After Tuesday’s session was canceled due to circumstances not within our control, the group was back and raring to go on Thursday. Several of them said they had been very upset to miss a meeting, and we briefly discussed the need to stay flexible and not focus on being upset or frustrated when we hit road bumps like that – they are par for the course, out of our control, and we do better when we focus on moving forward no matter what. We checked in with one another and welcomed a new member to the group. After our warm up, we played a circle came in which clear communication, both physical and verbal, is key. Some of us found the game challenging due to physical inhibitions. We facilitators encouraged everyone to loosen up, take up more space physically, be big, and be ready to go by not locking our knees and keeping our hands/arms open. This can be very, very challenging, and not just in a prison setting: society teaches us not to take up too much space, to be quiet, and it is often unnerving for “beginning actors” to let go of those constraints. But when we do, it’s liberating. The game began to work much better.
We returned, then, to the ABC improv game we learned last week. Notable moments included one pair who allowed their scene to become real and serious (we find ourselves trying to make each other laugh more often than not). Another pair found themselves stymied in their scene, searching for responses to one another and becoming frustrated. Rather than encouraging that frustration or scoffing, the ensemble jumped in, shouting out the next letter of the alphabet, and, when necessary, suggesting the next line of the scene. One of the women onstage said she had felt stupid, and that she wasn’t as good at the game as the rest of the group. We reminded her of how supportive the ensemble had been, and that we are all learning from and with each other. We encouraged her to focus on her scene partner rather than on what she might feel is expected of her next time. It was a really wonderful few minutes as the women all came together to “save” the two on stage who were struggling, and they remained supportive after the scene was over.
We returned, then, to the first scene of the play. We read through it again, since it’s been a week, and then we began to break it down bit by bit. The group continues to work together to suss out the meaning in the more archaic language. Several of them keep comparing the play to its film adaptation Ten Things I Hate About You, and one of the women who was in the group last year cautioned them not to stifle their creativity by looking at the original text so much through the lens of someone else’s adaptation. She mentioned how beneficial it was to delay our viewing of the 1967 Romeo and Juliet last year until we had a firm grasp on our interpretation of the story; we were then able to pick and choose what we wanted to “borrow” from that film, and to have critical discussions about cuts made in it with which we didn’t necessarily agree. She reminded the group that this is our version of this play, and if we only think of Kat as Julia Stiles in the movie, we won’t have as much freedom to tell our own truth. She mentioned how, when we began work on Romeo and Juliet, she had a previous interpretation of Juliet that made her dislike the character; but watching the woman who was cast in that role do her own thing with it gave her increased empathy for Juliet.
We found that we were also making a lot of judgment calls about the characters based on just these few pages, and that Kat’s actions as opposed to Bianca’s, and the mens’ treatment of the women just in this first scene, are already leading to heated conversations and multiple interpretations. It’s going to be a very enlightening process as we delve deeper and further into the play, and I have a feeling we’ll be debating aspects of it right through to the end of this session.