Season Eight: Week 26


“Shakespeare is for everyone.”

Tuesday / March 5 / 2019
Written by Matt

Tonight started off with some good news: two of the women had “made a third Shakespeare session!” They were running lines at work. “We have admirers,” one of them said, and shared that a co-worker got so into their performances that she asked them to pause while she left the room, so she wouldn’t miss anything!

Then some mixed news: our Feste admitted that she was feeling overwhelmed and didn’t think she’d be able to continue in that role. This is too bad, but, to be honest, it was as much a relief as a disappointment. We appreciated her honesty, and there’s still time for someone to step into that role without causing panic! A couple of our ensemble members said that they had been talking about it, and they wanted to pick a new Feste as soon as possible. Everyone agreed, and almost instantly a new member raised her hand and said that she still didn’t really have a role, but that she had a lot of trepidation about stepping into such a large part.

“I feel like, if you were willing to take on Orsino,” said one woman, referring to the Orsino-off we had a while back, “you could do Feste.” The previous Feste talked her up, too: “You’d be awesome!” Our putative Feste still looked a little bit scared, but Coffey (who has played Feste) said that she’d sit down with her and talk through the part. Frannie assured her that we could totally cut Feste’s part in half or more, and that was that.

...Or almost that. An ensemble member who for years has struggled with stage fright offered--partly as a way to assure our new Feste--to take on the now-open role of Valentine if the other woman, in fact, took over as Feste.

After lowering the ring, we set to work. Our new Feste went to the back of the auditorium with Coffey to talk. Meanwhile, the rest of us talked through Act III, scene iv, the long and varied scene that we stumbled through hilariously last week. More than anything, it turned out, we needed to cut that scene down to size!

As usual, the cutting process was both tedious and liberating. It is, on the one hand, a piece of drudgery that can be frustrating and painstaking. It’s intellectually challenging, requiring knowledge of the text and the characters, but there isn’t much payoff for most people. A few people (and we’ve had some of them!) really enjoy the act of cutting down the play while maintaining the text’s integrity, but most are just happy when it’s over.

On the other hand, however, it is the ultimate act of “ownership” over the text, and successful cutting of the script demonstrates not only knowledge of the play, but understanding of the workings of Shakespeare’s language. The 90-minute version of the play that we produce each year is truly “ours,” reflecting the priorities and character of that year’s ensemble uniquely--another group would produce a different cut, which would be theirs. If it is one of the central tenets of Shakespeare in Prison that no one “owns” Shakespeare because everyone owns Shakespeare, then there is no clearer demonstration of that principle than cutting the play to shreds--our shreds, shreds that still tell Shakespeare’s story, but in our way.

After cutting the scene down to size, we put the new, shorter version on its feet. It was delightful, as usual, and notes are a little sketchy, but here are some highlights:

  • Malvolio experimented with all sorts of funny entrances to show off the yellow stockings and cross garters.

  • The cross-garters, we determined, are actually fishnet stockings.

  • Because! ….Malvolio is, in fact, the leg-lamp from A Christmas Story.

  • And Malvolio may dance on to the theme of Pepe le Pew. And may actually be Bugs Bunny in drag. It’s not clear.

  • Malvolio can’t (or won’t) get Maria’s name right, which drives Maria CRAZY.

  • Maria compulsively dusts off Olivia’s face.

  • Olivia is, in fact, not “like” Cher from Clueless—she is Cher from Clueless.

  • Sir Andrew rides a stick-horse.

I’ll close with a line from Coffey’s notes. She sat in the back with our new Feste (who is now totally psyched to take on the role!) for most of the session. Her notes end: “I’m sitting back here by myself while [Feste] goes to the bathroom. There is so much joy on everyone’s face.”

Friday / March 8 / 2019
Written by Matt

Our Orsino got the Shakespeare Purple Heart / Art is Suffering prize today. Her bunkie was having her demonstrate Orsino’s over-the-top personality, and, in performing, she overdid it with her hamstring. When she revealed that she wasn’t acting out lines from Shakespeare but rather riffing on them, a veteran member gravely warned, “Oh. So you was making fun of him. And he didn’t like that.” Unfortunately for our Orsino, the ensemble was dead-set on doing her first scene!

Orsino gamely hobbled to the “stage” (we were in a classroom today), followed by the zannis and Curio. I challenged her to make her Orsino as big as usual… without further paining her hamstring! In the small space, the group ran through the scene--it’s the “If music be the food of love” scene, which we’ve done a million times with half a million different Orsinos. The result was a little bit flat.

“I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m gonna be real,” announced one of the zannis. One of the women in the audience was seized with an idea. “What if we did that exercise--remember?--where the zannis took Orsino’s emotions and made them bigger?” She was referring to something we did months ago as an ensemble, feeding off of Orsino’s energy and reflecting it back (the next step was to do the opposite, and so on), and that seemed like a great idea! She described the exercise more fully, but the zanni who had spoken up at first said, “But we’re having trouble understanding what [Orsino’s] emotion is.”

