Season Eight: Week 7

Tuesday / October 16
Written by Frannie

As we circled up to check in, one woman said she had been reading the play, turning it over in her mind, and had come to the conclusion that “girls should take over this play.” She’s the first to identify “powerful women” as being a major theme in Twelfth Night, and she got no argument from the rest of us. We’re excited to explore it, in addition to everything we’ve already discovered — and everything we haven’t yet!

Check-in was pretty subdued. One of the women, though, shared her excitement about her upcoming GED graduation. She said that she’s been pulled in many directions throughout her life. “This is the first time in my life I’ve actually accomplished something.” The entire ensemble is very proud of her.

I acknowledged the low energy in the room — I was kind of low on energy, myself — and asked if we could stand up for a little bit to play “Impression”, a circle game in which one person says, “I hear [NAME] does a great impression of [FILL IN THE BLANK]”, that person does the impression (whatever that means to them!); the circle claps and cheers, and the request is passed to the next person.

This was low impact, which was needed, and fun, which was also needed! Impressions ranged from Michael Jackson (among other celebrities), to a tennis-ball-being-caught-midair-by-a-dog (“Noooooooo!” screamed the ball), to a cheesecake (who made jazz hands and said, “Cheesecake!”), to “the Shakespeare Holy Ghost” (which was given to the woman who coined the term, though she passed it to another woman, saying “The pressure is real.”). A longtime member, who is well-known for hilarious impressions, arrived just in time for another longtime member to request that she do an impression of our Richard III campaigning for the role. It was, of course, perfect, and, after requesting several more rapid-fire impressions from her, we ended the game with a bit more pep in our step than when we began.

Several people were out of the room for the last few scenes we read, and I asked if someone could sum things up to get them up to speed. No one spoke. I asked again, and everyone just sort of looked around uncomfortably. “I can’t carry this myself, you guys,” I said. (That sounds harsher than it actually was, trust me!) I paused. “Is anybody lost? It’s okay if you are.”

There was another pause as some looked at the floor, and others looked around the circle. Finally, one woman said, “I have no idea what’s going on.”

“Thank you so much for saying that,” I said. After some more conversation, what it came down to was that some ensemble members (particularly those with one or more years of experience) pick up on the language quickly, while others truly need to move more slowly — but haven’t been letting us know. I made sure everyone knew that it’s totally okay to slow down — that, in fact, moving quickly often means we miss things that we wouldn’t at a slower pace — and that, while we can all do a better job of checking in about whether we’re on the same page, it’s impossible to know if no one speaks up.

We decided to take some time to go through the play thus far (up to 3.3), sum up the content of each scene, and break down little bits of text to make sure everyone’s got some clues to help them do it, in the circle and on their own. We still don’t have our No Fear editions, and, though we worked without any published edition for the first five seasons, we are really having a hard time without them. The Ardens are great, but it takes some practice to learn how to use them, and, even then, some learning styles simply don’t allow folks to get what they need — and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m hoping to have come up with a solution by the next time we blog. Stay tuned.

I stepped away for a few minutes with an ensemble member, and when I came back, the circle had arrived at Act I scene iii. “I think this is where Sir Toby comes in,” said Matt. “Sir Toby is, like, a major drunk,” explained one woman. Using the Arden, a scene-by-scene Sparknotes summary that I provided at the beginning of the season, and our memories, we went through the scene’s plot points and characters.

Twelfth Night rests heavy on wordplay, though, and some ensemble members still looked uncomfortable. We needed an “in.” I thumbed through the pages and asked the ensemble what the playwright wants us to take away from the scene (besides Sir Toby being “a major drunk”). “Like, what’s up with Sir Andrew?” I asked. “He’s not very smart,” offered one woman, who, admittedly, is very comfortable with the text. “I see him as kind of a bobblehead,” I mused, “A bobblehead with beautiful hair, of course.” A few people giggled. “Like, right off the bat, what do we get from him?” I asked. When there still wasn’t much of a response, I asked if a few people could read the beat in which Sir Toby introduces Sir Andrew to Maria aloud so we could break it down and get at the humor.

I didn’t take detailed notes because, obviously, I was deeply involved in facilitating all of this. But as we broke down the language and the joke began to take shape, one woman in particular caught my attention. She’s been very quiet, though always attentive, but her whole countenance had changed as soon as we’d begun this part of our work. Leaning forward, book in her hands and eyes making contact with each of us in turn, she launched into a series of detailed contributions to our understanding of the “accost” joke in particular, and she was dead-on. I didn’t call attention to it, but I didn’t need to; I wasn’t the only one who saw what was happening, and the energy began to shift.

After going through the whole beat in detail, we read it aloud again. The moment the reading ended, the woman who’d been first to admit she was lost said, “I get it now!” “AWESOME!” I said. “This is why it’s good to slow down! Always tell us if we need to slow down!”

We moved on to Act I scene iv, again summing up the scene and choosing a short bit to break down. One of our frequent readers volunteered to read Olivia. I took Maria when no one raised a hand — and the woman who’d done the about-face volunteered to read Feste. And she was GREAT. Like, really, really great.

