Season Three: Week 7


“You wanna do more monologues, say ‘HEY-EYYYY!’”

Tuesday / August 13 / 2019
Written by Frannie

The Great Monologue War of 2019 continued today, with a lot of action but, thankfully, no casualties!

Before that, though, an ensemble member said he’d come up with an idea for a new circle game and asked if we could try it out. The game’s structure is very similar to Energy Around, but with a twist: instead of a sound/movement, the actor delivers a word or phrase, with a specific intention. The word or phrase then travels around the circle—but instead of all being the same, each person interprets it differently. So, for instance, one person might say, “I’m not sure this is a good idea,” as a warning, while someone else might interpret it as if anticipating something risky but fun.

It. Was. So. Much. Fun. Even though about 20 of us were there, every interpretation was unique. Afterwards, we reflected that the experience had been really comfortable everyone, particularly because we all participated, rather than treating it as performance. One of the guys shared his takeaway: “You pave your path with every word you say.” We got to see each other’s personalities, several men said, and it was fun to play with different emotions and the structure of the phrases themselves.

And then the battle was on!

The first man up had chosen Shylock’s “If you prick us, do we not bleed?” monologue. He’s never done anything like this before, and he got a huge round of applause when his performance was over. “That’s the bar right there!” one man exclaimed. I asked the actor how he felt. “I feel out of breath!” he replied. “I think it was the energy of it. I was zoned in… I connected with the figure in front of me, but it was like I was in the play—like it was happening to me—like I was the Jew.” He paused. “I never felt that before. It felt good to dig into emotions like that.” He explained, “That’s the way of life… Every one of us can relate to that… I was scanning through [the play], and I saw that part where he says, ‘I am a Jew,’ and I was like, ‘That’s neat… He’s being picked on just ‘cause he’s different.’”

“You planted your feet really well, so you were able to really be in that moment,” said one man. “You never deviated from it. And remember: this is your stage. Use the audience.” A newbie agreed: “I’ve heard him do it probably five times now, and that was the best one so far.” The two had talked about how uncomfortable the idea of performing was, and now he saw a solution: “How do I get my nervousness out? You gotta lock into the character, and then it’ll go away.” The actor said he’d like to try it again. I encouraged him to look up more—to see and be seen—and one of the guys suggested he try to give it more volume, to prepare for having a larger audience come March.

The second performance was clearly more comfortable for him—and more powerful for us—even though he lost some lines as he worked to keep his eyes off the floor and maintain his connection with the character. Though he said afterwards that he thought the quality of his first performance was better, he learned something this second time: “Nobody says how long I can pause right there. I’m just a guy talking… I don’t gotta hurry it up.” He used those long pauses, he said, to connect with the audience—and it got easier.

Then the man who performed Edmund’s first soliloquy from King Lear on Friday jumped up to give it another go. He’d worked on it over the weekend and was much more relaxed this time through. He said he felt better because he kept his eyes up, didn’t stumble on his lines, and swayed less.

“I liked it,” a vet said, “But watch them pockets!” The actor had a prop letter in his pocket that preoccupied him a bit, and it was distracting. I encouraged him not to anticipate the reveal, just to let it happen in the moment. He said there was a moment when he felt an impulse to bring it out, but he squashed it. One of the vets practically cut him off: “If you feel that something’s right, do it, because nine times out of 10, it’s gonna make that part that much better.” One of the newbies, though, assured the actor that the piece had worked well. “You really popped your Bs, and that worked. It was ferocious,” he said, “and I really liked it!”

In all of four days, this actor has gone from barely being able to be on stage to craving artistic coaching. I explained a bit about objectives and soliloquies, and the vets provided context from King Lear. I asked him to give it another shot, this time with the goal of getting the audience on his side. “You want the audience to feel empathy for what you’re about to do,” a vet added. He tried that approach, and it worked really well! “I see now,” he said. “I see. It makes them question what’s really going on.”

