Tonight was spent continuing to work through underworked and shaky scenes, building confidence in ourselves and our ensemble. The group has full ownership of the material at this point, continuing to make cuts as they solidify what they need and what they don’t, giving each other much-needed boosts of encouragement as we enter the home stretch.
We broke into small groups of two and three today to work on lines. This proved to be a very effective way of working, and as more women arrived toward the end, they followed suit.
I worked with the woman playing Gremio, who has expressed many doubts about whether or not she could memorize her lines. This is the same woman who recently cried with excitement during group work on her lines, but she has been having a hard time working on her own. I worked through a scene with her exactly as I would for myself: building it one or two lines at a time, going back to the beginning, pushing forward when ready. The scene includes a monologue about which she was very nervous, but I continued to gently push and encourage her, and she joyfully memorized the whole thing. Now, having worked in this way, she feels she has the tools to memorize the rest on her own, and she is excited to do so!
Today was an important day for us, as we had an open discussion and anonymous vote to choose the play we’ll explore next. The group’s primary concerns were a) a play that will really engage their audience, b) a great story and c) themes they want to talk about for nine months.
The pros and cons of each play in consideration were discussed, and when the votes were tallied, Othello had been chosen. The themes of rumors, jealousy, trust/mistrust, and poor (or mis-)communication are ones that the group is eager to explore and put before an audience. One woman has major qualms with the possible interpretation that “black men are easily manipulated and violent, and white women are victims.” I assured her that, while the play could be interpreted that way, it’s not my feeling that that’s a correct interpretation, and certainly not a story that we want to tell. The group agreed, although most haven’t read the play, even suggesting that we look at cutting all references to race to be sure that everyone is comfortable with the story we’re telling. Just as we knew that there were elements of misogyny in The Taming of the Shrew that we did not want to embrace or support, we know that the elements of racism in Othello are not where we want our focus to be.
We worked a couple of scenes tonight as well, noting that the more over-the-top we go with our performances, the more engaging they are within the context of this play. We are going to keep pushing beyond our comfort zones as we move into the final phase of the program. Costumes and props come in next week, and we’ll have time (we hope) to run our play three times before we have an audience. It’s a high-stress but invigorating time.