After warm ups and a game for quick thinking and focus, which everyone enjoyed, we went right into our monologue. The first participant really went for the emotional punch, breathing heavily and giving it a lot of volume. She said she thought that she had gone too quickly, but overall it felt natural. Some of the participants felt that the breathing had been distracting at first, but that if she could build it, it would help them to understanding that the character is grieving. We talked about the challenge of building the intensity of a scene or monologue. The second time, she slowed down but still read pretty quickly. Her vocal freedom in this reading was very impressive – at times her voice was high pitched, at others she practically growled. Everyone was very excited about that. She said that it’s hard for her to express emotions in her everyday life, even outside of prison, but that on stage she feels much more free.
The second to read was very controlled and quiet. She said that she wanted to get across a feeling of coldness and sharpness. We realized, though, that her delivery was a bit misdirected since she had to leave prior to our breaking down the piece last time – she didn’t realize that she wasn’t talking to Richard, or even just one person, throughout the entire piece. This cleared things up for her a bit, and her second reading was much better. She said she felt it was “more to the point.” Her voice escalated without much effort on her part because she was more connected to what she was saying. She has a very distinctive, raspy voice, and we’re going to have to work on volume a lot, but she’s already improving.
The next participant stumbled a bit over the words, stopped and apologized. I looked to our “veterans” and said, “What am I going to say?” They smiled and said, “Just keep going when you mess up! And don’t apologize!” Beyond that, I asked her what the experience was like for her. She said that she was trying to show different emotions rather than doing the same thing throughout the piece. She said that it’s been a long time since she’s been on stage and that she was nervous. Her second reading was definitely more relaxed, and the emotions she wanted to express came through more clearly. She said it felt “fresher” to her. Everyone was really taken by the vulnerability she showed.
The next to read also has been in the group for a bit longer than a month. She gave a very quiet, intense reading. Afterward she shook it off, saying she was “starting to feel wretched.” She said she felt like she had been spitting the words out. One of the others said that she had seemed cold and intense, but compassionate. Several said that they had felt close to tears watching her – that something rang very true to them about how she hadn’t “let herself go” – she seemed numb. This provided another example of how perfectly fine it is for actors to have different interpretations of the same material.
The last to read had earlier jumped up and taken a couple of the others aside to plan something. She began, first revealing that she has partly memorized the piece, by running on stage as if after the coffin and having the others hold her back. Her performance was very emotional – she rode a roller coaster, ricocheting between extreme grief, resignation and anger. One of the others said that she seemed overwhelmed by emotion and unable to detach. The woman who read said she got the idea for her staging while watching the second participant read today. She wanted people to try to console her, to get in her way and try to “bring her back to life.” She gave herself an obstacle. She said she had taken in what everyone else had done and played off of it. She said she was also drawing on her own experience of losing someone when she was very young.
This led to a new discussion. She said that she feels that it is wrong to wish for revenge, and so she played Anne as if she were in her place. But Anne calls down curses on Richard in the piece – there’s no getting around that. I pointed out that while it’s extremely valuable to do what she did – asking “How am I the same as my character?” – it’s equally important to ask “How am I different?” I then asked the women if it were possible to truthfully play characters who are different than they are – what that would take. The response was that it would take a lack of judgment and a desire to tell the story the way it was written. The participant who had just read remarked that it was kind of like people who judge prisoners, but who haven’t been in their situations. She said that if she didn’t want to be judged by people on the outside, she shouldn’t judge her character, either.
We left it on that note. I made sure to tell them again how wonderful it is that they are diving in as a group, taking all of these risks and making all of these discoveries.