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