It’s All Part Of The Process: A Masterclass with Rona Munro
Almost a month here in Scotland, and I still feel a sense of uncertainty. It’s weird. Supposedly, I should feel increasingly at ease the more I settle into the Scottish way of life, the day-to-day rehearsal & class schedule, the city. But for some reason, a sense of doubt still lurks in and around me. Maybe it’s the fact that there’s one week left before we open our show about major political conflicts in the U.S.; maybe it’s the unpredictable weather here; maybe it’s just me being me. But whatever the reason, it’s there. And this past Thursday, Rona Munro has taught us how to embrace this fact.
A contemporary playwright who specializes in medieval history, Munro wrote the critically acclaimed trilogy The James Plays (James I: The Key Will Keep the Lock, James II: Day of the Innocents, and James III: The True Mirror). These three plays detail the life and drama of King James I, II and III of Scotland respectively. Repeatedly during the masterclass with Munro, she mentioned that many of her audiences suggested that they knew nothing about Medieval Scotland. It was this reality that very few people knew and cared about Medieval Scotland that motivated Munro to write this trilogy. Like most of the works of the playwrights we had the pleasure to interact with, this trilogy was, and still is, a collective attempt to fill in the gaps of Scotland’s history and identity. Indeed, if there is one thing I have learned since being here, it’s that “learning about who you are” and “finding your self-worth” is at the heart of Scottish culture. One could argue that it is a question pondered by all people; but comparing the two years I’ve lived in the U.S. with the three weeks I’ve spent in Scotland, the question of “Who am I?” has proven itself to be a more obvious national anthem for the Scots.
And this anthem can be expressed on any scale: nationally or in the rehearsal room. Munro spent some time sharing the 5-month-long rehearsal process of The James Plays with us. At one point, she interjected her own narrative to describe her relationship with the rest of the company: “The extraordinary connection still makes me teary.” Munro then dove into a very personal yet relatable observation: “As generous as actors are, there were definitely still times when it was pure chaos and everyone was just like, ‘What the hell is going on?’” Though Munro was sharing the sense of uncertainty during their rehearsal process, I couldn’t help but nod in agreement. What Munro described was exactly how I have felt many times in The Abode rehearsal room throughout the past three weeks—a process filled with confusion and trying to unravel the unknown. It can be so overwhelming at times that you start to lose your way, doubting yourself: Why am I even here? Am I really doing the right thing? But Munro then offered the painkiller to this sense of uncertainty: Despite the chaos, remember that you have each other—it’s the teamwork that ultimately creates the experience and memory. What a coincidence! In the midst of the overwhelming confusion and doubt I’ve felt, Munro comes in and advises us that it’s perfectly normal!
You would expect the topics of a playwright’s masterclass to revolve around processes of playwriting and theatre-making. And yes, we definitely got that from Munro; she described and explained these exact processes with great detail and vibrancy. But it was astonishingly comforting to realize that what we are currently going through was exactly what a successful playwright has also gone through. Munro continued through the masterclass repeating to us the fact that confusion, doubt, and uncertainty are all part of the process. She proved this by mentioning that even 4 years after a successful run of The James Plays, she is still trying to make changes to the script. Thinking about it, it makes sense. Munro clearly loves and cares for The James Plays. It was very clear through her description of the processes of playwriting and rehearsals that she genuinely loves what she does. It also came across clearly that no matter how much uncertainty she has felt or still feels, loving what you do, having faith that the theatre piece is a story that only you can tell, and trusting one another in the process is the cure.