Rounding Shakespeare Company Members Respond
Following our production the following letters have been pushed through the London Shakespeare Workout post box:
A STORY OF POETIC JUSTIN -
What follows are extracts of a few letters from one young lad who I remember most vividly for coming up to me after one early rehearsal and saying: 'Thank you for including me in this programme. I came here to learn about Shakespeare but I find I'm learning much more about myself.' He did. His letters, I feel, will actively show the importance (from both ends) of effective mentorship in this particular arena. It is most definitely a two-way street. In November 2008, Justin will be not only out, but will be actively working towards the set-up of the initial major LSW-USA foray.
To Dr. Bruce Wall
I would like to thank you for what you shared with me and the doors you've opened. You afforded us all an opportunity to do something out of the ordinary. Something new like that takes a lot of guts. You gave me the knowledge to allow me to be confident in my abilities to do something that I'm very unfamiliar with. A new world of Shakespeare, poetry and art has been opened up to me through your translations and direction. I feel that you're a man of exceptional calibre with talent, integrity and an encyclopaedia of knowledge between your ears. Your efforts are tireless, undeterred and sincere. You put together a play that relates to our lives and created a setting that allowed us to feel and express ourselves. The sense of accomplishment I got from this experience was very gratifying. I learned about Shakespeare, the United Kingdom, U.S. history, a sense of community and, lest I forget, the mannerism of good speech. I commend you in the highest degree for bending over backwards, flying 13 hours and going through a boatload of bullshit to help a group of people you didn't even know and who most would frown upon.
Now I find myself in a new kind of withdrawal, seeking that call over the loudspeaker: 'Rounding Shakespeare' is now being held in Arts in Corrections'.
In a second letter from Justin he writes:
The more I learn the more I find out there is to learn. Somebody told me the other day jokingly: 'You should be a life-time student'. When I discovered that people actually DO THAT I thought: 'Hey, that's not a bad idea!' If life IS a learning experience, what could possibly be wrong with applying a little acceleration and intensity. Shortly after our last performance I applied for the IYO program and on Tuesday, March 4th they enrolled me in Fresno Pacific University. Hopefully next Tuesday, barring any unforeseen stymies, I'll be able to plunge into psychology and/or sociology fist deep. They'll assist me with my schooling for a year. My goal is to complete two 15 week courses in one month or less. Not that I want to speed through it. I just want to show motivation, initiative and responsibility in the hopes of gaining exposure to the good stuff: You know, timed courses and exams. I definitely want to concentrate on my grade point average so that I can get into better schools. It all starts now! Cross your fingers though, for as we both know, nothing in this place is etched in stone. Still, no matter what, I'm not easily deterred. Where there is a will, there is a way.
..... Seeing is a learned skill and to learn to see one must first learn how to look and what to look for. That's what I've noticed. People are looking and looking not knowing what they are looking for. I feel like that sometimes. It's like the psychological/academic/emotional handicap Olympics. Then I do something clever and it promotes my confidence. Then I wonder: While the level of my self reflection, self observation and self awareness puts me a hand above some others, how do I measure up in an environment with professional athletes? Do I know my potential? Truly? Sometimes I can say that it is unlimited, especially after what we accomplished in 'Rounding Shakespeare', but even here ('the Special Olympics') I'm confronted with difficulties. What will it take to possess that feeling, that confidence eternal? Is that possible?
I'm taking a truck driving class designed to prepare us for the Class A Commercial Driver's Licence requirements. I'll pass my test and obtain my permit within my first week of release. Then I'll drive local and go to school. I've already got my regular licence.
.... Now let me get this straight: You want me to take part in an event in November that barely anyone in my position ever gets the opportunity to do and kick it with the possibility to pick up more knowledge from an influential, international doctor. I'll have an unbiased boss with a sense of humor, gain exposure to great people, have doors opened to me and YOU WANT TO PAY ME FOR IT. Sounds fun. When do I start.
Dr. Bruce Wall
Hello there once again. This is Joshua here at the California Men's Colony. I just wanted to write you a short letter in regards to our recent production. Dr. Wall, I want to thank you so much for the work, time, professionalism and patience that you invested in all of us and the production. You really do work magic! What you did for us has left a life-long mark in my life. Watching you fight for us and the work gave us all something to fight for ourselves. You have brought hope in the form of Shakespeare.
This might sound funny but ever since you, Cornelius, Lucinda and Georgia left, I've been stuck with this nostalgic feeling. This production is so different from the others that I've been involved with. It was more personal, more intimate for me and you brought that all out. I continue to play those thoughts in my mind. I am still able to live those moments. When the cast members see each other we still say our lines to one another. Shakespeare continues to live in us. In these next seven months that I have left I will be educating myself in more acting skills and ethics.
