The women of Lake County jail are in rehearsals for their new show, ‘Portraits of Women: From Memory.’ As always I continue to be impressed with their dedication, their insight into the work, their willingness to jump feet first into what can be a harrowing experience for even the most seasoned actor: the rehearsal process. More then ever, however, I am drawn into ‘Portraits’ in a way that I’ve never been before.
My initial inspiration to work with Still Point came after a brief encounter working as the production assistant for Angela Shelton when she took a week residency at Simpson College in April of 2008. Angela’s story and what she did with it (which can be found at http://angelashelton.com/) profoundly changed my life and my perspective. In Angela’s work I saw the power of telling stories and, equally important, the power of hearing them.
In ‘Portraits’ the actresses frequently tell the stories of other women. They read the words of their colleagues, most of whom have written in the third person about their experiences with drug use, depression, incarceration, and healing.
Standing ‘on stage,’ an actress, we’ll call her Millie, tells me, “I don’t get what you want me to do here.”
“Tell her story,” I retort. Millie is tasked with a difficult monologue: a woman has written about herself from the perspective of the air vent in her cell. She has given a bird’s eye view into the existence of a woman learning to look at herself in the mirror again.
“You know her. Part of her is you; part of her story is your story.”
The room is filled with heavy air and silence. I glance over to Christine to see if she has any words of wisdom to impart to this struggling, but talented, actress.
Millie starts again at the top of the piece, and the heavy air filling the room is sucked out. She is radiant and something immovable is moved, some indelible line dividing her from the words is washed away. She has connected.
She has connected not only to the words, but to a real woman. This writer is a woman who she may have met in passing, who she may have sat in workshop with, or maybe she has never met and maybe never will. Regardless, they know each other. They have memorized each others stories by heart.
Class ends, but we continue to remember the advice that stumbled out of my mouth half on accident, “You know her. Part of her is you; part of her story is your story.”
We all leave feeling more connected, less alone, filled with hope.
December 13, 2011