Session Four: Week 6


Written by Jamie

This week we had a movie night at rehearsal, and watched Shakespeare Behind Bars, a Hank Rogerson documentary following Curt Tofteland - founder of the program- during a nine month rehearsal period for The Tempest in Luther Luckett Correction Center, Lagrange Kentucky.

Some of the women had viewed the documentary a few years earlier during our program. Veterans were energized, however, at the repeated viewing. I believe it gave the newcomers a more solidified idea of what they can expect in the coming months.

My first impressions of the documentary were of envy over the level of talent demonstrated by the inmates at Luther Luckett. Their commitment is evident, and their dedication is obvious as scenes depict prisoners folding laundry, murmuring memorized lines. I have no doubt in my mind that the women in our program are just as dedicated - so it was insightful to see the other side of the page, as I of course cannot watch the women as they go about their lives in the prison, reciting lines and running scenes. I was also impressed with Curt’s direction - he seemed more like a strict theatre performance professor than any drama therapist I’ve ever seen - no kid gloves, he shouted his dissatisfaction from off-stage whilst inmates rehearsed scenes. “Not good enough! I don’t believe you!” In reaction, the inmates pushed themselves, delivering some of the more committed and intensely personal performances I’ve ever seen.

Most of the men in the documentary had been involved in it for years, developing a solid brotherhood. It wasn’t without its share of negative dynamic, as you would find in any community, but it was obvious that the program had really helped the inmates bond in an environment that other programs offered in this Correction Center may not have been able to provide.

Overall, the film implemented camaraderie in the act of showing us how programs such as ours have been so successful in the past. Curt’s achievement within his program, the dedication of the men he worked with - sparked ambition within the women that I hadn’t seen since our first Romeo and Juliet performance. I have a feeling we are going to have a very impressive year.


Written by Frannie

Before we began today, one of the newer members of our group excitedly shared that she has brought our Ring exercise – the creation of ensemble and safe environment – into another group. She said that, while some of the women in that group thought it was weird (and, I mean, it is a little weird), by and large they loved it and will continue doing it each time they meet. This is one of those “ripple effect” moments we talk about when we list the benefits of a program like SIP – for this woman, the Ring is not a Shakespeare or theatre specific exercise, and now there is whole other group of women at WHV who have embraced and are benefiting from the use of something we’ve explored in our group.

We delved further into our discussion about the Shakespeare Behind Bars documentary that the group viewed on Tuesday. Reactions to it were mixed, and I was touched by the level of honesty with which people voiced their opinions. The veterans in the group who performed The Tempest in 2013 seemed somewhat focused on how many of their lines they remembered, and they had a lot of fun “speaking along” with the men in the documentary. Most of them viewed the film in 2012 and had a new perspective on it – they are still hoping that our group will rise to the level of commitment evident in SBB, and they are still working on ways to help that happen. Other women in the group were inspired by the men in the film, saying, “If they can do it, so can we.” Everyone was impressed by the caliber of the performances and excited that we do some of the same exercises in our group that they do in theirs.

At least one woman in our group, however, found the film sad. She focused in on Rick, a young man in the film with a long sentence, as someone very much like her friends growing up. She was saddened that he went to the hole during filming rather than completing the program.

After talking for awhile, we played a couple of games and started our work on Act I Scene ii. And then, I don’t remember exactly how, but somehow our work led us into a deeply honest conversation in which several of the women bravely shared of their past, present, and trepidations about the future, and the rest of us gave them whatever support we could. There is a moment in the SBB documentary in which one of the men says (paraphrased) that he doesn’t want to be judged only on the worst thing he’s ever done. Our pasts are part of who we are, but they don’t need to define us. We must find ways of moving forward.

It was an intense conversation, but the women who shared seemed at least somewhat relieved to have shared so honestly and to have received not judgment, but support from our circle. We ended with an exercise intended to “uplift” each other, to leave that negative energy behind and go on with our days feeling at least a little better. It’s days like these that, while we may not do as much with the text, we strengthen each other and our ensemble through openness and unequivocal support. This may be the most raw it’s ever gotten in our group, perhaps encouraged by the uncompromising honesty of the men in the film. I am personally very appreciative of and humbled by the strength that the women in our group showed today.