Our first workshop teaching comedy to women in prison was done in late September, and it was an AMAZING weekend. We were able to teach comedy to nearly 60 women and see them overcome fears, shyness, and a lifetime of hurt to channel their life experiences through the comedic filter and make quality comedy. I am in awe of our instructors and students. I am grateful for the prison staff for being accommodating and doing everything they could to make the weekend a success.
Here is a short account of the weekend:
On Friday night, our improv instructor, Chris, taught about 1-1/2 hours of improv, and I really felt within minutes all the women (about 28 of them) were completely immersed in the exercises, laughing, and all but forgot they were in prison. It was very heartening.
The next day, Saturday, stand-up teacher Kurtis started teaching just like he taught me when I attended his comedy school. He has a great system of teaching, and weaves in a LOT of humor and jokes in his presentation. The students laughed and were entertained, but took in everything. They were open and ernest, and each of them did well in the exercises, such as being interviewed on stage. They were receptive, courageous and awesome.
Also on Saturday, Chris went to a different room in the prison and taught improv to women in four different 1-hour classes. I saw one of those classes and was amazed at the responsiveness and inventiveness of the students. Some of these women were well into their 60s, and some may have been in their 70s. (We were hoping to teach improv to at least 70 students in this setting, but only around 30 could make it due to complications in the prison environment. I wish I understood more of how things work inside prison, but suffice to say, both staff and inmates tried their best to get as many students to these classes as possible.)
Then on Sunday, Kurtis and Joan, our second stand-up instructor, worked with the women on their individual sets, reminding them of the topics of their interviews and other exercises from the day before and helping them hone and punch up their jokes. In preparation for their grad show, Kurtis found out which of the 28 stand-up students wanted to concentrate on stand-up and who was more into improv. Kurtis worked with the stand-up performers and alternated for stage time with Chris rehearsing with the improv gals. Some women did both.
Friends, you wouldn’t believe how good the grad show was!
Joan MC’d, really got things warmed up, and showed by example what a good stand-up comic does by connecting on many levels with the audience, as she did all weekend with the students. The show alternated between stand-up sets and improv exercises. Everyone did so well, and several of the women doing stand-up were excellent! Real naturals! The audience was made up of the stand-up students, the improv students from the 1-hour improv classes, and some staff. Lots of big laughs, lots of applause, lots of glowing faces.
The whole weekend was beyond my expectations. I am very pleased we had such a successful first endeavor!