Friday, September 2
On this first night of our sixth season, many members returned, and we all welcomed our newcomers. We had a casual conversation about the purpose of the group, some of our challenges, and what we enjoy about our work. There was a lot of laughter and some very earnest conversations.
“This is the place to be… or not to be,” joked a returning member.
“Even when you don’t want to come, come… Those were some of my best moments,” shared another.
“All the emotions you want to show on grounds, but you can’t… You can in here,” said another member.
“You can take off your mask in here,” said a longtime member.
We played a game to end the evening, and the new members left smiling and enthusiastic about returning to the group. We are all fired up for another year.
Tuesday, September 6
Tonight we began with our usual check-in and warm up. Many people shared during check-in, both the good and the bad things happening in their lives. The atmosphere in the room is already one of support, and the new members embraced our warm ups without complaints.
This season, we have been given permission by the prison to conduct a case study of our program that will measure participants’ identity development. We took some time to go over this case study – what it’s about and how it will be conducted – and made sure everyone understood prior to signing a consent form agreeing or declining to take part in the study.
We then decided to dig into the opening soliloquy of Richard III. We went around the circle, each reading one line, and then we talked about what we had gotten out of it. “He hates himself,” said one person. “He hates everybody. He’s so angry,” said another. We then broke the piece down, word by word, to see what else we could discover. Following that, several people read it on its feet, circling around the group and connecting with us.
This led us into a more in-depth conversation about Richard and his motivations (returning members had the summer to read the play and have a lot of insight already).
We talked about Richard’s appearance and how it might affect him. “Why wouldn’t I be the bad guy since I look like the bad guy?” said one person. “He’s jealous and envious of normal people with normal lives,” said another. “He wants to be the leader,” said one participant. “He’ll stop at nothing to be king. He’s heartless.”
Someone suggested that Richard’s actions might be considered evil. “It’s not evil,” responded one woman. “It’s all these hurt emotions stuffed down for years. I feel sorry for this guy.” Someone else suggested that Richard may have low self esteem, even with a seemingly inflated ego. “He seems like he only takes joy from others’ misery. He enjoys it – the plotting, the planning, the gratification of seeing what he put into it. He’s not just some average villain – he’s the epitome of it.”
We talked a bit about Richard’s crimes. “If you kill somebody and have good in you, you’ll probably feel some type of way about it,” said one woman. “But he doesn’t He takes pleasure from it.” Another said, “He’s probably had years of abuse and anger. He wants to give back what was given to him.”
The returning members assured the newcomers that working with the text will get easier, and the new folks seemed enthusiastic about continuing.
We determined that only 11 people in our group will still be in prison when we perform in June, so we decided to add more people for Friday’s meeting. Our goal is to end up with about 15 people who are able to perform.
Friday, September 9
We welcomed more newcomers into the group this evening. We did brief introductions, our check in and ring exercise, and then we launched into a name game. This was a lot of fun and created a very warm and inviting atmosphere for those joining the group.
Kyle took aside the people who had not yet learned about the case study to fill them in, and the rest of the group played improve games. Those who are returning members took the lead and invited the others to join in. Some are more hesitant than others, but everyone was smiling.
We then decided to return to that opening soliloquy. One participant remarked that she couldn’t stop thinking about it and had made a lengthy journal entry, sorting through her thoughts. “Jeez, William,” she joked, “Can we not even get through the first monologue? It made my mind go in a thousand different directions.” Several more people got up to do the piece, and one person commented on how challenging it is to maintain the hunchback physicality. This lead to a discussion about how open to interpretation the physical deformity is.
People are already starting to think about casting, and which parts they are drawn to. It’s unusual for this kind of ownership to be taking place so early, and it’s exciting.
We’re looking forward to digging deeper into the play next week. We’re off to a great start.