Tuesday / August 20 / 2019
Written by Matt
Today we welcomed back Shakespeare scholar and friend of the program Niels Herold! It is always a pleasure to have him in the ensemble, and he opened up by saying some really nice things about our performance of King Lear in April. He told us he had been to see Glenda Jackson as Lear on Broadway… and that our Lear was better! He said it our show was more thoughtful and told a clearer story than the big-ticket production (which was a bit of a flop). Our Lear was absent today, and consensus among the guys was: DON’T TELL HIM! “His head is big enough already!” said a few of them, indicating giant bobble-heads with their hands. I was briefly distracted with a vision of him as a bobble-head doll, but we moved on before I could distract anyone else!
Another returning member said that he had been in his “Batcave” during the weekend, working on a monologue. “Memory was one of my weak points last season,” he admitted. “I found a new way of memorizing,” he went on. “You know how music helps you memorize stuff? That’s kind of what I’m doing for Shakespeare.”
After bringing down the ring, we introduced a new (to Parnall!) game: the Machine of Rhythms, which is a Theatre of the Oppressed exercise. It starts with phase one: an ensemble member creating a rhythmic movement and vocalization while the rest of the ensemble copies it. Phase two (actually, this is like phase seven in the original version, but never mind) again starts with an ensemble member making a rhythmic motion and sound, but instead of copying him, we instead build on his rhythm. One at a time, in no particular order, the other members of the ensemble join, adding their own rhythms to the chorus, making a “machine” out of their voices and motions. Once everyone has joined, the entire machine accelerates, then slows down until, eventually, it stops.
The first man to start a machine chose a difficult pattern. “BOOM shakalaka, boom shakalaka, boom shakalaka, BOOM!” he chanted, pumping his arms. The challenge of being the “anchor” is not just to keep up the rhythm for five minutes or more, until the game is done, but also to lay down a clear beat that everyone else can follow throughout. Somehow, our anchor managed to mostly keep it together, which was no small feat!
After the first round, we did a quick debrief. One man said it reminded him of “Stomp,” the long-running, wordless rhythm show in New York. Another asked Frannie (who was leading the exercise and so didn’t participate) “Did you know what was going on? I was in my little, three-person world.” One of the returning members shared with a huge smile that he felt “Exhilarated,” and that it helped him “focus on stage synergy.” He went on, “When you’re homed in on the energy, not on yourself… You stay in the rhythm, despite what’s going on around you.” A new guy noted that “Once you found your spot… I didn’t even have to think about it anymore.” Another nodded and said, “Once I found my rhythm, my beat, nothing else mattered.” Yet another said that “There was a lot of teamwork. [The anchor] was like the quarterback--everyone supports to quarterback.” “Is that what being on stage is like?” asked a new member. “Sometimes,” I said. “When it’s good.”
Not everyone was so unselfconscious. A new member shared that he worried about making “the right sound effect” for a long time--although he felt free after he just picked one and went with it. A returning member said that when the anchor got distracted or confused, the whole machine fell apart. The anchor shared that the rhythm of the ensemble helped bring him back when he was veering off. One guy said that he was looking around with “a slight feeling of dread,” just waiting for the others to sit out the game. He said that he was telling himself, “They’re going to let us all down.” But then, he said, there was “a shift” after the last person joined. “When I finally seen everybody else in, that slight dread turned into intense joy,” he said. “It became fun.”
Moving on to reading, we covered 3.4 and 3.5 today. Two guys jumped right into the first scene, reading Celia and Rosalind. When we were done, the man who read Celia had an immediate reaction: “She seems to think no man is good enough for Rosalind!” Another guy said “it seemed like two girls just carrying on a conversation,” and we talked for a minute about how well that aspect of the scene translates through the centuries. One of the new members noted that the scene serves to check in on the relationship between the two women.
“One friend needs to dominate the relationship,” one of the guys mentioned. “Celia feels threatened.” The man who read Celia said that she is “questioning why [Orlando] didn’t show up… Celia is saying, ‘Here’s your proof; he’s a jerk!’” Another man reminded us of the plot points so far and asked why any of us expected Orlando to arrive: “If he feels that he can’t express [his love] directly, then why would he show up?”
