We spent the evening shooting footage for our Sonnet Project film. Needless to say, we didn’t take many notes, and I don’t want to spoil the film by giving anything away, so… I’ll just say that, even though some ensemble members were dealing with some very dark personal issues, we all came together and did some solid, special work. Later, when I uploaded the footage and began listening to some of the audio, it struck me how much ease we have with each other. This is a group of people who know each other well and work together well. I can’t wait for you all to see the film, whatever it ends up being.
During check-in, one of the women said, “I had a nightmare.” She described a dream in which she hadn’t known any of her lines and was freaking out, waking up even more committed to studying her script. “Congratulations,” I said. “You are now officially an actor.”
Our Banquo pointed out that it had been a long time since we’d touched on his murder scene, and, even though we won’t have a visit from our fight choreographer for a couple of weeks, we decided to at least get a good start on it.
We tried a few different entrances for the murderers, with the woman who’s in an offstage role giving most of the direction while I whispered questions to her about her ideas. We finally arrived at the third murderer entering separately from the other two, brandishing Macbeth’s dagger as proof that he is who he says he is.
We began to move on in the scene, but then our Banquo was possessed—maybe actually possessed…—by an idea. She flew throughout the playing space, shouting (not talking) us through it, acting out all the parts and moving the others around the stage like giant action figures. Someone asked me if that was the way our fight choreographer had worked things out. “No,” I said, “But clearly he’s gonna have to adjust.” I asked if we could take it back and go step by step so I could draw it out for him. Our Banquo continued on with that high energy, now joined by the woman who’d been tossing out ideas before, both running and jumping, rolling around, staggering away after being wounded.
We were absolutely delighted by all of this. “[Woman 1] and [Woman 2] get down and dirty!” laughed one woman. “Yeah!” replied one of them. “My armpits are sweaty!” As we all burst out laughing, I wrote down the exchange. “You got that, Frannie?” asked one person. “Oh yeah,” I replied. “It’s going in the blog!” More and more laughter.
We arrived at Act IV scene ii, the murder of Lady Macduff and her son. There was a mix up about casting when this was most recently worked, and we wanted the actors to have another go at it. After the first run, the actors said they felt pretty “meh” about it. I had a feeling that this was due to an avoidance (conscious or not) of the vulnerability necessary to carry it off, but I didn’t want to head off a group discussion by putting all of my cards on the table immediately—plus, the ensemble often comes up with better ideas than mine, and I never want to shut that down. I suggested we take a step back and remind ourselves of why this scene is in the play. What do we need to get out of it?
“There’s a hidden meaning,” said one woman. “Macduff reacts the way you should when someone you love dies. Macbeth doesn’t.” Another woman said that we need to see how vulnerable they are and how senseless this is—that they pose no threat. I asked if we could focus a little, acting wise, on the language about birds that both husband and wife use; that we channel images of a hen and her chick as we worked. I also guided our Ross through some of her lines that indicate that he’s talking around something. She’d played him as so upset that she was yelling, and I asked if she might try it more tamped down, to avoid causing them panic.
Our Lady Macduff asked her son to run on first, saying that she would frequently look over at him during the conversation with Ross. I’m always struck by this woman’s deep understanding of the text. She doesn’t broadcast it—possibly because she’s not completely conscious of it—but she is really, really good at this. I built on what she’d said, encouraging her to think of her son as a battery and recharge with every glance.
The scene worked much better this time, with each actor diving deeper and bringing what they found back up to the surface for the audience. We found ourselves vocally reacting, but quietly; we didn’t want to disturb the scene. When it ended, we applauded, but at first no one spoke. “How did that feel?” I asked the actors. “Better,” they all said. There was another silence. “That was really interesting,” I said. “Did anyone else get the feeling that now the son is comforting the mother?” The answer was a unanimous yes, and the feedback came spilling out. Nearly everything they’d done had been different, and it made us understand the scene in a completely different way.
A couple of people suggested major adjustments, but they were overruled. We wanted to honor what had just happened and stick with these actors’ new interpretations. A few of us gave some suggestions for how they could take those further, and their third run was even quieter and more intimate. All said that they’d “felt it more.” Another ensemble member first praised the work that had been done and then suggested that they “bring it down a notch;” she felt like there’d been too much yelling at times. The actors agreed, with Lady Macduff saying she just wasn’t sure how to ride the rollercoaster. I suggested that they sit together and score the scene like music, making adjustments till they found what worked.
We left rejuvenated and moved by the work we’d done. It was a really lovely way to end the evening.