Season Three: Week 8


“I don’t put another mask on when I leave.”

Tuesday / August 20 / 2019
Written by Matt

Today we welcomed back Shakespeare scholar and friend of the program Niels Herold! It is always a pleasure to have him in the ensemble, and he opened up by saying some really nice things about our performance of King Lear in April. He told us he had been to see Glenda Jackson as Lear on Broadway… and that our Lear was better! He said it our show was more thoughtful and told a clearer story than the big-ticket production (which was a bit of a flop). Our Lear was absent today, and consensus among the guys was: DON’T TELL HIM! “His head is big enough already!” said a few of them, indicating giant bobble-heads with their hands. I was briefly distracted with a vision of him as a bobble-head doll, but we moved on before I could distract anyone else!

Another returning member said that he had been in his “Batcave” during the weekend, working on a monologue. “Memory was one of my weak points last season,” he admitted. “I found a new way of memorizing,” he went on. “You know how music helps you memorize stuff? That’s kind of what I’m doing for Shakespeare.”

After bringing down the ring, we introduced a new (to Parnall!) game: the Machine of Rhythms, which is a Theatre of the Oppressed exercise. It starts with phase one: an ensemble member creating a rhythmic movement and vocalization while the rest of the ensemble copies it. Phase two (actually, this is like phase seven in the original version, but never mind) again starts with an ensemble member making a rhythmic motion and sound, but instead of copying him, we instead build on his rhythm. One at a time, in no particular order, the other members of the ensemble join, adding their own rhythms to the chorus, making a “machine” out of their voices and motions. Once everyone has joined, the entire machine accelerates, then slows down until, eventually, it stops.

The first man to start a machine chose a difficult pattern. “BOOM shakalaka, boom shakalaka, boom shakalaka, BOOM!” he chanted, pumping his arms. The challenge of being the “anchor” is not just to keep up the rhythm for five minutes or more, until the game is done, but also to lay down a clear beat that everyone else can follow throughout. Somehow, our anchor managed to mostly keep it together, which was no small feat!

After the first round, we did a quick debrief. One man said it reminded him of “Stomp,” the long-running, wordless rhythm show in New York. Another asked Frannie (who was leading the exercise and so didn’t participate) “Did you know what was going on? I was in my little, three-person world.” One of the returning members shared with a huge smile that he felt “Exhilarated,” and that it helped him “focus on stage synergy.” He went on, “When you’re homed in on the energy, not on yourself… You stay in the rhythm, despite what’s going on around you.” A new guy noted that “Once you found your spot… I didn’t even have to think about it anymore.” Another nodded and said, “Once I found my rhythm, my beat, nothing else mattered.” Yet another said that “There was a lot of teamwork. [The anchor] was like the quarterback--everyone supports to quarterback.” “Is that what being on stage is like?” asked a new member. “Sometimes,” I said. “When it’s good.”

Not everyone was so unselfconscious. A new member shared that he worried about making “the right sound effect” for a long time--although he felt free after he just picked one and went with it. A returning member said that when the anchor got distracted or confused, the whole machine fell apart. The anchor shared that the rhythm of the ensemble helped bring him back when he was veering off. One guy said that he was looking around with “a slight feeling of dread,” just waiting for the others to sit out the game. He said that he was telling himself, “They’re going to let us all down.” But then, he said, there was “a shift” after the last person joined. “When I finally seen everybody else in, that slight dread turned into intense joy,” he said. “It became fun.”

Moving on to reading, we covered 3.4 and 3.5 today. Two guys jumped right into the first scene, reading Celia and Rosalind. When we were done, the man who read Celia had an immediate reaction: “She seems to think no man is good enough for Rosalind!” Another guy said “it seemed like two girls just carrying on a conversation,” and we talked for a minute about how well that aspect of the scene translates through the centuries. One of the new members noted that the scene serves to check in on the relationship between the two women.

“One friend needs to dominate the relationship,” one of the guys mentioned. “Celia feels threatened.” The man who read Celia said that she is “questioning why [Orlando] didn’t show up… Celia is saying, ‘Here’s your proof; he’s a jerk!’” Another man reminded us of the plot points so far and asked why any of us expected Orlando to arrive: “If he feels that he can’t express [his love] directly, then why would he show up?”

We tried the scene again with new readers, but by the time we were done with it, we were ready to move on to the next scene--almost. “I missed the whole part about the Duke,” said one guy, referring to Rosalind’s story about running into her father. Another nodded and said, “Apparently, her own father doesn’t even recognize her.”

As we looked at the beginning of 3.5, something unexpected happened: the guys ended up throwing facilitators into all of the speaking roles! Frannie played Phoebe, Maria played Silvius, and I was asked to reprise Rosalind.

It was… rough. I wanted to set a clear intention for Rosalind, and I wanted the performance to be something big and easy to interpret. I ended up deciding that I needed to corner Phoebe and make her see the error of her ways. I mostly succeeded in that, but it didn’t give me anywhere to go--I came out shouting, which made it hard for Frannie to do her job (Phoebe instantly falls in love with Rosalind), and, since I had no particular reason to stop shouting once I had started, I just kept shouting. It was not right, and I was relieved when I left the “stage.”

Afterwards, Frannie and I talked briefly about what didn’t work in the scene. One of the guys suggested that perhaps my affect was right but the intensity was wrong. I said I thought that the whole thing was wrong, but I thanked him!

The scene still provoked an interesting discussion, despite the wrench I threw in it. “It’s almost as if Rosalind doesn’t notice she’s gone down in rank,” a new member said, referring to Rosalind’s harsh language to Phoebe. Another member noted, “But, as Ganymede, she’s made herself a minor lord--and a landowner.” We talked a little bit about Rosalind’s use of her assumed identity. “When she’s walking as Ganymede,” suggested one of the guys, “the question is: is this how Rosalind really is? Or is she putting on a front?” Another compared having the “mask” of an assumed identity to interacting with people online: “People are less afraid to say things because of the computer,” he said.

