CYMBELINE – Week 16 – February 1

We rehearsed 2.1 (Cloten expresses his frustration at losing a game of bowls, and learns of a stranger’s arrival at court (Iachimo)), and 2.2 (Iachimo emerges from the trunk in Imogen’s bedroom, or as I referred to it today:  “the home invasion scene”).

2.1:  Since we have combined the parts of the First and Second Lords, Jarkese is (gamely) working with the challenge of playing a two-faced character, at turns a sychophant and a heckler.  We are working at helping Chris (Cloten) to express himself more dynamically.

2.2:  Both Christopher (Iachimo) and Patrick (Imogen) are doing a great job of creating a very creepy scene.  After the first run-through, Christopher said, “OK, here goes.”  Then he removed his shirt.  The second run-through was electric.


CYMBELINE – Week 16 – January 30

We spent most of our time on 1.6: Iachimo’s meeting with (and attempted seduction of) Imogen.  Both Christopher (Iachimo) and Patrick (Imogen) are doing well with their lines.  Their current challenge is to clarify their objectives, beat by beat.  That clarity will support their other choices:  speech measures, key words, focal points, and actions.

People who end up in prison are often well-practiced in hiding their intentions – not only from others, but also from themselves.  Acting Shakespeare requires a clarity, focus, and forcefulness that runs against this grain.

CYMBELINE – Week 15 – January 25

Chris and Christopher got the actors’ measurements tonight (for costumes).  We also had Christopher curl up into a ball and measured the height/length/width of his form in order to get a good sense of the size we will need for the trunk.

For 1.2 – Cloten’s “smelly shirt” scene – we have combined the First and Second Lords into one (played by Jarkese).  As the single Lord, he has the challenging task of performing as a sycophant at one moment, and a jeering critic the next.  This will require some finesse with focus, voice, and rhythm.

For 1.3 (Pisanio and Imogen: “I would thou grew’st unto the shores o’th’ haven”), we paid particular attention to focal points.  I asked Pisanio to use a distant, horizon-level point for his speech, but now I am thinking that a focus on Imogen could work just as well – possibly better.  We’ll play with both and see what happens.

I wanted us to get to 1.4 this evening, but we ran out of time.  We’ll play catch-up next Tuesday.

CYMBELINE – Week 15 – January 23

This evening we had our first formal reading of our new Mission Statement (see previous post). Everyone participated, with each man reading a section.  At the end, I saw nods and heard hums of approval.  During the course of the evening, I witnessed a few small but telling signs that people had these values on their mind.  Carl (for one) came “out of his shell” a bit more and offered feedback to his fellow actors.

We blocked 1.1., beginning the play with a dumbshow, accompanied by music:  the main title from Black Robe, composed by Georges Delerue.  The opening lines of the play, originally a conversation between two gentlemen, are now woven together into one speech, delivered by Christopher, acting as an anonymous narrator.

I am working with Mike (Posthumus) to get a more masculine, genuine-sounding voice (he began with that fluttery affection that actors sometimes slip into with Shakespeare), and with Patrick (Imogen) to get a freer, more expressive use of the arms (he had been clasping his hands in front of his chest, and keeping them there).

The entire cast will benefit from some more work with movement, especially with the arms and hands.




CYMBELINE – Week 14 – January 18


This evening the men discussed the values that they want to focus on during the remainder of our work together.  Everyone came in with a written statement, which he read aloud to the group.  Over a period of two and a half hours, we listened to each other, and reflected on what each man had to say. I compiled their statements and created the following mission statement, which the men reviewed and ratified on January 18.





We, the members of The Shakespeare Prison Project,

dedicate ourselves to the following values:


MEANINGFUL WORK – we are finding meaning in the stories we tell, the characters we play, and the work we do together; appreciating the value of this work as a resource and a refreshment

CONTRIBUTION – we are giving everything we’ve got, and then some – to play a part bigger than just our character – we are contributing in all areas – as actors, and as members of an ensemble – doing the work that needs to be done, contributing to discussions, listening and responding to each other

TEAMWORK – we are taking and giving, leading and following, assisting and encouraging each other

INTEGRITY – we are always seeking the good and doing what is right, no matter who is (or is not) looking

GROWTH – we are growing in our abilities as actors and ensemble members – and growing as human beings

POSITIVE INFLUENCE – we are breaking our negative and self-destructive cycles, serving as an example to others, and bringing light to all who participate in the project – including ourselves, the prison community, and all who are inspired by our work

