Session Three: Week 31

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We were made aware today that our Romeo and Benvolio (who were not present) are feeling overwhelmed by the number of lines they have, and are less than enthusiastic right now about performing with the group. After some discussion, the conclusion the group reached is that the most important thing is to keep the ensemble intact through the end of the session if at all possible. To this end, we decided to cut as much as we possibly could from Romeo’s and Benvolio’s dialogue, and to see what of our own material could be cut as well. We did this as a gesture of compassion and encouragement to those who are feeling shaky, and we lightened our own loads as we went.

This was actually a very interesting exercise in doggedly pursuing an objective. Our goal was to make the challenge more palatable and keep all of our group members while avoiding cuts that would make our story filled with holes. Some of the cuts we made were fairly painful, but the debate always came back to, “Yes, we love this. Yes, it’s beautiful. But do we need it in performance to tell the story?” If the answer was no, we cut it (other than what has already been memorized).

As we progressed, we became more and more ruthless. We cut entire scenes and minor characters! There was less debate and more humor – less nervousness and more determination. We are stronger for having gone through this together, our play is more concise, and there is almost nothing left that is not absolutely necessary. We remarked multiple times about how, as much as we love many of the things that were cut, it’s incredible how solid the play is even when it’s been sliced and diced.

We cut 21 pages from our script during this two-hour session. We are hopeful that this will encourage everyone to stick with the group through the end of June. I think it’s important to note, again, that no one yet has brought up canceling the performances. Performing is their goal, and we are determined to find a way to meet that goal, come what may.


Although our Romeo and Benvolio were missing again today (at least one of them had a mandatory conflict), two women who see them outside of the group said they were receptive to the new cuts, so I hope we will see them again on Tuesday.

We moved forward anyway, beginning with Act II Scene IV and V. Though we were missing the male characters from the first scene, our intention was to give the Nurse some time and figure out the staging. We determined that we would close the curtain toward the beginning of the scene, allowing Juliet to be in place at the top of the next scene. We ran the two scenes in a row several times. Before running them a second time, we talked about the characters’ objectives in the scenes and the different tactics they use, especially Juliet and the Nurse in their scene. That one really took off – it is beginning to become truly believable, and those two set a goal to memorize it to perform for the group on Tuesday. Setting these incremental goals periodically has proven to be really helpful, and I hope we can incorporate more of that next session.

We then worked on Act I Scene III without the Nurse, who had to leave, to give some time to Lady Capulet and Juliet. This is a complicated scene for Lady Capulet, and it led to a pretty heavy conversation about an issue at the heart of the play, to which I had never given much thought in the past: the women’s’ actions and reactions in this play are largely rooted in their lack of agency. Lady Capulet is cowed by an abusive husband, to whom she was married and by whom she had a child far too young. Her relationship with Juliet is fraught, and it’s difficult for her to even bring up the subject of marriage. When she does, she frames the question as if Juliet has a choice, but we find out later that she really doesn’t. And Lady Capulet probably knows that from the beginning, so why even say the things she says?

Our conclusion: sometimes, even in a dire situation, you have to find a way to put a good spin on bad news. We likened this to when several of the women learned of the legal consequences they faced: “Seven years is a whole lot better than 37.” One of the women noted that she heard the bad news with a positive spin from a man in her life who had spoken to her lawyer before she had, “of course, because that’s my life.” This led us back to the beginning of our conversation.

When we ran the scene again, Lady Capulet’s experience of the scene was deeper and more truthful. She still has some work to do, but the scene has begun to sink in for her. We were all very excited about the work she had done.