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Written by Molly
Since they had seen the 1960s film version of Romeo and Juliet the previous Tuesday, the women had taken some time to mull over the film before meeting for this session. They were able to think critically about what they wanted to adopt from the movie and what they preferred to do differently. After briefly going through the Paris, Friar Laurence and Juliet scene in order to give the woman playing Paris more time on stage, the women wanted to try to tackle the last scene of the play, which hasn’t been touched too much so far.
They were torn about whether or not to cut out the first part of the scene, where Paris confronts Romeo, as that scene is not in the film and is a popular cut for many productions. Some seemed to find the scene unnecessary and forgettable (as one woman put it, “Paris dies?!”) The women are always eager to trim down scenes in order to make them more manageable, but they are also always considerate of the person playing the part. After some discussion, we decided to cut a little bit but leave the majority of the scene. The scene helps to flesh out Paris’s character and make the Romeo and Juliet love story narrative less neat and more complex, showing the other people directly affected by their actions. The women playing Juliet liked the detail that Paris was bringing flowers to Juliet’s grave and was reluctant to take it out. Furthermore, the women realized that some aspects of the beginning of the scene were important, as there needs to be a reason for the characters to gather at the tomb at the end of the play.
We still struggle a bit with poor attendance, which makes it difficult to work some scenes that need rehearsal. It would be ideal to have everyone there, but the specific circumstances of trying to do drama in a prison make that very difficult if not impossible. Still, the women who are there are driven and enthusiastic, and there are women who cannot come all the time who are still very serious about Shakespeare. The women seem a little anxious about being able to pull this off at the end of June. But it is clear to me that they are motivated and work hard on their parts, and I have no doubt that they’ll be able to put on a good show! They clearly know more of the play than they think they do, and if they just keep working at it, they should be able to create a product that will make them all proud.
We also welcomed Jamie, a new volunteer, to the group. She will definitely be a welcome addition!
Today we worked on Act IV Scenes III and V, in which Juliet takes the potion and is found “dead.” We have made many cuts to these scenes, and we kept cutting, finding what we needed to tell the story and make things work for our characters, and what was superfluous.
Our staging felt “crowded” at first, but we realized that it worked in terms of the inherent competition between the Nurse and Lady Capulet, and the chaos of finding Juliet unresponsive. As I have been cast as Friar Laurence, I took a bit of a backseat in “directing” the scene, and the women solved all of the problems we encountered with Sarah’s guidance. They have a deep grasp of the emotional impact such a discovery would have on their characters, and they had no qualms about diving right in.
We were initially hesitant to use the curtain at all, as the we all feel that it may disrupt the flow of the play and give the audience an opportunity to lose focus, but we decided as a group to close the curtain at the end of this scene – otherwise, it will be awkward getting Juliet off stage. Someone came up with the wonderful idea, then, to play the next scene, in which Balthasar tells Romeo of Juliet’s death, in front of the curtain. This will solve both our problem of exiting and of losing focus in one fell swoop.
Another wonderful idea that one of the women had was for Tybalt to actually roam the auditorium at the end of Juliet’s monologue, thus giving her a boost in her vision of Tybalt’s ghost seeking Romeo, and her decision to drink the potion. It is an eerie way to stage this, and effective for the actress.
The deeper we get into our process, the more creative the women become, and the more empowered they are to make this play their own. Ruthlessly cutting lines and parts of scenes that we do not need, while perhaps not scholarly, is completely in keeping with our goal of simply telling a story – our version of this story as written by Shakespeare. Putting a ghost in the audience is a fabulous solution to a very difficult passage, and using the curtain to keep the story going rather than simply relying on it to mask a scene change is likewise a decision rooted in the ensemble’s understanding of this play.
And all of these decisions are being made as a group – one of the women smiled and said, “I love this group,” as we unanimously agreed to cut a large part of one of the scenes while keeping the pieces of it that are meaningful to individual actors.