April 17, 2012

After a hiatus last week due to my being ill, we were back at it! We warmed up, played an improv game, and moved right on to Shakespeare. The participant who is performing “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…” performed first today. She had a lot of trouble getting through the piece – she was stumbling over words and frustrated by her inability to connect to the piece. She stopped short several times. We encouraged her to slow down, and we talked about the tension the character must feel between his grief, his anger, and his desire not to endanger himself with his talk while still arousing the crowd to anger. We likened this tension to “fight or flight” and asked her to think about a time when she was in a situation in which her adrenaline was pumping. We also asked that she slow down, and she asked how to do that while still being powerful. I suggested she think about how Barack Obama speaks – very measured, and with a lot of power. She performed again, and was very strong, until she stumbled over a word and stopped. Several people, including me, shouted out, “No! That was great! Start again, the same way!” She did, and her reading was very strong. We really “bought” what she was doing. She said she felt better, but something is still missing for her.

The participant doing Othello’s monologue then performed. She had lost some of her fire over the last couple of weeks that we haven’t been working on monologues, so we had to pump her up again. I reminded her that at this point in the play, Othello is crazed with guilt, swinging his weapon around, calling on hell to swallow him up. She then launched into the piece with an intensity we hadn’t seen before, culminating in the most convincing calling on hell and mourning Desdemona that she’s done yet. Everyone cheered. She says she is feeling much more connected to the piece now and understands it better.

Emilia’s monologue from Othello was then performed by the participant who has a learning disability. It was clear that she hasn’t worked on her piece very much by how often she stumbled over words and phrases, with which she had been much better last time we worked the piece. We encouraged her to sit closer to “Desdemona” (another participant sitting onstage with her) and make it more like “girl talk.” She did improve, but I suggested that she start working on memorizing the piece so that it will flow better for her. The participant onstage with her offered to help her with this outside of the program.

Then one of the participants, who has not performed as much as some of the others, got up to read Hermione’s monologue from The Winter’s Tale. She sat in a chair as she read it, and showed a thorough understanding of the character’s physical weakness and grief. Everyone applauded, but then one of the participants suggested that she stand while performing and lean on the back of a chair, much like she would at a podium in front of a jury. We also asked her to experience more of the anger of her character while maintaining her nobility and frailty. She took all of these suggestions and did a beautiful job.

Another participant is performing “Gallop apace…” from Romeo and Juliet. She has this teenage girl thing down. We all felt like we were spying on a girl just going on and on about her love… and her desire for him to come and consummate their marriage. She was able to show us the character’s vulnerability, eagerness and budding sexuality and was delightful to watch. We asked her if she could take it further her second time reading, and she did. She seemed very happy with her performance.

There is another participant who is performing “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…” She read the piece in a very straightforward manner, obviously trying to incite the crowd to action, with a lot of power and charisma. Everyone was very impressed. We asked her to see if she could slow down more, lending more emphasis to everything she said (I again invoked the example of Barack Obama). She performed again, and it was wonderful.

At this point the other participant performing this piece was so inspired by what she had just seen that she asked if she could read hers again. This time she was much more grounded and strong, and we all agreed that this was the best yet. Her confidence clearly increased, and I am really looking forward to seeing how she will continue to grow with this and other material.

We followed up on last session’s discussion about possibly meeting twice a week. My contact at the facility had told me that Friday mornings were open, and none of the participants present today have any conflict with that, so we will probably do it.

This was a very constructive session with a lot of enthusiasm and positive energy from all involved. As usual!