Tuesday / March 5 / 2019
Written by Emma
Walking in to the men’s ensemble this week, I felt guilty. A bulk of my time as a facilitator is spent at the women’s facility, and weather cancellations had thwarted my most recent plans to attend the men’s ensemble. As a result, it had been well over a month since I had last seen the guys. With the performance dates approaching, I knew I had missed a lot. However, my guilt was for naught. I was greeted with the customary big smiles and friendly salutations as we circled up.
A harbinger of spring (hopefully), the men were in a rather sunny mood as check-ins commenced. A few ensemble members shared that they’d had recent birthdays, with one member smartly commenting, “If I was a car, I’d be a classic now.” A few of the guys shared lighthearted updates about their families and friends, followed by a very animated discussion regarding “cook-ups”—a highly resourceful prison version of the TV show Chopped. Commenting on the inventive smorgasbords, one member gestured to his belly and stated, “This is the result of cook-ups.” After a healthy round of laughter, focus shifted to the day’s tasks. Our agenda, though short, included two important items of business: we needed to select a play for next season, as well as run through as much of the show as possible without stopping.
The selection of next year’s play was a collaborative process—a hallmark of SIP. After some preliminary discourse, the ensemble seemed to have narrowed down the choices to a tragedy, Julius Caesar, and a comedy, As You Like It. The men thoughtfully weighed the pros and cons of each of these options. “It keeps up the energy of the troupe to do comedy,” one veteran member stated in favor of As You Like It. “But,” another member chimed in, “for a men’s compound, a lot of people would want to see Julius Caesar.” After a few more minutes of Comedy vs. Tragedy deliberation, one man posed the question: “What’s the difference between comedies and tragedies? If you’re doing a great play, what’s the difference?” Building on this thought, another member added, “From a personal perspective as an artist, if people like my work, they’ll come back and see it regardless.” When all had spoken their piece, the decision was left up to a vote. Final tallies found As You Like It in the lead, making it the official play for the men’s ensemble’s 2019-20 season!
With next season’s fate decided, we moved on to the first run through (well, run-as-much-as-we-can-through) of Lear. As mentioned earlier, I had not seen what the guys had been working on for some time. I wasn’t sure what to expect as they took their places to the sides of our performance area. But whatever I was expecting, these fellas absolutely surpassed it. Within the first few lines of dialogue, the massive amounts of work that the ensemble had done in my absence was evident. For the next hour and a half, I sat captivated.
I was asked to take notes on areas that I felt could use improvement and/or clarification. Upon reviewing what I had written, it would appear that my comments were actually overwhelmingly laudatory. Since my last observation, each and every character had grown in depth and complexity. Our Goneril and Regan, who, during my last visit, were dipping their toes into villainy, had come alive with a cool venom as they rained false praise on Lear in Act I, Scene 1. In the same scene, our Lear demonstrated an impressive range of emotion that wasn’t there a few weeks ago. During the banishment of Kent, Lear deftly entwined anger and sorrow, landing in quiet desperation on the line, “Kent, on thy life, no more.” Aaaand, cue the goosebumps!
Other highlights of the run-through include: Gloucester’s slow emotional and physical transition from esteemed nobleman to haggard outcast, the way Edmund was able to convey manipulativeness while still soliciting sympathy, and Edgar’s fearless dive into his Poor Tom persona, which included covering his face in his long hair and adopting a slight accent. Our Fool, who is new to the role, proved himself to be a natural. He carried himself from scene to scene with a slightly hunched back, his hands held to his chest, in a way that felt very Wormtongue from The Lord of The Rings. However, unlike Wormtongue, our fool maintained a very subtle air of levity as he delivered his lines—perfect, coming from a Fool in the midst of a tragedy. The overall impact was, according to my notes, “on point.”
After stopping only a handful of times to fix urgent hiccups, we concluded the run-through (about ⅔ of the way through the play) with a few minutes left and briefly discussed how it felt: what worked, what didn’t, and thoughts for moving forward. As I was busy picking my jaw up off the floor, we raised the ring and said our goodbyes for the day. Whereas walking in I felt guilty, walking out I felt electrified.
Friday / March 8 / 2019
Written by Coffey
We met today without Frannie, unfortunately, but after getting through most of the play at the last rehearsal, the men were anxious to see how quickly we could reach the end, and it was full steam ahead.
With the 90-minute time limit on everyone’s mind, most of our check-in was devoted to how we’re planning to make cuts to the script, a process that proved to be a delicate and involved one to some of the men. “I’m very sensitive about cutting my scenes,” our Lear said, “ ‘cuz I’ve gone through the Arden several times trying to cut my lines.” To others, the process was solely in the interest of time: “It wasn’t really about certain lines,” our Albany said, “There’s a certain value to everyone’s lines.” Regardless of which lines the men chose to cut, one man advised that everyone “get with the person you’re in a scene with and let them know if the cues have changed.”
Matt suggested that, in addition to cutting unnecessary lines, the men could start trying to bring more of a sense of urgency with them on stage. This would help transitions between scenes to speed up, cues to be picked up more readily, and the overall time of our run-throughs to shorten. Another man added that offstage distractions have been cutting into our time: “Side distractions are frustrating. Critique-wise, I think everyone is doing an awesome job. We got 75% of the play done in an hour and a half. Let’s focus on getting that last 25% and help each other out.”
Ending check-in on that encouraging note, we decided to warm up by playing a game of “Wah”. We stood in a circle, loudly wah-ing at each other and striking coordinated poses until someone missed their cue and was eliminated. This went on until we had two players left standing (Matt being one of them).
We began our rehearsal where we left off, going from Edgar and Gloucester’s reunion in Act IV, scene 1, to the play’s finale. The run had its setbacks. Entrances were still pretty chunky, the minor roles, as well as Edmund and Oswald (who were absent), were taken on by whoever had a free moment, and everyone was still a bit shaky on the blocking—pretty normal setbacks for a run at this point in the season. The men are beginning the hard process of moving their focus from character building and scene work to the show as a whole. As they continued that transition today, it gave us an opportunity to see how strong their characterization and in-scene work has become. Gloucester, after being horribly abused by Regan and Cornwall, wasn’t wilting or muted about his hopelessness and lost faith in the world, but enraged by it. “O you mighty gods! This world I do renounce, and, in your sights,/ Shake patiently my great affliction off,” was not a plea, but a loud declaration punctuated with his balled fists—something I’ve never scene a Gloucester do.
Gloucester wasn’t the only one showing a surprising streak of anger. Cordelia, when we circled back to rehearse Act I, scene 1, responded to Lear’s vitriolic, “Better thou / Hadst not been born than not to have pleased me better,” by charging Lear, threatening to push him. I read just as much hurt in this action as I would have if Cordelia shrank back and burst into tears. A moment of laughter came during I.i as well, when Gloucester entered in the middle of Lear and Cordelia’s confrontation and sat down very slowly, unsure if he was intruding, and deeply uncomfortable. Amidst the chaos of trying to go straight through the show, these strong, unique choices were energizing and carried the men through. Even Goneril, who is typically reserved onstage, let loose during the final scene, his look of terror fully convincing me that Goneril’s world was falling apart.
We finished the play with a runtime of 2 ½ hours - not bad at all for an early run through! Wrinkles still remain as they would in any show, but a note from Emma really sums up the feeling with which we all left the gym: “However weary, anxious, or frustrated you may be feeling at this point in the season, you’re doing spectacular work, and it shows.”