We continued our stumble-through of the play tonight and made some great discoveries as we went!
The plan was to work through the scenes chronologically, no matter who was absent, and we stuck to that. At first we sped along, deciding to leave discussion till we’re ready to truly stage things. Then we got to Act I Scene iii: the scene that follows Duncan’s murder. Nearly all of the people in these scenes were absent, and others eagerly stepped up to fill in.
A longtime ensemble member volunteered to read the Porter, despite having only a cursory familiarity with the role. She is an extremely gifted performer, though, so she had us laughing hysterically throughout. That set us up to continue to laugh our way through the scene, which was fine—we do have to have fun! When Lady Macbeth entered with her line, “What’s the business?” we, once again, could not keep it together. She has been speaking the line in a very contemporary way – emphasizing and prolonging the first syllable in “business” – and it just cracks us up.
I asked the group if maybe we should attempt to take the scene seriously, since we’ve determined that we want to tell the story that way, and this exercise is meant to give us ideas of how best to do that. We shook it off and started over. Now Lady Macbeth’s line wasn’t funny, and the scene began to take shape. The movement was mostly static—it’s tough to know how to move on stage when you haven’t had much experience—but there was a great moment when Macbeth said, “I do repent me of my fury, that I did kill them,” and Lady Macbeth moved quickly to him, putting her hand on his arm; Macbeth then pulled away.
Afterward, I asked everyone how they felt about the scene. This seemed like one we should talk about before moving on. One new member said she felt that it needed movement, but she wasn’t sure where. A longtime ensemble member said, “I think we should use Kyle’s triangle theory.” We’ve talked through this staging concept in years past, but not yet this season. “You wanna explain it?” I asked her. “Kyle can explain it better than me,” she replied, looking to Kyle. He looked right back at her and, totally deadpan, said, “I forgot.” We all laughed, and then she explained what she meant to the group.
Our facilitator Sarah suggested, too, that everyone on stage should be engaged in active listening. One woman said that if she were one of the characters in the scene, she wouldn’t just be listening, she’d be whispering to the others to see if anyone knew who had committed the murder. Another woman built on that, saying, “People should group up with whoever they feel safe with. If it was me, I’d group with my brother because I’d feel safest with him.” We talked a bit about various characters’ reactions to the assassination. Does this kind of thing happen often? Or did it happen out of nowhere?
We tried the scene again, keeping all of that in mind, and it began to work a bit better. The woman standing in for Banquo did something totally unexpected toward the end of the scene, speaking very quietly to Malcolm and Donalbain when she “should have” been speaking to the entire group. Interestingly, this seemed to raise the stakes, and everyone went right along with her. It was really cool. Afterward, she apologized for not understanding that part of the scene, but we reassured her that that was one of those mistakes we hope for. It changed our understanding of the scene for the better.
One of our ensemble members recently returned to the group. She went through a rough time last season and left for a while, but when she came back, she did so enthusiastically and vocally, promising us that she’d be fully committed this time and take on a significant role. She used to be very quiet and often succumbed to stage fright, and that’s not the case now! She volunteered to read the old man in Act III Scene i but immediately gave the role to another woman who hadn’t heard her. Just after that, though, I looked right at her when we needed a Banquo, and she jumped at the chance to step in. That would never have happened a year ago. I’m so happy that she’s feeling so much better!
Speaking of participation, two new members began to take ownership in totally different ways this evening. One has been volunteering to read in just about every scene. “I just want to get as much practice as possible!” she laughed, and it’s obvious that that’s what’s going on. She has no ego about this – she just wants to learn and excel. Everyone is very welcoming of that and happy to let her read even if it means they don’t get to as often. Another woman, who recently confided in me about her fears of messing up the lines, declined to read one of the servants, but what she said was, “Not tonight.” She’s not counting herself out! She just knows she’s not ready quite yet.
We were maybe a little slaphappy by the time we got to Act III Scene iii, in which Banquo is killed. The woman filling in for Banquo, on reading the line, “It will be rain tonight,” rubbed her arm as if complaining about arthritis. That struck me as so funny that I kind of lost control, and then the rest of the group started laughing, and the scene just kind of tanked from there in a really hilarious way. We left feeling just wonderful!