Season Two: Week 27

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For saying so, there’s gold!

Friday / December 28 / 2018
Written by Frannie

During today’s check-in, our Gloucester continued his practice of updating us on the character work he’s been doing. “What does Gloucester’s soul look like—or feel like?” he pondered. “As I explore and play, I’ll find that I discover the very heartbeat—the essence—of Gloucester.” He mused on the etymology of words like “train”, which he said used to mean “to exercise naked.” He expanded that definition, metaphorically, to include his approach to the play—and to Shakespeare’s as he wrote it. He imaginined the playwright removing layers of artifice and mistakes from the text as part of his process. “I’m sure Shakespeare didn’t write a first draft that was the final masterpiece,” he said. “He wrote draft after draft—a literary powerhouse.” He challenged himself to do the same. “I must act ‘naked,’ strip down to the very essence… So, Birthday-suit Gloucester: what is your essence?”

“Shit,” said one man, clearly impressed and awestruck. Another shook his head, saying, “I gotta give you kudos, man. You’re doing real work.” A third man said, “Yeah, dude—how do you find the time to do all this? You’re so busy in so many groups and stuff!” A fourth, who is also very active in a number of programs, laughed and said, “Aw, he’s worried how we find the time. The time!” Everyone laughed. Our Gloucester replied that he muses on these things throughout the day and then journals about them in the evening.

Before we moved on to scenework, one of the guys asked if it might be time to add new people to the ensemble. It’s something we’ve talked about along the way, and, if we stick more or less to the timetable of the women’s ensemble, early January would be the final time to do that—but if it doesn’t seem necessary, we don’t have to. There are currently 19 men in the ensemble, and we max out at 25, though all of the major characters are cast and we have enough people to cover the minor ones as well. Still, though: is now the time?

“Yes,” said one man emphatically, thinking ahead to next season, when these new members could take on larger roles; he thought joining now would give them a good head start. “I’m all in on it, as long as they understand that there are things going on in here that they weren’t a part of,” he concluded. Another, who joined during the homestretch of our Tempest workshop, reminded us that “there was a lot of hesitation, but it worked out well.” (Actually, it worked out AWESOME—he and another person who joined then have turned out to be incredibly dedicated and insightful ensemble members.) He added that new members could round out the roles with few lines, and that they could also be very involved in “crew” tasks.

Another man reminded us that, though we have ample coverage now, that could very well change in the next few months, or even in the last few days, and he wanted to know for sure that “the show would go on” if core members left for any reason. “I’d feel more secure if we had understudies, and right now we don’t have any,” he said. “I’m always open to bringing new people in.”

The next man to speak offered a “dissenting opinion,” even though he didn’t dissent, just to make sure we’d covered all our bases. He voiced the concern (likely felt by some) that each time we add new members, it alters the group’s dynamic—that that could potentially be negative, particularly given the complications we’ve been navigating over the past month or so. Another man said that the dynamic is altered every time someone joins, and that, though he (and I!) have been apprehensive in the past, it’s always been good. “We shouldn’t be so selfish with what we’ve all grown to love that we don’t want to share it,” he said, “but we should also protect what we’ve grown to love.” In the end, we decided to add six people and see how it goes.

We began rehearsal with Act II, scene ii, in which Kent attacks Oswald and is ultimately put in the stocks by Cornwall because of it. We left off after only two runs of this scene last week and decided it deserved a third attempt. The initial confrontation between Oswald and Kent was pretty subdued—they’re still puzzling it out—but our Cornwall brought such amazing energy in with him that all the actors rose to the occasion and matched it. He knows exactly what he’s saying, and it comes through beautifully in his delivery. Our Regan was a delight to watch as well, truly listening to the others and reacting spontaneously to what they said.

Though, as I noted, the first part of the scene sort of dragged, the first praise anyone offered afterward was for our Oswald. He has been working really hard—this is a huge departure from the norm for him—and it shows. “You got the flow right!” said a friend of his who’s been working with him outside regular sessions. Everybody did, we agreed. “You can tell everybody’s getting comfortable with each other,” said one man. “It’s just flowing together. The words are part of y’all now… It just comes together like a nice, warm quilt.”

More feedback—all of it constructive—kept coming. The group did particularly well regarding the actors’ vocal projection: they hammer on this all the time, but they’re getting steadily better at doing so in a helpful, rather than insensitive, way. Regan suggested to Cornwall that he give more of his lines to the others onstage, rather than to the audience. Cornwall replied that that’s what he’d been doing, and Regan, recognizing that all Cornwall needed to do was to make that clearer, suggested ways in which he could do that. This was all rooted in moving more from person to person—something we talked about last week. Cornwall has already made strides in this area, which we acknowledged and appreciated—he just needs to go further now!

