Tonight’s check-in was fairly extended – pretty much everyone in the group was having a rough time and needed to share. Although what we were talking about was pretty dark, there was still humor sprinkled in, along with a great amount of support for one another.
A longtime ensemble member, who is an accurately self-described workhorse, came in during this check-in, realized what we were talking about, and promptly left. This caused me some concern, and when a friend of this ensemble member expressed that she was also concerned, I told her that the ensemble member has, over the years, frequently expressed that she would rather work on Shakespeare than talk about feelings, and that that is probably what caused her to leave. “But this is about so much more than Shakespeare,” she said. Another ensemble member nodded vigorously, saying, “Sometimes the check-ins need to be long. Today we needed to talk.” I agreed that this is an important aspect of what we do. The first inmate said, “We need that honesty, trust, accountability and team work… It makes it feel so good to be here. Not to mention the Shakespeare. I can’t tell you how much I love Shakespeare. It’s so accurate to our experience here – he uses the perfect words. I’m so glad I found this.”
We then decided to work on Act Four, scene two. There was some debate about whether we needed a coronation scene – since the goal is to perform this in 90 minutes or less, we don’t have much time for things like this. We eventually figured out an efficient, symbolic way to make it happen.
In this scene, Richard asks Buckingham to kill the princes. When Buckingham says he needs some time to think about it, Richard turns to a killer for hire, and then makes it very clear to Buckingham that he is out of favor. Buckingham decides to flee while he can.
We asked ourselves if Buckingham knows what Richard is asking from the get-go – is he deflecting, or does he honestly not know what he’s getting at? We leaned toward deflection, and we talked about the distance that immediately grows between the men, who have been so close throughout the play up until this point. I offered that the scene might largely be about the breakdown of that friendship. This was reflected in the women’s initial staging instincts – at first they drifted apart, and then Richard swooped back in to threaten Buckingham.
There was some confusion about the latter part of the scene – Stanley enters, has a brief exchange with Richard, and then stays on stage, saying nothing. We debated whether or not Richard brings him deeper into the conspiracy. We decided that if that happened it would give Stanley more impetus to go against Richard in the end, so we staged it that way – although we decided that Stanley should have some physical distance during Richard’s exchange with Tyrrel.
The woman playing Stanley was at first disappointed that many of her lines had been cut for time, but now she seems to be more enthusiastic about the role. She is certainly taking ownership of it. I’m really happy to see that.
Tonight we dove into Act Three, scene two, as our Hastings, who has frequently been absent due to work, was eager to get up on her feet. In this scene, Hastings is given a message by Stanley, who then enters the scene, about a dream he had about Richard. Hastings laughs off the danger. Some of our ensemble members found the scene a little obtuse, so we spent some time clarifying the content.
We had a bit of a debate about how entrances to the scene should work, and the scene’s Messenger, who also plays Dorset, spoke up again very strongly. This seems to be built upon the group’s positive reception to her voicing her ideas last week about Dorset – prior to that evening, she had been very quiet. It’s exciting to see her taking more of a stand now.
I have also noticed recently that one of our ensemble members, who nearly flaked toward the end of last season (we had legitimate concerns that she might not show up for our performances), has taken on more of a leadership role this year, becoming one of the ensemble’s most vocal cheerleaders and taking it upon herself to gently and kindly guide new ensemble members through unfamiliar territory. Tonight in particular, she helped a new ensemble member to understand the best way in which to do a cross and the reasons behind stepping downstage of another actor as opposed to upstage. It’s really, really great when that kind of advice comes from an ensemble member rather than a facilitator.
On Fridays, we are usually in a classroom rather than the auditorium, and this can lead to some confusion about our exact blocking. One instance was a brief argument over whether one person stepping backward would land her on the stairs leading to the stage, or if she would have room on the floor to make the move. We generally table these details until we get back in the auditorium. Despite the misunderstandings, things never got heated, and we laughed a lot as we tried to figure out what everyone was talking about.
The woman who is playing the Prince is extremely nervous about the amount of lines she has – she has fairly low confidence and giggled her way nervously through two minor roles in Othello last year. She had expressed a desire to cut the scene with Richard down as much as possible. After checking with the others in the scene, I asked another ensemble member, who is very good at cutting, to take a look at the scene and see what she could do to whittle it down.
Some of the women are already working on memorizing their lines. This is extremely early in the process for this to happen – in fact, I can’t remember it happening in years past. We applauded those women’s efforts and reminded them not to put too much pressure on – we still have three months until we perform. Several of the women have also been working lines and exploring scenes in their units, which, again, shows a lot of dedication that encourages others in the group to follow suit.