Dr. Wall you are truly one of a kind. I am beyond privileged to have been able to experience this once in a lifetime change. Now I look forward to the future and what it holds.
In a second letter from Joshua he writes:
I was beyond happy to know that I made you proud in the roles that I played. Hearing you say that means a lot to me. My passion is to pursue this path and to grow in knowledge, talent and experience in this field. I'm so determined about it that I recently changed my job in the prison from the chapel to work with Arts In Corrections. I will be able to read and study theatre and acting. I will spend my time working on the techniques that you showed me and experimenting with others. I will watch video clips of myself and critique various areas. I will have the chance to learn more Shakespeare and review other roles in his plays. I'm determined to be the best at what I do. I remember on the night of our Thursday show a lady said to me: 'You're going to be the next Johnny Depp. I know it.' The woman that she was walking out with responded: 'He's going to be even better than that!' Bruce, I believe that to be true. I now have something in life to live for; to work and fight for. I have a purpose.
Bruce, I still have the desire to work with you upon my release. I'm very passionate about this work. If I weren't I would not have given up the chance to parole back out to Hawaii with my family. They support and respect my decision to do so. I want you to know, Bruce, that whatever you need me to do when you return in November you just let me know and I'm there for you.
How are you doing? Me, just waiting for an another opportunity like the last. Honestly, I want to thank you and Shakespeare for showing me another side I never knew this world I live in had. The project you presented to us uplifted my spirit and put more hope in my life than I've ever known before. Where I come from won't allow many of us young men to carry much hope. But now that I've experienced this new horizon I believe hope is what can build my future and my character. I was mad that you had to leave and hurt at the same time. I'm so used to people coming in and out of my life that I know that I'll get over it. Those people never left such positive vibes as you and the project did so I understand where those feelings I have come from. Acknowledging that allows me to appreciate the moment and move on to better things. Tell Cornelius, Lucinda and Georgia that I said 'hello'. Anyway thank you and God bless you.
Another Letter from Jakarei ...
Did you know that Justin and me are close friends. We both go to the same landscaping class so we talk a lot. I've learned so much about Justin. I'm intrigued by how much he knows and how similar our lives are. We are so focused on our future. It has become the center of our conversation including our experience with you and Shakespeare. Since my landscaping teacher found out about my participation in the play it's all he talks about!
I hope this letter finds you well.
You have to know how grateful I am for all you did in such a short period of time. Thank you! Yesterday inmate Womack and I were finished working and were walking back to our fire-truck with 12 other inmates. On our hike back we began singing 'The Grand Old Duke of York', 'Love is Not All', 'Go to Your Rainbow' and re-grouting our lines. Our Captain was amazed at our knowledge of Shakespeare. But just a few weeks ago we knew nothing of him.
I don't know where or if I'd ever have a place in the entertainment industry, but one thing is now certain: I have such an appreciation for the art-form. I know that when I get free of this prison I'll be taking my girl to see as many performances as I can.
One of the problems that I had before my incarceration was having money and nothing to do with it. I would eventually find myself going to bars to drink and possibly steal a little vicarious pleasure. It never worked though. Now I'm trying to get into the studio here. I written a couple of songs for you, Bruce. Hopefully I can get them taped and sent them to you.
Thank you Bruce for your time, energy and for your positive attitude in the face of adversity that you found within our prison system. I'd like to start a group of Shakespearean students here on the Camp. If you have any ideas how to accomplish that let me know.
Please thank Georgia for her kindness and free spirit. It left an impression upon my heart. Let Lucinda and Cornelius know that I'm forever blessed for having met real actors and real people in a time when society shuns our kind.
May God continue to light your way and bless the works of your heart ... And what a heart it is you have, my friend.
Dear Bruce Wall,
I hope my letter finds you doing well and keeping up the good work. It is truly a blessing to come across your path in this lifetime. I wish I could express in words the high that you and the cast left upon me. Bruce, I don't know what the future holds for me, but I will keep up my work through a lot of readings using the proper pronunciation.
To tell you the truth, Bruce, I don't know what to do now that this play and you guys are gone. Still I will remain strong and pray that we can come back together soon because I so enjoyed seeing the expressions on the audience's face. They let me know that our job had been well done.
Thank you, Bruce, for giving me hope. I really smile when I think about my future now because I can see something more positive than just being part of my old street gang in Los Angeles. I can't find ways to stop thanking you for helping me be something other than the Iceman from Rollin 60 Crip Gang. I feel now that I have a chance to live my life in a real way in a real world. Thank you again, Bruce, for just being you.
