September 14, 2012

We began today with warm ups and some very silly games. All of the participants fully committed to the games, even when they clearly felt uncomfortable. As we played more rounds of each game, they became more comfortable. The recently added participants are clearly becoming integrated as a group, and we are ready to add more new people next week. We continued to work on our piece from Hamlet sitting in a circle rather than some in the audience and one person on stage. The first participant to read showed that she essentially understands the piece, but she read it with little to no emotional connection. When she finished, I asked her how she felt, and she readily admitted that she hadn’t “felt it.” She said she was disappointed and apologized. I assured her that there was no need to apologize – there is a learning curve, and each person is at a different point. We talked again about vulnerability; the need for it when working on this material and the difficulty of making oneself vulnerable in a situation like theirs. The veterans reassured the newer participants that they’ll get more comfortable showing vulnerability to one another as they progress through the program, and eventually that will translate to their performance in front of an audience. This participant then read again, and she did connect in a few places, but not overall. I asked her what made her connect, and she said she didn’t know. I asked her if maybe the words to which she connected brought up images for her, and she said, yes, actually, they did. I encouraged her to spend some time with the pieces finding images to connect with the words and phrases, and then to focus on those images rather than on “I should be feeling this.” She liked this idea a lot.

Then another participant read. She, too, showed a solid understanding of the piece, but her reading was rushed and general. In reflecting, she said that she was focusing on what she should feel. I cautioned again about this – that it’s tempting to play “I feel sad,” etc., but it works much better to focus on a character’s objective – what does Hamlet want in this piece? She read again with this new focus, and everyone agreed it was much better, but she still rushed. We’ve been talking about the “clues” Shakespeare gives us in his text, and I introduced here the idea that when he gives a character a lot of open vowel sounds, he’s telling the actor to take it slowly, lingering on those vowels. We’ve already talked about all the punctuation telling us to slow the piece down, but we hadn’t talked about vowels yet. She read again, allowing herself to linger on certain words, and then said that it had worked – she “felt it more.”

A third participant read next. Her reading was very fluent, but not emotionally connected. One participant said she felt like she was being read to, like it was narration rather than something active. The participant reading said she was worried about that but wasn’t sure how to get the connection she needed. I suggested she focus less on the words and more on her breathing – taking a breath at each punctuation. We talked about breath as it relates to emotion, and I could see a lot of light bulbs going on. She then read again, breathing more, and the piece improved. She said she felt like the reading itself was better the first time, and the emotion the second. She is going to spend more time working on it, on her own, and then read again for us the next time we meet.

One of the original participants then read. She took it very slowly, which allowed her to connect deeply. One of the others commented that, because she had gone slowly, she didn’t feel like she had to try to catch up to understand her. Another said that this completely makes sense for this piece: “When you’re heavy hearted, heavy thinking, you talk slowly.” We also talked briefly about how the participant reading said “Man delights me not” instead of “Man delights not me.” How much does it matter? I pointed out that the emphasis is different and changes the meaning of this phrase quite a bit if you change the syntax, while the more experienced participants brought up that it doesn’t necessarily detract from the entire piece or make it unrecognizable. We decided that we’ll deal with this issue as it arises, on a case by case basis.

Everyone left for the day feeling good and happy with the work they’re doing.