Session Six: Week 19


Tonight began with a discussion of what we might be able to do with our time, as we are still waiting for our rehearsal scripts to be approved.

A longtime ensemble member suggested that we try paraphrasing our way through some scenes to get more meaning out of them. I welcomed her to lead the exercise, but in practice it proved to be too soon in our process for this to work – we just don’t know the material well enough yet to mark through it like that. This was frustrating, but we will revisit the exercise down the line.

We then decided to work some monologues even without the cuts. Our Richard asked to work on “Was ever woman in this humor wooed…” Her first instinct was to try to make us laugh and to showcase her arrogance, and this was fun, but we asked her to go deeper with it – to make us worship her brilliance rather than just making us laugh. This made the piece absolutely sing – she was clearly having fun with it, which is absolutely appropriate, and we loved it, too. She is also beginning to explore Richard’s “deformity” – she wants him to be strong and sexy, but we pointed out that he talks repeatedly about being deformed, so she needs to find a way in to something along those lines. This will be a challenging balance to strike, but I’m confident that she will find a solution that works for her.

Our Richmond then worked her speech to the troops. She is very strong in this piece, but we wanted her to go for more specificity. When she did it a second time, we interrupted her occasionally, asking for clarity on things like, “WHO will welcome us home?” This led to a much more detailed interpretation.

We continued to talk about ways of finding detail in these long monologues – our Richard is feeling challenged by the soliloquy that follows the ghosts’ visits – finding movement when thoughts change and not simply wandering around the stage. We will continue to explore this!

As the group worked, one woman turned to me and said, “Sometimes I feel like I’m in the twilight zone. Everything seems so strange. But I’m starting to feel comfortable here [in SIP]. I always laugh. But it’s just being in prison… I guess it’s good. It means I’m not getting used to it.”


Tonight the ensemble member who is acting as our dramaturg arrived with materials she’d gathered about various historical aspects of the play. She had specifically pulled an article called “Anne Neville: Victim?” for the woman playing Anne, since she’s expressed a lot of conflict about how she should interpret the character. Our Anne was excited and grateful for the resource, and the woman who provided it beamed. What a thrill that working on this play in particular has provided this role to someone who is so enthusiastic about it – she really loves being a resource for the group and is working hard to provide whatever information she can as we work through the play.

As we gathered, I sat and chatted with an ensemble member who, upon seeing our Richard pass by, jokingly said, “Hey there, Dick.” “That’s King Dick to you,” she responded with her nose in the air.

The group seemed listless, as we still do not have our rehearsal scripts, so I launched us into some more exploration of Chekhov technique, this time Imaginary Centers. In brief, the idea is that any character’s energy comes from one of three centers at any given time – thinking (mainly the head), feeling (mainly the heart), or willing (mainly the pelvis). There are images associated with those centers – a stick with thinking, a veil with feeling, and a ball with willing. We spent the majority of our time exploring and experimenting with those centers and those images, which involved full body explorations and lots of movement.

Several women connected more to their willing than to their thinking centers. Kyle reflected that, when he was a ball, he was more eager to interact with people. One woman said, “I feel like I’m a super ball – each type connected to a different part of my personality.” She mentioned that, when we channeled a ping pong ball, she felt connected to the part of her that has been abused. Kyle volunteered that he felt the opposite as a ping pong ball – free and easy. This technique is very subjective!

When another woman reflected that she did not enjoy exploring the feeling center, saying “it’s just too much,” that led us into a conversation about where our own personal dominant centers are. We are a diverse bunch - answers ranged throughout the three centers, with some noting a conflict between two, such as feeling and thinking. One woman said, "I'm a bouncy ball being hit with a baseball bat, covered by a veil." I always love when we think outside of the box!

We had done a lot of moving around, and everyone was tired, so when one woman asked how exactly we use this in our rehearsal process, I asked the group if they would like me to demonstrate, and they said yes. I asked them to give me one image at a time with which to explore the first four lines of our play, and we went through at least ten, maybe more – I was having fun and lost count! Using different images changes the quality of performance, and that came through even as we stumbled on images that didn’t work as well for those lines – or at least they didn’t for me. Our Richard gave an image that didn’t work for me a try, and it worked great for her! Musing over her character, she said, “I have to have will to conquer and take over, but I also want to give you a little bit of my veil.”

The group was tired – it was warm in the room, and we’d been very active – so we agreed to leave early. Nearly everyone agreed that these tools will be valuable to them in their exploration of the play – our Anne in particular was enthusiastic about what this will do for her process. She is a feeling-centered person and believes that playing Anne primarily through her willing center will be her “way in.”

I’m very glad that these techniques are proving to be interesting and helpful for the group. I try to avoid making our program into an acting class, but I’ve always found these tools to be valuable, and while we’re waiting to be able to work with our actual scripts, this has been an enjoyable way to spend our time.

