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Our filming session went well, and we appreciated the audience response to the slaves mocking Ballio, and to the work being piled onto the smallest person in the scene. On the whole this has been a fruitful collaboration, combining Gian Giacomo’s expertise in physical movement to actualize Seth’s translation and Ada’s interesting concept. Kenneth’s willingness to take a beating and yelp a lot were perhaps as essential as his dramaturgical eye. And Dan has been your faithful blogging correspondent.
We were able to make it through the scene in one take, but we did have to go back to re-tape a section where there were some problems with the microphone sound. This only involved Seth and Kenneth. (We were relieved that we did not have to change costumes and do the courtesans’ entrance again.) We had a couple of other goofs in the scene, but we were content to leave well enough alone. In case you want to look for those… when Dan changed from a courtesan to Pseudolus, the mic pack fell out of his pocket and he had to pick it up. And Gian Giacomo left one of the courtesan masks on stage at the end.
After watching some of the other scenes, we thought it might be a good idea to tape a prologue to establish Pseudolus and Callidorus as eavesdropping before the scene begins. We hope that will be helpful for audiences watching the video.
Session 10: July 16
We rehearsed in the Forest Theatre today at 11:00 AM. We began with some discussion of costume choices, which ended when Ada successfully convinced Dan that wearing the pink head scarf with the orange wrap and the gaudiest courtesan mask might be a little excessive.
After some work on the transition into the prostitute puppetry portion, we were able to run the scene twice for a small audience (Chris Bungard, Fred Franko, and a young woman who might have been a prospective UNC student). Fred Franko gave us some helpful notes on gesture. We had a good discussion with Chris about where the audience should sit, and he reminded us to keep our heads up and face out while using the masks so that they read for the audience and the cameras.
One interesting thing we have realized is that our initial concept of having the slaves mock Ballio has morphed into the slaves not only mocking Ballio when he turns his back, but also mocking each other when Ballio beats them. Does the slaves’ interaction with each other subvert Ballio’s authority, or does their lack of respect for one another unwittingly support the hierarchical structure in spite of their lack of respect for Ballio? We are excited to perform the scene for the cameras on Thursday!
Session 9: July 13
We were able to run through the scene twice in (mostly) full costume with masks today. Gian Giacomo’s orange mask that Seth is using as Ballio looks great with the purple tunic. After the first run-through, Gian Giacomo suggested that we should try to play the scene a little further forward. We timed our second run: it lasted fourteen minutes and eighteen seconds. We also realized that when we asked for a coat rack, we should actually have asked for a coat tree.
We are delighted to have the weekend off to rest up for our big week of videotaping!
Session 8: July 12
Our session today was in the Forest Theatre at 3:00 PM. Dan and Ada began by testing out how the sand-and-pebble stage surface felt in bare feet. Our initial findings were that working barefoot did not feel especially comfortable, but was not so uncomfortable as to require nixing the idea. When we moved over to the downstage right location that the videographers had recommended for filming, the surface there was more pleasant because there are fewer pebbles. We worked quite a bit on the puppetry portion of the courtesan section, and then we ran the scene with Steve Earnest and Chris Bungard watching. We will be interested in seeing how the coat rack works. We considered trying to rig up the tree on that portion of the stage, but it is covered in sap. And also we can’t move it. Pseudolus E is really coming along!
Session 7: July 10
We asked Ted to watch a run-through today, thinking that it might be possible to use his music for our scene. But in the end we all agreed that improvising the music for the entrance of the prostitutes would fit in better with our metatheatrical DIY aesthetic. Mary Kay Gamel caught the second half of our run, and she suggested that we amp up the courtesans’ resistance to Ballio. We watched video of our previous rehearsal, and then worked on the portion of the scene involving Gian Giacomo and Ada playing all four courtesans while Dan and Kenneth eavesdrop as Pseudolus and Callidorus. We decided to try moving the coat rack, and then we tried two new puppet versions of the Xystilis and Phoenicium, ultimately choosing to have Ada manipulate the masks while Gian Giacomo provides gestures with his arms. We also made some costume decisions, thinking that using draped fabric will work better than having to change into full tunics for the courtesans. The scene is shaping up really well!
Today we finished blocking to the end of the scene, and we decided that the prostitutes should make music and should dance as they come on. Ideally we will find some castanets, tambourines, or other musical jewelery items. We ran through the scene a few times, and filmed two of these runs on Ada’s camera. Sharon James stopped by with some examples of tunics, which are delightful.
Now that we have solidified the blocking for the slaves, that part of the scene is working much better. The part with the prostitutes is dragging a bit. Amy Richlin offered some helpful suggestions for improving that part of the scene (and noted that the part with the slaves is much more effective). We would like to use the full-head courtesan masks, as the commedia masks are not ideal for presenting two of these characters as puppets.
Session 5 (July 2)
Given a two-hour block today, we worked straight through and had a very productive rehearsal. After some initial discussion of our overall concept of the scene (in particular some semantic back-and-forth about the difference between “mocking Ballio” and “subverting Ballio’s authority”), we decided to stick with our original plan for today of solidifying gestures and blocking to clarify the actions of the slaves and their relationship with Ballio. Seth is off-book for much of Ballio’s long monologue, which is really helpful. We also decided to take turns stepping out of the scene to observe and offer direction. Gian Giacomo suggested several new lazzi. Kenneth suggested maintaining a better balance between the two pairs of servants. Ada suggested a funny new bit to replace the 3-and-1 grouping of servants. We have now made a firm decision to use Gian Giacomo’s masks for the scene. We concluded our day by making a list of costume and prop needs.
Session 4 (June 29)
At Ada’s invitation, Toph Marshall stopped by to respond to our work in progress. It was very helpful to have an outside eye. Many of Toph’s notes were about movement. He suggested coordinating the movement of the slaves at the beginning of the scene, and doing more to differentiate the prostitutes from the slaves. Our discussion about clarity and specificity of movement led us to plan to focus in our next rehearsal on solidifying the gestural aspects of the servants mocking Ballio. We also discussed some logistical issues with Sharon James.
Session 3 (June 28)
We walked over to the Forest Theatre together after meeting at Murphey Hall, where Seth had presented us with copies of his new translation of the scene. Seth’s translation emphasizes the tonal shifts of Ballio’s speech, rendering English versions of magisterial and military language. Our first order of business was to transfer our textual analysis from the previous translation to the new one (specifically the places we had chosen for Ballio to shift his focus from one group of slaves to another). Gian Giacomo paced out the downstage edge of the Forest Theatre stage at around 36 feet and suggested we might want to focus on a smaller playing area.
Most of the Forest Theatre stage was uncomfortably sunny, so we worked in the shady part of the stage. We began blocking the scene, establishing an entrance for the whole group and specifying where the slaves split off into two groups of two, then a group of three and one lone character (Ada) who mocks Ballio behind his back while he assigns tasks to the other three slaves. We discovered that it would be logistically best for Ada to play the Boy who gets sent to the market. We will pick up tomorrow by trying to block the entrance of the courtesans.