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July 26-August 2, 2006

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Nūz Goes to Prison

So it was kind of like church, because we sat in pews. And it was kind of like a high school play, because some people in the audience looked drowsy and others laughed at all the sex jokes. And it sort of resembled a hospital, because everyone wore physician's scrubs. At some points it sounded a lot like 16th-century Stratford, the audience holding onto every word of an actor's dark and elegant soliloquy. And, I guess, in a way, it also resembled a prison, because we were in the Chapel building of San Quentin State Prison. But if you had been there, that wouldn't have been the first thing to come to mind.

At 9am on Monday, the Marin Shakespeare Company sponsored a Shakespeare performance at San Quentin, as part of the William James Association's Prison Arts Program, featuring both inmate and non-inmate actors together onstage, presenting monologue soliloquies from various plays, as well as full scenes from the Tempest. Some actors were residents at the prison; others were students from Santa Clara University, visiting San Quentin through a course offered by their school.

And at some points in the performance it was difficult to tell the university-educated acting students apart from the inmates, many of whom had little to no experience with acting before prison.

Michael Willis, San Quentin resident, performed a scene from As You Like It, one of the many moving vignettes: "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players, with many entrances and many exits ... and one man plays many parts."

After the show some of the actors mingled with the media, having their photos taken and their words scribbled down, while others spoke among each other, the San Quentin actors and the university students "talking shop."

"How long did it take you to memorize your lines?" asked inmate Louis Branch of students Mallory Harper and Katie Fier.

Were it not for the blue uniforms worn by the inmates every day in this elaborately drawn-out performance of "us vs. them," no one would be able to tell who was who, especially when everyone's walking around with a mouthful of Shakespeare.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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