(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 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).
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 Amelia Couderc, BMC class of 2016.)
While participating in a workshop with the New International Encounter theater company at the beginning of the semester, we learned this high energy strategic chair swapping game. From what I remember, the Bryn Mawr students didn’t really catch on to the game in the workshop.
(Well, at least I didn’t catch on.)
Since the workshop, we have taken the game back to Bryn Mawr and worked on our chair swapping skills. I stepped out during rehearsal today to catch a minute or so of the game
(Amy adds: Stay tuned for the fun video Amelia took! I’ll post it below–as soon as I figure out how to get it to work with the blog.)
Here are the basic rules:
One person stands on the perimeter of the chair field, preferably a good distance away from an empty chair in the field. Their goal is to make it to the empty chair moving at a steady pace. The players in the chair field swap chairs so that the person who is “it” doesn’t make it to a chair. Once you stand or lean forward, you can’t sit back down. The game technically has no end, but we usually stop after five-10 minutes.
In order to succeed, you have to let yourself be present and open to perceive the entire space, make snap decisions, take risks, employ ruthless strategy, and control your body.
It’s one of the many games we play to warm ourselves up and get into the mindset of our Lear world.