The ensemble welcomed several new members today, including one woman returning from our last session. Generally, we have begun with introductions/orientation, but this time the seasoned members suggested that we begin with warm ups and a game. This proved to be a much better way of doing things, and my guess is we’ll stick with it in the future. The game itself was suggested by one of the women, who learned it in her PCAP drama workshop, and it was a lot of fun.
During our orientation, one member who joined at the beginning of this session shared that she finds the group to be very therapeutic – she can be herself here, and that’s not necessarily the case elsewhere in the prison. She had very bad stage fright eight weeks ago, but her confidence has already grown by leaps and bounds, and the ensemble has been loving her gusto and sense of humor on stage.
We continued our work on Act II Scene I, casting it for the day and putting it on its feet. Once we had Bianca’s and Kate’s objectives in the beginning of the scene established, it proved to be a lot of fun. After working more with the Kate/Petruchio “sparring match,” we find we have more questions than answers: Does Kate really like Petruchio? Is she making him fight for her? Is she happy for this challenge? One of our new members, coming into the material totally fresh, thinks that Kate’s behavior is all an act – that she’s not really a shrew at all. It’s going to be an invigorating process as we explore all of these questions and ideas.
Some members of the ensemble are beginning to take ownership of the material and think of staging ideas already; specifically, several of the women think our “theme song” should be Love is a Battlefield.
Before we began today, as people were arriving, I checked in with several of the newer members of the group to see how they think it’s going. They are enthusiastic - one of the women mentioned that she was in Taming of the Shrew in high school, but she didn’t really understand it. She thought she wouldn’t last long in this group, but she is understanding it better now and having a lot of fun.
After a brief warm up, we cast the first three scenes of the play and began to work them. Not only did we get through the material with very few stops, but we are beginning to find some specific moments of comedy and/or clarity, as well as defining characteristics of some of the people in the play. The group was excited – this isn’t something that we’ve been able to do so early in the past, and they are thrilled with each other’s work on the script and on stage. They felt good; when asked why, one woman said she used to think about others’ perceptions of her performance, but now she doesn’t – she just focuses on what’s happening on stage.
At this point, several of the women stated that they feel ready to cast the play and begin working with set characters. After a bit of a discussion, during which I reminded those seeking to move quickly that others might need more time with the material, it was decided by the group that we would alter our plan and leave it a bit open ended: on Tuesday, we will try to read through the rest of the play. We will review and clarify what we’ve read on Thursday, and check in with the entire ensemble to see how everyone feels. Then, if the entire group is on board, we will cast the play a month before we planned on doing so. The last thing we want is to move slowly if we don’t have to – this obviously can cause boredom – but we also don’t want to leave anyone behind.
If it works better to move more quickly, that’s what we’ll do. A handful of women have expressed strong connections to certain characters that likely won’t be altered by reading the rest of the script. It’s a more straightforward text than the last two with which we’ve worked, so it makes sense that we would move faster through the initial phase of analysis. We’ll see how things go next week.