Tonight began with a discussion about our options for next season’s play. We reviewed the themes of each play we were considering and then did an anonymous vote. We ended up in a tie between Macbeth and As You Like It, with three people voting for other plays. The ensemble wanted an immediate decision, and our general policy is that decisions get made by the people in the room (unless it predominantly affects one person), so those three ensemble members voted again to break the tie. We ended up with Macbeth. Most of us are very excited about it. Others are a little disappointed, but no one threatened to leave the group or anything! One woman is upset only because she will be leaving prison before the final performance, and she is really intrigued by the play. I hope she’ll stay with us for the exploration part of the season.
We decided to work through the end of the play before we move on to our next goal: making our way through the entire thing in chronological order, no matter who is absent, so we can be sure our entrances, exits, and curtains all work.
We talked through how to stage these scenes, which go back and forth between Richard’s and Richmond’s tents, and then evolve into the battle. We decided as a group that when coming and going from the camp, people would enter and exit from the wings; when leaving the camp, people will enter and exit through the doors on either side of the stage.
We did a lot of detail work with our acting and the text, even though staging was our goal. We talked through the level of urgency needed in the scene between Richmond and Stanley – what are their objectives? How well do they know each other? How quickly does this scene need to happen? Our Richard, although very tired, rallied and delivered a remarkable performance of her post-ghost soliloquy. “That was great,” said one woman. “Every time your thoughts changed, you moved.”
We talked through Ratcliffe’s reaction to Richard’s obvious unraveling. And after our Richmond took a couple of (very effective) stabs at her monologue rallying the troops, I pulled her aside to do some work with the text, specifically with antithesis and key words. Many ensemble members over the years have been bored by this aspect of working with Shakespeare, so we tend not to belabor it, but this ensemble member is “a huge dork,” in her own words, and she was receptive to and excited about exploring this further.
The transition to the battle presented some challenges. One woman suggested that we have a battle soundscape, possibly without any on stage action. But it seemed to us that the stage directions called for a visual. We came up with a very cool solution that involves closing the curtain so that we can strike the tents, Catesby directly appealing to the audience for help, Richard wandering on the floor in front of the stage calling out for a horse, and the curtain opening on Richmond, ready for the fight.
We took a few minutes to review the sword fight and then staged the very end of the play. Several people remarked that they were relieved to have all of that settled and eager to begin at the beginning on Friday.
Two ensemble members told us tonight that they have quit their dance class, which conflicts with Shakespeare one night per week, so that they can fully commit to rehearsal. We thanked them for their dedication – it’s a big thing to give up another activity that is so enjoyable, and we do not take it for granted.
We stuck to our plan and began at the beginning of the play. I was involved in a one-on-one conversation with an ensemble member outside of the auditorium, and when we came in, we found our Richard delivering an incredibly powerful opening soliloquy – completely off book. Something that is remarkable about her interpretation is how much humor she’s finding in the role. It’s refreshing after normally seeing Richard played as deadly serious or only mildly sardonic. She’s pushing it much further, and it works very well.
We got to the big scene with Richard and Anne. Our Anne, as you may recall, has severe anxiety and is really pushing herself by playing Anne. She and I had worked out a plan in which she and I would work on her monologue without the rest of the group to get her comfortable with it, but we hadn’t done that yet, and here we were at the scene. I asked her if she would be okay with just going up on stage and saying the lines – if we could let the group know that that’s all she was going to do, and that the acting would come in later. She said that would be fine, and we communicated our plan to the others, who were very encouraging.
Standing back stage preparing to go on, our Anne took a deep breath, smiled shakily, and said, “I’m gonna die.” Before I could say anything, another ensemble member simply, firmly, and kindly said, “No. You’re not. You’ve got this.”
Before we got to that, we took a few minutes to explore the brief scene between Richard and Hastings. Hastings has just gotten out of prison – how should that look? And how does Richard feel vs. the way he behaves? It’s a quick scene, but it’s very interesting!
And then we got to Anne’s entrance. She knelt behind the “corpse” (we are using a table with folded up legs) and said her lines, clearly nervous but not rushing, landing every word and phrase. When she got to the end, the ensemble burst out in applause and cheering. We moved on to the rest of the scene, which involves Richard, and both of the women on stage showed very clearly that they understand the language and have a general idea of what to do in the scene. When we got to the end, everyone cheered again, and we asked our Anne how she felt. She said that it hadn’t been as bad as she thought it would be. That is really, really common in our program – if someone feels safe and empowered enough to get themselves on stage, they universally come out on the other end of the scene feeling relieved and surprised that they got through it. In an earlier post, I shared about another woman in our ensemble who hasn’t had as vocal a journey, but had the same break through very recently. I asked her if she could speak from her experience. “I feel like [our Anne] was into it but can be more open,” she said. “It gets better,” she continued, speaking directly to the woman on stage. “It took me four times to open up.”
I asked if they wanted to do the scene again, and, much to our delight, both women said they did. We asked them both to focus on their characters’ objectives. Our Anne dove further into the language this time, beginning to become rooted in the character’s emotions. She physically recoiled when Richard touched her and began to feel free to move around the stage more. Our Richard also made great adjustments to increase her charm – she was a little too creepy at first!
We kept rolling through the play. At one point, our Richard left the room briefly. When she came back, she saw that the others were mid-scene without her and just flew down the aisle to the stage, saying her lines even though she wasn’t sure exactly where they were. We all laughed, and some people rolled their eyes, but it was all with good humor. We love how enthusiastic she is.
We ended with the scene in which Margaret curses everyone. We worked on this a few weeks ago, so we picked up where we left off – finding movement for Margaret that is specific and won’t weaken her. We found it. Her interpretation is powerful and sparked organic, appropriate reactions in the others on stage. I remarked that this is a truly amazing feature of live theatre – the more you give to others on stage, the more they give to you, and on and on. “Yeah,” said our Richard. “Her energy was high, so my energy could be really high… It was easy to get lost in my part with her.” Two ensemble members who had been sitting at the very back of the auditorium said that they’d been able to hear every word, which is something we’ve always struggled with.
It was a really, really good night. We don’t always fire on all cylinders like that. Things have been a little bumpy lately, so it fired us up to have such a productive, positive session. It puts us in great shape as we move forward and closer to performance.