Session Three: Weeks 13 and 14

Unfortunately, this very cold and snowy January has caused us to miss several sessions! Here are updates from the two most recent meetings of the group.  

Week Thirteen

After missing another day due to weather, we convened ready to cast the show. We came at it in the same way that I normally would as a director, although of course this was a group effort: We went through all of the characters and listed every person in the group who might be a good fit for each of them. We narrowed it down from there, checking in with individuals to be sure that they felt good about playing whatever role was being discussed.

This took about an hour and a half, but there was no real conflict to speak of. Any time something came up – two people very interested in the same role, for example – a member of the group would speak up with some insight or an opinion, and we would resolve the issue together. The cast list we ended up with fits the group very well, although there are some holes which we will strive to fill with new members. The process went through with a focus on the group as a whole, not just individuals, and with a lot of respect. We were all pretty pleased.

Week Fourteen

Written by Matthew

At last, the reading is done!

We had an unexpectedly short day on Tuesday because of a lockdown.  An ambulance needed to enter the prison grounds, which stopped all activity for about an hour.  Guests and prisoners were asked to stay where they were.

By the time the prison gave the “all clear” and everyone was through security, less than an hour remained in our program time.

The participants—a core group of eight or so was present—had already warmed up and begun reading the long final scene of the play.  They read through the scene without stopping or commenting.  Upon finishing the scene, they immediately focused on two questions: why does no one react strongly to Friar Lawrence’s confession, and who is to blame?  The women found that Friar Lawrence bears significant responsibility for bungling the operation, though the families, of course, started the whole thing.

Most excitingly, a few women who do not usually volunteer to read were given major parts, and the group was extremely complimentary about their reading.  Perhaps for this reason, a participant who has demurred every time she’s offered a significant role volunteered—with some prodding—to play Friar Lawrence when we acted out the scene.  She played the part beautifully, and everyone agreed it was a big step forward for her.

On its feet, the scene proved challenging.  The women decided only to read from Romeo’s entrance into the Capulet crypt to Juliet’s suicide, but even that section was difficult to stage.  An onlooker observed that Romeo doesn’t recognize Juliet’s betrothed, Paris, until he’s already dead.  This makes Romeo’s violent reaction to his presence puzzling.  The woman reading Juliet pointed out that Juliet doesn’t notice the bodies of Paris and Romeo—dead at her feet—until the friar points the bodies out, which makes choosing a place for Romeo and Paris to die challenging.

Still, they were determined to get it right and, when they encountered a problem, the participants often decided to backtrack a bit and fix it rather than plowing ahead.  Each challenge started a good conversation about the effect of blocking on the dramatic impact of the performance.

After running through part of the scene, it was already time to leave.  We closed up the auditorium and trudged back to our units and homes.