “Macbeth isn’t the rock he portrays himself as. Without Lady Macbeth, he’s nothing. She’s his spine,” said one woman. “He opened up the door to the lords by showing another side of him – whether he subconsciously wanted to get caught or not,” said another.

This looped us back around to the question of whether or not Macbeth is drunk. “If he were sober, he’d cover better,” said one woman. Several people built on each other’s ideas, putting forward the idea that this drunkenness could be the result of hard drinking driven by guilt and/or sleeplessness, and that this results in “word vomit” in the scene.

We also wondered about whether or not the lords notice the murderer. One thinks so because of the blood on his face. And that made us begin to ponder what this scene might look like, staged. So we decided to stage it.

For the first time, we broke up our circle to use the stage traditionally, with those of us not in the scene sitting in the house. The ensemble placed a long table center stage and pulled six chairs up to it. Five of them sat in those chairs to play the lords.

The scene began. The actors felt their way through it, making interesting discoveries even as they stumbled. There is one ensemble member who came into the group last fall extremely reticent, anxious, and lacking confidence, and when we discovered how incredible her directing instincts are she began participating more, even playing multiple roles in the performances. She has been pretty quiet so far this season, and I noticed how intently she was watching the scene unfold.

I sat beside her and quietly asked, “What do you see? Does this need any fixes?” She nodded, her eyes still on the stage. “What would you fix? I’ll write it all down.” She began to tell me her thoughts, and the more I agreed with her, the faster those thoughts came out. They ranged from altering the placement of the table to create more playing space, to playing with the dynamic between the ghost and Macbeth, to noting the things about the scene that did work well.

We applauded when the scene concluded. The actors agreed that it had felt pretty good but that it could have gone better. I asked how the others felt, and a few put forward some ideas (I didn’t write them down because by that point I had given my notepad to the woman for whom I’d been taking notes). There was a lull, and I said, “[NAME] has some ideas.” Those who were in the group last year eagerly asked her what those were. She looked at me. I smiled and said, “And I think this will work better if you go on stage and show them the physical stuff.” She grinned sheepishly, got to her feet, and went up on stage.

As soon as she rose, she began talking through her thoughts with the rest of the ensemble. She has a really remarkable ability to give constructive criticism in a way that is honest without being harsh, and she tempers it with praise, so no one has ever resisted anything she’s suggested or been defensive – they have always at least tried her ideas. As she talked, I began moving chairs as she suggested but didn’t direct what was going on at all. In fact, all of the facilitators sat back and said nothing aside from affirmative responses and a few questions. The group came together and figured out what they wanted to do without direction from us.

As we prepared to run the scene again, the “director” moved to hand my notepad and pen to me. “Go ahead and keep it,” I said. “The great thing about taking notes as you go is that you don’t have to remember anything, so you can stay in the moment.”

As the scene progressed, I looked over at her. She was leaning forward in her seat, completely focused, and by the end of the scene she had taken a full page of notes. And yet, as the others shared their reactions and ideas, she hung back, listening to them, glancing at her notes, waiting. Again there was a lull, and I gestured to her that this would be a good time to share. She picked through her notes, skipping the ones that had already been mentioned and making decisions about which notes she actually wanted to give – the same way a professional director would. Everyone again listened intently. She has absolutely no ego about this; her insight and excellent instincts boost her confidence without making her arrogant. I just love watching and listening to her in this role.

As we left, she handed the notepad and pen back to me. I asked her if she had liked taking notes, and she said that she had. I assured her that I would always have an extra notepad and pen with me if she wants to keep doing it. She pointed at the notepad and said, “I took notes on what everyone said, too, just like you always do. I didn’t want you not to have that written down!”

So here are her notes on that second discussion:

•    One woman suggested that Macbeth and Lady use more of the stage and come closer to the audience.
•    Another woman suggested that the lords interact with Macbeth, not just with each other.
•    Another said Lady has to be the wife, so she helps the lords leave and then cares for Macbeth – there’s a “switch” that turns on and off.
•    One ensemble member said that Lady is irritated with Macbeth, but she really realizes that he needs to be cared for.
•    A woman who is unabashed about her somewhat radical political views said, reaching for the word she wanted, that Macbeth and Lady are “comrades.” [She looked at me (Frannie) and grinned. I said, “Oh, comrades, huh? Noted.” She said, “Shut up, Frannie! Shut up!”] She went on to explain that they are in this together, and maybe it makes Lady love him more.
•    Another woman said that maybe Lady makes for an angrier person.

