Written by Matt
Tonight many women seemed to be feeling strained, and their comments at check-in touched on moments in the last week that have made them feel on edge or melancholy. Two talked about how many of their friends are in segregation or stuck in their bunks on sanctions. One longtime member said that her brother had been in a car accident, and that she was feeling acutely “how fast life can change.” Between the dark cloud hanging over the group and the oppressive heat in the theatre space, most women didn’t seem especially excited to move around, but one woman who has emerged as a leader led us all through a vigorous physical warmup that left everyone energized, if a little sweaty.
The rest of this session was taken up with work on the opening monologue. This sort of intensive work on a single woman’s scene can be taxing (or boring!) for other participants, who mostly sit around, but today, every member of the ensemble was actively invested in Richard’s success. After a rough initial read-through with Richard standing in the middle of a circle of ensemble-members, we discussed Richard’s deformity and how it should manifest onstage. A facilitator jumped in to say that perhaps we should leave aside the staging of Richard’s deformity—whatever it turns out to be—until we all have a better sense of the more essential parts of his role (his desires, his worldview, his motivations). On a second performance, the permission to abandon the limp seemed to free Richard. She was more expansive, funnier, and sharper. We all laughed out loud at her impish delivery of some of Richard’s snarky lines. Little, inspired flourishes started to come through in this iteration; Richard, in declaring that “I am determined to prove a villain,” toppled the chair in front of her with a flick of the wrist and a little smirk.
After this second time through, the women talked about how they had used the “Imaginary Bodies” exercise from a previous session to mold their characters already. Four or five women chimed in to say that they had learned about their characters through this technique. The group decided to let Richard run through the entire first scene, this time on stage, with the ensemble in the audience. Richard really let loose this time through, moving through the aisles and coming to individual audience members in the front two rows during the two monologues in the scene. The effect was to deepen Richard’s glee at planning and plotting. A member commented that “I really love Richard coming down to us.”
Before leaving, we talked briefly about Richard’s view of women, especially because this first scene leads into I.ii, the argument with—and wooing of--Anne. “Women,” said our Richard, “are just puppets and toys.” The group nodded silently in agreement.
Written by Frannie
Before we began, I had a private conversation with our Richard. She has been really concerned about Richard’s deformity and resistant to working with it. She views Richard as a “sexy badass,” and that’s not an incorrect interpretation. She and I had miscommunicated about the deformity – she thought I was prescribing for her what it is, which was not my intention. I explained to her that it’s important to the character that something be physically wrong with him – he mentions it in the first few lines of the play – but that we can work on exactly what it is. I also made sure she understood that this deformity does not have to be a weakness – that many people with disabilities or physical deformities are extremely strong and charismatic, so she does not have to let go of her interpretation of the character. She was reassured, and we are now on the same page.
Many of our ensemble members had to leave early tonight, but fortunately we were left with most of the women who are in Act One, scene four, in which Clarence tells of his nightmare and is then murdered by two mercenaries. Our Brakenbury was one of the people who had to leave early, so a woman who lives in her unit stood in for her, taking notes that she would then pass on. One of the women who was in the group last year reminded all of us that some of our interpretation of the scene needs to be left for when the actual Brakenbury is present.
Our Clarence then mentioned that we hadn’t done our physical Six Directions warm up, and said that it helped her so much she really wanted to do it. I said that I would do it with her, and then everyone else joined in.
We went through the scene once. It didn’t seem quite right. We explored the relationship between Brakenbury (whom we have merged with the Keeper in this scene, and so is the “officer”) and Clarence, who is the prisoner. “He has compassion for me. He’s really listening,” said our Clarence. The woman standing in for Brakenbury said, though, that as the officer she felt odd about letting Clarence touch her or sitting on a bench with her. “You’re royalty,” said one of the women to Clarence. “You’re a good dude, and he doesn’t like seeing you in this position. But he’s gotta do his job.” Another woman said, “We have officers who are good and compassionate, but they wouldn’t come sit in the dayroom and eat with us.”
The woman playing Clarence then emotionally said that she wanted Brakenbury to have compassion for Clarence because she is so sick of dealing with officers who have no empathy for the prisoners under their watch. I pointed out that this is a great instinct and one that she can use, even if our interpretation is that there is no physical contact – that the desire for contact can be the obstacle to her character’s objective and help to motivate how upset she is. We reminded her, too, that some of this needs to be left up to the woman actually playing Brakenbury, and a woman who knows that ensemble member well pointed out that she has OCD and likely would not want to be touched in any case. That seems to have decided things – we like to gently push people out of their comfort zones in terms of participation, but we absolutely do not want to push on something like that.
We tried changing up the staging of the scene a bit, so that our Clarence would direct more of her monologues outward toward the audience, leaving Brakenbury a bit distant from her. This proved to be a bit of an emotional gut punch, as she sank to her knees to pray, and Brakenbury then gently came over to sit with her as she went to sleep. It was extremely effective.
The Murderers then entered. They had decided previously that the First Murderer is the brains, and the Second Murderer is the muscle, and that he is flamboyant. Without us noticing, they had altered how they were wearing their uniforms to reflect this – the First Murderer wore her over-shirt open and walked with a swagger, and the Second Murderer pulled her pants up under her ribcage and walked leading with her pelvis.
I don’t think any of us realized how FUNNY this scene is until they began to interact with each other. I don’t even know that it’s generally staged that way, but what they were doing was completely motivated by the text and worked beautifully. We talked about how what the Second Murderer’s objective changes in this scene – from wanting to get out of doing the murder to remembering the reward and re-committing to the action. At one point the First Murderer accidentally said, “The Gluke of Gloucester,” and we all burst out laughing.
It was a really fun, uplifting evening.