Season Eight: Week 13

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This holiday season, give the gift of hope.

Tuesday / November 27
Written by Frannie

After a rousing game of Twizzle, we grabbed our books and continued our walk-through with Act II, scene i, in which we meet Sebastian and Antonio. The first two women to read struggled a bit through the scene—one is very new to the work, and the other had had an upsetting day—but we still gleaned something from their work! The woman who read Sebastian asked if it had been okay that she’d started yelling a bit. “He’s angry, right?” she said. “Just distressed, I think,” replied another woman. The first woman read over her book, a little puzzled. “There were shouting moments to me,” she said. “I just got this feeling like he had a lot of harshness in his words… He’s venting. He’s definitely venting.” We agreed that the language is blunt, and the feeling of anger—or at least frustration—wasn’t off the mark.

The woman who read Antonio shrugged and said, “I didn’t really put much into it. Sorry.” I thanked her for reading anyway—it gave us something to build on—and I asked the others if they’d learned anything new. One woman mused, “Antonio reminds me of a girl who’s getting broke up with, and grabs onto the guy’s leg and won’t let him leave. ‘Please don’t leave me!’” That struck a chord with all of us, and we asked her to read the part, with another particularly hammy ensemble member reading Sebastian.

It was so, so funny—and so sweet. Antonio followed Sebastian (who was oblivious) around like a puppy, sighing, wiping tears, and eventually reaching out as Sebastian exited, only to pull her hand in toward herself when the gesture proved futile. As we all laughed and applauded, I said, “So, wait… I can’t remember. Did you say you’ve done this kind of thing before? Like, theatre, but not Shakespeare?” She shrugged and said, “No, I’ve never done anything remotely like this before.” Many of us shook our heads in disbelief. “I will tell you what,” I said, “You’ve got great instincts. I mean, we all have great instincts because we’re all humans, but you’ve really got a flair for the dramatic! Don’t ever doubt that you’re good at this—because you’re really good at it!” She beamed and immediately volunteered to read Malvolio in the next scene.

We breezed through that one and into the next. Act II, scene iii, is fairly long and complicated, with late-night partying, drinking, singing, dancing, whining, Malvolio as the ultimate wet blanket, and the beginnings of Maria’s plot against him.

The scene got off to a very frothy start, with light-hearted banter between Sirs Toby and Andrew, followed by the entrance of Feste and their entreating her to sing for them. Upon agreeing to do so, Feste suddenly pulled a maraca out from under her sweatshirt, using it as both an instrument and microphone. The rest of us cracked up to the point that I lost track of where we were in the scene. At that point, Matt entered through one of the doors as Maria, unconsciously delivering the line, “What a caterwauling!” in a way that brought to mind Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (“What a dump!”). When a very petite Malvolio entered, yelling shrilly and stomping her feet, Sir Andrew fell to the floor laughing, where she remained for at least a solid minute until Feste and Sir Toby helped her up. When those three started singing toward the end of the scene, I suddenly had a vision of something that this Feste had mentioned during check-in—a “girl group” she had led as a teenager (they got hung up on when they called an agent). I could barely contain myself, it was so serendipitous and funny, and I scribbled it down on my notepad even as I whispered to another ensemble member.

The debrief after this scene was just delightful, with all of us sharing feedback and a number of great ideas that were sparked. I brought up the possibility of cutting Feste’s first song (of three)—we’ve got to do the show in under 90 minutes, and this seemed like low-hanging fruit—and most of the women thought it could go. But one woman resisted. She thought the song was important because Feste uses it to prophecy the play’s events, and that’s a valid point. Another woman, though, said she thought that it was pretty subtle from an audience perspective and it could easily be missed. “It’s like those movies: you watch, then you watch it again, and you’re like, ‘Ohhhhh! Clever!’” We agreed to leave the decision till later, when we’ll have a better idea of whether or not we need the song.

Someone brought up casting. “I get asked at least once a week who I’m going to be,” said one woman. “When you tell them, they still won’t know,” joked a longtime member. We talked through the process a bit and decided to stick with what worked last year: I’ll gather everyone’s role preferences, and we’ll talk it out from there. I mentioned that I really thought this casting process—which we decided would happen in two weeks—would be easy, and several heads nodded as one woman said, “The group right now seems really open.” A longtime member emphatically agreed. “This is one of my favorite years,” she said. “I’m feeling the play. I’m feeling the ensemble.”

“We’re on fire!” said another longtime member. Though the start of the season was rocky, we’ve come to a point where we understand each other better, and we know now that this is an ensemble full of warm, nurturing, compassionate people. And, because of this, the more hesitant members of the group are really starting to come out of their shells. We feel solid as a group now. That’s a really good place to be as we tough out the holiday season, cast the show, and prepare to welcome some new members in January.

Friday / November 30
Written by Matt

Circus Tricks! Today’s first exercise was guaranteed to get a lot of laughter and energy going. To play Circus Tricks, one member of the group introduces another as “the fabulous/amazing/notorious/whatever” and announces that she will “perform an amazing/death-defying/shocking/unbelievable feat of…” and adds something completely ordinary: touching her ear, standing on one foot, or whatever. The person who was introduced then performs that “feat,” making it look as difficult as possible, as the crowd cheers her on. It’s a funny game, but also remarkably good at making people feel good about themselves--there’s something about having fifteen people cheering for you that brings good vibes, even if you’re just tapping your left toe with the sole of your right foot!

