One of our resident poets shook his head. “Reading Touchstone’s made up poem to myself is just…” he said, curling his lip in disdain, “Disgusting.” Another man was less preoccupied with the poems’ quality than with how we could stage all of this carving and posting on trees. “Maybe he could tape ‘em on… a palm tree,” he said, looking at absolutely anyone other than me. “Did you say… palm tree?” I asked. Chuckling, he said yes—and, he and some others said, we just might need more than one. Oh look, another photo of my favorite SIP prop ever—how’d that get there?
But enough about that (for now). On to Celia and Rosalind. “One is teasing the other about somebody liking her,” one man said, to which another replied, “That reminds me of when I said it was like two teenage girls breaking out of social constraints!” (Scroll down in Week Three’s blog, and you’ll find it!)
“Touchstone is kind of like a big brother,” one of the guys said. The way he teases Corin, “he never does that to Rosalind—it’s almost like a big brother picking on you because you just found out she likes somebody.” Another man nodded, “That’s twice I’ve seen it now.” But the stakes were different when the play was written, another man reminded us. “It’s not like Facebook official—here today and gone tomorrow—this is like, getting married and shit.”
One of the guys noted that when Rosalind gave Orlando her necklace, “she’s so flustered that she doesn’t pick up on the hints [that he’s in love with her, too].” I asked the eternal acting question: is this situation brand new, or has something like it happened before? The conversation between Celia and Rosalind reads very differently, depending on the answer.
“Playing on that thought…” one of the guys mused, “What about making Celia and Rosalind look as Plain Jane, average-looking as possible… ‘No one’s ever looked at me like that before,’ because they’re just so unassuming.” Another man nodded, “If we go with the vagabond theme, it’d be quite easy to do that.” “Bag ladies!” exclaimed the first man. The other excitedly added, “The most prominent people, they don’t have as much dirt on ‘em.” “DEGREES OF DIRT!” another man laughed, and all was duly recorded in our idea book.
One of the guys pointed out that Orlando and Rosalind fall in love really fast. The guy with the “plain Jane” idea shrugged and said, “Maybe dude’s just into plain-looking chicks.” “There’s no such thing,” another man said. “If it’s in the eye of the beholder, there’s no such thing as a plain man or a plain woman. Everybody’s beautiful to somebody.” Grinning, another man said, “Or there’s always Tindr.” A newbie added, “Orlando doesn’t really go out much.” The guy who brought up the speed with which these two fall in love said he was actually talking about Rosalind, because she was in court. “Maybe it’s a personality thing,” another man said. “Maybe Rosalind and Celia just don’t do what the other women do.” The first man tried harder to get across what he meant with a speedy explanation of court culture, in which ladies-in-waiting were often the mistresses of powerful men. “Rosalind was more like a lady-in-waiting to Celia—she’s the one they’d be going for because she’s got the power.”
“I think if we went with the vagabond theme, Touchstone would make a great mime,” one of the guys said. “Or the silver dude!” That resonated with EVERYONE, and multiple people exclaimed, “Write that down!” The guy who’d had the idea continued, “The great part is that mimes are supposed to be silent—and he just does not stop talking!” A man who’d stepped out briefly came back just then, put up his hands, and said, “I don’t know how you guys got to that point in 23 seconds.” This gave two guys the same idea at the same time: “What if we had two regular people walk by, like, ‘What… are you talking about?’”
On we read, beginning with the hilarious back-and-forth between Orlando and Jaques. We just could not stop cracking up at the dialogue (“I do desire we may be better strangers,” and all that), particularly because the man reading Orlando was SO into it! We read through the end of the scene, when Rosalind launches her plan to woo Orlando, and, before we were even finished, one of the men had his hand raised. “If Touchstone is like an older brother to [Celia and Rosalind], I wonder if they got their wit from him.” No, you didn’t read that wrong—the man who’d made a similar comment earlier in the session threw up his hands, saying, “That’s what I’ve been saying since the first day!”
One of the newbies raised his hand and said, “What’s happening with Orlando and Jaques in the beginning? Seems like they got something going on.” One of the guys reminded him that Jaques hadn’t liked Orlando from the moment he showed up. Another said, “He probably resents him for being in love, too, because Jaques is miserable.” Another said that “maybe Jaques is measuring Orlando…” The general consensus was that Orlando is a tool. A good tool, but still a tool.
The newbie wanted more clarification. “Better strangers—what does he mean by that?” he said. Another man said, “That stuff can’t be cut. Stuff like that is necessary.” Another explained, “He’s poking at him… It’s almost like he’s trying to start a fight: ‘Let’s cut this tension, man. Let’s do this.’”
