Season Eight: Week 32


“I don’t know where I would be right now without this group.”

Tuesday / April 16 / 2019
Written by Frannie

As promised, I brought in some blocking I had written for Act II, scene iii, the scene that tripped us up quite a bit last week. As people trickled in, I handed my notepad to our resident “director” and said, “I just thought, as one director to another, you might like to see how I did this.” After spending a few minutes intently perusing the notes and “floor plans,” she looked up at me and said, “Isn’t it crazy that I know exactly what this means, even in your crazy shorthand?” I grinned and replied, “It’s not crazy at all. You’re a really good director, and we’ve been working together for a long time. Of course you get it.” She smiled and then returned to the notes.

It was revealed at check-in that our Orsino will no longer be able to participate in SIP. We’re just about at the point in the season when facilitators start picking up the slack if/when members drop, but Matt is already understudying (and possibly playing) Feste, and I’d like to hold myself in reserve in case someone needs to fill in when it’s really crunch time. So… what to do?

Our backstage crew and zannis did not want to take on the part, and I don’t blame them—they’re still getting comfortable and are making awesome contributions in their current roles (plus, one agreed to give Feste a go tonight). That said, one member asked another why she wasn’t Orsino. “Um…” the latter member said before the former teased, “Because you know you can’t fill [the previous Orsino’s] shoes!” The other member playfully snapped her fingers at her as the rest of us laughed. Everyone else is carrying major roles, though—Twelfth Night is a true ensemble piece—and we mulled over the logistics for a few minutes.

Suddenly, our Maria asked, “Do Maria and Orsino overlap at all? Are they ever on stage at the same time?” “... I don’t think so,” I replied, and another ensemble member slowly took an Arden edition, which includes a chart showing the characters in each scene, out of “the Shakespeare box.” After looking over the chart carefully, she confirmed that they do not. “Interesting…” said a veteran member. “That’s very interesting…” said another vet, barely containing a huge smile.

“Okay. I’ll do it,” said our Maria, and we burst into applause. “I’m really gonna try,” she continued, mildly panicked but more determined. “I’ll do my best. I don’t wanna let you guys down. If I suck horribly, let me know.” As the others fiercely shook their heads, I said, “You will not suck horribly. You’re taking on something that terrifies you for the good of the whole group. There’s no way you can let us down. There’s no way you can suck, even a little bit.” Blushing slightly, she said, “But you guys have to really help me, okay? I think I got a really good grasp on Maria’s stuff… I want everybody to be really on me about making these characters different. I want to approach these parts really differently.” Another woman, beaming, said, “You’re gonna do great.”

Maria voiced some trepidation about memorizing Orsino’s lines, and Matt pointed out that nearly all of them are in verse, and many are monologues—they’ll probably be quicker for her to memorize than Maria’s. Another woman said, “Speaking as someone who had, like, eight monologues last year, I can tell you: the monologues are MUCH easier to memorize than the dialogue.” Maria/Orsino nodded her head. She can do this.

We were still mid-check in, and one woman shared about some really exciting opportunities and recognition that are coming her way. She’s overwhelmed—it’s a lot at once, and nothing like this has ever happened to her before. Another member said, “That is awesome, [NAME]!” And another: “You can do it!” And another: “My daughter will be so J.” A woman who is serving a very long sentence said, “I’m about to cry… You are a big deal… It takes a lot to sit in this prison, and to stay focused and work so hard on something you love, and to see things pay off—because you deserve it!… Look at what you accomplished! Girrrrllll!”

The members who are in the scene gathered on and off stage to begin walking through the blocking I’d come up with, and the others gathered in the house, where they stayed actively involved the entire session. This is a different approach for us—blocking is usually collaborative, and I rarely come in with anything fully prepared to stage—but it was enormously helpful in this case. My blocking took things they’d already been doing and relationships we’d established in our heads, but not on our feet, and simply made them more precise. It had been too difficult for me to articulate what was needed for the audience, and how to do this, but as soon as we launched into the work, things really started to gel.

The first bit of blocking—curtain opens on Toby sitting at a table, Andrew stumbles in and falls (her leitmotif), and THEN Toby says, “Approach, Sir Andrew!”—elicited chuckles and heightened energy right away. Our potential new Feste struggled a bit due to shyness and hesitation with the language, and the group rallied around her. “You’re doing so good!” and “This is your first scene, and you’re doing great,” said a couple of longtime members, and the newer members emphatically backed them up. “I feel like you are gonna do so well in this role,” said one. “It’s just like what you were doing as a zanni,” another woman helpfully said, “You’re just, like, the boss zanni now.” That clicked!

