Tonight we had a dress rehearsal that was intended to be a full run of the show. While we did not get to the end of the play, we made some good discoveries along the way.
For one, there was a camera crew there (I’ll post their finished product as soon as it’s online!), which made some of the women rather nervous. Even though several members of the group (including me) reassured those affected that only brief clips would be pulled, and there was no way our “mistakes” would make it into the short film, we discussed later that simply having “outsiders” (and men in particular) at this particular rehearsal complicated things. We are very grateful that they were there to document our work; however, this is something that we may try to avoid in the future now that we know how much it can throw our focus and confidence.
I will say, though, that when the crew departed, it was with great enthusiasm for the growth they witnessed first-hand in the ensemble, having filmed our group about a month ago. This is a good lesson for us: that even when we feel we are not at our best, from an “outsider’s” perspective, our work is still exciting and inspiring. Our mistakes seem bigger to us than they do to our audience.
When we circled up at the end of the session, I asked how everyone felt. Several newer members of the group said that they did not feel good about their work and the rehearsal in general. Before I could say anything, a seasoned member of the group reassured them that a rehearsal like this is normal, and that our main issue right now is that we’re taking things too seriously and not having enough fun. Several women’s eyes lit up. I took that opportunity to remind the group that “it’s called a PLAY for a reason!” We do need to loosen up – we’re sharing a comedy, and if we don’t have fun, our audience won’t either. Our pacing is very slow – that’s why we didn’t make it to the end – and this will likely fix itself if we just relax and roll with the punches more instead of freezing when we hit a (usually line-related) wall.
We talked about a few ways in which we can “cover” our mistakes, most of which involve acknowledging that we’re off in a way that fits with the broad style of comedy we’ve chosen. The plan for Thursday is to work lines, and the plan for Friday is to do a “speed-through/fun-through” of our play – barrel through as fast as we can, relax, and have a good time.
This conversation lasted only a few minutes, but it seemed to reassure and refresh those who were feeling badly.
Two members of our group were particularly down today, for reasons that had nothing to do with Shakespeare. They showed up anyway, willing to work but visibly upset about things going on outside of our little bubble. It should go without saying that life while incarcerated is very, very hard, and I am always grateful when members of our group attend even though they, like most of us on such days, would rather be alone and curled up in bed. Our group can often serve as a distraction on these days, which is why I encourage them to drag themselves to the auditorium, and today seemed to serve that purpose for these two.
Though our intent today was simply to work on lines, we decided to circle up, take some time to just breathe together with our eyes closed, and then transition into bringing down our ring of light. We breathed together for several minutes, and when I opened my eyes I saw a few others had also opened theirs and were sending energy up into the ring. I joined them, and so did the rest one by one. As we raised our arms to hold our ring, we saw that our co-facilitator Sarah’s eyes were still closed. Patiently, we waited for her to join us. I have no idea how long this would have lasted, except that one of the women who was so down when she came in couldn’t hold in a giggle. Sarah then opened her eyes, saw that the rest of us were waiting for her, and sheepishly raised her hands to join us. “I’m so sorry!” she said. “No,” said the woman who giggled, “That was perfect, actually.” We lowered the ring together and spread it out over the room, laughing together as we did so.
We sat around a table together, working through the second half of the play. One of the women who’s been nervous about her lines turns out to be very skillful at improvising her way through when she’s not word-perfect – we were all pretty impressed, and made sure she knew that this strategy will work if she needs to rely on it – even an audience used to seeing Shakespeare would likely not notice much “wrong” in her delivery.
We circled up prior to parting, and Sarah was gathering up materials as the rest of us moved into place. “Are you still breathing, Sarah?” joked one woman, and we all laughed. “I am never going to live that down,” said Sarah, “I am so embarrassed!”
“Don’t be,” said the same woman who giggled during Sarah’s initial moment, “I meant it when I said that was perfect. That laugh changed the day for me completely.”
The ensemble touched base during our circle and brief warm up: barrel through the play and have fun while doing it! Lean on each other! Support each other!
And barrel through, we did – right through to the end of the play. Was it a perfect run? No, but our goal is not to be perfect. We accomplished what we set out to do today: We got through the entire play, we kept our pace quick for the most part, we covered for each other on missed lines, and we had a LOT more fun together.
We didn’t have time at the end to debrief in detail, but the feeling I got from the ensemble is that, while they are still nervous, they are ready to dive into sharing our work with an audience. It will be all hands on deck Tuesday with our facilitators, so there will be lots of facilitator support with the inevitable nerves that even the most seasoned professionals sometimes get the first time an audience is present.
I look forward to updating you with details about our performances! Stay tuned!