Tuesday / July 2 / 2019
Written by Matt
First day back! Nerves! Butterflies! Trepidation! Just kidding… we were all just excited to be back at Parnall for the start of our third season!
It was a little bit sticky in the chapel today (summer!), but we soon forgot the discomfort; it was great to see everyone there--the familiar faces and the new ones. We wasted no time before jumping into check-in, which a couple of veterans explained to the newcomers. Several of our returning members brought us up to speed on their lives, telling us about finishing programs, participating in a talent show, anticipating parole, or seeing the parole board.
One of the new members wasted no time checking in. “Can a new guy have a check-in?” he asked. “Sure!” several people replied. He talked about seeing the parole board, and how their decision might affect what sort of role he’s able to play in the ensemble. We assured him that we’d work it out, but it was nice to hear that he was thinking so far ahead on the first day!
After check-in, we lowered our first ring of the season, which is always exciting. And, instead of the usual, rambly orientation, we had a packet all typed up and ready to go (thanks, Frannie!). More than anything, the packet helped us stay on-track and cover all of our bases. Of course, since this was our first try with an orientation packet, we forgot all sorts of things (thanks, Frannie?), which our veterans were happy to tell us all about, so we can get it better next time.
After orientation, we were all ready to play a game! We started with “Energy Around,” which is a classic name-game. I didn’t participate, since I was working out a way to distribute copies of our books, but it was clear from watching the game that it was a huge success--the best it had ever gone this early in the season, actually. And, really, this is a testament to the culture created by our veteran ensemble members. “Energy Around” requires a willingness to shed self-consciousness (it looks really silly) and communicate energetically with your whole body, which is hard to do right off the bat in a group of new people. But the newbies were swept up in the energy of the group, and given permission to let loose by the palpable trust that exists in that circle.
When we were finished, we still had some time, and one of our returning members suggested that we play “Animal Sounds,” which is in the top-five silliest games in the whole dang arsenal of silly SIP games. He explained the game: an ensemble member stands in the middle of the circle, hands over eyes. He spins as the rest of the ensemble walks in a circle until he shouts “STOP!” and, eyes still covered, points out another ensemble member. “Make for me the sound of….” he says, and requests the sound of an animal in a situation (“an elephant taking a bubble bath,” for example, or “a nearsighted crow accidentally crashing his space shuttle into the International Space Station”). Based only on the sound, the person in the center has to guess who he’s singled out. It’s just as goofy as it sounds, and it was wonderful.
Everyone has having so much fun that we had to make a hasty exit when the time came. There was so much energy, so much enthusiasm and excitement in that room--we all felt warm as we left Parnall… and not just from the summer heat!
Friday / July 5 / 2019
Written by Frannie
We packed quite a bit into this second session! Here goes...
We began with our traditional Three Questions. This took quite a long time, as there are 23 people in the group right now. Here are some highlights:
1) What brings you to Shakespeare?
“You guys. I come back for the ensemble. Renewed passion.”
“I don’t know why I came to Shakespeare… I don’t like stuff like this at all.”
“Artistic outlet. I’m not sure if this is the right artistic outlet, but I thought I’d give it a try.”
“The heartfelt belief and earnesty and care that I’ve seen from outsiders who come in and bring this program to all of us… It means a lot that they come in here, and I believe in it.”
“I am back because Matt. Because Frannie. Because of all you guys. This lets me be who I am—an energetic weirdo. I actually do like that.”
“I saw these two bald guys who were sisters, and then everyone was killing each other. Looked like fun.”
“I’m typically not a good person—but here, I want to be a good person… There’s a drive to have integrity… help someone who needs help… I like having that environmentally integrated accountability.”
“I have a desire to feel whole.”
2) What do you hope to gain from this experience?
“A better understanding of people.”
“Confidence. I have an up-and-down self esteem.”
“I just started cracking into being vulnerable and opening up. I just want to dig deeper into that. Especially empathy. It was at a two—it’s probably up to a five or a six now.”
“The ability to be able to speak out.”
“To learn how to be more in touch with how I feel, and be more direct in how I express it.”
3) What is the gift you bring to the ensemble?
“I want everybody to succeed in whatever you’re doing… feel special.”
“If you guys want to get into the nerdy side of Shakespeare, I can help you with that.” (Another man: “His bunk is full of Shakespeare books. He has a Shakespeare dictionary.”)
