Audience Responses to The Strength of Our Convictions

On May 24th 2018, PPTG performed its latest presentation:  The Strength of  Our Convictions:  The Auburn Redemption.

“I had to sit on my hands not to applaud after each piece. I wished my brother could have been there and all the writers from my writers’ group. I was hyper aware that we were in a space dictated by rules that we couldn’t dare violate (and had been warned not to), but at the same time, I wanted to divvy out hugs the same way I would have following any performance where I had been that deeply moved. I felt challenged to reflect on what I think freedom means, to read more, to pay more attention, and re-evaluate my relationship to theatre.”

“The PPTG presentation offered a very rare opportunity to hear the voices of incarcerated people, their words, thoughts, memories, perspectives, and personal journeys, expressed on their own terms. This last point — that the members of PPTG are the agents in the creation of this work, and not someone imposing an outside vision — is crucial. Theatre at its best is a platform for dialogue and empathy, and in the context of a growing movement to reform the criminal justice system, placing the voices of incarcerated people at center is absolutely essential.”

“It was enthralling, and moving, and made me wish that I could participate! I teach at a medium-security facility (Marcy), and I see again the power of theater (I am also working with Rhodessa Jones). When each man spoke, I could see the work that had gone into crafting the piece, and the choral parts showed the relationship of individual to the group powerfully.”

“The tragedy (and as a classicist I don’t use the word lightly) of mass incarceration was apparent: the sentences don’t allow for rehabilitation. Why are these men still in a maximum security facility?”

“Adam:  What I love most about your profundity is its subtlety.  To point out that the volunteers, and by extension everyone in that audience, also live in cells? Brilliant. Clarifying that you all do this for yourselves and not for us? Brilliant.  Your recurring question during the performance that is absolutely going to haunt me? Brilliant. While I would never want to diminish the torment of that question for you, please know that you are also an excellent thing that happened to good (or at least mediocre) people.  Thank you.  AZ: In addition to seeming completely at ease on stage, your performance offered us a sweeping tale that let us bear witness over your life course. From being your mother’s son to becoming a grown man in prison, you painted a beautiful picture of your personal experiences intersecting with those of the institution.  You flawlessly tapped into the universal truth about the loneliness and uncertainly of aging while also sharing your unique experience of that process while incarcerated.  Plus, you really made people laugh, even after making them cry, which is no small accomplishment.  Thank you.  Bam: Like I said last night, your performance gutted me.  I see snippets of you in the classroom, but last night it seemed like you brought your whole self to that stage.  Giving the audience an auditory experience of your life was both unexpected and effective.  You simultaneously pulled off vulnerability and self-assurance; I wish the man you have become could have guided the boy you were.  Also, who knew you could beatbox?! You showed an incredible amount of courage to be on that stage and a staggering amount of talent.  I am beyond impressed. Thank you. Demetrius:  I felt so many things when you spoke last night, but I’m going to emphasize the academic.  Just for context, in my doctoral program in sociology my general focus is on social stratification and my more specific concentration is on the social consequences of mass incarceration with an emphasis on racial disparities.  I am writing an article on the intergenerational transmission of criminal justice contact and have read just about every single academic work on the subject. Your performance of visiting your dad in prison and the parade of people you’ve known who got caught up was more precise and poignant than anything I’ve read.  Thank you.  Ray: I honestly believe that I will always be able to find some joy when I think about you playing Dungeons and Dragons in Auburn.  I don’t know you, but after last night I feel like I do, which is no small accomplishment in a single evening.  You completely captured the existential feeling of surveying your world and wondering if this is all there is.  When you told that man in the audience to be himself unapologetically, I thought it captured, exactly, how you presented yourself to us. Thank you.  Sheldon: Your onstage presence is unparalleled. It’s not like you’re exactly a wallflower in the classroom, but you seem like you were born to perform.  You walk this line of being hilarious and devastating with such grace and passion.  Your piece about the train conjured all these moments in our lives that have the capacity to be both ordinary and profound.  And, of course, the J. Cole lyric you chose almost made me fall out of my chair laughing.  Thank you.  Walker: You had me laughing so hard when you performed for the audience how you perform to incarcerated men. I could absolutely see you trying to hook people into PPTG, YAP, and CPEP without them even knowing you were on a mission.  The call and response during that piece was a highlight of the evening for me.  You showed us your journey by showing us the mentor you really are. I would never get sick of watching you command a room, whether it’s one stubborn math student or an entire audience; you are a force.  Thank you.” 

