Session Three: Week 33

I was thrilled to sit down with Craig Fahle on WDET 101.9 FM to chat about Shakespeare in Prison! Take a listen here.  


Tonight was our first run-through of our play.

It went beautifully.

We began about 20 minutes into our meeting, and people who were running late jumped in as they arrived. To all of our delight, we found that our ensemble is very close to being off book for the entire play – a feat that we did not even come close to achieving last year, and something about which they had all expressed doubt. Lines were, of course, shakier in scenes that haven’t received as much rehearsal, but for the most part, this ensemble is solid on lines. This is an enormous confidence boost, as opposed to the previous two sessions when no one knew how performances would go because lines were either very shaky or being read from scripts.

Even scenes that are under-rehearsed went reasonably well. We made our to-do list and found that the majority of our work lies in figuring out transitions between scenes. In the interest of efficiency (so we can focus on storytelling, acting, and line memorization in our time together), I will be putting together a chart with all of our scene change and sound cue duties.

Many of these transitions were discussed briefly and on the fly. For instance, we have decided to use the curtain to help with scene changes, and one of these decisions took place after we ended the scene in which Tybalt and Mercutio die. The women quickly determined that the scene needs to be re-blocked so that the deaths occur upstage of the curtain line, and this will smooth the transition.

The group also came up with a beautiful idea for the end of the play (A glooming peace this morning with it brings…): to have each dead character say one line, and then have the entire ensemble bow. We need to work out the specifics of this, but it’s a fabulous idea, and we’re sticking with it.

Much of the work that was done tonight was incredibly truthful and moving. “Those wailing scenes,” remarked co-facilitator Jamie, “I don’t think I’ve ever believed the Nurse before, but tonight I believed her.” There were a few times when I was moved nearly to tears not only by the group’s willingness to commit emotionally to the material, but by their sheer commitment to the project itself. As I said, the previous two performances have been sources of anxiety and stress due to some ensemble members’ lack of commitment dragging the rest of us down. The energy in the room tonight, however, was inspired, rousing, optimistic, and determined. I am always delighted by the progress these groups have made, which has always been subjective. But this is the first time I am seeing an ensemble truly gel, 100%, and get the job done to their own satisfaction.

Due to our ruthless cutting of the text, our run-through took one hour and twenty minutes. This means that we have time, even if we run the play, to work some of the things on our to-do list each Tuesday night.

We are pumped up, working as a team, and ready to see this thing through to the end.


When we walked in today, one of the women told us that her uncle heard me being interviewed by Craig Fahle on 101.9 WDET FM. He told her that he’s proud she’s doing something productive and inspirational, and she in turn has been buoyed by that feedback. Community support is a beautiful thing. This radio interview and the support we’ve received from our Indiegogo campaign have meant the world to all of us.

Today we focused on under-rehearsed scenes as planned. We began with Act III Scene ii, in which the Nurse tells Juliet that Romeo has killed Tybalt. We spent some time working out exactly what the Nurse’s objectives are here, and how they change. The woman who is playing the character entered the scene with the objective of being the first to deliver the news to Juliet, and then worked toward letting anger toward Romeo move her to try to drive a wedge between him and Juliet, then letting that go when Juliet threatens suicide. This scene truly began to take off when objectives were clarified, and after the women ran it the final time, they moved co-facilitator Sarah to tears with their honesty. It is a very difficult scene, and their work on it is incredibly powerful.

We moved on to Act III Scene iii, in which the Friar delivers news to Romeo of his banishment. This scene was working for us intellectually, but the woman playing Romeo was finding it difficult to fully commit to what the text was instructing her to do: the Friar calls Romeo a “mad man,” and he and the Nurse implore him to get up off the ground multiple times. Sarah asked her to throw a tantrum – to pace, to increase her physical tension, and to act like a small child if necessary. When Romeo did this, it heightened the scene for the Nurse and me – in fact, her grief was so honest, so young, that it disarmed me, forcing me to play this scene differently from my initial interpretation. I found that I could not be angry with Romeo – that my overwhelming obstacle was my own guilt for my part in driving the events that made his life such a mess. This led me to try to comfort and uplift him rather than admonish him, and this in turn led Romeo to shift from her tension to a more relaxed state. Her commitment completely changed this scene for me. I will never look at it the same way, and that includes my take on Friar Laurence.

When we were satisfied with our work on this scene, we moved on to the balcony scene. It needed new staging, since the facility’s building trades department has been kind enough to build us a balcony, so we worked that – but more than that, we took a look at the characters. Juliet worked to make her dialogue fresh, like she’d never thought of these things before. She and Romeo both worked to have more “puppy-like” energy. They began connecting in new ways, losing their lines, but after we ran the scene several times with this fresh take, the lines were back and the scene began to flow.

With the little time we had left, we began to stage the final scene of the play, working out where the bodies should all be so that no one would be upstaged and our invisible tomb entrance would make sense. We need to spend more time on this, but the framework is there now.

I will be bringing costumes and props with me Tuesday. We have a few more things on our to-do list, but we are very close to being ready to share our work.