The Arts in the One World gathering steams to a conclusion today. Snapshots from last night…
AOW Notes 4/22/11
[Edited from Rachel Jendrzewski’s notes on the evening session – Projects in the Prisons]
Pauline Ross: Playhouse Theatre, Derry. Has worked in Northern Ireland’s prisons for nearly 20 years. Originally asked to participate in “family days” when incarcerated men would have access to their families… introduced circus workshops… trust/joy-based games… opportunity for fathers to touch/hold their children… brought 3 prisoners out of the facility to meet at the theater about the project with the governor… one of the men started to cry when speaking about having a chance to play with his son.
Rhodessa Jones: Cultural Odyssey, Medea Project, SF. [Rough transcript:] “Most of my work in the U.S. is with prison populations, specifically women of color… at one point, one of the HIV+ women I work with threw out the phrase “love don’t love nobody”… brought the phrase to S. Africa, and a Pakistani woman came forward with the story of how she was incarcerated… she was living in a scrap yard, and moved in with a man who began to abuse her… he slept with a loaded pistol under his pillow. One night they got in a fight, and she threw the pistol at him – it missed, hit the wall, went off, and killed him – and she landed in prison.” She had never shared the story in her entire time in prison, until prompted by this phrase uttered by a woman in the U.S.
Poetic language as open language
Michelle Hensley: 10,000 Things, Minneapolis. The desire to perform for inmates largely grew out of wanting an audience that really cared about seeing what they were seeing.… Work in prisons challenges artists to be urgent and clear in their storytelling… 10K took MEASURE FOR MEASURE to a low-security prison, where there was free vocal response to Isabelle’s soliloquy (“To whom should I complain?” – many suggestions!); and then to a max. security prison, where only one woman said quietly, “Yep, that’s what it’s like in here.”
Max Posner: Brown Student, SPACE Program (art in prisons). It’s important for the craft, the moment-to-moment work to be good, rigorous… Trying to simultaneously acknowledge and transcend the obstacles of being in a men’s prison – the fear of touch.
Teya Sepinuck: Theatre of Witness, Derry, Philadelphia. Wanted to do a project with mothers whose children had been murdered and whose children were incarcerated… was told she couldn’t do it/went ahead and did it anyway… A prisoner told his story to the room, about having his hand around someone’s neck and the person pleading for his life, and not stopping, and one of the mothers went up and hugged him – beginning of the project… toured the project around to different prisons
Dev Luthra: Pilgrim Theatre, Lenox, MA. Works with people impacted by prisons. Sustained relationships over time… “Feel I can’t serve as an artist without knowing the community I’m in.” Way of working akin to (but not) therapy… personal stories… draw out the unmanageable broken moment… perform again and again; evolution of realization. “You are your story, but your story’s not ALL of you…” Relationships to stories change… Talk-backs key, an opportunity for response…. all we do is make a commitment to enter into relationship; no guarantee that it matters, has certain results, etc.
Michelle: Imaginative perspective and distance from your story important… Advocate of the “fairy tale” e.g. another time and place (Shakespeare etc. qualifies)… levels the playing field, as we can all speculate what it’s like versus someone KNOWING that reality… theory of 10,000 Things set design is “yeah, but do you wanna carry it?” – Fewer things promotes more imagination! Distance helps you really see
Dev: PTSD, therapy, etc. – reimagining your story… Many prisoners want to do plot points of events in a series of cause-and-effect; but what really matters is the moment when everything changed.
The power of theatre: to re-imagine/change a self-description.
Helga Davis: “Virtuosity is presence.”
It’s not just missionary work, but there is artistic satisfaction (comes from distance).
Do you struggle keeping distance from your work?
Being in control is saying you’re on the edge.
The distance can be who you’re doing your work for.
Rhodessa: I arrived at this work because I knew on some level, theatre saved my life… You have women who have no idea they’re alive… rape is a constant… helping them know they have a VOICE… the difference between theatre performance and the real world (rumors spreading in son’s school – “your mom’s got AIDS”)
The story that keeps you strong is also your wound…