As for Phoebe falling in love with “Ganymede,” who is nasty to her, as opposed to the worshipful Silvius, one man had a lot of thoughts about that. “It’s something I struggled with growing up,” he said. “As a kid, I tried to date girls. I tried to be their knight in shining armor. And it never worked! They always liked the bad boys…they came to me with their problems, and then they went right back. It just didn’t make sense to me. So I changed my roles. But, to this day, I don’t understand it.” Another guy added, “Nice guys finish last,” and the man who was speaking nodded. “The closest I can come is: Silvius put her up on this pedestal, and it’s not real…She knows the truth about herself, and I think she likes the fact that Ganymede just treats her like anybody else, like a human being, not just as an object on stage to behold. Ganymede’s not interested, so it’s almost like she’s talking to a peer, and that makes Phoebe feel more accepted.”

Well, that was a lot to think about! We tried it again, this time intending to change up our approach to the scene. It also didn’t work, but at least I wasn’t shouting myself hoarse. Afterwards, a new guy noted that, even though we were quieter, we went faster through the scene. A returning member said he felt like we were losing expression, like the lack of volume had translated into a lack of energy, like I was thinking too much about being quiet and Frannie was thinking too much about how to “fall in love.” He said, “It reminded me of when we do our monologues. The first one is often the best one” because we’re not going into it with notes in our heads. However, there was lots of praise for Maria’s reading of Silvius. “It’s so great when Maria reads!” said one of the guys, “because she emotes, and her facial expressions. … Gotta have Maria read more!” Another said he really liked how Maria’s Silvius started copying Ganymede. “He’s Mr. ‘Me Too’!” He also wondered if watching Rosalind in this scene might change how Silvius carries himself for the next two acts. A new guy said, “It seemed like Silvius was downplaying his own self to get Phoebe’s attention.”

The guys will never let a guest get away with being completely silent, so they asked Niels what he thought. Niels offered a couple of observations and questions, mentioning how irony is what makes the scene complex, not plot. And, he said, the big question is: “What’s being accomplished here?”

We closed with a monologue. One of our returning members had been preparing “All the world’s a stage.” In his interpretation, the speech is uniformly sad. “He already knew where the ending was,” he said, referring to Jaques. “He just needed to fill it out. It’s more melancholy to me.”

A bunch of guys commented on the man’s focus and preparation. He had prompt cards with him, but he was much looser and better prepared than he had ever been before. One guy said he had seen the speaker preparing himself and complimented his “laser-focus.”

Then he was done, and it was time to put up the ring again and head out of the chapel.

Season Three: Week 7


“You wanna do more monologues, say ‘HEY-EYYYY!’”

Tuesday / August 13 / 2019
Written by Frannie

The Great Monologue War of 2019 continued today, with a lot of action but, thankfully, no casualties!

Before that, though, an ensemble member said he’d come up with an idea for a new circle game and asked if we could try it out. The game’s structure is very similar to Energy Around, but with a twist: instead of a sound/movement, the actor delivers a word or phrase, with a specific intention. The word or phrase then travels around the circle—but instead of all being the same, each person interprets it differently. So, for instance, one person might say, “I’m not sure this is a good idea,” as a warning, while someone else might interpret it as if anticipating something risky but fun.

It. Was. So. Much. Fun. Even though about 20 of us were there, every interpretation was unique. Afterwards, we reflected that the experience had been really comfortable everyone, particularly because we all participated, rather than treating it as performance. One of the guys shared his takeaway: “You pave your path with every word you say.” We got to see each other’s personalities, several men said, and it was fun to play with different emotions and the structure of the phrases themselves.

And then the battle was on!

The first man up had chosen Shylock’s “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” monologue. He’s never done anything like this before, and he got a huge round of applause when his performance was over. “That’s the bar right there!” one man exclaimed. I asked the actor how he felt. “I feel out of breath!” he replied. “I think it was the energy of it. I was zoned in… I connected with the figure in front of me, but it was like I was in the play—like it was happening to me—like I was the Jew.” He paused. “I never felt that before. It felt good to dig into emotions like that.” He explained, “That’s the way of life… Every one of us can relate to that… I was scanning through [the play], and I saw that part where he says, ‘I am a Jew,’ and I was like, ‘That’s neat… He’s being picked on just ‘cause he’s different.’”

“You planted your feet really well, so you were able to really be in that moment,” said one man. “You never deviated from it. And remember: this is your stage. Use the audience.” A newbie agreed: “I’ve heard him do it probably five times now, and that was the best one so far.” The two had talked about how uncomfortable the idea of performing was, and now he saw a solution: “How do I get my nervousness out? You gotta lock into the character, and then it’ll go away.” The actor said he’d like to try it again. I encouraged him to look up more—to see and be seen—and one of the guys suggested he try to give it more volume, to prepare for having a larger audience come March.

The second performance was clearly more comfortable for him—and more powerful for us—even though he lost some lines as he worked to keep his eyes off the floor and maintain his connection with the character. Though he said afterwards that he thought the quality of his first performance was better, he learned something this second time: “Nobody says how long I can pause right there. I’m just a guy talking… I don’t gotta hurry it up.” He used those long pauses, he said, to connect with the audience—and it got easier.

Then the man who performed Edmund’s first soliloquy from King Lear on Friday jumped up to give it another go. He’d worked on it over the weekend and was much more relaxed this time through. He said he felt better because he kept his eyes up, didn’t stumble on his lines, and swayed less.

“I liked it,” a vet said, “But watch them pockets!” The actor had a prop letter in his pocket that preoccupied him a bit, and it was distracting. I encouraged him not to anticipate the reveal, just to let it happen in the moment. He said there was a moment when he felt an impulse to bring it out, but he squashed it. One of the vets practically cut him off: “If you feel that something’s right, do it, because nine times out of 10, it’s gonna make that part that much better.” One of the newbies, though, assured the actor that the piece had worked well. “You really popped your Bs, and that worked. It was ferocious,” he said, “and I really liked it!”

In all of four days, this actor has gone from barely being able to be on stage to craving artistic coaching. I explained a bit about objectives and soliloquies, and the vets provided context from King Lear. I asked him to give it another shot, this time with the goal of getting the audience on his side. “You want the audience to feel empathy for what you’re about to do,” a vet added. He tried that approach, and it worked really well! “I see now,” he said. “I see. It makes them question what’s really going on.”

