Tonight as we waited for people to arrive, a long-time member of the group gathered those of us who were there for a “creative minds meeting.” She shared that she’s been getting ideas for how the characters in our play would behave from watching TV shows and movies set in similar time periods. She also floated an idea of recording some of the characters’ “thought” monologues as MP3s and playing them during our performance while the actors on stage do whatever we feel is physically appropriate. This is definitely an idea we’ll be exploring with the rest of the group as we go.
We played a couple of games and then continued our work on Act I Scene III (it’s a long one!). We are still working on the idea of reining in our enthusiasm so that people can be heard when they speak – there is still a lot of talking over each other. This is going to become increasingly irritating to those with quieter voices if it continues unabated, so we need to keep reminding each other to take turns.
We read the “middle” of the scene and then put it on its feet. Some aspects of it worked, and others didn’t. After a lot of discussion, I noticed that the group had organically done something that many directors are trained to do – they adjusted the set (a table and chalkboard) and our blocking to create two distinct zones – one for the personal drama, and one for the war talk. They did this without stating outright that that was their intention, I pointed it out to them because I wasn’t sure they realized they had done it – and these are moments that are important to note because of how much they boost the ensemble’s confidence and ability to take ownership of the material.
We continued to adjust what we were doing to give the right emphasis to the most important lines and characters. We discussed taking this further in the future, although we also decided to move forward because we are at risk of becoming bogged down in this scene. Our exploration at this point is so valuable in terms of getting us oriented to the play, its characters, and its themes, but if we get hung up on things like detailed blocking, we begin to get impatient to get through to the end, and we have lost members in the past who felt we were moving too slowly. Our goal is still to cast the play before the December holidays, and in order to do that, we need to keep pushing forward.
Kyle and I arrived just in time for check-in tonight. The ensemble shared news good and bad, and then we lowered our ring together and got to work.
We honed in on the last part of Act I Scene III, in which Iago and Roderigo have so much back and forth… and Iago’s language is so evocative and complex. Although some members of our ensemble were visibly intimidated by the language, we worked together to eke out its meaning. This led to a lot of animated discussion – what is Iago really talking about? What are his objectives? Why does he talk to Roderigo this way? “It’s like a chess game,” said one woman, “You use all the pieces to your advantage – even the little ones. People learn a lot about you from the way you play chess.”
We then turned our attention to Roderigo. It’s so easy to fixate on the main three characters, but in this play the “minor” characters are potentially just as interesting.
A woman who has been in the group since we worked on The Tempest posed the question, “Is Roderigo like Caliban?” Others who were also in that ensemble were perplexed – what did she mean? She stated that she sees Caliban as misunderstood, seeking attention, and savage, and she thinks there’s a touch of all that in Roderigo. “He’s not on the same intellectual level as everyone else, so he’s easy to manipulate,” she said.
“I don’t think so,” said another long-time ensemble member. “I think he’s just naïve – not dumb.” Another woman said she relates to Roderigo and thinks he’s more like her interpretation of Gremio (in The Taming of the Shrew) – “blotted out right away,” with no one giving him a real chance.
Another woman said, “He’s really in love – look at how much he sacrifices for Desdemona.” In the end, he gives all of his possessions and money in his pursuit – and ultimately his life. “But is that love?” asked Kyle. “What does he hope is actually going to happen?” This led others to postulate that what Roderigo feels is not love, but obsession. Still others came back with the idea that it could be obsessive, but could also be unrequited love. We eventually agreed to table the conversation for now, as Roderigo’s words and actions in subsequent scenes are likely to continue to shape our ideas.
We closed by playing our first improv game, and the game was “Yes, and…” In this game, every line must begin with “Yes, and…” in order to get us used to the ground rules of improvisation, which help us so much throughout the year. This proved to be a lot of fun, with some scenes working better than others, and some people who were clearly very nervous getting through their scenes without giving up – a huge accomplishment.
We all agree it’s time to start doing more of this, and we’ll continue with it next week. We also agreed that our plan for Tuesday is to put the end of Act I Scene III on its feet as many times as people wanted to (many of us are itching to play with this scene), then to run the entire scene, and then to move forward.