Valley State Prison Residents Confront Vulnerability through Actor’s Gang Workshop Led by Oscar-Winning Actor Tim Robbins

Via Pxfuel

By Ghostwrite Mike and The Mundo Press

CHOWCHILLA, CA – Imagine being afraid. Really terrified, okay? Think about what that looks like, sounds like and feels like. Try to capture the complete impression of what being totally terrified might look like in your mind’s eye. Imagine being as afraid as you could possibly be, okay?

Now, stand up in front of a couple of dozen complete strangers, while in prison, turn and face them all, and become that totally vulnerable and afraid person you were just visualizing—completely animate yourself as totally fear-filled, and sustain that emotional and physicalized state. Go!

Welcome to the Actor’s Gang theater workshop. Using acting coaching, the Actor’s Gang theater workshop led by Oscar Award Winning actor Tim Robbins and formerly incarcerated actors—who commute from Los Angeles—teaches incarcerated residents to discover their own empathy and emotional regulation at Valley State Prison (VSP).

Exposing us to these unique theater arts exercises, coaches help us gain comfortability embodying difficult emotions. You see, that is the secret life lesson the Actor’s Gang workshop experience really imparts emotional regulation.

The inability to harness fear, anger or sadness is rooted within the actions and behavior that result in crime serious enough to warrant a prison sentence. More often than not, anger that elevates into aggression accounts for the impulsive violence that lands a person in prison.

Learning to navigate these volatile emotional states and to sit in them long enough to become physically spent by doing so is the praxis that makes the Actor’s Gang workshop experience one of the most highly regarded rehabilitative programs available at VSP.

Using a system of archetypal characters and incorporating makeup and props prompt participants to engage with exercises that teach stage presence, navigating space, engaging and with other actors and the audience.

Mindfulness, affect control and being aware of others are all on the skills menu here. But, discovering empathy, becoming habitually uninhibited and achieving emotional regulation are the top shelf life lesson takeaways.

Watching a guy morph fluidly from anger, to fear, and then to sadness, while personifying a female archetype, does not allow him to maintain his convict persona. He gets exposed. He has to be vulnerable. His inner child is revealed. You get to see the human beneath the social mask and as each person in the room takes his turn, a quiet trust is formed.

The social bonds that develop in these moments amount to a kind of group appreciation for the fact that everyone is doing something they are not comfortable with but because everyone is in it together, everyone respects the journey. It is equally powerful, endearing and magical.

Watching Jeremy, Rich and Marci, the first teaching artists to ever visit us at VSP, demonstrate those first “here’s how you do it” exercises, will always stand out to us as those most defining teachable moments that moved our group into candid expositions and conveyed the deep impact this kind of creative work could have on an incarcerated group of men.

These three facilitators truly grasp the subtle nuances and sneaky utility of prompting, explaining and steering a room filled with diverse personalities while navigating egos and prison politics.

We have never experienced a more grounding and revelatory self-help practice during our respective prison journeys than what the Actor’s Gang has given to us.

There is no substitute for actively feeling and embodying the emotional states that lead to crime in a constructive way. The Actor’s Gang does that. Tim Robbins should be proud.

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