We spent tonight playing improv games, since our rehearsal script isn’t yet ready and some group members pointed out that it’s been awhile since we’ve done improv. It’s important for us to continue to sharpen those skills so that we can react constructively when things go “haywire” in performance. We had a lot of fun!
During one of the games, the woman playing Richard came over to me. “I tried not to do it, I really tried,” she said, “But Richard III was on TV, and I watched it. And… I don’t know if I can really say this… But I didn’t like the Richard in the movie. I think I can play him better. Can I say that?” I replied that of course she can! I asked her why she felt that way. “The guy in the movie played him with no feelings. Just evil. I don’t want to play a character like that. I think he has feelings.”
An inmate who is not in our group came in and handed me an ensemble member’s book, saying that she wanted me to be able to make the cuts even though she couldn’t be present because of another program. It was good to be able to make those cuts rather than waiting another few days!
We wrapped up by saying good bye to an ensemble member who is going home in a couple of days. We are excited for her and will be rooting her on as she makes her transition.
Tonight when I arrived, one of the women shared with me that she’s been referencing part of the Shakespeare Behind Bars documentary lately – in one scene, a man admits to a particularly heinous crime and then expresses his wish that he be judged on the totality of his life, and not solely by the worst thing he’s ever done. This woman has been quoting that in order to stem judgment and bullying in her unit. It resonates for her – as someone who was heavily involved in drugs, there were things that she witnessed people doing upon which she sat in judgment… but later engaged in those activities herself. She said that it’s hard not to judge someone who’s done something that you consider to be the worst possible thing, until you’ve done it yourself. And then you must work on forgiving yourself. “I’m not that person anymore,” she said.
The energy in the room as we all gathered was extremely low. One of the lifers in our group shared during check in that the days have lost meaning for her – she forgot about Christmas Eve, and the change in the year isn’t hitting her at all. This negativity, which is completely understandable, hung heavy in the room. Since we still don’t have our rehearsal script, I suggested that we delve into the acting techniques that we’ve been dancing around – I’ve personally always felt healed and energized through work with Chekhov technique, and I hoped that we could arouse some of that tonight when it was so sorely needed.
After an energetic warm up, we began to work with something called “imaginary body.” In essence, the imaginary body can be imagined, shaped, and then “worn” like a costume, changing the way an actor moves and interacts with people and objects around them. We experimented with changing different parts of the body (i.e., you are extremely tall/short, you have an extremely long neck, you have hands made of glass), and then I welcomed everyone to “sculpt” an imaginary body for their characters out of the air, then stepping in and moving throughout the space. The group was game for this and the mood began to lighten considerably.
I then moved around the room asking, “Who are you?” and “What do you want?” with each person responding absolutely appropriately from her character’s perspective. We then came up with full body gestures expressing that want.
This took some time, and we gathered in a circle to reflect. The consensus was that these were useful exercises. A longtime ensemble member said, “It helped me get into my character more than in previous years, sooner.” She also shared that she loved the warm up exercise, as it activated her energy and made her feel more connected to her body. The woman playing the Duchess discovered that, “even though she’s eighty, she’s going to be a vibrant eighty.” The woman playing Richard said, “I got to put the traits I want him to have on him. He’s handsome. He’s gorgeous.”
The woman playing Anne then shared, “It made me realize I don’t feel comfortable with Anne… I don’t feel comfortable with her values. I don’t know what this woman wants – to maintain her lifestyle? Or does she want love…?” Another woman who had seen a version of our play on TV shared that, in that version, it was clear that Anne didn’t have a choice in her actions because Richard was the Lord Protector.
“I’m so excited about this year,” said another woman. “I know that when I go on stage I can be this Clarence who I’ve created.”
“It helped me look at her outside of the text, as a person, not just words on paper,” said one woman.
“Before today,” shared another woman, “I knew who I was playing but never really thought about it. When you asked what I wanted it really clicked for me: I do not want to die, and that’s what I want through the whole play.”
The woman playing the Duchess, said, “The Duchess might just want the bloodshed to stop, but in the meantime, I want my son to be cursed.”
The woman playing Buckingham said, “Thinking about what my character wants helps me think about why he wants the things that he wants. He wants stuff, reputation, power… He wants reputation, validation, recognition. He has a lot, but he wants more. He’s calculating and greedy.” A woman who was in the group last year jokingly quoted from Othello, saying, “Reputation, reputation, reputation!” We talked about all of our different interpretations of Buckingham – what she expressed is very different from the views of some of the women who view him as true and loyal, just having chosen the one person to whom to be loyal.
The room felt much lighter as we departed. As usual, this acting technique had served to buoy the entire group. I am very glad that we’ve chosen to delve in like this.