Much like theatre, oftentimes life does not go as planned. My original proposal to the Portland Civic Theatre Guild was to work with the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble; helping to create a Shakespeare play within Queensland Correctional Facility in Australia. This was a trip that I was beyond excited about and had carefully worked on for six months to make it a reality. However, because of events that were beyond my control this trip did not occur. I was disappointed and angry. I had done everything the right way and would not be able to fulfill my promises to the PCTG, QSE, or myself.
However, rather than allowing myself to get maudlin, I thought about the culturally underserved populations that I wanted to work with and who were the basis of my original proposal. Everything can feel like a disaster until you gain perspective. I thought of the work that I want to pursue and then thought of the best way I could continue my journey and gain the experience that would make me a better theatre director, social justice advocate, and a bigger person in the world.
From these thoughts I decided to use the Leslie O. Fulton Fellowship money to visit prisons arts practitioners from across the country. Although I was sad to not fulfil my original obligation this change in my fortunes turned out to be just what I needed. Directing theatre is a lonely profession. Directing theatre in a prison may be the loneliest profession. Because of the change in my plans, I began to feel connected to the larger network of prison arts practitioners in the United States of America.
These people were eternally kind and opened up their rooms for my observation and participation. I learned how they work and was able to ask questions about how they engender trust and respect while working with a population who rarely see either. The more that I traveled to see these people, the more that I felt myself grow in confidence and in skill level.
Armed with only my notebook, I was able to take notes on what I saw and how these individuals in these groups connected the works of William Shakespeare to their own lives. They found resonance in The Merchant of Venice and King Lear that I had never thought of. All of these experiences that the Leslie O Fulton Fellowship opened up for me proved how special these works of the classical theatre cannon are and reinforced how these stories can transform lives and points of view when people who have never had access to these resources are provided with such. My experiences over the past few months have strengthened my commitment to reaching these populations; using classic theatrical texts as the touchstone to build relationships and promote discussions around their experiences, while allowing them agency to explore these thoughts in performance.
In addition to the feelings of human connection and growth I felt during my Fellowship period, I was also blessed to meet people who were able to offer me help in programs that I am trying to start and grow in Oregon. Last year, I produced a play that traveled to 10 state prisons, 1 federal prison, a homeless shelter, a youth correctional facility, a middle school, and a high school. This program was built on the work and legacy that Ten Thousand Things Theatre in Minneapolis, The Old Globe in San Diego, and the Public Theatre in NYC has been pioneering. Because of the Leslie O. Fulton Fellowship I was able to make connections with people from all three of these institutions and talk to them not only about the lofty goals of their programs, but also the “nuts and bolts” of how these programs operate. I was provided with budgets, grant proposals, what contracts are used, ways to approach funders etc.
My confidence in my abilities as a producer of these sorts of programs moving forward are at an all-time high and that is a direct correlation of the support given to me by the Portland Civic Theatre Guild; because of this support I have returned to my home ready to share what I have learned for the benefit of the theatre community of Portland as well to culturally underserved audiences throughout the entire state of Oregon.