“You wanna read it?” I asked the newbie. “This stuff usually makes a lot more sense when you read it aloud.” He said he’d give it a go, as did another man. Which person would read which character? “Do it both ways,” another man suggested.
Things started to click, and by the end of the second read, the newbie totally got it. “He’s taking all types of jabs at Orlando for being in love!” Another man agreed: “He’s trolling.” Chuckling, another added, “That’s the politest way I’ve ever heard anyone tell someone to go kill themself.”
“It shows Orlando can hold his own,” I said, “and you know what? That makes me reconsider how much I’ve made fun of his bad poems. Like, yeah, they’re objectively bad, but the guy hasn’t had any education—he’s pretty much been living in a barn—so the fact that he’s writing poems at all is amazing.” Lots of heads nodded; a few guys who really love it when I call myself out grinned broadly. “He’s a smart guy,” I said, “and I’m a huge jerk. He may be more complex than we’ve given him credit for.”
But enough about me and my jerkiness. “I see them smiling at each other, almost like frienemies,” said one man. “Touchstone brings the wit out… I definitely see, with the wit—they’re building on each other. It’s like the ‘rant’ game—they keep building and building, and it keeps getting better and better.”
Moving on, one of the guys said that while reading the Orlando/Rosalind part of the scene, he kept envisioning Rosalind checking in with Celia throughout. “She’s literally making all this up on the fly,” he explained. This sparked another conceptual riff, which included “Detroit vs. Everybody” and “I ❤️ NY” shirts, as well as Alicia Keys playing in the background—or maybe Frank Sinatra. There was more, but this blog is already really long…
I need to change up the format now.
Man A: “I can’t believe how Orlando’s going for this.”
Man B: “It’s so desperate.”
Man C: “I don’t see her disguise as being so great… but he doesn’t see it or make any connection at all—he’s oblivious.”
Man D: “He said Ganymede was pretty.”
Man B: “So one-track, it’s crazy.”
Man D: “The only thing that was weird to me was her saying, ‘You gotta call me Rosalind.’”
Man B: “Yeah, and he’s just like, ‘Okay!’”
“She reels him in with the stuff about the uncle,” one of the guys said, and I asked if it’s possible that she’s making sure he’s really in love with her. “Maybe she wants to play hard to get,” another man said. “I think Orlando should have that wide-eyed, deep look—BELIEVE ME!” another chuckled. The guy who’d read Orlando said, “I was looking at [Rosalind] like that the whole time!”
It’s not artifice, one of the guys said: “When he didn’t show up, she damn near went crazy… I don’t know why she can’t just come out and say, ‘I’m not a man.’” Another guy replied, “Probably the last thing she was expecting, running away to exile, was the one specific guy she was in love with also running away into exile.” It made sense, he said, that she would keep her guard up.
A few people confirmed that neither knew that the other had run away. Chuckling, one of the guys said, “He’s just out there writing poems on trees!” Another, also laughing, floated the idea that Orlando might also write poems on his arms. “You thought it was on the trees? It’s on me—” he thrust out his arms “—look!”
“Oh my god,” I said, “What if he’s just more and more covered in poems as the play progresses?” Not only writing them on himself, we agreed, but attaching the poems to his clothes. Or— “What if he’s wearing the ‘I ❤️ NY’ shirt, but then he crosses out the ‘NY’ with a sharpie and writes ‘Rosalind’ instead?” Brilliant! In the idea book! And the ideas just kept coming.
One man, who’s always been very involved in the performances’ design elements, didn’t say much, but I’ve known him for awhile and could see the wheels turning. “Getting some ideas?” I asked. He simply grinned and leaned his chin on his clasped hands as another man said (in an impression of him), “I’m the master of arts now!”
Friday / August 9 / 2019
Also written by Frannie
The Great Monologue War of 2019 (or, anyway, that’s what I’m calling it) began today!
“What’s a monologue?” a newbie asked. “It’s an extended speech when other people are onstage,” said a vet, using Touchstone’s “All the world’s a stage” as an example. Another man added, “They’re not really dialoguing with the other characters, but they’re speaking to them for a long time.” Someone else added that a soliloquy is the same thing, only the character is alone and talking to the audience.
The first man up has been part of the group almost since its founding, and he shook out his arms and centered himself like the pro that he is. Gazing at the ground, he began Marc Antony’s, “O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,” from Julius Caesar. He rode the wave of the piece beautifully—he’s always been good, but I’ve never seen him like THIS—and when his performance was over, we all applauded as he shook out his arms again.
