Season Seven: Week 27


We’re getting very close to submitting our performance proposal, and this is also a very busy time for me in general! The ensemble frequently asks me to delegate whatever I can to them, and tonight I took them up on that.

There’s a lot of tracking to be done with this play—who has certain props/costumes, at what times, and where. We need to track swords, shields, and torches; we also need to track those badges with symbols, particularly if/when people switch sides, and when they do it. It’s a lot for one person to do, so I asked if there were a few people who might like to give it a try. There are a lot of very organized women in this ensemble, and, for folks who are wired that way, this kind of time intensive task—which requires lots of focus—could be a great way not only to gain further ownership of the play, but to fill up time. Three women volunteered. I’m very grateful!

I was out of the room for a while to touch base with staff about a few items. Matt took notes while I was gone:

The ensemble decided to run through the banquet scene, which is also the appearance of Banquo’s ghost. The first time through was slow and disjointed: no one seemed to know where to go, and our Banquo started acting goofy behind Macbeth’s back in an attempt to make her laugh. When the scene was finally over, two people rushed in with ideas. First, a new member who has great instincts for movement and staging talked with Lady Macbeth and the seated lords about how to react to Macbeth’s seemingly insane actions (only Macbeth can see the ghost of his slain friend). Meanwhile, a facilitator took Macbeth and Banquo into a small room in the wings to work on their interaction, which is long and mostly wordless. The facilitator asked Banquo what her motivation is.

“To tell him that my blood is on his hands,” she replied. Then, she stopped, and added, “I don’t know if Banquo knows he’s dead. Like, you know how people don’t always realize something’s happened until someone else points it out?”  She didn’t see a way to reconcile those two thoughts, though. “If I don’t know I’m dead, I can’t want to show him that my blood is on his hands.”

Then she made a gesture of feeling her head for the blood, looking down at her hands, and then reaching out at Macbeth. It was a strong, fluid movement, and our Macbeth jumped to respond. “Oh! Then I feel like I…” and she reached back at Banquo, passing her fingers through the other woman’s, then recoiling in fear. The movements electrified the little room, and we were excited to bring those actions to the stage.

The second time through the scene, the palpable chemistry between Macbeth and Banquo was supported by the more refined and deliberate actions of the other players on stage. Macbeth and Banquo performed the gestures we had worked on backstage, but Banquo improvised some inspired moves that she took from the goofy breakdown of the first run. She snuck up behind Macbeth as Macbeth was walking backwards, eliciting a reaction of true surprise. When moving offstage, she stared at Macbeth with a harrowing look of betrayal and sadness.

A third run further refined the chemistry between Macbeth and Banquo, which in turn made space for an impassioned performance from Lady Macbeth, whose desperate (and barbed) attempts to calm or hush her husband drew some whoops of support from the crowd. Notably, Banquo snuck onstage at the beginning of the scene without telling anyone, hiding among the lords from the beginning. She was only noticed onstage when Macbeth tells the murderer to describe Banquo’s death. Hearing about her own demise, Banquo came to understand that she was, in fact, murdered.

“I was thinking that I couldn’t do both,” she said, referring to her earlier ideas about Banquo’s motivation. “Turns out, it works perfectly.”

Her inventiveness, supported and encouraged by the strong performances of the others onstage and the rest of the ensemble, helped bring the scene to the next level.

Back to Frannie:

I came back just in time to see how pumped up the group was after having gone through the scene twice, and they asked if I’d like to see it. Of course I would! The scene was very strong, and I took some notes for us to work with once everyone’s off book. They felt great about their work but were eager to go deeper, and they all felt that that wouldn’t happen till they could put their scripts down.

We talked a bit about what to do when you’re on stage and don’t have lines for a while (or at all). Our Lady Macbeth said, “I don’t want to have one moment where I’m waiting for [Macbeth] to be done.” She wants to be active and in character at all times. She continued, “I’ve been watching TV and trying to watch the people in the background and seeing what they do… A lot is done with facial expressions, with body language.” We’re going to continue to explore this!

We had a little time left, so we decided to work the next scene, which is very brief. Ross has replaced the Lord in our version, and she and our Lennox gamely tackled the scene, even though they didn’t have a clear idea of what they should be doing. They said afterward that they’d felt okay, but that they weren’t sure where to go with it. I asked them if they knew what their characters wanted. Our Lennox looked down at her script, scrunched up her nose, messed with her hair, and said, “It’s… Has he jumped ship yet?” Very brave of her to admit that she didn’t completely understand the scene, and another woman gently said, “Not yet,” and explained where we were in the story and when that would happen.

Another woman jumped up to share some ideas about blocking and body language, and I added my two cents as well. We ran the scene again, and they both felt a bit better, but we’ve got more work to do! Lots of good stuff tonight.


Before we got going, I approached one of our newer members and jokingly asked if anyone had informed her that, when she was absent last week , we’d cast her in two roles (she’d had none before). She smiled and sarcastically replied, “Uh… no. Y’all gave me TWO parts?” I said, “We sure did. King Duncan and… Caithness, I think? A soldier without many lines.”

“Huh,” she said, thinking for a moment. “You think I can play the king?”

“I sure do,” I replied.

She raised an eyebrow. “But do you really think I can play the king? You think I can really do that?”

“Absolutely,” I said. “I know you’re concerned about lines, and we can cut way down on his. What’s more important is the presence of a king, and you’ve got that presence.”

“I do, huh?” she said, straightening her shoulders a bit.

“Uh, yeah,” I smiled. “I think you’re gonna be great.”

“Well, all right,” she said, opening her script as she walked away.

Immediately after this, the woman who volunteered to track the badges came over and said, “Okay, I did the tracking, but I have some questions.” She'd developed a great method for doing this incredibly complicated task—and had really enjoyed doing it. That honestly didn’t surprise me. She’s shown us, over and over, how remarkably organized, capable, and intelligent she is, and this is the kind of thing that calls attention to all of that.

She had a few very good questions, all interpretive, and then asked if she could take an extra script and notate everything there so I wouldn’t have to transfer the information later. She also suggested that the other “trackers” record their notes in that script, and that, ultimately, we turn it into a sort of prompt book. Um, genius. She wins the prize. I don’t know what the prize is, but, whatever it is, it’s hers for sure.

We circled up for check in. People had both good and bad news to share. One of the women who, last week, shared with us (in a general way) that she was hurt by confidentiality being broken shared in a bit more detail, but without naming the person she was talking about. She focused on how the situation made her feel, as another affected woman had last week. A number of people vocally expressed their empathy and concern for her, agreeing that keeping our space safe is of the utmost importance.

This same woman then, calmly and with poise, addressed the woman whom she believed had broken confidentiality and restated her feelings. The ensuing conversation, which ended up directly involving four people, was long and complex, and I’m not going to record those details here. Suffice to say that, while things got heated, we’ve had similar situations in the past that have gotten much worse. I’m honestly not sure if we resolved anything, but I think we’ll have a better idea of that on Tuesday.

I do want to note that, as contentious as things got, the only other ensemble members who left the room did so because they had other obligations. Everyone else stayed in the circle, some quietly helping to relieve the tension by sharing candy and making silent little jokes to one another. It didn’t interfere with the work of conflict resolution at all, and, I imagine, made it possible for people to stay who may otherwise have left. In fact, one woman who left came back at the end to check in on us, and another who’d said she would have to leave early stayed until our time was over.

After reflecting and checking in with each other for a few minutes, we decided to do something silly to lift us back up. We played a rousing game of Gibberish Rap, which we haven’t done yet this season. It’s one of my favorites: we circle up, establish a beat as a group, and then people jump in the middle and rap in gibberish, with the option of “challenging” one another. It’s always fun, but tonight was especially so because an ensemble member who has a GREAT sense of humor but can still be a bit reserved was challenged by a particularly gregarious woman – and took her ON. It was an honest-to-goodness battle – and she won! We were not only laughing and applauding, but hooting, hollering, dancing, pounding on tables… What a thrill!

