Coming soon... Updates on Performances and Wrap Up!

I know some of our readers (maybe you!) are anxiously awaiting updates about the women’s performances, the last of which was last night. Those updates are coming soon! We got such great feedback on the way we wrote about the end of the men’s ensemble’s season that I’m going to do the same for this ensemble.

In the meantime, we’ve just added two new pages that might interest you!

The first is our public announcement of our next big project: the first book in what we hope will be a series of critical editions of Shakespeare’s plays, edited and annotated by SIP members old and new. Click this link for more info and a VERY fun, short video!

The second is that the write-up of our 2016-17 case study is now available for you to download and read at your leisure! We wanted to figure out exactly how Shakespeare in Prison “empowers” people to use Shakespeare as a catalyst to radically alter their lives—and their very identities. We’re very excited by what we found. Click here to check it out!

More soon!

- Frannie

Season Eight: Week 38

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“I love coming to Shakespeare. It’s like some kind of peace.”

Tuesday / May 28 / 2019
Written by Emma

T-minus one week until opening night! The auditorium was busy with excited chatter as the ensemble members gathered their costumes and props, working through jitters as they went. The mission for today was to power through the entire show. When we left off last week, we had made it about two thirds of the way through the show before we needed to stop and pack up. With two rehearsals left before show time, a full top-to-bottom run-through was a must! With all eyes on the prize, we formed a standing circle.

We had agreed last Friday as we wrapped up that we could all use a warm up before this evening’s rehearsal got going. And, working as we were with limited time, it needed to be quick! We decided on an exercise that involved us closing our eyes and counting from one to twenty as a group. The single rule to this “game” is that only one person can talk at a time. It sounds simple enough, but in practice it is quite challenging. We climbed our way up to fifteen a few times, then would falter and need to restart when two people called out a number at once. After a few minutes of this the group sensed it was time to move on. We collectively decided to ignore our mistakes and we finally made our way up to twenty. It’s little moments like this that I feel truly define this group—times when, without speaking, everyone seems to land on the best decision for us all. It’s an awesome, goose-bumpy feeling. We lowered the night’s ring and got down to business.

Actors got in place for 1.1 as I sat down in the front row with a script. I do not have an onstage role, and as such, I found myself in the lucky position of being the sole audience member. Over the past nine months I have seen this group work tirelessly towards this moment when things all come together for the first time. I was excited to see what they had up their sleeves, but, more than that, I was looking forward to seeing how the ensemble would channel those pre-show nerves.

The show opened a bit rocky, but instead of dwelling on it, our Viola quickly directed actors to reset from the top, and we started again. After that slight hiccup, the run took off! Absorbed as I was with what was happening onstage, my notes from this evening are scant. However, some highlights of this performance are as follows:

  • Frannie danced across the stage multiple times with a huge inflatable palm tree.

  • Our Antonio, who is by nature quite shy and reserved, spoke loudly and drew her (foam) sword with gusto to defend her dear Sebastian. It was such a large movement that I was taken aback! This was something she would not have done when she joined the ensemble, and it marks some huge jumps in comfort and ability. Hats off! (Oh, and by the way: there are twenty-four hats in this production. Twenty. Four.)

  • The Zannis were spectacular! They were joking around, interacting with the audience (of me, at the moment), and seemed far more comfortable doing their Three Stooge-ian shenanigans this run.

  • Having stepped into the role very late in the season, it was clear that our Olivia had invested hours in drilling her lines. She avoided using her script at all costs and pushed herself to remember as much as she could. The few times that she would forget, instead of faltering she would paraphrase what her line was supposed to convey while staying in character. This is an excellent practice for final performances.

  • With only a few minutes left, we were still making our way through 5.1. Part of our chaotic set includes a dozen emoji beach balls that need to be inflated and deflated every rehearsal. Still fully engrossed in the action downstage, Frannie (wearing a clown nose, of course) began deflating the emojis and setting them to the side to help speed packing along. The effect was hilarious—hopefully we won’t be that pressed on time during final performances, but it definitely added to the ambiance of insanity that defines 5.1.

After Feste sang the show’s final lines, everyone immediately snapped into action packing props and costumes. We powered through this task with great efficiency, taking a mere eleven minutes to get all elements of the show securely stored. It wasn’t until we finished that it hit us—we had run the entire show for the first time! A spectacular accomplishment. Onward to our final rehearsal—and performances!

