The Theme of Honour’s Tongue

Dec 10, 2017   //   by Kate Powers   //   Director's Notebook, Incarcerated performers, Shakespeare

Last week, in our Redeeming Time weekly update, I opined at length on the myriad joys of the prison’s multipurpose room, where I delivered an introductory workshop in August before being exiled to a room with a squat column smack in the center of the space for the fall classes.

Well, lo and behold, on Wednesday night, we spent 90 minutes working in the column-free, wide open spaces of the multipurpose room at the facility; then we spent 90 minutes rehearsing in the visiting room. Wednesday was our last class of this workshop; next Tuesday, we’ll perform IN THE MULTIPURPOSE ROOM (ta-da!) for an invited audience of incarcerated friends and co-workers, and prison administration officials. The following Monday, we’ll perform in the visiting room for a small group of family and friends.

We are fervently hoping that the Commissioner of Corrections will come see what we’ve been up to.

Travis & I are always aware that we’re working in a prison, of course, but we are sheltered from some of the realities of what that means while we are sequestered in our classroom for a few hours each week. I arrived on Wednesday to hear that five of the men in our little company had never before been in the visiting room at Moose Lake. (At Sing Sing, the men call the visiting room ‘the dance floor’ and we had similar wrenching stories of guys who had never had a visit in decades among our cohort.) On Wednesday, while we were reviewing visiting room protocol for those who are not familiar, I learned that one of the men hasn’t seen his father in five years. Perhaps the shame of visiting his child behind bars has been too much; perhaps there has been a fight, a falling out, a falling off. But his father is coming to see him perform Shakespeare.

Lovely people. You have helped to make this reunion possible. Good people, this is how we begin to mend the world, one relationship, one connection at a time.

One grim detail that I want you to understand, because it speaks to the value that the men in the class hold this work: they will get a pat-down search on their way into the visiting room, but they will have to undergo a strip search after they perform and have a short visit with their families. This means enough to these men who are earnestly working to become their better selves that they will willingly undergo yet one more body cavity search to speak their speeches.

And one happy update: one gentleman who has been missing for weeks reappeared on Wednesday night. We knew he was not blowing class off; he was out of the facility, on a writ. Which meant that for reasons pertaining to his legal situation, he had been taken to a county jail for hearings or meetings. We haven’t seen him since late October. We cheered him and welcomed him back; we threw his speech into the running order for our performance, and in he jumped. He kept saying his speech to himself while he was away, to give himself focus and to remind himself that he had people counting on him.

Finally, I told you weeks ago about two ladies within the Department of Corrections who have been staunch advocates for this work. One of them hasn’t been able to stop by class for many weeks because of her responsibilities elsewhere. She joined us in the luxury getaway space, the multipurpose room, on Wednesday, and as the men began to run through their monologues, she, in turn, began to weep. She was moved by their progress, by their ownership of the language, by their confidence, by, in all candor, their storytelling.

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