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The show goes on.



The actress steps center stage. When she was young, she tells the audience, "life was terrific--all spread out, waiting for me to take advantage." But after 20 years of wrong choices, wrong men, "I suddenly realized that the one thing I didn't have anymore is confidence." The women in the audience--inmates at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women Iowa Correctional Institution for Women is a medium/minimum security prison located in Mitchellville. As of 2002 it had some 190 staff and 510 inmates.

It has both dormitory style units and celled housing, as well as a "return-to-confinement" facility used for intensive
 (ICIW ICIW Iowa Correctional Institution for Women ) in Mitchellville--know all about wrong choices, wrong men and no confidence.

This is a production of the Mitchellville Theater Project at ICIW, directed by volunteer Marti Sivi, who earned a degree in criminal justice administration from Drake University Drake University is a private, co-educational university located in the city of Des Moines, Iowa. The institution offers a number of undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as professional programs in law and pharmacy.  and has years of community theater experience in Des Moines Des Moines, city, United States
Des Moines (dĭ moin`), city (1990 pop. 193,187), state capital and seat of Polk co., S central Iowa, at the junction of the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers; inc.
. When Sivi taught a play-reading class at ICIW in 1998, women in the group asked if they could perform. So began the Mitchellville Theater Project, which has staged seven shows for inmates and volunteers.

At every tryout, Sivi goes through the same spiel spiel   Informal
n.
A lengthy or extravagant speech or argument usually intended to persuade.

intr. & tr.v. spieled, spiel·ing, spiels
To talk or say (something) at length or extravagantly.
. Somewhat ironically, considering the context. Sivi talks about the need to "lock in" the cast and crew, and she tells the inmates, "If you go to the hole (solitary confinement solitary confinement n. the placement of a prisoner in a Federal or state prison in a cell away from other prisoners, usually as a form of internal penal discipline, but occasionally to protect the convict from other prisoners or to prevent the prisoner from causing ), I give your part to somebody else. The show will go on."

Most women at ICIW have never acted or worked on the crew of a theatrical production Noun 1. theatrical production - the production of a drama on the stage
staging

production - a presentation for the stage or screen or radio or television; "have you seen the new production of Hamlet?"
; many have never gone to a play. "If I was on the street, I would never have thought of doing something like this," says Sheila Schertz, who played Andy--and tap-danced--in Stepping Out. "At first, I thought, 'Oh, no, I can't do this. I'm not coordinated enough. I was so nervous and scared of messing up."

Sivi holds rehearsals twice a week. Between rehearsals, cast members work on their parts whenever they can. For Stepping Out, a play about a tap class that meets in a church basement, Lisa Heaivilin, who suffers from heel spurs Heel Spurs Definition

A heel spur is a bony projection on the sole (plantar) region of the heel bone (also known as the calcaneous). This condition may accompany or result from severe cases of inflammation to the structure called plantar fascia.
 but loves to dance anyway, practiced the Irish step in the yard. C. Shobha Sheth Horstman executed the scissors scissors

Cutting instrument or tool consisting of a pair of opposed metal blades that meet and cut when the handles at their ends are brought together. Modern scissors are of two types: the more usual pivoted blades have a rivet or screw connection between the cutting ends
 step while serving waffles on the food line. "This is the only time that I feel I'm not in prison," says Horstman, who has acted and worked behind the scenes for most of the plays staged by the Mitchellville Theater Project. "I can laugh, cry, dance. It gives you a chance to be somebody you're not."

Schertz describes her role as a woman in an abusive marriage as "a job and a half." As the tap dance class in the play prepares to perform. Schertz's character breaks down in tears: "I am not good. I am not good. I don't know Don't know (DK, DKed)

"Don't know the trade." A Street expression used whenever one party lacks knowledge of a trade or receives conflicting instructions from the other party.
 why I'm here. I don't know why I come. I can't do it. I can't do it." This is exactly what happened to Schertz.

