Session Four: Week 25


We spent some time today discussing our set. We have some flats that we’ve used as backdrops for the past two performances, and after some talk we decided to use last year’s, if possible, painting both sides so they can be flipped and used as two different locations.

We welcomed our new facilitator, Vanessa Sawson, to the group, and then decided to tackle Act IV Scene I, of which we’ve only worked the very beginning. The group decided, after reading through it once, to cut two of the servants from the scene and redistribute lines a bit. The woman who is playing the Widow agreed to play one of the remaining servants.

We all worked together to figure out how to interpret and stage the scene. Who is on stage and what times, and what are they doing? We determined that Petruchio does not usually behave toward his servants the way he does in this scene, and that this will give us “a glimpse of his humanity,” as one woman put it.

We also read through Act IV Scene IV once to get a feel for it. Our plan for the next session is to read through the entire play, make sure everyone is caught up, and make whatever cuts we feel are necessary. I’ll then be printing new scripts for the group to work with, and everyone will really get down to memorizing their lines.

Session Four: Weeks 23 and 24

Week 23: Tuesday  

We spent this entire session working on Act V Scene I, in which all of Lucentio’s and Tranio’s plotting is revealed. The going was on the slower side, with starts and stops as people needed to leave early for other programs and appointments. The ensemble stuck with it, though, bringing newer members into the mix and catching them up with a great deal of compassion for the challenge each of them was taking on. In the end, we managed to muddle through this very long and complicated scene, to take stock and realize that with so many of the players gone by the end, it would mostly need to be “redone” in the future.

Rather than getting bogged down in this, though, we focused on how well the women worked together to get through the scene. We applauded our “newbies” on diving in when they still don’t know the material very well and being willing to just go with it. The group as a whole worked well as a team, too, figuring out the placement of set pieces and some of the blocking that we need in order to make the scene make sense. These are all wonderful takeaways, even if the “work” will need to be done over.

One of the women brought up how uncomfortable it is to get a general framework for a scene and then leave it. We talked about how this is usually part of the process of rehearsing a play – we get an idea of the gist of it and how we want it to work on its feet, an then we revisit the scene to find more nuance. It’s a long-term process that requires participants to be comfortable making “mistakes” as we explore, and that is a huge challenge to many people, incarcerated or not.

Week 24: Tuesday

Written by Dominique

As the group began to collect, people began to tell me about last Thursday's challenges. As sometimes happens, the facilitators were delayed getting through the gate, so the women discussed what to do and decided to move forward with the reading of the entire script. There was a lot of pride in their problem solving and their ability to take control of the situation quickly. They jumped in when parts needed to be read that weren't there and watched out for their own parts overlapping something else they were reading (getting someone else to take over so they could focus on the part they were cast in). They read quite a bit before they dispersed. They were working together and working together well, there was pride in this, and there was a strong sense of camaraderie developed for most of the group.

After "ringing up" we discussed how to approach the evening - whether to continue reading the script as they had begun. It was mentioned that we still don't have new people cast with any finality. After some debate it was decided we would read scenes with Grumio, Tranio, and Biondello (the uncast parts) and give new members a chance to really try them on. We chose Act 1 scene 2 since it gave the most opportunity for these characters to work.

The reading was lackluster and didn't show much. Both new women began to ask questions about their characters. One woman, who joined the group in November, really took charge then. She explained their questions, and suggested they put the scene "on its feet." She gave them basic blocking that had been worked out and explained motivation as well as physical comedy that had already been worked. As the scene begins with Grumio, this woman started explaining her part in the scene, her entrance, action, the scenario etc… It was FABULOUS to see her work, and both newbies felt plugged in and comfortable with their new roles. All the actors contributed as they worked, gently reminding each other to turn out to the audience, not block each other, watch their spacing. Such wonderful ensemble spirit.

As people needed to leave early, the women asked that we play games for the remainder of the evening. As it turned out it was a good way to give the newbies a chance to feel comfortable. We played the place scenario, giving everyone a chance to work, and then Party Quirks, which was great fun.

I thought about how wonderful the camaraderie is among these core people. They really enjoy the work and working with each other. There was real joy there. Someone had mentioned at the beginning of the evening that it's important we remember to keep the drama on the stage. I told her there were professional actors that needed to be told that occasionally but she was absolutely right. It steals focus from the wonderful work at hand.

Week 24: Thursday

After a circle discussion to resolve some dynamic issues within the group, which seemed to have a good outcome, we decided to work Act III Scene ii, as we haven’t yet put the whole thing on its feet. Many of the players were absent, but luckily those who were present were game to fill in, so we were able to make some great discoveries.