“Although I know some of the actors personally, it was delight and an astonishment to see them speak in their own individual, powerful voices. I admired how they seamlessly melded tough self-revelation with heartfelt humor—they showed, in everything, how complex we all are. In vignette after vignette, life was explored in all is wonder, tribulation, and trenchancy. I also loved how the themes were reintegrated and reinvigorated, much like a blues or a jazz idiom. Ralph Ellison would have been pleased—I certainly was.”

“I admired the poetry, the humor, and the cross generational impact of everyone suggesting that we are all interconnected. I liked how the prison, so initially present in the lives of we who visit, fell away; and what we confronted, most powerfully, was the vulnerability and the love all of us can muster—and the courage of the men to talk about what it means to be human, in a place that is often spirit-crushing. I felt much like Janie, the character in Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God, when she states,  “Ah, been a delegate to the big association of life, the Grand Lodge.” James Baldwin often speaks about the importance of being present at one’s life. As he reminds, “If you are not present at your life, you can’t be present at anyone else’s.”  The brilliance of yesterday’s theatre was that you were all present—beautifully present. All of us—from our various walks of lives—knew that you spoke our own heart’s music. To be honest is to be ecumenical. There were no walls yesterday.”

“wow wow and wow.  It resonated, their sacred space resonated and I cannot thank them enough for to opening  that door.  There is humanity behind those bars, and we as a society, i am afraid must  take personal responsibility for that.  It is wonderful to see the humanity surfacing notwithstanding what prison is.  I have spent 50 years as a lawyer and then as a judge and I want to understand how we can get that humanity in front of judges, lawyers, prosecutors. it is reassuring to see that man can and does change. Assuming as  we, must that there are people who have to be incarcerated, another unconnected word,  I want to know how a criminal justice , an oxymoronic phrase, , can find out a way to release all seven members of the troop today without destroying the program when it becomes a get out of jail ticket.  There has to be a way the system can change so that every 10 years there is a serious review of sentences , with mandated release of 53% of inmates, but  do know how to decide who get out and who throws the bible in the trans upon release for i am reminded that for some the bible and god are a but  mere ticket to the outside to be discarded on release. The damage that Willie Horton did!   Thank you all for a heart opening night.”

“Creativity, in my mind, is Godly. You are very creative. I look up to you and admire you for how you have thrived in a place where most peoples’ souls would be broken ( or so I believe). For me The Q &A is crucial to the experience. I learned as much from it as from the play. I wish it could be longer.”

“I don’t know what I did in this life to deserve to know you, but I can tell you with certainty that I am better because I do. There was not enough time tonight, nor enough words, to adequately describe how I felt after the performance, so all that came out of my mouth in the 20 seconds I got to speak to each of you was “That was incredible.” I hope you felt the depth of my adoration for you, and this group, in those three words. If I’d had time I’d have said this: the performance was stunning. It was a privilege to witness. It was raw and real and funny and heavy. It was honest and heartbreaking and personal. There is such beauty in being transformed by bearing witness to another person’s transformation. That each of you gifted us with a glimpse into your journey that then shapes the journey we are each on within ourselves.”

“This performance, even more than previous ones, let me identify with the actors deeply. I can’t put my finger on why, but I suspect it had something to do with witnessing Elize’s and Jack’s performances – witnessing what the PPTG work released in them. But it wasn’t their performances alone; it was my being invited to witness the Auburn actors’ witnessing and participating in Elize’s and Jack’s performances, and Elize and Jack participating in the Auburn players’ pieces. This generous emotional/psychological/physical give-and-take among Auburn and Cornell PPTG players extended powerfully to the audience, at least to me. Throughout, I wondered (and still wonder) if I would have the courage to attempt to express my most hurtful or regretful experiences in a performance piece. The fact that you all give each other the emotionally safe space to do this work, and to develop your talent as actors, is astounding and rare and enviable.  I do believe that most people in the room, hearing you talk about PPTG in the Q&A, were wondering if they could develop your courage.”