"At one point in time, I sat and I actually cried because I just couldn't do some of the steps and I wanted to quit. Everyone told me, 'You can do it,' and to keep going. So I stuck it out." When a prop collapsed during the first performance, Schertz stepped up and carried it offstage--earning her the moniker (1) A name, title or alias. See alias.

(2) A COM object that is used to create instances of other objects. Monikers save programmers time when coding various types of COM-based functions such as linking one document to another (OLE). See COM and OLE.
 of Ad Lib An earlier sound card from Ad Lib, Inc., Quebec City, that, for a while, was the de facto standard for synthesized background music for computer games. It was a precursor to the MIDI standard.  Queen at ICIW.

Jamie Strasser says that on the streets, she was not responsible for much, but as stage manager for Stepping Out, she found herself herding a cast of 10 through rehearsals and four performances. "Leave it in the yard," Strasser would find herself telling the cast and crew. A big part of her job as stage manager was cheering on the cast. "They don't think they should be on stage," she says. "They think they're dumb, stupid, not worth it. Here, they can believe in themselves and play different characters."

There are challenges to putting on shows in the gymnasium at ICIW because of the summer heat and winter cold. The volleyball net comes down only for performances. In the beginning, Sivi had no backdrop and no sound system. She made do with her daughter's boombox. A grant from the Chrysalis chrysalis (krĭs`əlĭs): see pupa.  Foundation paid for a sound system and a backdrop, as well as props and costumes. Then Sivi had to put up guards to protect the sound equipment from wayward volleyballs.

Sivi has faced other difficulties in staging productions at ICIW; for example, lead actresses have been sent to solitary confinement. In one production, more than half the cast was transferred to a prison in Virginia. During rehearsals for Stepping Out, two cast members were assigned to treatment, so Sivi had to recast re·cast  
tr.v. re·cast, re·cast·ing, re·casts
1. To mold again: recast a bell.

2.
 those parts.

R. Dean Wright, a Drake University sociology professor, evaluated the Mitchellville Theater Project's production of Steel Magnolias for the Chrysalis Foundation. Through his use of a questionnaire, a focus group and interviews with the cast and crew, he found that participation in the Mitchellville Theater Project improved self-esteem, provided positive role models, encouraged teamwork, helped inmates learn to express their emotions in a non-threatening way, and developed skills on stage and behind the scenes. "This begins to give inmates personal fulfillment outside of whatever they had before," Wright says. "These women take someone else's ideas, internalize internalize

To send a customer order from a brokerage firm to the firm's own specialist or market maker. Internalizing an order allows a broker to share in the profit (spread between the bid and ask) of executing the order.
 those ideas and present them to others as they play another role and live it literally on stage. This is a great opportunity for these women to see themselves in a better light and to see themselves in the future."

What Wright sees at work here is what sociologist C. Wright Mills termed sociological imagination Sociological imagination is a sociological term coined by American sociologist C. Wright Mills in 1959 describing the ability to connect seemingly impersonal and remote historical forces to the incidents of an individual’s life. : "They develop empathy for that character on stage and for others. They understand that there are loads of other people with the same plights and problems they have." Helping inmates develop empathy is one of the many benefits of bringing arts programs into Iowa prisons, say corrections officials.

"This provides an alternative medium for us to connect with, interact with and see offenders," says Jeanette Bucklew, deputy director for Western operations of the Iowa Department of Corrections. "It's something in this environment that is not about control or punishment. It shows offenders an acceptable positive alternative to what they've done on the streets. It's something that's fun, exciting and socially OK without doing dope or robbing people."

ICIW Deputy Warden Sheryl Lockwood says the arts allow these women to tap into talents they never knew they had. "There are women here with all kinds of talent, some of it raw, and they come out with this polished act," she says. "If our role is to rehabilitate re·ha·bil·i·tate
v.
1. To restore to good health or useful life, as through therapy and education.