A few others praised his energy, and one man suggested, “The intensity you had at the end should be at the beginning, too—it should go up… You want us to be with you.” Another added, “With the piece of paper in your hand, you kind of fidgeted with it, which may have taken away from that intensity.” A vet said, “FANTASTIC. One of the most beautiful things I love about Shakespeare is the intensity—it’s his middle name! You already got it in your head and in your heart—now just let it flow out.” Another chimed in, “Chew on the words.”

Now the man who performed “All the world’s a stage” at the end of our last session got up to try it again. He had a tough time with the lines and had to start over. Before he did, though, I started to explain how to call for a line, and he politely interrupted to tell me that a vet already taught him how to do that. He made it all the way through this time, not without stumbles, but definitely with more comfort than he was on Friday. Still, “I messed up and kinda feel awkward,” he said.

Another man said, “You got a good voice,” and the actor nodded, saying, “I tried to add a little more feeling to it.” The other man replied, “I felt it—I didn’t feel no nervousness.” A vet agreed: “You danced way less. You were rooted way more, and it showed in your delivery.” Draw the audience in, he suggested, and look above our heads if the eye contact is too uncomfortable. Another vet shook his head admiringly and said, “You have a natural rhythm when you’re reading. I don’t even have that yet!” A newbie said, “I wanna see that one more time,” and the actor obliged, giving a more confident performance. “I felt a little better,” he reflected. “I got more in tune with the emotion.”

A vet who struggled with Rosalind’s “Who might be your mother” last week performed it again, having worked on it over the weekend. He was still frustrated, and I asked him a bunch of questions to help identify the layers in this piece: she’s a woman playing a man; she jumps into a situation that totally isn’t her business without having planned it much ahead of time; Phoebe falls in love with her at first sight. “Let everything surprise you,” I suggested.

He tried it again, but his eyes moved erratically from person to person, and he stopped himself. “I’m not comfortable talking to people, but I guess I gotta start getting used to it,” he lamented. But, a few of us pointed out, this isn’t a soliloquy. Rosalind is talking to two specific people. He chose two guys to be his Phoebe and Silvius, went back to his starting position, and strolled out, barreling through his lines. “Wait, wait, wait,” I said, “Where is she when this begins?” Hiding, he replied. “Yeah,” I said, “She jumps out from behind a bush. You’ve gotta do that, too! And,” I continued, “you totally missed the beat change when you realize that Phoebe’s in love with you. That’s a completely different thought than the one before.” Nodding and smiling a bit, he took a few steps back to start over. “Hey,” I joked, “If you’re gonna be hard on everyone else, I’m gonna be hard on you!” Smiling broadly, he replied, “That’s true. You won’t hear no crying from me.” He paused in mock surprise. “Did I say that out loud?!”

He tried it again, and his performance grew by leaps and bounds. There were some minor mishaps with lines, but he acknowledged that it “was a little better.” Another vet stopped him, though, saying, “I just witnessed something very powerful, which is: good acting defeats mistakes… When a person does a really good job, the mistakes don’t matter to me.”

Per request, I took another stab at Richard III’s “Was ever woman in this humor wooed”. A bunch of the guys said they were really taken by how they never even thought about the character’s gender—they just watched, listened, and completely bought in. “You connected with the part and animated the character,” one man said, and another, tickled, said, “There’s a Sith Lord quality to the manipulation… Dude’s got game.”

I hadn’t wanted it to come off quite that way, though, so, after a little more conversation, I tried the piece again with more playfulness. The guys thought I seemed more comfortable and connected with the character. One mused, “I want to do something that is opposite from me, in looking at As You Like It.” I asked if maybe it would help, particularly with this play, not to think of gender in such stark terms. “I don’t feel like Richard is my opposite because he’s a man,” I said. “I just like the guy, even though he’s a jerk, and it’s really fun to play around with this monologue.” A vet agreed: “When you own that role, the gender disappears… You don’t put on the character, the character puts on you.”

And now Maria got up to perform! We haven’t seen much of this from her yet, but what we have seen has been great, and we’ve really been looking forward to this. She danced around the space as she performed Puck’s “My mistress with a monster is in love,” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and, though her energy was great, it was clear that she was psyching herself out. “UGH, GOD,” she said afterward. We assured her that she’d done a great job, and the guys were quick to try to identify what was holding her back so we could help. “Were you acting?” asked a newbie in a way that wasn’t at all critical, and Maria acknowledged that she’d been preoccupied with her movement. “You was in your head,” said another man. “You was thinking too much.”

“What if you tried taking out the movement altogether, and doing this while sitting?” I asked. Maria’s eyes lit up, and she agreed to try it. I put a chair in the performance space, and, after considering it for a few moments, she sat down and wholly connected with us as she worked through the piece again. It was wonderful! “I completely changed my intention,” she said. The guys revelled in how well the strategy worked. “I thought I was watching a movie!” said one. “It had a Shirley Temple thing,” said another (don’t ask me what that means—I don’t know, and I love it anyway).

“It had a gossip quality to it,” said a vet, and another agreed: “It was like a gossip session, but there was a very sinister quality beneath your words.” I told her that I loved this seated interpretation. “It was easier to follow,” said one man, but another said, “I don’t agree with that. I thought the movement was great.” It fit with the words, he said—and he was right, but we reminded him that it had distracted her quite a bit. “If we had time, though,” I said, “and Maria could do this a third time with the movement, I’ll bet she’d be much more grounded and connected with it.” She agreed… and I think she agreed to do it again sometime. Even if she didn’t, I suspect she won’t be off the hook for long!

Friday / August 16 / 2019
Written by Matt

Todays episode title was uttered by a new member: “WHO CARES?! WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING?”

At issue was the subplot of Audrey and Touchstone. Many of the guys thought we should simply cut the whole thing (several remembered that Frannie had cut it from her goofy, 20-minute version of the play that we read a few months ago).

“Touchstone is more than a one-sided character,” said a returning member. “While he pretends to be an obnoxious, shallow kind of guy, there’s some more depth to him.” One of the others mused aloud what the scene’s purpose might be. “I can see the functionality of bringing the comedy into it,” he said.

“This is the first time Touchstone is together with Jaques since he said all that stuff about ‘a motley fool,’” mentioned the man we’ve taken to calling “The Professor.” “Touchstone makes all of this happen. He’s the mastermind. And it’s a whole production—it’s pretty funny.”