Friday / May 31 / 2019
Written by Matt

Final dress rehearsal. Nerves and laser-focus. Emoji beach balls and inflatable palm trees. Let’s get this kaleidoscopic cesspool started!

We facilitators were a little bit late getting in today, but the rest of the ensemble had already started setting up: clearing the stage, laying the backdrops out, running lines, and doing everything else they could do without costumes and props. All of this prep work seemed to help us get in the right mindset, and we all got in costume in record time.

Our goal today was to speed through the play, so we were eager to translate our offstage energy into onstage urgency. The opening, however, was a little bit rough. The Captain lost her way on the lines, which threw Viola and the zannis off. My job is to page the curtain for Orsino at the top of the next scene, and I was about ready just to throw the curtain open and have Orsino blow everyone off the stage with her giant “IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE!!!!” Fortunately, the actors stumbled their way to a conclusion that conveyed the necessary information, the zannis dived under the curtain, and we were off to the races.

Orsino brought the energy back up with her speech, as she declaimed her thoughts on love and music and everything else to the ceiling of the theatre. Maria, who was taking notes in the house, wrote that she was “very Gaston from Beauty and the Beast,” which is PERFECT!

Act I scene iii is our rock. Sirs Toby and Andrew have such good chemistry and are so reliably funny and energetic that the scene really serves as a hard reset for the whole show. Our Sir Andrew, in particular, has a genius for comedic timing and physical acting that would not be out of place on a professional stage--and her absolute commitment to the process and the role means that, whatever else is going on, we can rely on her completely. Our Toby fully inhabits her role, giving Andrew so much to work with. Add to that equation our Maria, fresh off a carefully choreographed quick change (she, of course, also plays Orsino), and you’ve got one of the most consistently funny scenes in the whole play. The scene’s tempo sets the pace for the rest of the play, since the other opening scenes are such little oddities, more useful for setting up the play’s plot than anything else.

Perhaps we got a little bit too much energy from the scene, because we jumped into Act I scene v before scene iv was properly finished. This may have had something to do with the fact that Frannie, the zannis, and I were audibly playing with beach balls backstage…

All the playing with beach balls was really about a hastily concocted plan to cover Orsino/Maria’s quick-change by playing baseball--the zannis and I would pitch beach balls to Frannie, who was supposed to bat them with the palm tree. Without telling Frannie, I plotted with the zannis to throw a couple of pitches and then bombard her with beach balls. In practice, that turned into an instantaneous barrage of beach balls which was probably ill-advised and unnecessary (we’ll iron it out for next week), but also showed some of the zannis’ playful energy. They have finally come fully out of their shells! We may actually need to rein them in a little bit...

Our Malvolio had a bit of a rocky start, missing a couple of entrances (covered brilliantly by Maria, Olivia, and Viola, but she really showed up for Act II scene v. This scene is difficult--it is, from Malvolio’s perspective, a very lengthy soliloquy, but with the added difficulty of interruptions by other characters throughout--and it it also crucial to telling the story of the play. And it is among the funniest scenes in Shakespeare. No pressure… but our Malvolio brought the scene to life! This is a huge victory for a woman who has struggled with anxiety in general, and about this scene in particular. Something about doing this scene with such urgency (and to such hilarious effect!) propelled Malvolio through the rest of the play, and challenged all of us to up our game.

Our Olivia, who (I have to keep reminding myself) is still brand new to the role, shone throughout. Her lines are many and come quickly, and she is already in command of them as if she had been playing that role from the beginning. Our Viola, a veteran who no longer struggles with the language but often struggles with memorization, was as close to off-book as I’ve ever seen her, which freed her up to give a subtle, affecting performance, especially of her serious speeches. The urgency of the speed-through gave her the push she needed to nail those lines! And our Antonio had a great day! Her show-stopping “Put up your swords!” exploded out of her and was genuinely surprising. Given how shy and inhibited this actor has been, this represents a major victory. No wonder she came backstage with a huge grin on her face after the scene!

A special word should be reserved for our Maria/Orsino. Her work on both roles is full of subtlety and attention to detail. As she has settled into them--and especially after the addition of the costumes--the two roles have continued to diverge. Her Orsino comes with his own array of facial expressions, vocal tics, and body language that are utterly different from Maria’s. Watching her, with every rehearsal, instinctually discover a few new line readings and gestures for each character, then lock them into place for the next run--it has been a master-class. Everything from the angle of her hat to the color and size of the feather duster she uses in each scene is attended to, but her performance never feels over-rehearsed or stale. The result is that she has become the core of our ensemble simply by doing the work with outsized integrity, dedication, and work ethic.