This last woman continued to list ideas she had for interpreting the scene as Lady. She looked at me. I teased, “So… what you’re saying is, you want to play Lady Macbeth the next time we do this scene?” “Yes!” a number of ensemble members shouted. She grinned, shaking her head.

We decided to explore this scene again on Friday if we feel like it, and, if not, to come back to it later.

This was pretty much the ideal way in which our ensemble can work. It was a total team effort, with leadership spread among a number of people. Things never got heated; everyone listened to each other and problem solved together. And the facilitators gave hardly any input; in fact, I’m not sure we gave any significant input at all. This is a huge step toward empowerment, which is our number one objective: my voice is heard; my ideas are valued; I am a vital member of a team; others support me when I need it; I have good instincts; I don’t need someone telling me what to do or think.

Good, good stuff.

 

Friday

Written by Kyle.

When we got in on Friday, Frannie had to leave almost right away to meet with women on our waiting list who were interested in joining, and, in a few cases, re-joining the group. We started off the evening with our traditional warm-up and ring exercise. One of the women wanted to do Chekhov's six-directions exercise, and another volunteered to lead. It was great the way they just jumped in accommodate each other- it seemed so routine. Afterward, we recapped the banquet scene and then picked up where we had left off on Act III, scene v.

One woman commented on the subtlety of the scene with the two lords; that they keep dancing around this idea that Macbeth is implicated in all of the murders, but they dare not say it. Toward the end of the scene, though, they grow explicitly mutinous. “At first I thought they were just talking crap about Macbeth, but now I know they are actually talking about rebellion,” said one woman.

When we got to Act III, scene vi, one ensemble member said that she had memorized all of the First Witch’s lines and was eager to show them off. I shuddered a little and tried to reiterate that the Hecate scenes were most likely inserted after Shakespeare had died, and in no way move the dramatic tension or plot forward. She had memorized the lines, though, and someone else had clearly rehearsed the Hecate speeches for tonight. I did an internal face-palm, swallowed it deep down, and said, “Great! Let’s see what you’ve got!” They did great!

Afterward, we moved on to Act IV, scene i - the famous “Double double, toil and trouble” scene, in which the witches give Macbeth enigmatic clues about his future. It was hot in the room, and many ensemble members did not want to get the scene up on its feet right away. A few of the readers were very well-rehearsed in their reading. That always catches me off guard – most of the time, they are so nonchalant about volunteering, and then BAM! They’ve rehearsed and have been secretly counting the seconds to when they get to read their scene. I don’t know what they do when someone else jumps in – it must happen – but so far, no fireworks.

We read the scene once through. Many of the women commented on Macbeth’s ability to just buy into the false sense of security offered by the witches. There were several different theories as to why this was. One woman said that she thought he was so desperate that he set himself up for failure: “Kinda like the way you go to that certain friend who is going to co-sign your B.S.” Others honed in on the fact that they thought it was the witches who were being intentionally deceitful. It sparked a really rich debate about whether the witches were an extension of Macbeth’s evil, acting as facilitators to a temptation already inside of him; or if Macbeth was no more than a puppet attached to the strings of their power. We then put the scene on its feet and realized just how many parts there were to make it work. The scene always takes on a life of its own, and tonight was no different. I floated that the Hecate musical number could be a group rendition of the dance from the iconic Michael Jackson “Thriller” music video. This idea was met with mixed reactions.

At the end of the scene, it was wonderful to see the women’s imaginations so fired up. Ideas of how to stage the scene came too quickly to write down. Building a big cauldron, playing the scene in front of the curtain with the apparitions stepping through the break, how we could use costumes to make the Banquo line of kings work; these were some of the many rapid-fire ideas that came from the ensemble all at once. It was a beautiful thing to behold. The ensemble is really jazzed about this play; they keep on surprising me with memorization, rehearsing parts, staking their claims to coveted roles, elaborate conspiracy theories about the secret identities of the witches, etc. This play is really churning their creativity in a way that others could not. Othello’s gritty realism makes it so much more painful, and Richard III’s over the top bloodlust can make him a charismatic hero his own tragi-comedy; but it’s the supernatural elements of Macbeth that fire the imaginations of the ensemble in a way that is truly unique. I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

Season Seven: Week 6

Tuesday

We decided last Friday to spend some time exploring parts of the play that interest us on our feet, and a few people came in tonight with ideas of things to work! We began with Act V scene i, the ubiquitous sleepwalking scene with Lady Macbeth. The woman reading Lady pulled two others in to play the Gentlewoman and the Doctor, and they did not hold back. The woman playing the Gentlewoman was super sassy! We loved it. The woman reading Lady clearly understood what she was doing intellectually, although she rushed through her lines. Even so, we got a lot out of the scene.

