We’re getting very close to submitting our performance proposal, and this is also a very busy time for me in general! The ensemble frequently asks me to delegate whatever I can to them, and tonight I took them up on that.
There’s a lot of tracking to be done with this play—who has certain props/costumes, at what times, and where. We need to track swords, shields, and torches; we also need to track those badges with symbols, particularly if/when people switch sides, and when they do it. It’s a lot for one person to do, so I asked if there were a few people who might like to give it a try. There are a lot of very organized women in this ensemble, and, for folks who are wired that way, this kind of time intensive task—which requires lots of focus—could be a great way not only to gain further ownership of the play, but to fill up time. Three women volunteered. I’m very grateful!
I was out of the room for a while to touch base with staff about a few items. Matt took notes while I was gone:
The ensemble decided to run through the banquet scene, which is also the appearance of Banquo’s ghost. The first time through was slow and disjointed: no one seemed to know where to go, and our Banquo started acting goofy behind Macbeth’s back in an attempt to make her laugh. When the scene was finally over, two people rushed in with ideas. First, a new member who has great instincts for movement and staging talked with Lady Macbeth and the seated lords about how to react to Macbeth’s seemingly insane actions (only Macbeth can see the ghost of his slain friend). Meanwhile, a facilitator took Macbeth and Banquo into a small room in the wings to work on their interaction, which is long and mostly wordless. The facilitator asked Banquo what her motivation is.
“To tell him that my blood is on his hands,” she replied. Then, she stopped, and added, “I don’t know if Banquo knows he’s dead. Like, you know how people don’t always realize something’s happened until someone else points it out?” She didn’t see a way to reconcile those two thoughts, though. “If I don’t know I’m dead, I can’t want to show him that my blood is on his hands.”
Then she made a gesture of feeling her head for the blood, looking down at her hands, and then reaching out at Macbeth. It was a strong, fluid movement, and our Macbeth jumped to respond. “Oh! Then I feel like I…” and she reached back at Banquo, passing her fingers through the other woman’s, then recoiling in fear. The movements electrified the little room, and we were excited to bring those actions to the stage.
The second time through the scene, the palpable chemistry between Macbeth and Banquo was supported by the more refined and deliberate actions of the other players on stage. Macbeth and Banquo performed the gestures we had worked on backstage, but Banquo improvised some inspired moves that she took from the goofy breakdown of the first run. She snuck up behind Macbeth as Macbeth was walking backwards, eliciting a reaction of true surprise. When moving offstage, she stared at Macbeth with a harrowing look of betrayal and sadness.
A third run further refined the chemistry between Macbeth and Banquo, which in turn made space for an impassioned performance from Lady Macbeth, whose desperate (and barbed) attempts to calm or hush her husband drew some whoops of support from the crowd. Notably, Banquo snuck onstage at the beginning of the scene without telling anyone, hiding among the lords from the beginning. She was only noticed onstage when Macbeth tells the murderer to describe Banquo’s death. Hearing about her own demise, Banquo came to understand that she was, in fact, murdered.
“I was thinking that I couldn’t do both,” she said, referring to her earlier ideas about Banquo’s motivation. “Turns out, it works perfectly.”
Her inventiveness, supported and encouraged by the strong performances of the others onstage and the rest of the ensemble, helped bring the scene to the next level.
Back to Frannie:
I came back just in time to see how pumped up the group was after having gone through the scene twice, and they asked if I’d like to see it. Of course I would! The scene was very strong, and I took some notes for us to work with once everyone’s off book. They felt great about their work but were eager to go deeper, and they all felt that that wouldn’t happen till they could put their scripts down.
We talked a bit about what to do when you’re on stage and don’t have lines for a while (or at all). Our Lady Macbeth said, “I don’t want to have one moment where I’m waiting for [Macbeth] to be done.” She wants to be active and in character at all times. She continued, “I’ve been watching TV and trying to watch the people in the background and seeing what they do… A lot is done with facial expressions, with body language.” We’re going to continue to explore this!
We had a little time left, so we decided to work the next scene, which is very brief. Ross has replaced the Lord in our version, and she and our Lennox gamely tackled the scene, even though they didn’t have a clear idea of what they should be doing. They said afterward that they’d felt okay, but that they weren’t sure where to go with it. I asked them if they knew what their characters wanted. Our Lennox looked down at her script, scrunched up her nose, messed with her hair, and said, “It’s… Has he jumped ship yet?” Very brave of her to admit that she didn’t completely understand the scene, and another woman gently said, “Not yet,” and explained where we were in the story and when that would happen.
