Tuesday / March 12 / 2019
Written by Emma
One of this season’s dedicated new members took a seat next to me as the ensemble trickled in. Enthusiastically, she shared with me that she had been noticing Shakespeare everywhere this week—in movies, in books, and even in casual conversation. This was curious, as I too had been seeing reference after reference crop up “in the wild” in recent days. Together we began to ponder the deep cultural impacts of Shakespeare, such that we both in our vastly different day-to-day lives feel the influences of his work regularly. With a smile on her face, this once-shy ensemble member stated that she fully intends to keep building her Shakespeare knowledge once she gets out. Snaps to that!
As check-ins began, it became clear that we were not the only two tuning in to this channel. One woman shared that she too had had a Shakespeare run-in. She is currently enrolled in a creative writing course through Eastern Michigan University. The course syllabus includes a lesson in iambic pentameter, which is to Shakespeare what butter is to Paula Deen. As her instructor explained to the class the rhythmic ins-and-outs of iambic pentameter, she had grown excited. “Like, that’s kind of musical!” she said to us. “And Shakespeare was a really smart dude. And if he was alive today, he would be so cool to sit down with.” She beamed into the circle as us facilitators scrambled to record the quote gold. “He was kind of brilliant! Yeah, I think I fell in love with Shakespeare.”
After raising the ring, we dove back in to the scene work that we have been plugging away at for the past few sessions. This type of work is where the play begins to find its feet and take off. However, it is also a quite tedious and practical process. We picked up where we left off with Act 3 Scene IV—an absolute doozy of a scene that has many moving parts and kinks to work out. The slow-moving process meant that some folks were on stage for long stretches hammering out blocking, while others remained in the audience patiently watching.
Within the first few moments of rehearsing it was clear that the energy was a bit distracted. Both the actors on stage and the ensemble members in the audience seemed detached from the play. A good deal of this could be attributed to situational elements, but even more was simply due to the fact that tapping in to comedic energy is not an easy task. One does not need to dive so deep to access feelings of anger and sadness as to access levity and mirth. It takes a lot of effort to get there outside of prison; inside, it is an absolute feat. Yet the ensemble prevailed. We kept moving, incorporating, blocking, growing.
This exhausting process left one of our senior ensemble members agitated. As we moved through the last minutes of rehearsal, she calmly expressed her irritation. Frannie paused work for a moment to validate that irritation and acknowledge that, indeed, this stage is frustrating. It is repetitive, it is nitty gritty, and it is absolutely necessary. As with all good things, this play will not come easy. With all feelings heard, we picked right back up.
Outside of scene work, other “big picture” things were happening. One of our overarching goals for the day was to get all remaining costume ideas nailed down. Costumes can be a powerful vehicle for projecting individual character personality traits, and as such, we aim to give ensemble members as much creative freedom as possible when deciding what their character is going to be wearing. We fielded the query to those who had not yet selected ideas, including our Orsino. Without hesitation, she said “Tights!” This was clearly not her first time envisioning Orsino’s getup. She went on to outline her desired look of a puffy shirt, elf shoes, and floppy hat with feather (described by Frannie as “Renaissance Man”). The whole ensemble laughed at the mental image of a (literally) puffed up Orsino strutting his stuff.
Picking a costume concept can be easier said than done—especially for folks who aren’t accustomed to flexing that creative muscle. One of our first-season members, who is playing Antonio, wasn’t sure what direction she’d like to take her character. “Whatever you think, Frannie,” she said when asked. “Whatever you think is good!” A little while later, she and I sat together away from the scene work to dive into costume details without any of the group pressure. She expressed to me that she wasn’t sure about her costume because she was still figuring out her character—his motives, his experience, etc.—and simply didn’t feel connected to him yet. In a play as convoluted as Twelfth Night, this is entirely understandable. Even more so considering Antonio’s entire romantic drive never gets adequately addressed and is mostly left up to interpretation. We decided that to land on a costume, we should start at the very beginning. As Rodgers and Hammerstein told us, that is a very good place to start.
She and I brushed up on the basic outline of the play, then honed in on Antonio’s role within that outline. We focused on what the play was about from his perspective—what he sees and what he cares about. After a few minutes of this, she was already visibly warming up to Antonio. When we came back to costumes she had some firmer ideas. “Pinks and purples,” she stated, “and a beret!” By the end of the night, she had outlined an entire costume concept, from flowy shirt to patent-leather shoes—a complete 180 from “whatever you think is good,” and an undeniable win in my mind.
We raised the ring, sending with it the frustration, fatigue, and ultimately triumph of the day.
Friday / March 15 / 2019
Written by Matt
One of our new members had an experience familiar to most people who have done theatre: “So, this may be crazy, but I started dreaming about Shakespeare,” she confessed. Everyone was curious--what were these dreams about? What were they like? Were they sad or happy? Was Shakespeare himself in them, or any of the characters? Or were they about SIP meetings?
Turns out they were anxiety dreams about forgetting lines, missing an entrance, or (this has always been my favorite) walking on and realizing that there’s a completely different play happening. The facilitators and a few of the women who have been on stage before nodded along--this woman joined a tradition as old as the theatre: getting nervous about the theatre!
After check-in, we decided to finish the nitpicky table work we started last week. This isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but some ensemble members actually seemed excited to get back to it, especially since energy was fairly low. Frannie took those people to the back of the house to work out cuts.
But what to do with the zannis and people who didn’t want to sit around to talk about cuts? We did the opposite: movement work. Lauren stepped up (with no warning, it should be said!) to lead a group of us on stage in stretches and warm-ups before diving into a high-energy “fashion show,” in which each person strutted their way down a “runway” and showed off their character’s “outfit” while the rest of us oohed and aahed and pretended to take pictures. It was goofy and fun and really good as a way to loosen up and lose some of the self-consciousness that dogs all of us to some extent.
I participated, so my notes aren’t great. Actually, no one’s notes are very good; we were all jumping around or making cuts! But it was a good time, especially when some of the women doing cuts came up to join us on stage.
I’ll close this short entry with one more bit of costume brilliance. Our Curio had been absent during our last costume conversation, so I talked to her quickly about it. What came out was pure gold: “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t really have a vision--” (which is usually the thing people say before describing an amazing vision). “He’s got knee-high boots, greet pants, white shirt. … He’s like Robin Hood! Awwww… he just wants to hunt! And this dude [Orsino] is just a sad sack, and I just want to be, like, ‘Dude, we could go hunting and get us some women and have a good time!’”
No vision, indeed.