• saracoudensinger


1000% thanks to Matheus for editing these. And being a brilliant genius. But also the editing. Because technology.

So! The following will be kind of like a video-walkthrough of the very rough draft of the improv process.

We began by reading the scene from the libretto aloud, after which I think I said something like, "Ok, go!", and this happened:

We're still kind of paraphrasing Congreve's libretto here, trying to make sure we capture all the plot points and character turns. Go us!

We then discussed how the improv went and all our feelings about it, and did another improv version that was more about us saying what we thought the characters felt. It seemed more like a discussion, even though we were still trying to basically say what our characters said in the original version. I'm not including the video of this second improv, mostly just for time.

Then I tried a bit of an experiment: drawing on an exercise my Suzuki violin teacher used to do with me when I was around seven, I asked Matheus what colors he would assign to the various moments in his character's journey through the scene. His color-map accounted for all the major shifts in the plot and all his character's reactions, in a way that was both subtle, and more intuitive / less, like, trying-to-do-right-by-the-text. I told him my color-map for my character, and we ended up with the following as our third improv attempt:

I found this one super-interesting, not because my acting or dialogue was any better, but because I felt genuinely connected (at least for myself) to this deep well of guilt that Ino is drowning in. In this iteration of the improv, with Matheus / Athamas piling on all these compliments toward Ino that just make her feel more like a betrayer, I really got all these reasons for her guilt, and they were pretty complicated: she feels bad not just because she can't have who she wants, but because to actually get Athamas would mean taking him against her father's wishes, stealing him from her sister, and jeopardizing her role in her family and her society, as well as their perception (a self-perception as well as the perception of everyone around her) of herself as the "good" daughter. And the fact that Athamas, after finding out about her feelings, seems more excited, or...eager to hear about it than repulsed or shocked, I think is in itself very painful for Ino, because it feels like a reward, and she can't figure out why she deserves to be rewarded--or because it means she can actually possibly have what she wants, and she isn't used to understanding her desires in a reciprocal situation.

Matheus, who'd started out kind of feeling like it was pretty shallow of his character to basically switch affections, in the course of one duet, from Semele, who he's supposed to be crazy about, to Ino, ended up understanding Athamas's change of heart like this:

...which I thought was both brilliant and extremely helpful.

Since doing this exercise with Matheus, I've been having conversations with improv people--my friend Ash Cheshire, who's a licensed drama therapist and game creator, and Dr. Joyce Lu, who is a professor of drama and the director of LA Playback Theatre--as well as my friend / director Eric Hayes, who does a lot of work in terms of not just directing, but deeply creating the theater he produces. It's been SUPER-helpful, and also a bit daunting, to realize that in order to make this piece an actual show, I am going to need to not just copy down what my friends and castmates come up with in improv, but find Semele's themes, what I want to explore in it, what it's really about, that kind of thing. I believe in the material, though. Semele as it stands is so great. It's funny, it's strange, it's sad, and it has these two wild, centrifugal forces in Semele and Juno, with their devastating, incredible music, and the specific characterizations that make that music possible.

Anyway, thanks so much for your time, and see you soon! You know, virtually speaking.

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