We also played Gibberish Translator, and another ensemble member had a kind of breakthrough. She joined us in September with very low self-esteem and confidence, as she openly shared. Lately, though, she’s been taking some artistic risks and getting extremely positive responses, and she’s been vocal about how much that’s helped to build her up. Speaking in gibberish was clearly daunting, but she plunked herself down in that chair anyway. She apologized for being nervous and said she didn’t know what to say. The others encouraged her, telling her she has no idea how good she is and that it’s gibberish—she couldn’t do it wrong! She tried, still hesitating, and the ensemble cheered her on. “That was great!” “See, we knew you could do it!” Some of her phrases (I believe one was “zigga zig boom”) got huge laughs, and she gained confidence so quickly that, within minutes, you would never have guessed how scared she was at first.

In past seasons, we’ve often left sessions that included open conflict in a funk, or even still seething. Tonight we didn’t. Individual ensemble members made deliberate decisions to end and move on from the conflict in order for the larger ensemble to recover a bit before going back to their units. Like I said, I’m not sure that this conflict is actually resolved, and things may get worse again, but I truly admired how the group worked together on this particular evening.

Season Seven: Week 26


After we checked in, we decided to finish our stumble through of the play. The group dispersed a bit, talking in small groups. One woman repeatedly tried to wrangle everyone but failed—she was a little quiet, and people couldn’t hear her or weren’t listening. Finally another woman who has a wonderful, booming voice, called everyone to focus, saying specifically that the other woman had been trying to get something going and asking them to listen to her.

We got a little stuck on the scene in which Malcolm and his army arrive at Birnam Wood and decide to cut down boughs to hold and disguise their numbers. The first staging was a bit awkward, with people unsure of what to do, or even where to place the “forest.” One woman gave suggestions to improve the acting in the scene, pointing out that the idea to use the branches is spontaneous, and they should think about how they would react. “Put yourselves in the position of that so it’s more spontaneous and not rehearsed,” she said. “We don’t want it to look rehearsed.” Another woman pulled two faux trees that are in the auditorium to the center of the stage. There actually is one branch that is unattached, and they decided to use that as well.

They went for it again, and, as one of the actors said, it “felt blah.” The woman who’d given suggestions about spontaneity jumped up, talking through a complex staging idea that would incorporate this scene and the two after. It involved several entrances and exits, as well as using the fluorescent lights above the stage to isolate each side of the performance area, depending on where the focus needs to be.

As we geared up to work through all of this, I pulled our Macduff and Malcolm aside and suggested that they work on taking up space—that they’re warriors—powerful women playing powerful men. They don’t need to apologize for standing strong and being loud. “We’re sensitive, too,” said our Malcolm, and as I nodded, our Macduff said, “I know! All my pretty chickies!”

We worked through the next scene with Macbeth, and then our Malcolm, Macduff, and a woman standing in for Siward made their way back stage for their entrance. I joined them and referred back to something our Malcolm had said earlier, encouraging them to “go total Braveheart.” They did, and it worked fairly well, but not as well as we wanted. I went back stage again and asked them how they felt. “I’m nervous,” said our Malcolm. “I don’t know… I’m scared of rejection.” This woman has come a long way from the quiet, shut down person I met in the fall of 2016, but she still has a lot of fears. The difference is that now she has the confidence to push through them. Our Macduff and I reminded her that she was in a safe space to be strong, loud, and to screw up if that’s what happened. “You’ve gotta rally an army. Use the audience. We’re on your side,” I said. “Take back your country! Take back your castle!”

I ran back into the house (I was excited), and the scene began. Malcolm strode on stage, moving quickly and powerfully, delivering her lines in a voice that carried right through to the back of the house. She stood downstage center and didn’t back off. The others matched what she was doing, and Macduff instinctively built on her energy. It was incredible, particularly for our Malcolm. I don’t think we’ve ever seen her take command of the stage like that. One woman, who joined the group in January, leaned back to me and said, “Good job, Frannie. I love how you got them all hyped up.” I accepted the compliment—I know that sometimes it’s my ridiculous excitement that gives people permission to harness the fire that’s already in them—and reminded her, as I always do, that the real work is being done by the participants, who don’t need to listen to me in the first place!

Even though we were improvising through the staging, the battle scenes were high energy and engaging. When we got to the final scene, that energy dropped. I went and sat beside a woman I’ve known for more than two years, who used to be extremely afraid of giving her opinion and getting on stage. But things are different for her now. I asked if she was feeling the same as me; if this scene felt like it dragged at all. She said that it did, and that there probably was nothing the actors could do to keep it from feeling like a letdown—it needs cuts. Then we all applauded when Macduff said, “Hail, King of Scotland,” somehow forgetting that Malcolm still had a monologue. Our Malcolm looked down at her script and wryly said, “I am not gonna be saying this shit,” but then gamely gave it a go for this rehearsal.

She did a great job with it, but afterward I posed the same question to the entire ensemble: does this scene drag after the previous ones? All agreed that it did. I suggested that our Malcolm’s instinct not to read her monologue might be a good one; if we all applauded after Macduff’s line, our audience probably would, too, and perhaps that’s the point at which to end the play. We agreed to look for other cuts, too.

As we circled up to brainstorm about costumes, set, and props, one woman leaned over to me and said, “You know what my favorite Shakespeare quote is?” She continued, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep. The more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.” I couldn’t resist saying it along with her. It’s one of my favorites, too. She said she found it in a novel she was reading and loved it so much that she memorized it.

We have some really great ideas for the look of the show; the challenge will be making it all happen with the budget and resources we have. We’ll keep developing these as we get closer to performance. I’m very excited about where we are.


Even though it was a small group tonight, check in took a long time. Two ensemble members told me before we circled up that another ensemble member has been breaking confidentiality and sharing very personal information about others in the group. It’s made them feel understandably unsafe and, as longtime members, angry about the violation and the disrespect they feel it shows the entire ensemble and the program as a whole. I asked if they would like to address this with the other person or with the group at large, and they opted for the latter.

Though the person in question was not present after all, one of those ensemble members chose to share her feelings anyway. We’ve had issues in the past with others doing something similar but clearly identifying the “offending” party, even without using a name, but this woman has been in the group long enough that she knows how to avoid doing that. “I just really need to get this off my chest so maybe I won’t be so upset,” she said, and shared what happened in a general way, focusing on her own feelings. “This is where we come to get away from prison, and this needs to be a safe place,” she said. One woman praised her for “speaking of us collectively.” We agreed that we would talk about this with the larger group on Tuesday. The woman who was upset said, “When we talk about this, we’re going to be civilized, because for us there’s nothing else.”

Another woman who’s been incarcerated for more than 10 years, brought up how impressed she was by the way in which this ensemble member, who’s been in prison even longer, was handling the situation. She said that the first time she met her, she’d just come back from solitary and immediately attacked someone else before she’d even put her stuff down. She used to be unruly and unreasonable, and now here she was, calmly addressing an extremely upsetting situation as constructively as she could. It’s a remarkable transformation. “To watch you change helps me believe that I can change,” she said. Those of us who’ve known her for a long time agreed. “You’re on your way to something big,” said another woman. “Just keep being a superstar.”

We spent the rest of our time talking through costumes and props and covered nearly everything by the time we left. Even with a small group, we’re generally very productive, and tonight was no exception. We’ve just got a few more things to figure out before we submit our performance proposal. June is getting closer!

Season Seven: Week 25


The ensemble member who was cast as Young Siward let me know before we began that she needed to leave the group. Another ensemble member had been interested in playing that role, but deferred, accepting the roles of understudy for that character and playing Fleance as well. When she saw the other woman turning in her books, she approached me quietly. “Is she leaving the group?” she asked. I told her that she was. “So… Can I play Young Siward? I mean, since I was already understudying, can I just play the part? Is that okay?” I said it wasn’t up to me and encouraged her to ask the group. She is much more buoyant and confident this season, but this still intimidated her a bit. So, with her standing right next to me, I turned to the group and said, “I have a question to ask on behalf of [her name].” She started giggling and blushing, but she didn’t leave the stage. I told the ensemble that the woman who’d been cast as Young Siward had left and asked, “Are we all okay with [name] playing Young Siward, since she was already the understudy?” No one objected. She was so excited. It is such a thrill to see her this way. I have loved every moment of working with her, even the difficult ones—and those hard times have made these moments that much more pleasurable. I can’t help but smile every time she smiles. And she smiles a lot now.