We began talking through entrances and exits a bit, beginning with the logistics one man worked out and wrote in a couple of scripts that he’s been leaving open for everyone during sessions. The discussion started to get really involved and complicated, which has been the main issue impeding our progress. What was different this time was that several of the guys who are most vocal in these situations cut the conversation off themselves, imploring us to “just try” what we had.

And what we had was great. Our Edgar entered for his first soliloquy, believably harried and completely off-book. The room fell silent as we absorbed his work, and after his exit, we were too impressed even to applaud. “I liked it, dude,” said one man. I asked Edgar how the updated entrance had worked. He shrugged and said, “I’m an artist. I roll with it.” Our only suggestion for how to build on what he’d done was for him to come further downstage, allowing him to connect more with the audience. He did that during his second attempt, and it paid off in a big way. “Boy, you better stop it, man,” grinned one of the men, literally dancing with glee. “It was simple,” smiled Edgar. “I forgot the entrance and exit, and I just went… ‘Blam!’” The work he’s doing is absolutely stunning, and he has no ego about it. He’s setting a great example for everyone else—myself included!

Act II, scene iv, is the last before the storm, and it’s a doozy. Lear finds Kent stocked and, after the final confrontation with Regan and Goneril, stalks off into the night and the elements, much to Gloucester’s dismay. We worked the scene unit-by-unit, with our first pause being just before Lear’s return with Gloucester.

As this first part of the scene stumbled along, a man who is making a huge effort to balance his (very vocal) enthusiasm with the ensemble’s needs sat beside me and whispered his ideas for making the blocking less of a jumble, particularly as regarded the Fool’s actions. When we paused and asked the actors how the scene had gone, our Lear replied that it had felt crowded, and I asked the guy next to me to share his ideas. He jumped up to walk through some of them. This proved a little complicated, but our Kent caught on immediately and joined the demonstration.

We started getting hung up, again, on the placement of the upstage wall. Because we’re in the gym, the set-up is very flexible, and, while that’s generally a positive thing, it comes with some challenges for this highly analytical ensemble. Some folks noticed that actors seemed to be hovering close to that wall and suggested shrinking the playing space to force them further downstage. I countered that that would be a problem no matter what, that shrinking the space might actually make it worse, and that the best thing for us to do would likely be to regularly remind each other not to be afraid of the audience. Though there was some more back and forth, we ultimately decided to leave the set-up alone, at least for now, and see if we could make it work.

The group onstage was now ready for another shot at the first part of the scene. The new blocking ideas definitely helped, but our Lear was still frustrated. “I need more emotion,” he said, and we talked a bit about where he could find the fuel for that in the text—namely, in the huge caesuras between his and Kent’s lines. We encouraged him to use those pauses however he needed to, probably with movement, to rev himself up. When we tried it again, it definitely worked better; we’re just going to need more rehearsal to fully absorb everything.

We kept going with the scene. When Lear and Gloucester re-entered, they were silent until they’d reached center stage. The man who’d had all the blocking ideas leaned over to me and whispered, “Do they have to wait to speak till they get onstage?” I replied quietly that they didn’t. “Maybe you should let them know that, Frannie,” he said, adding that he’d given “too much feedback already today.” I thanked him for being so cognizant of the need to leave room for others’ ideas. I said I’d probably sit on it and see if they’d make the adjustment themselves later—that often happens as actors gain comfort with a scene. (And, before I forget: that’s exactly what happened the next time we ran the entrance!)

As the scene progressed, I was struck by how increasingly connected everyone became. The Fool listened carefully to each person and allowed himself to react spontaneously to everything he heard. Meanwhile, Lear became more and more vocally grounded, embracing his building frustration on the line, “WHO. STOCKED. MY. SERVANT,” and practically spitting “my child” at his daughter—it was so perfect that it made one of the men giggle with delight. Regan’s reaction to Lear’s “I can stay with Regan” was so truthful that I started laughing hysterically and had to put down my notes for a minute. It’s not that it was funny—it wasn’t—this was one of those moments when the moment’s honesty was so instantly relatable that all I could do was laugh in recognition. It’s something we talk about a lot, as regards our audience, and I’m glad that now I can serve as a first-hand example!

We ran through to the end of the scene, talked about all the good stuff, and encouraged everyone (especially Lear) to give themselves permission to really move through the space as we ran it one last time. Lear took this “permission” to heart, still holding back a bit, but easing into what I can tell will be some huge strides pretty soon. His adjustments were dramatic enough that the others had a tough time making their own in response. Sometimes their movement worked; mostly it didn’t, but the entire scene is moving in such a clear direction now that, after we finished, they voiced their excitement about working to find new ways of approaching the scene.

We were really firing on all cylinders today, and I checked in with a few individuals as we left to make sure they knew how much they’d contributed to that. It was a great way to close out 2018 together. Onward to 2019!