Another woman jumped up to share some ideas about blocking and body language, and I added my two cents as well. We ran the scene again, and they both felt a bit better, but we’ve got more work to do! Lots of good stuff tonight.
Before we got going, I approached one of our newer members and jokingly asked if anyone had informed her that, when she was absent last week , we’d cast her in two roles (she’d had none before). She smiled and sarcastically replied, “Uh… no. Y’all gave me TWO parts?” I said, “We sure did. King Duncan and… Caithness, I think? A soldier without many lines.”
“Huh,” she said, thinking for a moment. “You think I can play the king?”
“I sure do,” I replied.
She raised an eyebrow. “But do you really think I can play the king? You think I can really do that?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “I know you’re concerned about lines, and we can cut way down on his. What’s more important is the presence of a king, and you’ve got that presence.”
“I do, huh?” she said, straightening her shoulders a bit.
“Uh, yeah,” I smiled. “I think you’re gonna be great.”
“Well, all right,” she said, opening her script as she walked away.
Immediately after this, the woman who volunteered to track the badges came over and said, “Okay, I did the tracking, but I have some questions.” She'd developed a great method for doing this incredibly complicated task—and had really enjoyed doing it. That honestly didn’t surprise me. She’s shown us, over and over, how remarkably organized, capable, and intelligent she is, and this is the kind of thing that calls attention to all of that.
She had a few very good questions, all interpretive, and then asked if she could take an extra script and notate everything there so I wouldn’t have to transfer the information later. She also suggested that the other “trackers” record their notes in that script, and that, ultimately, we turn it into a sort of prompt book. Um, genius. She wins the prize. I don’t know what the prize is, but, whatever it is, it’s hers for sure.
We circled up for check in. People had both good and bad news to share. One of the women who, last week, shared with us (in a general way) that she was hurt by confidentiality being broken shared in a bit more detail, but without naming the person she was talking about. She focused on how the situation made her feel, as another affected woman had last week. A number of people vocally expressed their empathy and concern for her, agreeing that keeping our space safe is of the utmost importance.
This same woman then, calmly and with poise, addressed the woman whom she believed had broken confidentiality and restated her feelings. The ensuing conversation, which ended up directly involving four people, was long and complex, and I’m not going to record those details here. Suffice to say that, while things got heated, we’ve had similar situations in the past that have gotten much worse. I’m honestly not sure if we resolved anything, but I think we’ll have a better idea of that on Tuesday.
I do want to note that, as contentious as things got, the only other ensemble members who left the room did so because they had other obligations. Everyone else stayed in the circle, some quietly helping to relieve the tension by sharing candy and making silent little jokes to one another. It didn’t interfere with the work of conflict resolution at all, and, I imagine, made it possible for people to stay who may otherwise have left. In fact, one woman who left came back at the end to check in on us, and another who’d said she would have to leave early stayed until our time was over.
After reflecting and checking in with each other for a few minutes, we decided to do something silly to lift us back up. We played a rousing game of Gibberish Rap, which we haven’t done yet this season. It’s one of my favorites: we circle up, establish a beat as a group, and then people jump in the middle and rap in gibberish, with the option of “challenging” one another. It’s always fun, but tonight was especially so because an ensemble member who has a GREAT sense of humor but can still be a bit reserved was challenged by a particularly gregarious woman – and took her ON. It was an honest-to-goodness battle – and she won! We were not only laughing and applauding, but hooting, hollering, dancing, pounding on tables… What a thrill!
We also played Gibberish Translator, and another ensemble member had a kind of breakthrough. She joined us in September with very low self-esteem and confidence, as she openly shared. Lately, though, she’s been taking some artistic risks and getting extremely positive responses, and she’s been vocal about how much that’s helped to build her up. Speaking in gibberish was clearly daunting, but she plunked herself down in that chair anyway. She apologized for being nervous and said she didn’t know what to say. The others encouraged her, telling her she has no idea how good she is and that it’s gibberish—she couldn’t do it wrong! She tried, still hesitating, and the ensemble cheered her on. “That was great!” “See, we knew you could do it!” Some of her phrases (I believe one was “zigga zig boom”) got huge laughs, and she gained confidence so quickly that, within minutes, you would never have guessed how scared she was at first.
In past seasons, we’ve often left sessions that included open conflict in a funk, or even still seething. Tonight we didn’t. Individual ensemble members made deliberate decisions to end and move on from the conflict in order for the larger ensemble to recover a bit before going back to their units. Like I said, I’m not sure that this conflict is actually resolved, and things may get worse again, but I truly admired how the group worked together on this particular evening.