Tuesday / February 26 / 2019
Written by Frannie
This evening was spent working on Act III scene i, which includes a whole bunch of people but led us ultimately to focus on Olivia and Viola.
During our first try at the scene, those two stood mostly still during their exchange, which is too lengthy to have so little movement—but that’s what rehearsal is for. Afterwards, I asked them how it had felt. “I felt stuck,” Viola replied. “My heart is aching. I didn’t know what to do!” Olivia agreed, and another woman said, “You speak the words really well. You did seem kinda bored, though… It’s a long freaking scene, too. We should make some cuts to it.” Olivia said that would be good, adding that, since we hadn’t worked an Olivia scene for awhile, she “felt boring after a few weeks.”
So, how to build on what they had done? “This is a scene where [Olivia’s] professing her love,” mused one woman. “I feel like she should come busting out [from backstage]!” Another added, “You just really gotta let her know, ‘I love you!’” The group agreed, and, as we talked through some more blocking ideas that centered around Olivia’s energy, a thought occurred to me.
I asked Olivia if she had ever seen Clueless. It was a legit question—she’s roughly the same age as the movie—but she looked at me like I was an idiot. “You know I’ve seen Clueless,” she said. “Yes, of course you have. I’m sorry,” I said. “So, what do you think about kind of channeling Alicia Silverstone in that movie?” I started to elaborate, but she cut me off: “Say no more. I’ve got it.” She returned to backstage left, ready to launch back into the scene from the top.
This idea was definitely a pick-me-up. “It felt a little better,” Olivia said, “‘Cause I had something to relate to.” Another woman agreed, “It felt way more relatable… Less like you were reading out of a book!” The scene had still kind of run out of steam, though. I reminded everyone (this is a common challenge) that if something is happening on stage, that means it’s important, and nothing in our acting can be casual. Another woman suggested incorporating the fountain more, and we gave the scene another whirl. But still, it fell flat, and the actors’ sense of frustration seemed like it might start getting in the way of their work.
Something that’s been different about this season has been that my role in the ensemble—which is always responsive to the group’s needs—has become much more involved in staging the play (though I am definitely not directing). Twelfth Night is challenging in a different way from the others we’ve explored. The action is often buried in the language, and our usual, leaderless, “painfully” collaborative blocking process runs the risk of being disempowering if people become so frustrated they no longer want to engage. So, with the understanding that my ideas shouldn’t get in the way of better ones from other ensemble members, I’ve been very hands-on.
It wasn’t enough simply to ask for more urgency or more movement—those notes were too general and overwhelming—and picking apart the text seemed to be driving the actors a little nuts. So I pulled an acting exercise out of my bag of tricks. “This is kind of a chase scene, right?” I asked. The actors seemed puzzled. Our Olivia was flailing more than Viola, who is an old hand at this, so I gestured to the latter and said, “Okay, you and me. We’re going to do this scene, and our only lines are ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Move as much as you want.” We went back and forth for a minute or so, trying different tactics as we went, and then Viola turned to Olivia and shouted, “NO!” Olivia stood, shouting, “YES!” They kept going for several minutes, moving all around the auditorium, till they mutually found a good place to stop. “That hit it,” Viola said. “So little, but so much!”
We tried the scene again, and it definitely grew. But it still wasn’t what they wanted. “I don’t like being so cruel to her,” Viola said. “It’s not sitting well with me, because I care that I put her in this position. Maybe it’s because I am a woman… I’m more sensitive.” I agreed. “What if it’s not about being cruel, though?” I asked. “You’re right—you’re hurting her. You’re causing her to feel the same pain you do. You saying ‘no’ is taking care of her. It could be, anyway. What do you think?” She nodded and said, “I like it.”
“Olivia reminds me of my daughter when she was little,” one woman said, sharing a story about a time when her daughter had thrown a fit when she wanted to help in the kitchen and was told that she couldn’t. “She just wants it so bad,” said this woman, “and you’re like, ‘Please, no, for the love of god…’” Some others bristled at this, saying that Olivia isn’t childlike. “I don’t really know if Olivia understands the word ‘no’,” said one woman. “It’s Cher [in Clueless] to a tee.”
“I feel like you need to cry,” one woman said to Olivia, who responded, “That’s a big demand!” Actual tears don’t have to be the goal, I agreed, but the stakes being high enough to make Olivia cry makes sense.
To marry those ideas, we tried moving much of the scene out into the house, with the two going up one aisle and then down the other. As we went, we cut a bunch of lines to tighten up the dialogue, which was such a relief to Olivia that I made a mental note to ask her later if maybe that’s what’s been holding her back. As the ensemble has proven time and again, our members are more important than the lines. There’s quite a lot that can be cut if it’ll make her feel more relaxed and confident.
