Season Eight: Week 15


This holiday season, give the gift of hope.

Tuesday / December 11
Written by Frannie

Tonight was our casting session! We began by reviewing the method we’d landed on: a group discussion in which we’d cast each other, everyone would be honest about what she did and did not want to play, and we’d focus on the overall fit of the ensemble rather than satisfying any one person’s ego. But we’d look out for each other! “Don’t be intimidated just because someone strongly wants a part,” said a longtime member. “Stick up and fight for it!”

Disclaimer: I’m going to use aliases in this entry for clarity’s sake, and because it can be done in a way that does not identify any individual.

“How do we want to start?” I asked the group. After a brief pause, Jane said that she saw Martha playing Orsino. The group agreed, but Annie said she saw her even more so playing Maria. All were also agreed on that, and Cathy said, “She could play anything!”

Martha said she felt great about both characters, but turned the spotlight on Julia, who used to be very quiet but has recently been much more active. “When you got on stage, it’s like you had always done Shakespeare. It was like the Power Rangers!” said Martha to a lot of laughter. “She got up on stage, and it was like… It’s morphin’ time!”

“It’s this group,” said Julia. “If it wasn’t for this group being so supportive, I don’t know if I could ever have done that.” She said that she had feel great reading Maria, though she also enjoyed Olivia. We left it open for the time being. Another person said that Jane was the perfect Sir Toby, which everyone agreed with, hands down. Though Jane worried about the number of lines, we assured her that they could be cut down, and when no one else voiced interest in the role, we went ahead and set it in stone. The group broke into spontaneous applause, which recurred throughout the evening whenever casting was set. It made for some very exciting energy that did not let up!

Martha then turned to Kristen, gently saying, “I have a question for you. You hardly ever speak. Were you thinking about a medium role, or… what?” This is a really lovely feature of this ensemble: no one is ever unnoticed or left behind. Kristen replied that she didn’t care about the size of the role, but she’d prefer something more serious; when asked to explain that, she simply replied that it wouldn’t be “as big of a leap.” The group took this seriously, verified that the roles they thought were serious seemed that way to her, and then left that open, too.

Next, Martha suggested that Elizabeth would be a good Viola. Surprised, Elizabeth replied, “That’s an interesting suggestion because you never said it before.” She’d never even performed Viola, though we all agreed that she’d be a good fit for a lot of reasons. She said she didn’t necessarily object, but she felt more pulled toward Olivia. Leaving that for the time being, we quickly determined that everyone wanted Courtney to have the role we all knew she wanted: Feste. Though there were others who’d play the part well, they didn’t want it badly enough to take it from her—particularly because she has always incorporated unabashedly silly dancing. Applause!

“Speaking of dancing,” Jane slyly said, “Annie really has a knack.” We burst out laughing, recalling the crazy dance moves Annie has explored as Sir Andrew. Annie agreed that she enjoys that character, but that she also gravitates toward Malvolio. “I really want to see her in yellow stockings,” said Martha. “I kinda wore the yellow today for that,” laughed Annie, who was wearing a yellow jacket.

Someone else pointed out, though, that the chemistry between Sir Toby and Sir Andrew is really important, and no team has clicked like Annie and the Sir Toby we’d already cast. “I do think we make an awesome team,” said Jane, our Sir Toby. “You’re just so willing to jump into anything.” Annie nodded, musing, “They’re such different characters, but I love them both.”

“What about you, Cathy?” said another woman. “Oh, no!” laughed Cathy. “I want something goofy, but that’s just too many lines!” Perhaps Fabian, we agreed, or maybe Antonio. I volunteered that I thought a woman who wasn’t in the room would be a fabulous Malvolio because she’s got a unique energy that would suit the part, and she’d told us earlier that she would be comfortable with it.

The conversation continued on this way, till we had suggestions for nearly every role. It was time to make decisions. A few fell easily into place, and then Elizabeth turned to Martha and said, “I don’t know why you put me up for Viola. I think you should play that part.” Martha hesitated, reminding us that she was just fine playing any role. I said, “You’re really feeling Viola, though, aren’t you? You were the first person to dig into the character, and you seem really connected.” She smiled and said, “All right, you got me. I am really feeling Viola. She’s a different sort of character for me, which would be kinda exciting.” Decided, then: she’s playing the role. And she is tickled BRIGHT pink about it.

She turned to Julia and said, “So what about it? Olivia or Maria? You can’t put on a performance like that and expect people to ignore it.” Julia smiled and said that, after thinking about it more, she felt a little more connected to Olivia than Maria because she doesn’t like being “the ringleader.” Martha nodded slowly and said, “So what you’re saying is, you’re more comfortable playing Olivia?” She raised an eyebrow, and Julia said, “You’re saying Maria would be more of a challenge because she’ll take me out of my comfort zone… And that might be better for me. You’re right. I want a challenge.” Boom. Cast.

Nearly all of the other pieces quickly and neatly fell into place. Annie decided to take Julia’s lead and play Sir Andrew because it would be more of a challenge than Malvolio! The woman we cast as Malvolio had been at another program for part of our session, and when she came back, Julia turned to her and exuberantly said, “Nice to meet you, Malvolio! I’m Maria!” Our Malvolio laughed, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “Okay, great! Nice to meet you all!”

