March 20, 2012

We had three new participants today. We got them oriented prior to and during warm ups, and we all introduced ourselves to the new people and made sure that everyone knows everyone else’s names. I wanted to introduce them to a new game, and I chose a game that involves a song/chant that the group does together and then calls each other out individually, in rhythm. This group did something that I haven’t seen happen before in other groups – rather than trying to go as quickly as the game requires, they slowed down the tempo as a group to make it easier, without discussing it. This shows their growth as an ensemble and their ability to work as a team.

In response to the new participants’ apparent reservations about playing the game, one participant remarked that she knows that the games, even though many of them seem silly, really accomplish something. She said that, through playing, she has become very comfortable with the group, though she is normally very shy. She says that the games have increased her confidence and she is becoming more “outspoken” in her every day life. The other participants all nodded their heads in agreement.

The first participant to perform her piece today was the one with the learning disability. She is working on a monologue by Emilia in “Othello.” She warned us beforehand that she would stumble on some of the words, and we were all very supportive of her. As she read her piece, various participants assisted her with the words with which she had trouble in a very kind and compassionate way. We broke the piece down bit by bit, and I asked her if she could put some more of Emilia’s attitude into the piece. She improved a bit, but stopped in the middle to apologize for stumbling over words. We all encouraged her to perform again and take the attitude up a notch, and she definitely gave it her all. She did not want to read again, but asked if next time she could sit in a chair while she performed. Of course I said yes, and I am heartened that this means she is really taking ownership of the piece and interpreting it in her own way.

Another participant has chosen Hermione’s monologue at her trial in “The Winter’s Tale.” This is a very powerful monologue by a woman whose life has been destroyed by her husband’s jealousy. This participant showed a solid intellectual understanding of the piece, so we worked with her on connecting with the emotion of it. Taking it piece by piece enabled her to access more of the detail, and when she read again it was much more powerful. She clearly connects with the piece, and I look forward to working with her further on it.

There was a second participant who has chosen Hermione’s monologue. Her interpretation was more quiet and reserved than the other woman’s, and we noticed that she was standing with her hand in her pocket. We encouraged her to embrace the feelings in the piece of anger, sadness and courage… and to keep her hand out of her pocket! She expressed that she was not sure when each emotion comes in and out of the piece, and I assured her that that is something that she will discover as she works on it more. She performed again, and kept her hand out of her pocket, but now fiddled with the bottom of her shirt. She said this is because she is still nervous getting up in front of people, but she knows she will get more comfortable as time goes on.

In the end, we talked about the final performance. Some of the participants will probably not be in prison in November, so we need to take that into account. One of the participants asked why we could not do a “mini-play”, so we explained the group’s reasoning to her, although I assured them that there is still time to adjust the plan if they want to. I told her that we would connect our various monologues and scenes with narration, and that we would all develop the performance together. She felt better after the conversation and said she understood it more. Several of the participants want to include improv in their performance, and we decided that if it fits, we’ll do it.

I am going to continue to introduce new games and exercises, since they really enjoy learning something new every week. I have found a number of great exercises for breathing, and when I asked if they’d like to get into those next week, there was a lot of enthusiasm. This group is growing so much each week, making discoveries about themselves and truly embracing the work they are doing, together and individually. They can only get stronger, as a group and individually. I so look forward to this program every week!