“Myself. Sense of humor. Personality. Just me, overall.”
“I don’t know what I bring.” (Another man: “You’ll figure it out.”)
“A sort of creativity. A little bit of an odd perspective—I see things from a different angle.”
“The example of leadership through a younger person that we really don’t see on the compound here… role model for young people here. And maybe older people!”
It was another muggy day, and we decided to dig into the play rather than sweating through a theatre game. No problem—and these guys were ready to DIG. We spent about an hour on just the first few pages—not even the entire first scene, but the first few pages of the first scene.
The man who read Orlando has been working away on his voice and diction for two years, and he launched into the opening monologue with gusto. When the speech ended, I called a hold. “I’m sorry,” I said, “But I can’t let this pass.” I locked eyes with the man and said, “You sound amazing.” He grinned and said, “Uh… thanks!” I said again that he sounded amazing. “That’s the best I’ve ever heard you. I could hear every word you said, I understood what you said, and your diction was great. All that hard work shows. You sound amazing.”
After I was done gushing, we started tossing around ideas about the text. “What’s he saying here?” I asked the group. “He’s upset,” someone said. “He’s saying his brother treats him like horseshit,” said another.
“No!” shouted a veteran, rising quickly to his feet. This guy barely spoke when we met him a year ago. “That’s where you’re wrong. He treats his brother like a commoner.” He paused, looking around the circle. “Damn—where’s [NAME]?” he said, referring to a member of the King Lear ensemble who is no longer in the group. “He always talked about pomp and circumstance…” He was interrupted briefly and sat back down, but then jumped into the discussion again, defining a bunch of words that were being misinterpreted—in just the two days since our last session, he’s already engaged in deep analysis of the text. Satisfied with his contribution, he fist-bumped with another ensemble member.
We read on, some of our “hammiest” members joyfully wending their way through the language—the one reading Oliver even threw out an improvised “Fut!” after his line, “What, boy!”
We paused again to make sure everyone was keeping up with the content and language (we do that a lot). “What’s going on with these brothers?” I asked, and the same man as before leapt to his feet. “NOT YOU!” I shouted. “We know you know all the answers. Let’s hear what everyone else thinks, and you can tell us what we missed.” He grinned bashfully and sat back down.
Another veteran took over. Referring us to Oliver’s lines, he said, “He talks to him like he’s some schmuck on the street.” Yes, we all agreed. And how does that affect Orlando? “That’s the way you’re gonna treat me? That’s the way I’m gonna act now. And then he slaps him!” exclaimed one man. “He got up in his face and grabbed him!” said another. “He knows he was bred to be something more than he’s being treated as,” said another.
“Oliver treats Adam and Orlando like they’re at the same level. Adam actually is a servant in the household, and Oliver treats him the same as his brother,” a newbie observed. “Oliver thinks Orlando will squander the inheritance,” suggested another. A veteran suggested that it might be more complicated. “There’s different levels of entitlement,” he said, “creating that boiling point of conflict.”
Another vet offered, “It’s not that he thinks he’s gonna squander the inheritance—he wants to keep it for himself.” As he took a breath, another member said, “That’s the insidious nature of greed: I’m being benevolent and magnanimous—you say it’s for the good of everyone else, when really it’s for yourself.” The veteran then politely pointed out that he’d been interrupted, accepted the other member’s apology, and gave the rest of his analysis (which I didn’t write down because I was excited about the way the interruption was handled!).
Another man mentioned that there tends to be a hierarchy in the relationships between siblings, and a lot of heads started nodding. “Oliver is the oldest. Maybe it’s the way he was raised,” mused one man. “Maybe his father treated him poorly like that, and when he had to take responsibility, he used his father as a model.”
Another man asked if the text indicated the brothers’ age difference, sharing some of his experience growing up with much older siblings. “They have a particular mindset and treat the rest of us a certain way,” he said. The man next to him said, “When there’s a big gap, there’s always that ‘I hold authority over you—I’m gonna treat you like trash ‘cause I’m the oldest.’” Another man agreed, saying Oliver “even feels extremely superior to the family servant who served his dad… Oliver’s got some real authority issues.”
