Tuesday / April 2 / 2019
Written by Emma
Today, rehearsal began before the facilitators even pulled up to the facility. Two of the women, a returning member and a newbie, had been outside taking in the first rays of spring sunshine when the returning member surprised the other with an unexpected proposition. According to the newbie, “She busted out her script and said, ‘You wanna read Shakespeare lines?’” The duo proceeded to run dialogue from one of the many scenes they share. These sneak-attack Shakespeare rehearsals seem to be a recurring thing amongst our ensembles, and I can’t say we disapprove.
During check-ins, a longtime member updated the group on an exciting theatre project she has in the works. “I am going to be totally in my element—and I found a way to use some Shakespeare English in there.” The group chuckled and wished her well as we snapped. As the snaps died down, a supportive first season member said, “For you, a second round of snaps!” And another well-deserved round of snaps was given.
After lowering the ring, we picked up with blocking Act V Scene 1, the show’s finale, which features everybody and their grandma. It is the perfect cherry on top of our kaleidoscope-themed production. Loose ends are tied up, but not without some general disarray first. This one is a doozy. We began working our way through, hammering out the scene’s multitude of entrances and exits.
One of said entrances is that of an intoxicated Sir Toby. I, for one, was not prepared for what our Sir Toby was about to unleash. She expertly stumbled onto the stage, a plastic travel mug full of coffee in her wobbly hand. Sir Toby has been steadily drinking throughout the play, so it follows that in this final scene he is but a drop away from unconsciousness—an image our Sir Toby skillfully pulled off. At one point she tumbled to the ground, spilling some of the coffee. Our Feste noticed and rushed out of the room to grab some paper towels. On her way back into the auditorium, she was followed by an officer who inquired if things were ok. After quickly seeing they were, he smiled and walked back out. When Feste went to dispose of the coffee-stained paper towels, the officer asked why she had seemed so intense when she had initially come out. “I’m an actress!” she told him. “What did you expect?”
This evening, our Orsino experimented with expression. A newer ensemble member, she has truly thrown herself into the program and the role. At one point in the scene, Orsino finds out his love Olivia is married to another man (and isn’t too happy about it). With some encouragement from Frannie, Orsino turned the dramatics up to 11 and literally huffed and puffed her way up and down the auditorium aisles, stomping and exclaiming her anger. Later on in the scene, Orsino is shocked to discover that Viola/Cesario has a twin. Again playing with drama, Orsino spontaneously collapsed into a heap when she laid eyes upon Sebastian. Laughter shot through the ensemble. After all, who doesn’t love a nice dramatic faint?
Tonight we also had the pleasure of seeing the debut of the priest character. A returning member, our Priest is the queen of nonchalance, and her interpretation of the role is going to reflect that: she will actually portray an actor who is a “slacker” and has to be manhandled into reading the lines, let alone acting the part. It was decided that when Olivia sends her attendant to find the Priest, the latter will be lounging on the floor with one leg jutting out from behind the curtain, munching on a snack. As the Priest stood up to take her place on stage she said under her breath, “I gotta get my Cheetos.” “Are you method acting?” Frannie responded. “I have to!” the Priest replied coolly through a guarded smile, knowing what the reaction would be: a huge burst of laughter from Frannie.
The lounging Priest shtick was funny in theory, but in practice it was hilarious. When a frazzled Olivia sent her attendant to find the Priest, the attendant rushed around the stage in a panic. Then, seeing the lone leg, the attendant took hold of the Priest’s foot and pulled her out of hiding, set her upright, and dusted off her shoulders in an effort to make her look presentable. Throughout this process, the Priest continued to snack on crackers and yawn. The overall effect was excellent—another testament to the incredible comedic instincts in the ensemble.
Working through Act V Scene 1 was not all laughs, however. At this point in the process, things begin to feel a bit like the Oregon Trail—a slow, laborious journey through lands unknown. Weeks of blocking had left the group in a fog. Ensemble members both old and new were floating around the auditorium, often not where they needed to be. Some of those who were in their places simply stood or leaned, disengaging from the scene and their characters. After multiple reminders weren’t heeded, Frannie calmly addressed the whole ensemble and explained how frustrating this is, and how we all need to be involved in this part of the process. After Frannie finished explaining, a long-time ensemble member said, “I admire you, Frannie.” The ensemble member went on to explain how impressive it is that Frannie is able to be both assertive and compassionate, able to get her point across and channel frustration in a constructive way. Ladies and gentlemen, our fearless leader!
We powered our way through the remainder of the scene. When 8:15pm rolled around, we were fatigued, but a major milestone had been reached: we had officially finished blocking the entire play! Together, we raised a ring to that.
EMBASSY BALL GOES HORRIBLY AWRY, SHOCKINGLY WELL
YPSILANTI, Mich., Apr. 5 -- This year’s Embassy Ball saw the heights of drama and the lows of, well, drama. The famous Ball is the fanciest party for the season’s most fabulous people. Tonight’s guests, strange to say, were all characters from Twelfth Night. Whether this was intentional or accidental, we may never know.
What we do know is that there was a dastardly plot laid by an unnamed caterer/valet/butler/revolutionary, which left all of Shakespeare’s already unhinged characters without an ounce of reason among them.