One of our ensemble members asked me to come to the back of the auditorium with her to work on cutting some lines. As I got up to go with her, our Lady Macbeth said, “No! Uh uh, Frannie. We’re about to do the sleepwalking scene!” I asked the other ensemble member if she needed to leave early or if the cuts could wait for a few minutes, since it was important to Lady M that I be able to give feedback on that scene. She said that was totally fine, even though she was clearly anxious. She struggles a bit with impatience, so, even though this was a little thing, it was a big deal.

Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene is a challenge for any actor, but it presents a different sort of challenge for people who’ve committed crimes. I knew when we chose Macbeth that this scene might be a little loaded, and I’ve been prepared since then to work through it with whomever played the role. Our Lady Macbeth is a longtime ensemble member with whom I have a very strong bond, and I’ve talked through the scene with her on several occasions, knowing (as much as I can) where she’s coming from as she approaches it.

When she and I spoke about it on Friday, we agreed to try the scene as if she were underwater, moving slowly, weighed down, and seeing things around her distorted. We decided that there also should be (in Michael Chekhov terms) some sort of shivering or vibrating object in her ideal center (chest) to help her experience the character’s anxiety without having to call up her own emotions or experiences. She also told me during that conversation that she knows she’s not a good actor, which is absolutely not true, and I told her that. I said that she has always been a solid actor, but the program hasn’t always been in a place that allowed her to explore that. But people started taking things more seriously during Othello. That discipline grew during Richard III. And now we have an ensemble made up of people who are extremely committed to doing their best work—individually and as an ensemble. They conduct themselves just as seriously as any professional ensemble. They do it with less theatrical experience, but they also do it in a setting where it is much, much more challenging. I admire them so deeply for that.

But back to our Lady Macbeth, and our conversation last week. She smiled and accepted what I said about her acting, and I encouraged her to dive in as much as she was comfortable. She was ready to go on Friday night, but we ran out of time. Now, though, it was her turn.

Two women stood in for our absent Gentlewoman and Doctor. Lady Macbeth entered slowly, carrying her script in one hand and a drumstick (as candle) in the other. This woman, who can be so powerful physically and vocally, was purposefully quiet and sad. The character was clearly disturbed, but not crazy. At one point she dropped the drumstick, and we all jumped as it clattered—she’d sort of put us in a trance!

When the scene ended, we talked about how well so much of it had worked. She said she had felt good, but was annoyed by how physically close the Gentlewoman and the Doctor had been to her. The woman standing in as the Gentlewoman agreed that they needed more space, but they struggled to find a solution. A woman who has a co-director role said that many of us have a tendency to hover. She got on stage to demonstrate some ideas of when the two of them could get close to Lady M and then jump away. Another woman gave suggestions of where to begin and end the scene.

A third woman pointed out that Lady M hadn’t been washing her hands, which is an important aspect of the scene. Lady M said that she couldn’t when she was holding her script, which is, of course, a great point. I asked if she’d like to run the scene with me “dropping in”—standing just beside or behind her, feeding her lines one by one so she wouldn’t have to read her script. She said she would. Our co-director gave her some specific ideas to try out, including talking to herself as if into a mirror at one point.

We began the scene a second time, but just as Lady M entered, she stopped and said, “Oh, no, hold on! I’ve got a better idea! Hold on!” She grabbed her coat and put it over her shoulders. “Okay, now you can go,” she said, and re-centered herself as the scene began again. I couldn’t watch her performance—I had to keep my eyes glued to the script—but I could feel how powerful her energy was. At one point she sank to the ground, washing her hands, then tore the coat off her shoulders and used that to wash her hands as well.

The group was enthusiastic about how it had gone. The Gentlewoman and Doctor said it had felt good to keep more of a distance and be more intentional with their movements. Lady M said the scene had felt more or less the same for her—but it had been good both times!

We started to move on, but then Kyle jumped in. Again, this woman has been in the ensemble for a very long time—longer than Kyle—and he wanted to make sure she knew how impressed he was with her work. He told her how good it was to see her challenging herself, owning her power, and developing as an actor. He said (truthfully) that she’s set a high water mark for the whole ensemble—that it’s really just technique for her now—and as I looked around I saw all the others nodding, taking no offense, honoring the place she’s earned in the group due not just to her longevity, but to her commitment (redoubled this year after a brief absence). I told her that I agreed—emphatically—and that her ability to give so much of herself was (as she and I discussed last week) also a testament to the seriousness and supportiveness of this ensemble. There is much for everyone to be proud of in her continued growth and success.

I then joined our Macduff in the back of the auditorium to work on those cuts, per her request. Our Malcolm was absent, but they’d been looking at this together outside of SIP, so we were able to work without her. Last week, they asked me to go through and look for cuts as well, so we were really just comparing notes. They were nearly all the same.

She had an idea about Malcolm that I don’t think she’s shared with her scene partner, and I’m interested to see if this is going to play out at all. “I think Malcolm’s feeling some kinda way because he’s a virgin,” she said. “I mean, come on,” she continued, “He’s got his crown stolen. He’s banished to a country of refuge… And he’s a VIRGIN. He’s gotta be feeling some kinda way about that.”

When we arrived at the part of the scene when Macduff finds out about his family’s slaughter, she said, “I don’t really know what we can cut. I feel so bad for him here. Like, he’s so disoriented and emotional.” I told her that she was right—that’s exactly how he feels, and we probably don’t need to cut anything. She did suggest that we cut his lines about “all my pretty chickens and their dam,” and before I could stop myself, I said, “Oh, no, no, no! You need that!” I then smiled at her, took a breath, and told her that of course she can cut those lines if she wants, but I think they’ll help her give the performance I know she wants. I said again that she was right about Macduff’s state and showed her exactly how the language backs that up. I walked her through the emotional breakdown, evident in those lines about the chickens—and their parallel to Lady Macduff’s comparing her family to defenseless birds. I guided her through the way the language toward the end of the scene, when it clearly shows him moving from outright grief to anger and tension. As we talked, she lit up, excited to learn how right she’d been without even knowing how to analyze the language this way.

We left the rest of the cuts for when our Malcolm is present. As our Macduff rose from the table, she paused, looked down at me, and said, “It’s good to know that we see eye to eye on this stuff.” I’m seeing a change in this woman as she learns to trust all of us more. She’s very energetic; sometimes a little loud and brash. I think she’s used to rubbing people the wrong way and expects it. But any time I’ve noted it, I’ve also seen the people who’ve been irritated doing their best not to let her see it: taking deep breaths (subtly) or finding something else to do so they wouldn’t engage and hurt her feelings. And it seems like, because she hasn’t gotten the negative reactions she’s used to, she’s dropped some of the defenses that contribute to that brashness. Because she’s done that, the others have become more open to her. And now she’s becoming more open, calmer, and better able to realize when she needs to take a step away or speak with someone in private. Or even just to speak gently, like she did with me. This progress hasn’t been totally linear, and it probably won’t be going forward, but I’ve noticed it. I’m watching it.


Attendance tonight was low due to some special events and illnesses. We just received permission to make a short film for The Sonnet Project: US, so we decided to spend tonight brainstorming. Running through the final scenes of the play would be difficult with so few people present.

I handed out copies of a few sonnets that reminded me of things we’ve talked about in our group. The idea of these films is that they be location-specific, and, since our location is a prison, the options I chose had specifically to do with themes that come up in conversations with a group of incarcerated women. I asked how we should approach this, and one woman said we should read all of them out loud. “You have to have someone else read it to understand it,” she said.

We read #109 first. Two of the women liked it right off the bat. One of them said, “Especially being in prison—it plays to the part, like, our heart’s in absence right now. Another woman added, “It makes you think about your family and loved ones.”

#29 was next. One woman said, “It’s speaking from the heart.” Another said she liked how it flowed. A third, who was kind of on edge, said, “It’s about isolation. You’re isolating yourself—talking about your friends and stuff, but you’re cursed. Your fate is not what theirs is. You’re putting yourself in a category by yourself.”

All but one ensemble member disliked #19. The one who enjoyed it said she’d liked it enough to read it to herself twice, but admitted that it had jumped out at her because it mentions a tiger, and she loves cats.

#35 hit everyone very hard. As the reader finished, one woman said, “That’s SO deep,” and another exclaimed, “I LIKE THAT ONE!” They identified with the conflict in the poem, even without breaking it down for its specific meaning. “It’s like going between my old life and my new life: before prison and after prison,” said one woman. “All men have faults,” said another woman. “We all fall short.” Another added, “This is prison. We don’t know whether we’re coming or going. We’re back and forth between the dark and the light.” Another said, “That describes everything… Addiction… Everything…”

We read a couple others, but it was very clear that #35 was the one. Give how unanimous the women in the room were, we were confident that the others will feel the same.