After a little more detail work, we ended with the scene in a good place. Both actors felt more solid, and I didn’t hear any complaints from the rest of the ensemble about spending so much time on just two people. They’re so supportive of each other. Broken record over here, I know, but it really is something else.
Friday / March 1 / 2019
Written by Matt
Everyone was itching to do scene work today. We started with Act III, scene iii, which we only did briefly before, and without one of the women involved. This scene, the second between Antonio and Sebastian, is at once straightforward and subtle, and there are some challenging nuances to it, especially for the women in the scene, who are both shy.
The action is fairly simple: Sebastian is headed to the city that houses both Orsino and Olivia. Antonio is a wanted man and tries unsuccessfully to keep Sebastian from going. In our rough blocking, we have the two walking through the house from the back to the stage, finally reaching the center part of the curtain--the “entrance” to the city.
After stumbling through it once, a group of other women took charge of gently working it into shape. “What’s the story here?” asked one. “Yeah,” asked another, “what are we trying to project?” Our Sebastian, after a moment of silence, laid out the whole thing in detail, narrating the dynamic between Antonio and Sebastian and the main thrust of this scene.
“So, we need some urgency,” remarked one of the women, “but each of you for different reasons.”
“Yeah,” added another, her eye already on cutting the scene down, “what lines do we need?”
We spent ten minutes or so cutting some of the lines to make the scene move more quickly, and that seemed to help the actors out on the second round. When that was done, an ensemble member said, “This scene reminds me of the interplay between Olivia and Viola!” This idea was immediately exciting to a number of people, and Frannie encouraged her to get up and demonstrate. She did, using the “yes/no” format from Tuesday! The demonstration worked, and our Sebastian walked the whole ensemble through the places where the text was pushing her to start or stop in her progression down the aisle.
The third round was even better, but it was still missing a little something. Frannie suggested that two women who really understand the scene work as “shadows” of Sebastian and Antonio, to help them know when to move and stop, when Sebastian should push past Antonio and when Antonio should play defense like a basketball player.
The shadows worked so well that one of the women suggested doing a fourth run, with the actual actors shadowing the shadows! By the end of that, both of the women in the scene seemed happy with the direction their dynamic was taking. I flashed a thumbs-up to our Antonio, who gave me one back.
The next scene is SUPER-long. Except for the fact that the stage is never fully cleared at any point, it could easily be two or three scenes--even four. It has wordplay, physical comedy, situational comedy, and plenty of dramatic irony.
Looking it over, we thought we’d just do the first few pages. Our Malvolio, who was feeling tired today, was trying to figure out what to do in the scene to show off her cross-gartered yellow stockings. All at once, she got an idea and leapt up from her chair. When this woman gets an idea, look out! She went over to our rotating fountain set piece and started testing it for strength and stability. No one was quite sure what would happen, but it was sure to be good.
My first note during the run of the scene is: “OMG [Malvolio] is an evil genius.” As soon as she strode onstage, she projected supreme confidence in her ability to win Olivia. Within a few lines, she had stuck her leg out onto the fountain’s edge (“leggy on the fountain” is my note), placing her hand atop her knee, the better to display the shapliness of her imaginarily stockinged leg.
“Some are born great,” Malvolio began, climbing atop the fountain as she uttered one of the most famous lines in the play. “Some achieve greatness,” she continued, climbing still higher. “And some!” she hollered, feet wide apart on top of the fountain, “have greatness thrust upon ‘em!!”
They were supposed to stop there, but they just kept going. I don’t know if there was any communication about that--I was laughing too hard to pay attention to anything else, and I had thrown my pad of paper in the air anyway, so I wouldn’t have notes about it.
In the end, they ran through the entire half-hour-long scene, with many of the women who were expecting to sit and watch needing to jump in when their part came up (only a few characters are not in this scene). When it was over, everyone was exhilarated. The scene had been messy and rough, but we had gotten through it, and the best moments had been some of the funniest in the whole play--and entirely unplanned. We had never run the scene before with the cast.
Recapping, everyone agreed that we could use some cuts, and we would probably need some of Frannie’s directorial input to make the scene run smoothly, but there was so much good stuff! There wasn’t nearly enough time to run the scene again, but Frannie did get to teach Malvolio how to do a fan-kick after one of our veterans offered some great blocking suggestions that put Malvolio on the fountain next to Olivia. The fan-kick idea was funny, but in the hands of our Malvolio, it was so funny I fell out of my seat. She exaggerated the move so much that it seemed both desperate and inept--just like Malvolio! Every idea she had was pure gold today, and she is so unafraid to go with her instincts, and to take an idea too far… it was pure joy to watch.
As we gathered to leave, she commented, “I got some of that--what do you call it?--Shakespeare Holy Ghost!”