Session Six: Week 15



Tonight we continued working on our audition sides.

The first woman to rehearse chose King Edward’s monologue, in which he expresses anger and regret at the execution of his brother. She was mesmerizing, performing with the absolute appropriate emotions, lots of vocal variety, and the “chewing on the words” that we strive for. We were all completely wowed by her work – she is often quiet and has trouble reading aloud, stumbling over words, so it was clear that she’d worked really hard on this piece.

The next woman to perform read Richmond’s monologue rallying the troops. Her first read felt natural to her, and we asked her to add more painting of pictures and really striving to get us on her side. “It’s like Sun Tzu’s ‘moral law’ in The Art of War,” she mused. Before she read again, I encouraged the ensemble to participate – to resist joining her until she had us convinced. This worked very well, with all of us eventually jumping to our feet, cheering, and even pounding on the tables with enthusiasm. The woman performing reflected that it felt very good to connect with her audience in that way – that the noise got her blood pumping and even made her feel primal.

Another woman who knows she will be absent for our audition day decided to do hers this evening. She read first for the Second Murderer. She is a natural with the language, and the scene worked very well. She then read the Richmond monologue, and we all agreed to participate the same way we had with the first woman who read it. She performed with great gusto, and we all ended up on our feet, shouting and pounding the tables again. We all applauded at the conclusion of the piece. “Thanks,” she joked, “I’ll be here for a couple more years.”

Three others then volunteered to read a side featuring Queen Margaret, Queen Elizabeth, and the Duchess. The first read clearly demonstrated that they understood what they were reading, but it lacked emotional commitment. One of the women admitted to the group that she had been scared – that it had been her first time doing anything like this. The whole group erupted in applause and praise for her. We then worked a bit on finding that emotional connection – whether through Stanislavksy’s “magic as if” or through a bit of Chekhov technique through which I guided the group. They read again and were more emotionally grounded. The woman reading Elizabeth asked if it was okay that she drew on her own experience to get at the character’s grief, to which I responded that this is an okay crutch to use in rehearsal, but that, for one thing, she needs to keep herself safe and withdraw from scene work if it ever starts feeling dangerous, and for another, that she will need to let go of that in performance so she is telling her character’s story and not her own.

It was a very productive, warm meeting. Everyone is clearly preparing for auditions and casting, and, while there is competition for some of the roles, I haven’t gotten a sense of the kind of drama that has colored the past few casting processes. We’ll see if we can sustain our current positive feeling.




Tonight during check-in, several people shared that they were nervous about auditions – a couple of people even said they might forego their auditions out of anxiety. While I made sure everyone knew that auditions were not required, an ensemble member who was in the group last year encouraged everyone to push through that fear. “We’re all in it together,” she reminded us.

Everyone present ended up participating, either by auditioning, reading with another ensemble member, or both. Everyone had clearly worked on their sides – readings were intelligent and thoughtful. After one woman read for Margaret, the woman who volunteered to be her “other” remarked, “I think she did good because I feel like I hate her now!”

Another woman was clearly very nervous to read Richard’s opening soliloquy. She wants the part very badly. As she entered the playing area, another woman said, “Find your center… do your Frannie!” The whole group, including the woman, laughed, and she did her Frannie impression, which is hilarious. This seemed to calm her a bit, and she had a great reading.

Then the woman who read King Edward so beautifully on Tuesday read the piece again. “You’re awesome!” said another ensemble member. “How come you don’t read more often in class?” The woman shrugged, saying, “I don’t know.” The first woman said, “Well, I’m gonna start bugging you!”

A woman who had expressed extreme anxiety about auditioning then volunteered to read. Everyone cheered as she stood and walked into the playing area. After she read, a longtime ensemble member said, “You don’t even seem like you have anxiety!” And then she read again!

We wrapped up as people cast their votes via anonymous ballots and decided to end early since a number of people had to leave early anyway. I will be tallying up the votes this weekend and distributing a cast list on Tuesday.

