In Iceland: Day Nine (Post Two)–A Day in the Life of the Shakes360 Group

This place is breathtaking—it’s almost worthless to write that, it’s so inadequate to describe the awe-inspiring landscape we’ve been exploring all week.

Hellnar 1 Orton
At Hellnar, on the southern end of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
Hellnar 6
At Hellnar
Hellnar 3
The astonishing rock formations at Hellnar
Hellnar 5

Right now, there’s a severe storm all over the country—wild winds (almost hurricane force), intermittent sleet and freezing rain yesterday, and today just loads of rain.

Since Friday, we’ve been tucked up at The Freezer, a (fantastic) hostel and theater/performance space on the tip of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, in Western Iceland. Imagine us at one of the tips of the western edge of the island, sticking out into the North Atlantic Ocean as a storm rages.

Iceland iPhone Dump 2 017
That’s the town of Rif, right by my finger, where The Freezer is located. Just hanging out in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, like you do.

Conditions couldn’t be more appropriate for King Lear. The sound of the wind around the building (an old , concrete fish processing plant that’s been made terrifically cozy in its new life) is ferocious—loud enough at times to make us feel that our Lear really is wandering in the wildness and wind, even when we’re inside.

At one point, several of us—Catharine, Katie, and Roz (King Lear, Kent, and the Fool), Maya (our assistant director) and I—ventured out to rehearse the storm scene in the storm, to see what that was like.

Rehearsing the storm in the storm 2
Rehearsing the storm scene in the actual storm.

The wind was brutal, but also gorgeous and invigorating—so strong we could lean back or forward into it and be held up by it for more seconds at a time than would have seemed possible if we weren’t actually experiencing it. It was breathtaking in the most literal sense—Maya said to me that it was a strange feeling not to need to inhale, because if you were facing into the wind and opened your mouth, the air found its way into your lungs with no assistance.

We walked out to the sea wall in this tiny old fishing village, and we climbed it to watch the dark sea whipping wildly up to the edge of the rocks. We found our way up a grassy hill to a place where the lava rock formed tide pools, and we could see the giant boulder-pebbles of the “beach” below us.*  We ran the storm scene there, Act 3 Scene 2: “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!”

Rif in the storm, fish processing plants, sea wall
A view of the fish processing plants of Rif. The harbor is out of the frame to the right, and the stone wall on the left is the sea wall.

The first time we ran the scene (actually, that was back in front of the hostel, when we first got outside), something about the intensity of the storm and the work of the actors combined was powerful enough to make me almost cry. (Admittedly, this is not a difficult state to induce in me, especially out in nature.)

Still: The way that Lear alternates between rageful bluster and the deflated, exhausted demeanor of an old man, drenched and winded by the storm and realizing that he’s losing his wits; the Fool’s tenderness and concern for Lear; Kent’s care for both Lear and the Fool, even after Lear’s betrayal of him. The sense that the wind might actually knock you down or set you aloft at any moment; the feeling of sleet blowing so hard and fast into your face that it feels like tiny needles being shot at your skin. All of it together = me, all choked up.

Walking back, we were heading into the wind, far more exhausting and disorienting than on the way out. And then, as we labored to cover the very short distance back to the hostel, we spent a moment leaning into the wind again, when I noticed that it was actually holding us up for too long, somehow, and it started to feel more dangerous than it had in the first twenty minutes or so that we were out. The wind picked up so quickly—there was no time to notice it happening, it was just suddenly that much stronger.

We made it back without a problem, of course, just really tired. Maya remarked to me that she could see why Lear was so exhausted out in the storm.

While we’ve been here, we’ve been taking turns making dinner for the whole group of us. That’s been fun, and delicious, if challenging in a wee hostel kitchen with minimal cooking equipment.

The hostel has provided us with food for breakfast (at an extra cost), and we’ve been starting each morning in communal  kitchen chaos before rehearsal begins around 10:00am. I’ve been spreading the food out on the kitchen table, and everyone crowds in, pouring bowls of cereal, or making toast, or gathering salami and cheese and eggs and vegetables on plates. There’s coffee and juice and a too-large crowd, and it’s a cheerful way to start the morning all together.