“How did that feel?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said, “’cause I had to approach it from a point of sadness and mourning, and then get mad from there.” I asked if that had worked. “I don’t know,” he said thoughtfully. “It gave me chills as I was doing it, so I guess at least something about it worked.” Another man said he’d seen the piece performed before, but not like that, and he loved it. “One word,” said another, “Riveting.”
But that wasn’t enough for this guy—he’s a true artist and always wants to build on his own work—so I asked if I remembered correctly that this piece comes not long before Marc Antony’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech. He said I was right, and I asked him, then, what might happen if he approached this monologue as if it were a “warm-up” for the other—if, perhaps, this was a more raw version of that. He liked the idea, and I asked if he could also add something that is a challenge for many of us: make more eye contact with the audience, or at least get your eyes off the floor!
His second performance was definitely different. “A little more connected,” he said afterward, “A little more attachment than detachment.” He said it’s his favorite monologue of all the plays he’s read, but, for whatever reason, this new approach (the idea of which he likes) was challenging in practice. Another man said it did seem like he’d disconnected at times, but that he always got it back. “You’ve got this down,” he said admiringly.
“You really do,” I said, adding that it’s natural to feel at a remove from the text when approaching it with a new perspective or focus. “But there was still really good stuff happening there,” I continued. “Rather than going just from sad to angry, there was a mixture and a build. The emotions were more complex.”
Another man said he was having trouble giving feedback without having read the play. One of the guys asked why, and the first man said he wanted the context—he had a strong reaction to the piece, but he wanted to know more before he gives any feedback. “You make me wanna know about this man,” he said to the actor. “I wanna know why he makes me feel this way.” Another vet added, “You made me wanna read Julius Caesar! I do want the context.” He praised the man’s performance: “I was there. The only thing missing was the dead body.” A newbie asked if anyone had seen the film with Marlon Brando playing Marc Antony, and many of us had—including the actor, who said it was probably his favorite performance in any film. It is a good one.
One of the guys jumped up, saying he wanted to perform “All the world’s a stage.” And, he added, “Rosalind later, if we got time.” (Yes, he came prepared with two monologues.) He asked the guy who’d just performed to cue him in but warned, “Gimme a second!” Grinning, his friend waited till he had centered himself, and then gave him his cue.
I’ll tell you what: it was a good performance. This man has a specific, detailed interpretation of the piece, and it definitely came across. Though it didn’t go perfectly, he never dropped out, but stayed focused till he found the word he was looking for. Afterward, he said, “I got stuck on a couple parts, but it felt all right.”
“It felt quite natural,” said another man. “It felt like you were talking to me… The hiccups don’t matter. It’s the presentation that makes it right.” A newbie said he’d envisioned Jaques being much showier, but that this man’s down-to-earth interpretation made him reconsider: “It’s a reality check that when I read this, they’re not always just acting out what they’re saying,” he said. Another guy said, “I was impressed on how he remembered his lines. It’s not an easy one to remember.” Turning to the actor, he said, “You embodied your own version of it. So kudos to you, man. Well done.”
The next man to perform worked his way slowly (but effectively) through the famed “St. Crispin’s Day” speech from Henry V. He always fully commits to his work and is good-humored when it doesn’t go as planned. This was no exception. “Eh,” he said, “I still messed up. But I made it.” I asked him how it felt. “I feel energetic,” he said. “If I couldn’t rouse any of you, I roused myself!”
“He’s trying to rally them to fight in the face of the insurmountable,” said one man, inching his way toward an explanation of the adjustment that needed to be made. But before we got there, some of the others wanted the actor to know that his approach already worked, to an extent. “I definitely felt the energy of it, but it could have been more of a deeper voice,” said a newbie, “but it was really well done.” A vet agreed, “You got our attention.” And another: “You fired me up.” One of the guys added, “Your words got through to me real well. You got me for sure. I forgot where I was for a quick second!” He also praised the actor’s memorization, saying it demonstrated clearly how much time he’d spent on the piece.
Another said, “There was a couple times when you stepped into that zone and who that character was… You really embodied that idea of ‘deeds are eternal.’” A newbie praised his diction, to which another man responded, “I agree, except I thought you said, ‘Krispy Kreme.’” After a laugh, I suggested that the actor try not to pace as much—to move with purpose instead—and to let his voice sink down from his throat to his diaphragm (an ongoing challenge for him). Another vet backed me up on all of that, and he gave it another shot.
