“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Spring 2024 Tour: Entry #9

By Sam Hill

For the Lord heareth the poor, and despiseth not his prisoners.
Psalm 69:33

And so just like that, we entered our final week of the tour. Looking back it felt like it had been a long tour, but also a short tour. When I think back to all the places we have been: Indiana, New York State, Vermont, Texas, California and Alabama, it feels like we have been away for a long time. But then again, it some ways it feels like yesterday that we were doing our read-through in Covent Garden, London.

Florence is a pretty, affluent town in northern Alabama. Its high street leads up to the university which is a short walk from our hotel. If you turn out of our hotel and walk down the hill, you find yourself at the Tennessee River. It’s big and beautiful, people fish on the river bank and you feel like Huckleberry Finn might pass by on a raft at any given moment.

We had three shows to do here, one at the university, one for high schoolers and one at Limestone Correctional Facility: a prison about an hour and half outside of Florence. Most of us had never performed in a prison before, including me. Going into the building is an austere experience, but once you are inside (literally and figuratively) you sort of forget you are in a prison. We were shown into a room, where we would perform, which was reminiscent of a church hall. The floor had been mopped and cleaned so well we could have had our lunch on it. We set up and the audience entered.

What struck us most was the focus this audience had on the play. Every single man was paying a deep attention to the play. They had been studying A Midsummer Night’s Dream through a program run by the University of North Alabama. They were well equipped with a ‘No Fear Shakespeare’ script in hand (this edition offers a modern English version of the story alongside the original), pencils and a list of characters in the play. They were to listen, to learn and to get out of prison life for a couple of hours.

After the show we ran a Q and A, spoke to the prisoners, and signed their copies of the play, which were kept carefully and in pristine condition. We were thanked a lot and were reminded how important it was to them that we had come. It was a profound experience. I have thought about it a lot since. And will think about it a lot, probably throughout my life. Of course, I’m sure some men in that prison have done very bad things and some might even show little to no remorse; but the people we met seemed so normal. Perhaps, a fit of anger, a tragedy, a tough, tough life, forces someone to do something rash, they get caught and that’s it: prison. And then once you’ve been to prison, done your time and get released, is it easy to establish a normal life? I don’t know, but the experience made me think. The walls we put up are built on sand.