Season Seven: Week 7


Written by Frannie.

We spent our entire time tonight exploring Act III scene iv, in which the ghost of Banquo visits a banquet hosted by the Macbeths. We read through it, made sure everyone was on the same page in terms of plot, and then the discussion began.

“Is he drunk?” one woman asked about Macbeth, right off the bat. “Sometimes when we’re drunk, we say too much. I know I did.” We mused briefly that he certainly could be drunk, and then the conversation veered away from that and to a focus on the ghost – is it a hallucination or actually there?

“The ghost could be there to say, ‘I know what you did,’” said one woman. A woman with the other view suggested that if the ghost were a hallucination, it could be the manifestation of Macbeth’s guilt. And then another woman who feels that the ghost is real said, “Maybe the ghost followed the First Murderer back to who sent him – so he knows. He didn’t know it was Macbeth, but now he does.”

And how about the way in which Macbeth reacts, real ghost or not? “Macbeth isn’t the rock he portrays himself as. Without Lady Macbeth, he’s nothing. She’s his spine,” said one woman. “He opened up the door to the lords by showing another side of him – whether he subconsciously wanted to get caught or not,” said another.

This looped us back around to the question of whether or not Macbeth is drunk. “If he were sober, he’d cover better,” said one woman. Several people built on each other’s ideas, putting forward the idea that this drunkenness could be the result of hard drinking driven by guilt and/or sleeplessness, and that this results in “word vomit” in the scene.

We also wondered about whether or not the lords notice the murderer. One thinks so because of the blood on his face. And that made us begin to ponder what this scene might look like, staged. So we decided to stage it.

For the first time, we broke up our circle to use the stage traditionally, with those of us not in the scene sitting in the house. The ensemble placed a long table center stage and pulled six chairs up to it. Five of them sat in those chairs to play the lords.

The scene began. The actors felt their way through it, making interesting discoveries even as they stumbled. There is one ensemble member who came into the group last fall extremely reticent, anxious, and lacking confidence, and when we discovered how incredible her directing instincts are she began participating more, even playing multiple roles in the performances. She has been pretty quiet so far this season, and I noticed how intently she was watching the scene unfold.

I sat beside her and quietly asked, “What do you see? Does this need any fixes?” She nodded, her eyes still on the stage. “What would you fix? I’ll write it all down.” She began to tell me her thoughts, and the more I agreed with her, the faster those thoughts came out. They ranged from altering the placement of the table to create more playing space, to playing with the dynamic between the ghost and Macbeth, to noting the things about the scene that did work well.

We applauded when the scene concluded. The actors agreed that it had felt pretty good but that it could have gone better. I asked how the others felt, and a few put forward some ideas (I didn’t write them down because by that point I had given my notepad to the woman for whom I’d been taking notes). There was a lull, and I said, “[NAME] has some ideas.” Those who were in the group last year eagerly asked her what those were. She looked at me. I smiled and said, “And I think this will work better if you go on stage and show them the physical stuff.” She grinned sheepishly, got to her feet, and went up on stage.

As soon as she rose, she began talking through her thoughts with the rest of the ensemble. She has a really remarkable ability to give constructive criticism in a way that is honest without being harsh, and she tempers it with praise, so no one has ever resisted anything she’s suggested or been defensive – they have always at least tried her ideas. As she talked, I began moving chairs as she suggested but didn’t direct what was going on at all. In fact, all of the facilitators sat back and said nothing aside from affirmative responses and a few questions. The group came together and figured out what they wanted to do without direction from us.

As we prepared to run the scene again, the “director” moved to hand my notepad and pen to me. “Go ahead and keep it,” I said. “The great thing about taking notes as you go is that you don’t have to remember anything, so you can stay in the moment.”

As the scene progressed, I looked over at her. She was leaning forward in her seat, completely focused, and by the end of the scene she had taken a full page of notes. And yet, as the others shared their reactions and ideas, she hung back, listening to them, glancing at her notes, waiting. Again there was a lull, and I gestured to her that this would be a good time to share. She picked through her notes, skipping the ones that had already been mentioned and making decisions about which notes she actually wanted to give – the same way a professional director would. Everyone again listened intently. She has absolutely no ego about this; her insight and excellent instincts boost her confidence without making her arrogant. I just love watching and listening to her in this role.

As we left, she handed the notepad and pen back to me. I asked her if she had liked taking notes, and she said that she had. I assured her that I would always have an extra notepad and pen with me if she wants to keep doing it. She pointed at the notepad and said, “I took notes on what everyone said, too, just like you always do. I didn’t want you not to have that written down!”