The group today dove right into it, performing such awe-inspiring feats as:

  • Bending over and touching toes

  • Turning and looking to the left (a shout from the audience: “Oh my God, I saw her in Beijing!!!”)

  • Patting the top of the head (“Oh, she can’t do that!”)

  • The hokey-pokey (this was Lauren’s feat, and she definitely made it feel like something out of Rocky Horror Show)

  • Flipping hair (This was mine. “I didn’t even see this on YouTube!” hollered one woman)

  • Touching the index finger with the thumb.

  • Picking up a plastic chair (“She crazy! She’ll do anything!”)

  • Doing a jumping jack (“I’ve never seen anything like that before!”)

  • Doing a Twizzle (“I’m--the Twizzler!” When she was done, another woman assured her that she’d get an IcyHot pack ready. For bonus points, check out Twizzle on last week’s blog!)

  • Raising only the middle toe (truly death-defying for most of us, but it is a special talent of the woman indicated)

  • Skipping across the stage

  • Pantomiming a tight-rope walk.

At the end, everyone was laughing as we debriefed. “My energy level is up!” exclaimed one woman. “I love games like this because I know they can hear us out in the hall,” said another, gesturing out the door of the auditorium, “and they all think we’re weird!”

We moved on to Act II, scene iv, and a bunch of enthusiastic new members were up first. This is one of those scenes that have given us trouble. It’s got a lot of complexity to it, and some really difficult work for Viola, who has to keep up her deception to Orsino, while also making clear to the audience that she has fallen in love with him.

It happened that our Viola today was playing a female character for the first time. This sometimes happens because of a preference on the part of the ensemble member, but more often simply by accident (there are far fewer female characters). She brought great energy to her performance, which was met by Feste, who broke into full-voice singing in the middle of the scene! Actually, the melody she invented for the song was really sad, and the juxtaposition was unexpectedly touching.

It took a few moments for our Orsino to find her footing in the text, but by the end of the scene, she was making natural gestures along with the language. She insisted afterwards that she had no idea what she was talking about, but it was amazing to see how clearly the language worked through her anyway. She tried to apologize, but none of the women would let her finish. Our longest-serving member told her not to worry about, that it takes time, and it will happen faster than she thinks. Another, who is new, said that she doesn’t know what she’s saying half of the time, but she usually gets it if she sticks with it.

Viola asked about her line, “I am all the daughters of my father’s house.” What was it really about? Wouldn’t Orsino understand that she was a woman from that line? A veteran member nodded, saying that Orsino may be too oblivious to understand the import of the words, but “This is where the audience is gonna know.” Another woman chimed in: “Yeah! This is where she’s slipping.” Then she continued, “But she’s got to act the male role, too.”

Viola chimed in again to suggest that the stage had been too empty, that Orsino needed more distractions around. “The more there is going on around Orsino, the clearer it will be that Viola is focused on him,” she said, to general agreement.

Frannie suggested reading the final moments between Orsino and Viola “straight”--not going for laughs at all. The new Viola and Frannie, as Orsino, fed off the pathos of the scene while sitting on the steps downstage. The approach worked, sparking a conversation about the emotional core of the play and the characters.

The previous Orsino said, impressed, “I totally read it as nonchalant, and you read it as--like, actually consoling each other.” Frannie nodded. “That’s why we experiment,” she said. “Follow the language.”

“I like that part as quiet,” said one of the women. “After everybody leaves, the stage gets so much smaller.” A veteran member who had been quietly observing and taking notes, chimed in, “I feel like the way we could play this is: she’s a woman underneath, and maybe she sits a certain way, then has to check herself. And she’s saying all these deep words, but she can’t go all in.”

As usual, she hit the nail on the head, and others started having ideas that sprung from that one. “The irony, too!” exclaimed one woman. “What if she doesn’t love you? You have to accept it--because I have to accept it, too.” She noted that the next scene is completely slapstick and hilarious. “Yeah,” agreed another woman. “The whole play does that back and forth.”

Frannie mentioned that she had found a place of empathy for Orsino. Other than being played for laughs, she asked, what actually separates him from Hamlet, or Romeo? Always willing to pick a bone, a longtime member shot back, “Well, I haven’t read Hamlet, so I can’t argue with you. But stay tuned!” Back to Orsino: “He romanticizes romance,” suggested a new member. The first woman agreed, saying, “He’s vulnerable. He’s vulnerable.”

Another woman took us in a slightly different direction, musing, “I feel like [Malvolio] is desperate, too. Desperate for money and power, not for love… Everybody knows this guy. He works 90 hours a week. He bags his lunches. He never buys a new car because he wants to save on the payments and insurance. But it’s never clear what he saving for.” She talked a bit about the scene in which Malvolio is locked in a dark room. “I totally empathize with Malvolio. I’ve been there: ‘I’m not crazy. These things happened to me! I am not crazy!’” A lot of the ensemble members nodded along. “Yeah, I get that,” chimed in another woman. “I laugh when I tell stories about by childhood, and people always wondering, ‘Why you laughing? That’s horrible.’ But I guess that’s how I deal with them.”

A woman who had mostly watched quietly piped up: “Orsino feels like he can get anything he wants… He says no woman could ever feel like him. He’s entitled.”

Another woman offered another interpretation. “What if what he’s saying is, ‘No heart is big enough to love me?”