Season Seven: Week 42


As we gathered today, the vibe in the room was, again, quite relaxed and confident. During check in, our Lady Macbeth shared that she’d felt “like a supernatural actress” on Friday. We agreed that she’d been amazing! She said her favorite moment was when another woman broke character, but she didn’t, and it made that second woman snap right back into the scene.

As usual, this third performance was our smoothest. As one woman said last year, “The first one is a mess, the second is the best, and by the third we’re just ready to be done!” Our Porter went all out this time, though. She has really loved playing this part, particularly with her rewritten/improvised monologue, and tonight she totally hammed it up. “I just wanna DRINK… and open the gate… and DRINK… and open the gate… You know what I’m saying?”

One of the women, who was dealing with some personal (and totally legitimate) issues, finished up her scenes, folded her costumes, and quietly told me she was leaving. I thanked her for coming in the first place. But then just a few minutes later, I saw her sitting in the house, watching intently with a smile on her face.

Our Young Siward , who had had such a break through during our first performance, was full of joking swagger this time as she got in place. She turned to Kyle and said, “Watch me go squash this shit!” Then she paused and said, “Just kidding… gimme back the script.” She was fantastic, though. And I’m not sure what happened at the end of the scene – maybe she fell a little farther from the curtain than usual – but instead of dragging herself off as rehearsed, one of the other women grabbed her wrists and pulled her off on her stomach, both of them cracking up.

The show ended, and our audience gave us a standing ovation! One woman had made a sign for our Lady Macbeth, which she waved as she cheered. As we closed the curtain and began cleaning up, the woman who had been sitting in the house burst through the curtain. “Oh my god, that was so great from the audience. It’s way funnier from out there!” (Yes, this is Macbeth, but our Act V got pretty silly.) “I never watched the people before! They were like –” she showed us how they leaned on the seat backs, gasped, commented, laughed, etc. I’m glad she stayed and got to have that experience!

And that was that for our Season Seven performances!


We gathered around a table on the stage tonight, a cheerful little group happy to be together one last time this season and sad to go a couple of months before beginning our work on Twelfth Night. One of the women jokingly pulled out the “sign” I’d made for her in Week 6, when I poked fun at one woman who wouldn’t stop talking by scrawling “I AM A CHATTERBOX” on a piece of paper and handing it to her. I then got on a roll and made “signs” for everyone. And this woman still had hers! (BANQUO’S BFF). “I can’t believe you still have that! That’s awesome!” I laughed. “I save everything from this class,” she said, showing us all of the little mementos she’d gathered along the way.

It was a really interesting wrap up. Usually it’s started out as kind of a “lovefest”, and then we’ve gotten into the operational stuff, but this year we kind of jumped around. It was no better or worse than in years past. It was just different! And I think that’s pretty typical of this ensemble: the work is important, and we are there to work – but the people are even more important, so if we go off on a tangent because someone needs to express herself, that’s more than all right.

Our Lady Macbeth had to leave just a few minutes in. She rose to her feet, saying, “I just wanna say something before I go.” She paused and looked at Kyle. “You can write this down, Kyle,” she said. We all laughed, and he picked up his pen. “I struggled this year. It’s really hard when you have stories on your heart, and you want to attend to that only.” (She’s a writer and is nearly always mid-project.) “I was determined to fight through it. Next year I want to come and be more into it.” She turned to our Macbeth, saying, “You were an amazing husband.” We laughed again, but she wasn’t done. “Me not giving 100% wasn’t fair to the people around me—” she made it clear she was talking specifically about our Macbeth— “She didn’t judge me or look down on me.” A few people were shaking their heads, but she continued, “Hopefully next year I’ll have more of a balance, and I’ll try to treat Shakespeare like the real world. I’ll be more dedicated next year.”

Another woman finally broke in, saying, “No, you didn’t give it 100%. You gave it 110%!” Lady Macbeth shook her head. “Well,” continued the woman, “Then I can’t wait to see 120% next year!”

Our Macbeth then caught Lady Macbeth’s eye and said, “Can I say something in response?” Lady Macbeth nodded. “I’m gonna out myself here. I was skeptical when you came back [she’d left the ensemble for a few months], and I had someone else in mind for the part who didn’t work out.” She paused, eyes locked with her main scene partner. “I’m so glad it was you. I couldn’t have asked for a better person.”

Our Lady Macbeth fanned herself with her hands, saying, “I’m not about to cry—I’m too smooth!” She then thanked us all for a great season, told us to have a wonderful summer, and walked off the stage into the house. She turned to wave, walking backward. And then she kept waving. And walking backward. And waving and walking backward. All the way to the door.