We went back to the scene with a new cast. When we were done, people seemed more interested in the scene than they had been before. Our Professor reminded us that sometimes all it takes is reading through a scene a couple of times for people to come around on its importance.

Another one of the guys mused, “I feel like Shakespearean comedy is like… late-night comedy. Like David Spade comedy.” A lot of the guys seemed to agree. One of them, who had been in The Tempest in 2018, said that in that show, “We were the conduits for the audience’s understanding of the comedy.” The man who had brought it up talked about how relatable The Tempest had been—he had ben in the audience. He reminded us that he had raised his hand to tell us so in the talkback afterwards.

Talk returned to making cuts (it was the episode title, after all!). One of the new guys had an insight about how to approach cuts. We need to be able to answer three questions about each scene, he said: “Who? What? And Why?” Frannie added, “And: Do we need it?” Everyone agreed that this was about as good an encapsulation of the cutting process as we’ve ever had. One returning member nodded approvingly: “So, [name] just leveled up!”

A returning member was eager to move on. “You wanna do more monologues, say ‘HEY-EYYYY!’” he announced. Silence. After a moment, he said, “You wanna do more reading, say ‘HO-OOOOO!’” Silence again. He shook his head. “Well, I tried!”

In the end, we decided to move on to monologues. The first was actually a sonnet, and the performer was a new guy (Pika). Sonnet 71 starts “No longer mourn for me when I am dead,” and it is among the most popular—and most published—sonnets. He said that another member had suggested it to him, and it really spoke to him. “It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be,” he said, adding that seeing people smiling at him helped him along. Another new guy complimented him on his memorization, which was nearly word-perfect.

In general, several people noted gently, the performance had seemed really subdued and a little bit difficult to connect with. “What was the emotion you were trying to make us feel?” asked the Professor. “Anger and frustration,” the performer said immediately. “I felt frustration,” allowed the Professor. One of the new members noted, “I didn’t get the anger part.” Another suggested picking one person in the audience and thinking, “That’s the one that betrayed me!” Frannie closed by suggesting that, the second time around, he “just roll with” his instincts and let the words flow.

He performed it again, in a completely different manner. The rest of the ensemble was enthusiastic. “The person that you showed right here—I was right there with you in that moment,” said one guy. “What you just created was… the epitome of what we look for here. …You just raised the bar!” said another. “You made me feel everything you were saying,” agreed a third. “Every time I think you did what you intended to do,” said the guy who had put him up to it, “ I got the heart-wrenching feeling I felt when I saw that the first time. And that’s art to me. I’m proud of you, man.”

Another new guy got up to do the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech from Macbeth. He wasn’t off-book, he said, but he wanted to get used to reading in front of us all. He got through it, and a number of the guys encouraged him to keep working on it. “Good job,” said one, “but you talking like 50 Cent moving your mouth!” The man who played Lear last season offered encouragement, saying that, at first, no one could hear him as he performed.

Frannie offered some context for the monologue, and the performer thanked her. He said he had chosen the piece because he was thinking a lot about death—a family member had just died. He said he wanted to memorize it and “tap into the character” for Tuesday.

Next, Frannie got up to try a monologue from King John, in which a mother laments that she may never see her child again. She had chosen the piece because it was a challenge for her, and she spent a few minutes trying to center herself and get into character. Eventually, she suggested that someone else go while she warmed up.

Meanwhile, one of our returning members tried out Othello’s monologue from near the end of that play (“Behold, I have a weapon”). He had been working on it, he said after he was done, but he didn’t feel like he could “be in it” because he kept reaching for lines, which put him too much in his head. He said he’d keep working on it, but not before one of our veterans suggested that, instead of swinging between emotions, he maybe should try mixing them together to create something more subtle.

Then Frannie was ready to try her speech. But she only got halfway through before stopping herself—the buildup wasn’t working the way she wanted it to. She turned to the ensemble for feedback. “It’s hard for me to watch,” ventured one of the guys. Another member tried to clarify: “You’re drawing us in. … The pain of losing a child—this is the bubble we’re all in.” “You know everything that you’re supposed to be doing,” said one guy, who suggested that she try again. One perceptive ensemble member noted that she was “teetering on a line” between thinking too much and being “in” the character. “If that were one of us, what would you say?” he asked. Frannie said she didn’t know. “I’ll tell you what you told me,” said one; “don’t back off!”

Taking a step back, the man who had delivered Othello’s speech said that the facilitators’ vulnerability was what made him want to do that piece. “I don’t know what it is that makes a person… not want to open up,” he said, going on to add that it’s something you learn over the course of your life.

“If you’re determined to do it,” another guy told Frannie, “take this weekend.” He encouraged her to try it again. “It’s hard being vulnerable, when we are living in a society where we can’t be vulnerable. We have to protect ourselves.” He commended her for trying, adding, “While you’re doing it, we should all try doing the same.”

One of the new guys said that Frannie’s performance of sadness and rage reminded him of the pure emotions of childhood. He remembered feeling that way when The Incredible Hulk was taken off the air, he chuckled.

“What is Constance’s objective?” asked one of the guys. Frannie thought for a second. “Maybe that’s part of my problem.”

We had to leave it at that, so we put up the ring for the weekend and left the gym.

Season Three: Week 6


“You pave your path with every word you say.

Tuesday / August 6 / 2019
Written by Frannie

We met in a classroom today. Another class was in session next door, and there was an opening in the wall between us, so we spent our time reading and discussing the play, keeping our voices as low as we could. It was a far cry from our plan to work monologues today, and, though there was a little grousing, we ultimately agreed that having a few more days to memorize lines wasn’t a bad thing.

We began with Act III, scene ii, which begins with some funny banter between Touchstone and Corin. The first man to comment referred to Corin as “she.” The others corrected him, and I asked whether Corin’s gender really matters. “Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t,” I said. “I’ve honestly never thought about it before.” Most people were hesitant to answer definitively, given we haven’t yet read the whole play. Something to ponder as we go.

