Written by Frannie
Last week, the group discussed how much they admired the depth that the men in the Shakespeare Behind Bars documentary achieved in their acting, and we talked about how we might approach our material to get that effect without having to re-live trauma. I am very fond of Michael Chekhov technique as a safe and liberating method of acting, and I asked everyone if they’d like to give it a try. They did.
So tonight we began with a Chekhov warm up to get our energy flowing and our bodies active. When we were done, I asked everyone how they felt. They said they felt more energized and connected to their bodies, and some expressed a feeling of relief and freedom. “It took away my anxiety,” said a person who has shared with the group that she has pretty debilitating anxiety.
After I explained a bit about where we would go from here with the technique, and everyone agreed that they want to keep exploring it, we got back to our reading of the play. We are eager to get through to the end so we can begin putting scenes on their feet.
Act Four, scene five, didn’t engender a lot of discussion. We made sure everyone understood the plot points and moved on to Act Five, scene one, in which Buckingham is led to his death and ponders his own responsibility in his downfall. Many participants said that they liked the way he processed everything. “You’d never catch Richard doing this,” said one woman.
We moved on to Act Five, scene two, which is very brief and introduces us to Richmond. Some felt that the scene could be cut, and we discussed why it’s there in the first place – the pacing of the play really picks up toward the end and the focus bounces back and forth between Richard and Richmond. “We’re getting to know Richmond better,” said one person. “We’re seeing that there’s an option other than Richard.”
Then we read Act Five, scene three, in which we go back and forth between Richard’s and Richmond’s camps and the ghosts of Richard’s victims haunt him and praise Richmond. This scene engendered a lot of discussion.
The woman who read Richard’s conflicted monologue following the visitation said, “I felt like I was looking for something that I need and cannot find.” Another woman said, “He’s getting soft. It’s not like him to be scared – or feel anything.”
“I think he’s covered with guilt and it’s haunting him,” said someone else. “These people are showing up in his dreams and want him to die.” Another woman said, “This is the first time he’s actually faced his deeds… This is the first time he realizes ‘I did all this… for this?’”
“… and I still don’t have what I want,” continued the first woman. “He had just one goal and didn’t think it through. I don’t see someone like that as remorseful. I just don’t.” Kyle pointed out that Richard wouldn’t feel the stress if the ghosts hadn’t shown up. “I should feel bad,” said one woman. “Kind of like an addict.”
“In the beginning, he was alone. He ends how he starts. He’s angry, not afraid,” said another woman. She said that this is her favorite part of the play, and we asked her why. “Because the ghosts finally have a voice against evil,” she said. “And it’s fair to say that even though he’s not remorseful, it’s the first time these people matter – he finally stops to think long enough to feel bad about it. I don’t think he’s vulnerable. I think he’s angry. Things just didn’t go his way.” Another woman agreed, saying, “He’s very disturbed.”
The woman who made the comment about Richard being like an addict drew another parallel and said, “I was angry at the court when they took my kids away because of my addiction. I was the martyr of the world because everyone was against me.” She readily admitted that she had actually been the one at fault, and that she now has clarity that she didn’t have in the midst of her addiction.
“I do the opposite,” said another woman. “When people are upset and I should be understanding, I find myself saying, ‘I’ve been through all this and can wake up and put a smile on my face.’ But why do I do this? I should never compare.”
“I relate to Richard,” said someone else. “All my life, my family would tell me that I was bad, so I acted bad. It gave me an excuse to do vile things. I started thinking that I was evil and did really bad stuff - because people told me I was bad. It took a lot of therapy to realize that that’s a choice I have to make. I’m not evil. I’m good, and I have a good heart. I’m not Richard.”
The woman who said this is her favorite scene pondered whether Richard is making excuses or justifying what he did. The group believes it is both.
“Richard feels his pain,” said one woman who’d been rather quiet. “I identify with him in that way because when I was little, people would say mean things [about her skin color; she is very dark skinned], and that’s why I know how to fight. After a while, I just took it. But then I started amplifying it majorly. And I would sit and think about how I could hurt you. If I felt not dominant, not number one, if you were stronger than me, then I would attack you physically. And that’s how I feel Richard is. I see him holding in things that have hurt him and amplifying it out onto everyone else. And he doesn’t tell anyone."
… Except the audience, we reminded ourselves. Unfortunately, our conversation was cut short, as we’d run out of time, but it’s clear that this play is going to continue to bring about very personal insight and understanding of ourselves and others, which is exactly what we want.
Written by Kyle.
I went in alone tonight, which always makes me feel self-conscious, like I’m going to mess the whole thing up in one night. Everything went off without a hitch, but the ensemble knows how I feel about it and likes to poke fun at me being the substitute teacher.
The conversation with a long-time member that was very frank. She is considering quitting the program because she is having so many personal and family problems. She says that she doesn’t want to put the group through that again and bring all that negativity to the group. I told her that the group would be fine and she could show up no matter how she was feeling. I tried very hard to be impartial about the whole thing and not lean one way or the other. I told her that I didn’t have the answer to her problems, and that no one did, but that keeping an open heart and mind would be the key. So she should engage in the behaviors that would keep those two things open. At the end of it I told her that she should give herself a deadline. If she still feels this way by Christmas she will have spent half the program wishing she would quit and that would be her answer; if not, then she will be glad she didn’t rush the judgment with something irreversible. It seemed to help, and I wonder if we will see her again on Tuesday.
We finished the play tonight and had a small discussion about how Richard was not afforded a death speech. The consensus was that it depended on how we staged the final fight scene, but that according to the text it ends kind of abruptly.
After the the play finished, an ensemble member asked immediately if she could get a scene up on its feet. You could tell she was waiting to do this scene and chomping at the bit to perform it. She chose Clarence’s death scene. I was glad she asked, and it is cool to see the ensemble so excited to perform. I challenged them to use the whole space, figure out what their character wanted in the scene, and to stay focused from start to finish. At the conclusion of the scene one of the newer members said that she didn’t like being a murderer, and didn’t know if she could do it again. It was her first time performing anything, so it was nice that she gave it a shot- even if she felt a little uncomfortable.
The woman playing Clarence also had an interesting take on her begging for her life. She said that it reminded her of being in front of the judge. There were nods of agreement and people swapped stories and asked if they cried or not. She said that she had wrote three or four speeches where she was going to beg him but then threw them all away. In the end she said she told the judge and her family not to pity her. She then left, freaked out, couldn’t believe she said that to the judge, and wished she had begged. I couldn’t write down all the responses that came from that comment, but there were lots of concurring and swapping of sentencing-stories.
The group dwindled slowly, and we finished with me and another member playing the Richard and Anne scene, with her as Richard and me as Anne. We said that we would try again next week with the roles switched- and I know makes her uncomfortable playing a woman.
All in all it was a wonderful night, and at the same time a rank and file kind of night. I’m glad the ensemble is so willing and eager to begin to perform the scenes they have been reading and I can’t wait to see more.