We went back to our discussion about what’s been working and what hasn’t. One of our main frustrations has been attendance; this is something we’ve always struggled with, and I’m honestly not sure that there’s a cure-all. But we keep trying. One woman, who’s been particularly frustrated, suggested that people who “flake” be asked to take a year off from the program till they can “get themselves together”, as some people have voluntarily done in the past.

Others bristled at this. One woman reminded us that we don’t know what others are going through. She said we should practice forgiveness and not keep anyone out, specifically citing at least one person who’d had a small role. Another woman expressed doubt, saying, “It’s not about, you’ve got a big role or not a big role. You make waves in the ensemble. Every man helps the next man — we’re all in this together.” The second woman said she agreed, and she pointed out that the woman she thought the first person was talking about had dropped the ball only because she was having a terrible day and knew we would pick up the slack.

The person who suggested taking the time off clarified that she was talking about multiple people, and things that had happened throughout the year. She looked at me and said, “I’m gonna be real, okay?” I nodded and said, “Yes, please.” She said that there were signs early on from many of the people who ended up having commitment problems, and that I’d ignored those signs and let things “fester” too long. I thanked her for that criticism and said, to her and all, that that’s an ongoing struggle for me; I get this criticism every year. “This is where I really need your help,” I said. “Sometimes I don’t realize the extent of what’s going on, or I don’t see it because I’m focused on something else. It’s not talking smack about someone to bring a potential concern to my attention. It’ll just help me know what to look out for and when it’s time for action.”

Another woman then spoke up. She thought she was one of these people. She said that she’s been in a bad spot for months and knows she’s been off. She believes she could have tried harder and done better, and she feels like she let everyone down. The woman who brought all of this up assured her that she hadn’t been talking about her. “You came, you told us you were having a hard time, and you gave it your all.” But this woman shook her head, saying, “No, I didn’t. I know I didn’t.”

She then explained that one of the people who’d been referred to by name had also been going through a very bad time, and she repeated that we just never know what someone else might be going through. “We shouldn’t blacklist people. I was a mess, but I showed up,” she said. “We let [NAME] back in the group, and she killed it…. We all do this as a family, because that’s what this is.”

Another woman, who was in the ensemble last year, built on that, saying that she had gone through a very hard time, particularly later in the season, and ended up quitting. “I was going through a lot, and I didn’t talk about it, because I’m not good at that stuff.” She said she’d had to get herself together before coming back. “We’re all so different, and we communicate so differently. Some people just don’t know how to express themselves.” She said she was “so glad” we’d let her come back, and we told her effusively how glad we were to have her back. We talked for a while about the journey she’s been on; I’m not going to detail it for confidentiality’s sake, but this was the first time she’s ever openly discussed any of these details with the group, and I think it was an important step for her.

So we landed on forgiveness. In Shakespeare, except for in very rare circumstances, everybody gets a second chance. And a third chance. And a fourth chance.

Another woman asked if she could have a few moments to express herself. “I’ve said it before,” she said. “Technically, this is my third season… In Romeo and Juliet, Frannie took my role because I went to seg. With Taming, I went to seg. When I came back this year, I thought, “I’m not doing it this year.” You don’t know how many times I would’ve went to seg, could’ve went to seg — but I wouldn’t let myself. I took on such a big role because I knew it would give me the ambition and the motivation to move forward, because of you guys. If they told me to pick one group for the rest of my time here, it would be Shakespeare, no competition. This Shakespeare group has strengthened me. You guys are my comfort zone.” She began to tear up. “I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do… I’ve been depressed since Tuesday… This was my sanity, and I don’t know what I’m going to do for the summer… But at least I know there are people in this compound who actually care. I want all you guys to know, individually, you all have your own strengths. And don’t let anyone take that away. I hope to see all of you next year. And thank you all for not judging me. You don’t understand the impact you have on my life.”

She specifically called out the facilitators. “I wasn’t going to let you in, but now we have the outside program, I feel like I can commit. ‘Cause I’m not gonna have much, or hardly anybody, when I go home, and I’m gonna need that support.” Without hesitation, I said, “You’ve got it.” Boom. That’s a big reason why we’re so excited about Shakespeare Reclaimed. The potential longevity of these mentoring relationships has already motivated her to stay in the group, stay out of trouble, and do her very best work. I’m so very grateful to be able to offer her that.

We continued to talk about group practices and policies till we were out of time. As much as this summer might drag without our twice-weekly meetings, we know that we’ll come back together in the fall, and that that ring will be waiting for us when we do.

Season Seven: Week 41


Tonight was our first performance! Though of course there were some nerves at play, the atmosphere in the room was still remarkably calm. We got most things set up quickly, checked in and lowered a ring, and then continued our prep as audience members filed into the auditorium.