“Was that any different from reading it in your head, or listening to other people read?” I asked her. Beaming, she said, “It’s easier to understand when you put the emotion you want into it.” “Totally,” I said, and then I asked if that was the first time she’d done something like that. It was, and she got major snaps, claps, and encouragement from everyone.

We continued to work through each scene, and, though things dragged here and there, it proved to be a really useful exercise. A couple of fun exchanges:


Woman A: “I feel like [Olivia’s] playing with [Feste].”
Woman B: “I feel like he’s just running her in circles. My uncle used to do that, and I hated it.”

Regarding Olivia’s sputtering just prior to Viola/Cesario’s exit:

Frannie: “I mean, we’ve all been there, right? You say something dumb, and then when they leave, you’re like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe I said that.’”
Woman C: “Ohhhh, it’s like in Dirty Dancing.” [pause for effect] “I carried a watermelon???

Moving forward, we decided to review the last couple of scenes on Friday and then structure our reading a little differently. We’ll read the scene (or a large part of a long scene) through, see what we get in general, go back through and break down the language as needed, and then keep going. Everyone agreed that this was a night well-spent, and we’re feeling better about things now.

We lifted the ring back up. As people scattered, putting away chairs and putting on their coats, the woman who’d “sparked” tonight began to walk past me. I caught her eye and said, “That was awesome.” She smiled, said, “Thank you,” and kept going. There are so many “little miracles” (as one longtime member puts it) that happen in SIP, and this is one of my favorite kinds.

Friday / October 19
Written by Frannie

We added new members tonight (probably for the last time this fall) and did some quick intros. As they peeled away to do an orientation with Matt and a returning member, I reminded another member that on Tuesday she’d volunteered to follow up the orientation by summarizing the play for the newbies. “What? No I didn’t!” she said. “You so did,” I said, and others backed me up. “Oh — god, okay. It must have been the meds. But okay,” she joked.

We picked up our review right where we left off, with one of the women reading the Sparknotes summary of 3.2, in which Sir Toby and Fabian convince Sir Andrew to challenge Cesario. “Sir Toby is a pot-stirrer in all aspects,” said a woman who is very comfortable with the text. “Wherever he is, he’s stirring up shenanigans.”

We moved on to 3.3, a scene between Antonio and Sebastian, and got into a bit of a debate. Several women feel that these two are in love, but another woman made a strong case for that love being platonic. As always, I said that there could be more than one “right” interpretation, and I asked her where she found evidence of that in the text. She bristled a bit and said she found it in her own experience. A good friend sitting next to her reiterated the question, saying, “Just ‘cause that’s how you want it to be doesn’t mean that’s how it’s going to be.” They argued back and forth, one drawing from the text and the other refusing to open her book. Another woman remarked quietly to me that she didn’t see much difference between the men’s language and things she and her platonic girlfriends might say to each other, but the rest of the group didn’t hear her. Another woman pointed out some clues in the text that this might be one-sided, and another agreed, saying that Antonio’s language reads a lot like Orsino’s and Olivia’s, while Sebastian’s doesn’t.

In the end, we decided to leave the debate unresolved for the moment. The plan is to read the rest of the play and see if we get a clearer idea of this relationship. We also plan to run all of Antonio’s/Sebastian’s scenes in order to see what that does for us.

We then read the first part of 3.4 (which is very long), in which Malvolio shows up, much to Olivia’s horror, smiling, wearing yellow stockings, cross-gartered, and quoting “her” letter. Once we’d broken it down, there was a lot of laughter — Malvolio is just trying so hard. One woman put her hand down by her knees, saying, “Here’s the level of trying—” She raised that hand above her head, “— here’s Malvolio.”

She then joked that Malvolio should have his own emoji (she also wants one for herself), and I mused that that might be a really funny gag for the show — I wasn’t sure exactly how we’d do it, but what if we incorporated emoji? “Is there a Shakespeare emoji?” one woman asked. “I don’t know, but why can’t we design our own?” I replied. “Gee, I don’t know anyone in this group who has any artistic skill…” I joked; there are a few really talented visual artists in our ensemble.

“I picture an emoji that’s just, like, a giant yellow-stockinged leg,” said one woman, and that sparked an idea in me! “I don’t know how or where we’d use this,” I said, “But I’m envisioning a can-can with Malvolio and some others — like, a line of people in yellow stockings kicking!” Another woman said, “That should be our curtain call!” We all burst out laughing — it’s a brilliant idea! Another woman suggested that there could also be a can-can as part of a fantasy during Malvolio’s letter-reading, and then we started coming up with all sorts of silly ideas — apparently this is going to be a bit of a motif in our performance.

The newbies and Matt returned to the circle, and the woman who’d had the curtain call idea excitedly filled them in. They loved all the ideas, including the ones that continued to pop up right up until we had to leave for the night.

We’ll get back to our reading on Tuesday, armed with these fresh ideas and enthusiasm. I can’t wait for all the great ideas to come.