Session Five: Week 21


Written by Frannie


Tonight was both challenging and encouraging.

We began by working on the first scene of the play. We talked about how many of us will need to learn to “walk like a man” since we’re playing men, and we tried to define exactly what that means. We came up with things like placing our weight squarely on both feet instead of resting on one hip and taking longer, purposeful strides. What it comes down to for us is that we as women apologize for our bodies with our posture much more than men do, and we need to learn to acknowledge and use the power we have.

We spent some time figuring out the entrance to this scene – we want to grab the audience’s attention right away. Some suggested an entrance through the house, down an aisle, but we abandoned that idea after trying it several times – we didn’t think we could get the audience’s attention right off the bat that way. We came up with another solution. We began to try to figure out how not to make the scene stagnant, and one woman who has simply amazing instincts for staging sort of took over, explaining and showing the way she thought the scene would most effectively move. This is the role she’s chosen for herself – to be a director rather than a performer – and she is wildly good at it. Members of the ensemble encouraged and praised her for her input. One longtime ensemble member turned to me and said, “This group gets better and better, every year.”

At a certain point, one ensemble member got up, saying “I can’t deal with this,” and began to leave. As she walked, I asked her if she was okay and if she wanted to talk. She sat down with me, and I listened to her for about 45 minutes or so. She is having a very hard time right now, feeling hopeless, and it helped her somewhat to have someone holding space for her, so I focused all of my energy on our conversation.

When the group realized that I needed to be fully absorbed in this ensemble member, they immediately took over my role as guide and helped the actors in the scene to find blocking and motivation. This is an essential part of our group dynamic – since I was the only facilitator present, but I needed to focus all of my attention on one person, the group has become empowered enough and taken enough ownership of the play to do just fine without my input.

Peripherally, while staying focused on the inmate who needed a listening ear so badly, I heard one new member of the ensemble begin to get extremely frustrated with the blocking process – she had told me before I began the one-on-one that this was challenging for her because she didn’t “have the vocabulary for it.” As she became more frustrated, I heard one longtime member reassure her, saying, “I know you’re frustrated, but try to relax. Blocking can take a long time and it’s frustrating, but we have a lot more of it to do, and you’ve got to stay calm.” After the scene had been more or less blocked, this woman was still frustrated, so the group unanimously decided to take a break.

It is extremely important to our process that we acknowledge when people are having a hard time, honor it, and try to help them deal with it. While we are not therapists, we can hold space for people and encourage them along the way. As I did this for one member of the ensemble tonight, the others did it for each other. This bodes very well for the rest of our process.



Written by Lauren


We started off today by running act one, scene one. Our Iago tried walking like a man for this scene, made the comment that "walking like a man felt weird," and admitted that she stopped during the scene because it started to make her feel self conscious.

Everyone was anxious to get to work, so as soon as they were done refreshing their memories on that, they were ready to start blocking scene two. A lot of people had ideas for this scene. One idea was the idea that at the end of the scene, the attendants should back away slowly as if they were still anticipating a fight. Most of the group was really supportive of this idea and were ready to try it.

Our Othello had an idea for the scene, too, but wasn't sure if she should say it because everyone on board for the other idea. Everyone encouraged her to share, and they ended up being able to combine the two ideas for the staging.

While we were running these ideas, one woman approached me and expressed a concern. As someone who had been in the military, she told me that the way the officers were having a "stand off" was something that would never happen in that world. While she was saying this, she said that she would also look at the action and decide if she wanted to share with the group or not. She ended up liking what she saw, and even seemed to have a fun time when she stepped in as one of the officers when we ran the scene again.

She had also expressed concern regarding the layout, as we could not see everyone who was on the stage. This was something that was shared with the group, and everyone adjusted themselves accordingly. This woman has a good eye for direction, and I was pleased when she decided to share with the group.

Tonight had a lot of good energy and everyone seemed to have great ideas to share as well as support for each other and other's ideas!

Session Five: Week 20


Written by Frannie

We had another night of making cuts to our script tonight, and although it’s tedious, we had some fun along the way, joking with each other about the process.

We got to a quintessential Iago monologue, and Kyle remarked, “I love this speech.” Our Iago, who is a ruthless cutter of Shakespeare, replied, “Well then, you’re gonna hate what I did to it.” Her cuts were good, though, and well thought out.

We kept to our resolution of not cutting anything belonging to people who weren’t present, although several members of the ensemble told us sincerely that they wanted us to go ahead and cut things. “Whatever’s best for the play,” said one.

