August 28, 2012

We decided to take some time today to reflect on the performance, the process, and decide what we’re going to do going forward with the program. The first thing that was brought up was when the participant playing Othello went up on her lines twice, and we had to close the curtain, refocus and restart the scene. She said that she had been so worried about remembering her lines for her scene that she neglected to go over the monologue just before the performance, and this experience taught her not to be over-confident, but to stay diligent. Some of the other participants who skipped lines in performance agreed that this was true for them as well. But then we talked about the audience reaction when Othello eventually DID make it all the way through the piece – and powerfully. I asked them if they thought it would have been more valuable for the audience to have seen something perfect, or to have seen a prisoner facing a challenge and overcoming it, right before their eyes. Everyone agreed that the latter was much more meaningful.

We talked about why the audience had bigger reactions to some pieces than others. We decided that this was probably due to the emotional commitment of whoever was on stage – the pieces that got the most applause, or the most attention during performance, were the ones in which the actress(es) completely dove in, didn’t break character and emotionally connected with what they were doing.

The effects of the performance have been outstanding for the participants. Some said that their friends had approached them and said things like, “I didn’t know you had it in you.” The emotions they were able to express on stage surprised people who know them. The participant playing Othello said that only one person mentioned the mistake she made, and that person shrugged it off, saying it was no big deal. The participants are also getting compliments from people they don’t know, which is a huge boost to their confidence. One participant said that her involvement in the group has inspired her teenage daughter to get involved in theatre at school, which she’s very happy about.

We then discussed guidelines for moving forward. We decided to aim for a performance in nine months, and we are going to see if we can do more than one performance so that more prisoners can see the show. Everything else we discussed had to do with each participant taking responsibility for her role in the group. We made guidelines for memorization and more strict criteria for absences. For example, while the prisoners are sometimes required to miss class for health care and things of that nature, the group decided that that does not preclude their responsibility to continue working on their material, even if they’re not there. The same standards of memorization and commitment will apply to everyone. If people have good reason to be absent but are clearly working hard, the group will accept that. But if that dedication is not there, the group decided that that should constitute removal from the program.

We decided that instead of having new people audition for the group, we will “interview” them to see what their level of commitment will be. We will be frank about how the group is a lot of fun, but does require serious work. We will emphasize that this needs to be a safe space in which people can express themselves and encourage each other to overcome challenges.

I am enthusiastic about what we will be able to accomplish moving forward, and I know the core group that is staying is as well.

August 24, 2012

This morning’s rehearsal was full of excitement! We ran the entire show in order with very few stops. We ended our run with enough time left over to rehearse some of the pieces once or twice more. This proved to be very valuable, since we needed to make some adjustments with the curtains, and having the extra rehearsal gave the women more confidence in their material. We departed on a positive note, to come back together that evening. We arrived back at the space and did some solid warm ups for focus, relaxation and a feeling of ensemble. A few of the women gave pep talks. Although nervous, everyone was focused and ready to go.

The performance went very well! The audience was receptive and encouraging to all of the performers. While not all of the pieces went exactly as planned – a couple even had to stop and start over – none of the participants let it ruin the experience for them or the audience. When tripping up on their lines, a few of them laughed, which made the audience laugh, and, interestingly, those of them who obviously were overcoming a challenge in getting through their pieces got some of the biggest applause. Those in the audience weren’t expecting perfection and didn’t care when they didn’t get it – they were thoroughly impressed by the effort of those on stage and applauded that effort even went things got a little messy.

The commitment of the women to their pieces and to the program shone through any mistakes they made. The growth they’ve experienced is a wonder to behold.

Following the performance, we had a talk back. People in the audience asked questions regarding memorization, what it took to get them to understand the content, what the program was like, and so on. The participants also had the opportunity to say anything they felt the audience should know about the program. I was very happy that every one of the participants volunteered to speak at some point, either answering a question or volunteering information.

Everyone left feeling good and eager to come to class on Tuesday to reflect on the process thus far and determine how we are going to move forward. I am so glad that they’ve had this success.  They worked very hard for it, and they deserved it.

August 21, 2012

After our warm up today, we decided to begin by working our Nurse/Juliet scene, since it hasn’t had very much rehearsal and one of the participants in the scene had to leave early. The first performance was all right, but not great. The participant playing Juliet said it felt “dead” to her, and one of the women in the audience remarked that it didn’t seem like they were “giving their all.” We talked about actors having to take responsibility for themselves on stage, even when they are not getting what they think they need from the other performers. I encouraged both actresses to go at the scene with tons of energy and to take care of themselves no matter what. During their next performance, I did a lot of side coaching so that they would be able to recognize when they were doing that, and the scene improved greatly. Everyone agreed that if they do it this way in performance, it will be great. We then ran the entire show in order. The group decided that they want me to introduce the performance and explain to the audience that many of them have never been on stage before, and that there will be some mistakes, but we ask them to bear with us. Since this will make them more comfortable, I will definitely do it.