Anyway. “Touchstone is messing with Corin’s head,” that first man continued. “Touchstone keeps going at him, too,” another countered. “It’s fun!” said the first man, and a third added, “It’s friendly banter, back and forth. It’s like two friends talking trash to each other.” The first man nodded, “I actually had an experience with that in high school.” He said he’d been walking with some other guys and heard them “throwing racist slurs at each other… but they were smiling. It didn’t make sense to me. Showed me how uptight I was—that people this close could talk that way to each other.” Corin couldn’t really defend himself, he added. “Touchstone was merciless!” another man agreed. “Every argument he comes up with, Touchstone is like, ‘That’s a terrible argument!’”

“Is either of them wrong?” I asked. “I ain’t gonna saying nothing about ‘em. I don’t know ‘em like that,” one man replied. “They’re speaking from their own perspective,” said another, citing specific lines in the text (mostly about civet) and saying, “Even the finest stuff has a base beginning.”

“If [Touchstone] did this with Orlando, I think the result would be different,” one of the guys said. “I think Orlando would be able to stand his own a lot better.” He paused. “Does Touchstone meet Orlando?” he asked, and a newbie grabbed his Arden to check the character/scene breakdown (they do, eventually). Meanwhile, another man said it might go differently with Orlando, but, still, “This shows you how much mettle [Corin] has… I think this is all about the kind of man he is.”

We read on, breezing through the part of the scene that is, first, mostly banter between Touchstone and Rosalind, and then ribbing between Rosalind and Celia. “[Touchstone and Rosalind] go at it a bit!” said one man. “I don’t think it’s out of spite or nothing, that’s just the kind of relationship they have.”

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.

Season Three: Week 5


“You have become a Shakespeare nerd.”

Tuesday / July 30 / 2019
Written by Maria

Today we picked up in Act II, Scene v, where Amiens and some of the lords are singing as Jaques mocks them. After reading the scene once, the guys immediately started to unpack the character of Jaques. One man believed that Jaques “doesn’t think Amiens is on his level,” and another reflected that “Jaques is the person that points stuff out that people aren’t pointing out. He’s one of the guys who never thinks about the good stuff and is always complaining about everything.”

The second time we ran the scene a few more guys jumped up to be lords, and you could tell that they were having a lot of fun, really getting into the singing and even dancing a little. After they finished, one man said that “it made [the scene] more relevant now. There was no substance, but it was fun,” and he wondered if the lords were drunk. One man asked if this was the first song in the play. As we all know, there are no accidents in Shakespeare’s writing, and that spurred us into looking at the songs more deeply. This same man loved the idea of these men playing with different roles and costumes, and that maybe they are playing Robin Hood and his Merry Men while hiding in the forest. “They went from lords of the court to lords of the forest,” one man observed, and “‘forest lords’ sounds way cooler,” another man responded. One man said that it’s a burden lifted off them, not being in court anymore; they don’t have to wear a mask, and they are free from the worries of life. “It’s like getting your parole,” one man replied. It was clear that the men were carefree in their singing, but one man pointed out that he thought Jaques was being a smart ass the entire time and having a blast laughing at the lords instead of with them. This prompted one of the vets to insist that we run the scene one more time with this man’s interpretation of Jaques. Many joined in to insist that this man read, which he was reluctant to do, saying that he was still struggling with the language and was afraid his acting wasn’t performance ready. I assured this man that no one has these lines memorized yet and that we were just exploring the scene, but if he was uncomfortable with performing, he could sit this one out.

Thankfully, we ran the scene one more time with this man stepping into a role for the first time as Jaques. After they finished, the group was eager to know how playing the scene felt for the newbie. He had a huge grin on his face as he said, “Thanks for letting me try and for pushing me.” He also went on to say that it was hard, as he tried to not participate too much in the scenes (since Jaques was mocking the other lords), but he (the actor) was having such a good time that it was a challenge not to have fun with them.

Moving on to Act II, Scene vi, we have a snapshot of Orlando and Adam struggling in the forest, where Adam has given up and asks Orlando to abandon him. For such a short scene, the guys had a lot of fun with it. One man, laughing, said, “Something Orlando said stuck out to me: ‘Well said,’ like he’s impressed with himself.” He believed that this is Shakespeare’s way of showing a deep-rooted egotistical guy. One man commented on how good the man who played Adam was, and he responded that Adam was “real extra.” Someone else said this was what James Dean would be like if he had lived to an old age. Our big idea man laughed to himself and asked the group, “Isn’t Adam the servant? He manipulated the crap out of him!” since Orlando insists on finding food to bring to Adam. Going even further, this man thought that we should have a long, white beard for Adam, since he just pulled a Jedi mind trick on Orlando like Yoda.

Act II, Scene vii, returns to the forest lords, with Jaques giving his famous “All the world’s a stage… his acts being seven ages” speech. It’s a longer scene, but we decided to read it all the way through instead of breaking it into smaller sections because so much of itis just Jaques talking. And boy, did the guys play it that way. The man reading Duke Senior quickly got tired of Jaques’ jabbering and turned to one of his lords, mocking him. “Is he still talking?” he asked as they tried to walk away from Jaques, who was waxing poetic about a Fool’s motley wear. When Orlando burst in on the group, threatening them as he tried to rob them of their food, no one seemed to be afraid, but, rather, interested in the change of events. When we finished the scene, the man playing Duke Senior exclaimed about Jaques, “This guy is off his rocker! I had no idea what that guy’s talking about.” So of course I had to ask, is it important that the audience listen to Jaques or not? The forest lords were clearly having a good time making fun of him, but is that what we want the audience to do, too? The man quickly said, “Shakespeare was very calculated when he made that character, so it’s important for us to know what he’s talking about.” Another man agreed, “This stuff is art, it’s gold,” and it’s important to memorize the lines because hand gestures and movements help to tell the story of the characters. Although we are still months away from casting and rehearsing the play, this man has been trying to emphasize the importance of putting in the work outside of our sessions—studying the play and learning lines—so that we can put on the best performance possible.

One of the things that I love about Shakespearean text work is that you quickly learn that that are a multitude of interpretations. As we started to discuss who the fool was that Jaques met in the forest and spent hours with, one man thought that this was another opportunity for Jaques to mock the lords (in this case, Duke Senior) to their faces. Another thought that Jaques was actually referring to himself—that he found himself “on a whole ‘nother level.” When I informed them that Touchstone was the fool Jaques refers to, one man excitedly flipped through his script agreeing that yes, this fits in with the way that Touchstone is talking over people’s heads at court, and his emphasis on Nature and Fortune. “I can just see Touchstone and Jaques going back and forth for hours talking like Martin Luther King and Gandhi,” he said. This led to more discussion of Jaques’ character. One man assured us that Jaques is too smart and philosophical, and that knowledge is what makes him melancholy. Another man agreed that this is a complicated character, and a third said, “We need to spend more time as we read the play figuring out this character.” I agreed, but my hand was still sore from writing all the revelations we had, so I think we have made a good start.