One of our ensemble members found it intriguing that Othello talks about women’s appetites during his unraveling, and Emilia talks about men “eating” women later in the play. She was concerned about cutting those lines of Othello’s, but after talking about her discovery being more literary than performance-oriented, she felt better about it.

When people became hesitant about making large cuts, I encouraged them to be brave. I reminded them that we own this script; it doesn’t own us. “I can be brave,” said one woman. “I’m not brave, said another.

“I’ll be brave for you,” said a third member of the ensemble.

And that’s a really important aspect of this process.



Written by Lauren

Today we started out continuing to discuss possible cuts to the script. Many of the women admitted that they had not been doing cuts on their own when not in class, but those who had seemed fairly engaged in the process at first. During this portion of the session, we discussed how important it is to be familiar with any material that doesn't make the cut since that is still information that can shape how a person plays their character. During cuts, the focus seemed to start shifting and people started to get more and more distracted, so we stopped doing cuts and moved on. Everyone present agreed that, in the interest of time, Frannie should complete the first round of cuts, keeping each person’s preferences in mind.

Frannie took a couple of women aside to do more cuts while the rest of us started to play around with staging strategies. A couple of people at a time would go on stage while those of us in the audience would suggest blocking. We observed how stage positioning can completely change how a scene feels from an audience member's perspective. Discovering different planes of action shifts an audience member's focus and it can completely change the action. It was observed by some inmates that changing levels, such as having some folks kneel or sit on the floor while one character is standing and walking shows the standing actor's dominance over the rest of the actors. Some comparisons were teacher vs. students as well as prison guard vs. prisoners. One woman observed that the person standing looks like they're attentive and "ready to go."

We ended the session working on a specific scene with Iago, Emilia, and Desdemona. Desdemona is openly distraught. We ran through the scene a couple of times. At one point, it was suggested that the woman playing Iago should try playing the scene as if she feels sorry for what she has done to Desdemona. It changed how the scene felt for the actor, and she said she would explore this interpretation more in the future. It was observed that it's interesting how little changes can completely change how a scene is played out. 

Session Four: Week 38

First and Second Performances: Reflections… Having been a part of four plays at the prison now, I was struck somewhat by the similarities between seasons, but more so by the differences. I asked several of our “vets” how they felt. One, who was physically ill from nerves last year, commented before our opening that she felt nervous, but not sick, and she was excited to perform. She said that during that performance, she discovered that if she pretended the audience wasn’t there (“I put a wall around them”), she felt much more confident. That’s a common actor’s trick that no one had to teach her. Another woman, who struggled last year with her own perfectionism and expectations for others, said that she felt that the session had gone much better this year, and she felt more relaxed. I agreed with her that we’ve worked out many of the “kinks” we wanted to, and she said, “Well, yeah, but what I mean is that I feel better. I feel like I’ve grown a lot.”

One woman, who joined in September and has had wavering confidence this entire time, remarked to Sarah that she wouldn’t be able to go to another call out, but that, “I won’t let down my ensemble. We’ve been together since September, and we’ve all worked too hard for me to let anyone down.” Another, who had severe stage fright in September (she’d actually been goaded into joining by her room mate), said joyfully, “I want to do Shakespeare forever! When I get out, I want to do Shakespeare all the time. I need to find somewhere to do that.”

We worked together as an incredibly cohesive team to whiz through our play, having a ton of fun and clearly entertaining our audience as we went the first night. Coming into the second night, the entire group seemed more relaxed and confident – they’d done it once successfully, received overwhelmingly positive feedback from their peers, and were revved up to do it again. The show totally gelled during its second performance, as we improvised through mistakes on the fly with great ease and humor; at one point in the penultimate scene, I don’t even remember what happened, but between line flubs and our general sense of hilarity, several of the women cut the scene off, and we left the stage laughing hysterically. Our audience was laughing, too.

This is the largest ensemble yet to complete the program and probably the most cohesive. They truly take care of each other, no matter what their differences – minor tiffs evaporate for the good of the team, and they have pulled off an energetic and inspiring play. Our final performance is on June 9, followed by a wrap up session. Then we’ll be “on break” for the summer – but those of us returning to the program all acknowledge that we’ll actually be spending a lot of time preparing for Othello – we’re all just so excited to do it again.

Reflections from co-facilitators…

Lauren: Leading up to the performances was so exciting to me. These women have come so far over the past nine months. All of the actors were on edge until the show started. Forgetting lines was probably the most common fear. Once the curtain opened, everyone was so energized and on top of it. When lines were dropped, the recovery was quick and efficient, which I think gave confidence to the women. I sat in the house for the second show, and was told a number of times by audience members how awesome the performance was. One woman told me she use to study British literature, and she really loved the performance. This has been a great experience, and I'm so proud of everyone who was involved.

