Tonight was our first official meeting of the fifth session of Shakespeare in Prison, and the group was enthusiastic and happy to be there – and that definitely includes us facilitators!
After warming up and introducing ourselves, playing a favorite theatre game that leads into some gentle name memorization, we sat down in a circle to come up with this year’s expectations for ourselves and our group. Last year’s ensemble felt that this would be an important step to enhance early ensemble bonding, meshing between old and new members, and increasing the level of commitment among ensemble members.
The ensuing discussion was upbeat and constructive, outlining what we hope to accomplish and how we think we can go about doing it. The discussion lasted longer than I thought it would, and that was a good thing since so many of the women had the opportunity to volunteer their ideas, get feedback, and listen to others. While some were understandably quiet, others were outspoken and welcoming, and it seems that we are all on the same page.
What it seems to boil down to for this ensemble is the guiding principle that “we are adults who value open, clear, respectful communication.” Whatever we discussed came right back to that. If we can stay focused on that, we should do well in creating the safe, open, supportive environment that we desire, even when the going gets rough.
We all left happy to be together again and with great anticipation for our next meeting.
After tonight’s warm up and check-in, Kyle led the ensemble in a new exercise called “King of the Jungle.” We spend a lot of time in our first few months on games and exercises as we get to know each other and form our ensemble, and this game is bound to be a favorite from now on. The ensemble showed great willingness to commit to the silliness of the game, getting into its friendly competitive nature as well. It’s a great exercise in quick thinking, improvisation, and other skills that we seek to develop in our group.
We then sat in a circle to begin delving into Othello. We read through Act I Scene I, stopping every now and then to be sure that everyone was on the same page about what was happening in the scene. We discussed the atmosphere of the scene – how our play begins, how we see it in our heads – and we began to discuss the characters as well. One of our seasoned ensemble members reminded us not to judge anyone (including Iago) too quickly – it’s likely that our ideas will evolve as we work through the play, and we’re not doing ourselves any favors if we assume things right off the bat.
We got the scene on its feet to see how it works that way. For one of the women, it was her first time being on stage in this way, and we all gave her a round of applause for her bravery in stepping up on her second day in the group! The reading led us to discuss various ways of staging the scene, including how we might use some of the scenery in storage from past sessions. Three other women then led a reading of the scene on its feet, and this time we also brought in some others as Brabantio’s servants. The different readings were enlightening and exciting. Already, we’re talking about how the more people commit, the better things work.
We lifted our ring back up with smiles, taking until the very last minute that we could. It’s only the first week of the program, but already we are all so excited about the possibilities of this year. No doubt there will be challenges, but we’re off to a great start.