The Ball was graced by the likes of the morose Lady Olivia of Illyria and EXACT LOOK-ALIKE twins Viola and Sebastian from Messaline. Also present were a mopey pirate named Antonio, intolerable (and sillily-named) ne’er-do-wells Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek, notoriously self-serious bartender and project manager Maria, a hunting enthusiast named Curio (a servant of Count Orsino, who skipped the Ball to write the second act of his emo rock opera), a mysterious man who appears in the second act out of nowhere and calls himself “Fabian,” and a priest—but he was too lazy to have much effect on the party, despite the protestations of his attentive assistant. There was also Feste, who mostly wanted money and to sing long, boring songs, a curtain-puller, and a DJ. And a group of incorrigible zannis… actually, no one was sure where the zannis came from--they’re not even in the play as written.
But the night was only just beginning. Before it was through, these unsuspecting (if not undeserving) guests had been ensnared in a diabolical plot.
No sooner had the last guest arrived at the Ball then the anonymous revolutionary/caterer served up a milkshake that had something more than ice cream in it… because after imbibing, each character became—how to describe this?—more herself. Curio’s desire to hunt grew into an obsession; Olivia’s sadness turned into a crushing depression, Maria’s neat-freak side turned her into a cleaning machine (and a huge buzzkill), Sir Andrew and Sir Toby began compulsively pulling pranks on others, and the priest sank into a torpor so profound he needed help feeding himself.
But still, it would not stop. The caterer brought out a serving of Jolly Ranchers laced with more of the mysterious substance, which sent each character into an even fuller, less inhibited expression of herself. The Jolly Ranchers were followed by vegan meatloaf muffins, which did not please the hunt-happy Curio, but which had an effect on all assembled that was, like the caterer herself, revolutionary. (And, happily for Curio, the caterer had some venison meatloaf muffins in reserve.)
Fabian stole Sir Andrew’s things, a sword fight broke out for no reason, Curio demonstrated how to trap a bear, Toby curled into the fetal position and shivered when the subject of his unpaid bar tab came up, and the zannis began arresting people.
Then, all at once, with the after-dinner mint, the fog of disinhibition that had invaded the Ball evaporated. Whatever devious chicanery or sabotage the caterer had intended did not come to pass. The worst Embassy Ball in a generation (or at least since the Hobbyhorse Incident during Richard III’s Ball) somehow ended without bloodshed, loss of limbs, or madness (well, except the zannis, but, again, no one could actually remember what they were doing there).
The plot was foiled. Or, we were left to ask ourselves as the guests averted their eyes and shuffled towards the exit, was this the plot all along?
The Embassy Ball Corp., LLC did not immediately respond to interview requests, but sources close to the organization say that the Ball Corporation’s event planner, booking coordinator, and hapless intern have been fired.
Embassy Ball, which one of our veterans called “Welcome to the Party,” is a Theatre of the Oppressed game in which people arrive at a party as a character and improvise as they are served successive doses of a “drug” that accentuates their personalities. At the end of the game, they are served the “antidote,” and return to the baseline of the character. The game has all sorts of versions and uses, but it is a good way to play around with your character, once you’ve been cast. At this point, even our newbies have a pretty good sense of who their character is, and Embassy Ball offers them a space to experiment without needing to memorize lines or blocking.
To be honest, many of the women were not thrilled about playing Embassy Ball. It is one of the complications of this season that we have a small group of members who love improv and a bunch of people who are really scared by it. Half of the ensemble initially tried to sit the game out, until Frannie made it clear that this game really couldn’t be optional—it is a safe, no-pressure way to learn more about your character, and we can’t afford to shy away from things like this so late in the season.
Eventually, just about everybody took part, and the result was described (in an admittedly silly way) above. As with all Theatre of the Oppressed games, the most important part was the debrief afterwards. There were all sorts of fun things that people did--Curio’s insistence on drinking a venison-flavored milkshake, the priest getting so lazy that he had to be force-fed--but a few of them seemed really important to the play:
Sir Andrew realized that her character is totally myopic--so much so that he doesn’t actually understand anything else that’s happening in the play, or know who the other characters are.
One of our backstage crew decided that she really wanted to micromanage the actors, which gave us all sorts of ideas for shtick.
Our sound guy/DJ was just looking for anyone authorized to pay her.
Fabian found that her character really “wanted to be where the action was.”
One of the zannis said “I was everywhere! I was doing everything!” and really running the show.
Perhaps most importantly, our Olivia and Maria discovered their characters’ bond: they are the smartest people in Illyria, and they needed to cling together to keep from getting overwhelmed by the maelstrom of buffoonery that whirled around them.
After discussing, we played another, much sillier game: Talk Show. In this game, a “host” questions a “guest” on an imaginary TV interview show. Meanwhile, members of the ensemble shout out states of mind (distraught, confused, angry, evasive, philosophical, etc.), and the “guest” needs to assume that state of mind instantly as she continues answering questions. We gave it a twist--the same twist we gave Embassy Ball: the women had to play their Twelfth Night characters.
There were a lot of really funny moments, although most of them would suffer in retelling. We have some very talented improvisors, and they were absolutely in their element. Most of the shy ones stayed away, although our Olivia gave a command performance on “Teen Mom: The New Edition,” where she was interviewed by Viola.
In the end, Talk Show was more fun than substance. That’s fine sometimes, but it was also frustrating to watch so many people still sitting on the sidelines. Not everyone loves doing improv, and we don’t force anybody to do anything, but the challenge of this season has been that a small group of people has too often been carrying the weight for everybody else.
Next week, we’ll need to chalk up some “wins” to keep our momentum up.