One woman said, “Her paranoia and everything she’s done is coming back up in her sleep.” Then someone brought up the letter she references – what could it be? The ensemble came up with some great ideas:

•    Her confession
•    A list of people who’ve been killed
•    A letter placing blame on Macbeth
•    A letter to Lady Macduff
•    A suicide note
•    The rantings of a person who’s going crazy
•    A letter to Macbeth, who is off at war

We wanted to see this scene again, and the woman reading Lady said it was difficult for her to slow down and be spontaneous with the book in her hand. I offered to do a drop-in exercise with her in which I would stay right behind her and softly say her lines a bit at a time for her to repeat with her own interpretation. This worked very well – although I couldn’t really absorb what she was doing because I was focused on giving her what I could, the rest of the ensemble thought she had gone much deeper and loved it.

Unfortunately I was so taken by the following that I didn’t write anything specific, but at this point one woman gave the Gentlewoman some fabulous constructive criticism. It began with something great she’d done, moved gently into something she could do better, explained how she could work toward that and assured her that it would come with more rehearsal, and ended by emphasizing again how great the reading had been. It was truly masterful, and I took a moment to thank her and draw the ensemble’s attention to what she had just said. That’s exactly how to do it!

When we had first circled up to read, I’d asked two long time members to sit next to me. “Aw, man,” said one, “If I sit next to you, I’m really gonna have to behave.” I smiled and said, “Why do you think I want you to sit here?” We have a longstanding rapport that allows me to poke good-natured fun at her frequent side conversations, bursts of vocal enthusiasm, and goofiness. She was talking quite a bit to the woman next to her, and, suddenly inspired, I wrote out a “sign” for her on a piece of paper that said, “I AM A CHATTERBOX.” I handed it to her, and she laughed and held it up. She held it for the rest of our meeting, other than one moment when she handed it to Kyle, and I made her a sign that said, “I AM STILL A CHATTERBOX.” This led to a lot of silliness that, in turn, led to me making signs for everyone, most of which had nothing to do with anything. We need that sometimes!

We proceeded to Act III scene ii, in which Lady and Macbeth discuss his paranoia, their cover-up, and Macbeth’s plot against Banquo (about which he is vague). “Maybe she’s trying to get him to kill Banquo and Fleance,” said one woman.

We continued to ponder the scene and the characters’ motivations. “It’s easier to kill someone and move on than to leave someone wounded… They might come after you,” said one woman. Another woman mused that the scene reminded her of when she committed her crime: “You feel like everybody knows. That’s probably what they’re both feeling.”

The conversation moved to what hesitation, if any, persists in this scene. “Who do you think he feels worse about killing – Duncan or Banquo?” asked one woman. And then Macbeth doesn’t tell Lady about the specifics of his plan. “Maybe he doesn’t trust her conscience – to not be able to fulfill the ruse,” said one participant. “They keep going back and forth,” said another. “It was Lady Macbeth trying to talk him into doing the killing, and now it’s Macbeth trying to put her off.”

“She’s opened a Pandora’s box in a way,” said one woman. Another agreed, saying, “The dynamic has shifted. In the first scene they were like ‘this’ [she crossed two fingers], and now their passion for each other has gone into their crime… It’s like they’re co-defendants. You associate them with the worst possible time in your life.”

“Maybe his mind shifted,” said another woman. “I feel like she degraded him when she placed the swords for him… Now he’s like, ‘I don’t need you. I can do this by myself.’” Another woman disagreed a bit: “He’s keeping her innocent of the knowledge. Is he being condescending or endearing?” Kyle built on that, saying that there were, at first, many emasculating lines from Lady Macbeth, and now Macbeth’s lines have a lot of machismo. Another woman sighed, saying, “It’s really hard to enjoy anything that you ill-got.”

