Session Four: Weeks 10 and 11

Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday, folks! It's a great opportunity for you to hop on the giving bandwagon and get in a donation to Shakespeare in Prison before the year is over. We would be so appreciative of your support this holiday season. And if your wallet is already feeling the holiday pinch, please consider sharing this blog with a friend (... or several hundred on social media!). Many thanks, and enjoy the rest of the post!

Week 10

After welcoming and orienting two new members, the ensemble set about casting The Taming of the Shrew. Our process for the past two sessions has been to do this in an open group discussion and vote whenever need be.

Perhaps because the group decided to cast earlier than usual this session, with less exploration time than we usually have (and this was a vote by a large majority of the women), there was more discussion and voting than there usually is, and the process wasn’t quite as smooth. After some discussion amongst the facilitators, we believe the biggest reasons for this are, as stated, the earlier casting time (which didn’t allow for as much to “fall into place” organically), the new dynamic of having a larger number of women returning to the group (which is a really good thing!), and having a larger number of women in the group (which is also a really, really good thing!). These differences led to changes in the way our usual process worked that we didn’t anticipate, and we need to adapt for the future.

In any case, after a lengthy discussion and voting process amongst the ensemble, most of the roles are cast, and we are left with some open roles and some women who do not yet have roles. In order to make sure everyone is on the same page about what worked about our casting process and what needs to be improved, the facilitators have decided to invite the group to have an open, honest, constructive conversation about it when we meet next. I firmly believe in what Curt Tofteland, the founder of Shakespeare Behind Bars (our inspiration and model) has always said, which is that any issues can and should be solved by the circle. We facilitators are there to do just that – facilitate. The ensemble will work together to figure this out.

Week 11

We began tonight’s session with a really solid Ring exercise to prepare us to work as a team and be constructive during our discussion of the casting process.

It turned out that we facilitators were not the only ones who perceived that our process had some issues, although opinions were mixed on how “big” these issues truly were. Some people felt that their input had been misinterpreted and needed to be further explained. Others felt that that there were no true “problems,” and we should just move on. In short, this is how things were resolved (for the moment, anyway):

  • It needs to be clear from the get-go if there is going to be any kind of preference given to women who have been in the group longer (similar to most educational theatre programs), and, if past proof of commitment gives that kind of casting preference, there need to be more opportunities for new members to show their commitment before we cast. We’ve dealt many times with ensemble members leaving the group prior to performance, and returning members (and some new) are skittish about casting new members in roles like Katherina and Petruchio, for example (we went through three Calibans in 2012; in 2013 many roles ended up filled by facilitators). Most of the group wants to keep casting in November rather than December, so this means that we need to find a way to do both our ensemble building and get through our play exploration more quickly. This is something we need to explore.
  • If we feel the need to cast before the entire play has been explored on its feet (as we did this year; but I hope we can avoid this), we will have “auditions” of some kind so that we can see everyone who feels connected to a character exploring that character.
  • Rather than having a “blind vote” by show of hands with eyes closed, we will vote by anonymous written ballot, and a facilitator will tally the votes and report back on how the play has been cast.

We then decided to table the rest of casting for now and focus on ensemble building for the rest of the day. We played theatre games and did some improv, and it eased the tension that was in the room.

As always in this program, we are taking our “mistakes” in stride and learning from them rather than getting bogged down by them. Both the facilitators and the inmates made decisions that contributed to this process being rockier than usual, but I believe this is a growing pain as our program gets stronger – as stated above, we have more returning members than ever and our largest group yet, so we are bound to have to change some things as we go. We are all learning together.