(This post is by Roz Sullivan-Lovett, HC class of 2019.)
Our first day in Iceland started early and moved fast, beginning with our arrival at the Kex Hostel just after 8:00am and continuing with meeting Chris Foster and Bára Grímsdottír, one of Iceland’s best-known folk singers.
Bára taught us a number of songs and educated us on the syllabic structure of rímur, the strategies around matching tunes to words (basically, rímur singers match a story to a traditional tune that they feel fits the story–but each story and each tune can be mixed and matched in any way, as long as their structures function together correctly), and the stories that they tell. Chris Foster played us a number of pre- and just barely post-war recordings of traditional rímur singing, some of which I’ve attempted to find, but all I’ve turned up is this 1940 recording sung by one Sigurd Bardarson.
As when [Philadelphia-based Icelandic composer] Stephán visited us at Bryn Mawr, I was struck by the stylistic structure of the music: Icelandic folk songs often do not resolve at the end of their phrases like much of Western music, and, as we learned, many songs rely on half-steps and small intervals to keep the singer’s voice going for the entire rímur, which may well be hours long. As we moved onto tvisong (which use harmonies built on fifths), I think all of us felt the strength of the music and the history behind it. It’s quite unlike anything else I’ve ever heard.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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
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.
(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.
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).
We 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.
Most 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.
(This post is by Alexandra Seits, BMC class of 2016.)
In our prep class the day before our February 19 trip to Stanton, Catharine gave us some verbs to help us tell our scene in our act, including “to engage,” “to enthrall,” “to excite,” and “to captivate.” The next day in our post-Stanton debrief, we discussed the successes and challenges we encountered. Ultimately, one of the challenges that we tossed around was doing the work we need to do (being fully engaging and game for the students) when we are not totally in the mental space to do so. I am putting it into my own words, however, essentially just not feeling up to par to be able to show up fully in ways that are expected of us. For me this brought up the times when I have had to teach yoga classes when I have not felt yogic at all, and how I try to deal. I am hoping to use these tools when I encounter not feeling up to par to act or teach in our 360 so that I can be as fully present, flexible and creative as possible in given instances.
As we have been doing three word check-ins as a group, I have thought about how oftentimes when I am feeling off before teaching a yoga class, I move through what is similar to Mark’s ball of light meditation; however, it is just a quick closing of my eyes and sitting with myself and moving my awareness through different stacked spaces in my body. Having physical spaces to check in with in my body is really vital to my ability to notice and then choose to let go of what is holding me back from being able to teach. One of my goals for myself in this 360 is to start to implement this tool (especially as I was inspired by this challenge we discussed during our debrief) as a prep to show up and step into my full capability. An example of how I often do this is I check in with seven centers from the root of my body to the crown of my head. For example, oftentimes I have something come up in my solar plexus area, which is a place I hold a lot of doubt or insecurity. If I do not move my awareness through my body where I may be carrying anxiety, doubt, or exhaustion, it is nearly impossible for me to even speak, and I cannot ground myself in a way that allows me to show up in ways that are needed of me–whether that’s helping Caroline and Kristin teach our Stanton group, or in a new game, or reading our text.
The link I am including in this post discusses the “system of channels (nadis) and centers of energy (chakras)” which are just different vocabulary or ways of thinking about the ball of light moving through us in the meditation Mark leads us through. Personally, this has been the most help for me to have different places to bring my awareness and have an inner knowing of what I am checking in with as the ball of light moves through us in Mark’s meditation. Just like our three word check-ins or non-verbal check-ins we used with the Stanton students I find it helpful to know what I am checking in with in each of these seven places. Hopefully the words “spirituality” and “energy” in this link do not turn too many people off, and the other vocabulary used in this link can help your awareness expand in your meditations and check-ins.
Also I find that yoga is an interesting thing to consider as we maintain our awareness in our journey of going into Stanton with the privilege we carry into the space of Stanton as college students. Personally my teaching of yoga, as a white female using an appropriated practice and translated vocabulary is something I feel I need to acknowledge; moreover, the tricky dance of sharing the gifts that the practice of yoga holds while maintaining awareness of my privilege feels like an area of examination and exploration similar to that of walking into Stanton as an able-bodied, upper middle class, white college student. The “given circumstances” for my life are important things for me to acknowledge as I challenge myself to use the practice of yoga to show up fully in our work in the 360.
This link above gives the seven major chakras in Sanskrit, so I’ll list them below in English:
First Chakra – Root
Second Chakra – Belly (Sacral)
Third Chakra – Solar Plexus
Fourth Chakra – Heart
Fifth Chakra – Throat
Sixth Chakra – Third Eye
Seventh Chakra – Crown
(This post is by Bridget St. John, BMC class of 2017.)
The initial check-ins included words like mess, scattered, wasted (meant to be rested), early, nervous, angry, late, hopeless, distraught, sad, tense, anxious, and Coke tea. We were able to push through this energy and accomplish a lot today!
Beginning with a reflection, we continued to expand the God’s spy character toolbox. Where has your character been? What has she seen?
Moving upstairs, we started to play with the shift between the world of Lear and the God’s spies. What are the ways in which your spy informs your Lear character? People began to make very interesting choices by switching seats, calling others over to them, and deciding to stand (on the table or just from their seat). Each shift, glance, head turn, and other minor movements become magnified at the table. Alliances become clear, and I personally really started to feel the tension of this first scene.
(This post is by Adriana Nocco, BMC class of 2016.)
We started our meeting with a check-in (in which Mark coined the word “frumple-jumpled”) and a discussion about the gear we will need to outfit ourselves for our Iceland trip. I can’t believe it’s only two weeks away!
Next, we laid down flat on our backs and conducted a meditation exercise in order to get in touch with our God’s spy character identities (exploring/observing landscapes, situations, etc. in our minds as God’s spies). Mark guided us as we explored the super privileged worldviews of our God’s spy characters, and at one point, read King Lear’s “God’s spies” speech to us as we meditated for inspiration.
Lastly, we relocated to the Teaching Theater to work at our table, a.k.a. the place where God’s spies meet once a year to discuss our observations and perform. We were assigned specific seats at the table for the first time, and got to work with microphones as well (handheld, mostly on stands). We worked on transitioning between our God’s spy characters and our Lear characters (“leaning into” the different types of characters at specific moments of our choosing), and also worked on building telepathic connections. In order to expand our God’s spy toolbox, we played with eye contact and movement, played the “chair game” out in the Atrium at one point, and did our best to remain open and focused.
I have provided a picture I took from the point of view of my chair at the table, and a picture of the text from Lear interspersed with “God’s spy prayers” (formed from Lear dialogue). We explored and worked with saying these prayers in the first sphere as Lear and Kent argue during the first scene of the play.