At this point, I noticed that one of the ensemble members was sitting alone in the house, clearly upset. I asked if I could sit with her and spent some time just listening – she was having a very, very rough time. I cannot imagine having a lengthy or life sentence and the strength it takes to survive that; to have the prison be your entire world either for many years or until you die. It did not seem to help her much in that moment to have me there, but I hope that at least she can take with her that someone truly cares about what she’s going through. She left in order not to cry in front of the others any more. Absolutely no one would have judged her, and no one remarked on her leaving, either, although we all saw it and shared looks of concern.

When I returned to the circle, they had read through Banquo’s murder and Fleance’s escape and were deep in conversation about the Third Murderer. Where had he come from? Some think his presence is a result of Macbeth’s paranoia – that he’s been sent to check on the other Murderers. Others think he’s actually a witch. I’m sure we’ll be exploring this further!


Friday

One of the first people to arrive this evening was the ensemble member who’d been so upset on Tuesday. She seemed a bit lighter and made eye contact with me immediately. I asked her how she was doing, and she said with a little smile that she was doing better. I’m so glad. She made eye contact with me many times throughout the evening, still with that little smile, so maybe the time I spent with her on Tuesday did make a difference. Even a small one. I hope so.

We continued to explore scenes on their feet. We didn’t make any linear progress in our reading of the play, but the kind of in-depth work we did was just as valuable, if not more so.

We began with Act I scene vii, in which Macbeth worries about killing Duncan and Lady comes in to convince him to do it. The women who read it have been in the ensemble for just over a year, and they are very confident with the language and inventive with staging. Our Macbeth was, as usual, exciting to watch and listen to – her delivery is always clear and measured. Lady was incredibly interesting, as her interpretation of the character is that she is soft-spoken and “cute” with an underlying darkness and drive. “I loved how you got in her face,” said one woman to Lady. I asked Macbeth what it felt like for her. “I’m getting more into it every time I do it,” she said.

A new ensemble member asked if there was a way to ensure that more people got to read these scenes. I suggested that we revisit an approach that we liked last year – that of tagging people in and out of scenes rather than having entire scenes run with the same cast. Everyone liked that idea, so we’ll return to it soon.

But for tonight we decided to stick with what we were doing. I coached the actors a bit to give some examples of how their approach could evolve. I suggested that Lady slow down and try out different tactics, and that she let the audience in on her frustration with her husband. I asked Macbeth to lower her center so she would be more grounded and suggested that she place a rollercoaster inside her to give her greater uneasiness.

This resulted in a much deeper and more nuanced reading. We definitely saw Lady’s frustration and struggle to find the right approach, and Macbeth sank deep into the language and anxiety, becoming much more convincing. We were all really impressed, but these women want to take it even further. We talked some basic acting techniques to give them some ideas and will revisit the scene at some point.

Two more women volunteered to read the same scene. Their approach was quite different: Lady was aggressive and bold, and Macbeth did not come out of his guilt, even at the end of the scene. “It felt like we were being co-defendants,” said Lady (she observed this same thing on Tuesday). She said they had that rapport, that they were confidants, and that that had influenced her interpretation. “How would I feel if I were doing this with my best friend and partner?”

She then said that the situation reminded her of her crime, so we talked a bit about how we as actors can draw on those kinds of experiences while keeping ourselves safe from further trauma. It’s important that we be able to “go there” with this play, but there is a risk of going too far. I explained a bit about Stanislavsky’s “magic as if,” which is the approach we’ll need to take. They are ready and willing to give it a try.

We also talked a bit about the different approaches of each pair. While one Lady was scary because of her aggression, the other was unsettling because of how quiet and gentle she was. Neither approach is wrong.

As we circled up to raise our Ring and depart, one woman asked if she could check in since she’d arrived late. She told us that she’s facing some challenges with her family. She is very upset about the situation. The woman with whom I’d spoken last week about her emerging leadership said, “Do you want a woosh?” That’s something we do with one person in the middle of the circle, and we all engage in a full-body uplifting gesture while saying, “Woosh!” It has a way of making things people feel even just a bit better. We wooshed her, and then we wooshed a few others who needed it. Afterward, I pulled the woman who’d suggested the exercise aside and said, “That’s what I’m talking about!” She said, “Oh, you mean what we talked about last week?” I affirmed it. She smiled.