A few others praised his energy, and one man suggested, “The intensity you had at the end should be at the beginning, too—it should go up… You want us to be with you.” Another added, “With the piece of paper in your hand, you kind of fidgeted with it, which may have taken away from that intensity.” A vet said, “FANTASTIC. One of the most beautiful things I love about Shakespeare is the intensity—it’s his middle name! You already got it in your head and in your heart—now just let it flow out.” Another chimed in, “Chew on the words.”

Now the man who performed “All the world’s a stage” at the end of our last session got up to try it again. He had a tough time with the lines and had to start over. Before he did, though, I started to explain how to call for a line, and he politely interrupted to tell me that a vet already taught him how to do that. He made it all the way through this time, not without stumbles, but definitely with more comfort than he was on Friday. Still, “I messed up and kinda feel awkward,” he said.

Another man said, “You got a good voice,” and the actor nodded, saying, “I tried to add a little more feeling to it.” The other man replied, “I felt it—I didn’t feel no nervousness.” A vet agreed: “You danced way less. You were rooted way more, and it showed in your delivery.” Draw the audience in, he suggested, and look above our heads if the eye contact is too uncomfortable. Another vet shook his head admiringly and said, “You have a natural rhythm when you’re reading. I don’t even have that yet!” A newbie said, “I wanna see that one more time,” and the actor obliged, giving a more confident performance. “I felt a little better,” he reflected. “I got more in tune with the emotion.”

A vet who struggled with Rosalind’s “Who might be your mother” last week performed it again, having worked on it over the weekend. He was still frustrated, and I asked him a bunch of questions to help identify the layers in this piece: she’s a woman playing a man; she jumps into a situation that totally isn’t her business without having planned it much ahead of time; Phoebe falls in love with her at first sight. “Let everything surprise you,” I suggested.

He tried it again, but his eyes moved erratically from person to person, and he stopped himself. “I’m not comfortable talking to people, but I guess I gotta start getting used to it,” he lamented. But, a few of us pointed out, this isn’t a soliloquy. Rosalind is talking to two specific people. He chose two guys to be his Phoebe and Silvius, went back to his starting position, and strolled out, barreling through his lines. “Wait, wait, wait,” I said, “Where is she when this begins?” Hiding, he replied. “Yeah,” I said, “She jumps out from behind a bush. You’ve gotta do that, too! And,” I continued, “you totally missed the beat change when you realize that Phoebe’s in love with you. That’s a completely different thought than the one before.” Nodding and smiling a bit, he took a few steps back to start over. “Hey,” I joked, “If you’re gonna be hard on everyone else, I’m gonna be hard on you!” Smiling broadly, he replied, “That’s true. You won’t hear no crying from me.” He paused in mock surprise. “Did I say that out loud?!”

He tried it again, and his performance grew by leaps and bounds. There were some minor mishaps with lines, but he acknowledged that it “was a little better.” Another vet stopped him, though, saying, “I just witnessed something very powerful, which is: good acting defeats mistakes… When a person does a really good job, the mistakes don’t matter to me.”

Per request, I took another stab at Richard III’s “Was ever woman in this humor wooed”. A bunch of the guys said they were really taken by how they never even thought about the character’s gender—they just watched, listened, and completely bought in. “You connected with the part and animated the character,” one man said, and another, tickled, said, “There’s a Sith Lord quality to the manipulation… Dude’s got game.”

I hadn’t wanted it to come off quite that way, though, so, after a little more conversation, I tried the piece again with more playfulness. The guys thought I seemed more comfortable and connected with the character. One mused, “I want to do something that is opposite from me, in looking at As You Like It.” I asked if maybe it would help, particularly with this play, not to think of gender in such stark terms. “I don’t feel like Richard is my opposite because he’s a man,” I said. “I just like the guy, even though he’s a jerk, and it’s really fun to play around with this monologue.” A vet agreed: “When you own that role, the gender disappears… You don’t put on the character, the character puts on you.”