Session Five: Week 30



Tonight after our check in and warm up, we launched into Desdemona auditions. The two women auditioning were quite nervous and had clearly put a lot of work into their monologues, working them quietly from the moment they walked in the door. The group was very kind and encouraging to both women.

The first woman to audition needed help with some of her lines – being in front of an audience threw her a bit. An experienced ensemble member encouraged her to paraphrase if necessary: “As long as you know the gist, you can fake it. It gets easier the more you do it.” We coached her through three more runs at the monologue, and she became more grounded each time, taking in and using the notes she was being given. She said she had felt better doing the piece on her own, and several ensemble members and facilitators assured her that this was normal.

The second woman to audition was so nervous that the group encouraged her to do the piece once facing the back wall instead of us. “When you’re this nervous, take a moment for yourself. Don’t rush it for our sake,” one woman said. This seemed to steady her a bit. By the time she had gone through the piece three times, she was much more focused and relaxed.

We asked her to leave the room so we could decide on the casting. It was not an easy decision – we all enjoyed both interpretations – but in the end we cast the second woman who auditioned. When they came back into the room, we told them our decision. The first woman burst out laughing and said, “Thank god! Thank god it’s not me!” It speaks volumes about her that she put so much work into something that was so overwhelming to her. We asked her to understudy the part, and she agreed.

We then discussed our desire to have a system of understudies, since every year we’ve lost group members shortly before our performances. The debate the group began several weeks ago regarding whether Othello’s understudy should be a person of color has been resolved – after thinking it over, we were unanimous that it should. We then discussed the need for more understudies, but this was largely tabled for later discussion.

With the time we had left, we did some acting exercises that we haven’t done yet in this session. The first was “Two Stories at the Same Time,” in which two people sit facing each other and simultaneously tell stories. The challenge is to listen while talking. We asked the only one of us who was particularly “good” at this how she did it. “I talk a lot while people are talking. I have a big family,” she said.

We then tried out an exercise in which one person sits, completely neutral, in a chair facing the audience for one minute. This is harder than it seems. The first few women used strategies to distract themselves from their discomfort, and I challenged the next woman to stay present in the moment. Afterward, we asked her how that had gone. “That was a real long minute,” she said. “I felt like I was under the bed listening to the floor squeak.”




Tonight, first thing, one of our newer members volunteered to understudy Iago. It’s exciting that she’s willing to take on such a task when she’s only been in the group for a short while.

We dug into Act IV Scene iii, the haunting scene between Desdemona and Emilia. Does Desdemona know she’s about to die? “She’s definitely dying inside,” said one woman. Why does she stay? “When you’re in your first love, you think love can fix it all,” said one ensemble member, citing Desdemona’s line, “Heaven me such uses send/Not to pick bad from bad, but by bad mend.”

“Oh my god,” gasped one woman, “This happened to me.” She described a terribly abusive relationship she’d been in when she was very young. “When you’re young,” she said, “anything is okay if he loves you.”

“We think divorce is somehow bad… We start coming up with reasons to stay because society tells us we should,” said another woman.

We discussed that Emilia seems to have some guilt already in this scene. What is behind her speech to Desdemona? “She’s been accused of sleeping with other men and got through it just fine,” said one woman. “The option of leaving just doesn’t exist.”

“Typical man,” said one woman jokingly, “Always accusing you of sleeping with the wrong man.”

We then decided to focus on Emilia’s monologue. We tried a variety of approaches, all coming back to a place of sincerity in trying to make Desdemona feel better. We tried a direct approach, one loaded with humor, and several times trying to balance the two. “You’re trying to identify with her feelings,” said one woman. “Or maybe you’re making it about yourself,” said another.

As we pondered the scene, the question rose again about whether Desdemona might be suffering from PTSD after all of the sudden abuse. This is something we’ll need to continue to explore with our new Desdemona.