Session Three: Weeks 20 and 21

Week 20: Tuesday

Written by Matthew.

We turned our attention to Romeo and Friar Lawrence today.

The women had already warmed up by the time we got to them, and they were ready to go.  We were fortunate to have more than one facilitator present, as all the core members of the group were present, but we needed to spend some time sorting out an interpersonal issue while simultaneously rehearsing.  While Frannie worked through the issue with two women—both core members, both important to the group—the rest of us worked on Act 2, Scene 3.

In the scene, Romeo bounces up to Friar Lawrence in the morning after having fallen in love with Juliet.  He teases his mentor briefly before launching into a declaration of love and intent to marry the daughter of his enemy.  Friar Lawrence at first admonishes Romeo, but ends up beginning to hatch his plan to bring peace to the families.

After talking through the scene, Romeo and Friar Lawrence determined for themselves where the “walls” and “windows” of the Friar’s backyard were.   The scene felt stiff on the first run, but the breakthrough came when a woman suggested that the Friar remain gardening on his knees while Romeo flits around him.  This created the right sort of tension, and allowed the Friar to dramatically rise to his feet in surprise when Romeo expresses his desire to marry Juliet.

We spent most of our time finding the right tone for the scene.  Romeo is both excited and bubbly and also frustrated by the Friar’s soberness.  He is impatient, but also taunting.  After several runs, we finally began to hit the right chord.  Romeo’s effusiveness causes the Friar to be even slower and more deliberate than he usually is, which in turn causes Romeo to taunt his elderly mentor.

When we had worked the scene sufficiently, the group gathered to talk about the problem of absences.  It can be hard to sort the women who are choosing not to attend from those who have no choice.  The core group expressed some frustration at this, since it cuts down the number of scenes that we can rehearse.

The group is ready for new members, and needs them to fill out the meetings.

Week 21: Tuesday

We spent some time today discussing possible performance times based on the participants’ work schedules and other mandatory conflicts. We hope to have these solidified soon.

We then realized that one of our newer members had not yet chosen a part. She had never been on stage before and wanted something “smaller,” so the group suggested she give Friar John a try. We read through Act V Scene ii to make sure that she and Friar Laurence understood it, and then we put it on its feet. The group applauded Friar John for being confident and showing she understood the text her first time ever performing, and then we began to dig deeper. “What is the mood in this scene?” one of the women asked. We looked for clues in the text – Friar John’s not understanding the import of the letter, Friar Laurence’s extreme urgency and frantic thinking of “Plan B.” We went through it again, and it improved, but the Friars were still not satisfied. We did an exercise in which they put their scripts down and improvised through the scene in their own words until they’d managed to hit all the main points and get a better feel for the atmosphere. When they performed again with their scripts, the scene was much closer to being what they want it to be.

The woman playing Friar John felt much better about performing after this and will consider taking on an additional minor role. The group was very excited about her willingness to commit so quickly.

Since we have recast the role of Tybalt, we returned to the section of Act I Scene v that is between him and Capulet. We worked on clarifying what the characters want: Tybalt wants to fight Romeo, and Capulet wants to stop him from ruining the party. The woman playing Capulet mentioned that her interpretation is that Capulet dislikes Tybalt because of his affair with Lady Capulet.  We tried to make things more physical, asking Capulet, for example, to imagine a rubber ball inside of her that she can bounce off of people (I swear, this is a real acting technique!), and Tybalt to experiment with different animal images like bulldogs and roosters.

We disbanded hoping to add new members to the group very soon and get to work on scenes that involve more people, since we have covered nearly all of the two and three person scenes at this point.

Week 21: Thursday

Attendance was light today, so we devoted the time to figuring out some of our technical needs.

We had originally discussed building soft flats that would act as scenery, but the more we talked, the more complicated this seemed to get. One of the women came up with an idea to draw and/or paint images that could be displayed on easels on either side of the stage to set each scene. This would eliminate the need for complicated set changes, as one person could simply remove a picture during each scene change. It would also eliminate the need to build a platform to use as the balcony, as the auditorium has a stage that is a bit elevated, and a picture will help us communicate what might be too complex for us to build in a set. The woman who came up with this idea will be its “designer,” figuring out what we need for each scene and delegating to our more artistically-inclined members what they are in charge of drawing or painting.

We then began to brainstorm ideas for a backdrop to set the tone. This backdrop would be made up of soft flats and would provide not only something more interesting to look at than the back wall, but a potential way to get from one side of the stage to the other without being seen (this was an issue when we did The Tempest). We decided to leave it there and continue to brainstorm with the larger group.

We also did a bit of thinking about costumes, mainly what colors they should be, and possible music to use.

Although there weren’t many of us there today, we got a lot accomplished. With the group’s input and permission, I’ve also made a number of cuts to our script that we’ll begin working with next week, and we hope to bring in more people on Tuesday. There was some frustration expressed that the performance might not be all we had hoped it would be, and I encouraged everyone present to let go of their expectations, accept that it will not be perfect, but that whatever this turns out to be, we will work as a team and it will be ours. As one woman put it after we performed The Tempest, “That was a difficult process, but if it hadn’t been hard, I don’t think I would appreciate this as much.”