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.”