Session Six: Week 25

Chuk Nowak returned to the prison tonight to finish filming for a video project we’re putting together tonight some of our process and its effects. Several of the women in the ensemble were interviewed individually for this, sharing some really amazing insight, and then Chuk filmed the remainder of our rehearsal.

We decided to keep moving forward in the play (we’re on a roll!) and work on Act Four, scene one, in which Brakenbury tells Elizabeth that she can’t see her children, Stanley tells Anne she is about to be crowned queen, Elizabeth has a breakdown, and a plan is made for Dorset to flee. It’s quite a scene!

The group collaborated well on blocking in the first part of the scene, working to figure out the best positions for all of the actors and where people should enter and exit. There was some great problem solving. When Brakenbury told Elizabeth that she couldn’t see her children, that actress instinctively swooped in on her, and Anne and the Duchess followed. It was a really effective moment.

We talked a bit about Brakenbury’s slip – when he refers to Richard as the king, even though at this point he is still the Lord Protector. I asked the group what they thought it meant. Everyone was unanimous that this indicates that everyone can see through what Richard is doing.

One woman then suggested that, when the women move in on Brakenbury, Dorset should advance as well. The woman playing Dorset was hesitant to do so, but at first she didn’t speak up about why. This led to some discussion amongst the other members of the group about how Dorset feels upon hearing the news about the children being kept from their mother. Finally, I asked our Dorset how she felt. “I don’t think he would move in,” she said firmly. I asked her why not. “I think it’s self-preservation. I think he sees red flags,” she said. That interpretation was accepted with no further discussion – she had made a good point.

We talked, too, about Stanley’s role in this scene. Unfortunately, the woman playing Stanley wasn’t present, so we didn’t get too deep into it, but we all thought that it seems like Stanley is conflicted in this scene – delivering the message and then offering to help Dorset get away. There is clear conflict here, and we want to talk about it more with the woman who is playing the role.

We started having blocking problems again at this point, and it was here that I decided to step in, since the solution was rooted in details of the text that we haven’t talked about too much yet this year. Elizabeth’s lines upon hearing that Richard is being crowned are:

Ah, cut my lace asunder
That my pent heart may have some scope to beat,
Or else I swoon with this dead-killing news.

We all know why she’s upset here, but we were missing just how deep this goes. I pointed out, first, that when Shakespeare’s characters say “Ah” or “O,” it often isn’t meant to be those literal vowel sounds, but rather emotional exclamations – often raw. So that was our first clue about what needs to happen – that it needs to be raw and emotional. The second thing I pointed out was that that first line is short, and the rhythm is irregular, especially compared to the vast majority of this play, which is pretty faithfully written in iambic pentameter. I asked the group what they thought the significance of that was. After some rumination, we arrived at this irregularity reflecting its being an irregular moment – that it’s jarring, that she’s shocked. And then we parsed out the meaning of the whole phrase – that she is asking someone to cut open the laces of her corset because her heart is beating so hard that she fears she will faint.

Given this new information, I again asked the group what’s going on here. “It’s a collapse,” one person said. “Yes,” I said, “And if the collapse is physical as well, I think we’ve solved our blocking problem.” When our Elizabeth sank down on the edge of the stage, the Duchess and Dorset immediately moved to her, while our Anne hung back, consumed by her own dread. We then found that Anne could move toward Stanley, and then out toward the audience during the monologue in which she realizes that she’s cursed herself. It was then simple for the Duchess to speak to each person individually (something that had really been tripping us up), and the exits revealed themselves naturally.

We spent a lot of time on this very brief scene, but it was warranted. I could tell that our Elizabeth was feeling apprehensive about this emotional collapse, and I assured her that no one expected her to “go there” at this stage of rehearsal, but that she should gear herself up to do it later.

It’s also worth noting that one woman who is usually fairly reticent spoke up frequently tonight, giving really insightful suggestions and feedback on blocking. We encouraged her to keep speaking up – those of us who’ve been doing this for years noted that natural directors emerge every year, and this year it looks like she’s one of them. I hope that she’ll continue to contribute in this way, as she has great instincts, and her success in staging could build confidence that will translate to other areas of her life. It’s happened many times before.