Season Two: Week 20

Friday / November 9
Written by Frannie

We continued our walk-through with Act III, scene ii — the first storm scene. Our Lear was off book for the entire scene! And so was our Fool, who was just given this role last week. While the performance consisted mainly of the actors standing in place while talking to one another, when it was over a number of people praised Lear for beginning to truly “find his voice.” I, for one, was sitting in the back of the bleachers and could hear every word he said.

At this point, there’s no detailed acting happening; we know that that will come later. But a man who recently re-joined the group had a question: “Can the Fool be funny?” Another man who just joined said that he’s a jester—of course he’s funny, even when he’s criticizing Lear. “But not in that scene,” our Lear said emphatically. “You ever been out in a serious storm? It ain’t no joke.” It’s so serious, said another man, that the Fool tells Lear he should go back to his daughters. “I see the Fool being, like… his guardian angel,” mused one man. We asked for clarification, and he said he meant that literally. “He’s there — he’s been sent — for a reason.” Something intriguing to explore!

We continued on, giving constructive criticism and sharing ideas as we went. One man called our Gloucester’s attention to the punctuation in the text; his emotional connection is palpable, but the lines don’t always come out with the right intention. We also pondered ways of making the relationship between Edmund and Gloucester clear. We started getting a little into the weeds on that, and I steered us back to the task at hand; we’ll get into the details later.

One thing we’re a little stuck on is how to communicate changes in location to the audience. While technical elements are no better here than at the women’s prison, we at least are in an auditorium there, which has a curtain we can open and close between scenes. At Parnall, we perform in the gym. Speaking specifically to the storm scenes, which take place at night, one man said, “We could do something cool with people lighting torches and show the transition that way.” The idea of stylizing all scene changes that way was exciting, and we’re going to keep exploring it.

After we ran Act III, scene v, one man suggested to our Cornwall, who just joined, that he let the character’s “drive for revenge” fuel his entrance, meaning that it required more urgency. “That’s a dastardly moment,” he said, “where two villains get together and conspire.” Our Edgar, as usual, fully committed to the emotional intensity and Poor Tom’s physicality, causing another man simply to shake his head after Act III, scene vi, saying, “[NAME}, you’re fucking awesome, man.”

The group walking through Act III, scene vii — the eye-gouging! — took some time to plan it out, which was merited, given how complicated the scene is. It was, of course, messy, but the blocking was logical and will serve as a good foundation for actually staging the scene. One standout moment had to do with our Gloucester’s commitment, rather than with the staging or even the play itself. As he sat “bound” to the chair, our Regan “hit” him upside the head. Gloucester reacted perfectly by jerking forward; this caused his script, which was balanced on his knee, to fall to the ground. He leaned toward it, but didn’t allow his arms to become “unbound,” grunting as he made the fruitless effort to reach it. We all laughed (and so did he), and Cornwall picked up the script and put it back on his knee.

We talked a bit about exactly when the violence happens, all of which is spelled out in the text and was easily found. We determined that our best bet will be to stage the whole scene, but merely to “shape” the combat; Patrick Hanley (our official combat coordinator) will then take their ideas and choreograph something we can do safely and consistently.

Another comment — and this was pertinent to the entire play — was that one of the guys said the scene had been executed so quickly that he’d had trouble catching anything. Others argued that the scene demands that the actors move quickly. “Let’s not forget,” said one man, “this is where things start ramping up. So the scenes are escalating and getting more intense. This is where it starts.” Yes, agreed the other man, but it had still gone too fast; he wanted to see more of the interpersonal dynamics and drama. He got kind of fired up as he explained this, and another man jokingly said, “That energy — everything you just did? I wanna see some of that in your character.” We all laughed.

We ended up clarifying that while the scene does need to be pretty fast-paced, we need to be sure that the language itself isn’t rushed. One man said that the key was for everyone to be sure that they enunciated the words properly. Some weren’t sure what that meant, and I rephrased what he’d said using the world “articulate”. Another man said that that was the wrong word to use in this context, and I fired back that it wasn’t, teasing him by asking why it would have been used in “all those acting and voice classes” I took in college. More on that later.

We moved on to the scene in which Gloucester, led by an old man, is reunited with Edgar (who doesn’t reveal his identity). Gloucester entered with his hat pulled over his eyes, rendering him sightless (other than being able to look down to his script). The guy playing the old man had been goofing around prior to this, but now he buckled down, assuming an active stance and staying very focused on his objective: protecting Gloucester. Gloucester and Edgar, as usual, fully committed to their emotional connections to the text and each other. When the scene ended, another man yelled, “Oh my GOSH!” His excitement propelled him out of his seat and around the gym. “[NAME]! My GOD!” he continued to rave before finally sitting back down.

One man, who has truly fabulous instincts, suggested that Edgar explore changing his voice and physicality during his asides to the audience. Ultimately, the specifics are something that the actor will need to figure out, and this man emphasized that the main thing is to make sure the difference is clear to the audience. He’s right.

At this point, the man who’d called me out on my use of “articulate” earlier suggested we place a bet on its definition. “And the stakes are 4.3!” exclaimed the man who is STILL agitating for that scene to be restored in our cut. “No!” I said. “We are not betting on anything! And that scene is CUT!” I’m not sure why or how this continues to be funny, but the ensemble isn’t quite through yet with the joke.

When we’d gotten through the next scene between Goneril and Albany, one man said, “This is an undercover, brutal scene.” He cited the way the characters speak to one another, and the man playing the former said he was working on chewing on lines like, “Milk-livered man”. I suggested that he let the words come out as slowly as they want — they’re written that way for a reason. Darting a glance at my vocabulary foe, I said, “You can’t ARTICULATE those sounds if you go too fast.” As that man cracked up, the proponent of 4.3 said, “You can’t ENUNCIATE.” I replied, “Right, because THEY’RE SYNONYMS IN THIS CONTEXT.” As the first challenger began to argue again, I said, “You can’t out-vocabulary me! I can totally out-do you on this.” He replied, “Oh, no you can’t.” The other man said, “Oh, no you shan’t.” “Thou canst not!” I exclaimed. “Thou liest!” (That’s one of Ariel’s lines in The Tempest, which has become a running joke in the women’s ensemble, so this response was automatic.)

Thankfully, some others intervened, and we got back to work. The man playing Regan said that he and Goneril want to wear some kind of corset, and that he’s working on drawing out his costume ideas so we’ll know we’re on the same page. “I want a t-shirt that says, ‘What happened to 4.3?’” said you-know-who. “Or a backdrop.” “It’s not getting old,” I said sarcastically. “Everyone is still all about this joke. You should keep going with it.”

The staging of Cordelia’s return basically worked, though the men agreed that her entrance needs more “oomph” so the audience will know how powerful she is. As a part of that, one man suggested that each army have a banner to make things even clearer. “Or we could keep 4.3,” said a certain someone. Nose in my notes, I replied, “Shut UP.”

We circled up to raise the ring, feeling good about how productive we’d been. We’ll be through this phase very soon, and then the real work of staging will begin. We’re ready.