Today before we began, the woman who was so upset that she left last week came in to talk with me one on one. I told her that if she chose to quit, that was her right, but I wanted her to have context for what she was told last week. When she had heard the full story, her concern changed to what the rest of the group must think of her now – how they reacted to her leaving. I reassured her that we all understood why she got so upset, and that everyone’s desire is for her to stay in the group. Although she had to leave early this particular night, she decided to stick with Shakespeare longterm.
We checked in, and the group expressed a need to play some ensemble-strengthening games. I chose three Theatre of the Oppressed exercises, which not only gave us a chance to loosen up and laugh, but were relatable in the context of our group, Othello, and our lives in general.
We sat down in a circle to play Freeze with a scene. Before doing this, one ensemble member asked if everyone could share the roles in which they are interested. This led us to talk about casting, which we decided to delay one week since we got derailed for several sessions. It’s possible that we will be able to return to our group discussion model of casting (with an anonymous written vote) rather than the more formal process we had discussed. It will depend on how well we can re-establish our safe space this week and next.
We then played around with Act III Scene III, in which Iago and Roderigo cause Cassio to fight while drunk and lose his job. While we find some humor in it, it definitely takes a darker turn than some of the ensemble members initially thought – and this is why it’s important for us to put scenes on their feet rather than simply reading them.
“This is where everything begins – where it all begins to form,” said one woman. “You really get to see Iago in action – how he tricks people, how easy they are to fool. And you see Othello before his breakdown.”
Kyle said, “It makes me realize how little actually happens except for this scene and the last – it’s mostly just ‘what ifs.’”
We had mostly been talking about Iago when I asked what everyone thinks about Cassio in this scene. “Ruined,” one woman stated immediately. “For the rest of the play, too. He never really comes back from this.”
“He goes against his better judgment… And I wonder how much he thinks about that,” said another.
“He has dignity in his falling – he handles it well throughout the rest of the play. He takes responsibility for his actions,” said another. We briefly talked about how this is all well and good, but it doesn’t accomplish anything until Othello, Desdemona, Emilia, Iago, and Roderigo are all dead, leaving a vacuum into which Cassio is thrust as the new person in charge.
We then disbanded for the evening, and I pulled aside the woman who had made the comment last week that caused so much upset. We talked for several minutes and determined that this group is not the right fit for her right now, so she won’t be coming back this session. She knows that the door is open to her in the future if she changes her mind. At the end of the day, this program isn’t for everyone, and, while I’m sad to see her go, we have to keep the ensemble at the forefront. Maybe we’ll see her again next year.
Tonight after checking in, one of the ensemble members taught and led a circle game that she learned in another group. It was a lot of fun, and it was great to see her take charge and lead like that. This is someone who came into the group with a feeling that she should keep her mouth shut and stay in the back, not volunteering to do much. There has been a shift for her – while she has her quiet days, she is often outspoken, encouraging of others, and takes the lead now and then.
We then sat in a circle and decided to work Act IV Scene III without “freezing it” – it’s a fairly short and emotional scene, and we wanted people to have a chance to move all the way through it.
The first woman to read Desdemona felt uncomfortable using her own voice, but we encouraged her to do so anyway. The scene worked pretty well for us, but the women reading felt like they didn’t go far enough with it.
The second pair to read had a very quiet interpretation. The woman reading Emilia said she felt “bad” – like she wasn’t focusing on the right things. We reassured her that this is a completely normal “actor feeling,” and we encouraged her to read more in the future. She also said that she fed off the woman playing Desdemona – “I was in tune with her,” she said.
We talked a bit about Emilia. “Maybe she gets that strong personality from being beaten down by Iago,” said one woman. “Maybe she’s learned from experience.” Another said, “She isn’t nice. She’s outspoken and strong.”
Another woman asked if we could do the scene “with more emotion.” The rest of the group playfully challenged her to show us what she meant, and she obliged. She and her scene partner played nearly the entire show at a heightened level, which worked in some ways and not in others. Interestingly, the woman playing Emilia said she felt heartless, and that’s not what we got from her.
Then another pair read, in a very different way. This Desdemona went on a roller coaster of emotion, and she also sang the song (everyone else had spoken the words but hadn’t sung). “It felt intense,” she said, “I’ve been going through a lot, so I just kind of put my emotions in there.” We remarked on her beautiful singing voice – and the fact that she sang in character. “It helped me to, like… act,” said the woman who read Emilia. “The way you acted – you were so into what you were doing… You really sang and you were really sad… You made me angry at men. Your energy helped my energy.”
The ensemble then asked Kyle and me to read, and we obliged. I played Desdemona in college, and it was really interesting to step back into this scene. The group loved what we did with it, remarking on our commitment to the scene, the way we moved in it, how we connected to each other, and how they didn’t find it odd at all that Kyle read in his own voice – hearkening back to the conversation we had earlier about reading in our own voices. The group is at a point where they can take what they need from our interpretations and not think of them as definitive, so I’m comfortable reading when they ask us to or it seems appropriate.