Friday / August 2 / 2019
Written by Frannie

There was all sorts of good stuff in today’s check in, including updates from Tuesday for Matt and me. Sounds like the ensemble had a great time with Maria!

We started out with a circle game called Rant. In this game, one person steps into the center of the circle and begins a monologue on a specific topic, clearly expressing an emotion. Another person enters the circle and takes over, increasing the intensity of the emotion. This goes on until the energy has reached its peak, determined by whoever steps in and simply can’t take it any further. This is always a lot of fun; it also always has a positive effect on our ability to stage scenes effectively.

The man who started us off launched a very angry rant about horror movies and how bad most of them are. Plenty of people piled onto that! The second also went on a furious tirade—but this one was about how infuriating it is when people don’t do the Shakespeare “homework” of reading ahead and looking up words in the dictionary. Each person who stepped in to that monologue was pissed about something slightly different—the man who started it even stepped back in at one point to express anger at himself for being such a snob.

The third man brought the joy, gushing about how excited he is to get out soon. It wasn’t difficult for others to join in—including a couple who haven’t participated much yet. “You can get just as energetic with a good emotion as with a bad one,” this man said afterward. Another noted that our voices got higher-pitched as we built joy, and “deeper and darker” as we did the same with anger.

Emma then stepped in and dove into a passionate monologue about sporks. To my surprise (and, I think, to hers), it turns out that people really love sporks. This round was our longest, and our most intense. “My spork has never betrayed me!” one man shouted. The spork unites everyone and bridges every stage of one’s life: it’s the universal utensil.

Wow! Why was that one the best? “We can actually relate to that,” said one man. “Like, I get one of those plastic spoons, and I’m like, ‘What is this? Where’s my spork?’” Another man said, “We were all building on the same thing.”

Fully energized, we sat down to read, and one of the guys did a great job quickly catching up Matt and me on what we missed on Tuesday. Initially, the group wanted to keep plugging away, but when I asked what they thought about the ubiquitous “All the world’s a stage” monologue, they revealed that they hadn’t discussed it much. “Oh, we’ve gotta spend some time with it, then,” I said. “There’s a reason this is the only part of the play that everyone knows.”

So one of the guys read the piece aloud on his feet. It was a clear, solid reading, and another man immediately commented, “He paints a picture in your head. You basically live this guy’s life as you read this. You live his whole life through one monologue.” He broke it down in detail, which was really impressive. “I don’t think that’s just his life,” another man said. “I think it’s everybody’s life ever… You can look at your life and see where you’re at in this monologue right now. I know where I’m at.” Another man agreed, saying that everyone could identify with it.

“I also can see how we evolve through life through the various parts we play,” mused one man. “I’m not the same guy I was 20 years ago—I’m not going to be the same guy 20 years from now—” “Or 20 minutes from now,” another man broke in.

“I kinda got a nihilistic view,” a newbie said. “He goes through the evolution of life, but it’s like none of it matters. Seems as though he sees it as meaningless. I get a real nihilistic view.” We then spent a few minutes clarifying what he meant by “nihilistic”—not everyone was familiar with the term, but no one was put off by that.

“We just did that!” another newbie said, likening the monologue’s structure to what we’d just experienced with Rant. “Might not be in that order, but it’s like the feelings we go through as we’re growing up.” Another guy agreed, saying that he saw a build in it: “It’s like we’re in this constant juggling act of life.”

“It’s like Lear,” said the Professor, giving some serious side eye and a grin to the man who, last week, said we should stop comparing plays. “The beginning of the play shows why Orlando is different... This is not what [Jaques is] talking about for him[self]—he’s talking for Touchstone and Orlando, about the people on stage. These guys are the real power behind [the ruling class]. This is how they think about life. But he don’t include himself in this. You go through this, then you die.” He concluded, “It is the opposite behind what Orlando is doing.” When another man added that Jaques is a melancholic character, so the monologue must reflect that, the Professor shook his head. “I looked up the word ‘irony’,” he said. “This guy’s an ironist.” He read the definition to us, saying there’s more meaning behind the words than the words themselves. “Just in that [scene], he’s all over the place. He’s up and down and all over,” he said. “So he’s faking the melancholy?” asked another man. “No,” said another, “he’s definitely depressed, but what he says is ironic.”

We decided to get some more people on their feet to see their interpretations. The first to perform was also the guy who’d said he could see where he was in the monologue. He gave a laid-back, good-humored reading—he’s gained a lot of comfort with the language, and it showed. “I actually connected with it,” he said afterward. “When I said I saw myself in it—I felt that even more actually reading it… It was more of me, and it was snapshots of my life in those particular places.” He laughed. “From the clean-shaven child—Mama saying, ‘Come here, get that off your face!’—to the young adult, quick to anger and fight.”

Another man took issue with that, noting that the characters described are mostly people without power: a soldier, not a general, etc. But, said a second man, “the first read-through is just getting the words and phrases. He really separated into enunciating the different parts.” (Quick note: a bunch of guys often use “enunciate” in place of “differentiate,” and it’s not worth correcting. We know what they mean.)

“I’m glad he did that, ‘cause I got to listen to it more while I was listening to him,” said a newbie. “It’s out of place, this story, in the woods. Right now, they’re out of step. They’re not going through these stages.” These people, he said, had altered what would normally have been the trajectory of their lives. “I feel what you’re saying,” another man replied.

The next to read was very physically—and emotionally—connected to the text. It was a surprisingly dark interpretation, and he took a few moments afterward to collect himself. The piece reminded him of his own art, he said. “Like a deep dread, awakened in speech… It was no longer him understanding. He finally did his job to make sure everyone understood. He painted a very vivid picture that’s gonna set the tone for every one of these characters for the rest of the play who was there to hear that.” A newbie pointed out that this man had “highlighted the negative aspects,” while the previous reader “was, ‘This is just how it is.’” As a few people started speaking in defense of one or the other, he clarified, “They’re both valid.”

