We were very productive today! Since most of the group members were delayed in arriving, we began with Act I Scene III, for which only the Nurse was present. Jamie and I stood in as Juliet and Lady Capulet until those participants arrived. The Nurse has memorized her lines in this scene, and by the time we had worked through it several times, her character began to take shape as well. Lady Capulet is mostly off book, too, as is Juliet. Between the work that Lady Capulet did last week, and the work the Nurse did today, plus Juliet finding creative ways to interact in the scene (like mouthing certain lines along with the Nurse like she’s heard them a million times), it’s really taking off.
Our Romeo and Benvolio returned today, assuring us that they are committed and will be present whenever work does not conflict from now on. We are all quite relieved!
We then moved on to Act I Scene V, the “party” scene. We needed to plug in Jamie, who is our Tybalt now. We also needed to do some detail work on blocking; for example, when should there be dancing, and when is it distracting? Should people stay on stage or exit? We talked through these decisions as a group and came up with some good solutions.
Finally, we decided to begin work on Act III Scene I, which we haven’t really touched since it involves so many people. But today we had everyone present except the Prince, so we went for it. After one read through, we got on our feet, and, with improvised sword play, the scene went beautifully. Matt and Jamie committed fully to their parts, (as did I when filling in for the Prince) which intensified things for everyone else on stage. We all played off of each other, and the scene was riveting and emotional. It was actually so exciting that, for the first time ever, none of us realized we were out of time until our program coordinator came to get us!
This is food for thought going forward: I have been resistant to casting facilitators in the play until absolutely necessary, but the women really enjoy having us on stage with them. Because we have more performance experience than most women in the group, we are able to give them more to play off of in a shorter amount of time. That being said, I’m a big proponent of process over product, and part of the process has been that the inmates are empowered by taking ownership of the process as well as the product. But it seems like that same level of ownership could be achieved with facilitators in the cast. I know that it works in other programs.
It’s something that I’ll definitely be discussing with the group, because this is a decision that needs to be made by the ensemble.
Our Paris was present today, and, since she is absent more than any of us would like due to mandatory conflicts, we decided to make sure we worked some of her scenes today! We began with Act I Scene II, and our work actually got pretty technical. The group decided that it would be best for Capulet and Paris to enter through the house, play the scene while walking downstage of the curtain (and even on the floor), and exiting through the door stage right. How to make this work became a sticking point. We knew that we wanted Capulet to go up a level or two so that he would be a head above Paris, but then that seemed to force Paris to upstage herself (turning her face completely away from the audience). We ran the scene a few times, identifying places for them to start and stop, both vocally and physically, and we found a way for Capulet to step up only one level to make things easier on Paris. We will need to keep working on it, but it’s getting there. The group effort was wonderful to be a part of.
We then worked the scene in which the Nurse finds Romeo in the street, since our Nurse has memorized those lines and wanted to work it on its feet. As we adjusted her blocking slightly and her character began to sink in a bit more, she found that the lines were leaving her head. She began to be frustrated, but I assured her that this is a very normal part of the process – of course the lines take a step back when the character takes a step forward. She decided to leave the scene alone for the day and come back to it later.
We then moved to Act IV Scene I, and we spent some time here debating what is going on with Juliet in the scene. How polite does she have to be? How surprised is she that Paris is there? It’s difficult, having cut so much from the scene, to truly know Shakespeare’s intent at this point, so our Juliet is going to experiment until something feels right. I’m also going to bring in an uncut version of the scene for her to look at. Ultimately, though, it will be her choice, and Paris and the Friar (that’s me!) will play off of whatever she decides.
From here, we kept going with the next couple of scenes to see how our transitions would work – would Juliet have time to do the exit from one scene and the entrance to the next that we wanted? We also found that we needed to make a few more minor cuts to combine the two scenes that follow – otherwise we would have a really strange transition.
This brought up a point – that we don’t have all of our entrances and exits set in stone, nor have we established all of the places in which we want to use the curtain. “We should run the whole play on Tuesday,” someone said, and she was met with unanimous agreement. So that’s the plan: everyone is going to make her best effort to arrive on time so that we can get through the whole play. Anything that isn’t figured out at this point will be improvised, and we will make a comprehensive to-do list to spur our work going forward.
I am incredibly thrilled that they not only had the idea to do a “work-through” three weeks from our first performance, but that we are in a place where we can actually do it. We were never able to run The Tempest all the way through prior to performing it – we ran each “half” of the play once, and that was it. It’s a testament to this ensemble’s dedication, enthusiasm, and desire not just to accomplish their goal, but to do it well. They are driven, they have ownership of what they are doing, and they are doing excellent work.