Season Two: Week 38

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Would not a pair of these (coins) breed?

Tuesday / March 12 / 2019
Written by Matt

Some of the guys have already gotten the pictures from our shoot a few weeks ago! We don’t share them directly, but some family and friends found them on the SIP website, and sent them to our members, who were excited to see them.

Also exciting was the chance for some of our members to meet businesspeople from all over the world at the Vocational Village at Parnall. The guys who were at the event were really moved and inspired by it. “We live in a global society,” said one, “and to be involved in that while inside…” his voice trailed off and left the rest implied. He continued, “I’ve been here 22 years. I no longer think the way I thought when I came in. Going out, I will no longer be a convict—I will be a returned citizen, ready to contribute to society.”

Check-in took a while today, mostly because of a conversation about the attendance policy that I won’t bore you with. A veteran had to give up his role because of work conflicts, so we needed a new Oswald again. At this point in the season, we explained, it’s usually just easier to plug facilitators in when roles open up--and everyone turned to look at Maria. “You’d make a great Oswald,” one said.

What they didn’t notice as they were all getting used to Maria as Oswald was the ensemble member with his hand in the air. “I’ll play Oswald,” he said. It took a second to recalibrate before everyone congratulated him on volunteering for the role. He had wanted to only play small roles before, and here he was, putting himself in to take on a big role, including three fights! It’s often these last-minute casting changes that bring out ensemble members’ inner heroics; so many times, it is the ones who have hung back or counted themselves out who end up diving into big roles in the final weeks of the process.

With the time and people we had left, it made sense to work through our new Oswald’s scenes for the rest of the session, to get him acquainted with the blocking and the fights. And, man… did he ever throw himself in! He quickly learned the blocking for his scenes, and ran over and over the fights, which involved staggering and falling to the floor multiple times. Our Lear and Kent walked him through the fights, coaching him on how to take a “slap” and where to fall.

Our Oswald, who is older than the other ensemble members, has been sticking up for “old men” like Lear and Gloucester throughout the season, telling us not to see them as weak or frail. In some way, this man’s willingness to do these physically demanding stage-fighting moves over and over seemed like a pointed demonstration of what he’s been saying all season: don’t underestimate the old guy!

Friday / March 15 / 2019
Written by Coffey

“Thanks for letting me back in, y’all. I’m all the way in.”

Today we had five new and returning ensemble members join us. Some were encouraged to come by current members, others have been keeping an eye on us and wanting to take part for a while. Regardless of what brought them to the gym today, they all seemed excited to be there. “Thank you for letting me try,” one of the new members said. They were greeted warmly by the rest of the ensemble, who were excited to have more hands on deck for our final weeks of rehearsal. “You are gonna be a big help to us!” one man said.

While the new and returning members had an orientation with Frannie and a couple others, the rest of us started working on Act 3, scenes ii and iv. Scenes in which one man is completely delusional, another is pretending to be, one man is cracking jokes constantly, and one is just trying to get them all inside and out of the rain are not easy to make cohesive. Our Lear and Fool prepared for the chaos by jumping up and down and shaking their arms out together right before going onstage. For the first few tries, the men were all in their own different worlds. The scene felt like three different scenes happening on the same stage. This led to Kent accidentally pulling his sword on Gloucester in a moment of distraction and quickly apologizing (“Sorry—didn’t mean to pull that on you, buddy!”) and Gloucester setting Lear on fire with his imaginary torch. With each run of the scene, however, the men became more and more connected until, despite their characters’ varied mental states, they were all occupying the same space. Matt at one point tapped my shoulder and pointed downstage right whispering, “Look at that...” I looked up to see Lear, crouched and hovering over Edgar, sheltering him with his own body and whispering to him as though he were comforting a frightened child—these two isolated characters finally finding refuge in each other.

The men carried that synergy into Act 3, scene vi, though our Lear was trying to feel out just how detached from reality he would be at this point in the play.

“Am I joyful? Happy?” he asked.

“It’s up to you—you’re crazy!” Kent replied.

The shared energy between the actors may have been carried a little bit too far, as our Kent matched Lear’s crazy by uncharacteristically slamming his hands on a table and shouting his “Where is the patience now,/ that thou so oft have boasted to retain?” into Lear’s face.

The scene immediately stopped as some of us laughed at the unexpected outburst from a usually cool Kent (including Kent himself). “Well, Kent has forced us to start the scene again due to his complete lack of compassion,” Frannie laughed.

We looped back around to Act 2, scene iv, and the improvement I saw since we last ran this scene was incredible. Cue pickup was snappy, and the men were completely plugged in to each other and the scene. As Regan and Cornwall placed Kent in the stocks, their power as a unit made me fear for anyone who would stand in their way as the play went on.

Albany was sitting next to me and watching the scene. “Why is Albany not in this scene?” he asked himself, noticing that Goneril entered the scene without him. “He probably doesn’t even know Goneril is there,” I replied. “She didn’t even leave a note,” he mused, staring into the distance. It’s good to see that the character relationship dynamic is continuing to develop.

For most of the time in which we were doing scene work, I could hear one of our returning members excitedly giving the context to the newer members and explaining to them what he felt made the scenes so beautiful. His eyes rarely left the stage, and he even changed seats every few minutes to get a different view of the action. As the rehearsal came to a close, nearly every new member asked for a copy of the play so they could start studying as soon as possible.

Before we brought the ring down, Frannie paused to give a few announcements. Frannie will often punctuate a sentiment by throwing a pen or a script on the ground, but this time when she did so (accidentally), it was followed by an “O Captain my captain”-style sequence of everyone silently throwing pens (or whatever they had at hand, including a boot...) onto the ground in the center of the circle. Even some of the new members joined in. It was great to see that, instead of being intimidated by how late in the process they were joining us (or by how silly things can get in rehearsal), the new men were excited to immerse themselves in the play and were already comfortable with rehearsal shenanigans. Their dedication and good senses of humor are a welcome addition to our last few weeks of rehearsal.