A couple of people were absent, and one woman who was present hadn’t naturally fallen into any character. A few roles were still open, and they weren’t the ones she’d been interested in. A little disappointed, but not despondent, she said she’d take a look at them and check back in with us on Friday.

We spent the rest of our time talking through the next steps in our process: editing the script, staging scenes, and taking time to do some exercises that will help develop our characters. I’m thrilled with how this process went: it was among our most harmonious yet, and it took the least time of any casting session we’ve had. Normally this takes the entire session, but tonight it took less than an hour and a half. It speaks to how well these ensemble members take care of each other. It’s just fantastic.

Friday / December 14
Written by Matt

Today was one of my favorite sessions of SIP ever, but it will be a little hard to write about. There were great strides made by several of our members, and the collaborative work done by the entire ensemble was really something to watch, but some of the things that were most meaningful to observe will make little sense written out. I’ll try, though: today’s meeting was exuberant--those women were firing on all cylinders!

The problem is unavoidable. On this blog, we try to document the successes and struggles not only of the program, but of individual ensemble members. We try, as much as possible, to let their words, their ideas, and their work drive the narrative that you read here. That’s as it should be, but there are limits: we don’t mention anything that could be used to identify one of our members, and we don’t publish sensitive or personal conversations here. And since we don’t use names or pseudonyms, there’s no way you could track one particular woman’s path by reading this blog. Since they are all “a woman” or “an ensemble member” here, it would be impossible even for an obsessive reader of the blog (we know there are a few of you!) to know that the woman who was withdrawn and wary in September was the same person who began opening up during a couple of the exercises and found by April that she was actually a powerful leader. We try to mention when someone has undergone that type of transformation (“a woman who rarely speaks up,” or some such), but that’s not the same as watching that person, whom we know, transform.

I mention this because the aspects of tonight’s session that made it so remarkable were those that are hardest to describe without going into the personality of each of the women involved. So, if today’s blog feels a little bit vague or like it’s skimming the surface, that’s because it is! Here goes...

We got in late today. I hate when we arrive even a few minutes late, but today was not as long a delay as sometimes happens. When we arrived, the women were already in the auditorium, working on something. As we walked in, they greeted us but were clearly involved in whatever they were doing. When they came to a stopping point, we all gathered up, standing in a circle for a short check in (all good things today!), before one of our members revealed that she and some of the others had been cooking up a plan for a goofy performance piece that looked like a lot of fun, even if it had only a tiny (read: infinitesimal) connection to Twelfth Night or Shakespeare. After we lowered the ring, a glance around the ensemble was all it took to confirm that they all wanted to work on putting together this act tonight--we’d deal with Twelfth Night later. This was fine with us; sometimes, you need a break, even from Shakespeare!

Immediately, a few of the veterans were all over organizing the group and coming up with ideas. More specifically, they each took on slightly different roles based on their strengths. One was the ringleader, overseeing the big-picture concept, accepting or rejecting ideas, and helping loop everyone in. One was problem-solving the details while another was keeping track of logistics. A fourth was throwing herself into every decision, no matter how goofy it looked, which gave others permission to do the same--and at the same time, she was checking to make sure the women had gone over each step enough times to get it in their heads. After a few minutes, another returning member entered as an “ideas woman,” coming up with all sorts of silly moves, then applying her perfect comedic timing to coaching others on how to copy her.

Immediately, a couple of the new folks threw themselves in. One was all around the periphery, encouraging people and talking them up, especially the new, shy members. Another, who had been really quiet and reserved until recently, was spitting out ideas for brilliantly silly rhymes more quickly than the others could keep track. She was especially good at working out the second line of a couplet, so that it rhymed, made sense, and was seriously funny (“That’s my girl!” hollered one of the veterans). By now, the whole ensemble was actively involved, fitting into a role that suited her

After an hour of strategizing, they were ready to run the first part through. Almost instantly, it fell apart. “Well,” said the woman who had taken on the ringleader role, “that didn’t work!” Another mused aloud, “We must look like idiots.” The woman next to her muttered, “Yeah, really.” A third added, “At least we’re fun idiots!” They went over the moves again simplifying and adding new people in. A couple of the newest members got looped in and given roles suiting their characters--one shy, one who’s a bit of a showboat. The ringleader nodded approvingly. “We buffing this thing out,” she said.

At last, they put the entire performance together. It was hilarious and naturally involved everyone equally--no one sat it out, which is saying something this year! To be sure they had it, they ran through it a few more times. After the last time, everyone collapsed into laughter, and Frannie, Lauren, and I joined the round of applause, which was the first input we had given during the entire process. Today really was about the pleasure of observing a really amazing, talented group of women create something out of nothing.

Just before we left, one of the women caught the ringleader of today’s antics staring absently up towards the ceiling. “You’re such a cheeseball,” she ribbed. The other woman replied, dreamily, “I’m just looking up at the ring.”

Then our logistics expert announced that they had to run through the whole performance one more time to get it set in everyone’s minds, so the women scrambled to places to squeeze one more run in before we had to put on our jackets and walk out into the night.