Our plan tonight was to review all of Act II and then explore it on its feet. After we had read it through, however, one member of the ensemble asked if she could bring a concern to the group, and of course we all said yes. She said that she is frustrated by what she feels is the slow pace of our getting through the material, and she said that she is not the only one who feels this way. She did not understand why we chose not to read through the entire play before working on it in detail, and she feels that our exploration would be more efficient and effective if everyone knew how things turned out in the play.
She has a point – most traditional processes that I know of begin with a full read-through of the script, followed by discussion and rehearsal. That said, the people in our group learn in a variety of ways, and some of us were quick to remind everyone that simply reading the text, even aloud, does not allow for some of us to fully comprehend it. Most members of the group strongly objected to doing away with the “stop-and-start” nature of our reading, during which we frequently pause to analyze the text (at least the gist of it) and make sure everyone is in the loop.
It was a lengthy and animated discussion; mostly respectful, although there were moments when things began to get heated – it’s very difficult territory to navigate, talking about different ways of learning without implying that anyone is less or more intelligent than others. I tried to constantly reiterate that neither implication was being made – that some people have a gift for comprehending Shakespeare pretty well while moving through it quickly, but that those people often miss the details that folks who move more painstakingly absorb due to their slower pace. Neither is the wrong way to work, and it is a challenge to bridge that gap so that no one is overly frustrated.
Ultimately, we cannot make everyone completely happy, but we feel mostly good about the compromise we’ve settled on.
Rather than reading/discussing, and then reviewing/staging, we will spend the next 2-3 weeks only reading/discussing (taking breaks to improvise and play theatre games) the remainder of the play, and then 2-3 weeks after that putting scenes from Acts II-V on their feet. This will enable us to get to the end of the play more quickly without rushing to cast it – a mistake we made last year, and I made sure to remind everyone of that so we learn from it rather than repeating it.
Once we had arrived at this conclusion, most of the group got up to play a game. One member remained seated, visibly upset. I asked her if she was okay, and she said, “I will be.” I asked her if she wanted to talk to me about it, and after a moment of hesitation, she did. She was upset about the “big picture” issue of so many around her “rushing.” I asked if she meant in this group, and she said, “It’s not only this group. It’s prison.” She is a person who is extremely dedicated to learning, but she needs to move at a slower pace with a lot of review in order to fully absorb new information. She told me a bit of her personal history in learning environments, and, as is true for many people who learn this way, she’s often felt extremely discouraged. She was under the impression that we were going to read straight through our play with no discussion, and I made sure she knew that that is not what is going to happen – that no one wants any ensemble member left behind, and there is no way we are going to let that happen to her. I suggested that she sit beside a facilitator as we read so she can ask questions quietly (something that another woman with a similar challenge has been doing), and she liked that idea. I also reassured her that, with nine months to work on a single play, she is going to understand it on a very deep level by the time we’re done, even if we gloss over some things in the next few weeks.
She seemed to be reassured when she left – still upset about the larger issues, but comfortable that, at least in our group, she does not need to fear being left behind or left out. This is a very difficult balance to strike, but I feel strongly that this group is up to it, as long as we stay open to one another and communicate when we’re frustrated – which is what we did tonight.