Written by Matt.
TUESDAY 15 NOVEMBER
We had a new member, and she jumped right into the flow of the group.
At check-in, one longtime member of the group talked about feeling less in control of her emotions. “I threw a chair at someone yesterday,” she admitted, and she revealed feeling edgy and revved-up.
A few other women seemed to agree that over the past week or so, emotions in the prison have been running high. We moved quickly through check-in, as many of the women were anxious to perform scenes.
A woman had memorized Queen Margaret’s role in I.iii, a scene in which the exiled Margaret stalks about the stage and excoriates Richard, who attempts to disarm her attacks with a few well-placed words. It’s a scene of high emotion, and it rises over several minutes in intensity, providing a challenge to the actors to pace the emotional arc of the scene. Asked afterwards why she had chosen that scene, the woman playing Margaret said, “Once I started thinking about how she would feel, I realized that I have some of that vengeful feeling in me,” she said. “I found feelings that I didn’t know I had.”
A facilitator pressed her on her motivations, asking her to articulate Margaret’s goals in the scene. Was her goal to hurt Richard or to warn the others of Richard’s evil? The woman decided that Margaret begins with a warning, but by the end of the scene her only goal is to hurt Richard. We encouraged her to do the scene again with that intent, which she did. Her performance was stellar.
In IV.iv, two women performed Richard’s confrontation with his mother, another scene that builds to a crescendo over time. After the performance was over, the group was divided on where the audience’s sympathies should lie in this scene. “I just feel so bad for Richard,” said one participant. “No wonder he’s so cruel, growing up like that.” She and several others placed the blame for Richard’s character squarely at his mother’s feet.
Or did Richard turn out how he is despite his mother’s best efforts? The woman who played the Duchess suggested that Richard may simply be evil. “I played it like she just tried to be the best mom she could and nothing worked.” A facilitator pressed her on her character’s motivations, and she said, “she just wants a reaction from him…any reaction…” Pressed a little further, she said, “It’d be nice if he cried.”
“She’s trying to break him,” suggested a longtime member about Margaret’s goal. A new member followed up, “what could hurt you more than your mother telling you she hates you?” She had a suggestion for tone of voice in that scene. “This is that tone of voice that is disgust,” she said. “Nothing can humiliate you more than the sound of a mother’s disgust.”
Another woman got up to perform Richard’s final monologue, in which he rallies his troops. In keeping with the theme of the evening, this speech also builds slowly to a rousing finish, and the performer went for broke, shouting and leaping up on a chair to finish the monologue. The facilitators encouraged her to emphasize not only Richard’s anger and passion, but also his disdain for his enemies, as the speech contains strong language insulting Richmond and his army. In a second performance, the woman fluidly moved between condescension and high passion, ending by leaping off the chair on the final word of the speech.
FRIDAY 18 NOVEMBER
There was an event happening in the auditorium today, so several women were in and out. This didn’t seem to affect their focus, though, as everyone was really on-point! The tension in the air from Tuesday had dissipated, and check-in was mostly happy, even goofy sometimes. It was unseasonably warm today, but the heat was still on in the programs building, making the air stifling, which seemed at first like it might sap the women’s energy, though that turned out not to be the case at all.
We played through several large, complicated scenes today, but we started small with III.v, in which Richard gets Buckingham to pledge absolute loyalty and, in a shocking turn, Ratcliffe enters with the head of Hastings.
We reprised I.iii from Tuesday, but played the full scene, as Queen Margaret circles a triumphant Richard for several minutes before launching into her impassioned confrontation. After we finished the scene, much of the talk centered on whether or not Margaret is insane, as all around her seem to think she is, and whether being insane and trying to make a legitimate warning are mutually exclusive. One woman commented that Queen Elizabeth, Margaret’s successor, “stands up for herself, and I like that. Until it comes to Margaret, when she just folds.”
Playing II.ii, in which it is revealed to Clarence’s children that he is dead, we discussed how to play the melodramatic lamentation onstage. The Dutchess, Elizabeth, and Clarence’s children wail about the death of Clarence until, at the moment’s crescendo, Richard enters with two cronies. The woman who had played the Dutchess’s final scene last week said that seeing that character here early in the play made her want to do the final scene over again, to find a satisfying emotional arc for this character.
A longtime member and a facilitator played I.ii, in which Richard woos Anne. We’ve performed this scene many times with many different players, and it still continues to reveal new possibilities. When it was over, the woman who played Anne said, “I hate Anne! She’s too easily won!” A new member countered, “But she’s got to be pretty insecure, though.”
A woman who had remained mostly silent throughout the session joined in soberly, “I can actually identify with this scene. It reminds me of the first time my ex beat my ass.” She gave more detail, which I’m omitting here in case it might identify her.
A few women nodded along, and one added, “here you are, at your lowest, and he’s around to bring you back up again.”
But a new member was still confused by Richard’s motivation. “What was his objective?” she asked, “He has her killed!”
We ended the session debating whether Richard’s sole motivation was pride or a feeling of conquest. “He’s trying to see how far he can take it,” said a longtime member.