We tried the scene again with new readers, but by the time we were done with it, we were ready to move on to the next scene--almost. “I missed the whole part about the Duke,” said one guy, referring to Rosalind’s story about running into her father. Another nodded and said, “Apparently, her own father doesn’t even recognize her.”
As we looked at the beginning of 3.5, something unexpected happened: the guys ended up throwing facilitators into all of the speaking roles! Frannie played Phoebe, Maria played Silvius, and I was asked to reprise Rosalind.
It was… rough. I wanted to set a clear intention for Rosalind, and I wanted the performance to be something big and easy to interpret. I ended up deciding that I needed to corner Phoebe and make her see the error of her ways. I mostly succeeded in that, but it didn’t give me anywhere to go--I came out shouting, which made it hard for Frannie to do her job (Phoebe instantly falls in love with Rosalind), and, since I had no particular reason to stop shouting once I had started, I just kept shouting. It was not right, and I was relieved when I left the “stage.”
Afterwards, Frannie and I talked briefly about what didn’t work in the scene. One of the guys suggested that perhaps my affect was right but the intensity was wrong. I said I thought that the whole thing was wrong, but I thanked him!
The scene still provoked an interesting discussion, despite the wrench I threw in it. “It’s almost as if Rosalind doesn’t notice she’s gone down in rank,” a new member said, referring to Rosalind’s harsh language to Phoebe. Another member noted, “But, as Ganymede, she’s made herself a minor lord--and a landowner.” We talked a little bit about Rosalind’s use of her assumed identity. “When she’s walking as Ganymede,” suggested one of the guys, “the question is: is this how Rosalind really is? Or is she putting on a front?” Another compared having the “mask” of an assumed identity to interacting with people online: “People are less afraid to say things because of the computer,” he said.
As for Phoebe falling in love with “Ganymede,” who is nasty to her, as opposed to the worshipful Silvius, one man had a lot of thoughts about that. “It’s something I struggled with growing up,” he said. “As a kid, I tried to date girls. I tried to be their knight in shining armor. And it never worked! They always liked the bad boys…they came to me with their problems, and then they went right back. It just didn’t make sense to me. So I changed my roles. But, to this day, I don’t understand it.” Another guy added, “Nice guys finish last,” and the man who was speaking nodded. “The closest I can come is: Silvius put her up on this pedestal, and it’s not real…She knows the truth about herself, and I think she likes the fact that Ganymede just treats her like anybody else, like a human being, not just as an object on stage to behold. Ganymede’s not interested, so it’s almost like she’s talking to a peer, and that makes Phoebe feel more accepted.”
Well, that was a lot to think about! We tried it again, this time intending to change up our approach to the scene. It also didn’t work, but at least I wasn’t shouting myself hoarse. Afterwards, a new guy noted that, even though we were quieter, we went faster through the scene. A returning member said he felt like we were losing expression, like the lack of volume had translated into a lack of energy, like I was thinking too much about being quiet and Frannie was thinking too much about how to “fall in love.” He said, “It reminded me of when we do our monologues. The first one is often the best one” because we’re not going into it with notes in our heads. However, there was lots of praise for Maria’s reading of Silvius. “It’s so great when Maria reads!” said one of the guys, “because she emotes, and her facial expressions. … Gotta have Maria read more!” Another said he really liked how Maria’s Silvius started copying Ganymede. “He’s Mr. ‘Me Too’!” He also wondered if watching Rosalind in this scene might change how Silvius carries himself for the next two acts. A new guy said, “It seemed like Silvius was downplaying his own self to get Phoebe’s attention.”
The guys will never let a guest get away with being completely silent, so they asked Niels what he thought. Niels offered a couple of observations and questions, mentioning how irony is what makes the scene complex, not plot. And, he said, the big question is: “What’s being accomplished here?”
We closed with a monologue. One of our returning members had been preparing “All the world’s a stage.” In his interpretation, the speech is uniformly sad. “He already knew where the ending was,” he said, referring to Jaques. “He just needed to fill it out. It’s more melancholy to me.”
A bunch of guys commented on the man’s focus and preparation. He had prompt cards with him, but he was much looser and better prepared than he had ever been before. One guy said he had seen the speaker preparing himself and complimented his “laser-focus.”
Then he was done, and it was time to put up the ring again and head out of the chapel.