And now Maria got up to perform! We haven’t seen much of this from her yet, but what we have seen has been great, and we’ve really been looking forward to this. She danced around the space as she performed Puck’s “My mistress with a monster is in love,” from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and, though her energy was great, it was clear that she was psyching herself out. “UGH, GOD,” she said afterward. We assured her that she’d done a great job, and the guys were quick to try to identify what was holding her back so we could help. “Were you acting?” asked a newbie in a way that wasn’t at all critical, and Maria acknowledged that she’d been preoccupied with her movement. “You was in your head,” said another man. “You was thinking too much.”

“What if you tried taking out the movement altogether, and doing this while sitting?” I asked. Maria’s eyes lit up, and she agreed to try it. I put a chair in the performance space, and, after considering it for a few moments, she sat down and wholly connected with us as she worked through the piece again. It was wonderful! “I completely changed my intention,” she said. The guys revelled in how well the strategy worked. “I thought I was watching a movie!” said one. “It had a Shirley Temple thing,” said another (don’t ask me what that means—I don’t know, and I love it anyway).

“It had a gossip quality to it,” said a vet, and another agreed: “It was like a gossip session, but there was a very sinister quality beneath your words.” I told her that I loved this seated interpretation. “It was easier to follow,” said one man, but another said, “I don’t agree with that. I thought the movement was great.” It fit with the words, he said—and he was right, but we reminded him that it had distracted her quite a bit. “If we had time, though,” I said, “and Maria could do this a third time with the movement, I’ll bet she’d be much more grounded and connected with it.” She agreed… and I think she agreed to do it again sometime. Even if she didn’t, I suspect she won’t be off the hook for long!

Friday / August 16 / 2019
Written by Matt

Todays episode title was uttered by a new member: “WHO CARES?! WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING?”

At issue was the subplot of Audrey and Touchstone. Many of the guys thought we should simply cut the whole thing (several remembered that Frannie had cut it from her goofy, 20-minute version of the play that we read a few months ago).

“Touchstone is more than a one-sided character,” said a returning member. “While he pretends to be an obnoxious, shallow kind of guy, there’s some more depth to him.” One of the others mused aloud what the scene’s purpose might be. “I can see the functionality of bringing the comedy into it,” he said.

“This is the first time Touchstone is together with Jaques since he said all that stuff about ‘a motley fool,’” mentioned the man we’ve taken to calling “The Professor.” “Touchstone makes all of this happen. He’s the mastermind. And it’s a whole production—it’s pretty funny.”

We went back to the scene with a new cast. When we were done, people seemed more interested in the scene than they had been before. Our Professor reminded us that sometimes all it takes is reading through a scene a couple of times for people to come around on its importance.

Another one of the guys mused, “I feel like Shakespearean comedy is like… late-night comedy. Like David Spade comedy.” A lot of the guys seemed to agree. One of them, who had been in The Tempest in 2018, said that in that show, “We were the conduits for the audience’s understanding of the comedy.” The man who had brought it up talked about how relatable The Tempest had been—he had ben in the audience. He reminded us that he had raised his hand to tell us so in the talkback afterwards.

Talk returned to making cuts (it was the episode title, after all!). One of the new guys had an insight about how to approach cuts. We need to be able to answer three questions about each scene, he said: “Who? What? And Why?” Frannie added, “And: Do we need it?” Everyone agreed that this was about as good an encapsulation of the cutting process as we’ve ever had. One returning member nodded approvingly: “So, [name] just leveled up!”

A returning member was eager to move on. “You wanna do more monologues, say ‘HEY-EYYYY!’” he announced. Silence. After a moment, he said, “You wanna do more reading, say ‘HO-OOOOO!’” Silence again. He shook his head. “Well, I tried!”