The poem is this:

No more be grieved at that which thou hast done:
Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;
Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,
And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.
All men make faults, and even I in this,
Authorizing thy trespass with compare,
Myself corrupting, salving thy amiss,
Excusing thy sins more than thy sins are;
For to thy sensual fault I bring in sense--
Thy adverse party is thy advocate--
And 'gainst myself a lawful plea commence:
Such civil war is in my love and hate
    That I an accessory needs must be
    To that sweet thief which sourly robs from me.

We went through the sonnet in depth. In it, they saw others—and themselves—trying to forgive them. At the core of this poem, we found the idea that we all make mistakes, and we are all deserving of forgiveness. They are struggling to believe that. They are living it. “This poem could be the poster child for codependency,” said one woman.

“I think that’s why this hits home for everybody,” said another woman. “A lot of us are in for drugs and stuff, and we’ve been forgiven more times than maybe we deserved.” Another agreed. “That’s our problem. We love others more than ourselves.” Another, responding directly to language in the sonnet, said, “A lot of us have seen that we may be roses, but… with the drugs and stuff… we can grow some thorns.”

We began to brainstorm ideas of how to translate this to film, and we started to stray pretty far afield from our initial reactions. I put it out there that all of these ideas were interesting, but that our first impulse was that this poem was about us.

One woman said, “I see more than one or two people playing into this. With the actions here, I see three or four people here. I see a group collectively consoling each other here.” She said that there could be a few specific stories, “but in the end, it all comes together.” Another woman interjected, “Why don’t we end with The Ring? The Ensemble Ring?” We all responded strongly to that.

“We’re all together. Everyone can play a part,” said one woman, just as the first woman said, “We all come together.” She added, “Each of us—we’ve hurt somebody. We’ve hurt somebody sometime.” We then agreed that we should enter from various directions to become the Ring, with the poem read as a voiceover.

We got a little hung up on literal images of conflict that would need to be forgiven, and it got a little frustrating, but not to the point where anyone was irritated or wanted to give up. We simply knew we needed input from the rest of our ensemble.

We lifted our Ring back up, and people started to leave. Our Malcolm reminded me that we had cuts to look at, and we did. We’re definitely on the same page. She paused before she left. She’d shared with us earlier that her TV had broken, and she was pretty upset about it. “But I’ve got a lot to do,” she said, tapping her script on the table. “I feel like maybe my TV broke for a reason. So I can focus more on this. I really want to do a good job with my acting this year.”

Season Seven: Week 24

Written by Kyle


All in all, it was a very productive night. There is something about this play that has the ensemble moving. We were able to complete the banquet and witches’ cauldron scenes (the famous “Double, double, toil and trouble…”), each of which I thought could take an entire session on its own. Even though we are not really blocking “for keeps,” each scene contain a lot of logistical problems that are difficult for students and professionals alike to navigate. Don’t get me wrong, the scenes need work and are far from completed, but I see a general shape emerging; we’re not moving at this pace because of the facilitators, it’s the ensemble that is pushing us along.

We discovered a lot of the usual pitfalls, though: How is it that Macbeth doesn’t see Banquo when he calms himself? Where on stage does he confer with the murderers that makes it look like the rest of the guests can see? Where does he confer with Lady Macbeth in a place that makes sense? All of these questions need to be ironed out, and I can’t wait to see the end result. Our Banquo has great instincts and continues to wipe blood from her face; there are so many references to blood, and she is really playing into them in a way that is really exciting.  

The real rallying point for me came with the 4.1 (“Double, double, toil and trouble…”), which the women in the scene created one hundred percent on their own. Two groups huddled on either side of the stage before beginning, planning things out based on ideas they had a while ago. They looked more like football huddles than a theatre troupe. The women playing Macbeth and Lennox couldn’t understand why Lennox was in the scene, and came up with an “amazing, collaborative idea:” the witches “bring the cave” into Macbeth’s bedroom, and the whole interaction could be a dream—or not. It clears up why Lennox is in the scene and doesn’t manage to see the witches, and it explains how Macbeth just magically knows where to find their coven. Most masterfully, though, it places Macbeth at the center of the stage while the witches move around him, thereby making him the charm they are conjuring. It’s brilliant. I couldn’t believe how effective it was action. If that weren’t enough, IT ALSO MEANS WE DON’T HAVE TO SOURCE A CAULDRON!

The staging needs some work to bring it to where it needs to be; one woman in particular said that the witches need to own the space--that it belongs to them, not Macbeth. We all felt that Macbeth spent way too much time down stage center to give that impression, so when we go back and put together the final staging, we need to keep that in mind. The performances were great as well. All the witches seemed to really be jumping headfirst into their roles. One woman in particular, who openly struggles with low self-esteem, took some really bold risks with her physicality. She had the whole ensemble singing her praises during and after the run. It seemed as though the Shakespeare Holy Ghost visited again tonight, and is hopefully here to stay.


Tonight I talked to one of the women about some of the heavy-duty stressors that come with prison-life. There was much talk of it on Tuesday as well with another member. For the sake of anonymity, I’m omitting the details, but I feel like amidst all the success we are having with the ensemble, a clear picture of all that the program entails needs a mention. Despite all our great work in the group, ensemble members often come in with a level of stress that is hard to really describe, and even harder to imagine. Despite spending so much time with them, I’ll never really understand the daily decisions they are faced with that leave lasting imprints on their psyches, spirits, and sentences. The stakes of most of my decisions often seem so small, and the majority of what I worry about seems so trite. I feel very blessed and humbled by their willingness to share their vulnerability and to keep showing up.

We worked the Lady Macduff murder scene, which, to be honest, always makes me a little nervous. There is a very gruesome murder of a woman and her child on stage, and it just always gives me pause. I think it has the potential to be a high-voltage issue for many in the ensemble, so I always tread a little lightly whilst we work. But it also happens to be a very difficult scene to actually stage. The timing is precarious, the child actor has to be really advanced, and there can be a really high frequency of “bad guy” acting from the murderers.

It was difficult enough to wade through how cumbersome the scene can actually be that most ensemble members struggled to make much of a connection to the content of the scene. Perhaps it was for the best, as it gave whomever might be struggling with the scene more exposure to it before it’s set.

After that, we worked on the Malcolm/Macduff scene, in which the two join forces and decide to take down Macbeth. In the grand tradition of everyone who has ever played that scene, it dragged. We talked a great deal about cuts, and I was happy with the conversation. So frequently, cuts are imposed on us (someone can’t remember the lines, we have to cut for time, or any number reasons), but tonight we really tried to address what mattered most in the scene. We decided that this was determinedly Macduff’s scene, and that the climax is when he learns of his family’s massacre at the hands of Macbeth.

This led us to start to think about what the most important elements in the scene were. From those questions sprang others. At one point, the actor playing Macduff said, “I don’t even know where we are! Are we at a bar getting drinks? Are we under an apple tree? What are we actually doing?” The need for some “stage business” came up, as well as a discussion about the complete lack of consensus that the ensemble’s natural directors have about the scene’s setting. It highlights a big change from past seasons in the ensemble’s process of devising this production. I feel like, even last year, ninety percent of the cuts were done by ten percent of the ensemble. Now we had the whole ensemble chipping in and having a lively debate. It makes for such a nice change, and it’s one of the many ways in which I see this program expanding and solidifying right before my eyes.

Season Seven: Week 23


We continued our stumble-through of the play tonight and made some great discoveries as we went!

The plan was to work through the scenes chronologically, no matter who was absent, and we stuck to that. At first we sped along, deciding to leave discussion till we’re ready to truly stage things. Then we got to Act I Scene iii: the scene that follows Duncan’s murder. Nearly all of the people in these scenes were absent, and others eagerly stepped up to fill in.

A longtime ensemble member volunteered to read the Porter, despite having only a cursory familiarity with the role. She is an extremely gifted performer, though, so she had us laughing hysterically throughout. That set us up to continue to laugh our way through the scene, which was fine—we do have to have fun! When Lady Macbeth entered with her line, “What’s the business?” we, once again, could not keep it together. She has been speaking the line in a very contemporary way – emphasizing and prolonging the first syllable in “business” – and it just cracks us up.