SELF-DISCIPLINE – we are buckling down and doing the work – knowing that no one else will do it for us – memorizing our lines – showing up on time – refraining from distractions – keeping our demons and temptations in check – and doing the right thing

KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM – we are learning more about ourselves and others every day, appreciating the wisdom of Dr. Shailor and the veterans, coming out of our shells, learning new skills, and developing more effective ways to communicate with each other

KINDNESS – we are showing kindness to ourselves (through self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-respect), and kindness to others (noticing others, listening to them, having empathy for their situation, understanding their needs, helping without being asked, making ourselves useful) – all with gentleness and humor

MASTERY – we are striving for excellence in all aspects of our work – knowing our lines, their meaning, the context, our cues; we are striving for excellence in performance by expressing the emotional truth of a scene through our voice and our body language – inspired and informed by each other, our director, and our veterans

LOYALTY – we are steadfastly committed to each other, and to each other’s benefit


May our work be of benefit to everyone.

CYMBELINE – Week 14 – January 16

Terrance (Arviragus) did not show up to rehearsals last week.  I ran into him on my way to Thursday’s meeting, and learned that he and Foist (Belarius) had had a falling out – serious enough that Terrance no longer feels safe around Foist.  For this reason, Terrance has decided to leave The Shakespeare Project – and to move to a different housing unit.

This was difficult for me to hear.  I offered my sympathy and my support, letting Terrance know that I was willing to hear more, and that he was welcome to come back to the group and to raise the issue there.  Not surprisingly, this is not something he wants to do right now.  I respect Terrance’s decision to leave the group on his own terms.

Since the conflict is between Terrance and Foist, and it is taking place apart from the rest of the group, I am not bringing it up in our circle.  Interestingly, no one in the group has publicly expressed much curiosity or regret about Terrance’s departure.   I think that some of the men (possibly all of them) do know what’s going on, and simply choose not to discuss it.

Saddened by this experience and in need of support from fellow travelers, I reached out to several friends, including Curt Tofteland, founder of Shakespeare Behind Bars.  It was good to talk.  What has emerged from these conversations is my conviction that although a direct discussion about Terrance’s leave-taking would not be productive, this would be a good time for the men of The Shakespeare Project to pause reflect on the values that guide our work together.  I have asked each of the men to come to Thursday’s meeting with a short piece of writing on the one value that is most important to him.  I believe that the discussion, and a new group charter based on those values, will help to re-establish and strengthen our group identity moving forward.

CYMBELINE – Week 13 – January 11

As my dedicated readers of this blog can see, I took a few weeks off from the blog over the holiday season.  Time to catch up.

Over the past few weeks, the men have been writing about, and discussing, the feelings and the needs of their characters – scene by scene, and sometimes, line by line.

Here’s an example:  Christopher (Iachimo) summarizes Act 1, Scene 6 in this way:  Iachimo is “meeting and interacting with Imogen, who turns out to be as “fair, virtuous, wise, chaste, constant, qualified”” as Posthumus has claimed.  “This all makes Iachimo momentarily doubt his odds of winning his wager.  Nonetheless, he recovers and makes his attempt.”  Christopher identifies Iachimo’s feelings as “confident, excited, ardent, measured, perhaps aroused, yearning, longing, pining” – feelings which are expressions of his needs for “stimulation (met), challenge (met), and sexual expression (unmet).”  These feelings run throughout his body (“head, groin, gut”) and are experienced as “ethereal, fluttering lightness beneath a hardened exterior – like dancing within a shell.”  The story that Iachimo is telling himself is that “he’s supremely confident of his ability to woo any woman, especially one who would willingly marry Posthumus!  And even if he can’t, he is certain no one will ever find out the truth.”

Interestingly, Christopher identifies one further need of Iachimo’s:  the need for understanding.  Christopher suggests that this need is “deep – very deep – down,” and that it has never been met.  This comment suggests the possibility of a very interesting back story for Iachimo.  I am going to ask Christopher to expand on his comment.

In another journal entry, Christopher shared some thoughts on his personal journey, and its connection to our work in The Shakespeare Project:

“I seek to gain a re-connection with the outside living society, which I build slowly, week by week, brick by brick.  I have grown closer to my father, who comes to see me now.  I have become less spiteful towards prison employees and other prisoners.  In short, I’ve set a goal, committed to it, and am slowly achieving it.  Would that have occurred without The Shakespeare project?  I doubt it – I doubt I would have had the stick-to-it-iveness required for such an undertaking on my own.”

