November 20, 2012

Today we decided to begin some exploratory scene work. I asked the group where they wanted to start, and they chose Act III Scene ii, in which Caliban convinces Stephano to murder Prospero and rule the island. There is a lot of funny stuff in this scene, and it’s a general favorite, so I’m glad this is the one they chose. For the purposes of this entry, I will assign each participant a letter, since they rotated between parts.

We began with A playing Stephano, B playing Trinculo, C playing Caliban and D playing Ariel. They decided to begin by walking through the scene to see what would happen. This proved to be beneficial, as they began to have a deeper understanding of exactly what is going on as soon as they put it on its feet. They read with intention for the most part and had a good time. We discussed it afterward and decided that what was needed was more distinct physicality, more precise movement and deeper understanding of the characters. Of course, all of this will come in time. We began by working on movement and speech more consistent with the amount the characters have had to drink before the scene begins, and this informed much of what they were doing immediately. We also stopped and started to discuss why each character says what he says, and what clues in the text give us direction. They made some great progress.

We began to discuss Stephano’s character a bit more in depth. How does he react to Caliban’s suggestion and detailed plan? We know what the text says, but what else is going on, and what does that say about his character? A was intrigued by the idea that although Caliban has obviously thought about this long and hard, this might be the first time Stephano has contemplated murder. How does he make the decision to do it? How much of that has to do with his being intoxicated?

We switched it up then. A played Caliban, E played Stephano, F played Trinculo, and G played Ariel. They took the discoveries the first group made and ran with them, while at the same time putting their own spins on the characters. One of the participants commented that after running the scene a few times, she realized that Stephano holds his liquor better than Trinculo, and that will impact how the scene is played

The women were particularly taken with Caliban’s monologue in this scene, so we decided to take the remainder of our time to explore it a bit. B was the first to read. She showed that she understood it, but she wasn’t very connected. I asked her how she felt, and she said she was preoccupied with how she should look while she performed. I suggested that that is a common way in which actors trap themselves. I reminded her to focus on the objective – what Caliban wants – and how to get it.

This sparked something in E, who jumped up and asked if she could try. Her take was extremely manipulative, which was excellent. One of the other participants suggested that she should “act out” the plan more, perhaps getting an actual book when referencing Prospero’s book. E became visibly frustrated as the other participant elaborated on what she meant, as E was trying to express her opinion but couldn’t seem to find an opening, only able to get out, “But they’re in the woods.” I stepped in, suggesting that the other participant’s idea of being more demonstrative is a good one – I’ve seen actors draw a map in the dirt during the piece, for example – but E was probably right that Caliban wouldn’t have a book in a random place on the island. That seemed to calm everyone down, but we will definitely have to talk more about giving and receiving constructive criticism, since things got kind of tense for a minute.

As we were leaving, one of the women came up to me and said that she had been trying to find things to be thankful for, this time of year being an especially difficult time to be away from family and in prison, and that she wanted me to know that she is very thankful for the program and what we do twice a week. Another participant overheard the conversation and chimed in that she feels the same way. I am very glad that the program is making a positive impact on their lives, and very grateful that they are sharing their experience with me.