Session Six: Week 18


We spent tonight playing improv games, since our rehearsal script isn’t yet ready and some group members pointed out that it’s been awhile since we’ve done improv. It’s important for us to continue to sharpen those skills so that we can react constructively when things go “haywire” in performance. We had a lot of fun!

During one of the games, the woman playing Richard came over to me. “I tried not to do it, I really tried,” she said, “But Richard III was on TV, and I watched it. And… I don’t know if I can really say this… But I didn’t like the Richard in the movie. I think I can play him better. Can I say that?” I replied that of course she can! I asked her why she felt that way. “The guy in the movie played him with no feelings. Just evil. I don’t want to play a character like that. I think he has feelings.”

An inmate who is not in our group came in and handed me an ensemble member’s book, saying that she wanted me to be able to make the cuts even though she couldn’t be present because of another program. It was good to be able to make those cuts rather than waiting another few days!

We wrapped up by saying good bye to an ensemble member who is going home in a couple of days. We are excited for her and will be rooting her on as she makes her transition.


Tonight when I arrived, one of the women shared with me that she’s been referencing part of the Shakespeare Behind Bars documentary lately – in one scene, a man admits to a particularly heinous crime and then expresses his wish that he be judged on the totality of his life, and not solely by the worst thing he’s ever done. This woman has been quoting that in order to stem judgment and bullying in her unit. It resonates for her – as someone who was heavily involved in drugs, there were things that she witnessed people doing upon which she sat in judgment… but later engaged in those activities herself. She said that it’s hard not to judge someone who’s done something that you consider to be the worst possible thing, until you’ve done it yourself. And then you must work on forgiving yourself. “I’m not that person anymore,” she said.

The energy in the room as we all gathered was extremely low. One of the lifers in our group shared during check in that the days have lost meaning for her – she forgot about Christmas Eve, and the change in the year isn’t hitting her at all. This negativity, which is completely understandable, hung heavy in the room. Since we still don’t have our rehearsal script, I suggested that we delve into the acting techniques that we’ve been dancing around – I’ve personally always felt healed and energized through work with Chekhov technique, and I hoped that we could arouse some of that tonight when it was so sorely needed.

After an energetic warm up, we began to work with something called “imaginary body.” In essence, the imaginary body can be imagined, shaped, and then “worn” like a costume, changing the way an actor moves and interacts with people and objects around them. We experimented with changing different parts of the body (i.e., you are extremely tall/short, you have an extremely long neck, you have hands made of glass), and then I welcomed everyone to “sculpt” an imaginary body for their characters out of the air, then stepping in and moving throughout the space. The group was game for this and the mood began to lighten considerably.

I then moved around the room asking, “Who are you?” and “What do you want?” with each person responding absolutely appropriately from her character’s perspective. We then came up with full body gestures expressing that want.

This took some time, and we gathered in a circle to reflect. The consensus was that these were useful exercises. A longtime ensemble member said, “It helped me get into my character more than in previous years, sooner.” She also shared that she loved the warm up exercise, as it activated her energy and made her feel more connected to her body. The woman playing the Duchess discovered that, “even though she’s eighty, she’s going to be a vibrant eighty.” The woman playing Richard said, “I got to put the traits I want him to have on him. He’s handsome. He’s gorgeous.”

The woman playing Anne then shared, “It made me realize I don’t feel comfortable with Anne… I don’t feel comfortable with her values. I don’t know what this woman wants – to maintain her lifestyle? Or does she want love…?” Another woman who had seen a version of our play on TV shared that, in that version, it was clear that Anne didn’t have a choice in her actions because Richard was the Lord Protector.

“I’m so excited about this year,” said another woman. “I know that when I go on stage I can be this Clarence who I’ve created.”

“It helped me look at her outside of the text, as a person, not just words on paper,” said one woman.

“Before today,” shared another woman, “I knew who I was playing but never really thought about it. When you asked what I wanted it really clicked for me: I do not want to die, and that’s what I want through the whole play.”

The woman playing the Duchess, said, “The Duchess might just want the bloodshed to stop, but in the meantime, I want my son to be cursed.”

The woman playing Buckingham said, “Thinking about what my character wants helps me think about why he wants the things that he wants. He wants stuff, reputation, power… He wants reputation, validation, recognition. He has a lot, but he wants more. He’s calculating and greedy.” A woman who was in the group last year jokingly quoted from Othello, saying, “Reputation, reputation, reputation!” We talked about all of our different interpretations of Buckingham – what she expressed is very different from the views of some of the women who view him as true and loyal, just having chosen the one person to whom to be loyal.

The room felt much lighter as we departed. As usual, this acting technique had served to buoy the entire group. I am very glad that we’ve chosen to delve in like this.