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 32


Today we were excited to welcome a camera crew to our group. They are filming a project that will be posted online, and you can be sure that I will share it here when it’s ready! Our group, though nervous, really brought it for this meeting – we got a lot accomplished and felt very good about our work.

To begin with, I have to take it back to last Tuesday, and a situation that I did not record in that entry. Our Baptista has been wanting to work on the scene between her character, Bianca, and Katharina for a few weeks, and we’ve kept putting it off for various reasons. Last Tuesday, we were all set to work it when our Bianca raised a concern – with the previous woman who played that role, the blocking was developed to include her being dragged on the floor by her ankles. This woman wanted to work around that part of the scene, as she’d just had her hair done. The other women in the scene (and a few who are not in it) were impatient with this, and the conversation quickly devolved to a place that was not constructive – I would characterize it as bickering. No one wanted that, but the vibe in the room was such that it was better to leave it for the time being and hope to resolve it later.

This Tuesday, our Baptista began the session by stating that she had thought about that situation, and that she realized that she and our Kate had been unfair to our Bianca. “That’s how we did the scene with [the previous actress],” she said, “But we never asked you how you felt about it. Maybe you want to do it a different way.” She apologized for being inconsiderate and jumping on her and asked if they could work the scene, possibly in a new way. This self-started conflict resolution on her part is huge – not only is it a skill we hope to develop together as an ensemble, but it’s something she’s personally been working on since she first joined the group two and a half years ago.

We did exactly that – we reworked the scene in a way that makes our Bianca more comfortable and actually makes the scene funnier and more active. And then we just kept going. It’s a long scene, and we found that we were able to just barrel through it – and it mostly works! And then we kept going after that into the next scene, which we refined and got to a place where it’s working well, too.

The cherry on top was a quite reticent group member stepping in as the servant and completely stealing the scene with just one line. We all dissolved into laughter and applause when that happened. I hope that she can internalize how effective she was and use that experience to give her more confidence going forward – we’ve all known all along how great she is with this material, and we’ve been hoping for a moment like this.


Written by Vanessa

It was a special session today, Shakespeare's birthday. Class started with only one person who isn't officially a member of the cast but attends the sessions when she can, though work duties call her away early. I get excited by the idea of someone showing up even if it's only for a few moments to check in - it shows how sacred this program is to this group. Every session I attend I feel the sense of honor and integrity the group brings with them into our rehearsals. It is really remarkable and it continues to humble and inspire me. I am a relatively new facilitator and this is my first blog post. I sometimes feel myself just in awe and not saying much in our sessions. I don't need to! For once I am speechless while I watch this group uncover new ideas and make strong clear choices that make me have a-ha! moments all over the place. It never fails when I ask them, "What just happened in this scene?"... all of them will have their own short and sweet analysis. Hearing their perspective is my favorite part of the day. Using their own words to describe what's going on in each scene shows they are doing their homework and striving toward translating it on the stage for audiences to enjoy. The process of putting up a show is a beautiful thing and they get it. Seeing the ladies progress in getting off book is making it more real that soon they will perform and showcase all the hard work they've put in and I'm ecstatic for them.

I've been told Thursday meetings are lighter because of the daytime schedule and how it corresponds with other activities, and today was one of those lighter days. However, it didn't stop us from diving in and working.   I heard about the success of Tuesday's session - they had blocked and worked up to around page 30! I requested three of the women show me the tail end of Act 2 Scene 1 (rumor had it that some hilarious moments had been born). There was a bit of resistance because they felt they had already worked that scene so much - but of course I begged and they obliged me. Although they weren't quite off book - they knew what they were saying and were comfortable enough to make strong, clear choices that had me laughing from start to finish. The three of them had a great sense of ensemble - one facilitator even said it was reminiscent of the Marx Brothers. Just a few tweaks had to be made for the physical comedy to work smoothly. Once some ideas were tossed around by all team members - they listened and tried it and beautiful magic occurred. A "bit" was born! And now they have a solid scene. Even though they weren't quite excited to work something they had gone over a few times, they knew their hard work paid off.   Once they solidified body placement, some good old slapstick comedy shined through and they learned (and I was also reminded) that repetition equals success and it was beautiful to watch. I can't wait for opening night when they hear the audience roar with laughter.

Curiosity is golden when it comes to Shakespeare and this group is never lacking of that. Someone asked, "Tell me something no one knows about Shakespeare" and a few facilitators gave some facts off the top of their heads - and this is when we had a group tribute of: SHAKESPEARE'S BIRTHDAY – someone led us into song and we all joined in. It was a great moment of thanking the man who brought us all together.

I'm honored that this team let me in so late into their efforts. I learned today that this group has been working on this project since October and I find their dedication to be the most inspiring thing in my life right now. I feel like they have welcomed me with open hearts and minds, which is exactly what good artists do, and that's who they are. I was pretty excited to get my official badge before walking into the session today, to have tangible proof of my being a part of this team. But the truth is, I didn't need a badge for it to be official. From day one, they took me in and we all have been striving toward goals together ever since. I have so much to give to my other projects thanks to the inspiring injections I get from these ladies every week.