The run fell apart during the final scene, which was plagued by missed entrances and flubbed cues. Still, tonight’s run shaved a good ten minutes off of Tuesday’s, and we are in a good position for next week. After a chaotic and often frustrating season, it was gratifying to see this ensemble come together so completely. We put up the ring (and celebrated one parole-bound ensemble member’s final rehearsal with SIP!), and the positive energy felt palpable as we sent it up to the flyspace.

Season Eight: Week 37

Wondering how ensemble members’ work in SIP translates to life on the outside?

Check out the video below—they’ll tell you themselves!


Tuesday / May 21 / 2019
Written by Emma

Tonight was special, for tonight was the first rehearsal with COSTUMES! As the facilitators pushed a cart stacked with costume bins down the path towards the programs building, I couldn’t help but hear the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey playing in the background. The curious looks from inmates and officers alike added to the overall excitement. After all, it’s not every day you see someone carrying a bag full of foam swords…

In the auditorium, facilitators divided costumes up by actor and sorted them into piles on the stage. Eyes lit up as ensemble members walked in and saw the colorful garments they would soon be wearing. As folks busied themselves with trying on their costumes, one of our ensemble members who had to step away from the group a few weeks ago walked into the auditorium. Everyone was happy to see her, and she was clearly happy to see us as well. One of our vets commended her for coming back and being supportive, despite no longer having an active part in this performance. “That’s what Shakespeare is all about!” she commented.

Once everyone was in costume and character, we hit the ground running. This is the time in the season when note-taking gets a little dicey (and blogs get a little shorter), but there were some moments that warrant mentioning.

Sir Toby, who is always vivacious, absolutely came alive in her multi-colored costume. Gestures were bigger, dialog was louder, and nothing was held back. At times, it almost felt as though the costume was a character itself! This is going to be a FUN show…

Our Sir Andrew, decked head-to-toe in shiny clothing, made an explosive impression as she danced to the tune of “Stayin’ Alive” (oh, yes, we added sound today, too!). I have seen the scene run many times before and still laughed at her graceful-but-not moves. Looks like we have another crowd pleaser in the works!

During one of the longer scenes, some off-book actors got lost in lines. There were a few moments of confusion, and I could feel the show inching towards stopping. However, they didn’t give up, and kept at it until they got to a place they were familiar with. This type of thing—the ability to power through forgotten lines and missed entrances—will make a huge difference come show time. It was great to see it happening now, as opposed to later in the season (or during performances). As Bob Ross says, “there are no mistakes, just happy little accidents.”

We came to a halt exactly half-way through the play with a few minutes to spare for storing costumes—meaning we made excellent time and progress! The first day with costumes tends to be overwhelming, and we weren’t sure how much we would actually be able to get through when all was said and done. As we circled up to raise the ring, I think we were all happy that “costume day” went off without hitch. It’s go time!

Friday / May 24/ 2019
Written by Matt

Well, it wasn’t always pretty, but we stumbled our way through two-thirds of the play today in costumes. In the end, most people seemed frustrated by the disarray of the session and the general lack of focus and direction--from everybody. We have a really strong ensemble this year, but it has sometimes felt like, rather than pulling together, each person is working in their own direction. And that was on full display tonight… despite a lot of people working really hard to do their part, it never felt like we were all on the same page at the same time. There’s a lot riding on next week--not in terms of making the show cleaner (that’s never been the priority), but in terms of bringing this talented, collaborative ensemble together into the tight-knit team that it needs to be. That sort of team-building is so much more important to us than the quality of the show, and the next couple of weeks will be the time to do it!

But I don’t want to give the impression that it was a “bad” session! Despite the frustrations of the ensemble as a whole, there were a number of outstanding individual moments. Our Sirs Andrew and Toby were on fire tonight! Their scenes were hilarious and showed off the hard work and talent of those actors. Our Orsino/Maria was a rock, gamely holding the entire show together by rushing through her costume changes, whispering blocking to people onstage who were out of place, and keeping one very confused facilitator (me) on track and in line. Our Antonio, who had been intimidated by getting off-book, was almost totally out of her script tonight, which is a personal victory of epic proportions. Our Malvolio was having some trouble managing her nerves and anxieties for the first half of the run, but she pulled it together in Act II scene v, which was the funniest it’s ever been. There were individual triumphs all over the place, and that’s what we’ll remember from this session in the long run.

One more week of rehearsals! Let’s do this!