I chatted a bit with a couple of women who joined this year. Unprompted, one of them said, “This has been great. I never realized before everything that went into a play.” She described not only the work that goes into a performance, but the way in which a play itself can connect people to one another through storytelling. She said it far better than I ever could, and of course I didn’t have my notepad and pen right with me. I told her that that was the best description of what a play can and should be that I’d ever heard (it truly was) and asked if she’d write it down for me later. She beamed and said she would.

She continued, saying that she’d signed up to re-join the dance group (she quit to work with us), but that she wasn’t sure she’d actually do it… That the waiting list is pretty long, and she won’t be heartbroken if she can’t get in. “I really like this. I’m glad I stuck with it. I wasn’t sure I was going to,” she said. “I wasn’t sure you were going to, either!” I said. “This is great, though,” she continued. “It’s done me a lot of good. Really.”

The other woman nodded vigorously, saying she couldn’t believe how much her work in our group has helped her. “This has been amazing. It’s changed everything,” she said. “I never finished anything before that was good for me. The girls I work with keep asking me, now that Shakespeare’s over for the year, are you gonna go back to normal?” The first woman jumped in, saying, “You tell them this is normal. It’s not even the new normal. This is just you.” The second woman nodded again, smiling.

I stepped out into the house to see if it would be okay to start the show. While I was out there, I chatted briefly with a former ensemble member who was sitting front row center. She said she had canceled something else to see the show, that she missed the ensemble, and that she’d be back in the fall for sure. Another former ensemble member was in the audience as well, but I didn’t get a chance to connect with her other than to smile and wave.

It was a nice, big audience, and they were attentive from the very start. Several facilitators stayed at the back of the auditorium, distributing and collecting anonymous surveys, and they noted afterward that this was the quietest audience we’ve ever had – and that the vast majority of people stayed for the entire performance. I noted this, too, as much as I could from my perch off stage right, where I peep through the curtain in order to run sound. One example happened just a few minutes in. When Duncan announced that Malcolm would be Prince of Cumberland and everyone on stage clapped, several audience members did, too.

I noticed that our Backstage Captain (she really ought to have a formal title at this point) was standing just offstage left behind the curtain, script in hand. I wondered what she was doing there, but then our Lady Macbeth called for line, and it became clear that they’d coordinated to have the former woman on book for the latter. I’m so glad they did that; it really freed up Lady Macbeth, who went further than she ever has in her first scene, excited to murder Duncan and mocking on the line, “Hold! Hold!”

She really was great, even though she frequently called for line, and even though her lines often came out a bit jumbled. She still nailed the character for the most part, although she broke character a few times when things really hit a snag. More on that later…

There was a remarkable “save” in the scene in which Macbeth consults with two murderers. One of those women missed her entrance – actually, she missed the entire scene because by the time she realized what had happened, she couldn’t figure out a logical way to enter. Our other Murderer, though, covered beautifully. When Macbeth asked questions that the other woman was supposed to answer, the woman on stage simply listened intently and responded either with “yes” or “no.” And our Macbeth didn’t miss a beat. It was pretty great.

The most exciting thing for me about this performance happened when our Young Siward was about to go on for that scene. She plays another character as well, and she’s been increasingly confident, but for whatever reason she got spooked. Suddenly she was standing next to me, staring at her script, panicked, asking over and over again, “Where are we?” I showed her, trying to soothe her, and facilitator Kyle joined us as well. “Oh my god,” she said, nervously shaking her hands up and down, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. Holy shit. What did I do?!” I asked her what she meant, reassuring her in the same breath that she was going to be great. “Why’d I take this part? I can’t do this! Oh my god! Where are we?” We showed her again where we were, still trying to calm her. “You’ve got this,” said Kyle. “You know the fight, you know your lines. Just make the stab noise when you go out.” She nervously giggled and told him to “fuck off with that shit,” then told us (not exactly in these words) that her digestive system seemed to be wanting to get involved. “Oh, shit. Where are we? Oh my god, what did I do?” And then it was her cue. “Oh my god,” she said one more time, and then she launched into the scene.

I cannot imagine anyone in the audience knew she’d been having a meltdown. She did know her lines; she did know her fight; and she executed the scene perfectly – even making that “dying” sound, which she hadn’t ever done before. She dragged herself off and literally rolled back to where I was sitting. She sat up, smiling weakly and breathing hard. Kyle and I immediately told her how great she’d been and how proud we were of her, and we asked her how she felt.  She rolled her eyes, still smiling. After saying “holy shit” a few more times, she asked how it had gone, interrupting herself to say it had been awful. But we interrupted her right back to tell her it had NOT been awful. It had been amazing. She then let us know that her digestive system seemed to have retreated.

