Humanity 101

Jan 5, 2012   //   by Kate Powers   //   Director's Notebook, Incarcerated performers

Last night, we had the first session of an Intro to Acting workshop at Sing Sing. It was supposed to be for the men new to our program, but in the event, we had a nice mix of veterans and newbies, 15 men in total.

I was leading a Patsy Rodenburg physical warm-up; at one point, I said, “Now slowly raise your arms up over year head, while taking care not to raise your shoulders as well.” Suddenly there we were, 17 of us, with our hands in the air in a circle, and one of the men burst out, “Don’t shoot!” It took us all a moment to recover from laughter and carry on with the exercise.

During another exercise, half the group sits to watch while half the group forms a line at the front of the room. Before I’ve finished explaining what we’re going to do, the men in the line all start joking:  “I didn’t do it, it was Number 3.”

We played improv freeze tag, each of us jumping into the scene and taking it in new directions.  There was laughter, there was dancing, there was discovery, there was learning.  There were moments when these incarcerated men, some of them serving 25-life, were free.

We talked  about what presence is, about how we all have it, but that for many of us, it gets beaten down, sometimes literally, sometimes verbally or emotionally, but that we can get back to it.  RTA believes strongly that we are teaching skills that will help the men to re-enter the world.  So I mentioned that the kind of presence (active listening, engagement, communication, etc) that one wants to cultivate onstage is the same kind of presence that will help with the job interview, applying to college, wooing the lady, etc.

I love it that I am able to bring some laughter, some lightness and some perspective inside those walls. Both the literal stone walls of the facility and the carefully constructed facades behind which the men conceal themselves.

And, scene.

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