And BOOM. It worked much better, although, just as with the first performer, the new approach threw him a bit. “I think when I move, I let off a lot of nervous energy, but I build a lot of energy, too,” he mused. “I think if I were to move, it would have to be in a less nervous way.” The vet who spoke just before this second try said, “When you rooted yourself, it forced all eyes right there—which meant we had to listen to you.” A newbie nodded vigorously, “That time was a lot more powerful. I didn’t realize how much the moving had that effect!”
“I think you was right,” another vet said to the actor. “I think you was better the first time. It was mental overload… Maybe because you was overthinking it!” The actor nodded, and the man continued, “I think you was great! You could always hold a crowd, even if it was geometry or calculus or something.” Another man said, “I used your voice a lot. Like, the first time I was really watching you, but this time I mostly just listened. There were a lot of places I thought you coulda gave me more with your voice,” but, he said the actor had still done very well! The actor then confessed that he’d only memorized the speech that morning (!!!), so I suggested he work towards more fluidity and then give it another go.
A very quiet newbie got up and walked into the playing space, accompanied by lots of encouragement from the group. Taking just a few moments to psych himself up, he launched into Edmund’s “Thou, nature, art my goddess” from King Lear. It was very powerful. Afterward, he said, “I connect with that. I think all of us can connect with that, actually… Us as felons, we’re all illegitimate. We are the bastards, ‘cause out there, that is how we’re gonna be treated.”
A vet said, “Delivery-wise, it was great. One thing I had to do—and Frannie had to drill it into my head—root yourself… Move when you need to move, otherwise plant yourself. It’ll be a lot more powerful… Other than that, that was great.” Another vet added, “Sometimes when you’re making a strong point, the last thing you want to do is back up.” He suggested that the actor begin the piece further upstage so he’d have room to move forward. A third vet said he’d done a great job connecting emotionally, even though he was nervous, and that he’s better than most beginners.
Another vet, though, took issue a bit with the interpretation. “[Edmund] believes what happened to him is because he was born into that, not because of anything he did wrong… It goes deep… I chose to do what I did, and I can choose to do good things out in the world… He’s not a bad guy, he didn’t do anything wrong, so it’s like, ‘Why did this happen to me?’” But, this vet said, he hardly participated at all when he joined, “so you’re doing a great job!”
Another vet (they know exactly how to encourage newbies and were on fire) said, “I guess you can change your name to ‘prodigy’ now… You musta been a Shakespearean in another life or something… Shakespeare speaks for itself, and you spoke the words in their own right—you embodied that.” A newbie nodded his head, saying, “I feel like he sets the bar, and I’m trying to match that. Not competitive—when he takes a step higher, I wanna take a step further and do what he does.” And another newbie said, “I been knowing [the actor] since I got here. What I’m seeing now and what I seen [then] is totally different… For him to do what he do, and the way he’s doing it—coming out of his shell—that inspires me to do the same thing… He might be more quiet than I am, but to see him do what he do, it’s really inspiring. So thank you for that, man.”
This same newbie jumped up to give “All the world’s a stage” a try. Though there were a number of stumbles, he pushed through to the end of the piece and got a big round of applause. “How’d that feel?” I asked. “Nerve-racking!” he replied. “Y’all ain’t seen my legs shaking, though?” He laughed. “It actually felt pretty good. After learning my lines and rehearsing it with everybody… It felt like it was becoming natural after awhile… It felt pretty good, especially the memorization—it’s a hard thing to do for me.”
“I’m so glad you did it,” one of the vets said. “It shows what you think and feel about this program to me.” Another vet said, “Kudos for the memorization, and kudos for speaking clearly… The more you work with [the text], the more you’re gonna find when the thoughts start and finish.” He then made sure the newbies knew that any of the vets would be happy to work with them on this stuff outside of our regular sessions.
“What was you trying to make us feel out of that monologue?” another vet asked. “I don’t think it was more so a happy thing or a sad thing,” the actor replied. “It was more so an in-depth exploration of how big the scene actually is that Duke Senior was talking about, because he minimized it. As far as what I was trying to make you guys feel… being new to Shakespeare, learning lines and putting them out there, it was more just to see if I could do it.” The vet replied, “Bro, you was great. But how was you trying to make us feel when you was doing it?” After a bit more back-and-forth, I intervened to clarify that what the vet was asking about what the character’s objective/tactics, and that’s not where this actor is yet. I asked him to let it go for now.
The actor said he needed more time to acclimate to Shakespeare’s language, and a vetsaid that he’s still working on that. Eventually, he said, it’ll stick.