Season Seven: Week 5

Tuesday

We moved on from the Porter into the rest of Act II scene iii tonight. In this scene, the murder of Duncan is discovered, Macbeth kills the guards, and Malcolm and Donalbain flee. As we finished reading, one woman said, “Hey, there’s three again!” calling our attention to Macbeth having now killed three people.

The conversation focused on interpreting Macbeth’s and Lady’s actions. “He’s actually thinking for himself and not just doing what his wife tells him to,” said one woman. “Maybe killing Duncan triggered something for him,” said another. “Maybe he liked [the thrill of getting away with something].” I suggested that maybe he wasn’t thinking clearly, still traumatized from murdering Duncan. “Maybe he is thinking clearly,” mused the first woman. “It makes sense to kill them so they can’t expose him… Why didn’t Lady Macbeth think of this?”

We pondered her actions in this scene; having some sort of fainting spell as Macbeth finishes his description of killing the guards. “I think she’s trying to distract them and shut Macbeth up,” said one woman. Another woman had a different interpretation: “Maybe she is like, ‘Oh my god, what did you just do?’” These were not the only interpretations, but they were the most popular. I reminded the group again that there are multiple ways of interpreting just about every aspect of this play. We decided to keep reading.

Act II Scene iv was a breeze – everyone got right away that Macduff is suspicious of Macbeth rather than the brothers. One woman pointed out that three crazy things happened over night, and another called attention to the Old Man’s referencing “threescore” years. We are really on top of these threes! Matt mentioned that sometimes this scene is staged in such a way that the Old Man is actually one of the witches, and most people were excited by that idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up in our performance.

We began reading Act III scene i and got caught up in talking about Banquo’s monologue.

The first thing we noted was something we hadn’t noticed: that Macbeth now has three titles. There’s our number again. And then we started trying to dissect Banquo’s words.

“He wants what’s coming to him. He’s gonna chill,” said one woman. “He doesn’t know what to do… Maybe Macbeth was involved, but he doesn’t know specifically how,” said another. She continued, “Maybe he thinks it happened the way it was supposed to happen.”

“I don’t know,” said the first woman. “If my friend came to his house and just showed up dead, I’d be pretty suspicious.” Kyle mused that perhaps Banquo was having similar thoughts to Macbeth and just didn’t give in to temptation. This woman was impatient with the whole thing. She said emphatically that Macbeth should have killed Banquo right away. “Why let your competition survive? If you’re gonna do it, just do it. Don’t think about it…. If you want your position, you’re supposed to insulate your position.”

A few people brought up the friendship between Banquo and Macbeth, but some were skeptical. “I don’t think he’s his homeboy,” said one woman. “I think they’re cordial – they were friends, but now it’s about kingship. Everybody is out for each other… I feel like everyone’s out for himself. I don’t think anyone’s really friends.” Another woman agreed, saying, “They have the same drive. They both want something… I’m gonna stick around and kinda leech on.” The first woman jumped back in: “Right now I’ll listen to what you want ‘cause you’re the king. But someday I’m gonna get in.”

We circled back to the witches’ prophecies. I knew in my gut that one of the women who’s been in the group for three years was going to draw a parallel between them and Loki – I just knew it; she finds a parallel with Loki every year. And then she did. “I KNEW you were going to bring up Loki!” I said, and we all laughed. She then emphasized again that Macbeth should have killed Banquo right off the bat, and that that’s what she would have done. She paused. “I’m kinda scared talking about this stuff. I’m realizing things about myself that I never knew before. Things I would do…” That led to revisiting the idea that thoughts don’t necessarily translate to actions, but that, when Macbeth’s do, it’s the result of focusing on the positive in the prophecies and disregarding the negative (a theme that keeps coming up for us).

One person mentioned that perhaps Macbeth thought the prophecy was about to be fulfilled by Duncan visiting his castle. The woman referenced above (she was on a roll) said, “If you put yourself in these situations, you’re gonna do it.” As an example, she brought up that if you’re thinking about cheating on your significant other but really don’t want to act on it, you won’t go out to dinner with the other person or sit on the couch with them. She brought up cookies as well, saying that if you keep them in the cupboard you probably won’t eat them all, but if you put them on the table next to you, you probably will.

