Session Three: Week 11


We welcomed some new members to the group today. A couple of them said that they weren’t completely sure they would stay, but were willing to try it out. That’s good enough for us! We’ll see how it goes.

After orientation, introductions and warm ups, we sat in a circle to read and discuss Act III Scene II, in which the Nurse tells Juliet of Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment. This scene is remarkably straightforward, and the women immediately understood and identified with the grief and anger expressed by both characters. They noted that in the opening monologue, “Gallop apace…”, Juliet doesn’t seem scared – she is bold and excited: a teenager! They also brought up how she doesn’t completely lose her grip even in her grief: she tries to rationalize how she is feeling, compartmentalize and take control, although she is conflicted.

In trying to get at the emotion in the scene, I led the group through an exercise in which we read some of the lines together, pausing for breath at each punctuation. The two sections we read were:


There's no trust, No faith, no honesty in men; all perjured, All forsworn, all naught, all dissemblers. These griefs, these woes, these sorrows make me old. Shame come to Romeo!

... and...


But with a rear-ward following Tybalt's death, 'Romeo is banished,' to speak that word, Is father, mother, Tybalt, Romeo, Juliet, All slain, all dead. 'Romeo is banished!' There is no end, no limit, measure, bound, In that word's death; no words can that woe sound.


“Does that feel familiar?” I asked. “What is going on here?” And the answer came back resoundingly: they are sobbing. This is one of my favorite aspects of Shakespeare – when the text alone, spoken aloud, tells you exactly what is happening in the scene. Many of the women were excited by this – their eyes lit up, especially those new to the group, as this is a prime example of Shakespeare being accessible to everyone, no matter what your background is.

Today was the last day for one of our longtime members, the woman who played Prospero in The Tempest. She was granted parole and will be going home soon. We said goodbye and thanked her for everything she has brought to the group. She likewise thanked us, saying that Shakespeare was one of the things that got her through her time in prison. We will miss having her in the group, as she’s been a wonderful leader and support for everyone, but we are thrilled for her as she takes this huge step.


Most of our new members were back today, willing to give it another shot. We were very pleased to welcome them back!

After warm ups and a game, we decided to work more with Act III Scene II, since all we did on Tuesday was to read it. We reviewed the scene, and then pairs of women volunteered to try it on its feet.

The first pair gave a reading that was well informed, but lacking much physicality. Even so, they were moved by the experience and made discoveries. The woman playing Juliet, who was on stage for the first time in her life, remarked that “you can’t help but become Juliet.” She had gotten goosebumps. The woman reading the Nurse deeply felt the character’s conflict in terms of where her loyalties lie. We gave them some constructive criticism and suggestions for how to progress in the scene – what they could do physically, what to focus on – and the scene improved dramatically.

The next pair had a very intense experience. It was also the first time on stage for both of these women. The Nurse was very nervous at first, so nervous that she couldn’t help but smile even as she delivered the line, “He’s dead! He’s dead! He’s dead!” Juliet, however, dove in, her voice shaking with emotion, her body sinking into a chair. She was so moving, in fact, that the Nurse forgot her inhibitions and focused on her scene partner. She then did something with the scene that the facilitators (all trained actresses/directors/teachers) had never seen before. When she said the lines...

There's no trust, No faith, no honesty in men; all perjured, All forsworn, all naught, all dissemblers. These griefs, these woes, these sorrows make me old. Shame come to Romeo!

… She put her hand on Juliet’s shoulder, saying it very softly and with the clear objective of comforting her. It worked beautifully. The entire group was deeply moved by their performance and enthusiastic about this first effort.

Two of our other newbies performed as well, but unfortunately we ran out of time before we could give them solid constructive criticism. Even so, today’s experience was positive enough that all of the new members voiced enthusiasm and a desire to stick with the group.

We will not be meeting for the next couple of weeks because of the holidays, so the group set a goal of reading the rest of the play individually, even if they don’t understand all of it, to speed our progress when we come back. Everyone is eager to cast the play and begin working toward performance!