Dominique: These women have a firm grasp on the physical comedy of the play - the choice the group made to welcome any improve-based, physical, and slapstick big actions serve the play so well. Often Shakespeare's comedies get lost in translation - jokes that were funny 450 years ago don't always play as well now. But the physicality they gave it - and the fact that they know what the comedy is - made them able to convey it to their audience with amazing deftness. They knew what they were saying and doing and it showed, even if the audience wasn't always able to key into the language. The strong physical choices made the meaning clear and brought clarity to the language as well. And they were funny. Just plain ol’ funny - performances blossomed out of women who were mortified to speak out loud last fall. Each performance was its own miracle for its own reason - and more what the program is about than interpretation of Shakespeare. But at the root of the variety of achievements met by this group of women is the conquering of Shakespearean text in a theatrical performance done for a live audience. There is some kind of magic in that, and it is truly amazing to watch happen.

Vanessa: Opening nights are my favorite kind of days. And this was no exception. As soon as we all met up in the theatre to set up, you could feel the energy and joy for what was about to happen. I was blown away throughout the performance. The women were prepared and excited to show their work, and it was so much fun to be in the wings with them as they came on and off stage. They treated this as if they had been acting for years and made me feel like I was the newbie! Cuz I am. And I am grateful I was a part of this group. I was so proud. I cried at curtain call. It was magical. And it wasn't just luck- because they made it all happen again for the second show. The audience response was just as amazing. I think we all had moments of transcending where we were and giving in to the communal healing power of theatre. Ah. This is why we do it.

Sarah: When our ensemble arrived at the auditorium, we immediately came together to work. We set up the set, the actors dove into their costumes and make-up, we all circled up for a brief vocal warm up and in less that 20 minutes the women were ready to perform! They were more professional than most professionals. Many of the women shared that they were terrified to perform in front of their first audience and all offered each other support and encouragement. They were a wonder on stage - funny and brave and taking care of each other through every moment! I have come to expect this cast to be patient with each other and to respect each other and to share themselves with each other but to see them share their courage, humor, and patience in front of their audience too was moving betting belief! I could not be more honored that this group of women welcomes me into their midst!

Kyle: I feel like a bit of a broken record, but my reflections are right in line with what always comes to me when working in the prison: it sometimes doesn’t feel like I’m in a prison, it just feels like I am doing a show. It’s hard to describe really, but there were the same buzz and butterflies that come with the opening night of any show. The women come off the stage and ask how they think the show is going so far, how they think they did in that last scene, put hands to heads at a flubbed line or prop malfunction. Not all that dissimilar from any other show in which I have been. Having the costumes was a game changer. It is something special when someone thinks about what clothing would work just for you, or that would fit just right for your character; I really underestimated the impact of that exchange, and wouldn’t have thought it would go as far as it did to make it feel like a “real show.” I think the most important lesson for the women was to keep having fun no matter what - if the actors are having fun, then the audience is going to have fun, too. Sure, things went wrong; sure, lines were forgotten - that’s life, and that’s theatre. It contains a powerful lesson, though: no matter what goes wrong, you keep going and you keep smiling. As I said above, that goes for life and theatre. When we left, there was still light outside, and sun was setting, which was strange because most of the year we would leave in darkness. It seemed a fitting way to finish the process. I was beaming with pride for the women’s achievement and feel so grateful to have been a part of the program.

Session Four: Week 20


We continued with the work that the group had done last week on Act IV Scene ii. We began by clarifying each person’s objectives – what does everyone want in this scene? At that point, one woman suggested that we work our way through the scene in contemporary English, since it seemed like there was some confusion about what the lines meant. I invited her to lead the exercise, and she did a great job helping people through it and stopping them when things needed to be clarified; they actually were pretty on top of stopping for clarification themselves in most cases.

After working on this scene for quite a bit (and it gained quite a bit of clarity and strength!), we began work on the final scene of the play, which is going to need a lot of attention. We read through it somewhat on its feet, although, since it takes place at a banquet, people mostly stayed seated. We discussed the need to be very intentional about the seating arrangement and decided to try several different things as we move forward.

There is still some contention about the meaning of Katharina’s final monologue, and that is to be expected as there is ongoing debate about that piece in all sorts of circles where Shakespeare is debated! We may never all agree on what’s going on here – is Kate truly “tamed” or is she being sarcastic? Is she just trying to win a bet? It’s going to take some exploration, as well as a willingness on the ensemble’s part to trust the woman playing Kate, in the end, to go with her gut on what feels best to her.


