About a year ago, a woman named Sherrin Fitzer contacted me out of the blue, asking if she could get a copy of the script of my play Doin’ Time to share with a group of women in an Illinois prison. Sherrin works at Lincoln Correctional Center for Women and leads a theatre troupe comprised of incarcerated women; they call their ensemble Acting Out. Sherrin and I exchanged many emails and conjured up a plan to collaborate. Janet Wilson, director of the School of Theatre and Dance at Illinois State University in Bloomington, has collaborated with Sherrin and the women of Acting Out for many years, and Janet extended an invitation to me to perform Doin’ Time on her campus. With support from many corners of the university, including the School of Theatre and Dance, Latino Studies, Crossroad’s Project, Honor’s Program, School of Social Work and the Department of Criminal Justice Sciences, Janet and Sherrin arranged a week-long residency for me:
- On Tuesday, September 18, 2012, from 10 AM to noon, I will lead “Writing Social Justice: A Writing Workshop for the Community” in Stevenson Hall, room 133.
- On Tuesday, September 18, 2012, from 5 to 6 PM in Centennial West 207, I will speak about UNC’s Moore Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (MURAP) and diversity issues in higher education.
- On Wednesday, September 19, 2012, at 7:30 PM, I will perform Doin’ Time in Westhoff Theatre. Click here for more information about the performance.
My time at Illinois State will be very exciting, but what will happen at Lincoln Correctional later that week is the most amazing opportunity I’ve had in eight years of touring with this play. The women in the Acting Out troupe have read my script and written their own monologues about visitation and families. Sherrin has been emailing me drafts of their monologues, and in this manner the women and I have been able to respond to one another’s work. They have written some very powerful pieces, which they’ve been rehearsing with Sherrin. Doin’ Time‘s director, the incomparable Joseph Megel, will travel to Illinois with me, and we’ll spend all day on Thursday, September 20th in rehearsals inside the prison with the women of Acting Out. We’ll weave their eleven monologues into my play, and we’ll all perform together on the afternoon of Friday, September 21st for an audience of 150 to 200 incarcerated women. Two more incarcerated women will run the tech cues for the show.
I have performed in a handful of prisons now in the U.S., Ireland, and Canada, and I’ve seen prisoners perform plays of their own in Michigan, North Carolina, and Louisiana. I’ve also conducted and participated in improvisational theatre workshops in quite a few prisons, but this will be the first time that I’ve actually performed in a play with incarcerated theatre makers and the first time that anyone ever wrote or performed new material in response to my play Doin’ Time. I have never performed Doin’ Time with other actors, and though I haven’t yet met any of the women of Acting Out, I am already deeply moved by their words and their willingness to enter into this adventure with me.
If you are going to be near Bloomington this week, please come to the show! I’ll be posting more about my time in Illinois after my trip there.