The most important of these was what we determined is going on with Baptista in this scene. The woman playing him said she was torn about how he must feel. After some discussion and our active exploration of the scene, she settled on him being at first pretty miffed about Petruchio’s behavior, but understanding his strategy (giving Kate a taste of her own medicine) by the end and being okay with it.

Petruchio has a very interesting monologue in this scene, too, regarding his “ownership” of Kate. Without the woman who plays Petruchio there, of course we didn’t settle on an interpretation, but we talked about the variety of ways in which it could be played. This is something that we have all come to appreciate about The Taming of the Shrew – we always seem to have several reasonable ways of interpreting whatever it is we’re discussing, but we also always seem to be able to land on something that makes everyone happy.

We’re already in discussions about next year’s play. The group is definitely interested in a tragedy or a history, so we’ll be looking at some of those over the next couple of months as we continue our work on Shrew. The general consensus is that we would like to alter our process so that the play for next year is chosen prior to this year’s performance, and those who are staying in the group will be able to study it over the summer. Our thought is that, in this way, we can better accomplish the mentor/mentee relationship we desire between returning and new members of the group right from the get-go. This may not work, but we’ve learned that even if we try something new and it “fails,” we learn something valuable moving forward. And that’s really what it’s about.

Session Four: Week 22


Tonight found us exploring Act IV Scene V, in which Katharina and Petruchio come to an understanding on the way to Baptista’s house. We began to get the humor in the scene just from its first walk through, and we decided to hone in on more details of what’s going on, beginning with movement.

I asked Petruchio to try stopping when he verbally “puts his foot down” about Katharina needing to agree with whatever he says, no matter how ridiculous, and to make her come to him. This was beginning to work, although our Katharina has a tendency to move very quickly that we needed to find a way to alleviate – the scene was not doing what we wanted it to do yet. The lines here are:


Forward, I pray, since we have come so far,

And be it moon, or sun, or what you please:

An if you please to call it a rush-candle,

Henceforth I vow it shall be so for me.



I say it is the moon.



I know it is the moon.



Nay, then you lie: it is the blessèd sun.



Then, God be bless'd, it is the blessèd sun:

But sun it is not, when you say it is not;

And the moon changes even as your mind.

What you will have it named, even that it is;

And so it shall be so for Katharina.


Since both of these women have been committed to the idea that Kate and Petruchio truly love each other and are not awful people, and since we all realized that this might be the most important scene in the play because it’s where they can establish this very firmly, I asked them to try this scene as if the lines were wedding vows – as if this were the real wedding, as opposed to the one in which Petruchio acted out.

This approach proved to be one that the entire ensemble loved. “I like it because Kate has a choice,” said one woman. “It’s the real-est acting there’s been in this group yet,” said another. What this comes down to is that in order to tell this story honestly in the way that they’ve interpreted it, Petruchio and Kate needed to make themselves very vulnerable here. Even with a stand-in Petruchio (the woman playing the role had to go to another group midway through ours), this is paying off.

The ensemble worked together beautifully to stage the rest of the scene, discussing ideas, objectives, obstacles, and the overall effect they want to get out of the interaction with Vincentio. When one woman had an idea for staging that seemed too difficult to some of us, the women in the scene tried it anyway to see if it would work. The majority thought it really didn’t after all, but the whole situation was handled with such respect that it didn’t become a conflict.

It was a really productive night, and we all left feeling good about the work that was done. Those sessions are the ones that help us get through the more challenging ones.


Although we were missing our Katharina and Hortensio, we decided to ride our momentum from the other night and plug in our Petruchio and Vincentio (who had had to leave early) to Act IV Scene iii.

Our first challenge was in repeating the blocking we had come up with the other night, but we found that when we focused on the characters’ objectives rather than the exact staging, it happened organically. That was a relief! We worked through the interaction with Vincentio and determined that it is a game that Kate and Petruchio are playing now that they have come to an understanding – their relationship has changed, and so has everything else for them.

After we ran through the scene with our new understanding of it, one woman had an epiphany: “I don’t think the taming of the shrew is a bad thing,” she said, “It’s about calming down and working as a team.” She explained that there is give and take in any relationship, and that is now what she sees in Kate and Petruchio rather than the breaking of a woman’s spirit. We are all inclined to agree with her.

We began reading Act V Scene I and looking to clarify anything that is confusing, but we decided not to put it on its feet because we were missing too many people who are in the scene.

We set a goal to read through the entire play in order as a group by the end of February and see where the holes are – which scenes haven’t been staged or have been recast since we staged them – and a nice byproduct of this will be that our new members will be nicely caught up. We did this last year and liked the way it worked, although we weren’t ready to do it until March or April last year. Even when we feel like we’re spinning our wheels, we have to remind ourselves that it’s part of the process, and we still have plenty of time left to accomplish our goals.