I was so absorbed in this triumph (even running sound sort of faded into the background, though I kept doing it) that I didn’t notice when our Macbeth took a pretty big fall during her fight with Macduff, apparently almost knocked over a flat, and then just got up and kept going like she’d meant to do it.

We got a huge round of applause when we reached the end of the show, and everyone seemed to be feeling good. As we scattered to put away our props and costumes, our Lady Macbeth walked over to me. “How do you feel?” I asked. She paused, knowing that I knew the kind of performance she’d wanted to give – and that she hadn’t exactly given it. “I had fun,” she smiled, still with a bit of hesitation. “Good,” I replied. “That’s the most important thing.”

She planted herself, serious, and asked, “What did you think, Frannie?” I said, “I think if you had fun, that’s great. And if you want to play this character for laughs, she’s yours, and you totally can. But was that the performance you wanted to give?” She shook her head. “What do you think you need to do, then?” I asked. “Buckle down,” she replied. “What does that mean?” I asked again. “Put in more time outside of here,” she said.

“Yeah, that would help,” I agreed, “But a lot can happen out there. And there’s a lot that you can do in here, too.” She knew exactly what I meant – we’ve been working together for a long time – but, still, she asked me to explain. “Every time you messed up, you apologized by breaking character and going for comedy, right?” I asked. She nodded. “You can do whatever you want with this character, and your scene partner will roll with whatever you do, but I’m not sure this is actually how you’ve interpreted Lady Macbeth all year.” She nodded.

“Here’s the thing,” I continued. “You’re not just letting yourself off the hook – you’re letting the audience off, too. You’ve worked hard, and you deserve to give yourself the performance you want. In order to do that, you need to give yourself permission to take yourself seriously. If you laugh at yourself, you give them permission to laugh. But did you notice that during the handwashing scene, when you were so locked in, there wasn’t a peep out there?” She nodded. “They’ll be with you like that for the entire show if you let them. They will not reject you if you take yourself seriously. Because you won’t give them room to.” She nodded, saying firmly, “You’re right. I’m not gonna apologize next time. I got this, Frannie.”

“I know you do,” I replied.


During our preshow check-in, several women shared that they were feeling off: terrible anxiety (not show-related), lack of focus, or just being in a really bad mood. We thanked them for sharing so that we could be sensitive to them.

Our Banquo then asked if someone could be on book at all times – our Backstage Captain had been on book for an increasing number of people as they noticed how she was helping Lady Macbeth, but she wasn’t prepared, so it hadn’t been consistent. Banquo had gone up a couple of times and felt like she’d been hung out to dry. Backstage Captain said (not heatedly – this was a good conversation) that only Lady Macbeth had asked her to do that, but that she had been planning ever since to be on book for everyone going forward. Banquo assured her that she knew that and hadn’t meant to blame her for anything. We all agreed, too, that when Backstage Captain was on stage, I would be on book, since I’m right behind the curtain anyway. That settled, we raised the ring and continued getting ready.

Our Lady Macbeth was one of those who wasn’t feeling quite her usual self, though I’m not going to go into detail here. “What do you need from us?” I asked. “Patience. And strength,” she replied. “You’ve got it,” I said. “We’ve all got your back.”

Just as I had on Tuesday, I saw and was able to briefly chat with two former ensemble members who were in the audience. One sat in the center section; the other sat in the front row, all the way house left. It was fabulous to know they both were out there!

Everything was going great, and then our Lady Macbeth entered. And she had buckled down as she’d wanted to – she was totally locked in. Though she skipped over quite a few lines, our Macbeth stayed right with her; you’d have thought we’d made those cuts on purpose, they were so much in the moment together. The scenes crackled. It was exciting. Lady Macbeth also took her handwashing scene to the next level, entering with her crown on upside down, wearing only one shoe.

This was an interesting show for audience-watching on my part. Once again, most of the women whom I could see were entirely focused on the onstage action, again clapping when the actors clapped and smiling throughout. I also noted that several staff members and officers watched at least part of the show from the back of the house; one had seemed genuinely excited when we arrived at the building. It’s always wonderful to have their support, even if they can’t stay the whole time. The only thing that was strange was that a large number of people left about midway through the show. Neither I nor facilitator Lauren (who was in the house) could tell why, but it wasn’t terribly disruptive, and the ensemble either didn’t register it or shook it off without missing a beat.

