Today after our warm up, the group decided it was time to play some improv games. We began with “Freeze,” in which people improvise scenes in pairs, and those of us in the audience tag them out when we have an idea for a new scene. This was a riot, as this is a very creative group and most of them are not afraid to act silly, which is a key component of this game (at least the way we play it!). More than that, though they instinctively said “yes, and…” nearly all the time, without having been told that that is a major rule of improvisation. It bodes very well for their ability to work well as a flexible ensemble as we work through our play. We also played a game for quick thinking that proved just as much fun.
Following this, we dove into Shrew. We began with the first part of the first scene, in which we are introduced to Lucentio and Tranio. After a read through and a text analysis (all we had time for), the group has come up with this much so far:
- Lucentio has been playing in the little leagues, and now he’s in the big leagues. He’s excited to study in Padua. He thinks highly of himself, but can’t back it up (we’ll be exploring that for sure). He’s a virgin.
- Tranio is not only his servant but his dear friend. Opinions are divided on whether he is smarter or “dumber” than Lucentio, and I’m guessing that further exploration of the play will lead to a united ensemble decision there.
We also came up with several interpretations of what Tranio means when he says:
Only, good master, while we do admire
This virtue and this moral discipline,
Let's be no stoics nor no stocks, I pray;
Balk logic with acquaintance that you have
And practice rhetoric in your common talk;
Music and poesy use to quicken you;
The mathematics and the metaphysics,
Fall to them as you find your stomach serves you;
No profit grows where is no pleasure ta'en:
In brief, sir, study what you most affect.
One woman thinks this means, “You learn to survive, like you eat to survive.” Another thinks it means, “Go with your gut.” And another hears, “Learn as much as you can stomach.” I don’t believe that any of these interpretations are “wrong.” Any of them could work for whomever ends up playing this character.
During warm ups today, one of the women requested some tongue twisters. She was in Session 1, and she pointed out that everyone will have an easier time with the language if we warm up our mouths at the beginning of each meeting. She’s absolutely right – I’ve been waiting for someone to bring this up – so we’re adding this to our routine each day. We played a couple of warm up games to build focus and ensemble as well.
We then decided to do some improv. We began with “ABC,” in which two people improvise a scene in which each line begins with the next letter of the alphabet. This is normally a pretty challenging game, not just in a prison setting, but for most groups, but this ensemble took to it beautifully. They refused to give up, grinding their way through even the more difficult scenes from A to Z. We identified the things we need to work on: focus (keeping the scene going while keeping the alphabet in our heads), taking care of each other by finishing sentences, and making sure relationships and conflicts are clear – that last bit enables us to have an easier time coming up with our lines.
The last pair to play had the most “success,” leading a couple of the women to say that those two were “the best” or “naturals.” Not necessarily, said Sarah. “We make each other better,” she said, by learning from each other’s mistakes. We welcome mistakes in our group – we welcome “failure” because that’s how we learn to be successful as a group.
One of the women who has been in the group before then requested a game called “Dr. Know It All,” in which a “three-headed genius” answers questions one word at a time. It’s quite a challenging game, and, though some of the groups had a good time with it, those who are newer to the group had a hard time – we may have jumped the gun a bit. Although we facilitators do not desire to lead the group, just to act as guides and resources, it’s possible that we need to lead the improve in a more structured manner in the future to help avoid similar frustrations. Of course, this is a decision that will be made with ensemble input.
With our last bit of time, we read the next part of the first scene of our play. Though we didn’t have time for a detailed analysis, the women were able to quickly and ably sum up the gist of the scene just from that one reading. This play will likely prove to be less of a slog for them than the past two we’ve worked (The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet) because, by and large, the language is much more straightforward. It will be a nice change of pace for us!