Since September the Stella Adler Outreach Division has been working with a group of women at Rose M. Singer Center at Rikers Island Correctional Center. On December 3, 2014 we saw “Our Circle” the culminating performance of the project. What an amazing and impactful experience we all had. I’m still aglow with the love generated not only by the women who performed so gallantly and beautifully, but also by the deeply diverse and wonderfully engaged community that collected around them. I write this note to the whole community in an effort to affirm the event and the community. I write in the hope that we who came together can stay together, that we can do what we did again and again, and that by doing so, we can make a palpable contribution to a troubled world in desperate need of the very medicine that was produced in such large dosages this week.
The substance of that medicine was love. The substance of that love was communication, respect, reverence and an unflagging belief in humanity. The vessel for that communication, respect, reverence and humanity was the great art of theater. Theater feeds on humanity the way flowers feed on earth, sun and water. It craves, needs, and grows by way of humanity. It in turn produces the conditions for growing humanity. That’s why it belongs in jails and prisons. That’s why it belongs in low income neighborhoods and schools. Like great religions, theater has redemptive power to uplift. Like great religions, theater produces and nurtures community.
The community that gathered at Rikers was so diverse, so inclusive, so representative: women inmate performers, women inmate audience members, NYU fourth year students from the Stella Adler Studio, administrators from Rikers, faculty members and administrators of the Stella Adler Studio, board members of the Stella Adler Studio, Corrections Officers, friends and colleagues from the theater, a reporter from the AP, a widely and wildly diverse group of people. I emphasize the diversity because as different as we were at the beginning of the performance we all came together as one by the end. Theater levels, bridges, brings people together. I personally feel transformed by the experience; feel closer to my students at Rikers but also closer to my own students and administrators who were there, just because they were there. I also feel closer to the administrators’ of Rikers who I think of not only as important partners but good colleagues and friends. And speaking of friends, I feel like I made a bunch of new friends who are not only friends but sisters and brothers in arms in the important work of uplifting humanity. I wish more of you could have been a part of it with us.
Given all of the above I’m inclined to propose that we all think of what happened on December 3rd at Rikers not as a one-time event but as a wonderful beginning which lays the tracks for a social movement that values humanity more than anything (or at least an important part of such a social movement). Let’s all join arms, widen Our Circle and continue the work. For our part, that is, from the point of view of the Stella Adler Studio, I can promise, is that , we will go back to Rikers and broaden our work. While we reach out to more women, we will reach out to work with the men too. And while we do that we will go upstate and expand our work to include prisons . I would love the opportunity to work with the administrators to discuss ways for theater to play perhaps a deeper role in the process of rehabilitation. . Let’s make Rikers a model to the nation in terms of integrating the arts as a means to open up the minds and hearts of inmates.
Meanwhile what thoughts do you have? How would you like to participate in this work? How can we keep creating meaning and making deeper connections? Please reach out and share your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you, I look forward to our future work and I look forward to making a meaningful, positive difference together.