There were, once again, some really exciting moments. Our Lady Macduff got a huge laugh at her line about being able to buy 20 husbands at the market, which was fun. And a scene that had largely fallen apart on Tuesday was much improved today! I also noticed that no one has been hugging the back wall. All of the action happens far enough downstage for the audience to hear, and the staging is visually strong. That might be unprecedented; there are usually a few people who just cannot seem to get themselves down stage. One woman used accents for some reason, without warning us, which threw folks for a loop (including herself!), but it was pretty funny.

I also noticed something that I probably should have before, and that’s that our Macbeth physically transforms herself throughout the play using only her hair. She begins the show with her hair in two perfect French braids. After the murder of Duncan, her hair becomes increasingly mussed, scene by scene, till it’s no longer braided at all, but wild, even falling into her eyes.

It’s really effective, and, as always, indicative of how having the kinds of limitations we do (budget, policy, etc.) can actually enhance our work. Had we been able to provide her with progressively deteriorating costumes, as she conceived, she probably would not have had the inspiration to do the same thing with only her hair. That “creativity-by-necessity”, while often a pain in the rear, is also truly empowering when we hit on a solution.

One more performance, a wrap up meeting, and then we break for the summer. Almost there.

Season Seven: Week 40


We were delighted to welcome Mercedes Mejia from Michigan Radio to our dress rehearsal tonight! Click here to listen to her wonderful segment about SIP.

Facilitators arrived in plenty of time to start getting costumes, props, and our beautiful back drops ready to go! By 6:30pm, everyone was in place to start the run — and the atmosphere was so focused and relaxed that the usual pressure to race to the end of the play wasn’t there. We knew that that was our goal, but we also felt very confident that we could do it.

This ensemble is really, really solid. Not only do they know the play extremely well, but they’ve quickly acclimated to the costumes and props, and they’ve taken the stress of these final rehearsals in stride. They know each person’s strengths and play to them; they know each person’s weaknesses and support them. When things go a little haywire, the universal response is to smile, shake it off, and keep going. It feels good in that room.

Even when we got to Act V, which somehow we’d forgotten to discuss prior to the run (so no one was sure which cut we were using), everyone rolled with the punches, calling out new cues and ushering each other in and out of scenes. One of our cuts eliminated a scene during which Macbeth would exit, and our Macbeth didn’t realize that that’s what was happening. “Come back! Come back! They have tied me to the stake!” we shouted, and back she charged, launching right into those lines, out of breath and not sure of what was coming next, but secure enough in her knowledge of the script and her ensemble’s support to just barrel on ahead.

And, with that, we made it to the end of the play! The run lasted just three minutes longer than our goal, which is fantastic. We can take those three minutes off for sure — part of the fun of moving into performances is watching the ensemble’s collective adrenaline propel us not only to play faster, but often to skip over sections of text that it turns out we didn’t need in the first place. I am so excited about where we are in the process and can’t wait to see where we end up.

Friday, June 8

Tonight’s rehearsal was even more relaxed than Tuesday’s, which was just wonderful. We now know our costumes and props well enough that we got set up very quickly, which meant that we had time for a nice check-in before we got going with our run.

Just because we were relaxed, that didn’t mean we weren’t taking things seriously. From my vantage point on stage right, I can’t see everything that happens on stage, but I see most of what goes on in the wings. So I noticed that our Lady Macbeth and another ensemble member were whispering and having fun looking at something on one of their tablets. I wasn’t concerned, but I wondered if that was going to be an ongoing distraction.

It wasn’t. As soon as the curtain closed prior to Lady Macbeth’s first scene, she rose from her chair and stood in place, prepping. She was so focused that she didn’t notice when I waved to her — so I stopped waving and just watched her take the time she needed to focus and ground herself in her character.

Her work has been bold and strong, but, as I think I’ve noted earlier in this blog, she hasn’t been able to memorize as many of her lines as she would have liked. In general, she works very well with a script in hand, but it definitely gets in the way of her handwashing scene (as it would for just about anyone). On Tuesday, I asked her if she’d like to return to doing the scene as a “drop-in” (with someone quietly prompting her while standing just behind her). That had enabled her to do extremely powerful work in rehearsal several weeks ago.

She liked the idea, and we asked our Banquo if she’d like to be the one to drop in. She said she would, but unfortunately had left by the time we got to that scene, so another ensemble member stood in for her. Now I approached her to ask if she was still into the idea, and she said she’d rather not if that was okay. It’s a really sensitive scene, and I assured her that she absolutely didn’t have to be a part of it; instead, facilitator Matt agreed to do it, as he’s playing Duncan, and we all liked the idea of having one of the sources of Lady Macbeth’s guilt embodied on stage.

