Thursday, July 8, 2010

Freehold's Engaged Theatre Program at Prison by Trina Harris

July 2, 2010 Monroe Washington State Reformatory Unit or WSRU

The front desk guard instructs our group of 26 nervously joking actors, musicians, dancers & crew, “There are two things you need to get out of the prison: your ID badge and the invisible stamp you just got on your hand. Without either, you’re staying with us ‘till Christmas and Santa doesn’t come to the prison.”

Santa doesn’t come to the prison, but Freehold does.

This is my third Monroe men’s prison performance. I went with Freehold’s Ensemble Training Intensive (ETI) a couple of years ago first in the fall for a Commedia dell'Arte production of Goldoni’s the Venetian Twins and again in the spring for the tour of Merchant of Venice.

So all 25 of us (our fearless director, Robin, was pulling the yellow Handy Andy truck around to the gym) cram into the sally port – it’s tight, but we’re told that actually 32 is the record - and the outside heavy barred door closes and the inside heavy barred door opens to a locked away world. I felt like Dorothy stepping off the porch into the Land of Oz, only it didn’t switch into color.

We were an explosion of chaos and color in this orderly landscape of cement and metal. No weeds even dared cross over to the inside of the fence. I was thankful for the brilliant colors of our grand set. Kudos to the patient guards who per procedure checked every single piece that came off of our truck and went back on again when the show was over.

The men file into the gym, wearing identical uniforms to our costumes which worried me a little at first, but then made me feel like an honorary member of their team, like I was fighting for them when maybe not enough people had fought for them before they did whatever it was they did to land them here in this gym. It was undeniable that at that moment looking down from above, we were the same. And then I was reacquainted with why performing here is so profound. These men are nothing but real. There’s no pretense, no need-to-please poisonous politeness. This is not the place for that. These men become my instructors on how to be real and present in the moment, freely talking and giving feedback during the play, asking me, “Why are you shouting?” or reminding me after I’d switched characters or at least thought I had of what I had done to Caesar 2 acts before.

Imposters need not apply. I am not entirely sure why this might be, but what my experience at Monroe boils down to is that there is enough that is already locked up there, so my heart and courage must run free.

Photo: Trina (in center of photo standing at top) with her JULIUS CAESAR cast-mates performing for the veterans at American Lake Veterans Hospital.

TWO more free performances of JULIUS CAESAR for the public will be performed at Broadway Performance Hall this weekend, July 10 at 8:00 pm and July 11 at 5:00 pm. We hope you'll attend!