2. To restore to good condition, operation, or capacity.
, this is what we need to offer."

Jennifer Dally, who served two years and eight months on a drug charge, says working sound and lights for Mitchellville Theater Project productions helped her rehabilitation rehabilitation: see physical therapy. . Dally enjoyed winging it and making do by making things work in the prison gym. She is now out, attending community college full-time and working lights for community theater productions. "In treatment, I learned that I can get in trouble if I get depressed or bored or have nothing to do," Dally says. "Marti gave me something to do that I enjoy."

The Mitchellville Theater Project's summer 2002 production of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf was the first with an all-black cast. Andrea Blackcloud, who played the Lady in Green, could not eat before performances. Her stomach knotted up every evening when she went on stage. She cried the first time she read her lines: "I want my stuff back. My rhythms and my voice." Blackcloud is serving a 75-year sentence for killing a man who tried to rape her and says, "I've seen abuse. I've lived it. Every night, it hits me more--that is what happened to me 11 years ago."

Shyeaka Robinson, who is serving a 50-year sentence for the murder of her newborn daughter, says the play was "real, real deep. It hit home like next door." Robinson played the role of the Lady in Blue, who says "Once I was pregnant and ashamed of myself" and describes how she aborted a·bort  
v. a·bort·ed, a·bort·ing, a·borts

v.intr.
1. To give birth prematurely or before term; miscarry.

2. To cease growth before full development or maturation.

3.
 her baby: "Bones shattered like soft ice cream cones An ice cream cone or cornet is a cone-shaped pastry, usually made of a wafer similar in texture to a waffle, in which ice cream is served, allowing it to be eaten without a bowl or spoon. ." As difficult as it was to play the Lady in Blue, Robinson says, "we can show people that although we're in here for murder, we're people, too. We are somebody, and we're not the same people who came into this play six months ago. Everybody's changed." Sivi tries to mix up the shows: funny, sad, light, heavy. The Mitchellville Theater Project's next production will be The Odd Couple.

What struck Wright most in his evaluation was the high level of satisfaction with participation in Sivi's plays at ICIW. The women he interviewed were satisfied or very satisfied with the program. "All 14 of those interviewed," he states in the evaluation, "went on to provide illustration after illustration of how the program has helped them toward improved self-esteem, given them future-oriented goals that they can achieve, allowed them to look beyond their personal problems and institutionalization Institutionalization

The gradual domination of financial markets by institutional investors, as opposed to individual investors. This process has occurred throughout the industrialized world.
, and over-all, conclude that the experience was very positive."

Inmates who have worked on shows with the Mitchellville Theater Project use different words to express the positive experience. Kim Fisher describes playing the goofy Goofy

bumbling, awkward dog; originally named Dippy Dawg. [Comics: “Mickey Mouse” in Horn, 492]

See : Awkwardness
, flaky flaky - (Or "flakey") Subject to frequent lossage. This use is of course related to the common slang use of the word to describe a person as eccentric, crazy, or just unreliable.  Rose in Stepping Out: "By playing the part of Rose, I found myself again. See, I used to be real funny and outgoing. When I became a drug addict in 1999, I lost all that. I felt like I was nothing and I didn't have a whole lot of self-worth. With all that going on, from being an addict to coming to prison. I wasn't real sure who I was anymore. But since I was Rose in the play, I'm back and I love myself again. I dream about the future again."

Kellie Abrahamson, who was sent to ICIW because of her methamphetamine addiction, says she never finished anything in her life--school, jobs--until her role in Stepping Out. "This," she says, "I started and I finished." She talks about calling home after a performance: "Mom, guess what? I'm high, and I won't regret it in the morning."

Anne Scott is a freelance writer who has led writing work-shops for the Iowa Department of Corrections.
COPYRIGHT 2003 American Correctional Association, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Author:Scott, Anne
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2003
Words:1659
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