Yesterday I tried to make a banana cake that I’ve made many times now, because we had a number of bananas that were past their prime. Between using an unfamiliar gluten-free baking mix, approximating measurements (no measuring utensils at the hostel), converting some of the measurements from tablespoons to grams (the butter!), and using a European oven with temperatures marked in Celsius and a mysterious knob that seems to control the portions of the oven where the heat is centered (maybe? I still don’t really know)…let’s just say the cake was very tasty, and very…not what I was aiming for. Happily, college students are remarkably forgiving when you’re making them snacks.

After dinner last evening, we had a brief rehearsal, after decking out the theater space with every candle we could find. We ran through a large chunk of Act 3, all in candlelight, with the chair and fishing net hovel several of the actors built out of whatever they could find around the space.

Blurry rehearsal by candlelight
Blurry photo of rehearsal by candlelight, complete with the “hovel” the actors built from chairs and old fishing nets.

Once rehearsal was through for the day, Kate found a beaten-up old guitar, and we gathered together and sang for a while. By candlelight again, of course.

Hanging out after rehearsal
Hanging out after rehearsal, singing together.

Mark noticed that the sky seemed clear, and the wind had died down a lot, so he and Catharine bundled up and went out to scout for Northern Lights. They called us out after them when they saw some, but it took us too long to get all of our gear on and get down to the sea wall, and the lights had ended by the time we got there.

No matter though—the sea was beautiful and wild in the dark and the wind, and some sort of birds were gathered on the water and wheeling through the night sky, and the Big Dipper was bright and clear above us to the right. I have this memory of standing on a cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway in California, overlooking the beautiful, wild, dark ocean and freezing in the coastal wind, while the Big Dipper hung over a mountain to my right, and a cluster of lights from San Francisco were visible far down the coast to my left.  And standing on the sea wall in a tiny fishing village in the west of Iceland, windblown, cold, staring up at the same Big Dipper, I thought about how enormous and strange and incredibly beautiful the world is.

* These boulder-pebbles—I don’t know how else to describe them exactly—are an apparently standard feature of the coast here in Iceland. We first saw them a few days back, along the Reykjanes Peninusula. They’re rounded and smooth the way pebbles are, but enormous, all piled along the beach, thousands of them. They are, on average, a foot to a foot and a half in diameter? Enormous, and I can’t imagine how much they must weigh. When you walk over them, you have to be cautious, because you could easily lose your footing and twist an ankle in the space between them, but also because a rock will occasionally move, not as tightly packed into its fellow rocks as it appeared, and it would be easy to fall entirely.

In Iceland: Day Nine–Rehearsing at the Freezer, During an Actual Storm

(This post is by Kristin Kury, BMC class of 2016.)

What do you do when trapped in a West Iceland hostel in the middle of nowhere during a windstorm? Rehearse, of course! After a groggy morning, we got to work on Act Three, during which the characters of Lear face a storm of their very own.

Rehearsing in the black box at The Freezer 1
Rehearsing in the black box at The Freezer
Rehearsing in the black box at The Freezer 2
Rehearsing in the black box at The Freezer.

Taking advantage of the various spaces in our hostel, we broke into small groups to tackle the individual scenes. We got a lot of discussion done, and then started to put the scenes on their feet. Some brave few even ventured outside–talk about method acting!

Rehearsing the storm in the storm
Kent, Lear, and the Fool (Katie, Catharine, and Roz) rehearsing the storm…in an actual storm. This photo gives no real sense of the brutality of the wind they were dealing with!

After a full day of rehearsal and a hearty pasta dinner, we moved into the hostel’s black box theater, turned off the lights, lit some candles, and ran the storm scenes.

Rehearsing by candlelight 2
Rehearsing by candlelight at The Freezer, while a storm raged outside.

As Mark said, this was a unique opportunity, since we’d probably never get an opportunity to rehearse King Lear by candlelight in the middle of a genuine Icelandic storm again. Without being too on the nose, I think we saw the scene in a new light. In the dark, stakes were heightened, faces were creepier, and everything was just a little uneasy.

In Iceland: Day Seven–Traveling to The Freezer Hostel and Theater

(This post is by Miciah Foster, BMC class of 2017.)

There is nothing more capable of encouraging ensemble building than a six hour bus ride along the western coast of Iceland. The landscape was awe-inspiring–with water so blue it implied magic, and with mountains so close I could see the cold, and with waterfalls so simple and so majestic, and with everything so close to melting but not quite. How could Icelanders believe in anything other than fantasy?