Season Eight: Week 36

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“I can’t put into words what this has done for me, or why.”

Tuesday / May 14 / 2019
Written by Emma

After months of continuous buildup, tonight it seemed that we officially entered “crunch time”. Ensemble members trickled in and immediately got to business discussing the scenes we were going to be working. In the name of efficiency, check-ins were done standing, and we limited ourselves to 5-10 minutes of discussion before we hammering out logistics for the final scene of the play. It was clear from the get-go that folks were not here to mess around!

With the ring raised, actors took their places to run 5.1. Without doubt, 5.1 is the hairiest scene of this production, and it requires more than a little grooming. Last week Frannie had provided blocking to help guide the momentum onstage. The ensemble enjoys getting to see these glimpses of “Director Frannie”. To me, watching her do her thing feels kinda like watching a chef cooking at a Hibachi Grill—impressive, entertaining, and something I definitely could not do!

We ran through 5.1 once before stopping to briefly regroup and discuss. For almost the entire scene, Antonio is being held by two zanni officers downstage stage left, standing by while all of the big final reveals happen. This generates a lot of idle time for Antonio, and the energy onstage was lagging. To remedy this, it was suggested that Antonio give up halfway through the scene, grab a clown nose, and become a zanni. After all, he is being put through the ringer as he discovers that a) His obsession, Sebastian, has an identical twin, and b) Sebastian is married. “That would make anyone’s cheese slip off of their cracker!” commented one ensemble member.

After polishing a few other bits, we ran the scene again. This round, the zanni officers scampered across the stage, eating popcorn as they watched the drama go down. The effect was just right—enough to keep the energy up, but not so much that it distracted from the story being told. Initially Antonio seemed a little unsure of where to go, but by the end of the scene she was joining in with the zannis’ antics. Great progress!

We then began from the top of the show with the goal of powering through as much as possible without stopping. As we made our way through the first act, I was impressed by how many of our actors were already off book (or close to it)! Notably, our Orsino/Maria combo had the majority of her lines memorized for both parts… I mean, c’mon! Possibly more impressive, however, was the way she deftly hopped between the two characters. While Orisino was all sweeping gestures, Maria felt snappy and saucy. A lot of great stuff has happened this season, but her performance is bound to be one of the highlights.

We lowered a ring of excited energy, ready to meet the next few weeks before final performances head-on.

Friday / May 17 / 2019
Written by Matt

Today was chaos! Our stated objective was to run through the end of the play, which we did. But there were plenty of bumps along the way…

This was our final rehearsal before adding the costumes to the mix, which always throws people for a loop. After Tuesday’s successful run of the first third (-ish) of the play, we had a sense of purpose today that kept us going. However, problems started coming up immediately--we were missing our Antonio and our Viola! With such a small cast this year (14, and one of them has no onstage role at all), it’s even harder than usual to cover for these absences. And it’s never easy to cover for one of the leads.

Frannie jumped in as Viola, and we were off! There were some definite highlights in the run, and a lot of messy bits that we stumbled through. Our Orsino/Maria held the show together at times, saying her lines, and whispering others’ cues and blocking out of the corner of her mouth. Act II scene v, in which Malvolio finds the letter as Toby, Andrew, and Fabian watch, was wonderfully paced and hilarious. Olivia had such a delightful performance in Act IV scene i that I had to stifle laughter in the folds of the curtain.

Truth be told, though, the run was very messy, and some of our ensemble members (not least the facilitators) are beginning to worry about the absences. I have to say, though… despite everything falling apart and needing to be awkwardly put back together again, spirits were pretty high at the end of the session. We made it to the end of the show! And, just in case we were worried about it, our curtain captain told us that she was encouraged. She said that she was finally starting to understand the convoluted storyline by watching our performances. We’ll call that a win! Costumes next time!

Season Eight: Week 35

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It’s a safe zone. Only one in prison.

Tuesday / May 7 / 2019
Written by Frannie

Last Friday, we found out that the woman who was playing Olivia would not be able to continue with SIP this season, and the group engaged in a lively, down-to-earth conversation about how to deal with it. At first it seemed like the best solution was for me to play the role, but then one of our “crew” members spoke up to say she would give it a try. This was very exciting—we’ve been gently nudging her to perform more all season—and, though she cautioned us that she wasn’t positive she could handle the workload, we lavished her with praise anyway. It’s always disappointing when someone leaves the group during crunch time… but it’s also always a thrill to see who steps up to save the day. And, we assured this brave ensemble member, even if she decided not to take the role, the fact that she was willing to try meant the world, in and of itself.

