Session Four: Weeks 15 and 16

Week 15

We began work today on Act II Scene I, focusing on the first part of the scene that includes Katherina, Bianca, and Baptista. There was some debate about where this scene should be set – some of the women feel the scene should take place in Baptista’s house, while others feel it will work better in the “town square” setting with which we begin the play, mainly due to the latter part of the scene that includes Petruchio wooing Katherina. Due to an eagerness to explore the relationships in the scene before key actors left for another mandatory group, we decided to table the discussion and stay open to all possibilities as we work through this very long scene.

Our exploration of this part of the scene led to more debate, as there are several different interpretations of the characters and relationships that are being discussed. Ultimately, they are all rooted in the text, so they are all valid as far as our group is concerned, and, as with the setting, we need to stay open as we continue to explore. Ultimately, these decisions will be made by the people portraying the characters, and the rest of us need to accept what may be different ideas than our own and support those women in their work.

After a number of the women had to leave, the rest of us took some time to brainstorm about our set. Many of the women in the group are set on the idea of having a fountain of some kind in our town square. I introduced the idea that perhaps this fountain could be on a small, rotating platform with another set piece or flat on its reverse side. If this is not possible, one of the women mentioned that there is a dry erase board on wheels in the auditorium, and we could hang pictures on either side of it to achieve a similar effect. The brainstorming continues!

I asked what the group wanted to do with the time we had left, and they settled on an acting exercise. Since we’ve been talking about characters’ walks as being important to their exploration, I asked if they would like to analyze their own walks (this is part of a Stanislavksy exercise that I’ve always found enlightening). They agreed, and one woman who was a part of the first session of Shakespeare in Prison excitedly recollected how, when we did this exercise in 2012, it gave her a new perspective on how her walk communicated to other people, and she’s been conscious of things like keeping her eyes off the ground ever since.

We each took turns walking across the stage, and the group discussed where we were relaxed, where our points of tension were, and what we were communicating in walking the way we did. Several of the women were nervous to participate, fearing being “psychoanalyzed”, but I reminded them that, while the way we walk MAY communicate things about us that are true and make us vulnerable, it may also communicate things we would rather not have people think about us – for example, the women from Session One was surprised to hear that she was constantly looking at the ground and that it took away from her otherwise confident, jaunty walk. We will continue with this exercise in the future, as we’re making useful discoveries with it.

Week 16

We moved on to the second part of Act II Scene I today, opting for a “staged reading” of the scene rather than a circle reading, which is what we have usually done. As we analyzed the scene line by line, we came back to a familiar theme in this group. The woman playing Petruchio said that she was uncomfortable playing him as a jerk, which led to a discussion about how we can only tell this story effectively if we resist the temptation to judge the characters whom we are playing. So, no, I said, you don’t want to play him as a jerk – but you can understand that he is confident, maybe over-confident, and in a hurry to get this wooing going so he can marry rich quickly, which makes him come off as rude. She liked that better – just altering the language we use about these characters can be very helpful, and learning to speak this way about Petruchio aids us in learning to speak more constructively about people in our lives outside the group as well. One of the women in the group pointed out, too, that Petruchio coming across “cold” at this point in the play allows for a greater transformation if he is not, in fact, a bad guy.

As most of the players in this scene then had to leave (an unfortunately consistent theme of our Tuesday meetings), we moved on to Act IV Scene I, giving Grumio and Curtis some time to explore. We found that the scene is pretty straightforward and will require some time from us to figure out the best possible staging and physicality to get across everything we want to.

The woman playing Grumio feels challenged by her longer speeches in this scene, which are very descriptive. I introduced the concept of “inner-moving pictures” – images that an actor sees in his or her head, in great detail, that aid in “painting pictures with words” for another actor and the audience. She is going to work on developing detailed images of these stories for herself, and then we’ll revisit the scene.

I had an interesting moment during this discussion of inner-moving pictures, as I was trying to describe the process without using that term, thinking it was so esoteric and “acting school” that the women might not respond to it. When I did use the phrase, it was met with that familiar look of things clicking or light bulbs turning on – it doesn’t matter where it comes from, that’s the phrase that made the whole concept make sense for the women in the group. While I’ve always been hesitant to lead the group too far into “acting class” territory, and nervous that certain phrases and techniques would alienate people, I need to always remind myself to give these women more credit – they are there for many reasons, but one of those is to effectively act and tell a story, and they often respond very well to the same ideas to which I respond as an actor, even when they seem a little goofy.