Written by Frannie
As always with the last few weeks of the season, I’ve been running around so much that I haven’t been able to take many notes! But here’s what I’ve got.
Tonight we had a quick check-in. One of our ensemble members recently organized an event at the prison that was incredibly successful, so much so that she’s now decided to organize a similar event every year if she’s able. The entire ensemble cheered her on; what she’s accomplished is no small thing, she’s never done anything like it before, so, even beyond the event, this is enormous, and we took the time to acknowledge that.
We set out to work through the play, knowing it would be full of fits and starts, and that it was likely that we wouldn’t get to the end. Facilitator Kyle challenged everyone to avoid making apologies or getting down on themselves for things like going up on their lines, and they totally rose to that challenge.
Midway through the evening, the fire alarm sounded. As we left the room and gathered outside the building, I joked that we shouldn’t be surprised that this was happening — we’re working on Macbeth, after all, which is famously thought to be cursed. That said, it wasn’t a terribly long interruption, and, when we returned to the auditorium with the alarm still sounding (but an assurance that there wasn’t an actual fire), we gathered in the back of the house to touch base. We all were feeling good, and several people said that all we really needed to do was to “get used to it.” I agreed, encouraged them to have more fun (particularly our Porter!), and to work over the next couple of weeks to “take the air out” of scenes and monologues: to avoid long pauses for no reason, and to keep the action moving forward.
The rest of the work-through went well, if slowly. We had to stop when we finished Act IV scene i, but we left feeling pretty good about where we were.
Written by Matt
The main thing that everyone could agree on today was that it was hot! A few of the women who came in early indicated that we might be missing our Lady Macbeth and at least one other who were on visits. Our Macbeth came rushing in to tell us that she was being called back to her unit and might not return that evening. One of our new members, who has thrown herself enthusiastically into the role of Second Witch, revealed that she had had some painful healthcare-related procedures that made it hard to speak or even smile. We sent her back to her unit to rest after she started laughing at a joke and then doubled over from the pain.
Missing our two leads and many of the other characters who appear in so many scenes in this play, we had to come up with a strategy for the evening. First, we discovered that it was a little cooler in the classroom where we usually meet on Fridays. After moving in there, we set to work on a few scenes that needed work and did not include our leads.
Act III, scene iii was an obvious choice. Three murderers (who, in our staging, also appear to be the witches…) kill Banquo and attempt to kill his son, Fleance. It is a short scene, but heavy on logistics, with a lot of movement and quick bursts of dialogue, as well as the violence itself. After stumbling through, we talked a bit about what the scene needed and was lacking. One member who is especially good with movement had some suggestions, and the small size of today’s group allowed a few of the newer, quieter members to take a stronger role in figuring out how to stage the scene. A small group of women worked their way through the meanings of a couple of tough lines to get them perfect.
We took some time also to work through Act IV, scene ii, another with the murderers carrying out Macbeth’s impetuous orders. In this case, it is Lady Macduff and her son who are victims. After stumbling through once, a facilitator asked what relationship Lady Macduff and the son were establishing in their dialogue. The dialogue is famously difficult to interpret, both morbid and light-hearted, and the writing leaves the son’s age almost entirely open to interpretation.
“I feel like she’s being cute about this terrible news to soften the blow,” offered a new member.
“No,” said Lady Macduff firmly. “He’s dead to me. I’m angry. I’m angry at him for abandoning me, and I want my son to grow up quick.”
After going back through the middle of the scene with anger in mind, a new and interesting character emerged from Lady Macduff--both stronger on the surface and, paradoxically, more fragile underneath. Everyone was spellbound. The facilitator who had started the discussion applauded our Lady Macduff for her bold choice, and suggested that she find a few moments to soften the anger a bit. A final run of the scene landed perfectly.
Our Macduff, who had needed to leave, returned, and we went right into the next scene: Act IV, scene iii, which is a long conversation between Macduff and Malcolm. We have rehearsed this scene many times, but it is a protracted and difficult scene to stage. It is little more than two characters standing and speaking, and it often drags even in professional productions of the play. The women in the scene were getting tripped up over lines, so they opted to hold scripts to be able to get through it. They moved well through the rest of the scene, but--even with our cuts--it was still a slog, taking almost twenty-five minutes from beginning to end. And the low light of late evening was cooking the room even more than before. By the time they walked off, both women were spent, and we all agreed to move on. Sometimes, even this close to the performance date, a scene falls apart, and we just need to leave it behind and work on something else. The ability to do that without losing focus is as valuable a skill as any in this process.
We talked through a couple of minor logistical details--our Banquo came up with the idea that, on her character’s death, the murderers should rip her “team Macbeth” badge off and take it to show Macbeth in the next scene. But by eight o’clock so many people either had to go or felt completely enervated that we decided to call it a day. The women who were present looked frustrated with the slow pace of work and the many absences, but we managed to maintain a modicum of good humor and morale throughout, and we left with high hopes for the first dress rehearsal on Tuesday.