Well, that same woman was the first to check in tonight. She said she’d thought it over and decided to take on the challenge! “The only way I’ll know if I’m capable is to do it,” she said as we cheered and applauded.

We also recently lost the ensemble member who was playing Curio and the Priest. On Friday, our Fabian gamely took on the former, and the latter was assigned to me. Now I posed a very important question to the group: could I please, please, please take our (approved!) cardboard cutout of Fabio, cut off his arms and legs, attach shoulder straps to him, and wear him as a body mask/puppet? The answer came back as a resounding yes (whether because it’s actually a good idea or because they’re humoring me), and I had a quick one-person celebration before we moved on to scene work.

From here, our notes get much thinner, as they always do at this point in the season. There is just so much to do in supporting (and participating in) the work that not much gets written down. But here’s what I’ve got!

Our new Olivia was totally game, bursting through the curtain for her entrance in Act IV scene i and stumbling her way through the blocking with great humor and enthusiasm. It was catching, and the rest of the ensemble upped their game to match hers.

Matt debuted his interpretation of Feste, which was absolutely ridiculous and got a LOT of laughs—and admiration, as he went on without his script even as he struggled with lines. Most ensemble members are not off book at this point, and his willingness to go out on a limb made them much more comfortable about doing the same.

I debuted my interpretation of the Priest, which, as noted, is rooted in my wearing the upper half of a cardboard cutout of Fabio. Of course I didn’t have the “mask” on hand, but I put a sweater on backwards to mimic it and rolled with the punches... By which I mean that when Olivia asked me to “lead the way” on our exit, I “walked like an Egyptian” on out. Everyone thought this was so funny that we’re keeping it. And we’re adding the ubiquitous Bangles song as the transition to the next scene. And this will likely be the signature achievement of my artistic career.

We arrived at Act V scene i, the play’s grand finale. Nearly everyone is in the scene, and there’s a lot going on—and it became apparent almost immediately that, as no one had written down the blocking we came up with a few weeks ago, no one could remember it. After struggling with the first few beats, a longtime member called a hold. Gesturing to the clock, she said that she didn’t think trying to muddle through was the best use of our time. Instead, she suggested that they take me up on my offer to block the scene ahead of time and race them through it on Friday, and use the rest of tonight to catch our Olivia and Orsino up on blocking they had missed or hadn’t rehearsed much yet.

We collectively agreed to the plan, and, though we split into smaller groups for efficiency’s sake, the feeling of unity persisted. As we circled up with a few minutes to go, a few people briefly reflected on how good they felt about the day’s work. “Can we all whoosh each other?” asked one woman. Another person said she thought that would take too long, as we usually whoosh only one person at a time, and Matt suggested that we do a “whoosh wave” instead. It was a great idea—as the whoosh traveled around the circle, our smiles got bigger and bigger.

Although a lot of nerves are still present, there’s a palpable feeling of growing confidence. A sense that we’ve got this. Because we do.

Friday / May 10 / 2019
Written by Matt

Today was all business! We had a scene to block, and block it we did!

On Tuesday, the ensemble gave Frannie the task of coming up with a plan for staging Act V scene i, which is long and complicated and likely to turn into a muddled mess. She did--and it was long and complicated, and almost turned into a muddled mess!

To make things more complicated and muddled and messy, we were in a classroom today instead of the auditorium, which meant that we had to imagine the dimensions of the stage and the locations of exits… and we also had to keep the scene from getting smooshed in a smaller space. But we had a job to do.

Honestly, none of us took many notes, and a play-by-play of blocking a massive theatrical finale would bore even the most dedicated reader of this blog, so I’ll settle for a few highlights:

Our Orsino (who is also our Maria) got really into her role as the simultaneously bombastic and oblivious duke. She had some hilarious moments of stopping in surprise, her eyes wide as if to say, “WHHHAAAAAAAAAAAT?” Outstanding.

There was tango-walking… and some people yelling at each other in the aisles, Jerry-Springer-style.

There was some excellent foot-acting and walking into imaginary doorways by Sir Toby, who was all but incoherent as she was hauled out on stage.

Our Olivia has gone all in on her role! Her Olivia is flighty and bubbly, but also has a little edge of menace about her--a suggestion that if she doesn’t get what she wants, she might get truly mad. It works perfectly!

That’s all for today. Everyone worked hard, and hopefully we’ll see the results next week. Onward!