“But he didn’t set it up,” Kyle said. “He didn’t invite him over.” We talked about that for a minute. “Well, okay,” I pondered aloud. “So if the situation just comes up, does that make you any less culpable? Does what comes before the action change the quality of the action?” There was no clear answer.

“What a man thinks genuinely, he does. Usually,” said this same woman. Matt then asked if maybe Macbeth says no to Lady Macbeth initially in a way that leaves space for her to push him to do it. Many of us recognized that from our own lives. “When I’m arguing with [my ex-husband], and he’s going on and on and on, and I just say, ‘Okay,’ he changes his mind,” said one woman. We talked about how universal that is and wondered what it says about the couple’s relationship. Has Lady always made the decisions, or is this the first time? We’re divided on that.


Friday

Tonight began with one of our new members pulling me aside. She’s left early a few times and has sometimes been rather quiet, and, while she enjoys Shakespeare and feels that she’s getting a lot out of it, she didn’t want to disrespect the facilitators or the other inmates, or to take up a spot that could be filled by someone else, so she was thinking about leaving the group. I listened and then said, “Thank you for sharing that with me. I’m not going to try to talk you into anything, but can I share my perspective with you?” She nodded. I said that there have been people in the group over the years who have definitely been disruptive and disrespectful – some so much so that they had to be removed from the group. “But that’s not you,” I said. “It’s okay to leave if you’re upset. You’re being respectful when you do that – you’re making sure that whatever you’re dealing with doesn’t create drama for everyone else.” She hadn’t thought of it that way. She said that she’s also considering joining a different group in January that would conflict with ours. I let her know that, from my perspective, she’s welcome to stay and make the decision later. She thanked me for saying all of that and said she would still like to speak to the ensemble to make sure they knew how she felt, and so they could decide whether or not she could stay. She had to step away but said she’d come back shortly.

We continued with Act III scene i, at first focusing on Macbeth’s soliloquy regarding the need to have Banquo killed. One woman said that she thought the sudden plotting showed a lack of fore-thought. I asked if perhaps Macbeth was exhibiting signs of paranoia. One woman believes this is a manifestation of the evil presence that’s settled on the castle. Another woman spoke up, challenging me: “I don’t think it’s paranoia. I think it’s logical to be threatened by his mere existence.” She’s got a great point.

The woman who’d spoken to me before we began then came back. We waited for an opening, and then I nodded to her. She shared with the group what she’d shared with me. “So… I leave it up to you whether I should stay or go,” she said. Immediately, six women said, “Stay!” A number of them then shared reasons why she hasn’t been a disruption or disrespectful, why they wanted her to stay, why she should stay for herself, and they welcomed her to make her decision about the other program closer to when it will begin. “If you’re getting something out of this, you should stay as long as you want,” said one woman. The woman who’d been thinking about leaving thanked everyone, said she had to go just then, but that she’d see us on Tuesday.

We then returned to the play and read through Macbeth’s interactions with the Murderers. One woman who was in the ensemble last year said, “I’m sorry, but I just keep seeing parallels with him and Richard.” We said that she shouldn’t be sorry! It’s great. We talked about how a big difference between Macbeth and Richard III is that Macbeth has some compunctions about killing people. Or at least he does at first.

“He was all upset about killing somebody, and now he’s a gangster,” said one woman. “He’s trying to convince himself [not to murder Banquo] – he doesn’t really want to do it,” said someone else. “But now he’s keeping his hands clean,” said another woman. “’You make up your mind about this,’ [he says to the Murderers] – so he can keep a clear conscience.”

“Wait,” said another woman. “Isn’t he doing to them what Lady Macbeth was doing to him in the beginning?” Most of us hadn’t thought of that, but she’s absolutely right. She also thinks he’s starting to lose it.

We then read and talked about Macbeth’s interaction with Lady Macbeth in Act III scene ii. “Now he’s this crazed, psychotic killer, and she’s the one trying to calm him down!” said one woman. “She created a monster!” said another.

We decided that, for Tuesday’s meeting, everyone would choose a piece of the play that they’re interested in exploring on its feet. But then one new member asked if we could put Act III scene i on its feet, saying, “I learn better when I see it or do it.” She offered her scene partners some advice about trying to follow the stage directions, and I encouraged them to take it slow and try to connect with one another.