“In short, I am exceedingly thankful for all of the people who devote their time and effort to make the Shakespeare Project at RCI possible – and Shakespeare Projects across the world.  Please know that although at times you may feel tired or frustrated or unappreciated – you are in fact making a tangible difference in the world and especially in the lives of the prisoners you’re helping.”

“Thank you.”





CYMBELINE – Week 10 – December 12

I consulted with Lisa Kornetsky (Professor of Theatre Arts, UW-Parkside) today, and asked her for some exercises to help actors with voice projection.  She offered two.  The first one involves counting from “one” to “ten,” or reciting a line, while projecting to the wall – first, just a few inches away from the wall, and then a few feet away, gradually increasing the distance and the projection.  A second exercise involves watching one’s own mouth in the mirror as one speaks.  The “big reveal” is often that one is not opening one’s mouth very much at all.

Lisa also shared a favorite acting exercise, in which the actors sit in a circle and address one another in character, sharing their feelings and their needs with one another.

Prison theatre facilitator Karen Hamer flew in from her home state of Texas to spend some time with us today – a real treat!





CYMBELINE – Week 9 – December 7

With Kellie absent this evening (she is on hiatus until February), I had the opportunity to reflect on the effect her presence has had on our process, and in particular, my own leadership.  In a nutshell:  Kellie’s style – gentle, open, relaxed, collaborative – has made me more aware of my own tendencies toward authoritarianism and rigidity.  I am allowing myself to relax a bit more.  That’s good for all of us!

This evening we read and rehearsed 3.1 (Lucius demands tribute; Cymbeline, Queen, and Cloten refuse; Lucius declares war); 3.2 (Pisanio gives Imogen Posthumus’ false letter); and 3.3 (in the mountainous country of Wales, we meet Belarius and his boys).

Some highlights:

3.1.  We spent a good deal of time discussing the Queen’s celebration of Britain’s glorious history.  Eugene (Cymbeline) noticed that his character felt strengthened and emboldened by her words.  I suggested that even though she is plotting against Cymbeline and Imogen, she is also genuinely loyal to Britain, and is unified with Cymbeline at this moment.  Carl (Guiderius) disagreed.  His feeling is that the Queen is inciting a war that she thinks Britain cannot win.  Carl thinks that she is hopeful that Cymbeline will die, or be dethroned, leaving the kingdom to her and her son.

3.2.  Patrick (Imogen) was appropriately girlish , boisterous, hopeful, and impatient – fun to watch.  Cory (Pisanio) delivered his lines with care, and with intelligence, but he is very quiet, and halting in his delivery.  Eugene and Terrance (Arviragus) have been cheering him on, and offering him tips on how to project himself more strongly.

3.3.  We have all been waiting a long time to hear from Foist (Belarius), Carl (Guiderius), and Terrance (Arviragus).  They did not disappoint!  The beautiful poetry of their lines merited considerable discussion.  Once again we received considerable help from our dramaturges in deciphering some of the more cryptic words and passages.  The lines that received most of our attention were 3.3.21-23:

O, this life is nobler than attending for a check, / Richer than doing nothing for a robe

We reached a quick consensus on “nobler than attending for a check,” agreeing with Wayne that this means “doing courtly service only to receive a rebuke.”  The final word is this passage is the controversial one.  The First Folio has it as babe, and the Arden keeps this, the sense of the passage interpreted as “more lucrative than assuming care for a child” (Wayne).  The Penguin edition also keeps babe, but justifies it differently:  “More rewarding than doing nothing for a child who is in one’s care” (Pitcher).  The New Cambridge, Signet, and BBC TV texts adopt Hammer’s emendation:  bribe.  The Oxford and Dover editions go with Rowe’s emendation, bauble (“worthless reward”).  The Folger, RSC, and Pelican editions, along with Ros King (Santa Cruz text, 2000) go with robe. 

The method we have developed for resolving controversies such as these is to first examine and discuss the alternatives, and then leave it to the director and the actor who speaks the line to make the final decision.  In this case, Foist preferred to go with robe because it is the word already set in our performance text – and he’s memorized it!  I agreed to keep it, and noted that it works for me, in the sense of “Richer in meaning and value than a life of ornamented idleness.”

We ended the evening by watching the filmed versions of 3.1 and 3.2.  Terrance was disgusted by Almereyda’s hatchet job on the original text (in both scenes).  Several of the men were confused and/or amused by the gender switches in Melly Still’s production (a female Cymbeline, the Queen changed to a Duke (male), and a female Pisanio).  Eugene very much liked the Pisanio in the BBC verison (played by John Kane) – and he urged our Pisanio (Cory) to observe it closely.