Season Eight: Week 8

Tuesday / October 23
Written by Matt

We opened tonight with a surprise! A longtime member who has struggled with crippling stage-fright from the first day recited a monologue--a monologue she had used to audition years ago for Desdemona. She didn’t get the part (“Oh, thank God!” she had exclaimed then), but she got her moment on “stage” tonight in front of a new group of people. “It was nice to finally memorize something and be okay,” she reflected. “We’ve got a really nice ensemble now!”

As she sat down, she did a mock “mic-drop” gesture, then instantly gathered up the pen she had let fall. “I’ve never done that, guys!” she exclaimed.

We moved on to reading Act III, scene iv, which is really an exhausting string of vignettes, involving nearly all of the play’s characters at one time or another. The humor is broad, but getting the most out of it requires a lot of energy and very snappy movement onstage. A couple of veterans and a brand-new member helped us stay on top of the plot and wordplay, and a bunch of new members read aloud enthusiastically. Still, it was a bit of a slog to get through the scene--there’s so much going on, and the humor falls flat when not injected with energy. It felt like an accomplishment when the scene was over.

We tried out a short piece of the scene, notable because it consists entirely of asides, on its feet. Though it consists of fewer than twenty lines, it’s quite a daunting piece of theatre. The asides need to be cleanly delivered, and their recipient (the audience, another character) needs to be perfectly clear for the exchange to make any sense. We tried it a few times, giving each other permission to go further with it (I, as Sir Andrew, wound up hiding underneath a podium), but no one was totally satisfied by the time we were done. The scene wants to work itself out physically, and it was a good reminder that the faster we can get through the play and get familiar with the story and characters, the faster we can find the humor.

A new member who has become an eager participant asked a lot of questions about the process of putting the play up. She asked what we do with people who aren’t actively talking on stage. And she seemed excited by the fact that there were no set staging decisions and few set stage directions. “Wait,” she said, “so do we just make it up?” Frannie replied, “Yeah, basically, as long as it works with the text.” The woman thought for a moment and asked, “Is this the only thing like this?” We responded that all theatre is “like this,” but that Shakespeare is unique in the number of potential options each play provides--and in the quality of the writing. “Now I get why we need so much time with this!” said the woman.

Friday / October 26
Written by Frannie

Today began with one of our new members performing a monologue she’s always loved from Much Ado About Nothing. It was a simple read, serving just to get her on her feet, and, in that, it was successful!

It was tough to get anything going — the energy level was very low, which is something with which we’ve been struggling this whole season. Finally I got everyone to sit in a circle for “the question game”, a perennial favorite in which questions must quickly be asked but not answered, traveling around the circle and allowing no time to think. We had a good time with it, but it didn’t do much for our energy.

We returned to our seats to read. It was a struggle even to get someone to summarize the last scene we read for Lauren, who is only there on Fridays. One woman said she’d been thinking a lot about the plot against Malvolio, and she realized that Maria wants revenge on him for doing exactly what she’s done earlier in the play. “I wonder if she wants to be [Olivia’s] favorite,” she mused. Another woman agreed with the overall idea, saying that Maria likely has some kind of motivation other than the practical joke.

We opened our books to read 4.1, and, again, it was a challenge to get people to read aloud. We stopped periodically to break down the language, and then we decided to get on our feet. Those who did so were mostly people who are always game to perform, and we ran through the scene with gusto, even though it was, of course, messy. Sir Andrew charged headlong into the playing space, and into the fight, with Sir Toby shoving her way through (while holding a “beer”), Sebastian being utterly confused, and me as Fabian revving up the crowd and then sitting to watch and eat popcorn.

When the scene ended, we reflected on what had worked and how we could build on it. We all agreed that Sir Toby’s being “vertically challenged” opposite a taller Sebastian and Sir Andrew was great fodder for comedy. One woman said she saw this scene as continuing the “build of drunkenness,” which led another woman to suggest that Toby take great care not to spill his drink, even while fighting. “She might drop the sword, but not the drink!” laughed one woman, and another said, “I could see him losing an arm and not dropping the drink!”

We went with this idea, plus a few other refinements, for our second attempt at the scene. Sir Toby played the heck out of this deference to her drink (for which she used a travel coffee mug), even stopping the action at a few points to take huge gulps. It was quite funny, and an idea we’ll likely keep. It also gave us a sort of “heads-up” in terms of how we’ll need to cast these roles: they are so physical and prop-heavy that we’ll need to be sure that whoever is cast has the ability and time to get off book well in advance of performances.

Despite the fun of performing this scene, the evening had dragged quite a bit, and I was frustrated. I said to the group, very plainly, that we need to brainstorm some way to bring more energy each evening — to manufacture it if necessary — because, the rest of our work aside, this play simply will not work if we don’t fully commit to its being madcap. We can’t even get past basic staging/concept work if it’s a struggle even to get people to read, let alone to get on their feet. With winter coming, this will only get worse, and we have to stop it in its tracks now before we get so bogged down that the challenge becomes insurmountable.

A few people had deer-in-headlights looks on their faces, while others seemed motivated (and even relieved) by this “ultimatum.” A few people tossed out ideas, but we’ll need to work harder to solve the problem. “If we can’t do this, I don’t know what we do,” I said. “Not Twelfth Night, but I don’t know what. There isn’t really a Plan B.”

“We’ll get it together, Frannie,” said one longtime member. “We’re gonna figure this out.” I hope she’s right. We’ll see how it goes on Tuesday.