I asked the group if maybe we should attempt to take the scene seriously, since we’ve determined that we want to tell the story that way, and this exercise is meant to give us ideas of how best to do that. We shook it off and started over. Now Lady Macbeth’s line wasn’t funny, and the scene began to take shape. The movement was mostly static—it’s tough to know how to move on stage when you haven’t had much experience—but there was a great moment when Macbeth said, “I do repent me of my fury, that I did kill them,” and Lady Macbeth moved quickly to him, putting her hand on his arm; Macbeth then pulled away.

Afterward, I asked everyone how they felt about the scene. This seemed like one we should talk about before moving on. One new member said she felt that it needed movement, but she wasn’t sure where. A longtime ensemble member said, “I think we should use Kyle’s triangle theory.” We’ve talked through this staging concept in years past, but not yet this season. “You wanna explain it?” I asked her. “Kyle can explain it better than me,” she replied, looking to Kyle. He looked right back at her and, totally deadpan, said, “I forgot.” We all laughed, and then she explained what she meant to the group.

Our facilitator Sarah suggested, too, that everyone on stage should be engaged in active listening. One woman said that if she were one of the characters in the scene, she wouldn’t just be listening, she’d be whispering to the others to see if anyone knew who had committed the murder. Another woman built on that, saying, “People should group up with whoever they feel safe with. If it was me, I’d group with my brother because I’d feel safest with him.” We talked a bit about various characters’ reactions to the assassination. Does this kind of thing happen often? Or did it happen out of nowhere?

We tried the scene again, keeping all of that in mind, and it began to work a bit better. The woman standing in for Banquo did something totally unexpected toward the end of the scene, speaking very quietly to Malcolm and Donalbain when she “should have” been speaking to the entire group. Interestingly, this seemed to raise the stakes, and everyone went right along with her. It was really cool. Afterward, she apologized for not understanding that part of the scene, but we reassured her that that was one of those mistakes we hope for. It changed our understanding of the scene for the better.

One of our ensemble members recently returned to the group. She went through a rough time last season and left for a while, but when she came back, she did so enthusiastically and vocally, promising us that she’d be fully committed this time and take on a significant role. She used to be very quiet and often succumbed to stage fright, and that’s not the case now! She volunteered to read the old man in Act III Scene i but immediately gave the role to another woman who hadn’t heard her. Just after that, though, I looked right at her when we needed a Banquo, and she jumped at the chance to step in. That would never have happened a year ago. I’m so happy that she’s feeling so much better!

Speaking of participation, two new members began to take ownership in totally different ways this evening. One has been volunteering to read in just about every scene. “I just want to get as much practice as possible!” she laughed, and it’s obvious that that’s what’s going on. She has no ego about this – she just wants to learn and excel. Everyone is very welcoming of that and happy to let her read even if it means they don’t get to as often. Another woman, who recently confided in me about her fears of messing up the lines, declined to read one of the servants, but what she said was, “Not tonight.” She’s not counting herself out! She just knows she’s not ready quite yet.

We were maybe a little slaphappy by the time we got to Act III Scene iii, in which Banquo is killed. The woman filling in for Banquo, on reading the line, “It will be rain tonight,” rubbed her arm as if complaining about arthritis. That struck me as so funny that I kind of lost control, and then the rest of the group started laughing, and the scene just kind of tanked from there in a really hilarious way. We left feeling just wonderful!

Season Seven: Week 22


We finished our reading of the play tonight! Everyone present chose a role to explore – including one of our ensemble members who had been conflicted about whether she should stick with Shakespeare or rejoin another program that she loves. We are all incredibly excited that she’s made this choice, and she’s taken on a great role to boot. The other woman who was thinking of leaving decided to stick with an off-stage role, saying she wanted to help our resident “director.” She explained, “I am really good at being bossy. I’ll give good off-stage critiques!”

We started musing about our concept again, and we realized that we’ve got a fast-approaching deadline if we want to get everything approved by the facility in time. One ensemble member suggested that we stumble through the entire play, beginning to end, not worrying about blocking; focusing just on establishing the plot the story we want to tell.

Someone asked, “Can we do that?” I said, “We’ve never done that before! But let’s do it! Screw the past six years!” This is something I treasure about Shakespeare in Prison: we’ve established a structure that works well, but we never hesitate to deviate from it when we realize something else might work better. We know that things can change from year to year, and we stay open to that. We’ve all learned a TON of flexibility this way.

As we began our stumble through, a few members of the ensemble took charge in a big way, reminding everyone to pay attention to cues in the text (i.e., Macbeth says the witches put their fingers over their lips) and to try to stay open to the audience. I spent most of the remaining time one-on-one with an ensemble member, but out of the corner of my eye, I could see how well everything was being handled, and how much of it was being handled by people other than facilitators. That’s a really positive thing to be happening in February, particularly as we were trying something new!



After a long (much-needed) check in, we decided to get right back to our stumble through. One of our new members approached me, saying that she didn’t yet have a role but wanted to take on something pretty small. She said she was afraid she would “garble the dialogue.” I told her she probably would – that we all do! – and that by the time we get to performances, she’ll be totally comfortable. She smiled and said, “I’m known for having can’t-do-it syndrome.” I suggested that she think of this as a challenge rather than as something “hard.” She said she liked that, and that she’d try.

Meanwhile, no one was on stage! People were sitting in small groups, either talking or looking over their scripts. “Who’s gonna get the ball rolling?” I asked. At this point in the season, facilitators take a back seat as much as possible, so we sat around some more waiting for someone to get us started. Finally, a returning ensemble member stood up and tried to get people’s attention and focus, but the stage remained empty. She looked over at me. “Get up there – they’ll follow you!” I said. “But I’m not in this scene!” she replied. I smiled and said, with more emphasis, “Get UP there! They’ll follow you!!!” She did, and they finally did, too.

When we got to Act I Scene v, our Lady Macbeth got tongue tied during her monologue. We asked her to slow it down and remember that these are all new thoughts. She did, and she and our Macbeth got through the scene, but she wasn’t happy with it. “I didn’t feel prepared. There wasn’t all the emotion,” she said. “What do you suggest, Frannie? What do you propose, ensemble?”

“Do it again, with the holy ghost!” said one ensemble member, hearkening back to when our Lady Macbeth had risen to her feet and engaged with such power in another scene recently. “This is not the holy ghost scene!” said Lady Macbeth. “EVERY scene is the holy ghost scene!” I said.

“Be you! Give it to us!” said that same ensemble member, and Lady Macbeth took on the challenge. She looked at her script, smirked, and said, “I’m gonna prep it this time. There’s this thing Frannie taught me...” She put her hands on either side of what Michael Chekhov called the ideal center (between breast bone and spine), and it was clear that she was only semi-joking. “If you’re gonna do it, let’s do it!” I said, running on stage to be with her. We turned our backs to the audience, and I coached her through some centering visualizations and breathing. I encouraged her to take her time and stay grounded, and then I went back to the rest of the group, asking that we all give focus even before she began.

She turned to face down stage, looked at her script, and took a deep breath. Quietly but insistently, our Macbeth said, “You got this.” Our Lady Macbeth then gave a powerful performance, much more connected to the text, and much more believable. When the scene ended, the woman who’d told her to get the holy ghost shouted, “THERE we go, [name]! That was IT!” Lady Macbeth clearly felt much better, and we got into some detail about how her performance can grow from there. We revisited the need to breathe on punctuation and went through some examples. This woman, our longest-serving ensemble member, lit up and said, “This remind me of Romeo and Juliet – the Nurse monologue… Even or odd, of all the days of the year, come Lammas eve at night…” I jumped in, “Shall she be fourteen!” She laughed and said, “Yeah, Frannie!”

We moved on, and when we got to Act I Scene vii, I asked our Macbeth (who is off book for this scene) if she was going to do her pre-beat (described earlier in this blog). She nodded and ducked into the stage left stairwell, which has a door leading downstage of the actual stage. I asked the group again to give focus so that when she came out, she wouldn’t be distracted. She came storming in, paused, shook her head (in character; definitely in character) and walked back out. We stayed silent. She burst back in, strode to center, and then paused, taking us all in.

