These two weeks were spent gaining confidence in ourselves and the ensemble, firming up the way we want to stage our play, and overcoming challenges. Week 34 saw us running our play with costumes and props for the first time on Tuesday, which provided new challenges as we figured out costume changes and where our props need to live off stage. We also used music for the first time. We worked out a lot of kinks. The costumes, many on loan to us from local theatres and artists, are wonderful and truly enhance what the ensemble is doing.
We did scene work that Thursday, including figuring out our prologue. This was supposed to be an ensemble piece, but spotty attendance meant that we were never able to give it adequate rehearsal. In a compromise between what we all wanted and what we actually had time to do, Romeo and Juliet will enter from either side, in front of the curtain, splitting the lines, meeting in the middle, and exiting separately. It is simple, elegant and foreshadows the rest of the play very well.
Week 35 began with a run of the play without costumes and props, since we were not able to access them. This run was a bit “off,” as some members of the ensemble have not been working on their lines and some are not getting along. In our final few minutes, one person generously apologized for her part in “throwing us off,” and we decided to stop stressing and focus on lines next time without the staging.
That is precisely what we did, although we first had to address a conflict between our Nurse and Juliet. They are having a difficult time in their scenes together because of discomfort stemming from a disagreement outside of the group. After some guidance from Sarah, I took each of them aside and asked that they focus on their goals: to get the most out of their experience, have their best possible performance, and keep the group going in the long term (this is the second session for both, and they are very dedicated to the group). At the end of the meeting, these two asked for a few minutes to talk, and it seemed like they were beginning to work things out. “I swear, you’re like my therapist,” one said to me, referring, I think, to all of the work we’ve done in the group on constructive conflict resolution. While I didn’t eavesdrop on their conversation, of course, it seemed from a distance to be calm and reasoned, though they are both angry. They’ve come a long way in this regard since I first met them.
Many of the women are nervous, some stating they’ve been having some nausea when thinking about performing. Sarah said some very wise things, including, “Nerves are the respect you give your audience,” and “Without fear, there is no courage.” She affirmed that what they are doing DOES take bravery – they have taken on an enormous challenge and are making themselves vulnerable in a place that doesn’t lend itself to vulnerability. Sarah went on to say, "Your nerves mean you care! It's your body's way of telling you that you are doing something you care about. Something important. Something that you want to do well. Embrace the nerves. They give you the energy and clarity you need to perform and perform well."
The ensemble, though nervous, is determined and confident. They have been working so hard, and they are ready to share their work with the other inmates. I am thrilled, honored, and eager to be on stage with them when that happens.