Tuesday / April 9, 2019
Written by Emma
Facilitators were running on fumes as we circled up for check-in. The men’s ensemble had just completed four days of back-to-back performances, and earlier in the day the men had wrapped their season with an emotional final session. There was a good deal to share. Matt began, “Obviously, there are things that this (women’s) ensemble has taught me that the men’s ensemble couldn’t, but– ” He was interrupted by a returning member: “Be careful about what you’re gonna say, Matt!” With jokes out of the way, Matt went on to share some important takeaway lessons from the men’s season. The group listened intently, nodding along.
Together we raised the ring. After some much needed whooshing, the ensemble took their places to begin working. With rough blocking behind us, we had a loose game plan for the day: start from the top and see where things go.
Once situated, we were off! Shipwrecked zanni sailors stumbled down the aisles from the rear of the auditorium, picking imaginary kelp and small sea creatures out of one another’s hair. They were followed by a flustered Viola, delivering her lines without a script in her hands! She is an incredibly dedicated member, and the amount of time and effort she has been putting into learning her part was clear. This was among the first times this season that we’ve seen an actor completely off book—no small feat, with two months to go before performances. She and the Captain made their way to the front of the auditorium to finish the scene.
As soon as Viola and the Captain exited, Orsino unexpectedly burst through the curtain. She delivered her opening line with gusto—“If music be the food of love, play on!’—and launched us directly into the next scene. As she strutted across the stage, surrounded by the zanni posse (now acting as musicians), I realized something: she wasn’t reading from her script! Our Orsino had mentioned during check-in that she had been working on memorization (she described a “talent show” she put on in her unit that involved her reading lines), but this blew me out of the water! Her energy was infectious. The zannis, who in the previous scene were chuckling and not altogether in character, were now pulled in.
Without direction to do so, the ensemble moved on. Actors hopped out of the auditorium seats and made their way onstage, powering through their dialogue and blocking. Things were (of course) rough, but it was the first time this season when this many scenes were run back-to-back. And for every rough patch, there was a shining moment. Highlights included Malvolio maneuvering across the stage with a military stiffness that perfectly epitomized his uppity disposition, Maria deftly delivering her dialogue (yep, she’s off book, too!), and Sir Toby skillfully stumbling from point A to point B with a mug held high overhead.
We made it through almost the entire first act of the play before coming to a stop after some jumbled entrances and exits. “Did we plan to run nonstop like that?” Frannie asked the group. We, in fact, had not—it seemed the ensemble as a whole had known what it needed.
After the dust settled, we regrouped in the center section of the auditorium. We spent some time reflecting on some of the technical aspects of what happened—hammering out entrances and exits, discussing things that we did and didn’t like. “I feel like we need more of a connection—like, we could be more back and forth,” our Maria said to Sir Toby. The relationship between these two characters is simple on the surface—Maria as the quick-witted woman who keeps the goofy Sir Toby on his toes—but in practice, establishing this is more complicated. The actors discussed ways they can expand their relationship and communicate the subdued romance that lives there. It will be exciting to see where this is come June!
“How are the zannis doing?” a returning member then asked our posse. During the final scene we ran, the zannis were more or less wandering around the stage, not sure where they should go or how they should get there. One of them responded, “I still am not sure what’s going on, honestly.” A look of frustration crossed her face. Without missing a beat, another returning member replied, “What is it we can do as an ensemble to help you do better? Because we need you.” The zanni shared that the plot (which, for the record, is quite complicated) was confusing her. The group heard her concern and worked together to think of solutions. At no point was anyone made to feel “bad” for not understanding. To the contrary, other ensemble members offered words of encouragement. We agreed that we will spend some time clarifying the plot of the scenes, and that everyone should feel comfortable speaking up whenever they don’t understand something. By the end of our discussion, the zanni’s look of frustration had melted.
As we raised the ring, I reflected yet again on the supportive nature of this group. How we take care of one another; how we not only hear, but listen. I think this sentiment was best summed up by our Orsino: “It’s called Shakespeare, try some!”
