Sunday, March 20, 2016

Claiming a New Name at Lee Arrendale State Prison

By Jennifer Denning

"To see and to be seen cannot be underestimated; when seeing and being seen take place, it is like a blessing; or we could say, it is a healing."
                                                                           -Robert Sardello, The Power of Soul

Photo credit Christine Gautreaux
“Don’t call me by my old name. That name meant nothing.” So proclaimed a woman in the InterPlay performance class at Lee Arrendale State Prison during this winter’s InterPlay performance for one hundred fellow inmates.

The performer took the stage and everyone listened. It was an important moment. The woman who had changed her name has been joining in InterPlay for over two years. She is a natural performer, but has been hesitant to claim the stage, preferring instead to be our talented drummer.  During this winter’s performance she took the stage fully as she shared a “big body story” about the significance of her new name. She interacted with the audience and had them call out her old name to which she didn’t respond. She then had them call out her new name to which she enthusiastically answered.  I got it. I think everyone witnessing did. The new name matters. It symbolizes a woman who is transformed and transforming. It has power. In some ways the offering of this story became a rite of passage- a cementing of a new self. The context of the InterPlay performance- one that affirms and honors the path of each individual’s wisdom and expression created a space for this expression.

In any InterPlay class we assume each participant's bodywisdom creates pathways to wholeness and connection. That pathway is different for each person. We offer forms and tools for creative expression, but each individual is free to participate (or not) as they listen to what feels right in their own body. What a relief it is to be free from the feeling of needing to transform, fix or heal. Really all that is necessary is to see and let oneself be seen. Robert Sardello writes in The Power of Soul,  "To see and to be seen cannot be underestimated; when seeing and being seen take place, it is like a blessing; or we could say, it is a healing." My body needs to see and be seen without analyzing or being analyzed. That neutral space creates an opening for magic to happen. It happens in dance studios, theatres and churches, and it happens in prisons.

With much gratitude to my teaching partner, Christine Gautreaux and to Wende Ballew, Director of Reforming Arts for seeing the value of InterPlay at Lee Arrendale and inviting us into her rich programming. Much gratitude also to Alternate Roots for awarding us an artistic Assistance Grant for this fall/winter programming (The Nathan Cummings Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon, The Kresge Foundation).  

1 comment:

  1. Jennifer I love the respect that InterPlay offers to each person's own wisdom, allowing everyone to find their own way to grace and wholeness. What a beautiful magic you and Christine have supported for these incarcerated women through the improvisational system of InterPlay.