On our way, we stopped at a grocery store in order to stock up for our Thoreau-like isolation at The Freezer. (It even sounds like a gothic horror film.) Each student would be responsible for a single meal during our stay (Duhn Duhn Duhhnn). Mark let us loose in the most challenging landscape yet… Bonus, The Icelandic Grocery Store. We assembled our teams and fought our way through language barriers and foreign set ups to the cash register. Mission Accomplished.

Bonus grocery store
In Bonus, a chain of grocery stores in Iceland.
Bonus grocery store 2
In Bonus, a chain of grocery stores in Iceland.
Bonus grocery store 3
In Bonus, a chain of grocery stores in Iceland.

Later, we finally arrived at The Freezer (Duhn Duhn Duhhnn), which, despite all my ominous foreshadowing, is cozy and kind of warm.

Kari introducing us to the space at The Freezer
Kári Viðarsson, owner and manager of The Freezer (and an actor and musician in his own right), shows us around The Freezer.
Panoramic shot of the group rehearsing at The Freezer
Panoramic view of the gang, talking and rehearsing in the lounge at The Freezer.

There was plenty of space for us to work and play as well as cook and eat. All of which we did much of. We pieced our way through a thinned Act Three then sat down to a lovely family meal of lentils and salad. We shall see what magic West Iceland and The Freezer have in store for the next four days.

What We Do and How We Do it

(This post is by Marisa Arellano, BMC class of 2016.)

Most people are surprised to learn that Mark cast Lear about a month into rehearsals. For the first month of the process nobody knew who would be playing who. I wanted to take a moment to explain some of the more unconventional things you’ll see popping up on this blog.

The work we do in the Bi-College Theater Program is often based firmly in ensemble. Ensemble, in simplest terms, is a group of artist who come together to make something. Before we could jump into the world of Lear as characters, we needed to learn how to be together as people and as artists. It sounds like a simple thing to do–most of us spend a lot of time in groups of people. But truly being present and connecting with a group is a challenging thing to do. Everything we’re doing in this production is based on the premise of coming together.

There are a lot of different ways we attack this common goal of togetherness. Sometimes it’s a game (The Chair Game is a personal favorite), sometimes it’s a check-in, and sometimes it’s making prolonged eye contact with someone. It can be difficult to grasp initially why we spend so much time playing games and making eyes at each other instead of constantly digging at the text.

It makes sense when you think about it. The language of a play is lost if you’re not actually connecting with the people you’re sharing a stage with (or, in our case, a table). Even the most damning of curses and banishments wouldn’t really matter if we weren’t really seeing each other. Especially with Shakespeare, a strong ensemble is key to giving the words life instead of treating them like delicate pieces of poetry we can’t touch.

This is how ensemble is coming up in Lear. Every play is different. In the past we’ve done plays where no one has a defined character, plays where multiple people play the same role, and plays that exclusively featured hermits. Our work can be a little unconventional but ultimately our concerns are pretty simple–we want to come together.

A Report from Rehearsal: Costumes for Iceland, Whittling, and Villainy

(This post is by Amelia Couderc, BMC class of 2016.)

Today’s rehearsal was split into 3 sections: the scene of page 52, Gloucester and Edgar, and solo six picture work (the same exercise we did with the Stanton kids, but for our Lear characters). The wonderful Maiko, our designer extraordinaire, was also present. She fitted us with coats and boots to bring to Iceland (t-minus two days!).

I was on my own today, working on my lines and the inner life of my character (Edmund). I ended up spending a lot of time learning how to whittle a stick and contemplating what it meant to be “the villain.” It turns out that whittling is very time consuming when done with a blade from scissors, and villainy is relative. Good work.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that some of us received iPads from the Bryn Mawr Library to assist us in our blogging abroad. Thank you, Library! We promise to keep them in their dorky cases.

Below are some pictures I grabbed as I watched today’s rehearsal go by.

Lear rehearal 329 1

Lear rehearsal 329 2

Lear rehearsal 329 3
Scene work with Gloucester and Edgar.
Lear rehearsal 329 4
Maiko fitting people for costume pieces to take to Iceland.

A Report from Rehearsal

(This post is by Alexandra Seits, BMC class of 2016.)