“If it were done, when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly…” This piece has come a long way from the last time we saw her do it. She was confident and played Macbeth’s warring emotions to great effect. It seemed she’d gotten the “holy ghost,” too. We were rapt. She sank to the steps, and then Lady Macbeth entered, towering over her. The scene moved; they connected deeply and spontaneously with each other; the energy was electric. It crackled. We all whooped and clapped when the scene ended. “I’m dropping an F-bomb in my notes!” I shouted. One ensemble member shook her head and smiled, saying, “[Macbeth], you moved me.” I asked her to elaborate. “She just… killed it. She murdered it,” she said. “You were doing the speech, and debating it, and trying to give excuses, and she was like, ‘What?!’” Another woman said, “She was back and forth on the decision… The conflict. You felt it all through the scene.”

I told them that this is exactly what Shakespeare should be: authentic, connected, in the moment, letting the text do the work and just rolling with it. We started citing specific moments that had most affected us. Our facilitator Lauren noted how effective it was when Lady Macbeth got in her husband’s face on, “We fail?” and then backed off as she went into the plan. Lady Macbeth said she wasn’t sure what to do with those two words. “I’m just disgusted by failure, in real life,” she said. “We… FAIL?” she continued, wrinkling her nose, drawing out the word. “Do it that way!” I said, noting that that short phrase gets an entire line of verse, so she has plenty of leeway to linger for as long as she wants.

“This scene feels like a transition,” she said, and we all realized how valuable this stumble through is at this point in the process. This is why I feel – and know – that I’m always on a learning curve in this program. I forget how hard it is to “get” the arc and breadth of any of these plays without seeing or walking the entire thing. Up until last year, there was always at least one ensemble member who wasn’t able to put all the pieces together until our first performance. But this year, we’re seeing the scenes in order in February. It makes me really intrigued about how this will impact the rest of our process. I’m so glad we decided to change things up this way!

Season Seven: Week 21


“I’m so glad to be here tonight,” one woman as she checked in with the group. “Everyone on my unit is on ten!” After check-in and warm up, we got right down to reading. We’re very eager to finish this up and get the play fully cast!

We began with Act III Scene i, in which Macbeth plots the murders of Banquo and Fleance. Our Macbeth and I had made some cuts that we apparently forgot to share with the others, including Macbeth’s long “Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men…” monologue. “What, you didn’t want to list all those dogs?” Kyle joked. “I HATE that speech!” she laughed.

“Lady Macbeth didn’t have to push him at all to kill the king,” said our Lady Macbeth. “This shows his true colors… He just wanted her support. All along he just wanted to make sure she was on board.” Our Macbeth gazed intently at her as she said this. “How do you feel about that, Macbeth?” I asked. “I like it,” she said. She went on to say that she felt that Macbeth is feeling very powerful in this scene, and that she agreed that that was in him all along. “They’re both working hard to pull the spike from the train they’ve derailed,” said another woman.

Our Lady Macbeth disagreed. “It’s solely based on what the witches said—not Lady Macbeth.” She continued, “He’s not listening to me. I’ve lost my mind!” Whether or not that’s true, we decided that the witches are important because Macbeth relies on their prophecies. I suggested that we try running the couple’s scenes with a few different interpretations to see what would work best for those two actors. “It’s awful funny he doesn’t include Lady Macbeth. She’s been his ride-or-die all along, and now he’s doing this on his own,” said one woman.

As we continued, it became apparent that the ensemble is taking more and more ownership of the play, and that they feel truly passionate about it. One woman quietly read aloud with our Macbeth—not loud enough to disturb anyone, but enough that she could feel that language and understand it better.

Another woman asked if she could share an idea that “might be controversial.” Her thought was that it would be interesting and potentially powerful if the witches were never seen at all—if we merely heard their voices. She felt that this would give a feeling that they’re spirits or as if Macbeth is hearing voices. Another woman questioned how the audience would know that they’re witches. We agreed to keep this idea in mind as we continue to develop our concept. We think we can combine it with others.

We then returned to our ongoing discussion about whether or not we should cut Hecate. Having now read the entire play and worked it a bit, most of us are in agreement that those scenes should go. It’s very clear to us that they weren’t written by Shakespeare and don’t further the plot, and, since we need to perform our play in 90 minutes or less, we need to cut all the low-hanging fruit we can.

One woman did not agree and spent several minutes outlining reasons why Hecate does enhance the play. “Question: if the playwright did not write that—“ I said, and she cut me off, leaning back in her chair and throwing her hands up. “Aw, [expletive-too-colorful-for-this-blog deleted]. I take it back. Damn it all to hell.” We laughed with her. “Keep reading—it solves the riddle. Don’t add shit to Shakespeare!” she said, and then, “Put that in the blog! Don’t. Add. Shit. To. Shakespeare.”

We moved on to a brief discussion about the visual concept of our play. Our Lady Macbeth began by saying that she envisioned her character in a white dress that was extremely dingy. “Ooooh,” I said, “You just gave me the idea of every costume being dingy. But that’s probably not it. Anyone want to build on that?” Our Macbeth suggested that she and Lady Macbeth begin the play essentially put together, but that their costumes grow more ragged as the play progresses. Another woman then suggested that the color palate for the entire show could be dark colors—at first, we were all thinking of gray and black, but then we remembered that those colors are restricted. “What about dark earth tones?” asked one woman. “Oh, yeah!” said another. “We could go with a whole Druid thing. Those are Druid colors!”

We’re going to keep brainstorming, but this was a great start. We have quite a few costume pieces in stock that could be used for this, which makes gathering anything we don’t have much easier! Of course, we are always happy to receive in-kind donations of costumes and materials. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.


We welcomed back a longtime ensemble member tonight. She left the ensemble before performing last season but is clearly thrilled to be back and firm in her commitment to follow through this time. It’s wonderful to have her in the room with us again.

We dove right back into our reading. When we arrived at the scene in which Macbeth’s mercenaries massacre Macduff’s family, we paused to discuss. This is a highly sensitive scene for some in the ensemble, and I don’t ever want to treat it casually. So I asked the group why they thought the scene was in the play. We all agreed that its function is to show Macbeth’s progression as a killer. “We see how far gone he is: he’s willing to kill women and children,” said one woman.

Kyle then pointed out that Duncan is killed off stage, but everyone else is killed in view of the audience. Why is that? “Duncan was his friend—someone he valued,” said one woman. “Off stage, to me, was him not wanting to do it… ‘I’m gonna do this and try to hide it because I really care about this person… After that first taste of blood, he gets into a blood rage. He just can’t stop. But now he puts it out in the open.” She clarified that the violence grows more explicit as Macbeth grows bolder.

The conversation made me realize something I’d never thought of before – the only murders that Macbeth commits with his own hands are those of Duncan and the guards—which happen off stage—and Young Siward; someone he doesn’t know in the course of a battle. Interesting! “It makes me wonder whether he’s really the great warrior they say he is,” said one woman. “He seems afraid of actually doing the deed.” Another woman disagreed, saying, “Killing in war is less intimate. It’s his job.” A third woman built on that: “Maybe it’s what invited his killing spree.”

Another woman pondered whether Macbeth employing people to kill on his behalf parallels the work he used to do as a subject of Duncan. “Was he a mercenary, though?” I asked. “I totally see Macbeth as a mercenary,” said another woman.

We got to Act IV Scene iii, which is a very long scene mostly between Malcolm and Macduff. “All right,” said our Malcolm wryly, “Kyle is fired for making me take this part.” I told her not to worry, that we’d cut the scene down. Our Macduff objected, and I told her that we have to make cuts wherever we can. “We HAVE to pay taxes,” she said, “We don’t HAVE to cut the scene!” But when we’d finished it, she said, “That was the longest scene ever!” I laughed and said, “Yeah! That’s why we have to cut it!” Several others jumped in, “But not the end!” referring to Macduff’s reaction to the massacre of his family. “The end is beautiful. There’s so much emotion,” one person said.

We then arrived at the famous sleepwalking scene. We can’t touch this scene without talking! One woman felt that Lady Macbeth knows that her husband had Banquo and Lady Macduff killed. “She’s saying, stop!” said another woman. “No,” said our Lady Macbeth, “She wants him to stop being so obvious. I don’t think she’s against the murders—it’s she’s worried about being caught.” She said she thought that Macbeth fills his wife in on what he’s been doing between scenes—we as the audience just don’t see it happen. Our Macbeth countered that she didn’t think Macbeth explicitly tells Lady Macbeth that he ordered the murders. She thought that he is vague about it, and Lady Macbeth puts two and two together.

