Season Nine: Week 1


“We make magic in this place.”

Tuesday / September 6 / 2019
Written by Frannie

After a great orientation for new ensemble members last week, it was time to officially kick off SEASON NINE! Wowza. We always begin with our traditional Three Questions (more on that below!). But first, we decided to get up on our feet loosen up a bit.

After lowering our ring of positive energy, a longtime member demanded that we do Six Directions, which is an energy/focus/physical engagement exercise (from Michael Chekhov’s acting technique). Though some returning members rolled their eyes (this isn’t EVERYONE’S favorite, even though it’s hers), the ensemble gamely went through the exercise and emerged on the other end feeling… physically warmer, at the very least!

But not quite warm enough—thank goodness for air conditioning, but it was pretty chilly in the auditorium. I proposed Demand a Dance, a circle game in which one member tells another to do a dance that doesn’t actually exist (i.e., the Awkward Moment, the Unhappy Penguin, etc.). That person then makes up some kind of dance, and the rest of the group joins in until another person is called out. It’s fun and QUITE goofy, so it requires a bit of vulnerability right off the bat. Though a few people sat out and watched, most dove right in. It was great.

We always reflect after playing a game, and I asked the group what they thought had made it work well. “We all got to look stupid together?” giggled one woman. “The different interpretations,” said another. And when did it work best? When people really went for the silliness and participated with high energy, we agreed, and the prompts were all awesome. I let the group know how impressive and exciting this particular first round was: whatever ridiculous dance was demanded, they rolled with it, and nobody disengaged for a second—which is really unusual. “You can feel really good about that!” I said, and another woman added, “It speaks well for this whole ensemble.”

A newbie said, “I sometimes feel awkward when I do stuff in front of other people, so it was really helpful that everybody was into it. That’s a big part of why I signed up, was to be less shy when I do stuff in front of other people.” This is a good place to do that, we told her, and we encouraged her to keep putting herself out there.

And then it was time for those questions. This is a tradition that the ensemble borrowed from Shakespeare Behind Bars years ago, modifying it slightly to make it their own. This would be an incredibly long blog if I shared all of the answers, but here are some highlights:

What brings you to Shakespeare?

  • “Sounded like something that would remind me of home.”

  • “I wanna break my shyness. Try something different.”

  • “This is very therapeutic for me, and it helps in my day-to-day existence in this place. It gives me purpose.”

  • “I thought it would be an opportunity to explore some areas that before I never would have.”

  • “To experience the ways I better myself by being in this program… continue moving forward, and pay it forward.”

What do you hope to gain from the experience?

  • “Every year is like something different. In the beginning, I was hoping to just learn people skills and better communication… to be effective with things I wanted to do… It’s really a thing that I can’t speak of till the end of the year… You never really know.”

  • “I hope to be able to take the skills I learned here and transfer them to something that could be useful, helpful, and fun when I get out.”

  • “For myself, personally, that I can grow in a way I haven’t been able to yet. I’m not exactly sure what that is, but we’ll see.”

  • “Through some of the characters, you’re able to explore different aspects of your past, and things that shaped who you are… Being able to express parts of yourself through the characters and having it not be your actual self, makes it easier to work through some of your problems.”

  • “I always end up closing myself off to people, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I keep pushing you people away, but you are like a family here. I want to keep you closer. I want to find a way of not allowing myself to push you all away.”

What is the gift you bring?

  • “In a nutshell, I bring my authentic self.”

  • “I work well under pressure, and I’m super pessimistic, so I always see things that need to be fixed.”

  • “Regardless if I’m in the stands or on the stage… [I encourage everyone] and tell them they can do it, even if they don’t think they can.”

That done, it was time to start making an effort to learn each other’s names—and, as usual, we settled on playing the “picnic game” to do it. This is among my least favorite games, but, hey, it works, so I go along with it every time. It’s the one where the group sits in a circle, and each person says their name and the item they’re bringing to an imaginary picnic. Names and items get added until the final person has to name every person and what they’re bringing.

Okay, fine: this game can be a lot of fun. It’s good not just for learning names, but for getting to know each other a little. Personalities tend to peep—or burst!—out as people name their items… which are not always food: one woman brought a family member with her “for back up.” And when a returning member said her name and item, another exclaimed, “You brought that the last time we had one of these picnics!”

Not content to leave it at that, a returning member asked if she could lead “part two of the name game.” She divided us into two groups, sending me into the wings to operate the curtain. She instructed me to close the curtain, and for one member of each group to stand on either side of it. My job was then to open the curtain, and for them to see who could say the other’s name first, then to close it again.

Had it been only that, it would have been fun—but, as so often happens in SIP, the ensemble took the basic idea and ran with it. And I had the best vantage point, because I could see what was happening on both sides of the curtain! At first people played mild “pranks” on each other: one woman kneeled, giving her the split second she needed to shout the other woman’s name; another hopped along just behind the curtain as it opened to give herself a similar advantage.

Then each team started strategizing, sending pairs or trios of people in, making faces or striking silly poses to throw the other team off. One person burst through the curtain before I could even open it. Finally, every person in each group joined in a pose on their side, and if anyone said any names as the curtain opened, I couldn’t hear it amid all the laughter.

It was a great way to kick off the season: two solid hours of ensemble building and having fun together, much of which was led by returning ensemble members. We left feeling good about the energy in the room—and what it portends for the rest of the year.