As we continued to roll through the scene, folks added their own touches to the actions I gave them. I asked Toby to do an awkward dance over to Maria while singing, suggesting that it should be “semi-seductive, but actually not seductive at all.” “Oh, I can do that,” she grinned—and she did. Our Maria said, “Oh my god, how am I gonna keep it together?” A longtime member replied, very dramatically, “It is the hardest thing in life to not laugh when someone is in your face.”

At another point, I had Toby do the same dance over to Malvolio, getting in her face—Malvolio then launches into a cartoon version of the Johnson Treatment, with Toby bending backward till she’s in a crab walk position, scooting backward as Malvolio continues to advance till they are nose-to-nose. It worked great, especially when Toby (who has amazing comedic instincts) shuffled her feet along the floor as if it were slippery. As we laughed, a longtime member said, “I love this rendition of The Matrix,” and another veteran said, “It’s like the black and white movies!” I laughed and said, “Yet again, you see inside my mind! Also,” I said, turning to Toby, “Your foot-acting is great.”

We got to the end and ran the entire scene—and it was so funny. Toby’s and Andrew’s exchange at the end had several of us almost literally rolling in the aisles, it was so natural and spot-on. “This is so good,” said one woman. “We’re gonna do this whole play, and this is the scene that’s gonna stick out to people.”

“Well, but we don’t want it to stick out that much,” I replied. “We need to use all this as a jumping-off point for the rest of the show so we’re consistent. So: what makes it work so well?”

“It makes the relationships clear,” said one woman, and we dug into that just a little bit more: it was the specificity of the movements and each person’s posture that contributed to that. “I’m really reserved at letting my full weirdness out,” said another woman, “but I feel like I’ve been in this ensemble with these people for long enough that I can just–” she paused, putting on the most eccentric expression and position she could “–let my FREAK FRAG FRY.” As giggles rippled through the group, I responded, “Let it FRY!”

A longtime member checked in with the woman who’d been “trying on” Feste. “I know I can do it,” the woman replied. “I just don’t feel like I’m ready to do it.” She explained that she really likes playing a zanni without the pressure of speaking lines, but she’s sure she’ll want to do more next season. She’ll work on it a little more this week, though, and let us know her decision on Friday.

One of the zannis, who’s been kind of frustrated, said she felt much better—that she could focus more on what she “should be doing.” (Which, for the record, was all about what she specifically did with my general “the zannis can definitely be super-judgy of everyone,” rather than the blocking itself.) A woman who’d participated from the audience volunteered that the pacing and space given for laugh lines worked “to give us time to enjoy it.” Another woman, who often has great “broad strokes” staging ideas, said, “This was a good way to show how to [demonstrate] what’s going on to the audience.”

Now that everyone understood what I meant about visually establishing relationships and plot, I encouraged them to do their own blocking ahead of time if they had ideas—it’ll make the rest of our work go much more quickly and support line memorization. “I’m happy to take on the more complicated scenes if you want me to,” I said, “but there’s no reason why I should be the one blocking the entire play. There are definitely people in here who can do this just as well as I can.”

So that’s the plan! To be continued...

Friday / April 19 / 2019
Written by Matt

Our new Orsino had a problem.

Avid blog-readers will remember that our Maria took over as Orsino--the first time we’ve cast one actor in two major roles!--which was A) really gutsy, and B) a totally epic, Ghostbusters-style, Superbowl-winning-interception-level, Game-of-Thrones-spoiler-that-has-to-do-with-Arya-Stark-type of saving the day. If there is anyone the entire group can trust to pull off the Maria/Orsino feat, it is this woman. But when she came in today, she had a list of potential issues:

First, she looked over all of Orsino’s lines and didn’t find any cuts, so she’ll have to memorize all of them. Second, while she was looking over Orsino’s lines, she happened to get off-book for Act I (did I mention we can trust her?). Third, she told us that she really wanted her Orsino and Maria characters to be different from each other, and that she’d be relying on the ensemble to keep her honest about that. Finally, she realized that, although Orsino and Maria are never in the same scene together, one of them is often entering while the other is exiting. She made a list of all of the scenes, but didn’t bother reading it. “It’s literally all of Acts One and Two,” she said. “And some of Act Four.”

We brainstormed ideas for a minute or two (Could we arrange for a quick-change costume? Could the zannis vamp for a minute while she changes?), but ultimately we decided that we’d find a way around it, which seemed to put her at ease.