“It has an ecclesiastic, predestined feel to it,” another man mused. “You have these parameters with which you live… What you have done has been done before. What you’re gonna do has been done before. To me it’s a great philosophy: make the best of what you’ve got.” He shifted gears. “There are different types of plays, different types of movies. What play are you putting on? What audience are you speaking to?” he asked the group, urging them to consider that in their interpretations. “For me, it would be wonder and excitement.” He asked again, “If this is all a play, and we are all the audience, what are you gonna put in your character?”

The man who’d just read explained a bit more about his take on the piece. “A lot of people might say building up to the end of your life is the happiest, but I felt it was the opposite.” He drew our attention to the words and phrases that gave him that impression. “When you’re little and innocent,” he said, “all you can do is mewl and puke. And when you’re in school, all you can do is go. But then you become a lover, [and that innocence is gone].” He moved pretty fast, and it was all great, but the only other thing I got written down was, “The word ‘wife’ really stood out to me.” The permanence of that word as opposed to any other. “That’s what I felt while I was reading this.”

Another man said he thought the stages should be more intentionally differentiated in performance, and he broke each down for us in detail. Too much detail, actually! In an attempt to keep him (and the ensemble) from overthinking and/or getting frustrated with each other, I asked if I could give the piece a try, incorporating all of these thoughts. I’ve actually never performed this monologue before and found myself going through it fairly slowly, connecting with each person, one at a time, and letting the “nihilism” or “sadness” of the last stage sneak up on me.

A couple of guys said they liked the way I paused between beats, and that I let the last stage be a surprise. Another man said he liked that my Jaques delighted in each stage, and I clarified that it wasn’t so much that I was delighted—it was that I was pointing out that everyone has experienced the same kinds of things. Another guy said some of the speech sounded sarcastic; Matt asked if “mocking” might be a more accurate word, and he agreed.

Then a vet who’s never attempted a monologue said he wanted to give it a go! He moved through it slowly, and it was clear that his connection to the piece was just as strong as the previous man’s—maybe even a bit darker. “I was realizing it was more of a downbeat, depressed, mopey-type—sad,” he said afterward. “When he gets to the justice, he knows where he’s going. He knows where it all ends… He begins, ‘All the world’s a stage’—the world is anything because the world is nothing.” I asked the group what they’d gotten out of it. “Sad. Unsure,” said one man. “Crazy how you can read it so many times, and every time it’s a different emotion,” another man reflected. “I got a wise-sage-who-lives-in-the-forest kinda vibe—like he’s already come to that conclusion,” said another. Yet another guy said he loved that the actor paused before saying the final word: “everything.” We moved on and, though I didn’t notice it at the time, the actor stepped away from the group for a few minutes—he told me later that performing the piece had hit him harder than he thought it would.

A quiet newbie surprised us all by rising to his feet, saying he wanted to try it out. “He’s in my block, and I’ve never even heard him speak!” one man said. “It’s gonna be weird,” he said, pacing a bit as he tried to decide where to stand while he read. “I don’t do this.” There was vocal encouragement across the board. He took a deep breath and launched into the piece.

And he was SO GOOD. More on that in a moment, but first (always first), we asked him how he felt. “It feels like he goes so much deeper, because I think he’s reading the stages of life because of the way Orlando came in,” he said. “I don’t think it’s melancholy. It’s uplifting. I think he’s trying to say to the Duke, ‘You’re not alone.’ There is people just like them.”

“I liked how it had the feel of an instructor, but with a little slipperiness,” one of the guys said. “I liked the building crescendo you had.” He grinned. “I think we might be sleeping on a natural here—underneath that shy veneer!” Big snaps! “Your cadence and flow of your words was almost spot-on,” said another man. “You kept the thoughts complete. You took a breath where you were supposed to take a breath… That was the best first monologue I’ve seen yet.” Another vet said, “I’ll second that.”

“I liked that it had a campfire feel to it,” said another man. “He sat down at the end like, ‘Damn, I’m not just talking about everybody else’s life here—I’m talking about my own life.” With that, he agreed to perform the piece himself. His performances are always very physical and high-energy, and this one was no exception—but something about it seemed to take him by surprise, and when he finished, he took a moment to “cross a threshold” (an acting technique for letting go of whatever just happened onstage). “Everybody hits that epiphany—that life-changing thought that you come upon, like a threshold,” he said. “Like he’s almost literally being birthed as a child again, then, wait—death is right around the corner. He goes right back into the womb—the womb being the grave itself. Long story short, I feel rattled in a way—ambivalent. He’s excited about it, but also fearful of it. You come into the world alone, and you leave it alone.”

To be completely honest, I did not anticipate that this monologue would arouse so many powerful emotions for people. I’ve just never given it that much thought. This is part of what I love about working with these folks: they are always teaching me more about Shakespeare.

Season Three: Week 4


“It makes you grow, this program.”

Friday / July 26 / 2019
Written by Frannie

We had to cancel Tuesday’s session due to some unforeseen circumstances, and, after a few cheerful check ins, the guys wasted no time in picking up where we left off—literally.

One man said he was really bothered by the “hood” interpretation of Celia and Rosalind last week. He talked a bit about how prepubescent boys played female roles when these plays were first staged, and he said that he didn’t think “going too girly” was right. “You don’t know what it is to be a woman,” he said, “so you just gotta read the lines, and it’ll all work out.” Start with who you are, another man said, and try objectively to “look at what she feels—look at what she’s thinking.”

One man “challenged” another man: “What if you played a woman really seriously, but just being yourself? I guarantee you people would say you’re playing a good woman.” Building on that, another guy said, “Every person—male, female, doesn’t matter—we all feel have a certain stereotype or perception of things… So when you play that character, it’s not just breaking into other people’s stereotypes, it’s busting up our own stereotypes of what we think things are.

“I was taking it more as an improv and open exploring,” a newbie said, adding that he’d tried out a “Darth Vader approach” to Duke Frederick that same day. Another man said he’d seen and heard the actors in question laughing about their ideas before trying the scene. “They tried to really have fun with it,” he said, before I reminded everyone that we needed to keep the conversation away from specifics for the time being.

