Episode 239: Dropping In


The Shakespeare and Company intensive was challenging both physically and mentally and out of a group of 60 people who began it, only 57 people finished. One of those people who dropped out was my scene partner, and that was brought about because I stood up for myself and asked for what I needed. It was another huge learning milestone.

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Hello, hello, welcome back. Thank you for being here with me today. So happy to be here. I’m still on my wild, long journey. I’m still in Worcestershire at the recording of this, but you will probably hear it when I’m in Scotland or Italy or somewhere else, I don’t know, far from now. 

But I am still eager to tell you some more about my Shakespeare and Company experience, which was so revelatory and changed my life in so many big, big, big ways. One of the exercises we did was to start with where we had begun. For instance – I’m Diana, this is Salt Lake City, Utah, on June 10, 1961. And then we drew a whole river of experience in which there were stepping stones that represented different key moments in our life or key places, or key people, and we were supposed to fill them in and give them a shape as to what they might look like. So there were shapes in my river of life that represented Palisades, and Italy, and Nonino’s house, and Boston University, and Greece, and China, and Rome, where my brother was born, and Nyack, where my grandmother lived. And then there were experiences on the outside – watching my drunken mother run naked into the street; getting spit at on the school bus; my 18th birthday party where the guy who I had a crush on for two years finally told me he liked me; getting married; directing my first production – and I created this picture of the river of my life. 

Once everyone had completed their own individual River of Life pictures, the teachers divided us up into two groups, and we stood at opposite diagonal ends of the room. And we were going to cross the river of our lives and, touching down upon only four or five of the stepping stones, to tell the rest of the room what those were all about. It was such a fun and dynamic experience, and I  surprised myself by jumping up to be the very first one. I jumped across a few of the stepping stones, and then I sang a song that we had learned with my singing group, Who’s on Top. It was a funny song by the Roches: 

Sung:  “Oh, it’s bad for me, it’s bad for me, the knowledge that you’re going mad for me, I feel certain my friends would be glad for me. But it’s bad for me…” 

Silly song. I loved hearing everybody else’s stories. Every experience like this was bringing us closer and closer. By the end of the first week, we were given assignments for scenes that we were going to be doing and working on for the rest of the three weeks that we were at the intensive. They asked us to tell them what other parts we had played in the past, and, although I said I had played the Nurse, I was assigned the scene of the Nurse and Juliet: “The clock struck nine…” My scene partner, who was to be playing Juliet, was this girl who was kind of odd and quite large, and at my very first response was, “Wow, she doesn’t look like a Juliet. I don’t understand this.” But I decided, okay, I have to trust in the gods of Shakespeare and Company and believe that they know what they’re doing. That assignment came at the end of our first Saturday evening. I had all of Sunday free, as did everyone else, and what I had decided to do was race home in my car, jump in bed with my kids and see them for 24 hours, which is exactly what I did. 

We spent 24 hours having a wonderful, beautiful Sunday, having breakfast out and doing all kinds of fun things. Then I left again on Sunday night and zoomed back so that I could be there for Monday morning’s Voice Class. That’s the way we started our mornings. On the very first day, every week, we had a four-hour voice class. Being in voice class was an incredible thing. It just taught me so much about myself as a human being. I wrote this in my journal about it: 

The paradox in my nature is that I’m a big and powerful person, and yet I give up that power in my speaking voice. Why do I have to talk sweetly and quietly. Well, I know why. Because I was told so often that I was unladylike and inappropriate by Mamse. That’s my governess from way back. Well she’s dead, and I hated her when she was alive, so why do I heed her teaching even now? Because I want people to like me. If I’m powerful and loud, I will scare people, yet I need that power in my work. 

Prior to this class, this intensive, I had spoken in a very sweet little voice (like this) much of my adult life. It was only in voice class that my voice dropped in to its lower registers, and I found the power that I possessed in that voice, my voice. Now I realize, as I’m getting older, and as I have stopped doing voice warm ups every day, in preparation for my rehearsals, I found that it’s gotten raggedy. I am sad about that, but I guess it’s just part of aging. 

In any case, the second week began, and the huge activity that we were going to engage in on that very first day, was called the actor-audience experience. Shakespeare and Company believes very deeply in the connection between the actors on the stage and the audience in the seats – and if you guys heard me tell you about Jude Law playing Hamlet you’ll know a little bit about what I mean. So they divided the entire class up into three sections, and during the exercise one section of the class was going to be the actors, and they were going to be on stage and they they had just a few little lines to speak, the second group were going to be the front row of the audience, and the third group were going to be the last row of the audience. They wanted us to take notes and remember how we felt in each particular group so that we could feed back later. 

