Friday / January 4 / 2018
Written by Matt
Ordinarily, the holidays are a tough time for SIP--a tough time for people in prison generally. But this year, even though plenty of individual ensemble members are feeling down, the general mood of the group is up. A number of the women even checked in to say that they’re doing “generally well,” which is pretty unusual for a January check-in!
“The year is amazing already,” shared on of our longest-serving members, who has been writing a lot on her own. “I’m just so blessed to have so many unique stories in me and so many ways to tell them. It’s just so--they’re just coming out of me!”
Our first order of business was to make a decision about adding new members to the ensemble. Actually, Frannie’s first order of business was the read her contemporaneous notes from watching Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (pronounced “Romeo PLUS Juliet”; the one with Leonardo DiCaprio), but I can’t possibly do them justice, so I’ll get to the point: Frannie has been wrong about the movie for all the years she’s been ridiculing it. It’s actually quite good, she’s decided. It’s hard to overstate how much of an about-face this represents, and it would have been earth-shaking enough on its own, but coincidentally, one of our alums from Romeo and Juliet watched the movie at the same time… and hated it! In fact, this alumna and Frannie had completely swapped positions on the film through some crazy, karmic Shakespeare-mind-meld. Or something. I digress.
Note from Frannie: This was a surprising and exciting development! And before any of you (beloved) Shakespeare snobs out there judge me, just you wait. I’ll write something up about this soon!
The ensemble was of two minds on adding new members. “I’m afraid that someone will come in and make waves,” said one member, “but I think that they’ll come in and see how tight we are, and go with that.” Another reminded people that she had dropped out and rejoined before becoming one of the core members of the group. “People had apprehension when I wanted to come back,” she said, and went on to say that there’s always hesitancy about adding new folks. “The kindness and passion in the room makes you want to be a part of it,” added a new member.
As we came to agreement on adding new people (a bunch of them!), one of our veterans said that last year had felt cliquey. “And I was part of that,” she admitted. “That’s why I really didn’t want to do that this year.” And she attributed this year’s success to the bonding in the group: “We stayed together because that’s what makes us great.”
To kick off scene work, the people in Act 1, scene 5 went to the back of the room to get their script cuts straight--our Feste had some issues with Frannie’s proposed truncations. Meanwhile, we ran Act 1, scene 4 onstage. Before we could run it, though, we needed to work out some logistics. There are a lot of back-to-back scenes that switch between Orsino’s court and Olivia’s. Both settings require a good deal of space, so closing the curtain for one of them doesn’t really make sense. We tossed around some ideas for cleverly changing the scene (rotating setpieces? zannis running around to do it?) and decided to table the discussion until more people were present. We figured that we could simply assume that, if the curtain needs to be open, we’ll figure out a way to do it. In fact, our Viola pointed out, this scene doesn’t even need to be at Orsino’s court. She had us try it with the curtain closed, as though Orsino and Viola (dressed as Cesario) were meeting in the street.
The first run was a little rough. “It was dry,” pointed out one of the women with a director’s eye. Our Viola pushed back: “I don’t feel like it needs to be over-the-top.” Another woman who was watching asked a good question: “What’s happening in this scene?” and our Viola explained the context. “According to the text,” she told our Orsino, “this is the first time you’ve told me that you’re close to me.” What was Viola’s attitude to Orsino, someone asked. “She’s kinda reluctant, kinda sarcastic, kinda jealous” replied Viola. “I heard about the duke, but now I’m here on his turf.”
We ran the scene again, and everyone was able to be more over-the-top. Orsino wanted everyone to have goofy capes to flail around in. One woman wanted a line-up of zannis imitating Orsino’s moves. Frannie even had an idea to do part of it as a Motown number. We’ll see.
On to Act 1, scene 5! This one definitely upped the energy level in the room. Our Feste was making big movements, using all of the stage, and improvising all sorts of goofy actions. At one point, my pen fell from behind my ear (I was reading in for Malvolio), and Feste kicked it across the stage--later to tiptoe out and steal it from where it lay. People had all sorts of ideas about how to make the scene even shtickier, which was great. I really love that we have so many opportunities to be goofy this season, and so many chances to just spitball ridiculous ideas. It’s awesome, and so different from working on a tragedy, where there’s less leeway in performance.
Our Maria, though, mentioned that there were some logical problems with the cuts. She’s been really on top of all things textual--and she’s a heck of an actor, to boot! She went through a bunch of places in which the agreed-upon version of the script contradicted itself or left off the punchline of a joke. Many of these logical breakdowns required a lot of facility with Shakespeare’s language to understand, and many were about recurring jokes that disappeared and then reappeared several pages later. Very cool.
“It needs to be all of [the original scene] or the cut way,” she said, referring to Frannie’s original cut. Our Feste, who had had a hand in the cuts, admitted that, “Basically, everything I wanted to cut, she said, ‘Nope, doesn’t work like that!’” She shook her head, good-naturedly. “Damn.”
Someone noted that the text requires that Sir Toby and Maria have a flirtation--or at least that others perceive them to be an item. Our Maria had missed that. “Understanding that helps me connect to my character,” she said. “I’m not just, like, ‘Where’s Toby?’ I’m like, ‘Where have you been all day?’”
An already delightful day was made even better when, in the final minutes of the session, our Sir Toby offered that perhaps Maria took the job as a bartender because that was the only way she’d be able to spend time with her hard-drinking boyfriend. Everyone burst out laughing at that point, none less than Maria herself. We put up the ring and left the building, but Frannie, Lauren, and I were still chuckling about that idea. Of all the memorable and novel backstories that our ensemble members have contrived for their characters, that one might just be the best. A day in SIP history, indeed!