March 6, 2012

After physical and vocal warm ups, and a few exercises to wake up our bodies,  we moved on to an exercise called “Complete the Image.” Two participants shake hands and then freeze, creating a picture. The rest of the group talked about what the image communicated to us about the situation and the relationship between the two actors. Each person then had a turn to tag someone out and take their place, changing the picture. This exercise got a lot of laughs as the participants showed their growing comfort with each other by doing very silly things. There were two participants who, rather than shaking hands, barely touched their fingers to one another as if they had cooties. Another participant got down on one knee as if she were proposing, while the other made a surprised face and gesture. Everyone agreed that simple things like posture and gestures communicate just as much about situations and relationships as facial expression and language. Since the group expressed a desire to explore improvisation, we played a game to encourage quick thinking and creativity. Everyone showed great enthusiasm and did very well achieving these objectives. There was a lot of laughter, and they thoroughly enjoyed the game.

Since they expressed that they want to spend more time on Shakespeare and less on exercises and games, we settled down to finish going through our monologues. We spent some time discussing the context of each piece before reading it, and then discussed what was going on in each monologue after. Two of the pieces that really stood out to the entire group were a monologue from Brutus in “Julius Caesar” and one from Lady Macbeth in “Macbeth.” They identified with the sarcasm and grief in the first, and were very interested in the complex emotions evident in the second. They were all able to glean a lot of information from these pieces without much help from me, which is probably why they were so enthusiastic about them.

Some of the participants are already gravitating toward certain pieces. One of the participants feels very strongly about the King’s monologue from “Hamlet” in which he expresses his guilt for his crime and wonders if he can gain anything by repentance. She said that she could identify with the guilt and the longing for redemption. Everyone expressed that even with the pieces of which they are not sure of the exact meaning, they like the “flow” and identify with the big ideas. They are eager to delve into these pieces in detail and get up on their feet and perform them.

In reflecting, I apologized for the somewhat tedious nature of spending most of our time going through these pieces and was surprised by several of them commenting that they really enjoyed it. They love analyzing and reading these pieces aloud to one another, and one said she had just as much fun today as she had on the first day. They said even though they were kind of lost going through the pieces by themselves, it helps to have context and explanations. They are eager to get into the emotions of the pieces and are already showing some of that in their readings. One participant is in another group in which they read aloud, and she said her facilitator in that group commented on how strong and “dramatic” her reading had become. This participant attributes that to her growing confidence with Shakespeare and is happy that this program is achieving results that are being incorporated into the rest of her life.

I believe we have now established a core group of ten individuals who are fully committed to the program and are eager to learn and grow. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and they frequently talk about this program to their fellow inmates, which I hope will encourage others to try programs like this and grow themselves.