In the end, we decided to move on to monologues. The first was actually a sonnet, and the performer was a new guy (Pika). Sonnet 71 starts “No longer mourn for me when I am dead,” and it is among the most popular—and most published—sonnets. He said that another member had suggested it to him, and it really spoke to him. “It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be,” he said, adding that seeing people smiling at him helped him along. Another new guy complimented him on his memorization, which was nearly word-perfect.

In general, several people noted gently, the performance had seemed really subdued and a little bit difficult to connect with. “What was the emotion you were trying to make us feel?” asked the Professor. “Anger and frustration,” the performer said immediately. “I felt frustration,” allowed the Professor. One of the new members noted, “I didn’t get the anger part.” Another suggested picking one person in the audience and thinking, “That’s the one that betrayed me!” Frannie closed by suggesting that, the second time around, he “just roll with” his instincts and let the words flow.

He performed it again, in a completely different manner. The rest of the ensemble was enthusiastic. “The person that you showed right here—I was right there with you in that moment,” said one guy. “What you just created was… the epitome of what we look for here. …You just raised the bar!” said another. “You made me feel everything you were saying,” agreed a third. “Every time I think you did what you intended to do,” said the guy who had put him up to it, “ I got the heart-wrenching feeling I felt when I saw that the first time. And that’s art to me. I’m proud of you, man.”

Another new guy got up to do the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech from Macbeth. He wasn’t off-book, he said, but he wanted to get used to reading in front of us all. He got through it, and a number of the guys encouraged him to keep working on it. “Good job,” said one, “but you talking like 50 Cent moving your mouth!” The man who played Lear last season offered encouragement, saying that, at first, no one could hear him as he performed.

Frannie offered some context for the monologue, and the performer thanked her. He said he had chosen the piece because he was thinking a lot about death—a family member had just died. He said he wanted to memorize it and “tap into the character” for Tuesday.

Next, Frannie got up to try a monologue from King John, in which a mother laments that she may never see her child again. She had chosen the piece because it was a challenge for her, and she spent a few minutes trying to center herself and get into character. Eventually, she suggested that someone else go while she warmed up.

Meanwhile, one of our returning members tried out Othello’s monologue from near the end of that play (“Behold, I have a weapon”). He had been working on it, he said after he was done, but he didn’t feel like he could “be in it” because he kept reaching for lines, which put him too much in his head. He said he’d keep working on it, but not before one of our veterans suggested that, instead of swinging between emotions, he maybe should try mixing them together to create something more subtle.

Then Frannie was ready to try her speech. But she only got halfway through before stopping herself—the buildup wasn’t working the way she wanted it to. She turned to the ensemble for feedback. “It’s hard for me to watch,” ventured one of the guys. Another member tried to clarify: “You’re drawing us in. … The pain of losing a child—this is the bubble we’re all in.” “You know everything that you’re supposed to be doing,” said one guy, who suggested that she try again. One perceptive ensemble member noted that she was “teetering on a line” between thinking too much and being “in” the character. “If that were one of us, what would you say?” he asked. Frannie said she didn’t know. “I’ll tell you what you told me,” said one; “don’t back off!”

Taking a step back, the man who had delivered Othello’s speech said that the facilitators’ vulnerability was what made him want to do that piece. “I don’t know what it is that makes a person… not want to open up,” he said, going on to add that it’s something you learn over the course of your life.

“If you’re determined to do it,” another guy told Frannie, “take this weekend.” He encouraged her to try it again. “It’s hard being vulnerable, when we are living in a society where we can’t be vulnerable. We have to protect ourselves.” He commended her for trying, adding, “While you’re doing it, we should all try doing the same.”

One of the new guys said that Frannie’s performance of sadness and rage reminded him of the pure emotions of childhood. He remembered feeling that way when The Incredible Hulk was taken off the air, he chuckled.

“What is Constance’s objective?” asked one of the guys. Frannie thought for a second. “Maybe that’s part of my problem.”

We had to leave it at that, so we put up the ring for the weekend and left the gym.