I started in the last row of the audience. And I must tell you that I hated that, because I was so angry at not being able to really share in the experience that seemed to be happening very intensely between the actors on stage and the people in the first row. And then when it came my time to be an actor it was terrifying. Each actor stood on stage at the same time as one other actor, with a voice teacher next to each one of them who was trying to help them remember to breathe and remember to look at the audience. It was wild – they just touched your belly and tried to get you to breathe down deeper and lower, and the things that people came out with were just astounding and terrifying in some ways. There was one guy who said, “My dad broke my ribs with a shovel.” He yelled this out. And there were a couple of women who spoke about being raped as children. These things just came from them, because the prompt was, “What I want you to know about me is…” and then the second prompt was, “What I don’t want you to know about me is…” And then you had to just point to a body part and name it. It was incredible what things were elicited just by those very simple prompts. 

What happened to me was I said, “What I want you to know about me is that I am making a difference in my little corner of the world. What I don’t want you to know about me is that I don’t forgive someone if they hurt me.”t And then I pointed to my left ring finger, and said it was naked and empty. It was crazy. Interesting. 

That evening, they had us put together small dances from some of the words that we had heard that day all through the actor audience experience. I remember putting together short dances with my group that were choreographed around the words Shovel Warrior, Mother, Barren. It was really wild.

Dancing was an integral part of the Shakespeare And Company intensive and I loved to dance. I realized that I remembered being a ballet dancer when I was very young, and how much joy that brought me and how much I had missed that. So I resolved to bring dancing into my theatre company as a regular part of what we did. 

Then came the exercise where Shakespeare and Company teachers taught us how they teach text to children, and it was a gold mine. It’s a process called Dropping In where the actors don’t know what their words are going to be yet on their script. Two voice teachers sit with the actors, so if it is a scene for two people, two people are sitting across from each other and looking into each other’s faces, and then two voice teachers sit on the side of them. And they just feed them one word at a time and they ask them word-association questions about that word. And you start to explore the text in a very personal, meaningful way. But my scene partner, Heather, who was playing Juliet to my Nurse, became so lethargic in her chair, that she actually fell asleep. I was horrified. And I panicked, and I started directing so much energy at her, willing her to find some energy. The coaches were prompting her to open her eyes and look at me. They even got us both up on our feet and had us march around and jump up and down, but as soon as we sat down for a second attempt, she soon fell asleep again. It was so frustrating. 

They ended our work, and then asked us if there was anything we wanted to say. I said that I wished that the energy could have been equal on both sides of conversation. The woman who was feeding me in nodded, so I figured that was okay to say, and she asked if Heather wanted to respond, but she said no. We went off to lunch, and I was jumping out of my skin with frustration, I just had to talk about it. I ran to my mentor, Kevin, and it turned out that he was going to be at my next dropping in session, which would be later in the night. 

Unfortunately, there was a dance class in between where scene partners were supposed to be learning a dance with their scene partner so that they could deepen their relationship for their scene work. My scene partner wanted nothing to do with me after that first dropping-in session. She raised her hand and she said to the teacher that she had to go to the bathroom. And the teacher said, “Well, could you wait until after the explanation of the dance?” And she said, “Well, if I have an accident, you’re going to clean it up.” It was miserable and uncomfortable. And I said to her, “Listen, you can go ahead, I’ll wait.” And she said, “No, fine, fine, I’m constipated now. It’s no use.” And for the rest of the dance, she wouldn’t look at me. She was angry. I didn’t know what to do, and had a horrible time. The dance teacher held her back at the end of the class, and I ran ahead to the next dropping in session to talk to Kevin. He said not to worry and that he knew exactly what he was going to do with the session. 

They started doing dropping in, and she was again having a rough time. So he stopped it and he asked if there was anything that they could do to help her and what was she going through. She ended up confessing that she was on some very heavy-duty medication for bipolar schizophrenia, and that the medication made her lethargic and it made her sleep 14 hours a day. But it did keep the voices from talking to her. And all I could think was “Holy crap! How did she make it this far? How did she get to this class? How did the teachers who were taking applications think that she could survive this, with that kind of heavy onus on her, you can’t sleep 14 hours a day, there’s 12 hours a day of classwork. And it’s intense, and very difficult.”

But Kevin was brilliant. He got her to say what was hard for her and why it was hard, and to talk about the voices in her head. Then he asked us what we would like to do. There was huge silence. And I said, “I don’t know, I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop.” Meaning I was trying to figure out how this was gonna go forward. And that’s when she lost it. She started to scream. And they got me up out of the chair and they just took me away. And I said, “Oh my god, well, what is going to happen now?” And they said, “Don’t worry, you did her a favor, because she doesn’t belong here.”

The next day she was gone, and I felt horribly guilty about that, but at the same time, I also felt like I had stood up for myself and asked for what I needed, which was a rare thing in the last few years for me. And as much as I felt responsible for hurting another person, I also felt proud of myself. So it was a very crazy time of hugely disparate emotion. But blessedly I got a new scene partner and a brand new scene and I’ll tell you a little bit more about that in the next episode which will be the conclusion of this experience. Thank you for being here. I’ll see you next time.

Published by dianathebard

Podcasting about growing up in the Hudson Valley in the 60s and 70s, falling in love, raising kids, getting divorced and being a free and creative world traveler!

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