Written by Lauren

On Thursday we started out talking about costumes, the set, and some props. One woman told us that she will be stepping down from the part of Grumio since she's released the week of the performance and she needs to focus her energy on that. She's sticking with the group, she just doesn't want that extra pressure. Another woman talked about possibly stepping down from her role as Baptista so she can focus her energy on writing, which has become a very important part of her life. She did say that if no one else is interested in the role, she would keep it.

The women had really great ideas in terms of costumes. They want it to look as period as possible, but with modern comedic elements such as college type paraphernalia for Padua. The women had some great ideas regarding their own characters. When it came to the set, there was a question of what we would do with the flats. One woman suggested that we do something similar to last year by painting words that relate to misogyny and patriarchy on the flats. They want to keep the show funny, but that would also show some of the underlying themes in the show. Overall, we're still brainstorming, though!

After that we did some warm ups. Since we didn't have a large attendance, we were able to concentrate on some monologue work with Katharina and Petruchio. We went through Katharina's final monologue and broke it down line by line and talked about what her intentions are for the piece. We came to some good conclusions, and she was excited to do some more work on her own time. We did the same thing with Petruchio and also had some good breakthroughs.

We then moved on to the scene where Katharina and Petruchio first meet. We broke down the scene and found some spots where there's innuendo. This gave some good context and the actors had a good time playing around with the language and the scene.

Even though we had a small group, it was very productive!

Session Four: Week 19


Written by Dominique

We had a pretty good turnout this evening - only a couple people missing. Yet somehow it was still difficult to find a scene to work on that involved only characters of available actors. We carried on, with people volunteering to fill needed spaces.

After initial frustration at not being able to just "go in order" as originally planned due to absence we forged onward - begin with Act IV Scene iii. A first run/read-thru on its feet was made. We stopped to sort out exactly what was going on in the scene - not an easy thing to do! We laughed at how complicated the comedies can be with mistaken identities and characters running on and offstage. Who exactly was being who at this point and who believed them?? We looked to the text for clues and backed it up with Spark Notes (no shame in that at all!!). Once we figured out where the deception was, the lines in the scene began to bloom, particularly for Tranio, being read by the woman who is cast as the Widow but frequently fills in for others. Once again she gave a good solid reading and really dug to figure out where the character she was reading was coming from. And once again she, with good humor, insisted that she was the Widow and the Widow only. It's becoming a kind of running gag. Other cast members remarked on the strength of her reading, but we pointed out that the whole play was leading to the entrance of the Widow at this point, so she was wise to stick with that.

The other aspect of the scene to be broached was the "love making" of Bianca and Lucentio. We talked about how to approach it, what would be appropriate for play and audience, what kinds of things could be broad enough to read for audience. We talked about while in this play many of the jokes are accessible it is the physical comedy that really brings the humor to light for a modern audience so we continue looking for those moments wherever possible. Even to the point of suggesting that although Gremio doesn't join the scene's dialogue until much much later her presence on stage could leave open some opportunities for fun…

Kate and Petruchio also gave us a taste of work they had done on Act II sc 1.  They are both such good actors it was fun to see them dig in to the verbal jousting. We talked about ways to break up the "jests", different approaches Petruchio might take, who really has the power in the scene and when. They were also encouraged to use the entire stage, to really physicalize the language to help bring the jokes to life for the audience. There should be no problem in that! The show is already off to a rollicking start.


Written by Lauren

Today was pretty low-key. We started with the ring and some stretches and vocal warm-ups. One woman taught us a warm up (more of a game). We used it instead of tongue twisters and everyone seemed to like it! You start with the letter A and tell everyone your name, your husband's name, where you live and where you work and all starting with that letter (ex: my name is Alice, my husband's name is Albert, we live in Alberta and we sell artichokes). You go around the circle with a different letter each time.

After that we worked Act 4 Scene 1, which has already been blocked, but given the women we had available, that seemed like the best scene to do. It ended up being fine since they said needed a refresher of the scene. Our Grumio was feeling pretty down today but didn't really get into it. She still worked through the scene twice, but was definitely done after that. The ladies wanted to play some improv games after that. One woman was pretty outspoken about how she didn't understand the point of the games. I explained how they could be helpful, and then she got really into it. We played a couple rounds of Party Quirks, which they were all really into. I had a hard time getting the ladies to be physical when we ran the scene, so I thought that game would help them act silly and over the top, and it worked.

The same woman who was initially against playing games also mentioned that she would like to challenge herself and take on the role of Biondello since it's available. I took both of these things as good signs and was glad that she's willing to challenge herself and try new things.