We noted more of Macbeth’s evolution as we read through Act V Scene iii. Our Macbeth pointed out that when the character talks to the doctor about Lady Macbeth, he never calls her “my wife.” Another woman said that he’s completely shut down at this point. “He don’t see her that way anymore,” she said. “He’s done so much horrible stuff; he’s trying to suppress what he’s feeling.”

One ensemble member then said, “Frannie, my body is falling asleep.” She asked if she could teach us an improv game she’d seen on TV, and it turned out to be extremely fun. One woman in particular wowed us with her sharp instincts and timing.

We’re almost at the end of the play! Our plan for Tuesday is to finish reading, cast the remaining roles, and move forward with staging. We should be able to stick to it!

Season Seven: Week 20



When we finished checking in, I asked if anyone would like to lead The Ring, since our newbies hadn’t experienced it yet. A woman who joined the group in September and was having a very bad day unexpectedly volunteered. She led it beautifully. She has been an incredible force in the ensemble almost since her first day, encouraging honesty, compassion, and good humor even when she’s down. She lets us know what’s going on, and then she rallies and carries the rest of us with her. I don’t know if she realizes what a crucial leader she is in the ensemble. I’m very grateful she’s there.

We decided to play Energy Around with names to get to know each other better and loosen up a bit. I explained the game for our new members and asked who would like to start. I was surprised and delighted when a woman who’s now been with us for more than a year (volunteered. She has been open in the past about how vulnerable she feels during some theatre games, and she sometimes sits to the side rather than participate. I’m not sure she’s ever volunteered to lead or begin a game before, and definitely has not when meeting a bunch of new people. She quietly exhibits more and more confidence the longer she works with us.

It was cold in the auditorium, so we did Michael Chekhov’s Six Directions exercise to warm up, and then we settled in to read the play; we want to get our newbies familiar with the material, finish casting, and then go back to working through scenes. We were excited when one of our new members immediately volunteered to read a character. Another soon followed suit. We buzzed through the first few scenes without much discussion, just summing up the crucial information in case anyone had gotten lost in the language. That changed after we read the first scene with Lady Macbeth and her husband, though.

One woman said that she’s gotten more frustrated with this scene – and this relationship – the more time we’ve spent with it. “I don’t get it,” she fumed. “They already have everything they need without the responsibility of being king. Why can’t that just be enough?”

We talked about that briefly, but there was something else bothering her. She said that she strongly felt that Lady Macbeth is evil and/or not thinking, and that Macbeth should take a more traditional role in reining her in. The woman playing Lady, though, countered that she thinks the character is “totally normal.” A new member jumped in, saying, “She’s just thinking like any woman. Any of us would be trying to get what they want.”

The first woman was still frustrated. “They’re thinking about the gain, but nobody’s thinking about the consequences,” she said. “That’s like everyone in Shakespeare,” laughed a woman who’s now in her sixth season. “Romeo and Juliet, Taming of the Shrew… Nobody ever thinks!”

Our Lady Macbeth then said again that she felt like someone went through this play and cut scenes before it was printed. She said she wished there was a scene prior to this one that would clarify the couple’s relationship. She felt like people were prejudging her character. The woman who began the conversation said she would love to see a scene like that. She didn’t understand why Macbeth wouldn’t “wear the pants, drive the car.” Kyle said, “That’s what Lady Macbeth is saying!” She shook her head. “Everything ended up bad because it wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.”

Another woman said that Lady Macbeth has a power issue; she wants to be king, but she can’t, so she decides to live it through Macbeth. “Oh!” exclaimed a new member. “She’s Hilary Clinton!” We all laughed and reminded each other that we need to try to stay away from politics.

Matt built on that, though, by asking us how much we thought Macbeth’s public persona plays into Lady Macbeth’s attraction to him, as well as her actions in the play. One woman suggested that perhaps Lady had known that it was a mask or façade and saw someone she could dominate. Another woman agreed and said that Lady Macbeth had probably realized she could gain power for herself through him.

Our Lady Macbeth then broke in good-naturedly and asked us if it were possible that at this point Lady Macbeth is simply thinking about her husband’s happiness; she got his letter and thought about how happy being king would make him. She said again that she wished there were a scene between the two of them prior to this, and the woman who was so frustrated agreed again. “All right!” I said, looking back and forth between them, “You write it!” One of the women laughed and shook her head, but our Lady Macbeth, who is a prolific writer, said she would!

We then moved forward in the play, finishing up Act One. We put our ring back up and left for the night, feeling enthusiastic about the dynamic we’re already developing with our new members.



We began tonight with an honest-to-goodness acting warm up, and then, per one ensemble member’s request, we did Augusto Boal’s “Blind Cars” exercise.

In this exercise, people pair up, with one being the “car” and the other being the “driver.” The driver tells the car, who has her eyes closed, where and how to move by touching her with two fingers between the shoulders for “go,” on the right shoulder for “right,” and on the left shoulder for “left.” The amount of pressure indicates speed. The whole thing is done without speaking.

We did the exercise twice, switching roles midway through. When we reflected afterward, people gave all sorts of feedback about their challenges being the car – not so much when they were the driver. A couple of people shared with us that being the car brought on intense anxiety – their hearts were still racing. I thanked them for sharing and made sure everyone knew that, while it can be a positive thing to push through mild anxiety, any time it starts to feel overwhelming or dangerous it’s perfectly fine – and probably a good idea – to take a break from the exercise. Both women said that, while it really hadn’t felt good, they didn’t want to back off.

Then one longtime member pointed out that everyone had paired off with someone else with whom they were already comfortable. She wondered how thing would go if we mixed it up a bit – so we did! Unsurprisingly, the exercise proved to be more challenging this way, but it also proved to be a good ice breaker. And the women who were feeling anxious got through it just fine!

As we reflected on that second round, I asked the group what they thought the value of the exercise was – in general, in theatre, and in our ensemble. Establishing trust is always what we go to immediately, and someone pointed out that this is especially valuable in a prison setting. We also talked about the relevance of the exercise to our rehearsal and performance process – the freedom of knowing that we don’t always need to be in control because we have the ensemble’s support. “This exercise is kind of symbolic of SIP,” I said. “This needs to be a place where we can relax and trust others. We all need to be able to be the car here.”

We then returned to our read-through of the play. It was a run-of-the-mill reading at first, but when we got to Act II Scene ii, things took a turn for the dramatic!

Our Lady Macbeth began her reading intelligently, as always, but without much passion. Our Macbeth’s energy was a bit higher, although she was not emotionally engaged. But when they arrived at, “These deeds must not be thought after these ways…” Lady Macbeth moved quickly from her seat into the chair next to Macbeth. This sudden proximity caused Macbeth to bump it up a notch. Their reading intensified, and suddenly Lady Macbeth rose to her feet, clearly feeling her character’s anxiety and frustration. Macbeth then rose to her feet, matching that energy and raising the bar. They continued to feed off of each other, and the scene exploded with a fullness of energy and language that we haven’t seen yet from anyone this season. It was incredible – even those who were new to the program put down their books to watch.

When the scene ended, we burst into applause. “That was amazing!” several people said. “What happened?” one woman asked Lady Macbeth. “I got the Shakespeare Holy Ghost!” she laughed, and we all laughed with her. “Then I was like, all right! Let’s go!” More laughter. “But seriously,” she continued, “It took over!” Our Macbeth agreed – she’d been carried away as well.

The woman who’d suggested the exercise we began with tonight said, “Isn’t that just like the car game? Depending on each other?” Yes, it is!

“I honestly, for the first time, think I read it really good,” said Lady Macbeth. “Not only that…Normally I try and sound cool, but this time I felt like I played the scene exactly how I wanted it to go.” Macbeth said that when Lady “went for it,” she had been able to roll with it effortlessly. “Her chair moved,” said one woman. “I wanted some popcorn!” It was the best either of them had ever felt.