As soon as she expressed her relief and we were ready to move on, though, a veteran turned to her and said, “I just think it’s amazing that you stepped up. That you think these things up and come up with with a way to make it work. You just find ways to get it done. It’s amazing.” Another chimed in: “It’s just so cool that someone so new is stepping up--has this level of dedication.”

Our Maria/Orsino replied with words that had clearly been building up in her for some time. She spoke so eloquently, directly...and quickly (!) that neither Emma nor I got the whole quote. Here’s the best Frankenquote I could pull together:

I mean, thank you. I really can’t put into words what this does for me. This group is just-- I have no idea what it has done for me or why. I don’t know where I would be right now without this group. I’m a really shy person. [After I said I’d play Orsino], I went back to my room and was, like, “Why did I just volunteer to do that?” And, honestly, I don’t know, but this group has given me-- a lot.

Well, that made a bunch of us feel things, but there was no time for that! We had a small group tonight (lots of people were sick), but we had good focus, so we did a quick warm-up and forged ahead!

As luck (or Fate!!) would have it, the next scene we had to work was Act II scene iv, starring… our new Orsino! The first order of business, she decided, was to have Viola bring her up to speed on the scene. As those two disappeared backstage for a few minutes to talk out the scene, the rest of us reflected on the fact that this was our third Orsino. This is the sort of chaos that always finds its way into a season of SIP, but everyone agreed that we had no concerns about this current iteration!

The moment Orsino strode out on stage, it was clear how much work she had done. Her Orsino was big and bold--totally different from her Maria. She spoke more slowly and clearly, and brought a big stage presence (a little bombastic, a little preacherly) that was both distinct and hilarious.

When I asked her how it went, she turned to Viola and asked her what she thought. “I felt like we had a conversation,” said our Viola encouragingly. A few of the women gave a few pointers and walked through some basic blocking.

We’ve wanted to find moments in this comedy to connect with the audience’s emotions, and this is one of those scenes. Viola and Orsino have a conversation that is funny but also vulnerable and poignant, and we’ve always wanted to make sure that it lands properly. We ran their dialogue a few times, stopping to adjust and tweak periodically. What we ended up with was a magical bit of connection onstage.

Viola, as she is trying to tell Orsino that women love as deeply and strongly as men do, speaks the truth by using clever words and double meanings. Our Viola instinctively crossed away from Orsino as she gave this speech, unable to look directly at him as she tried to find a way to say what she felt without giving her disguise away. At an ensemble member’s suggestion, Orsino followed Viola on that cross. When Viola turned back to connect with Orsino, on her line, “Was not this love, indeed?” she caught both of them by surprise.

Before, Orsino had been stuck twenty feet away at center stage, and the space between them had made Viola’s gaze feel like a futile attempt at connection. This time, the look they shared was intimate--and uncomfortable. Viola stalled in the middle of the line, caught out by the intensity of the connection between them. Orsino froze, then used the next line to break eye contact and cross away to a safer distance. It was a beautiful moment of human connection between those characters, built up by the hard work of the women onstage--and the ones watching and helping out.

We ran the scene again from the beginning, building to that moment again. And… it worked! Sometimes those moments of connection in rehearsal are fleeting and fragile and impossible to repeat, but this one was just as good, and maybe even better. At the end, everyone jumped to their feet to give a standing ovation. “Yeah! Just like that!” shouted one of the women. “That’s how you do it!”

The next scene (also starring Orsino/Maria, but this time in her lady-in-waiting/barmaid/schemer mode) is mostly just silly. Act II scene v consists mostly of Malvolio fantasizing about all the things he’d do to Sir Toby if he had power, finding the forged letter Maria left for him, and reading that letter. We’ve worked this scene before, though not for a while, so it took a few minutes to warm up.

It’s a loooooong scene, and it mostly rides on Malvolio’s energy. Fortunately, our Malvolio came out of the gate full of energy and imagination, which gave the others plenty to work with. She acted out her hoped-for abuses of Toby, she enlisted the audience’s help understanding the mysterious letter, and she strutted her stuff at the conclusion, as she fell for the plot. Meanwhile, Fabian and Sirs Toby and Andrew giggled and snooped and got enraged. They nearly got caught as they were hiding behind trees--at one point, Fabian tickled Malvolio with a branch!

In the end, we decided that someone needed to go ahead and block the scene to help tell the story. A couple of the women volunteered. We put up the ring after a wonderful day with a lot of big victories!