On Tuesday, I’d encouraged our Macduff to really bring it tonight — to let loose with her reaction to Duncan’s death and drive it home. She and I briefly made eye contact prior to her entrance, and I asked how she was feeling. “I’m gonna do it,” she said, smiling. “Excellent,” I replied. And, man, did she ever do it! She has a beautiful, booming voice, and she used it so well that it filled the entire room. She paced with a frantic energy, absolutely selling her character’s anxiety and grief at finding the king dead. She also went on without her script, even though she’s not 100% off book, and, as facilitator Assata prompted her on lines, Kyle cheered her on from the wings; he’s worked with her quite a bit one-on-one and knew more than anyone what a huge leap this was.

She came right to me as she exited, gesturing in a way that said, “How’d I do?” “AWESOME,” I said. “YOU DID AWESOME.” She smiled and sort of bobbed her head, clearly proud of herself but not wanting to make a big deal about it. “You feel good?” I asked. “Yeah!” she said before she walked away to prep for her next scene.

There were some misfires that were handled beautifully. A woman who was supposed to play one of the messengers was not in the room when her scene came up. I threw on one of our costume shirts, ready to fill in. But then I saw the woman who’s taken on coordinating everything back stage standing in place, in costume, ready to go. So I sat back down.

I’ve written about this woman a few times this season, but I have to do it again. I cannot tell you what a transformation has taken place in her. There are factors at play other than SIP, of course, but even her taking on these new, more-or-less administrative duties has dramatically affected the way in which she’s involved with the ensemble. Years ago, she would barely speak up and nervously giggled her way through the few lines she had, and last season was particularly rough for her. This year, she’s been incredibly upbeat, even when things have been hard, and totally willing to take on anything we threw at her. Of her own volition, she volunteered not only for a part with lines, not only for a part with a fight – but for TWO parts with lines and fights! And, though it intimidated her at first, she accepted the new role of managing the master script and back stage logistics without hesitation, and MAN is she ever good at it. We’ve been telling her over and over.

When I told her, again, how good she is at this, and how wonderful it is to know we can count on her, she replied, “I know. I feel like I’m actually part of the ensemble now.” I assured her that she’s always been part of the ensemble, reminding her of how she joined just as we needed to recast our Desdemona and let us nudge her into auditioning, even though she didn’t want to — and she was so relieved when she wasn’t cast! She’s just more active now. And when she plays her scenes, there’s no giggling. She knows her lines, she knows her objectives, she knows her blocking, and she just does it. She’s amazing. She’s absolutely amazing.

When we arrived at the banquet scene, Assata seemed not to realize that our Ross was on stage, and read her lines from the audience. Rather than interrupt things or make a big deal about it, our Ross just stayed in character and didn’t say anything. At the end of the scene, she came off stage laughing. I said, “What happened?” She shrugged and said, “I don’t know! Keep it moving! Keep it moving!” Still laughing, she walked away.

We rolled through Act V—we are now all on the same literal pages!—and again made it to the end of the play with plenty of time to spare. We are feeling really, really good. This was, hands down, the smoothest final dress rehearsal we’ve ever had. We’re rolling into performances feeling confident and enthused. Of course there are some nerves, but no one is freaking out. Awesome.

Season Seven: Week 39



We brought in the costumes and props tonight! As usual, it was a little hectic getting everyone oriented and figuring out how to set everything up, but we were still able to start our run at 6:35pm. We had till 8:15pm to get through it, and we nearly did!

One woman told me when she arrived that she’d had some dental work done and was in horrible pain, so she might not be 100%. I asked her if she felt well enough to perform at all – health always comes first – and she said that she thought she could do it; that she’d worked too hard to give up the rehearsal, and that she didn’t want to let the team down. I thanked her for her commitment and assured her that, should she feel the need, no one would blame her for leaving early. But she didn’t. She stuck it out. And, frankly, she fought through the pain to an extent that I doubt anyone would have known that anything was wrong. I periodically forgot, myself.

I’m running sound for the show off of our iPod, so I can’t see much of what happens onstage, but much of what I was able to see was thrilling. Our witches are totally committed to their roles and are incredibly fun to watch. One moment that particularly struck me was when the First Witch showed the others the pilot’s thumb (yes, we have a plastic thumb), she was so gleeful that they couldn’t help but get excited, too. Nor could I!

Our Lady Macbeth was running a bit late, and she wasn’t present when her first scene began. I stood in for her (when we reach this point in the process, we stop for no one!), and, just as I was about to say her first lines, she walked in the room. Seeing her, I yelled, “You’re here! Awesome! Jump in!” And she did, without missing a beat.