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: Weeks 15 and 16

Week 15

We began work today on Act II Scene I, focusing on the first part of the scene that includes Katherina, Bianca, and Baptista. There was some debate about where this scene should be set – some of the women feel the scene should take place in Baptista’s house, while others feel it will work better in the “town square” setting with which we begin the play, mainly due to the latter part of the scene that includes Petruchio wooing Katherina. Due to an eagerness to explore the relationships in the scene before key actors left for another mandatory group, we decided to table the discussion and stay open to all possibilities as we work through this very long scene.

Our exploration of this part of the scene led to more debate, as there are several different interpretations of the characters and relationships that are being discussed. Ultimately, they are all rooted in the text, so they are all valid as far as our group is concerned, and, as with the setting, we need to stay open as we continue to explore. Ultimately, these decisions will be made by the people portraying the characters, and the rest of us need to accept what may be different ideas than our own and support those women in their work.

After a number of the women had to leave, the rest of us took some time to brainstorm about our set. Many of the women in the group are set on the idea of having a fountain of some kind in our town square. I introduced the idea that perhaps this fountain could be on a small, rotating platform with another set piece or flat on its reverse side. If this is not possible, one of the women mentioned that there is a dry erase board on wheels in the auditorium, and we could hang pictures on either side of it to achieve a similar effect. The brainstorming continues!

I asked what the group wanted to do with the time we had left, and they settled on an acting exercise. Since we’ve been talking about characters’ walks as being important to their exploration, I asked if they would like to analyze their own walks (this is part of a Stanislavksy exercise that I’ve always found enlightening). They agreed, and one woman who was a part of the first session of Shakespeare in Prison excitedly recollected how, when we did this exercise in 2012, it gave her a new perspective on how her walk communicated to other people, and she’s been conscious of things like keeping her eyes off the ground ever since.

We each took turns walking across the stage, and the group discussed where we were relaxed, where our points of tension were, and what we were communicating in walking the way we did. Several of the women were nervous to participate, fearing being “psychoanalyzed”, but I reminded them that, while the way we walk MAY communicate things about us that are true and make us vulnerable, it may also communicate things we would rather not have people think about us – for example, the women from Session One was surprised to hear that she was constantly looking at the ground and that it took away from her otherwise confident, jaunty walk. We will continue with this exercise in the future, as we’re making useful discoveries with it.

Week 16

We moved on to the second part of Act II Scene I today, opting for a “staged reading” of the scene rather than a circle reading, which is what we have usually done. As we analyzed the scene line by line, we came back to a familiar theme in this group. The woman playing Petruchio said that she was uncomfortable playing him as a jerk, which led to a discussion about how we can only tell this story effectively if we resist the temptation to judge the characters whom we are playing. So, no, I said, you don’t want to play him as a jerk – but you can understand that he is confident, maybe over-confident, and in a hurry to get this wooing going so he can marry rich quickly, which makes him come off as rude. She liked that better – just altering the language we use about these characters can be very helpful, and learning to speak this way about Petruchio aids us in learning to speak more constructively about people in our lives outside the group as well. One of the women in the group pointed out, too, that Petruchio coming across “cold” at this point in the play allows for a greater transformation if he is not, in fact, a bad guy.

As most of the players in this scene then had to leave (an unfortunately consistent theme of our Tuesday meetings), we moved on to Act IV Scene I, giving Grumio and Curtis some time to explore. We found that the scene is pretty straightforward and will require some time from us to figure out the best possible staging and physicality to get across everything we want to.

The woman playing Grumio feels challenged by her longer speeches in this scene, which are very descriptive. I introduced the concept of “inner-moving pictures” – images that an actor sees in his or her head, in great detail, that aid in “painting pictures with words” for another actor and the audience. She is going to work on developing detailed images of these stories for herself, and then we’ll revisit the scene.

I had an interesting moment during this discussion of inner-moving pictures, as I was trying to describe the process without using that term, thinking it was so esoteric and “acting school” that the women might not respond to it. When I did use the phrase, it was met with that familiar look of things clicking or light bulbs turning on – it doesn’t matter where it comes from, that’s the phrase that made the whole concept make sense for the women in the group. While I’ve always been hesitant to lead the group too far into “acting class” territory, and nervous that certain phrases and techniques would alienate people, I need to always remind myself to give these women more credit – they are there for many reasons, but one of those is to effectively act and tell a story, and they often respond very well to the same ideas to which I respond as an actor, even when they seem a little goofy.