Shakespeare Behind Bars

March 27, 2011 at 11:53 pm (Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Plays, The Tempest) (, , , , , )

The rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance.
(The Tempest, V.i.27-28)

Shakespeare Behind Bars is a documentary about Curt Tofteland’s work with inmates at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky.  He worked with groups of about 20-25 inmates each year to produce one of Shakespeare’s plays. The film focuses on the group’s practices during 2002, culminating in their 2003 production of The Tempest.

It’s amazing. I can’t get over how touched I am by this film. It is very complex emotionally. I felt like I really got to know some of the inmates involved. The film follows them as they discuss and rehearse the play, but it also takes time to let several of the inmates speak about themselves and their crimes and their time in prison.

T-I-M-E. The film gives you a glimpse into prison life. What I find most upsetting is the T-I-M-E involved. For me, and most people around me, there are not enough hours in the day to do everything we need and want to do. These men are serving long sentences and they have nothing but T-I-M-E on their hands. I found this a bit overwhelming to really consider. A man in his 20s, in prison on two life sentences with no possibility of parole, and he has nothing, absolutely nothing, but T-I-M-E on his hands. For the rest of his life.

Enter Curt Tofteland who volunteers his time to teach these men about Shakespeare (actually the warden speaks about the many educational programs at this institution and how his mission is to train the inmates to return to society, so I am sure this is just one of many worthwhile programs available to them). Tofteland is a mentor to these men who are sorely in need of mentoring. Tofteland says about Shakespeare, “He never ceases to teach me. He’s my mentor. His gift truly was insight into human behavior that is as true now as it was 400 years ago.”

You can feel the inmates coming to grips with the truths they find speaking through their characters as they work on the play. An inmate named Red was given the part of Miranda, and at first was quite upset about it, but as he got into the part, he realized there was a lot Miranda had to say to him personally. It seemed almost uncanny, karma, that he got this part that spoke so clearly to him and his own issues. He says, “Miranda helped me to deal with some of the things that was inside of me that needed to be developed, needed to come out.”

Sammie (who plays Trinculo), appears in the film as a sweet and thoughtful man, a hard worker, and someone you wouldn’t mind as a neighbor or co-worker. It’s hard to mesh that image with his description of his crime: he had already been in and out of prison twice and then he strangled his girlfriend in a fit of rage when she was threatening to expose their affair to his wife. You see, I say complex emotions. These are men who have done horrible things. Sammie admits tearfully that it is difficult for him to forgive himself, and find any goodness in himself knowing what he did.

Another inmate, Hal (he plays the part of Prospero), killed his pregnant wife by drawing her a bath, dropping a hairdryer into the water, and then making it look like an accident. He had much to get out of this play about forgiveness. He said, “Self-forgiveness doesn’t seem to be enough. It’s kind of hollow. I try to find deeper meaning in my life. This can’t be it. This can’t be what my life is all about and what my actions have caused.”

Tofteland says that these men have already been judged and sentenced by society, so he doesn’t feel the need to judge them himself. He simply goes in and works with them. The heart and soul that they put into their practice and their performance is amazing. This is a film that’s well worth watching.

I found out about it because Tofteland will be speaking at an event sponsored by the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company at 7:30 PM on April 1 at Oliver’s Carriage House in Columbia, Maryland. If you are in the DC/Baltimore area and you can get in (space is very limited) you may want to catch this. The film is available on Netflix.

© All Content, Copyright 2011 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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Wherefore Art Thou Gnomeo?

March 6, 2011 at 6:49 pm (Film Adaptations, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , )

Here’s the post you have all been waiting for! I have had no time to read Shakespeare lately, but I did have time to go to a movie on a rainy day today, and the kids wanted to see Gnomeo and Juliet. We waited out in the cold rain in a long line and we finagled the last tickets to the sold-out show (and boy, I woulda been p.o.’d if I’d waited in the rain and been turned away!). Got into the show a little late, but I think we only missed a minute or two. Had to sit in the front row, so have a bit of a crick in my neck now from staring up at the screen.

So, ummm, yeah. That’s how I spent my afternoon. Goofy pottery garden gnomes: blue ones at the blue house, red ones next door. You guessed it. They don’t get along. Blue Gnomeo falls for red Juliet. Froggie Nanette (aka Juliet’s Nurse) warns Juliet. The talking statue of Bill Shakespeare warns Gnomeo. There can be no happy ending, right?

Wrong. There are several moments when we believe our hero is a goner, but it’s just a tempest in a teapot. Tybalt crashes dramatically to smithereens, but nothing a pot of apoxy won’t fix.

Worth watching? I don’t know. Not to me. I am not a fan of many modern kids movies. All the animated hyper-drive silliness. As far as Shakespearean… um, really, I think Romeo and Juliet Sealed with a Kiss did a slightly better job sticking with the story. I don’t remember drag racing and a giant lawnmower/earthmover in Shakespeare’s version. I can’t remember Elton John singalongs, either. 

Was it awful? No, it’s watchable. Mildly amusing. I kind of enjoyed one line (in the whole movie! yay me!) where Juliet’s dad says she needs to be put back up on her pedestal for good. And she’s glued there. I thought there was some insight there. But it was fleeting.

The kids didn’t mind any of this or the inconveniences, getting soaked in the rain, almost getting sold out, no time for popcorn, sitting almost under the screen. They loved this movie! Mesmerized. There was a round of applause from the full house at the end! Bravo!

P.S. I’m going to really, really try to get back to my project here and actually read Shakespeare! I need it! Love’s Labour’s Lost, here I come!

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