Our Porter also stepped up her game in a big way. If you’ve been reading along for a while, you’ll recall that she was very timid until just a couple of months ago; her first try at her scene was very difficult and discouraging for her. But the others rallied around her, building her up and assuring her that she could do it, and she quickly gained confidence with their support. When she had trouble with the lines, I suggested that she do her own thing with them, and she did, largely rewriting the monologue and coming up with some funny shtick for the rest of the scene. And tonight, all that hard work showed – in that it didn’t show at all. Her performance seemed effortless, and it was clear that she was having a ton of fun. Whether we were on stage or off, we couldn’t help but laugh at her; she’s so funny!

Another woman, who’s been a little wishy washy all year, has recently become more focused, which has enabled her to do better and better work. Where she might have been goofing around even a few weeks ago, she now sat at the keyboard back stage, intently going over her script, mouthing her lines. In fact, she was so focused on that that she missed one of her entrances!

We’ve had increasing ownership of the play all through this season, and tonight, that ownership really seemed to solidify. The addition of costumes and props seems to have that effect every year. There’s something about having those physical objects to aid in storytelling – objects that you and your ensemble dreamed up and specifically requested; that you’ve been imagining and miming up till now – that makes the whole thing seem more real. It makes it feel more legit. This is when the whole process begins to crystallize for many people, and it’s a really exciting thing to be a part of.


We facilitators were able to arrive a bit early this evening to set up, and the first things we noticed were the absolutely GORGEOUS backdrops. One of our ensemble members is an incredibly talented visual artist, and she designed an anchor image for these a while back. We’re extremely fortunate (and extremely grateful) to have the support of the prison’s building trades program, which has helped us build and paint our sets and backdrops for years now. The women in that program did absolutely beautiful work; these backdrops are so incredible that, even though we’ve painted over them each year (as per usual in theatre, to conserve budget and materials), we really don’t want to this time. I’m not sure what our storage options are, though. Time will tell!

A few people were absent; we had known that two of them would be, but the others were a surprise (although one turned out only to be late). We decided that things would go smoother if, rather than asking someone unfamiliar with the scenes to fill in, facilitator Lauren (who was on book anyway) would simply read their lines. That worked out pretty well!

Our Lady Macbeth has had a lot going on and hasn’t gotten as far in memorizing her lines as she had planned. Tonight before she went on, as I showed her where some of her props had been set, she said, “I’ve been in my Shakespeare all week. No pressure or anything.” She smiled. “You’re feeling good?” I asked. “Yeah, Frannie,” she replied. “I got this.” She was just about off book for her first couple of scenes – only occasionally calling for line – and after that, though she was holding her script, she hardly looked at it. It was clear that she had, indeed, put a lot of time in, and it’s greatly enhancing her performance.

Our Banquo was one of the people whom we'd known would be absent, and, like I said, since I’m running sound I can’t see much of what happens on stage, so I was surprised when suddenly, instead of Lauren’s voice reading Banquo’s lines, I heard that ensemble member’s. She had walked in, immediately recognized which scene was up, and started saying her lines even from the house. That was a lovely surprise; obviously, we all feel much better when our whole ensemble is present. And she kicks butt in that part.

We made it to the end of the play, when there was some confusion because our Macduff was absent. From where I was, I couldn’t tell exactly what was going on. Then, giving up on finding an actual solution, our Macbeth strode on stage, proclaiming victory (which, of course, is the opposite of how the play actually ends). Any frustrations we’d had immediately faded as we laughed together and just sort of ended the play there.

We were not much over the run time we’re limited to (90 minutes), but it was enough to cause some concern. Based on how things had gone on Tuesday, I’d taken a little time to see how much we could safely cut from Act V (which is where things really slow down for us). I asked if anyone wanted to take a look, with the caveat that I’d made these as a “safety net”, and we didn’t have to use them. Everyone who was in Act V said they were open to this new approach. We’ll see how things shake out on Tuesday.  

Our Porter, who also plays Menteith, came over to me as we cleaned up, saying, “Where’d I go in this act?” I replied, “I just cut as much as I could to save time!” She smiled wryly and said, “Frannie, you just made my acting career much shorter!” I told her that we could certainly add her lines back in, but she shook her head and said, “No, no, that’s fine. That’s definitely fine!” She’s got such a great sense of humor, especially now that she’s gained so much confidence – and she has no ego about it at all. She’s conquered the challenge that tripped her up to begin with, and now she’s just in it to have fun and be a solid member of the team. Awesome.

Season Seven: Week 38


Written by Frannie

As always with the last few weeks of the season, I’ve been running around so much that I haven’t been able to take many notes! But here’s what I’ve got.

Tonight we had a quick check-in. One of our ensemble members recently organized an event at the prison that was incredibly successful, so much so that she’s now decided to organize a similar event every year if she’s able. The entire ensemble cheered her on; what she’s accomplished is no small thing, she’s never done anything like it before, so, even beyond the event, this is enormous, and we took the time to acknowledge that.

