Monday, July 14, 2014

My Henry IV Journey by Grace Carmack

Grace Carmack is one of our cast members performing in Freehold's Engaged Theatre production of The Flower of England's Face: William Shakespeare's Henry IV which is running July 14 - July 20 at the University of Washington Penthouse Theatre, Pay What You Can. To reserve a ticket, go here.
Read all about Grace's second year participating in our Engaged Theatre Summer Tour.


We made it, folks! We have completed the traveling portion of this Henry IV tour and are now into our run at the University of Washington Penthouse Theatre. Hooray!

This is my second year working with Freehold's Engaged Theatre Program, having had the pleasure of working on the workshop of Henry IV last summer. Though the show, the company, and I have changed slightly, the experience remains challenging and astonishing. At this point in the process, I find myself experiencing a lot of different things: relief, joy, inspiration, sadness, frustration, contentment … the list goes on.

Taking this material to some of these places, such as Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) and the Monroe Correctional Complex, has certain stresses that come with it. Going through security and getting 20-25 people through sally ports is the first part of that challenge. Unloading the truck and building the set in the heat and sun is a massive task. Fueling up with a few granola bars over a ten hour period is also an interesting reality of this process. What makes these steps doable, even enjoyable, is that we are all doing it out of love, respect and we have come to share something incredibly valuable to us.

When we enter into these spaces, we are entering someone's home. We are guests in their space. There are things that go on in the prisons that happen regardless of who is there, so there are ”Movements” that may happen in the middle of the show (movements are when the inmates are able to move from one part of the prison to the other for various activities). In some cases there are dogs or bells or intercoms. There is a lot of care that has gone into our set-up process so that we don't get in the way of these things because those things belong to those spaces. We do not. 

So! All of this is in preparation for our audiences. And it is all so very worth it.

These audiences respond unabashedly. It is such an honest experience. There is no hesitation. If something alarms them, amuses them, entertains them, or bores them, they share that with you. And those that are watching, that are drawn in, notice everything. An offender at Monroe approached me and said, "I saw you almost fall over there. You broke character for a second. I saw that." He wasn't being cruel. He was not criticizing me. He was telling me about a moment that he shared with me and I was so elated to have been able to have that small moment. 

There are also equally valuable lessons and experiences from those who are not as interested. It reminds me to realign my focus. There is no off-stage in these environments. We are all in view at all times. What support can I offer those onstage? When I am onstage, how do I make my intentions clear and how do I support this story? How can I make room for the uncomfortable laughter coming from the front row? Basically, all of these questions lead to one big question, which is, how can I be the best Grace Carmack that I can be right now?

Sometimes audience members will leave. Maybe they're uninterested. Perhaps they're not in a place where they can feel safe with whatever is onstage. Or maybe they had something else they wanted/needed to do at that time. But they came. I'm not entirely sure what sort of process goes on at the individual facilities to reserve space at these events, but I do know that it is not always simple. And that these people were willing to go to lengths to be there with us, if even for a little while. 

No matter what happens, each time I've been able to perform in these places, I have felt myself become more sensitized. These performances are sacred to me. They are outside of the ordinary and they demand focus, respect, a firm discipline and a soft heart. I am reminded of what the theater is capable of doing, and of what people are capable of doing, if given the right opportunity. I am so humbled by these populations and by how willing they are to share honestly and openly.

I am so looking forward to going back to Monroe on the 23rd and WCCW on the 27th for the workshops with Daemond Arrindell.


Freehold's Engaged Theatre production of "The Flower of England's Face: William Shakespeare's Henry IV,

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