We rehearsed in the afternoon, after our morning visit to Stanton. Gloucester, Edmund, and Edgar convened with Mark, Maya (our assistant director) and Sam (our stage manager) to go over text cuts.

With this small section of the ensemble, Mark discussed the importance of “sphere work” pertaining to certain lines and how being able to be in our inner world and then emerge to come into relationship in the second sphere is vital for our work.

We then came together as an (almost full) ensemble and went around using Miciah’s suggestion for a check-in, which was to choose a theme song for our day. Miciah chose “Wiggle” for her theme song. I chose “Fake Plastic Trees” by Radiohead, the lyrics of which start off:

Her green plastic watering can for her fake Chinese rubber plant In the fake plastic earth.
That she bought from a rubber man in a town full of rubber plans to get rid of itself, it wears her out.
She lives with a broken man,
A cracked polystyrene man who just
Crumbles and burns.
He used to do surgery for girls in the eighties but gravity always
Wins and it wears him out.

We did a warm-up in somewhat of a popcorn style, wherein people were able to request different exercises from our toolbox of warm-ups. We went through several, including ice walking; Katie requested yoga, but I had emailed Mark that I was not sure I would be up to teaching that day. I requested prana work.

We then moved into working through the first scene of the play, into the Edmund and Gloucester scene, and then finally the Edmund and Edgar scene. After running the first scene, we talked about who owns the table. We decided that when the God’s spies enter, it is the God’s spies, but when Lear starts speaking it is Lear’s table.

A Report from The Stanton School: Telling the Story of Lear

(This post is by Adriana Nocco, BMC class of 2016.)

Today at Stanton we warmed up with the chair game, and played around with having specific restrictions/rules in place (example: being required to move gracefully, being required to make direct eye contact with another person before getting up out of one’s chair). We then played around with having absolutely no restrictions whatsoever.

We then spent the remainder of our time together working to create an existential, campfire storytelling sort of version of King Lear. Each Stanton group was responsible for telling the specific act that they’ve been working on (Roz and I were responsible for Act 5). Each person was also responsible for creating at least one “illumination” (as their Lear character) during an act that was different than the one they were telling with their Stanton group, and Catharine, as Lear, was responsible for creating an illumination/disruption for every act. The “illuminations” were meant to enhance/go beyond the story, and were representations of the introspective, internal lives of our Lear characters.

The experience of creating this “campfire” felt incredibly evocative and meaningful. It allowed us to visualize both the literal events that occur during the play and the introspective events that occur inside the minds of the characters. I thought it was especially fascinating to catch a glimpse into the secret lives and struggles of each person’s Lear character, which we never get to do while simply reading our lines aloud. This experience also allowed us to really feel the weight of the numerous deaths that have occurred by the end of the play, to which we sometimes feel desensitized due to their sheer number and to our constant, direct involvement in them as our Lear characters.

A Report from Rehearsal: God’s Spies and Illuminations

(This post is by Amelia Couderc, BMC class of 2016.)

Today in rehearsal we “opened a can of worms.”

In our work with Stanton, we’ve experimented with different ways of telling the story of King Lear in our own words. Making sense of Shakespeare and Lear can be somewhat daunting and condensing or synthesizing all of the events/characters/themes of the play is a difficult task. So we played with how to tell the story as if we were addressing a class of kindergartners. In telling the story this way, we developed ways to enhance and make sense of each act with our Stanton groups. I worked with Cathy and Sam. The exercise really helped me understand elements of the plot that had been fuzzy before. And, for me, it pulled King Lear out of an antiquated and stuffy academic place into one that was more whimsical and clear.

In rehearsal today, we used this model of telling the story of King Lear in our own words, act by act, but changed the given circumstances. What if we were telling the story of Lear to each other? What if we were all God’s spies meeting on the bank of the river Seine at night, gathered around the campfire to tell the French existentialist version of Lear? And thus the can of worms was opened….

Our ensemble accesses the world of King Lear through the body and mind of the God’s spy. God’s spies are the observers of the world; they are the spies of God. They see the world very clearly from a cosmic perspective. God’s spies are humans who live normal lives (my God’s spy character likes to hike where moss grows), but they gather every so often to tell the story of King Lear. Once we sit at the table, our “stage,” and begin our retelling/re-sharing, the God’s spies can access any character they choose to. But once a person stands for a character, it is theirs. The God’s spies can echo or reinforce a character that is already “stood for,” but they can’t stand for them. Once I (as a God’s spy) stand for Edmund, I am Edmund (but still a God’s spy). This allows for us to step in and out of our “Lear character” as we see fit.

