Onwards and upwards with monologues! We had an unexpectedly long class today – a full two hours instead of the usual one and half and it was fun, if a reminder as to why we keep the classes under two hours in the first place. Jail time occasionally infringes upon workshop time; it’s one of the constraints that comes with working in a penal institution. The jail’s concerns are (to them) more important than ours and security is of the utmost importance. I had hoped to bring some costume pieces in for our classes next week, but it might be too difficult. Nevertheless, the challenges help me remember why we’re there in the first place and why the women need the space we provide. Today, one woman commented after a rousing game of blind sculpting, “I like this because we get to have fun instead of going into all our emotional stuff.”
I’ve been digging into that very question: Should we be dealing with all of the emotional stuff? The PRIDE program, through which we are working, has many other classes besides ours. They offer anger management, domestic violence awareness (through SafePlace), and financial advice, among others. Conspire Theatre’s workshops have become the place where the women can relax and come together as a group. Ensemble building is an essential part of any theatrical work, but an ensemble doesn’t just have to be onstage together to provide benefits. Through these workshops, the women get to know and see each other in new ways, and can express and share empathy for each other. This helps with the learning process in their other classes. I know that I’m more apt to learn more if I’m comfortable with the other people in my class and feel good about speaking out and sharing my opinion.
A popular opinion exists that we shouldn’t “coddle” prisoners, that taking away their liberty isn’t enough. At some point, however, many of these people will be released – they will be back on our streets and in our communities. Do we want them to have gained coping skills? Do we want them to have some kind of way to make it in the outside world? Do we want them to better understand their choices and learn about different ones? Or do we want them to come out angry and bored, with no recourse but jail? Without social services and education programs inside and out, jails and prisons are just vast holding pens that rotate people in and out to little purpose.
We asked quite a bit of the women today. When we began to work on their monologues, Meg had an important realization. Several of the women were resistant to “acting out” their monologues – one said that she thought it trivialized what were serious and deep revelations. Trying to put movement and expression behind them seemed to undermine their purpose. Meg and I discussed it, and agreed that for a short term group such as this, when we’re not even sure if we’ll have the same group from class to class, layering acting skills on top of writing personal stories was almost too big of a push. Several of the women did enjoy it and were comfortable staging their monologues in a more theatrical way. Most of the women decided to read them simply, while standing up.
We had another amazing game of “zip zap boing.” We added a speed round and then someone suggested that whoever messed up should be out! Meg and I were not the last ones standing, much to my chagrin. What kind of professional am I? I have a similar game called “Wah!” that I’m excited about bringing in next week. It’s a bit more competitive, and I think it’ll be great fun. We also blind sculpted, in which the women line up in two parallel lines facing each other. One side closes their eyes while the other side strikes various poses. Side A (eyes closed) then opens their eyes for three seconds, looks at their partner across the way, closes their eyes and strikes the same pose. Hilarity ensues, especially when each side starts making group poses. There were some gravity defying combinations of women.
Several woman have left the group at this point, having been released or sent to another institution. I’m sure this means new faces next week, new adjustments to make, new names to learn. I hope that the more experienced participants will help us welcome these new women into the group. Next week we’re taking another big leap: scene work.