Session Four: Weeks 39 and 40

The ensemble arrived for the final performance relaxed and completely ready to bring the process to a close. They were confident and steady, even when we became crunched for time; no one panicked because they have proved how well they work as a team to overcome such challenges. We also worked efficiently as a team to pack up all of our materials at the end and agreed to reflect in depth on the process at our wrap up meeting the next week. When Kyle and I walked into the auditorium, several women were seated around a table, ready to begin discussion. One was standing on the stage, and when she saw us, she exclaimed, “I’m sad!” She is not looking forward to taking a break this summer, but those of us who’ve been doing this for awhile assured her that taking time to rest and let our energy build back up works better than not.

While everyone said again how much they enjoyed the performances and what great feedback they’ve gotten around the prison, they were much more eager to have a constructive discussion about the program in general: what’s working well, and where we need to improve. This was a lengthy conversation, and here are a couple of highlights that particularly illustrate the dedication to and ownership of the program that this ensemble has developed:

  • Although the group is still reluctant to have a formal audition at the beginning of the session, the three-day “trial period” we introduced this fall proved problematic for several reasons. The group decided not only to prolong this phase of the program, but to put themselves “on probation” (although we are not going to call it that!) to ensure that there’s no double standard and that everyone’s in it together. We are also going to develop community expectations as a group during our first meeting so that every single person knows how she is being assessed during the trial period. With these changes, we hope that we can avoid some of the “drama” that we dealt with in the fall.
  • We all agreed that we must at least read through the entire play, even if we don’t put every scene on its feet, before we cast it – we rushed this part of the process this year because some of us were impatient to move faster, and it hurt us. We decided to cast our play in a new way – instead of a group discussion with a “blind” vote by raised hand (which has worked in the past, but not this year), we are going to figure out who will audition for each role with “sides” (like professional callbacks), and then everyone will submit a cast list by anonymous ballot, which I will tally up.

All in all, the ensemble is satisfied with the work we’ve done this season. Most of them plan on returning in the fall, and they are going to try to work on Othello in pairs and small groups as much as possible over the summer to prepare. Those who have been in the group for two or three years feel that it is growing in a positive direction, and we are all optimistic that, while we will always face challenges together, the changes we’re making going into next year will strengthen us and allow the process to go more smoothly.

Normally, this would be the final post for the season, but stay tuned for a special post tomorrow and an exciting announcement about the program very soon.

Thank you for all of your support of Shakespeare in Prison this season!