Written by the theater director of The Bathhouse Theater in Seattle Wa. In preparation of their upcoming production of “This Wide Night” they graciously went into WCCW and performed for the women there. These are the words she shared following this amazing experience…
I want to share with you a recent, very special experience.
For Seattle Public Theater’s upcoming production of “This Wide Night” (more on that later), I connected with two amazing organizations, St. Vincent De Paul, whose compassionate and dedicated staff are truly inspirational, and The If Project and Detective Kim Bogucki. Kim invited us to perform the play for inmates at the WA Corrections Center for Women.
We leapt at the opportunity, and it took some heroic efforts on the part of Sheila (the director) and Jessica (the Stage Manager). It also took incredible bravery from our two actors Emily and Christina. They are doing very detailed, nuanced, powerful work, but didn’t think they’d have such an important audience quite so soon!
We walked in through gates and doors like in the movies – only one opens at a time, and there are these weird moments where you’re outside, in an alley of barbed wire and metal, seen by unseen video feeds, and up above is the same blue Northwest sky with brilliant shiny clouds. So much barbed wire, in rolls on the ground like tumbleweeds.
Then we went into the Visit Room, a rather cheery and normal cafeteria/rec room, with a side playroom for kids, with a colorful mural and toys. Through the windows you could see the prison campus, which looked for all the world like an elementary school – low buildings, central courtyard, in which there was a garden. They grow their own vegetables.
The cast and crew set up chairs, moved tables, taped out the stage, and laid out the props. We had tons of water bottles with labels “beer” and “vodka” as of course we couldn’t have brought those things in.
There was a picture on the wall of how to take pictures with your visitor. There were allowed poses, hands here, hands not here. I looked at it a long time. You aren’t allowed to touch people in prison beyond a pat on the back or a handshake. Imagine living ten years without a hug.
The inmates came in. They wore all gray – gray sweats, gray t-shirts. There must be very little color in their world. So much gray.
Sheila introduced the show. She was nervous. I was, too. But then we started, and a few minutes in there was that wonderful thing that happens when you make theater – the audience laughed, and it was such a shared moment of recognition. It was like a fantastic blind date, when you discover that you are in conversation with someone who “gets” you. For the next 90 minutes, the play bounced between the actors, the script, the audience – it was like we were all listening and talking and participating in the story in very present, real time.
After the show, we listened to the women share. My worst fear – that they wouldn’t connect to the play, that it wouldn’t make sense or resonate – was so far from the truth I almost laughed. They were such an intelligent and perceptive audience, making deeply nuanced psychological connections, quoting the show back to us and referencing small but significant moments. Most of them allowed authentic emotional responses, and there was a fair amount of kleenex floating around, but it wasn’t maudlin and it wasn’t trite. The emotion never got in the way of discussion – of true give and take and listening.
Being with those women is like taking undiluted, maximum strength life serum.
To communicate is our passion and our despair. Making theater in that prison visit room was a passionate, joyful experience.
They are mothers, most of them. They want us to know that. They want us to know they are there – to see them. They are sending their families to the Bathhouse to see the show. They want to bring us back to the prison to share with a larger audience. They want you to see this play.
I hope you can be a part of this story. While I can’t take you back to prison, we can take a little of that experience to you. Join us for post-play discussions with former inmates and the remarkable people who work both in and out of the prison system helping those in need transition into a life beyond incarceration.