“That’s how this works!” I said. “You had an instinct, and [Macbeth] backed you up, which gave you permission to keep going with it. Shakespeare does all the work for you if you roll with it and trust your scene partner. Were you thinking at all?” I asked Lady Macbeth. She shook her head and said she hadn’t been able to think – she’d just felt it. “Right,” I said. “This language is pure emotion. If you let it drive you – if you can be the car – you don’t need to think at all about times in your life when you’ve experienced similar feelings; you don’t need to go anywhere near past trauma. Trauma is dangerous, but feelings aren’t. This language will call up all the emotion you need if you let it.”

Our Lady Macbeth then said that she had really loved our vocal reactions to what she had been doing; several of us just hadn’t been able to keep from giving her feedback in real time, we were so taken with her performance. “That’s not distracting?” asked a new member. “No, it really fed me!” she said. “Vocal feedback is good!” I said. “That’s when we truly know the audience is with us.” One woman joked that it had felt like witnessing. “Yes! For real!” I said. “Rehearsal can be like church!”

We read through the next scene with the remaining time. One new member is already pretty set on playing Lennox, although we agreed not to cast anything till we’ve read the whole play; she might change her mind!

 We wrapped up, laughing together and feeling extremely positive. I pulled Lady Macbeth aside before we left to tell her how much I appreciated her diving in and showing our new members what it looks like to fully commit to a scene. “That’s what I do!” she said. “And you’ve done it since Day One,” I replied.

Season Seven: Week 19


Tonight the ensemble checked in and played some games as I gathered with some new folks for an orientation in a nearby classroom. I chatted with them about SIP’s goals, how it works, and I answered all of their questions. Then we headed into the auditorium to observe the work already in progress and chat about it.

That had been the entire plan for the evening, but when I checked in with two longtime ensemble members, they said that they thought the newcomers might be bored. I asked if we should include them in a game or demo some Shakespeare, but one of the women said, “No. No! Three questions!” The other woman nodded vigorously, so I invited the first to ask everyone to circle up.

What brings you to Shakespeare?
What do you hope to get out of the experience?
What is the gift that you bring?

As usual, many people have joined us to try something that's out of their comfort zones, to open up, to make friends, and to learn something new. Most of our newbies have been recruited by past and current ensemble members.

One longtime ensemble member joked, "Shakespeare is like a marriage you cannot get out of… It’s such a commitment. The good days outweigh the bad days… Your mood is gonna get better just by being here.” Another said, “I’m just good, you know? Turns out I’m naturally good at Shakespeare.”

A woman who joined us in the fall shared that there are many reasons she joined and stays in our ensemble. "I needed to try something new – not get out [of prison] and do the same things over and over again... I know nothing but the drug life. This has actually helped save my life. If I hadn’t done this, my state of mind would have been the same as it was: getting out and getting high.”

The ensemble member with whom we joke so often about being older than the rest of us joked, when asked what she hoped to get out of the experience, "I don’t know. Age." We all laughed, and someone asked her about the gift that she brings. "Personality," she said. "And age!"

The woman who emerged as such an integral ensemble member last season - who came in so defeated and is now so confident - said, “I am… good at… Frannie’s staring at me and willing me to say it… directing. I try not to take charge and just give people good advice.” I immediately replied, "That’s WHY you’re a good director!"

A number of people needed to leave, so we wrapped up for the night. Next up: reading through the play with our new ensemble members and finishing up with casting!

Season Seven: Week 18


Almost right away, our Porter, who had been so overwhelmed last week, let us know that she wanted to try her scene again. Multiple people (including me!) joyfully exclaimed, “Really?!” We were surprised and excited that she’d rallied in such a big way and was being so assertive.

After a brief huddle with a couple of ensemble members, she launched into her monologue. Occasionally she stopped and apologized when she stumbled over words, but each time she did at least five people would shout, “Don’t apologize! You’ve got this! Keep going!” And even though her performance was halting, she laughed off each mistake, bolstered by her own determination and the vocal support of the ensemble. At one point, Kyle asked if she wanted him to “drop in” the lines so she wouldn’t have to read, but she smiled and said, “No. I can finish it.” And she did. And it was amazing. No one ever would have known how discouraged she had been from what she accomplished tonight.

We then did some problem solving with our staging. If you’ve been reading along, you might recall that I had been doubtful that we would stick with what we’d come up with, and I tried to introduce some of my concerns and ideas without being pushy. I explained that as an audience member I would be confused by the curtain closing between the post-murder scene and the porter’s; it would make me think that the location had changed, but we’d determined as an ensemble that it doesn’t. We decided to try leaving the curtain open, slightly adjusting some of our blocking. That seemed to work well, at least for now.

When we arrived at Banquo’s entrance, we were reminded that that role was still open. The woman playing Lady Macduff jumped up to fill in. I was having a quiet conversation with another ensemble member when I heard her say, “Did you hear that, Frannie?” I gave my attention to her and asked what I had missed. “I’m gonna be Bankroll,” she said (the inside jokes are well underway). “Oh, you’re gonna fill in tonight?” I asked. “No,” she said. “I mean I’m gonna really BE Bankroll.” Simultaneously, Kyle and I shouted, “You are?! That’s awesome!” She began to move on with the scene, but I couldn’t let it go. This is the woman who had only a small role last year, and has blossomed and taken charge this season in a big way. “How are Kyle and I more excited about this than you are?” I exclaimed. She shrugged her shoulders and smiled. She clearly IS excited – we all are – but she didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, so we moved on.

We stumbled our way through the scene, and everyone made great blocking adjustments in real time. Of course, it’s difficult to see the big picture when you’re on stage, so there was a lot of collaborative criticism afterward as we tried to figure it out. One woman thought that the Porter should fall asleep on stage and that Macduff should wake her on “ring the bell.” That works logically, but it made everyone in the audience laugh, so I’m not sure that we’ll keep it.

We tried the scene again, giving our Macduff some suggestions to help her increase her sense of urgency. Our Lady Macbeth had had to leave early, so another woman stood in for her. When she fainted, she did so all the way downstage, clinging to Macbeth as she did so. It was quite effective, but we all agreed that the staging will ultimately be up to the woman playing the role. We’ll show her how this worked, but we’ll all be completely fine if she wants to go in a different direction.

With the time we had left, we decided to work with the ensemble member pursuing acting on her monologue. She’s using “Sir, spare your threats…” from The Winter’s Tale to explore allowing herself to be both vulnerable and powerful. She tried it once with script in hand, and it was a solid reading, but she didn’t feel good about it. “I don’t know,” she said. “I wanted to go further.” She had the piece semi-memorized, so I asked if she might like to try it with me on book. I also helped her clarify the character’s objective and tactics to strengthen her already apt approach. She centered herself and began, glaring at her “imaginary other,” speaking low and with great intensity. Then she stopped. “No! Keep going!” we all shouted. “I didn’t get past the first sentence!” she said. “Yeah, but it was a great first sentence,” several of us said.

She took a deep breath and began again. There was an incredible amount of power in what she was doing. I sat on the edge of the stage to cue her and quietly rev her up when she started to lose steam, saying things like, “How could he do this to you? Rip him to shreds. Don’t back off.” Even so early in her work, she was able to harness deep emotion and pummel the other character with it. When the piece ended, she looked at me. “How did that feel?” I asked. She smiled a little. “It felt pretty good,” she said.

“It was SO good,” I said. “How did it feel to the rest of us out here?” I asked the others. Every person was shaking their head. One woman gazed at the person on stage and simply said, “Chills.” Another said she had been almost in tears.

The woman who had performed described her process thus far. “You know, I thought Frannie was full of shit,” she said, smiling at me. We all laughed. “But you were right. I do use comedy to mask things… And it does sound better in my own voice. I thought I’d need an accent, but this is better. It feels more true.” We agreed with her wholeheartedly. “And I really love this monologue,” she said. “This feels real.”

Another woman approached me afterward and asked if she could do monologue work, too. I replied that of course she could; Macbeth is a much shorter play than we’re used to, and we will definitely have time to do some experimentation. I asked what kind of monologue she wanted, and she said she’d like something out of her comfort zone. I asked her what that would be. “Something I can really put myself into… Something emotional,” she said. I’ll be bringing some options to our next meeting!


We spent the bulk of our time tonight brainstorming on some program development. I can’t share those details yet but hope to have more for you soon!

With the time we had left, we played a very silly circle game. After so much sitting and talking, it was a relief to move around and laugh. It’s a very strong ensemble. We’re very fortunate to be able to work together.