Season Two: Week 34

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Once more unto the link, dear friends, once more!

Or you could make a recurring donation… Up to you, really…

Tuesday / February 15 / 2019
Written by Coffey

We started our day with a new Fool and an old joke. During our check in, an ensemble member shared that the actor playing the Fool would no longer be joining us. Thankfully, one of our newest members volunteered to play the part, declaring that he was “80% willing to play the role, and 20% wanting it.”

After welcoming our new Fool to the cast, one man brought to the table the issue of “Dilly Dilly”. For those of you following along at home, “Dilly Dilly” is a phrase from a commercial that the men’s ensemble has successfully worked into every show they’ve done. The man who introduced the topic suggested that we put the phrase in Cornwall’s “Fetch forth the stocks!” in Act 2, scene 2. Matt reminded the group that this particular scene is an important point in the story and asked if they really wanted to put a punchline there, as it could put some of the story at risk. Another man agreed with Matt, adding, “Lear feels to me like a really heavy play.” He then asked if there were any points with a little levity, where “Dilly Dilly” wouldn’t seem so out of place. Our Lear brought up that it might fit in with Lear’s revelry at Goneril’s house. While we didn’t reach a decision, “Dilly Dilly”’s biggest proponent let us know that he didn’t care where the phrase went, as long as it was in the show.

Tabling that for the time being, we went on to play another round of “Mirrors”, the game Frannie brought back from her visit with The Actor’s Gang Prison Project (to get the rules of the game, see the blog from Week 33). This second go at the game had great energy and flow. One man and I agreed that the level of comfort and connection in the room had improved since last week. Even the ensemble members who hadn’t been with us for the game before dived right in and seemed to be having fun. “Without an ounce of rhythm in my body, I was in the flow!” exclaimed one man who was playing the game for the first time today. Another man observed that, during the game, “When a person picked up on the energy first and the movements second, they were a lot more successful with the transition.” Some of the guys struggled with the game. “I couldn’t get out of my head! I was stuck!” one man said. Another man shared that his “fear of dancing” was holding him back: “It was completely awkward the whole time. I’m not a dancer.” Maria, who we were lucky enough to have with us this Friday, said, “I have a hard time getting out of my head, but I felt like I had really great energy!”

For the next few minutes I led the men in Chekhov’s “Stick, Ball, Veil” exercise. This was new for some of them and hadn’t been revisited in a while for the rest, so I was interested to see how it would land at this point in our process. To give an outline of this exercise to those who don’t know it, I’ll use a section of Frannie’s blog post from Week 23:

“The idea here is that the quality of your movement changes depending on where you imagine your energy to be centered. If your entire body is one unit centered in your head, for example, you’ll move differently than if centered in your chest, or in your left hip, or your nose, or even somewhere outside of your physical body. (I know, it’s weird if you haven’t done it yourself, but bear with me!) We focused on the three main centers and their accompanying images:

THINKING: centered in the head / the image is a stick

WILLING: centered in the pelvis / the image is a ball

FEELING: centered in the chest / the image is a veil”

Using this framework, the men explored each center by holding and developing the corresponding images in their mind and then observing the effect of those images on their physicality. After spending about five minutes with each center and image, the men reflected on their experiences. Those who had done the exercise before compared this experience with the last one, noting times when they felt consistently comfortable or when they had consistent challenges. “This time around, I was able to project my imagination outward,” one man said. Our Goneril discovered that the veil was the hardest image to get into, while another man said that he learned the complete opposite was true for himself. One man’s veil image was a jellyfish, while another man’s was a tattered battle flag. One man, this second time around, found a strong connection to his image for the willing center: “I was really in that space, being a pinball.”

For those in the group doing the exercise for the first time, there was a broad mix of reactions. One man, who had done similar exercises for years, said, “For an energy manipulation exercise, this was the first time I really grasped it.” Another man asked, “Why do we do this? What are we supposed to get out of it?” Several men raised their hands to answer. “It’s about muscle memory,” one man said, “It’s about getting in the zone.” Another man added, “It’s about body language.” Then the men began to share the aspects of the exercise they found most helpful. “You have to be in the moment. You can’t really be affected by the outside environment,” one man said. Another man shared that he found the outside environment distracting, and was more comfortable when he “partnered up” with another ensemble member. One man shared that “For me personally, the exercise doesn’t help me get into character, but it helps me have a point of reference in talking to others about their characters.”

The conversation then turned to the exercise as it could apply to the characters in the play. “I was looking for aspects of it to apply to Burgundy,” our Burgundy said, “He’s this big personality, this ball stuck in a stick-like body. He’s not a veil… He’s just looking to cut a deal… There’s nothing ‘veil’ about Burgundy.” Matt reminded him that, when exploring a character, it helps to not use judgmental language when describing them. Our Lear agreed, saying that he used to view his character with judgment. Our Cornwall shared his discovery that his character had a close connection with the image of a walking stick: “Cornwall wants to be responsible for something,” he said.

For today’s scene work, our Goneril and Oswald asked that we take a look at Act 1, scene 3, which they had been working on outside of sessions. The scene is short and simple: Goneril grills Oswald about her father’s antics and orders him to act rudely towards him and his servants. While the scene is short, the two actors packed as much as they could into it. The first run saw Oswald running frantically back and forth across the stage as Goneril incessantly summoned him with a bell (in this case, a tambourine). “I thought there was a little too much of that,” one man in the audience said, pointing to the tambourine. “Too much schtick.” “What story are you telling with the schtick?” Matt asked. Our Goneril replied, “That we’re trying to make Lear uncomfortable… I’m a sadistic bitch.” I asked our Goneril if his character’s authority was being threatened in this scene. “It’s keeping with the theme,” he replied. Our Lear picked up that thread: “People who don’t have real power take that out on whoever they can. You see that in her. People who have no power taking it out on others. And that ain’t just a prison thing. That’s true from the mailman to the CEO. They overcompensate trying to control where they have no control.” Another man added, “Power’s not enough. Goneril is trying to reaffirm in the face of some insecurities.”

Going into the second run of the scene, I suggested that Goneril wait to use the tambourine until she really needed it to get Oswald’s attention. While it was messy at first, Oswald and Goneril eventually slowed down, letting us see them react to each other. Goneril jangled her tambourine no more than four times. “That worked better,” one man said. Another man was particularly amused by Goneril’s facial reactions to Oswald: “You were at first like, ‘Why are you still standing here?’ And then you were like, ‘Why are you going away?’”

The third run of the scene (which our Lear insisted we do: “You don’t get out of three times! Three times is a charm!”) was comical magic. Goneril used the tambourine to keep Oswald on eggshells throughout the entire scene and added the punchline of a gloriously cold look towards Oswald right at the scene’s close. Their fine-tuned chemistry brought out hearty laughs from the audience. Lear was absolutely right - the third time was the charm!

Today was a day for stepping out of comfort zones. Whether it was overcoming a fear of dancing or getting out from behind a tambourine prop, many of the guys took a chance and stretched their imaginations just a little bit further, something I witness them doing at every session.