“I actually enjoy watching other people try different things,” said a vet, “and I enjoy trying different things, because it gives me new ideas for what I can do with the characters.” And then the conversation took a bit of a turn.

But this other, very passionate member firmly said that we should never “get away from what Shakespeare wrote.” Another vet firmly replied, “Especially in this ensemble, the interpretation is more important than the words.” If so, the first man replied, “why do we read it? Why not just do the No Fear?” A man who performed in 2018’s Tempest brought up all the ad libs and cuts we’d used to make the performance work. “It’s the spirit of Shakespeare,” he said. “We’re just trying to relate to everybody. We’re just trying to connect to the audience.” But the man who started the conversation continued to advocate, essentially, for purity.

Another man broke into the conversation, demanding that people listen to him now since he’d been cut off before. First, he praised the newbie’s Darth Vader experiment and said he thought he should roll with that a little. (I wholeheartedly agree!) Then he turned to the first man and said he was “being a snob” and drowning out other people’s ideas. “That’s not you,” he said. “Where is [Name]? Last year, you were all like, ‘There’s no wrong way to do Shakespeare.’ And you were right.” He got into a bit of a tizzy as he said again and again that this was uncharacteristic and disheartening. “Who are you?” he asked; then, gesturing to the door, “Go get [Name] and bring him over here!” He meant it, but phrasing it that way made us all laugh, the tension evaporated, and another man walked over and high-fived him. We love how enthusiastic The Professor is, but it seems the group is now taking on the challenge of helping him manage that enthusiasm.

Ah, but… “We always stuck to the Shakespeare in Lear,” he said, to which another man replied, “Are you serious? That backdrop?!” (See photo to the left.) Another vet reminded the first man that, even though we didn’t alter the language, our primary goal was to connect with the audience, and that’s how we developed our concept. I took the opportunity to bring up my all-time favorite SIP prop: the six-foot tall inflatable palm tree that we used in Twelfth Night. (See photo below!) Did Shakespeare write that prop in the text? He sure didn’t—but the women’s concept came from the text, and a ton of silly props arose from that concept.

“You said spirit,” said one man (after a few guys joked about my inability to go more than a few days without reminiscing about the palm tree). “It’s evoking something.” Raising an eyebrow, he quoted the first man to himself: “It’s about human nature, right? It’s about being human… You feel what he’s trying to paint with the words for you.”

“Y’all are misinterpreting what I’m trying to say!” the man fretted. He reminded us that he loved the production of Julius Caesar that was on PBS a few months ago—where the play was set in a women’s prison. The man who’d just needled him a bit said he’d loved it too; that he’d kept forgetting that they weren’t actually in a prison, it was so well done. Another man said, “With Shakespeare, you can cut a whole lotta stuff out, and it still holds the same meaning as he wanted.” The first man agreed: “Shakespeare cut his own stuff sometimes!”

A man who often grounds the ensemble at times like this said, “I’ve done it myself—we need to stop referencing how stuff went with another play. Because this is a totally new play.” I said he was absolutely right, and that any talk about other productions should be in the spirit of, “What did we learn from that, and how can it help us now?”

“Correct me if I’m wrong—” one man began, before being interrupted by a cheerful chorus of, “You’re wrong!” Smiling, he continued, “Isn’t it true that none of Shakespeare’s plays were original?” As a number of us put a stop to what promised to be yet another ratatouille, he wrapped it up: “All I’m saying is, if Shakespeare messed with other people’s material, we can mess with Shakespeare. We shouldn’t try to limit ourselves.”

We finally did the ring, followed by a couple of Theatre of the Oppressed games, neither of which went particularly well, as a number of ensemble members simply couldn’t get out of their heads. But there were still some very positive takeaways. “The best part for me was seeing guys come up with their own interpretation—not my own interpretation,” one man reflected. Hmmm…

We decided to read a bit more of the play (we had about 20 minutes left), but as soon as we sat down, one of the guys realized that the actor whose interpretation we’d been talking about had arrived. We asked him to tell us about it.

He was just playing, he said—just trying something out. I asked him what aspects worked, or not. It was challenging overall, he said, “being in character and not being in the audience at the same time.” He was in a “church play” several years ago and played a gangster. “That—playing gangster—was something I was comfortable with,” he said. “I’ve seen that my whole life, with my father, my mother, my cousins. Where this… this is different… I’m gonna keep playing, and keep trying until I find something that works.”

There were some things about his performance that worked, another man said. He praised his “cadence” and “picking up on cues.” A newbie who has been fairly quiet this season agreed. “I really liked the attitude,” he said. “The attitude was great. The flamboyancy helped bring the attitude out… so maybe keep that part of it.”

“Sounds like we’re dealing with a lot of preconceived notions,” a vet said, smiling. Turning to the man we were questioning, he said, “So… how do you perceive women?” Quickly, he explained that there wasn’t anything on the question: “It’s about awareness.”

“There’s different types,” the other man said. “My mom raised me, and I got a lot of sisters and aunts. So I spent my life surrounded by women, and… yeah, there’s different types.” The other man nodded. “It’d be really good to work at it,” he said. “Do you feel like your stereotypes are boxing you in?”

“It’s… Me, being a man, I can’t just come out and be comfortable acting a woman. It’s hard for me… Getting outside myself is hard because I don’t know them like I’ve gotten to know myself all these years.” Actually, he mused, he relates most to Silvius, at least at this point in the play.

A vet reflected that we all have biases, whether we realize it or not. Another man asked if there was a specific type of woman the actor had been channeling. Yeah, the actor said, smiling a little: ratchet. “I didn’t mean to get so deep!” said the man who originally brought this up. He explained that it’s really all about the way you “accentuate” things, and he misread that last week.

The actor said again that he’d planned out his approach with his friend ahead of time, and then fleshed it out with his scene partner minutes before they performed. The conversation got really circular at this point, as individuals talked about their methods of developing ideas, and eventually we had to call it—we were out of time.

So… not the most “productive” day, but that’s not what it’s about in Shakespeare in Prison. But the conversation, though frustrating at times, needed to be had. Gender issues are a thing in this play, I reminded everyone before we left, and this was a good jumping-off point for discussing them. We’ll see where it goes from here...