We set out to work through the play, knowing it would be full of fits and starts, and that it was likely that we wouldn’t get to the end. Facilitator Kyle challenged everyone to avoid making apologies or getting down on themselves for things like going up on their lines, and they totally rose to that challenge.

Midway through the evening, the fire alarm sounded. As we left the room and gathered outside the building, I joked that we shouldn’t be surprised that this was happening — we’re working on Macbeth, after all, which is famously thought to be cursed. That said, it wasn’t a terribly long interruption, and, when we returned to the auditorium with the alarm still sounding (but an assurance that there wasn’t an actual fire), we gathered in the back of the house to touch base. We all were feeling good, and several people said that all we really needed to do was to “get used to it.” I agreed, encouraged them to have more fun (particularly our Porter!), and to work over the next couple of weeks to “take the air out” of scenes and monologues: to avoid long pauses for no reason, and to keep the action moving forward.

The rest of the work-through went well, if slowly. We had to stop when we finished Act IV scene i, but we left feeling pretty good about where we were.


Written by Matt

The main thing that everyone could agree on today was that it was hot! A few of the women who came in early indicated that we might be missing our Lady Macbeth and at least one other who were on visits. Our Macbeth came rushing in to tell us that she was being called back to her unit and might not return that evening. One of our new members, who has thrown herself enthusiastically into the role of Second Witch, revealed that she had had some painful healthcare-related procedures that made it hard to speak or even smile. We sent her back to her unit to rest after she started laughing at a joke and then doubled over from the pain.

Missing our two leads and many of the other characters who appear in so many scenes in this play, we had to come up with a strategy for the evening. First, we discovered that it was a little cooler in the classroom where we usually meet on Fridays. After moving in there, we set to work on a few scenes that needed work and did not include our leads.

Act III, scene iii was an obvious choice. Three murderers (who, in our staging, also appear to be the witches…) kill Banquo and attempt to kill his son, Fleance. It is a short scene, but heavy on logistics, with a lot of movement and quick bursts of dialogue, as well as the violence itself. After stumbling through, we talked a bit about what the scene needed and was lacking. One member who is especially good with movement had some suggestions, and the small size of today’s group allowed a few of the newer, quieter members to take a stronger role in figuring out how to stage the scene. A small group of women worked their way through the meanings of a couple of tough lines to get them perfect.

We took some time also to work through Act IV, scene ii, another with the murderers carrying out Macbeth’s impetuous orders. In this case, it is Lady Macduff and her son who are victims. After stumbling through once, a facilitator asked what relationship Lady Macduff and the son were establishing in their dialogue. The dialogue is famously difficult to interpret, both morbid and light-hearted, and the writing leaves the son’s age almost entirely open to interpretation.

“I feel like she’s being cute about this terrible news to soften the blow,” offered a new member.

“No,” said Lady Macduff firmly. “He’s dead to me. I’m angry. I’m angry at him for abandoning me, and I want my son to grow up quick.”

After going back through the middle of the scene with anger in mind, a new and interesting character emerged from Lady Macduff--both stronger on the surface and, paradoxically, more fragile underneath. Everyone was spellbound. The facilitator who had started the discussion applauded our Lady Macduff for her bold choice, and suggested that she find a few moments to soften the anger a bit. A final run of the scene landed perfectly.

Our Macduff, who had needed to leave, returned, and we went right into the next scene: Act IV, scene iii, which is a long conversation between Macduff and Malcolm. We have rehearsed this scene many times, but it is a protracted and difficult scene to stage. It is little more than two characters standing and speaking, and it often drags even in professional productions of the play. The women in the scene were getting tripped up over lines, so they opted to hold scripts to be able to get through it. They moved well through the rest of the scene, but--even with our cuts--it was still a slog, taking almost twenty-five minutes from beginning to end. And the low light of late evening was cooking the room even more than before. By the time they walked off, both women were spent, and we all agreed to move on. Sometimes, even this close to the performance date, a scene falls apart, and we just need to leave it behind and work on something else. The ability to do that without losing focus is as valuable a skill as any in this process.

We talked through a couple of minor logistical details--our Banquo came up with the idea that, on her character’s death, the murderers should rip her “team Macbeth” badge off and take it to show Macbeth in the next scene. But by eight o’clock so many people either had to go or felt completely enervated that we decided to call it a day. The women who were present looked frustrated with the slow pace of work and the many absences, but we managed to maintain a modicum of good humor and morale throughout, and we left with high hopes for the first dress rehearsal on Tuesday.