Tonight was another great session, with our newer members getting involved in a really wonderful way. There is still a little bit of a division between the new members and those who started in September, but it’s not immediately evident. I didn’t notice it until we finished the warm up and ring exercise and the ensemble seemed to sit in the two camps. This is an inevitability I think, but I am eager for those imaginary walls to break down a little more.
Lauren, Clearie and I arrived at the programs building unusually early and had a moment to really catch up with the ensemble as they trickled in. Everyone was in good spirits and talking about the weather on Tuesday. One ensemble member, just before check-in, remarked that it always feels different without Frannie there, “It’s like it’s substitute teacher day at school!” During the check-in, one of the members brought up the looming election and talked about the candidate she is supporting. Another gasped, apparently on the opposite end of the political spectrum, and the beginnings of a debate was in full swing. The group, albeit at my insistence, agreed that the election would be an ‘outside issue’ and that since the group was not affiliated, we would not discuss politics at SIP.
We had two new additions to the group, and they gave their responses to the three questions we ask everyone on their first day. Both had really genuine responses; one mentioned that her gift to the group was her constant positivity; while the other said that she had previously been a performer and had even played Desdemona in high school. Just about all of the new recruits at some point spoke to me individually about something, and I already feel like a good bond is being formed. During the check-in, one of the ensemble members with a leading role announced that she had been accepted to another program that could positively impact her release date, so she may have to step down. She said she didn’t know a timetable yet, and truth be told, if it was even happening yet; we decided to give it a little more time before we made any kind of decision and perhaps a solution would present itself.
After Clearie led the group in a warm-up game, we turned our attention to the play. It was the scene in which Othello confronts Desdemona about losing the handkerchief that he had given her. The main crux of the discussion was our Desdemona not knowing what to do or how to feel. The group was really encouraging about her trusting her own feelings in the moment, and we ran the scene three or four times, each time growing in her ability to commit. As Othello became more menacing, what effect would that on her? She said she felt nervous, and wanted to back away from him; we encouraged her to follow those instincts over each run. Our Othello also ran ideas by the group of different ways she could loosen up and try things that she thought might not make sense. We all encouraged her to keep pushing, which gave our Desdemona the added stimulus to explore her feelings. We finished with Cassio’s entrance, which happily was assumed by our newest member of whom we had earlier asked the three questions. It was exciting to see someone brand new to the group up on stage working as if she had been there for years. We finished the night mid-scene and set a couple of ideas for blocking that we’re all eager to try on Tuesday. Our Desdemona confided in the group right at the end that she was worried about not understanding what she was saying enough, and so one of the senior members organized a meeting for over the weekend where all the ensemble members could paraphrase the Shakespearean verse. It was a really wonderful way to finish the night, with a little buzz of unity.