The run of the show went pretty well. The goal was to go without stopping for any reason, but we found some places where we did need to stop and fix certain issues. One participant has decided that she will take her script on stage with her after all for her monologue – she is afraid she won’t be able to hear the prompting from our narrator. Another issue was that many people were talking backstage, which precluded them being able to hear their cues to begin from the narrator, so we discussed the need for quiet and for the narrator to have a microphone, just in case. There were a few other general issues that they solved as a group with very little input from me: for instance, waiting for the curtain to be done moving before beginning a scene and changing some of the blocking slightly for sight lines. We also discussed the need to stay in character until the curtain is fully closed.

On Friday we will have our usual session in the morning and the performance in the evening. I am really looking forward to this, and I know that they are, too.

August 14, 2012

Today was my first day back with the women after having another facilitator fill in for me for two weeks, and I walked right into a very intense discussion. Attitude, spotty attendance and a seeming lack of dedication on the part of some were brought up, as they have been before. I reiterated to them that I really hoped they would all stick with it through their performance next week and then re-evaluate whether or not they want to stay in the group. One of the participants brought up that she is frustrated that not everyone has embraced the challenges of working with Shakespeare and being on stage. She said that she feels that the program is mostly about overcoming “things you put in front of yourself” and proving to yourself that you can do things you never thought you could do. This participant feels that not everyone is as gung ho about this as others.

We discussed the need to continue to support each other no matter what. One said that she feels that the participants shouldn’t have any say in who stays and who goes, that it should be my decision, but I told her that I really didn’t want to make those decisions without group input. The participant who was most upset stated that she may leave the group after the performance. We all asked her to think more about this – I was not the only one, then, who pointed out to her that of all of the people in the group, she is the one who has shown the most remarkable growth (this is our “director”), and we all feel she can grow even more if she sticks with it. Ultimately, though, this will be her decision.

The group began to get frustrated with the conversation and very much wanted to get working on their show, so we tabled the discussion and will continue it later. As we worked through the scenes and monologues, the tension eased and there was laughter as usual.

In trying to fit everything in, we moved pretty quickly through the pieces, but every piece showed improvement. The participants have decided to open and close the curtains between scenes, which is a nice touch. In particular, the participant doing Rosalind’s monologue has shown tremendous growth – everyone was totally wowed and could not praise her enough. A couple of the other participants are having memorization issues, so our narrator will be giving them any lines they forget while they are on stage. They would rather do that than perform with a script.

I have no doubt, based on what I saw today, that these women will give a great performance. I cannot wait for them to have the opportunity to show everyone what they've accomplished.

July 27, 2012

Today after our warm up, the participants began discussing the program and what it’s been like for them, which they do sometimes without my prompting them. This began by one of them bringing up that she never thought she would be able to memorize her pieces – but she has, and it’s proven to her that she can probably do all kinds of things she thought before that she couldn’t do. The other participants agreed that that has happened for them as well. We then worked with one of our Antonys. She is totally memorized, which is great. The other participants noted that she is using her hands much more, which they had asked her to try, and it’s working! One of them suggested that she broaden her pace to increase her power, and this also did wonders for her. One of them remarked that her “actions didn’t overspeak her words.”

Then we worked the Juliet/Nurse scene with a stand-in for the Nurse. This was the stand-in’s first time performing the scene, so the first run was kind of rough. We talked about bringing up the energy, even if she had to pause to find the lines. They tried this, and it worked much better – the others said that it was louder and more believable. Then Juliet adjusted some of the blocking to make it work better for her, and that third performance was the best yet.

We then worked Rosalind’s monologue for the first time in awhile.  For this piece, we are doing a drop in exercise in which another participant reads the lines before the actress speaks them. This caused Rosalind to drop her energy between lines, so I helped her figure out how to fix that. I encouraged her to push forward when she knows the lines and let the other participant catch up. There was a great improvement after this.

Next was the Duke Frederick/Rosalind/Celia scene with a stand-in for Celia. Rosalind has memorized her lines, so we ran it a few times with a focus on her getting comfortable doing the scene without her script. The acting is in and out, as it usually is right when someone gets off book, and she knows that she will have to keep working on it to bring it back, but she’s confident that she can do it.

Then we worked the King’s monologue. She was doing great until she started forgetting her lines and getting frustrated. The others noticed that she got quieter when that happened, and they encouraged her to push forward. They reminded her that there is so much going on in the piece that no one will notice if she skips little parts of it, which is what was happening. She shook it off and tried again, doing much better this time. She is fully committed, and it shows.

Last was one of our Emilias. Her first performance was great, except that at the end she looked at me before she was actually done. We talked about the need for follow through. Then she tried it again, treating Desdemona as if she were much younger as an experiment, and it actually deepened her performance. She was very pleased.

Molly will be taking over for me for the next two weeks. I’m very excited to see how they’re able to grow with her guidance in the meantime!