Tonight was our long-anticipated visit from fight choreographer (and Parnall/youth facilitator) Patrick Hanley! We had an absolute blast with him last spring, and his fights were (obviously) so much better than the very basic ones I’m capable of coming up with that we were all eager for him to come back.
I’d sent him notes about the fight scene that our Banquo rough-blocked in a moment of inspiration, and we started with that. It was exciting to all of us that he’d taken her ideas and built on them, and the fight looked great. As did the others!
That’s what took up the bulk of our time. And, while some of us worked on stage with Patrick, the rest of us multitasked in small groups around the auditorium.
I went and sat with our Porter, who had been so worried about learning her lines the week before, to see how she was doing. She’s feeling much better: she has some of her dialogue with Macduff down, and she’s come up with a great way to cut down/improvise her way through her monologue. I told her that as long as Macduff knew her cues to knock, she could do whatever she wanted.
“That makes me feel so good,” she said. I told her that as long as she gets from the beginning of her scene to the end, she’s good! That our goals in putting on a show are not to make high art or be Broadway-quality actors, but simply to show up, tell a good story, do our best, and have fun.” You make it fun,” she said. “You don’t put pressure on us. It gives me confidence to do other things.” She described signing up for a special program that required hands-on participation and said she’d had no qualms about raising her hand to be the first to participate. “I’m usually the last person, but now I’m the first person.”
“That’s amazing,” I said. She continued, “You said you’d rather have me than the lines. That feels really good, because you don’t hear that that much. And that makes me want to work harder and learn my lines more.” She said she’d been nervous when she signed up for Shakespeare, but she was so glad that she did. “I wasn’t sure what to expect. People said, ‘You’re gonna open up.’ Well, you can’t help but open up! And that’s what I did.”
As I paused to write down as much of what she’d said as I could (asking her to repeat phrases I’d only partially gotten down), our Macduff came over to check in. “We gotta go through this and find your cues,” said our Porter, pointing at her script. “But I already memorized all the damn lines!” Macduff exclaimed. “Your lines are all good,” I said. “She’s just making some changes to her monologue, and we want to make sure you’re both on the same page about when the knocking comes in.” “Oh, phew!” she said, smiling. “Yeah, I’ll do whatever you want on that!” They went to another part of the auditorium to talk it through.
As I continued scribbling down notes, our Banquo and Third Murderer came over to me, smiling and a little breathless. “How’d it go?” I asked, as they’d just learned their fight. “GREAT,” said our Third Murderer, smiling and leaning against the wall. “I feel great right now.” Our Banquo nodded vigorously, saying, “They should have this in prison. It’s a real stress reliever.” They agreed that, with an outlet like stage combat, people might feel calmer and less apt to be physically violent. “I was having a pissy day, and these sword fights took away all that tension,” said our Third Murderer. “Like, I don’t feel that stress no more. It’s like, ‘Stress-free!’”
She’d had a rough day the last time I saw her, and I asked how it was going with the woman in her unit who’d been bothering her. Not much better. “I was gonna beat her up today, but I thought about Shakespeare and I was like, no — I’ve worked too hard for this. I’ve got my characters, I’ve memorized my lines — I’m not getting in trouble. I’m not doing that to my team.” I told her that that was great and applauded her for keeping it together. This kind of self-control is pretty new for her. “I’m telling you, Frannie, this is my saving grace. Any time anything bad happens in my life, I’m like, at least I’ve got Shakespeare.” She showed me a copy of Interréd With Their Bones, which she’s reading, and told me how exciting it is — she can’t stop talking about it. “And everyone in my unit is like —" She raised an eyebrow and looked down her nose “— ‘Shakespeare nerd.’ And I’m like —” she shrugged and smiled. I told her she’s in good company!
We wrapped up, all in great moods, some of us breathing deeply and flushed from working those fights. It was a really, really great night.
Tonight, I spent a lot of time with an ensemble member whom last year’s Curtain Queen and I sort of drafted to be this year’s Keeper of the Master Script. Our 2017 Curtain Queen is playing Macbeth this year, so she obviously needs to trade one imaginary crown for another. And this other ensemble member accepted her new role excitedly, even though she was pretty nervous to take on that much responsibility.
We’ve found that it’s extremely helpful to have a script on either side of the stage that has all of the information we could possibly need: curtain cues, sound cues, entrances, exits, when sets and strikes occur, etc. I coordinated this last year with CQ, but I’ve got a few absences coming up (I’m directing a play; a commitment I made only after asking permission from the ensemble), and someone with consistent attendance needs to be on top of this for the rest of us. And, thus, the 2018 Keeper of the Master Script was duly initiated.
Our Macbeth actually ended up sitting with us for a bit while other scenes were worked, helping us remember the curtain cues that I didn’t have written down. We decided not to write in the sound cues just yet, but I talked through some sound design questions I had with them, and they were excited to help in that way.
Focus was split throughout the evening, but that was largely due to ensemble members’ need to do things like write their cues and lines on index cards, highlight their new scripts (with cuts removed), or, of course, work on a scene. Our numbers had dwindled by the end of the night, and we discussed our game plan moving forward. We’re bumping it up a notch: leaving less time to chat and check in when we arrive, and asking that people arrive on time and stay till we’re done unless absolutely impossible. The timeline for each session actually came from an ensemble member who’s nearly always on time, but also nearly always leaves early, and she said that if we stuck to it, she wouldn’t have a problem staying — she just hates to feel like she’s wasting her time because there’s a lot on her plate. All were agreed.
We also talked through a schedule for the rest of our time. We’re in the home stretch! One ensemble member said that she was getting really nervous, particularly about memorizing her lines. We assured her that that was normal and suggested some tips. She still seemed on edge. I told her that no one would have her lines down perfectly and asked if she would be angry with anyone who messed up. “Definitely not,” she said. “Then who’s gonna be mad at you if your lines aren’t perfect?” I asked. Facilitator Kyle asked the room if anyone there would be upset with her for that reason, and we all shook our heads emphatically. “The only pressure to be perfect is coming from you,” I said. “So try to relax and let it go, because freaking out isn’t going to help!” She said that she would have been much more anxious a few months ago, and that she credited her new resolve to her participation in SIP. “I’m worried about getting in front of people… But, being in here, I’ve cracked my shell… It helped me speak my mind and express my feelings. It made me stronger. And other people outside of Shakespeare have noticed something’s going on.” Those of us in the room said that we have definitely noticed!
That was a lovely note to end on. We’ve got a list of scenes to work on Tuesday, and then we’re into work-throughs, runs, dress rehearsals, and — at long last — performances. Watch this space.