June 15, 2012

Amanda LeClaire from the Metro Times came to observe today’s session, and we had a discussion about the program, which she listened in on. I am going to focus on that in this post, although we did work monologues prior to having the discussion. The participants reiterated that they love this program because it takes them out of prison for four hours every week – it’s fun and exciting, and they are learning a lot. One of them said that it’s the first time she’s felt this way about a program in her 25 years in prison; another said it’s her first time having this kind of experience since she entered prison at seventeen. They said that the program is bringing them out of their shells and giving them more confidence. They are becoming more bold in every aspect of their lives. It has helped to “expand” them by giving them the feeling that “I can do this.”

They said that this program helps to expand their minds in a “condensed” and supportive environment, and they are very grateful for it. Everyone helps everyone else in this group, which they say is a rare thing. They like the warm ups – they love to be silly because they are so comfortable with each other.

We talked about why they chose the pieces they did. One said she chose Emilia’s monologue in part because it is short, and in part because she identified with the character. Another echoed this, saying she chose hers because it’s silly, and she’s a silly person. Another, who is performing Rosalind, said she chose hers because she identified the character as being not herself, but other people in her life – she has been beaten down and homeless, and people looked down on her and treated her poorly – which is what Rosalind does in that monologue. Another said she chose Antony because she is familiar with losing someone she’s loved and the piece “touched her heart.” We talked about one of the early participants who dropped after she chose and performed “To be or not to be…” I asked the women why they thought she had dropped, and they all agreed that she had probably identified so deeply with the piece that she got scared and didn’t want to delve any deeper.

The women said they love “becoming” people other than themselves and like doing the scenes in addition to the monologues because it gives them the opportunity to get into more than one character’s skin. We talked about how Desdemona’s situation echoes that of many female prisoners – being in an abusive relationship and not knowing what to do about it. One of the prisoners said she was happy that we were able to cut some of her lines that she didn’t like.

Then one of them said that they couldn’t end the discussion without talking about their experience working with me. They said that they love the techniques we’ve worked with in terms of style, freedom and suggestions. They love the drop-in exercise especially. They are happy that I push them to rise to the occasion and give it their all, urging them to stay in character and keep going even when they mess up. They enjoy the breakdowns we do of each line in a scene or monologue, and they like it when I explain the history of the plays and characters. They said that my approach has made Shakespeare very accessible for them, even though they’ve never seen professionals do it. I asked them if they’d like me to bring in a film version of a play for them to watch, and they said they’d love it.

They also made a point of saying how grateful they are to the administration for allowing this program to exist and for being flexible with them. They are very grateful for the experience.

I am so happy with how this conversation went. Everything they said the program does for them is exactly what the program is supposed to be doing. I am gaining confidence right along with them as I get this type of feedback consistently. We are definitely on the right track.