August 28, 2012

We decided to take some time today to reflect on the performance, the process, and decide what we’re going to do going forward with the program. The first thing that was brought up was when the participant playing Othello went up on her lines twice, and we had to close the curtain, refocus and restart the scene. She said that she had been so worried about remembering her lines for her scene that she neglected to go over the monologue just before the performance, and this experience taught her not to be over-confident, but to stay diligent. Some of the other participants who skipped lines in performance agreed that this was true for them as well. But then we talked about the audience reaction when Othello eventually DID make it all the way through the piece – and powerfully. I asked them if they thought it would have been more valuable for the audience to have seen something perfect, or to have seen a prisoner facing a challenge and overcoming it, right before their eyes. Everyone agreed that the latter was much more meaningful.

We talked about why the audience had bigger reactions to some pieces than others. We decided that this was probably due to the emotional commitment of whoever was on stage – the pieces that got the most applause, or the most attention during performance, were the ones in which the actress(es) completely dove in, didn’t break character and emotionally connected with what they were doing.

The effects of the performance have been outstanding for the participants. Some said that their friends had approached them and said things like, “I didn’t know you had it in you.” The emotions they were able to express on stage surprised people who know them. The participant playing Othello said that only one person mentioned the mistake she made, and that person shrugged it off, saying it was no big deal. The participants are also getting compliments from people they don’t know, which is a huge boost to their confidence. One participant said that her involvement in the group has inspired her teenage daughter to get involved in theatre at school, which she’s very happy about.

We then discussed guidelines for moving forward. We decided to aim for a performance in nine months, and we are going to see if we can do more than one performance so that more prisoners can see the show. Everything else we discussed had to do with each participant taking responsibility for her role in the group. We made guidelines for memorization and more strict criteria for absences. For example, while the prisoners are sometimes required to miss class for health care and things of that nature, the group decided that that does not preclude their responsibility to continue working on their material, even if they’re not there. The same standards of memorization and commitment will apply to everyone. If people have good reason to be absent but are clearly working hard, the group will accept that. But if that dedication is not there, the group decided that that should constitute removal from the program.

We decided that instead of having new people audition for the group, we will “interview” them to see what their level of commitment will be. We will be frank about how the group is a lot of fun, but does require serious work. We will emphasize that this needs to be a safe space in which people can express themselves and encourage each other to overcome challenges.

I am enthusiastic about what we will be able to accomplish moving forward, and I know the core group that is staying is as well.