INSPIRED BY THE WORDS, STORIES, AND DREAMS OF
Kristin Accetta,Tiffany Broulette, Katelynn Goodwin, Kapaula (Mimi) Nicholson,
Gabby Leon and Vivian Singh
PERFORMED AND DEVELOPED IN COLLABORATION WITH
Zurie Adams, Noh Bailey, Joan Coombs,
Laura Standley and Brittany Nicholson
CREATED & DIRECTED BY
Amy Brentano and Sara Katzoff
Using the transformative power of live performance, RELEASE is a collaboratively created and devised piece of theater that is woven together from the words, dreams and stories of formerly incarcerated women in Berkshire County. Through their non- linear journeys of recovery, healing and rehabilitation, RELEASE humanizes and lifts their voices above the statistics that mask their individuality and dignity. Using verbatim text, movement, sound, music and video projection, this multidisciplinary performance reveals the humanity of these women.
Gathered through several weeks of recorded interviews and listening sessions with six members of 2nd Street’s weekly aftercare recovery group, RELEASE examines questions of race and gender inequity within systems of incarceration.
Photos by Keith Forman
Through a collaboration between an ensemble of five diverse actors ranging in ages from 23-76 and the six participants in the aftercare group, RELEASE shares specific stories to find common experiences among them. By stacking these many lenses upon each other, a more truthful picture is offered for those of us who have never been “behind the wall.”
The culminating work in progress performances that took place in September of 2023 educated the public on the issues of incarceration and re-entry in a highly personal way, challenging our stereotypes of this population.
Equally important was the empowerment the formerly incarcerated women gained from hearing their own voices and narratives reflected back to them.
“We are all survivors. We’ve had to turn off the emotions. To see other people react to our stories, it gave me a moment of permission to be like, damn, I went through something really hard. It was…validating.”
“My daughter …knows my story. But to hear it and realize that Mom’s not the only one that’s been through this. She was so touched by it all.”
“You look back on your own life and you see pieces of you. You could feel the feelings, and that is something I try not to do. It was beautiful.”
“It made me so quietly uncomfortable because it was so real. …(the actor) put the emotions into what I could never truly explain to anyone myself.”
“…..all these people are interested in coming to hear my story? It was funny, powerful. Changed my heart. I feel it through someone else. It was stunning. “
“When they changed (their clothes for the jail intake) and there were all variations of body types… you could feel the shame, if you’ve ever been strip searched…that overwhelming shame..you could feel it. Every detail, even the funny parts, …the level of desperation someone is in….”
Please note that characterizations of the conditions of incarceration are not reflective of conditions at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction.
Research & Development Process
Every step of our journey has taken place with input, agency and guidance from the 2nd Street women whose voices are essential within this process. From May through June of 2023, collaborators Amy Brentano and Sara Katzoff were invited to meet with six formerly incarcerated women for hour-long interview sessions before and after their weekly aftercare group held at the organization’s headquarters in Pittsfield, MA. Their shared stories were documented on video by three international Williams College students.
In August we started collaborating alongside five actors and created a loose structure containing the transcribed text and a series of moments moving from hopes and dreams, to incarceration, to origin stories of addiction, to recovery. An essential part of this phase of the process was bringing the 2nd Street women and our ensemble of artists together for a shared meal and dialogue.
Throughout our intensive rehearsal process, the work ranged from familiarization with the text, the assignment of the text to particular actors, to pure movement explorations on our feet. No one actor was assigned any one participant as a “role”. The text from the various voices was divided amongst the actors to allow them to find a thread emerging from themselves moving through the nonlinear journey of the piece. Each actor brought their own life experiences to the project and allowed those experiences to inform the choices they made as they navigated the text and had an opportunity to connect with the women whose stories they were embodying.
The third week of September, we set the structure, text and production elements of the piece and went into three work-in-progress public performances on September 25 and 26 of 2023, each followed by a facilitated discussion with the audience.
Photo by Keith Forman
RELEASE in its current incarnation is a project that is still breathing and evolving. Inspired by what we learned together through our initial work in progress performances in September, our intention is to go back into the research, development and rehearsal process in order to expand and deepen the work and the themes explored, particularly towards the end of the piece.
After sharing the first phase of the performance with the community, our conversations and feedback from them have been both affirming and illuminating in terms of shaping what comes next.
As cornerstones of how that question is answered, we intend to conduct additional listening sessions with the 2nd Street women and to be in a position to provide them with additional compensation for their time and stories. Through those conversations and feedback, we are particularly interested in expanding the ending section of the piece to more accurately reflect the accomplishments, paths and obstacles these women have faced post incarceration.
As healing and recovery are not linear journeys, it is important to all of us that RELEASE is reflective of that experience. Through the devising process and more extensive conversations and collaboration with the co-creators, we will keep exploring the themes of loss, recovery, generational trauma and hope with more depth and specificity.
Photo by Gillian Jones
Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation
2nd Street acknowledges with gratitude the financial and in-kind support of this project provided by:
- Berkshire Community College
- The Foundry, West Stockbridge, MA
- Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation’s Arts Build Community initiative with funding from the Barr Foundation
- Berkshire United Way
- First Avenue Fund, a component fund of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation
- St. John’s Episcopal Church of Williamstown
- Williams College
For additional information on RELEASE, contact