Tuesday / January 29 / 2019
Written by Emma
Despite the biting cold (and the absence of our intrepid leader, Frannie) our ensemble gathered in good spirits. Check-ins were a mixed bag of goofy and serious, and included the reading of a “check-in sonnet” that Frannie had sent to appease us while she is out doing research in sunny California. Everyone in the ensemble seemed relieved that we were meeting, bad weather be damned.
After ringing it, one long-time member shared a quintessential SIP moment from earlier this week. She noticed one of the prison staff wasn’t having a good day and, being the caring individual that she is, she offered them “a woosh.” “A what?” the undoubtedly perplexed staff member asked. “A woosh—y’know, WOOOOSH!” the woman waved her hands as the ensemble broke out in laughter. We eat these anecdotes up—the more SIP-energy that spreads, the better.
After some quick deliberation, we transitioned into active exercises to get our blood flowing and bodies moving. We did a zippy round of Crazy 8s, followed by the loud-and-proud game of “Wah.” Following some gentle encouragement, one of our newest ensemble members bravely joined in our revels—a first for her. Once sufficiently warmed up (ha), we decided it was time to jump into some Shakespeare. In the interim a first season member and a veteran were discussing learning lines. The newer woman was expressing her anxieties concerning memorization. “Aren’t you scared to learn all of the lines? I don’t even have a big part and I’m worried,” she remarked, hands in her pockets. “I just don’t know if I could ever really do that, like, realistically.” Picking up on the apprehension, our sage veteran calmly responded, “The pressure is all within you—you put it on yourself.” She smiled. “My first season I had a small part, too. I even learned all of the lines and then I changed characters. I had to scrap it all and start over. You can do it, believe me.” And just like that, this Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.
We began our evening’s stage work with Act II, scene iv. The meat and potatoes of this scene is an intense exchange between Viola (in disguise as Cesario, because Shakespeare) and Orsino. Heaps of unrequited love, turned up to 11. As the ensemble began hammering out scene transition details, it became clear that there were competing instincts at play. Our Orsino has an incredible comedic intuition that has contributed to a number of schticks that are sure to elicit laughter during performances. One of said schticks includes Orsino flailing and floundering his way on to a too-tall throne in a manner reminiscent of Chris Farley. As the scene opened with this image—Orsino not-so-gracefully hopping atop his lofty seat—our Viola broke character and said, “Is this a real thing that’s happening right now?” Despite the initial discord, the scene continued. Orsino remained seated as the emotional exchange played out, surrounded by his “zanni posse.”
As soon as the scene ended, one of the zannis exclaimed “Ok, you need to get down at some point!” Other ensemble members rushed to agree. Our Viola explained, “So once I come back from seeing Olivia, [Orsino] will be anxious to hear more! He won’t want to remain seated.” This input was met with open arms by our Orsino, who gratefully accepted the constructive criticism. The presence of our goofy zanni posse in the scene was also brought into question, with one woman commenting, “I feel like this is a very serious scene.” After some collaborative brainstorming, we started again from the top.
There was a palpable tonal shift almost instantly. Whereas before our Orsino approached the interaction with her natural affability, it was clear that she was now tapping into a new dimension of her character—the Orsino that none of us had met yet. Similarly, Viola dug in and explored the multitudes contained within her character. She explained, “I’m in love with this person, and I’m forgetting I’m disguised as a guy, but I’m fighting to get back—to get back to reality while having these emotions.” As the scene continued, Orsino began wandering across the stage. Breaking character, Viola asked, “Were you talking to me?” Orsino nodded, and Viola continued, “Ok then, you need to make me hear. Let’s do it one more time.” This brief interaction, in my eyes, exemplifies what is so special about this group. Our ensemble members are able to effortlessly provide feedback in a way that is both supportive and effective.
As we wrapped the second run of this scene, more ideas came to light. “I felt kinda lost. I was trying to put emotion in, but the way they’re talking it’s hard to move. I feel like we should be sitting down eating tea,” Orsino commented as chuckles rippled through the ensemble, then quickly added, “I meant eating crumpets—I just couldn’t think of the word.” Cutting through the levity, our Viola responded to Orsino’s suggestion of sitting down: “Don’t reject what you feel is right… always do what you feel for your character.” Another veteran member added, “This is YOUR house—you get to do what you want!” Again, with the supportiveness! The third and final time we ran this scene, it became clear that it had found its legs. By collaboratively incorporating both Orsino and Viola’s instincts, we seemed to have hit the nail square on the head.
Next, we tackled Act III, scene i. A more jovial segment, this scene includes a little bit of everything that makes Twelfth Night what it is: unrequited love, disguises, and drunken buffoonery. We opened the floor to any new ensemble members who would like to give reading a shot, and much to our delight, we got a taker. The new member fearlessly made her way to the front of the stage to read the part of Feste the Joker, commenting happily, “That’s me, for real!” We worked our way through the scene, stopping only briefly to crack up at a few choice moments (when Maria missed an exit, Sir Toby and Sir Andrew whispered loudly from backstage “Maria! Maria!”).
When the scene ended, Olivia and Viola explored the age-old questions of “what worked?” and “what didn’t?” In this scene, Olivia is swooning over Cesario (Viola)—much to Viola’s chagrin. Viola recounted, “This was frustrating, because [Olivia’s] so stuck up! It’s like… what’s my line… westward, ho!” At this, the room erupted in laughter. Redirecting that energy, Viola said to Olivia, “I think we could ping-pong it. You’re happy to see me, but I’m not happy about you.” “Do you like the challenge of her not liking you?” another ensemble member chimed in. “In real life,” our Olivia (Cosi) said, “it can be a really bad situation and [the person you are romantically interested in] can still show up, and just the fact that they’re there is enough,” speaking to the validation Olivia feels simply due to Viola’s presence.
