Before we began tonight, I checked in the woman who, at this point, has been in the group longer than anyone but me. I had some questions for her about ways in which the group has changed operationally over the last few years, and she provided a lot of insight, as she always does. She was very firm about the positive impact that the program has had on her, saying, “It’s given me humanity,” and that, as she is going home soon, she is already grieving its loss. She said that prison hasn’t been an entirely negative experience for her – “Certainly not the worst time in my life,” she said. She feels that she created the chaos that led her here, and she is confident that, because of the skills she’s learned in prison (including in Shakespeare), she will not be coming back.
We held the second focus group of our case study, which took about an hour. I can’t share the details of that conversation at this point, but rest assured that the study will be posted on our website as soon as it’s ready!
The ensemble then broke off into several groups – some women worked on their lines, others staged a scene with Kyle, and I worked with our Richard and Anne to finish cutting their big scene and make sure we were all on the same page with content. We are!
Our Richard then stepped away to join the scene happening on stage, and I continued to work with our Anne. She has already memorized her monologue and part of the scene. She is extremely excited – her having memorized the monologue already is evidence of how hard she’s already pushing herself, even though she’s very afraid of performing. We went through the monologue to make sure she understood at which points she’s talking to whom, as well as some ideas about the text and possible interpretations.
Our plan to ease her into this is for the two of us to work together, separate from the rest of the group, until she feels solid on the piece. At that point, she’ll begin working on it with the ensemble, so we hope she’ll have had plenty of rehearsal in a safe space before performance. This is way, way out of her comfort zone, but she is determined to do it – and to do it well.
Our new Hastings came in tonight asking if we thought we could cut back any of the scene in which the character ignores Stanley’s warning about Richard and is oblivious to Catesby’s “sounding him.” We realized that we really could only cut about two more lines – we’ve already eliminated about half of the scene. It turned out that this woman was mostly worried about a short monologue that she has. A woman who joined the group last year said, “Oh, the monologues are way easier than all the little lines.” She talked about building a train of thought, and how, even though it seems daunting, it’s totally doable.
We then decided to work on that scene. We asked “little” questions, such as: How does Hastings feel about Stanley’s messenger waking him up at 4:00 a.m.? We explored other issues, such as how Catesby feels about Hastings and where the allegiances are. Our Catesby realized that the moment when she realizes that Hastings has sealed his own fate is extremely complicated. This woman hasn’t had a lot of stage time yet – she has a dance class at the same time, and she divides her time between the two – and she lit up more and more as we continued to work.
We worked through to the end of the scene, exploring more questions about Catesby and Stanley. “I wish I knew more about Stanley,” said the woman playing the character. I looked at our “dramaturg.” “You on that?” I asked. She nodded, smiling – she hasn’t gotten to do research in a while, and she loves to do it. She mentioned that the prison library just acquired a big, new Shakespeare dictionary, and there was a lot of excitement in response. It’s really going to aid their work, particularly during the summer when the program is in recess and they’re on their own.
As we continued to explore the scene, I asked our Hastings what the stakes are – does he realize how serious the situation is? She said she didn’t think so, and then she paused. “He’s like me,” she said. “I’m growing out of the character, but I used to shoot my mouth off at the wrong time. I feel like it really is me. I’m smart, but I’m absent-minded. So is he. Smart, but not paying attention. Look what I’ve been through in the past few months. I think this person’s my friend, but she’s over here talking… It’s like in the movie [Shakespeare Behind Bars] – when the part chooses you. It’s God making sure I don’t go back to this when I get out.” We thanked her for sharing that with us – that level of identification doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s something we all honor.
We started to get a little sidetracked, at which point a woman who has frequently emerged as a leader in the group, got our attention and suggested the next scene to work on - the scene in which Ratcliffe, a number of messengers, and then Stanley arrive very quickly to give Richard news of the impending war. We talked about why the scene is structured the way it is – to give a feeling of chaos – and worked together to figure out how to stage it. Once again, our Ratcliffe took the lead – she is becoming increasingly confident in her staging skills – and it worked out very well! We had a lot of fun working with Richard’s reaction to all of the news and the stage slap that is a part of that. Our Richard is working with the image of being stuck in a pinball machine, which seems to be working well for her.
We worked a little more and then circled up for our ending exercise. I suggested that, from now on, we spend every moment we can working – what we have to do is not impossible, but it’s going to take a lot of discipline. The facilitators often do not arrive right at the beginning of our meeting time, but usually when we do arrive, members of the ensemble are trickling in. I suggested working in small groups on lines and staging – everyone in the ensemble knows the play well enough at this point to do both. It can be challenging to be the person to initiate this, but I encouraged them to try.