So here are her notes on that second discussion:

•    One woman suggested that Macbeth and Lady use more of the stage and come closer to the audience.
•    Another woman suggested that the lords interact with Macbeth, not just with each other.
•    Another said Lady has to be the wife, so she helps the lords leave and then cares for Macbeth – there’s a “switch” that turns on and off.
•    One ensemble member said that Lady is irritated with Macbeth, but she really realizes that he needs to be cared for.
•    A woman who is unabashed about her somewhat radical political views said, reaching for the word she wanted, that Macbeth and Lady are “comrades.” [She looked at me (Frannie) and grinned. I said, “Oh, comrades, huh? Noted.” She said, “Shut up, Frannie! Shut up!”] She went on to explain that they are in this together, and maybe it makes Lady love him more.
•    Another woman said that maybe Lady makes for an angrier person.

This last woman continued to list ideas she had for interpreting the scene as Lady. She looked at me. I teased, “So… what you’re saying is, you want to play Lady Macbeth the next time we do this scene?” “Yes!” a number of ensemble members shouted. She grinned, shaking her head.

We decided to explore this scene again on Friday if we feel like it, and, if not, to come back to it later.

This was pretty much the ideal way in which our ensemble can work. It was a total team effort, with leadership spread among a number of people. Things never got heated; everyone listened to each other and problem solved together. And the facilitators gave hardly any input; in fact, I’m not sure we gave any significant input at all. This is a huge step toward empowerment, which is our number one objective: my voice is heard; my ideas are valued; I am a vital member of a team; others support me when I need it; I have good instincts; I don’t need someone telling me what to do or think.

Good, good stuff.



Written by Kyle.

When we got in on Friday, Frannie had to leave almost right away to meet with women on our waiting list who were interested in joining, and, in a few cases, re-joining the group. We started off the evening with our traditional warm-up and ring exercise. One of the women wanted to do Chekhov's six-directions exercise, and another volunteered to lead. It was great the way they just jumped in accommodate each other- it seemed so routine. Afterward, we recapped the banquet scene and then picked up where we had left off on Act III, scene v.

One woman commented on the subtlety of the scene with the two lords; that they keep dancing around this idea that Macbeth is implicated in all of the murders, but they dare not say it. Toward the end of the scene, though, they grow explicitly mutinous. “At first I thought they were just talking crap about Macbeth, but now I know they are actually talking about rebellion,” said one woman.

When we got to Act III, scene vi, one ensemble member said that she had memorized all of the First Witch’s lines and was eager to show them off. I shuddered a little and tried to reiterate that the Hecate scenes were most likely inserted after Shakespeare had died, and in no way move the dramatic tension or plot forward. She had memorized the lines, though, and someone else had clearly rehearsed the Hecate speeches for tonight. I did an internal face-palm, swallowed it deep down, and said, “Great! Let’s see what you’ve got!” They did great!

Afterward, we moved on to Act IV, scene i - the famous “Double double, toil and trouble” scene, in which the witches give Macbeth enigmatic clues about his future. It was hot in the room, and many ensemble members did not want to get the scene up on its feet right away. A few of the readers were very well-rehearsed in their reading. That always catches me off guard – most of the time, they are so nonchalant about volunteering, and then BAM! They’ve rehearsed and have been secretly counting the seconds to when they get to read their scene. I don’t know what they do when someone else jumps in – it must happen – but so far, no fireworks.

We read the scene once through. Many of the women commented on Macbeth’s ability to just buy into the false sense of security offered by the witches. There were several different theories as to why this was. One woman said that she thought he was so desperate that he set himself up for failure: “Kinda like the way you go to that certain friend who is going to co-sign your B.S.” Others honed in on the fact that they thought it was the witches who were being intentionally deceitful. It sparked a really rich debate about whether the witches were an extension of Macbeth’s evil, acting as facilitators to a temptation already inside of him; or if Macbeth was no more than a puppet attached to the strings of their power. We then put the scene on its feet and realized just how many parts there were to make it work. The scene always takes on a life of its own, and tonight was no different. I floated that the Hecate musical number could be a group rendition of the dance from the iconic Michael Jackson “Thriller” music video. This idea was met with mixed reactions.

At the end of the scene, it was wonderful to see the women’s imaginations so fired up. Ideas of how to stage the scene came too quickly to write down. Building a big cauldron, playing the scene in front of the curtain with the apparitions stepping through the break, how we could use costumes to make the Banquo line of kings work; these were some of the many rapid-fire ideas that came from the ensemble all at once. It was a beautiful thing to behold. The ensemble is really jazzed about this play; they keep on surprising me with memorization, rehearsing parts, staking their claims to coveted roles, elaborate conspiracy theories about the secret identities of the witches, etc. This play is really churning their creativity in a way that others could not. Othello’s gritty realism makes it so much more painful, and Richard III’s over the top bloodlust can make him a charismatic hero his own tragi-comedy; but it’s the supernatural elements of Macbeth that fire the imaginations of the ensemble in a way that is truly unique. I can’t wait to see what they come up with!