Written by Matt
A rainstorm seemed to keep turnout tonight a little low, but the women who came were ready to work. A short check-in led into some physical warm-up exercises, and one woman reflected that she has used a particularly meditative warm-up (a Michael Chekhov-inspired movement of energy in six direction) to calm herself when faced with a potentially explosive situation in the prison gym.
From the warmup, we dove straight into the text, focusing on Act II, Scene 2, which we had started to explore on Friday. In the scene, Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess (Richard’s mother), mourn the death of the ailing King Edward. Richard barges into the scene with his usual lack of subtlety and disrupts the mourning while ostensibly commiserating with the women. The scene is our introduction to the Duchess, and is an important scene in establishing Richard’s family background, all through subtext.
After stumbling through a couple of times, we began to work on refining the blocking—using the characters’ movements and body language to convey the core of the scene. Richard dove into this project with gusto, skulking in as the women wept and approaching Queen Elizabeth with a cartoonish expression of grief. After a few lines to Elizabeth, Richard pushed her aside with a dismissive backhand that had everyone in the audience laughing out loud; it perfectly encapsulated Richard’s sociopathy. Richard spoke afterwards about wanting to keep that gesture without losing its spontaneity.
When we determined that this scene is, in fact, the first time that we meet the Duchess, the woman playing her reflected that she wanted to convey how “sick she is of Richard.” A few other suggestions came from the group of ways to approach the Duchess’s role. Is her benediction to Richard perhaps a last-ditch effort to save him? Or it could be that she simply feels cornered and utters the words without clear intent—in which case the meaning of the interaction would need to come through entirely with body language. We resolved to try the scene several times until some way of performing it felt right.
We then turned our attention to Richard’s motivation; it turns out that his entire purpose in talking to Queen Elizabeth is to get her to reduce the number of bodyguards who will accompany the heir to the throne (a child) to the palace. Richard intends to kidnap the heir (which he later succeeds in), so the size of the royal entourage is important to him. We discussed how Richard needs to approach the task of convincing his superiors that a small group is safest, and we came back again to subtext and body language—a theme for the night.
We spent the remainder of our session discussing props and costumes, as we will need to come up with a full list soon. We went to take stock of our inventory of set pieces and flats, which are held backstage, and we started to brainstorm ideas for working within the prison’s restrictions on costuming. There are colors to avoid, types of garment that cannot be worn, and broad prohibitions on anything “military.” All of this, we decided, can be worked around in some way.
Written by Frannie
Tonight as we gathered, a couple of longtime ensemble members privately expressed frustration to me with another longtime ensemble member whose attendance has been spotty lately. One of these women actually confronted the her, asking her bluntly why she hasn’t been showing up and reminding her that we chose our play largely because of her input.
When that ensemble member arrived, she sat next to me. I quietly asked her whether or not she is still in the group. “I’m half in,” she replied. I said, “We need you either all the way in or all the way out. Halfway isn’t going to work.” She said she would think about it.
We worked on Act III, scene iii, in which Rivers, Grey, and Vaughan are led to their deaths. We discussed the relationships in this scene and the feelings of anger and injustice that these men have relative to their impending executions. Our Ratcliffe also inspired us with her utter lack of caring for the men – she was stone-faced, impassive, with monotone responses to their pleas. It was exciting and chilling.
We then moved to Act III, scene iv, in which several lords debate on when the coronation of the prince should take place, and Richard suddenly accuses Hastings of treason and orders his execution. This scene is pretty straightforward, and the ensemble managed it well, with Richard getting right up in Hastings’ face, being incredibly intimidating even though she is physically smaller than the woman playing Hastings, and then storming out. Our Hastings hesitated before her “Woe, woe for England…” speech, and we encouraged her to really dive in and not judge herself. She did, and it was very moving. She sometimes has a hard time approaching the material seriously – she gets self-conscious and reacts by laughing a lot – but when she buckles down, she can be very powerful.
I chatted with the ensemble member who’s been absent a lot again before she left. She said that she’s been working quite a bit and focusing on her writing, but that every time she makes up her mind to leave the ensemble, she can’t quite do it. I encouraged her to make the best decision for herself, but to do it soon because her absences are hurting our process. She assured me that she would make the decision within the next week.