Written by Gaia and Clearie
We found the ensemble in good spirits today! During check-in, the ensemble member playing Roderigo let the ensemble know that she graduated from building trades. Her positivity spread through the whole room as we went into check-in and lowered our ring. Afterwards, the ensemble collectively decided that they wanted to get right into Shakespeare and save the games for the end.
It took a few minutes for everyone to decide on which scene to start with. At the beginning of rehearsal we were missing our Cassio and Othello, which put limitations on which scenes we could run. Eventually the group decided to begin with a scene centered around Iago and Roderigo. The women began by simply reading the scene at the edge of the stage and then, after it was clear in their minds, they ran it a couple times on its feet.
Cuts were suggested by the ensemble member playing Iago, which brought up some necessary discussion. Considering the groups allotted time frame for the play, line-cuts are a crucial part of the process. However, when dealing with such beautiful verse, it can be easy to become attached to certain lines. Gaia and I struggled letting lines infused with Shakespeare’s beautiful literary genius go. Here, we found it to be difficult to take a back seat and let the women lead the process, but amidst the discussion and debate in the cast, it was decided that the women would try both versions in order to see what worked best. As Gaia and I took a step back, some of the debated lines were cut and some stayed but, most importantly, we discovered faith in our confidence in the ensemble’s ability to resolve conflict peacefully and democratically.
Once the woman playing Cassio arrived, the group moved on to play out Act 3, Scene 4 and Act 4, Scene 1. The woman playing Bianca in 3.4 has been able to get off-book for the scene, which gave her a wonderful amount of freedom to play with! It was clear that she and her scene partner have really found joy in acting out this scene and the extra work Bianca had put into memorization really paid off. The scene flowed organically and all of the ensemble members involved with the scene stepped away feeling confident and comfortable.
For 4.1 we had a new group member volunteer to play Othello, and the group worked as a cohesive ensemble to figure out the difficult staging. The new ensemble member was an extremely powerful presence onstage. Her delivery was impeccable and all of the other ensemble members noticed her talent right away, complimenting her and supporting her from the moment she stood up to the moment she exited the theatre space.
It was during this scene that the woman playing Roderigo, who was having a particularly good day, expressed to Gaia and me just how high her spirits were: “If I could have days like this, I would be able to make it through the rest of my sentence so easily.” It made me think of how important having a positive psyche and outlook is. I know many people who struggle with this even outside of prison. Her positivity alone had a strong ripple effect on the ensemble throughout the night.
We finished off the night by playing a fun improv game led by some of the seasoned ensemble members. We lifted our ring and everyone left a little sleepy, but smiling nonetheless and headed out into one of the first warm nights we’ve had in a couple months.
Written by Kyle
Right off the bat tonight, we entered into an extremely important debate; after the warm up we talked about understudies for the main roles. We had started with our discussion of the Desdemona part; our current actor said that she was eligible for another program that would positively affect her release date. She said they may call her at any time, including the possibility of them not calling during the run of the show. One of the newer members immediately volunteered unchallenged; she had been in a production of Othello in high school and played Desdemona. So the question of Othello’s understudy came up, and again a newer member was nominated. The question of whether or not Othello needed to be played by an actor of color was revisited. I was surprised because I didn’t feel as though we really exhausted the conversation during the casting. The actor chosen was everyone’s first pick; she had expressed how desperately she wanted to play the role, and we never really had to revisit the issue. So it felt a little out of place to have such an existential question of our story so late in the process. Some women felt that having an actor of color playing the role of Othello was essential to the story that they we’re trying to tell, and other members did not. I think that everyone thought that it was ideal, but in the spirit of ‘the show must go on,’ were willing to part with the ideal casting should occasion arise. It started to get heated, and I challenged the ensemble to take the weekend and we would revisit it again after we all had some time to give it some thought. Seeing as we already had an Othello who fully intended to finish the process, there was not exactly a rush to find an answer.
There was also some discomfort about how long it was taking to block the show. We counted the weeks and we felt a little uncomfortable about the number of weeks to crunch time and how much more of the show still yet to stage. Another ensemble member said she was having trouble visualizing the show since we have not gone back and run the scenes we have staged. It was a kind of a rock and hard place to some extent, since we had just finished a conversation about how much more we had to stage in a limited time. We decided to press on; we also decided that we would have to start staging scenes whether the actors were present or not, a practice which up until now we had avoided.
We started staging the infamous ‘slap scene’ where Othello hits Desdemona in front of Lodovico. This scene has the potential to run to extremes but no one really took it there. We ran it several times and worked different ways to block the scene. One break through we had was when one of the ensemble suggested that it was the letter from Lodovico that set him over the edge; Othello’s paranoia was such that suddenly everyone was against him, including the Duke from thousands of miles away. This made a lot of sense to the actors, and then immediately the ensemble set to restage to have Othello reading more of a focal point of the staging. We had lots of our newer members reading in for absent members, so for some of them it was their first time reading Shakespeare in front of anyone. It was so wonderful to see the ensemble unconditionally rally around them in their time of need. The actor playing Desdemona, who at the outset of the season bewailed the thought of ever really breaking out of her shell, was ushering in the newer members and has emerged as a leader in the group. It’s a really special transformation to see, and I think has happened so subtly that I didn’t even really give its due credit; yet here she was, taking the lead role and serving as a support to those less experienced. I left filled with gratitude and was amazed by the work of which I get to take part.