the storytelling tree

As the first rehearsal of Cymbeline approached, I grew a bit apprehensive.  I was (and still am) a bit unsure of exactly what I’m going to playing onstage, and what kind of Cymbeline I was going to be a part of.  Education work-wise, there were less Big Themes n’ Ideas jumping off the page for me to latch on to to present as part of the workshops I’m planning.  I chalked this up also to having less experience with, and therefore fewer preconceptions about this play compared to previous work on Macbeth, Henry IV Part One and Twelfth Night, all of which I had acted in.   So when Marcy asked me if I was excited about the impending beginning of the process, I did something you can seldom do to your boss outside of the arts community: I told her the truth.  No.  Not so much excited as full of gut-churning anxiety that I felt at-a-loss about where to start.

Like the rad boss she is, Marcy didn’t call me an idiot, but rather encouragingly relayed a discussion she’d been a part of at a meeting of “The Shakespeare Readers” (an organization of people who get together and read Shakespeare plays) the previous month.  One of them was struck by how much the play seemed to be about Faith–not so much religious, but faith and loyalty and trust in a relationship or in another person.  Characters place great faith in loved ones or in their nation, taking personal risks and going to great lengths to show others that they believe.  Yet that faith can be shaken, sometimes by mere suggestion, and the results of abandoned faith can be catastrophic.  However, faith can be restored and can return stronger than ever. 

So I took this as a sign to reaffirm my own faith in myself as an artist working with students and as a performer in Cymbeline, and in the process itself, that a great group of individuals would soon arrive to further inspire me and create something worthy of an audience’s attention.  I came up with a smokin’ new workshop idea that very afternoon, and headed into yesterday’s first rehearsal eager to get cracking.

After the read-through, Jeffrey gave everybody an opportunity to go around and comment on what they were initially struck by from hearing the play read, and what they thought an audience might be able to hook into from watching the play.  This was my chance to listen to everybody’s honest perceptions, and steal ideas for Big Themes to explore in my workshops–sweet!  (Also sweet that Jeffrey allowed for our opinions and and input to be heard, which is not a given in a rehearsal process.)  Referring to my notes, here’s a sampling of some of the stuff that fascinated the cast on Day One:

Love Faith and Care.
Innocence Under Siege.
Perceptions of Others.
True Love.
Familial Interconnection.
Righting Wrongs.
Being a Good Person in the World.

…Not a little, right? There is definitely a lot going on in this play, and a lot that can touch people, and I am amongst a group of folks who spend their lives trying to find nuggets of heart and wisdom inside plays to bring out for an audience, so no surprise there.  Plus, it’s Shakespeare, and late-period epic Shakespeare with an almost kitchen-sink feel at that, so now I’m feeling gorged with rather than starved for meaning and connections.  Hooray.

So what was my take upon hearing that first read? Well.  Jeffrey had talked about this epic play having a chamber feel to it, that despite all the multiple locations and crazy occurrences, it was still a piece of human storytelling held down by complex characters.  That’s going to be perfect for the close environs of our studio production.  Spoiler here, a tree will figure largely in the design and action of the show, and that tree will not only be a literal tree, but also a storytelling tree, giving the sense of the ancient tradition of starting from a simple, safe place and branching out into all creation.  Jeffrey said, “You could burn this tree and it’s still going to be there.”  Yes. Awesome.  Our stories, our legends, our histories live on after us and carry our spirits out into the whole dang universe, little and impermanent as we are.

So Tree stuck with me as we read, and I began to think of the two playfellows, Posthumus and Imogen, playing and telling stories at this tree.  Their childhood bond blossoms (npi) into love, and that’s where the trouble begins in the play.  King Cymbeline isn’t cool with his daughter Imogen loving his ward Posthumus when her stepmom his wife the Queen has other designs for her matrimony, namely her son Cloten.  So Posthumus is dispatched off to Italy, just as war comes to Britain, and Imogen ends up in Wales trying to reunite with Posthumus.  From the simple tale of boy and girl in love, the story branches (pi) out into far-flung directions, and begins to trammel up more and more characters and Big Ideas.  We expand our worldview.  The further we look into a simple story, the deeper it gets.  Yet it all starts from that acorn, and it’ll all get back there eventually.  The audience gets to decide which branches to hang on, which fruit to taste, when to rest and get some shade.  (I am going to milk this metaphor forever and you’re going to like it.)

Now obviously, from those multitudes of ideas, feelings, and perceptions, we have to decide how to clearly and compellingly tell the story/s, and tomorrow at tablework, those decisions will begin to be made.  Personally, it helps me enormously that I’m already relating Cymbeline to other things I’m reading (The History of Loveby Nicole Krauss and Red Light Winterby Adam Rapp) and to things I’m living.  I’m getting personally hooked in, and can come to students enthusiastically showing them paths to getting themselves hooked in.  Last week is a long time ago, and tomorrow can’t get here soon enough to get to the next part of the story.



1 Response to “the storytelling tree”

  1. 1 chrissycons
    February 24, 2008 at 3:43 am

    Yay! Good read, my dear. Proud of what you’re doing.

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