Friday / April 12 / 2019
Written by Matt
We started today with Act II! After a (mostly) triumphant run of the first act, everybody felt that it was important to forge ahead. Today’s session was back in the classroom, which is fine, but makes it hard to fully “stage” some of the scenes. As luck would have it, Act II scene i is especially tough to do in the classroom because most of the action happens in the house aisles, not onstage.
This scene introduces Antonio and Sebastian, and we have had to approach it gently from the beginning, since both actors are shy--Antonio is especially shy and self-conscious. We decided to try having them walk in circles, since there was no aisle to walk down, and the first run was very rough as we all dusted off the cobwebs. One of the women said that the scene really needed “more urgency,” and we tried to figure out what the crucial moments were.
“I think Antonio gay or something,” said our Antonio. “He just following this guy around.”
“Does that give you any other ideas?” asked Frannie, after affirming that sometimes Antonio is played that way. Our Antonio shook her head. “But it changes your objective,” Frannie offered. “You need to be chasing her and trying to stop her and, ‘Won’t you pleeeeeaaase stay with me!’” said an ensemble member.
As for Sebastian, one of the women had a suggestion for her, as she is pursued by Antonio: “You’re ready to go to the bar, man! ‘I need to get a drink and get away from these problems!”
The second run was much better, and the beginnings of a scene were already apparent. “I was more aggressive,” said Antonio. Frannie suggested that Antonio “be a puppy,” and one of the women nodded vigorously, saying, “they cry and whine if you get too far away!”
The third run was good, but the two actors’ inhibitions still got the best of them. What happened next was a great example of SIP in action: the entire ensemble rushed in to help--not to tell them what to do, but to figure out what the ensemble needed to do to allow the actors to do what they need to do. “Does it confuse you guys when we give you directions?” asked a woman who had been active in giving notes. “I don’t know!” said Sebastian, “I don’t know how to cue [Antonio] to follow me.” Antonio chimed in: “I’m nervous.” The first woman asked if it would help for everyone to turn the other way so there weren’t so many eyes on her.
Was it the audience that was the problem? “Yes,” said Antonio. “I’m really shy. I’ve always been that way, since I was a little girl.” Another woman, who usually keeps pretty quiet offered, “I also notice that you hide behind your script,” but somehow said that without sounding remotely judgmental or critical. “Maybe you could lower it.” She suggested forgetting about saying all of the words in every line, maybe focusing more on the first couple of words and making eye contact with intent.
At that, a veteran member leapt up with an idea: “I’ll do you one better,” she said, and suggested that we play Yes/No. Everyone jumped to their feet to play the game, including facilitators--it was freeing for everyone, and Antonio found herself loosening up as we played, eventually running around the room and giving a full-body laugh that seemed to help her shed some of the self-consciousness that was binding her up. “That’s what I’m talking about!” exclaimed one of the women afterwards.
As we prepared to run the scene one last time, an ensemble member suggested, “If you screw up the lines, just start saying ‘yes’ or ‘no.’” The result was… perfect! Antonio seemed connected to Sebastian with a bungee cord, as she bounced in and out of Sebastian’s way. The lines moved faster and with more intention. As Sebastian tried to leave the space on her exit, Antonio chased her into a corner, unwilling to stay behind (not a solution for staging the scene, but a beautiful example of following her objective all the way through).
For the rest of the session, we tried to run the Act II scene iii. The result was less than satisfying. It’s a complicated scene, with a lot of visual storytelling and a couple of crucial plot points. Its jokes simply aren’t funny if you can’t follow it. Frannie admitted to being completely lost when we finished stumbling through. All sorts of people had all sorts of ideas, but Frannie suggested that it might help if she brought in rough blocking for the scene on Tuesday, which might help give form to the ideas we have about the scene—she was having trouble articulating what she meant about using blocking to make the relatinoships clear. Everyone seemed happy with that, so we put up the ring and went our ways.