The final time we ran through this scene, Olivia honed in on the annoying puppy-dog energy, and Viola worked on shutting her down. Viola executed a perfectly chilled “I pity you,” landing heavily on the “t” in a way one facilitator described as “very Bette Davis.” Finishing the scene, there was a unanimous opinion that the second round was better—more grounded, more realistic. We concluded a particularly chilly day by raising the ring and bidding one another tidings of warmth, in every sense.
Friday / February 1 / 2019
Written by Matt
Frannie is off in California this week, so for the second time, we were without our fearless leader. She would object to my use of “leader” and probably to my use of “fearless,” but she’s in California as we’re freezing our butts off in Michigan, so she’ll have to deal with it. But this is a blog about the SIP women’s ensemble, not about how much warmer it is in California than Michigan this week (roughly 70 degrees), so I’ll start again.
It was warm and cozy in the auditorium today, despite the Siberian conditions outside—almost like we were in California, where it is 70 degrees warmer, and where Frannie is this week (of all weeks). But we were not jealous. …I’ll start again.
*Note: Matt knows Frannie proofreads and posts all of these blogs. This is as much of a response as his nonsense is going to get.*
There was so much positive energy in the room today when we gathered—focused positive energy, too! Check-in was lean, except for a good deal of wishing we were in California. After giving a quick update from Frannie (who is 70 degrees warmer than we are, but whatever!), one of our most enthusiastic members knew exactly what to do: “Okay!” she announced. “Let’s play two games and then do some Shakespeare!” All right! She suggested playing Wah!, which we introduced on Tuesday. Half of today’s group was new to the game, though, which is part of why she suggested it—it moves quickly, and it’s easy to pick up. Everything went smoothly until the final four, when one of our veterans started getting sneaky! No one could decide who should leave the stage, and no one wanted to run another round, so we called it a four-way draw. Wah! is physical, so we played a mental/verbal warmup as well: the Question game. The rules are simple: you turn to the person next to you and ask a question (any question), and they have to either answer you with a question (any question) or turn to the other person next to them and ask them a question (any question). Funnily enough, the finale of this game featured two of the same women who had “won” Wah!
Our Malvolio was absent, so we ended up skipping ahead to the next big scene that doesn’t involve him. Act III, scene ii is short—maybe, one of the women observed, the only short scene with Sirs Toby and Andrew—and mostly just setting up for a funny sub-sub-plot in which Sir Andrew challenges Cesario to a duel. In addition to being unusually short for an Andrew/Toby/Maria scene, it’s also not especially funny; there are a few jokes, but it mostly just moves the plot.
Maybe for this reason, the first run was especially rough. The actors stepped out and mostly stood in a clump until the exit. “There aren’t a lot of words here that make we want to move,” observed Andrew, and her scene-mates agreed. A group of us clustered together to try to work out what was going on and how to make the scene more dynamic. Between us, we figured out that simply having Toby, Andrew, and Fabian (more on Fabian in a moment) enter from a different spot would give the scene some more action. Andrew realized that she really just wanted to pout, and that the steps in front of the stage were the perfect place to do that.
Round two was worlds better. Sir Andrew discovered that she was the focal point of the scene—the focal point of Sir Toby’s manipulation, really—which meant that she could lead the others around. Whatever she did, the others had to do, too. She stormed in ahead of the others in lieu of her usual pratfall (“I was mad!” she said, by way of explanation). She pouted on the steps, they pouted on the steps. She stalked off upstage, they stalked off upstage. In the end, it wasn’t a great staging, but we found our way to the beginning of something.
The next big question was: what is Fabian doing here? Our Sir Toby had an idea: “Fabian is like a zanni with a voice,” she suggested. Everyone loved this idea, but no one more than Fabian herself!
On the third go-around, Fabian stole the show. Toby was working on Andrew, and they were sitting side-by-side on the steps in front of the stage. On Fabian’s line, she put her hands between the two Sirs, as if parting a curtain, and pushed her way into the middle of the conversation. We were all in stitches from just that movement, which was perfect and funny, but then she started buttonholing Andrew, giving him the Johnson Treatment. At last, Fabian started stealing the cups of the others whenever they stood up or made a gesture that put the cup in reach. It was so funny, and it naturally created tension and character development and dynamic movement—all the things that the scene was lacking at the beginning.
Not content with that, we moved onto the next scene, which is the second appearance of Sebastian and Antonio (halfway through the play? Why not?). Our Sebastian was present, but our Antonio was not. As so often happens, an absence made a great opening for someone else to step up. This time, it was a brand-new member, who confessed that she had never even set foot on a stage to speak except once in AA. She dove right in as Antonio with truly minimal prep—a few of us mumbled something about how he’s a bit pirate-y and madly in bro-love with Sebastian. The first run through was predictably rough, but one of our veterans jumped right in to take the reins. She talked the actors through the plot of the scene and asked what they needed to tell that story.
This timely intervention by an experienced, dedicated ensemble member did the trick. Sebastian and Antonio quickly realized that their conversation needed some space to move. The curtain was closed, so they had to come through the house to give the scene the long walk that it needed before they naturally wound up at the center part of the curtain, where Antonio gave Sebastian money before slinking away. By the third time, some chemistry had developed between the characters, and our Antonio stand-in had shaken off some of the stage fright. It’s always wonderful when a person’s first experience acting can be so positive. Really good vibes today.