Tonight was all about cuts to the script. We began with the goal of staging Act One, scene three, but after reading through it once, we realized that a lot of it had to go. We made a series of cuts – some of them pretty dramatic – and then read it again. And then we realized that we wanted MORE cuts!
In the course of this process, we eliminated all of Dorset’s and Grey’s lines. The women playing those roles quietly voiced some resentment (they have so few lines to begin with) but rolled with the punches – they prioritize the ensemble pretty consistently. I mulled over this to myself and realized that Rivers still had a bunch of lines in the scene – and she (who is also playing Tyrrel) has been overwhelmed by the thought of memorizing as many lines as she has. I quietly asked her if she’d like to give some of her lines in this scene to Dorset and Grey. She liked that idea, so I asked the three of them to huddle and figure out how to distribute the lines.
After they had done so and shared with me, one of them prodded our Rivers/Tyrrel to tell me about a concern that she had. Tyrrel has a bit of a soliloquy, and the language is fairly complex, both of which were worrying her. We put our heads together and figured out how to cut nearly all of the speech. She was quite relieved!
At that point, we were so in the mode of making cuts that our Richard and Richmond both asked Matt and me to collaborate with them on honing down some of their monologues. It was a great exchange between the four of us – slowly going through those passages to figure out how much we could or should cut. We were able to make some significant changes.
I was concerned that not everyone in the ensemble was involved in the cutting process tonight, but when I conferred with the other facilitators (who hadn’t had their heads buried in a script for two hours), they told me that the others were either engaged in meaningful, reflective conversations or working on their scripts themselves. It was good to know that it had been overall a good, productive night for everyone.
We had low attendance tonight, which happens sometimes, and we decided to make the best of it by huddling around a table and working to adapt the scene in which the ghosts of Richard’s victims visit him and Richmond.
We have known that we would need to make adjustments to this scene, but we weren’t sure exactly how to do it. We began by reading through the scene to get a feel for the original writing and see what ideas came to us immediately. Aspects of the scene that stuck out to people included the brutality of some of the lines, the effectiveness of certain characters speaking in unison, and the number of ghosts in the scene. We determined that our goals would be to shorten the scene but preserve its intention and impact.
The group was a little stuck in the mode of simply cutting lines, but that kept presenting challenges that could only be overcome by altering the scene in a pretty radical way. I asked the group to go through it and identify key words and phrases that stuck out to them, beginning with the lines directed at Richard and then moving to the ones given to Richmond. We noted that the “Richard words” that struck us were dark, violent, and accusatory; the “Richmond words” were uplifting and encouraging. The core phrases we identified were “despair and die” (Richard) and “live and flourish” (Richmond). We also determined that Buckingham’s closing couplets are so powerful that we wanted to keep them to “drop the mic” on the scene.
I then asked the group why the scene is so repetitive – why did Shakespeare write it that way? There were several ideas about this that built on one another – that the device emphasizes the difference between the characters and that it drives home two points: 1) that what you do comes back to haunt you; there are always consequences, and 2) that Richard has a LOT of victims – not just one, but many lives. “This is one of the biggest parts of the whole play,” said one woman. “Yeah,” agreed another woman. “It’s like, you know how many people he’s killed, but this puts in in your face. We need to keep them all in. We need the magnitude.”
I asked the group why, in addition to the repetition, Shakespeare wrote the ghosts going back and forth between the two men. The group had several ideas about this: that it shows battles within and without; that it shows a shift in power from Richard to Richmond; that it makes the dichotomy between good and evil more dramatic.
So, I asked, what are the effects of the scene on each of the men? Richard is startled awake and has an incredible monologue in which he expresses doubt, fear, guilt, anxiety, and a feeling that he’s lost control. It’s his most human moment in the play. Richmond, on the other hand, feels encouraged, empowered, and energized (insert jokes here about how nearly every word we came up with began with “e”).
Then came the next phase – how did we want to stage this? One woman shared visions of the ghosts wearing tunics with images of how they were killed. We built on that by wondering if they could carry signs. Another woman said she pictured the ghosts wearing white makeup with black circles around their eyes. I pointed out that, while that would be visually very effective, it would be logistically very challenging. I asked if masks might achieve the same effect, and the group felt that that might work. Someone suggested bringing in a smoke machine, which I assumed wouldn’t be allowed and would be very complicated to use even if it were, and someone else suggested using fabric to simulate smoke. Another woman suggested that the ghosts wear “flowy ghost capes.”
Riffing on the phrases “despair and die” and “live and flourish,” we started to wonder if there was a way to stage this as a sort of protest. “Hashtag Ghost Lives Matter,” joked one woman. We started throwing ideas around. We all agreed that the ghosts should enter from all parts of the theatre, and we wondered if they should immediately speak or be silent at first. “This is people who’ve been silenced regaining their voices,” said one woman.
We thought of different types of movement. Should the ghosts move in a crowd? In a figure eight around the men? Should they stand in a line? Flip their signs or hold them steady? Or get rid of the signs altogether?
We struggled with how to put the words and phrases together but all agreed that Buckingham should end the scene. We also wondered how our adapted script would spur Richard’s monologue.
At that point, we realized we were out of time – the night went by very quickly! A few of us decided to keep brainstorming and write down our ideas to bring to the group on Tuesday, when we hope we can hash things out and finalize them.
It was a very exciting, engaging evening, and definitely an unusual one for us. We don’t often do collaborative writing like this – our interpretations are usually pretty straightforward. I’m excited to see where tonight’s brainstorm leads. We have so many good ideas!