Monday, September 23, 2013

The Power of Art in Action: WCCW Residency by Eva Abram

Freehold facilitates an annual residency at three separate Washington Corrections facilities including the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW), in which we enable the participants to write, direct, rehearse, and perform their own show in a five-month period. Residencies guide participants through the creation of an original performance based on an exploration of the archetypal hero’s journey. Participants invite their peers, friends and family to watch their performance at the culmination of the residency. The residency performance at WCCW is held in the spring.

When I was invited to participate in the Engaged Theatre WCCW Residency, learning that a theater-oriented group of people would guide participants through a series of writing exercises that would then be used to create a play, I was, well, curious.  As a storyteller and actor I’m quite familiar with story structure so I wondered how random writings would be used to create a cohesive, thematic play. 

I didn’t have to wonder long.  The ‘Group of Five (or so)’ Teaching Artists held meetings long before entering the WCCW.  We held several planning meetings to discuss ways to approach our task, asking questions such as: What classic stories might we use to start the creative juices flowing that might lead to possible themes?  We explored well-known stories that helped guide us in gathering ideas about how to approach the writing workshops. 

Still we had lots of questions to answer:  How do we create prompts that will encourage writing and not intimidate participants?  How do we convince those who have never written to write from a place of truth?  What kind of physical exercises could we do within WCCW rules to help mentally free the group?  These questions and many more had to be addressed before setting foot into the workspace.

In thinking about these tough questions, I had one of my own, “Are you sure I’m the one you need for this work?”  I sat in the meetings with a talented playwright, (a newbie like myself) and three veterans of the program.  As the playwright and I struggled to get up to speed, my concern vanished; I simply had no time to worry over that.  We listened, learned and discovered ways to contribute. Another question was, “How do you convince the new participants that ‘Yes, we can and will use your writings to create an awesome play?’"

I found that if we, the ‘Group of Five or so’, were willing to open up and share writings about ourselves, participants were more than willing to do the same.  We presented writing prompts that were developed with sensitivity for our participants.  Through thoughtful self-exploration, the women created heart-felt stories; they wrote of love, loss, death, forgiveness, standing up against injustice and transformations.  Through this program, lives were changed. 

The participants’ stories were beautifully astonishing and the truth in their messages was well received by those privileged enough to experience the play Cape-able Women, Journey through the Maze.

Throughout the creative writing process I was inspired, renewed and honored to have been a small part of this program with its audacious ideas and huge goals, all of which were met in the end.


For more information about Freehold's Engaged Theatre program, go here.

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