Written by Dominique
Definitive progress made tonight, but it is a messy business, theatre, and we are learning to move forward with some growing pains. The group has gotten much larger - a very good thing but a very different thing and different ways of working are being discovered. Learning curve.
We began with a somewhat scattered physical warm up. Most of the 20 or so women were on time. All but 3 or 4 women circled up, and, midway through, a few in the group asked that these women join us. Most did, but a straggler or two refused.
To continue expanding the depth of the ensemble/acting work we do, an exercise a Viola Spolin improv known as "Building and Using the Where" was tried. First a "where" was built - suggested by the group. A location where the improv would take place. Then 4 or 5 objects were placed in the space spontaneously by group members to define it, to help visually "see" the space. Then 2 volunteer actors were given a "who" and a "what" or "why" - who they were and why they were in the space, what they were doing there.
Some interesting things came up. For instance, in a New York scenario, one of the actors onstage, playing Prince William, suggested that a "dog" walking by (one actor walking another as a dog character) be shot. However, the dog didn't respond, and the improv carried on. When we insisted that the dog be shot as the character suggested, the improv evolved in a much more interesting way! It became clear how important it was to honor the truth of your fellow actors onstage rather than ignore it - an improv technique known as "Yes And…" The idea is you never say no to what another character is saying, you always agree with it and hopefully take it one step further.
We also noticed that it was simpler to make the location more specific - rather than "New York" a "bank" was easier to visualize and populate. Also we learned that in dressing the space it was generally better to stick to objects rather than people - people naturally complicated the exercise. It would be an interesting way to evolve it, however, and this was noted.
The importance of specifics became very clear in choosing the "who" and "what or why". Instead of "bank robbers" the scene evolved much more naturally when we chose "valley girls" robbing a bank. The comedy didn't have to be forced, no one onstage had to be a playwright on the fly to make the scene work. It evolved naturally through the who doing the what in the space we clearly defined.
Afterwards people commented that it was nice to see the space they were in; so much of the work we do with Shakespeare is focused on the text it is sometimes difficult to see beyond your own nose. Especially with the broad type of comedy that this group seems to be growing out of this text interacting with the space and the specifics can be useful ideas.
Unfortunately, though there was time left, at this point many of the group started to leave - various call outs, med lines, etc. Those that were left voted that we should do a circle read through of the text before putting it on its feet, though there was a significant call for just getting going. As we circled up to read and a few more people left, it became really obvious that we need to start with working the Shakespeare and end with ensemble games and work. There was discussion as to whether we work the text in chronological order or jump around depending on who is available. Although it seems we had already made the decision to work chronologically, we revisited this based on the lack of actors cast for the parts we were going to read. Frannie made the point that working chronologically also allows us to make a rehearsal schedule, which is an idea a lot of people seemed on board with. Group members also asked that deadlines be set for line memorization.
It was also brought up that unfortunately there is some unwanted tension in the group. It was decided that the people involved could not be discussed without being part of the discussion, so it was noted but tabled. A couple other concerns were also raised - notably that people should not be allowed to sit in the audience during circle and warm up, that this contributes to the lack of group cohesion.
We read through the scene, had a brief chat about what was going on, set the scene, and got it on its feet. Part of it, anyway. Time ran out on us, and we weren't able to finish. However some good work was done with the comedy of Hortensio's entrance and the beating of Grumio by his master. It always is a huge difference to put Shakespeare on its feet - things happen that never ever do when reading it in a chair.
There is a general itchiness among the group to get the thing up and moving, coupled with the concern over negativity from some of the members. Of course it is going to be more difficult to engender closeness among a larger group. But as we go through these trials, trudge through the trenches of theatre work together, that cohesion will begin to fall into place naturally. The more work we do on the actual text the more the play can become the focus rather than the players.
Written by Frannie
After today’s warm up and an update about our new “schedule” (Shakespeare first, exercises second), we engaged in the group discussion that the women requested on Tuesday to address the tension in the group. Although we are fatigued by several such recent discussions, we agreed to resolve it all today and know that this would be the last one (at least for awhile; things do come up for discussion, but usually not so often). Every woman in the group had an opportunity to express how she was feeling, and it was a very constructive conversation. We identified several ways to improve how things are working (i.e., from now on participation in warm ups is not optional), achieved a new level of honesty, and we feel we can move forward from here.
I would like to note here, since I’m often asked what participants in this group get out of it, that several longtime members actively used the conflict resolution skills they’ve learned in Shakespeare throughout the discussion in ways they were not able to when I met them two years ago. One in particular responded to a woman who had been directing some negative criticism toward her by first thanking her for being honest, putting what she had said in her own words to show she understood while responding to it, giving details of what has made her feel the way she does, and then asking the other woman to meet her halfway. Having been part of a number of tense conversations with this woman in our group, it was really exciting and inspiring to me to observe how calm, respectful, and constructive she was with no coaching at all. This is a skill that is going to benefit her for the rest of her life, and I’m so happy for her that she seems to have mastered it.
We returned to Act I Scene I after this, focusing on catching up a few people who were absent when we worked it previously. We found that our main concern in this first scene is to set up the characters’ relationships, and we made some great discoveries to that end, including a moment when Bianca sat down next to Kate, they looked at each other, and then instinctively scooted apart. The women are beginning to connect to their characters and the text. There was a great moment at the end of the scene when Tranio, who had been sluggishly carrying heavy bags at the top, energetically handed the luggage to Lucentio (since they’ve “changed places”) and bounced off the stage. Lucentio then shuffled off slowly under the weight of the bags, referencing them with her line ending in “good and weighty.” The whole group exploded with laughter and applause at that moment. I look forward to many more of them as we get deeper and deeper into the play.