A-ha! thought another of the women, who coached our Orsino a little bit on making her emotions not just big, but specific. We were ready to roll again, and this woman even got up to urge the zannis on, giving them ideas and encouraging them by turns.

After the second run, another ensemble member pointed to one of the zannis. “I felt like you wanted to go down on the ground and cry,” she observed. “I kinda did…” the zanni replied. “Do it!” said a few people. “Always follow your instinct!” The woman who had suggested the emotion-reflecting exercise this time focused on physical movement, explaining how the three zannis could use different levels (sitting, standing, kneeling, lying down) to vary up their actions and create a more interesting image.

The third run was even better. Our Orsino was getting more comfortable with the text, and the zannis were beginning to hit their stride. Still, a longtime ensemble member noted to one of them, “I can tell you want to do more.” This zanni, who is the shyest of the three, replied, “I do!” “I feel like there’s so much you want to do, and then you don’t.” “Yeah.” The cry came with no hesitation: “Do it!!”

We jumped ahead to Act II, scene ii, so Viola could work her soliloquy. Before she began, Frannie asked her a simple question: “Where are you going, and what are you going to do when you get there?” She thought for a second, then responded, “I’m going to Orsino’s to give him the bad news.”

The run was a little bit flat, but a good start, and Frannie complimented Viola on taking her time with the speech. Also importantly, Viola had thought about cutting the speech down. But, she said, “now that I been through it, I don’t think I need cuts.” We set out to really work on the speech, so we talked about the subtle gradations of emotion in the lines. Frannie explained how this speech is composed of lots of short thoughts, and how each thought needs to surprise the actor for the monologue to work. “It’s like lots of tiny epiphanies,” offered one of the other women, helpfully.

The note worked; in the second run, Viola began naturally to turn her body a bit on each new thought, filling up with words as she silently read each new thought to herself before looking up from her script and making eye contact with a different person in the audience. “Damn, I felt that one!” exclaimed another ensemble member. “She connects with the audience. It’s like she’s talking to me!”

That done, we went back to that old favorite: CUTS!

Since reading a description of making cuts is about as exciting as cutting off your arm with a butter knife, I’ll leave with this: as we were cutting Act I scene v to smithereens, I stepped aside with many of the actors to talk through their ideas for costumes (pending facility approval, of course). What follows are the highlights.

A reminder: our vision for this play is: “A kaleidoscopic, extra cesspool of love.”

  • Maria already has a utility belt of feather-dusters. In addition, she wanted an apron full of cleaning supplies, so she can huffily clean up the others’ messes, like she always does. She also wanted a dress with a “poofy” skirt. (“Did you really just write down ‘poofy’?” she asked. “Yes,” said I. “Oh, god,” she said. I vowed, “And it’s going on the blog.”)

  • Malvolio already has a top hat and a cane. All she wanted in addition was a conservative suit, but one that gets more and more bedraggled and full of holes as Malvolio descends into “madness.” She has yellow stocking with fishnets, of course. And dressy, dressy, dress shoes.

  • The zannis will have, it appears: ballet slippers, clown noses, Hammer pants, and interchangeable hats and glasses for them to steal from each other.

  • Sir Andrew has one clear vision: “I want pink boots.” It came out a few minutes later that she also wanted “an embarrassingly short sword.” She talked about wanting to coordinate “slightly and unintentionally… and in a weird way” with Sir Toby. Which could be easy (cat suspenders?) or very, very difficult, as you shall see:

  • Sir Toby had a LOT of ideas for her costume, probably best expressed as its own list:

    • Suspenders with beer mugs (these Frannie has already located)

    • A two-sizes-too-large button-up shirt to be half tucked in to:

    • Shorts on top of pants with a:

    • Frayed rope belt, like a monk. Or a samurai.

    • A hat. With a feather. But a hat that usually doesn’t have a feather. Or a hat the usually has one kind of feather and this one has the opposite feather. Like a fedora with a peacock plume.

    • Many layers in many different, loud, uncoordinated colors. “The three p’s: polka-dots, plaid, and paisley.”

    • The shoes are not a big deal….

    • She returned a few moments later to tell me she wants “those platform heels with goldfish in them. The dead goldfish, not the living ones.”

  • Fabian may have taken today’s evil genius award. She began by saying that she isn’t very creative and had no ideas for her costume at all and we could do whatever we wanted. Then she said she was “maybe a little unconsciously like Toby. Maybe I get a little more like Toby as the play continues--like, I start plain and in each scene I get something else like Toby has. Or I could maybe steal one of Toby’s layers during each scene, so that I’m wearing them all at the end and Toby’s just got pants and a shirt.”

Something else may have happened after I heard that shattering bit of genius, but I wasn’t aware of it. It was a good evening!