“I noticed that what we just read had its own mini-climax,” said a veteran. After scribbling down “DAMMIT HE’S DOING IT ALREADY”, I let him finish his sentence and said, “HOW DO YOU KEEP DOING THAT?” This is the guy who, last season, kept inventing acting techniques for himself that are common in acting training—but he’s never had any acting training. He smiled. “Because you’re right,” I said. “It’s called a unit or a beat. And… I hate you.” He laughed and explained the mini-climax he’d found: “All this verbal sparring between the brothers… but the trick of the thing is that [Orlando] didn’t back down, showing that this isn’t the end of this fight.”
“We missed the whole first part of what Orlando said at the beginning!” our resident scholar burst out. Reminding us of the resentment Orlando has toward Oliver, he said, “Orlando is so close to turning into Edmund… but then the roles switch, and Oliver is Edmund. But you see how he could have gone down Edmund’s path. He’s not trying to go down no Machiavellian way. Edmund is Edgar now—they switched.” Two of the veterans asked him to explain what he meant to the new guys, many of whom aren’t familiar with King Lear.
I noticed, then, that with his old “sparring” partner gone, this man was engaging mostly with the youngest member of our ensemble, who enthusiastically listened, nodded, and offered his own point of view. This is incredibly cool: there is a roughly 25-year age gap between these guys, and the younger one was not this assertive last year (though he was always enthusiastic). “Not to challenge what you’re saying,” he said, “but do you think he already showed signs of having that frustration?... That he was already willing to go there with his brother?”
“No,” the older guy said, “He just tells you what he feels.” This man who sat mostly silent this time last year now could not stop talking, the words coming out so fast that I gave up on taking notes. “You’re really excited to be back, aren’t you?” I said. “Oh, yeah, I sure am,” he replied.
“You got me thinking about the parents in Lear,” said another man, comparing the familial conflict that is featured in each play. “It’s different from Lear because you’re thrown right into it,” said another man. “There’s no leadership, there’s no nothing. You get this guy’s feelings right off. It moves fast… It’s not like it leaves off until 3.4. This stuff happens before 1.2!”
“Orlando is just fed up. You don’t give me my respect, I’m gonna beat that ass,” said one man, totally tickled by Orlando’s approach. This led to a conversation about what Orlando says about his relationship with his father. “There’s an underlying current here, where you can tell how this father felt about his boys… You get a glimpse that he maybe babied the little brother somewhat… and the oldest brother feels like he didn’t get the privilege due the eldest son. ‘You thought you was the special one—I’ma show you how special you was.’”
“Maybe the father saw something that wasn’t there, or maybe something that he only showed to his brother,” said one man. Another man said that that was digging too deep, and the first man countered, essentially, that every character needs a backstory. A third man said, “It feels like the older brother simply got more because of his station—not because he was loved more. And the younger brother is more like his father... [Oliver] wants to have these controls and be able to keep him down by any means necessary. Orlando just wants what he was promised.” A fourth man nodded, “And that plays in later on—he’s a bad mofo.” The third man added, “It even says something in there about taking after the father.” The fourth man then quoted the text to support the interpretation, and the man next to me leaned back in his chair and said, “I like that!”
“With siblings, who always seems to fall through the cracks? The middle brother!” said another man. “So why is the oldest worried about the youngest?... I know as the oldest, I was always put on the back burner.” Another guy said he thought it was more that the oldest has more responsibilities. “I can relate,” said yet another man. “I was the baby brother, and my brothers beat the shit outta me every day… When I stopped taking it and beat them up, it was a whole different power dynamic.”
“Orlando seems to be better liked in general by people, and Oliver is jealous of that,” said another man. “But you really only see Adam and the two brothers,” said another, and the first man said, yes, that’s who he was talking about. He was just kind of extrapolating from there.
An older member observed that “we have 20 different dynamics and scenarios” based on our own experiences. “We know one is younger, and we know one is older,” he said, reminding us that that’s all that’s in the text, at least at this point in the play.
We had just a few minutes left, and the conversation sped up as we approached the end of the session. Again, I couldn’t keep up, so I don’t know exactly how we got there, but one of the veterans closed the conversation with a callback to his earlier comparison between this year’s play and last: “That’s what makes Orlando different from Edmund—he never said he hated his father. He just said, ‘You ain’t treating me right.’”
Holy moly. That was a good first week.