February 7, 2012

Today we began by discussing what the program could be and what the participants' expectations are. The program will be driven by what they seek to get out of it. They are very interested in becoming better at public speaking, getting up in front of people without being scared or nervous. They are also interested in learning about Shakespeare and acting in general. It was decided that the final performance, which they all want to do, will be a showcase of scenes and monologues rather than a full production. This decision was made based on the participants’ experience with people being released from prison during the rehearsal process and on audience members leaving mid-performance, which they thought would be distracting. We discussed creating a safe environment of trust and ensemble, and the importance of that in learning to express our emotions on stage. We then warmed up, and then did some theatre games and exercises to establish trust, ensemble, quick thinking and focus. Some of the exercises require strong eye contact, and we discussed the importance of that. One participant who is wary of eye contact brought up her fear, and we discussed why that might be. One participant posited that it is probably a defense mechanism, and the participant with the issue agreed.

I distributed the “What a piece of work is a man” monologue from “Hamlet.” After reading over it silently, we went around the circle, each person reading from punctuation to punctuation. We discussed what was going on in the monologue in general, and then broke it down phrase by phrase.

Everyone got up individually to read the monologue. Participants in the audience gave good constructive criticism to whomever was reading, and each person improved the second time she did the monologue. The participants then insisted that I perform the monologue, and they then expressed that they wished they had seen me do it first, since it gave them a lot of good ideas. I told them that I hadn’t because I didn’t want them to copy me, but I may do it in the future since they wanted it so much. They promised that if I did they would not copy me, but would simply use the example to give them ideas.

We then did an exercise in which each participant walks across the stage and the audience analyzes the walk. We noted that each person’s walk was different, and we discussed what about the walk communicated whatever we interpreted, and why that is important onstage, as well as in life.

In closing, we discussed how the day had gone. The participants all agreed that they had enjoyed themselves. One said she already felt less nervous about public speaking, that she already trusts the group. Another said she felt liberated by performing the monologue, and all the others agreed. They decided that they want to continue next week with monologues and do scene work later.

I am very encouraged by the discoveries everyone is already making - I am especially excited by the participant who declared that she no longer has stage fright after just two readings of the monologue. It was a very good start to the program.