After warm ups today, we reviewed everyone’s names since some of the women are still a little hesitant, and then we played a very goofy game that builds ensemble as we begin to recognize each others’ voices and senses of humor.
We spent the rest of the time working on the first scene with Juliet, Lady Capulet and the Nurse. This proved to be somewhat laborious, as the Nurse’s famous monologue in that scene took a long time to break down and understand, and as the group was fairly low energy to begin with, it was a bit frustrating and slow going.
But we began to understand the characters and relationships, and we decided to put the scene on its feet to see what more we could get out of it. We discussed each of the three characters having a distinct type of energy, and the women reading the parts tried to incorporate that.
What we arrived at today was that this scene will depend largely on the physical interaction (in the case of the Nurse and Juliet) or the lack thereof (in the case of Lady Capulet) of the characters to immediately establish their relationships. The women feel that getting that across right away will make the impact greater later in the play when Lady Capulet and the Nurse turn on Juliet.
One of the women volunteered that she enjoys getting these scenes on their feet, even if they are rough, because it’s making her more comfortable being onstage and speaking the language. She was on the fence about the group in the beginning because she has always had terrible stage fright, but now she is completely at ease getting up in front of us. She’s still not sure about performing for an audience of strangers, but she feels more confident that she will get to a point where she can do that, too.
Written by Dominique
It was a dark and stormy night.
Well, not exactly, but a blustery rainy Halloween afternoon and we were all definitely fighting a sleepy lackluster vibe. A combination of the weather, holiday triggers I imagine lurking , and I think the fact that it was just me, a newbie, facilitating the group made for a small turnout. With only 9 people it made it difficult to get enthusiasm going, so we just went with the day as it was.
The actors were great about letting me know how they felt the class should go, how things usually went or what they wanted to do with the time. It was kind of hard to get focus, the energy was chaotic, nervous. I had questioned whether certain types of warmup would work, there are some facial exercises and vocal warmers that can seem goofy - you have to be willing to let go of any sense of decorum. There were definitely a couple of things we tried that very few of the group were willing to do. It's a big leap, and I have to remind myself that even if I rely on some of the goofier, floppier physicality to get out of my head they may not be willing or really feel safe to go there.
And then the lights went out.
Seriously, it was funny really. Someone spoke in a very calm voice - "Just stay perfectly still, they will take care of it. Just stay exactly where you are." I chimed in "They must have a generator, it'll only be a minute." And it was, only a minute. But it was pitch black, and an interesting moment. One of those things that sounds like it would be terrifying but wasn't at all really. I don't feel threatened really by anybody in this group, though I think people would expect that you would be.
There was some tension between a couple group members. One comment in particular I think deserves recognition. There are definitely actors who find the text more available than others, and it was pointed out that some people have seen a film version when others haven't. This was seen as an unfair advantage. There has been discussion as to whether to watch one of the R&J movies. While it can be an easy way to get plot and overall character it creates the possibility of seeing the film version as the "right" interpretation and one to be copied. The "real" way to do the play. I had not considered the idea though that having any previous experience of the play can seem daunting and unfair to someone approaching it and Shakespeare for the first time. Maybe a group viewing and group discussion of the Zefferelli film, as Frannie suggested, could even the playing field a bit.
The group decided we should play Dr. Know It All, which seems to have become the favorite improv (to the point that I think they may have outgrown it), before moving on to the script. The progression in this game from the first day has really been impressive. They have so quickly learned to let the free associations just ride. It made me think that maybe some more complex improv might be called for, maybe something like sit, stand, squat, where the actors include movement along with the verbal improv.
We circled up and began to read through the script. The group decided that they wanted to move on from the Nurse, Juliet, Lady Capulet scene they read last time. I offered that maybe we could talk about it some when we put the scenes we worked through on their feet. Frannie had suggested that my "real world" experience from playing the Nurse with the Shakespeare Festival could be of value. I sensed some trepidation, they wanted to move on, so we did.
I hadn't bothered to read the scene ahead of time thinking I knew the text pretty well and of course the first two paragraphs we read were completely unintelligible. I was glad to have my Riverside Shakespeare with me and was able to interpret for the group what turned out to be references to costuming and masquerade ball formalities of the time. The rest of the scene was fairly self explanatory and it is just amazing to me how easily they identify the action of the scene. We put it "on its feet" and discussed the scene further, the interplay between Romeo and his boys and the character of Mercutio. We talked particularly about the Queen Mab speech, what it reveals about Mercutio and some of the possible choices an actor could make with that speech. That whatever the actor decides Mercutio obviously takes the stage,and walks a thin line between brilliance and insanity. There may be a little rivalry for the playing of Mercutio, and I am only surprised that it didn't happen sooner.
A couple actors who had been reading had to leave at this point. We decided to push forward and read the next scene. We discussed Capulet's character and how he switches in this scene from garrulous to contentious in a heartbeat. The idea of Tybalt and Lady Capulet being lovers was brought up. I can see how that would make things interesting for the people playing those two characters. We discussed how actors are always making choices and that as long as it is supported by the text, the more invested or even dangerous choice is going to be the more interesting one to play. The poetry in the meeting of the lovers seemed to have been well covered in the 20 minute reading of the play, but it did give an opportunity to point out how often stage action is indicated by the text itself.
It was mentioned that when we "put things on their feet" very often it tends to be just that, the actors reading the text standing. So it was decided we would approach some direction of the scene, with the caveat that obviously none of it was to be set and it was simply for the sake of exploration. This gave us a chance to talk about how a masquerade ball could be portrayed onstage, how the logistics of the boys entering the dance would work, play a couple of times with Capulets entrance and Tybalt's wrath, and explore some how Romeo and Juliet "discover" each other.
We also discovered that the way I had been directed in this scene as the Nurse, to run off and ask Romeo's name (a moment that had always felt awkward), was much simpler and more direct if played the way the actor playing the Nurse chose, that as the Nurse she knew what was up already. It was a nice moment, and I think helped cut the tension about my experience in playing her, that I didn't feel it was the be all and end all of interpretations.
We accomplished a lot with such a small group, which I hope doesn't throw things off for the next meeting. I continue to be impressed with the openness and insight of these women, and am grateful for the moments when it seemed that one or two of them made a point of looking out for me. At one point someone whispered to me that I shouldn't leave my keys laying out like that, that it was creating opportunity. As it turned out the keys belonged to another actor, which was funny, but I did appreciate the reminder that it is a prison after all.
I find it so easy to forget that when we are deep into working the text.