Conspire Theatre: working with conviction

Have I ever mentioned how much I love the puns that writers think up when describing Conspire and our work?  Every time I think, “Surely, there are no more puns!” another one appears.  Thanks to the Austin Chronicle and Katherine Catmull for a really thorough, well-written article about us.  Kathy actually came to one of our classes, which gave her a much greater understanding of our work and in her own words, turned into a Conspire convert.  Excerpt below and  click here to read the full article. 

So what are the classes about then?

“I’m just big on playing games and joyfulness and laughter.”

Uh, play, joyfulness, and laughter? What’s the point of that? A few hours of silly theatre games over the course of a few weeks – what good could that possibly do a woman in prison?

That’s what I was thinking, anyway, until I visited that class. I came out a believer, and for one reason: It was so ridiculously fun. We were in a prison, and we could not stop laughing. And something inside you just knows that is good for you – that it is essentially good for you.

Conspire at play: A community workshop held on Oct. 22

The women Conspire serves seem to know it, too. Craft describes an exercise she once tried “where women create a character who could be in the class with them, and then they discuss, basically, how she got to jail, what happened to her. And we made it about two days through that workshop, and on day three, the women all came in and said: ‘We have to talk to you.'”

Michelle Dahlenburg, Conspire’s associate director, interjects: “‘We’ve had a meeting.'”

Craft nods: “‘We’ve had a meeting, and we’re not doing this. This isn’t what this class is about. We know why we’re here, we know what we’ve done, we know all the shit that we have to deal with. This class is for reaching beyond.'”

Even though this story and my own experience told me that Conspire’s focus on joy and play was essentially good in itself, I found some science to back me up – and a tragic, close-to-home example, too. In the late 1960s, Texas Gov. John Connally’s Fact Finding Task Force for the Charles J. Whitman Texas Tower Case “unanimously identified [Whitman’s] lifelong lack of play as a key factor in his homicidal actions” that led to 16 dead and twice as many injured. That’s according to Stuart Brown, then a psychiatrist at Baylor University and a member of that task force. Now, on his National Institute for Play website, Brown writes, “A lifelong lack of play deprived [Whitman] of opportunities to view life with optimism, test alternatives, or learn the social skills that, as part of spontaneous play, prepare individuals to cope with life stress.”

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