Today as the women were entering the auditorium, sitting down and chatting, one of them came in, put her stuff down, and said, “I’ve got something to show you.” So we all stopped talking and asked her what was up. She launched into the monologue we began working on last week. She has memorized the first half of it. We all applauded when she stopped, and I asked her what motivated her to do that. “I’m excited about this group,” she said, “And I love this monologue.” Everyone was very impressed by this effort. The first thing we did after warm ups was to finish up our discussion about the Shakespeare Behind Bars documentary. One woman asked the group if they found it “distracting” that some of the men talked openly about their crimes and their personal lives. Nearly everyone chimed in that they did not. One said that she found that sharing their experiences seemed to help them admit responsibility, that it took courage to do it, and that “they are our peers.” Another said it brought them power and honor to admit openly what they had done. We discussed that what one of the men said he hoped to gain by talking about his story was a “balancing of the scales” – that his life could be viewed in its totality, and that perhaps he wouldn’t be judged solely on the worst thing he had ever done.
We then began our work on the monologue. We discussed it in great detail, and then the woman who came in half memorized today volunteered to perform first. She insisted on putting the script down and doing it from memory again. Afterward, the group applauded her but pointed out that she had been focusing on her lines rather than on truly expressing herself. The women who performed in August advised her that this will get better, but it might be a good idea to use the script for now until she has a better handle on what she’s doing with the material. Her next reading was very powerful. I asked her how it felt for her. She said she had read it “how it would be if it was me.” She said she wanted to make us “feel it.” One participant noted that since she slowed down and took her time with the language, it became more meaningful. Because of her pace, she also was able to articulate very well, which people appreciated.
The next to read stood up from her chair (we were sitting in a circle) and walked a bit. She ended up delivering most of the piece out to the house with her back to us, but even so, it was a great reading. She said it felt “awesome,” that she understood it, and that she was able to “ride emotions from the meaning.” One of the participants said that she just wished she had been able to see her face, which led to a brief discussion about the importance of one’s position in relation to the audience – that the eyes are the windows to the soul, and we need to be able to see them.
The last participant to read had a different interpretation than the first two, who found grief and sadness that turned to anger. This participant simmered through the whole piece and then exploded. One of the others made a comment about this difference: “Didn’t we decide she’s just sad at first?” The woman who read, though, said that her interpretation felt more natural – that she was drawing on her own experience in which she is very angry when she grieves. I glanced at the women who have been in the group for a long time, and they were knowingly nodding their heads, so I asked them if they had anything to say. They brought up how it’s okay for actors to have different interpretations of the same material and discussed their own experience of how that worked last time, even in performance.
I was truly impressed today with how deeply the three women who read dove into this piece. They showed no hesitation to fully commit to what they were doing, which is fantastic. I have no doubt that it will not be that way for everyone in the group, but I’m glad that a good number of them will be able to lead by example in this way.