Tonight we worked on Act Three, scene five, in which Richard and Buckingham manipulate the Lord Mayor into trying to persuade the citizens to hear out the reasons why the princes are illegitimate. A minute or so into the scene, a couple of minor characters enter with Hastings’ head (Richard framed and had him executed in the previous scene).
Initially, the scene felt awkward and wooden, so we worked together to fix it. First off, based on how everyone was standing on stage, it would have been impossible for the Lord Mayor to see the head in a bag (we clearly don’t have the budget to replicate our Hastings’ head, nor do we think the prison would allow us to use a severed head…). We revisited what the scene is about – Richard and Buckingham pushing the Lord Mayor into doing this thing and using the head as part of that manipulation. What we arrived at was having them literally manhandle the Lord Mayor around the stage, getting him very close to the head. And then, in a burst of creativity, our Richard took the bag from the messenger and started gesticulating wildly with it, repeatedly putting it in the Lord Mayor’s face. It was hysterically funny, especially because our Lord Mayor stayed almost completely in character as she reacted to it. We might want to pull it back at some point, but for now we absolutely love it.
We then moved on to the Scrivener’s speech, in which he talks about how, while he was in the midst of transcribing Hastings’ indictment, Hastings was already executed. He questions how people could not see through Richard’s machinations; and, if they did see through it, what it would take for them to speak out. Our Scrivener at first didn’t understand some of the language; I explained it to her, and she said, “Oh, okay. So this is exactly the way I feel about politics right now.”
I asked the group why this speech is in the play. We talked about what a scary situation this must be for the “little people,” who would be able to observe events without being able to directly affect them, and who might be drafted into war against their wills. We decided that the main thrust of the speech is to try to get someone to speak up. The second time our Scrivener delivered the speech, all of her intentions were crystal clear. It hit home for many of us.
Before we began tonight, one of our ensemble members pulled me aside to speak to me about her good friend in the group. This friend is extremely nervous about getting up on stage. She also has OCD and is terrified of being touched. I reminded the ensemble member that, first of all, nobody has to do anything that she doesn’t want to do, and that, given the characters she’s playing, there is no need for physical contact. I encouraged her to ask her friend to talk to me herself. But I also suggested that we push her friend just a bit – that we ask her to at least try getting up on stage before she decides that she can’t do it. “Now’s the time,” I said. “We’re still a ways away from performing, so there’s no pressure and no audience.” She said, “That’s exactly what I told her!” We’ll see how it goes.
I had one-on-one conversations with a couple of other ensemble members as well. One is nearing her release date and is very concerned about what’s going to happen when she goes home. Her relationship with her family is complicated, and she has big goals for herself that will be challenging to achieve. I listened attentively and encouraged her not to put too much pressure on herself – that she is certainly going to have challenges, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she will fail. Another ensemble member simply wanted me to know that this is a rough time of year for her, and that’s why she’s been a bit reticent lately. I thanked her for continuing to show up when she’s having such a hard time.
Some ensemble members requested that we do our Six Directions exercise, and this time I challenged the people participating to do it without speaking. We stayed perfectly in sync.
We chose to work on Act Three, scene seven, in which Buckingham and Richard continue their manipulation to make Richard king. A running theme in the play is Richard’s religious hypocrisy, and nowhere is it more evident than in this scene. Our Richard took this to heart, repeatedly dropping to her knees and praying, laying it on thick as she resisted Buckingham’s pleas to take the crown. It was hilarious. She really understands the humor in this role (which is often missed), and she is so much fun to watch.
The other thing that was really remarkable was when we asked who would play the aldermen (who don’t speak) in this scene. The woman who, months ago, told us that her anxiety might prevent her from getting on stage at all, volunteered to play one of the roles. No one had pushed her (we all agreed not to when she originally expressed the concern) – she just decided to do this of her own accord. These kinds of moments are my favorite part of this program – when someone who initially thought she couldn’t do something decides to give it a go. It shows so much growth and courage.