Before I end, please tell Lucinda, Cornelius and Georgia that I send my love and respect and to please write. I will write back and keep everyone up on my good work.
Editorial Note: Maimon was the Musical Director for 'Rounding Shakespeare' and, as such, not only played the music for those songs which had previously been composed by LSW's resident Musical Director, Tim Williams, but also completely underscored the production off his own bat and composed two original pieces: 'Kingdoms are but Cares' and 'Dance Me to the Ends of Love'. I had received a commitment from Maimon to fulfil this role prior to my arrival in California and was surprised one evening to learn that an officer called and, in answer to Maimon's absence, quoted him as saying that he 'was not available that evening or any other evening'. A conversation with Maimon was held shortly thereafter. Maimon not only fulfilled his role, but did so with complete commitment and with stunningly brilliant effect!
I hope this letter finds you well and in good spirit. Life has slowed to a crawl since your departure, and your colourful enthusiasm has been missed.
I've pondered some of the feelings and experiences I had while under your tutelage.
I doubted my ability to accomplish what I said I would do, and found myself completely unmotivated to even try. Had you not contested my negativity, I would have had my name blotted from your script.
You faith in me sparked my interest anew, and began what was to be an unforgettable experience.
Throughout the production, your enthusiasm was contagious giving 'the lads' and me fuel to carry on, each day believing more in ourselves and our abilities. Your working against the system was instrumental in gaining our admittance, not to a play, but to a higher level of understanding - that we have in us innate stores of potential talent and, when exposed, can bring us soaring past the limited horizon stigmatized upon us by society and the negativity that surrounds us each and every day.
My heartfelt gratitude goes out to you and those behind the scenes at LSW. I have had a genuine feeling of accomplishment since the play and often stop and reminisce with others. We realised that all of us have gained an immovable sense of pride in our own accomplishments.
I consider it an honor and a privilege to have been part of this production and look forward to any future involvement I may have with the London Shakespeare Workout.
Most sincerely and gratefully yours,
Greetings Dr. Bruce Wall,
By the time you get this letter it will be close to one month since our performances of 'Rounding Shakespeare'. Dr. Bruce Wall, you and your staff have brought so much hope to a man that almost lost all hope in people. I've been in prison almost half a decade not knowing what God's true plan for my life would be. Then I met you for a second time. Through your workshops and the performance of 'Rounding Shakespeare' I began to dream. I began to hope, see and come to an understanding of what God wants me to do with the talent that he has blessed me with. Your goal at LSW to help inmates to find purpose through Shakespeare is a great task.
Thank you for giving me the chance to discover my own life with a new purpose. My dreams and goals are along the same line as yours. I want to use my talent not just to bring about awareness but to bring change in the lives of people like me. Most particularly I want to bring change to children who may now dream of becoming like the 'me' that I was. Thank you for using Shakespeare to open the eyes of this con.
If we were never to meet again in this lifetime I can honestly say that it was a blessing getting to work with you. Thank you once again. The pleasure was all mine.
Dear Dr. Wall,
Where to begin a letter that carries with it such warmth and good fellowship, not to mention appreciation and congratulations at the accomplishments that you brought forth from us; your merry 'lads'.
I have been carefully considering the tone this letter should take, but the emotion that consistently rises to the surface on this my fifth draft is CONFIDENCE. By this I mean the astonishment that I felt at so quickly shedding the gruff prison exterior personality for that of a giraffe ... or a queen ... or the unwitting husband of a cross-dressing Rosalind.
But how did this unlikely transformation occur so quickly? The answer is YOU, sir, and the steady guidance and tutelage that drew us, the lads, out of our closely guarded and safe 'shells', if you will. Without you as a mentor to constantly instil within each of us the confidence that the tasks we were undertaking would ultimately lead to so many proud accomplishments, a great number of us would have been quick to quit and retreat to the mundane, 'inopportunistic' safety of our 'shells'. Not every man who participated in your historic programme will become a great Shakespearean actor, but exemplified by the skills of dramatic audacity and bravado we learned, many of our life's tasks will become easier by previous comparison. More importantly, many ideas, goals and dreams will no longer carry the stigma of difficulty or fear of failure that they once did for every man in that room. Now we will grasp that part of each of us that will allow us to take ourselves to greater heights than we could have ever previously hoped.
So, on behalf of the lads, I congratulate you on your perseverance, tenacity and dedicated motivation to build that confidence within us all.
I can pay a man no greater compliment on this earth. So, God bless you.
Yours sir .... TRULY!!
Once a task has begun,
Never leave it until it is done;
Be the labor great or small,
Do it well or not at all.