Session Four: Weeks 23 and 24

Week 23: Tuesday  

We spent this entire session working on Act V Scene I, in which all of Lucentio’s and Tranio’s plotting is revealed. The going was on the slower side, with starts and stops as people needed to leave early for other programs and appointments. The ensemble stuck with it, though, bringing newer members into the mix and catching them up with a great deal of compassion for the challenge each of them was taking on. In the end, we managed to muddle through this very long and complicated scene, to take stock and realize that with so many of the players gone by the end, it would mostly need to be “redone” in the future.

Rather than getting bogged down in this, though, we focused on how well the women worked together to get through the scene. We applauded our “newbies” on diving in when they still don’t know the material very well and being willing to just go with it. The group as a whole worked well as a team, too, figuring out the placement of set pieces and some of the blocking that we need in order to make the scene make sense. These are all wonderful takeaways, even if the “work” will need to be done over.

One of the women brought up how uncomfortable it is to get a general framework for a scene and then leave it. We talked about how this is usually part of the process of rehearsing a play – we get an idea of the gist of it and how we want it to work on its feet, an then we revisit the scene to find more nuance. It’s a long-term process that requires participants to be comfortable making “mistakes” as we explore, and that is a huge challenge to many people, incarcerated or not.

Week 24: Tuesday

Written by Dominique

As the group began to collect, people began to tell me about last Thursday's challenges. As sometimes happens, the facilitators were delayed getting through the gate, so the women discussed what to do and decided to move forward with the reading of the entire script. There was a lot of pride in their problem solving and their ability to take control of the situation quickly. They jumped in when parts needed to be read that weren't there and watched out for their own parts overlapping something else they were reading (getting someone else to take over so they could focus on the part they were cast in). They read quite a bit before they dispersed. They were working together and working together well, there was pride in this, and there was a strong sense of camaraderie developed for most of the group.

After "ringing up" we discussed how to approach the evening - whether to continue reading the script as they had begun. It was mentioned that we still don't have new people cast with any finality. After some debate it was decided we would read scenes with Grumio, Tranio, and Biondello (the uncast parts) and give new members a chance to really try them on. We chose Act 1 scene 2 since it gave the most opportunity for these characters to work.

The reading was lackluster and didn't show much. Both new women began to ask questions about their characters. One woman, who joined the group in November, really took charge then. She explained their questions, and suggested they put the scene "on its feet." She gave them basic blocking that had been worked out and explained motivation as well as physical comedy that had already been worked. As the scene begins with Grumio, this woman started explaining her part in the scene, her entrance, action, the scenario etc… It was FABULOUS to see her work, and both newbies felt plugged in and comfortable with their new roles. All the actors contributed as they worked, gently reminding each other to turn out to the audience, not block each other, watch their spacing. Such wonderful ensemble spirit.

As people needed to leave early, the women asked that we play games for the remainder of the evening. As it turned out it was a good way to give the newbies a chance to feel comfortable. We played the place scenario, giving everyone a chance to work, and then Party Quirks, which was great fun.

I thought about how wonderful the camaraderie is among these core people. They really enjoy the work and working with each other. There was real joy there. Someone had mentioned at the beginning of the evening that it's important we remember to keep the drama on the stage. I told her there were professional actors that needed to be told that occasionally but she was absolutely right. It steals focus from the wonderful work at hand.

Week 24: Thursday

After a circle discussion to resolve some dynamic issues within the group, which seemed to have a good outcome, we decided to work Act III Scene ii, as we haven’t yet put the whole thing on its feet. Many of the players were absent, but luckily those who were present were game to fill in, so we were able to make some great discoveries.

The most important of these was what we determined is going on with Baptista in this scene. The woman playing him said she was torn about how he must feel. After some discussion and our active exploration of the scene, she settled on him being at first pretty miffed about Petruchio’s behavior, but understanding his strategy (giving Kate a taste of her own medicine) by the end and being okay with it.

Petruchio has a very interesting monologue in this scene, too, regarding his “ownership” of Kate. Without the woman who plays Petruchio there, of course we didn’t settle on an interpretation, but we talked about the variety of ways in which it could be played. This is something that we have all come to appreciate about The Taming of the Shrew – we always seem to have several reasonable ways of interpreting whatever it is we’re discussing, but we also always seem to be able to land on something that makes everyone happy.

We’re already in discussions about next year’s play. The group is definitely interested in a tragedy or a history, so we’ll be looking at some of those over the next couple of months as we continue our work on Shrew. The general consensus is that we would like to alter our process so that the play for next year is chosen prior to this year’s performance, and those who are staying in the group will be able to study it over the summer. Our thought is that, in this way, we can better accomplish the mentor/mentee relationship we desire between returning and new members of the group right from the get-go. This may not work, but we’ve learned that even if we try something new and it “fails,” we learn something valuable moving forward. And that’s really what it’s about.