I didn’t realize it until recently. Its a fantastically painful realization I stumbled upon while in Kentucky.
The last few years of my life have been dedicated to my commitment to prison theatre and doing performance and theatre based work with inmates. I have written one-acts, performed for and with, directed, and pursued pen pal correspondences with inmates around the US.
I love doing prison theatre work. It challenges me as a scholar, a theatre artist, and as a human in this world just trying to make something of myself and leave my mark on this world. The people I have met in prisons have changed me for the better. They inspire me and they push me to follow my dreams.
As I reflect on this summer I can see myself having slowly awakened once again. I had many frustrating and fruitful opportunities placed in my lap. I directed a play at my university; I worked in a juvenile hall/home for boys doing performance work; I presented at my first professional academic conference; I published a book review for an academic journal; I lived two weeks in Kentucky at a playhouse working with inmates in an adult prison on a production of inmate written one-acts. I learned how to take charge, even when I am scared. I learned to trust my artistic intuitions by coalescing them with many years of theatre training and research. I slowly broke down a small wall I had been building preventing me from taking risks that come with being vulnerable, and consequently preventing me from experiencing the passions and joys that might come as well.
I fear I have used prison theatre as an excuse and shield from the disappointments and rejection that come with being a performer. One thing I love most about prison theatre is that there are expectations for creating great works, but no expectations for what great might look like. This is fantastic but as left me stagnant and content with myself as an artist. In other words, I love prison theatre because its focus lies in what I appreciate most about theatre, and that is the process. It is one of the safest places I have found when doing performance work, which allows for great risks to take place. However, with this work comes the obligation to be well informed about the politics of the prison-industrial complex, and a complex understanding of what exactly performance is and can do. Because of that obligation (which can be painstakingly time consuming), because of the need for this work, and because of past insecurities it seems I neglected my own personal dreams and desires to continue honing my craft.
I want to perform. I crave the connections, the process, the performances, the comradery, the hard work, the emotional outlet, the opening nights, the closing nights, and the power that comes from being on stage myself. I was teased with a small, yet, familiar taste of the theatre world I knew when I was younger, and thus my dedication and fire for acting has been reignited. I miss it. Thus, I selfishly turn my focus back to me as an actress. This year I have goals to finally get some professional headshots, audition for paid summer work as an actor, audition for MFA graduate acting programs and conservatories, and confidently rejoin the social sphere on… Facebook (rolls eyes), where I can begin marketing myself again as an active member of the theatre world.
I refuse to abandon my work in prisons. This work is certainly something I see myself doing for many years to come. Theoretically I aim to offer inmates a platform where they can be heard. Realistically it feels as though I have sacrificed that very thing. There must be a happy medium, in fact I know there is… I have an obligation to myself, to follow my dreams so I might be the best me I can be for myself, and for the inmates I may be blessed to do theatre with in the future.
Here’s to a new school year, goals, and drive! Wish me luck! I am going to need it.