I like to think of my God’s spy character as a conduit for story–for the play.

As God’s spies we gathered today to the tell the existentialist Lear.
However, as the retelling was taking place, we were given the prompt by our directors of creating “illuminations.” These illuminations were moments in which we could step in to the story as it was told and share a piece of our Lear character. The illuminations could manifest in many different ways, external or internal. Here are just some of the external illuminations I witnessed during our retelling today:

Cordelia passing a pillow to Lear. Lear accepting.
Lear standing on a bench out in the rain
Gloucester sorting through newspapers
Edgar blowing on glass bottles in the fireplace
Cornwall firmly stomping boots

The aftermath of creating illuminations
The aftermath of creating illuminations: The ensemble reflects.

As all of the illuminations took place alongside the retelling, the thread of story never faltered. The stable through-line of our existentialist King Lear allowed for the illuminations to wander off into unknown territories.

I left the experience feeling like our gathering generated a beautiful series of attempts, choices, and studies in character and presence.

A Report From Rehearsal: Exploring the Physicality of the Characters (Post Two)

(This post is by Kristin Kury, BMC class of 2016.)

“A lot was done, there’s more to do. Let’s go!”
-My iambic pentameter check in that is applicable to our rehearsal process

For the last hour of our rehearsal we got to play in the Teaching Theater and investigate where our God Spies and our Shakespeare characters live in our bodies. Given nothing but an eclectic soundtrack, a rack full of trench coats, and the freedom to move throughout the black box, we were let loose.

We were told to stay initially as independent God Spies, but we eventually began to interact with one another. This was particularly interesting because we had no way of knowing if someone else was their God Spy or their Shakespeare character. However, in our post-activity discussion many people seemed to be able to tell the difference.

Personally, what I enjoyed most about this activity was the sense of play. It wasn’t about performing, or figuring out what’s “right”–it was just exploration. Nothing mattered, and yet everything could be a great new discovery.

A Report From Rehearsal: Exploring the Physicality of the Characters

(This post is by Cathy Campo, BMC class of 2019.)

We started today’s rehearsal with a check-in in iambic pentameter. For example, mine was “I miss snow. Come back, please. I want to play.” Next, Alexandra led us in a short but wonderful yoga session (pictured).

Lear YogaWe did a few rounds of the ‘chair game’ we learned from the NIE Theatre’s workshop (pictured), further working on our strategy and making sure that not more than one person was going for the same chair at a time. Mark then joined us, offering his check-in about his brain exploding from thinking in iambic pentameter, and then discussing the physicality of our God’s spies. “Where does your God spy live in your body?” He asked. “Be in an engaged body that is not the same as your walking-on-campus body.” He advised us to have a physical adjustment when transforming into our spy and told us to be really alive in our senses throughout the entirety of the play, which is something we’ve been working on a lot through exercises such as “ice walking” and “pranayama.”

Following this, we moved on to our scrap metal game from February 8th. We each made our way onto the large tabletop one at a time. We embraced our power, moving to the best place to scan the playing field. Then we placed our respective metal pieces in the most perfect position. Finally, we moved off the table and to any open chair beside the one we had started in. Our final masterpiece of metal objects is pictured.

Masterpiece of metal objects Lear exerciseMost interesting to me in this exercise was the moment in which the person made her choice of where to place her object. We really took the time to be in our bodies, taking about 15 or so seconds to think of where to place our metal pieces. Something to consider is that our characters in Lear who make much bigger decisions presumably take a lot more time. The game also caused an interesting juxtaposition from the powerful feeling I had in deciding it was my turn to go and the vulnerability I felt at first of not knowing where to place my metal piece.

Finally, we moved onto some movement improv (which was pretty cool for me because I’m actually in a movement improv class right now). “Use the music as a soundtrack to the soul of your spy/character,” advised Mark. We explored questions like, how does our character (both our spy and Lear character(s)) stand? How do they sit? How do they tie their shoes, move around the perimeter of the room, etc.? Together, we interacted and used the space to discover many things about our characters.