The woman who read Macbeth has been in the group for a couple of years, and she’s always thrown herself into whatever she’s done with a lot of showmanship, but something about this scene really clicked for her. We were totally drawn in from the first moments of her soliloquy. She absolutely nailed the language and clearly connected with the emotion of the scene. When she finished, we erupted in applause and praise. I actually threw my book on the floor and said, “[Name]! What just happened?!” Another woman said, “You were really feeling it, huh?”

She smiled, a little embarrassed but clearly pleased. “I don’t know… I wasn’t really feeling it until the dogs… I really connected with that for some reason. Like, he’s not different than any other dog. He’s just a f**king dog.”

“You had it before then,” another woman said immediately. “Yeah,” I said, “I guess we were feeling it before you were feeling it. Your work was so solid, your grasp of the language was so powerful… You’ve worked really hard at that over the years, and it shows. You drew us all right in.”

“I guess I can relate to Macbeth,” she said. “I’ve been stabbed in the back trying to do the most for everyone… And I’ve got a vindictive way of thinking.” She described some of the – admittedly creative – ways in which she’s gotten back at people in her life. “I don’t do well with people trying to screw me over or take advantage of the people I care about.”

“So you really connect with this character,” someone said. “Yeah…” she paused. “If it weren’t so many lines, I would maybe consider it.”

“Do it!!!” a bunch of us exclaimed. “You guys,” she said jokingly, “I quit every day.” But we all encouraged her to explore this further. “Don’t shut any doors because you think you can’t do it,” I said. “Remember that we’ve always been able to cut everyone’s lines down to the point that they’re comfortable. If you feel a connection to this character, don’t make any bones about it. Go for it. Even if you’re not cast, take the time to explore in rehearsal.” Everyone agreed. “If you’re connecting with this character, there’s a reason,” I said. “Sometimes the character chooses you.”

As we circled up for our final Ring exercise, she said quietly to me that this just isn’t something she’d considered before. “Well, I’ve actually been wanting to talk with you about this,” I said. “Can we chat for a minute before we leave?”

We stood apart a bit as everyone left. I said again that she shouldn’t count herself out for this part – that I think she’s ready for it. “Really?” she said. “Absolutely,” I replied. “You’ve grown so much over the past two years, and you could totally handle this now.” She asked what I meant. “Well, during Othello, you were really nervous, right?” She nodded. “Kind of wishy washy? You weren’t sure you’d follow through. We weren’t sure you’d follow through! But you did. You showed up for every performance, and you proved to all of us that you could do it. And then last year, you became a leader in the group.”

She was shocked that I’d described her as a leader. “Are you kidding?” I said. “I can’t tell you how many times I wrote in my notes about you encouraging others, uplifting them, comforting them, and being the first one to jump in when people needed it. You saved a couple of very nervous actors in a scene when they were forgetting their lines, and you were right there when one of them started crying back stage. Not only that, but you’re a team player. You were totally willing to cut your lines on the fly if it looked like we were running out of time, and then you taped one of your monologues inside your hat so you’d have it there if we did have time.” She smiled. “So you’re a team player and a leader,” I said, “And that’s really important in a major role like this. And, yeah, you joke about quitting every day. But the point is that you never do. You always come back. And you know what it takes to want to quit and keep coming back. We need anchor members in those roles. And you’re an anchor member. And a really good actor!”

She had completely lit up by then and seemed more eager to explore the possibility of playing Macbeth. “It just feels so good to say those lines,” she said. She talked about trauma from her childhood that is difficult for her to deal with, along with the challenges of her life behind bars. She described feeling a sense of catharsis through playing the character. “That’s great, and it’s a really common thing,” I said, “It can feel really, really good. And if you end up cast in a role like this, we can keep that going while keeping you safe from experiencing any more trauma. You just need to think about whether or not you’re comfortable with that. I’m confident that we can keep you safe, but I’m not you – I can’t make that decision.”

“You get me, though,” she said quickly. “I can open up to you more than I can to most people. Really, to anyone. You get me right here,” she said, tapping her forehead. “You’ve really helped me.”

“That is such an honor,” I said. “Thank you for sharing that with me. I’m so happy that I’ve been able to help. You do really great work in here. I love being a part of it.”

She left, assuring me that she’d continue to mull this over. I truly have been hoping that this would be the year when she’d dive into a role that has more guts. I’ve got all my fingers crossed that it happens for her if she’s ready.