I can‘t say I was scared when I walked through the well guarded doors of the Mercer County Youth Detention Center – I had learned long ago that people were not the sum total of their actions, but I was definitely nervous! I know how the average sullen teenager reacts when they are being FORCED to watch something – eye rolling, teeth sucking, overly loud laughter, the occasional rude comment – but how would this group of young men, who were locked up for doing some very bad stuff – including murder, react?? I did what I always do, no matter the age or environment – I went straight for the funny bone. A well known mime teacher, Tony Montanaro, once said, “Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself for the right reason.” I think of that quote so often, I should have it tattooed to my face!! Because, like Tony, I know that nothing, NOTHING, and I do mean NOTHING works like humor. There are many feelings a person may not want to experience – fear, anger, even love – if one’s sick of having their heart broken, but the joyous bubble of emotion that laughing elicits – who doesn’t like that?
And laugh these guys did, first out of shock, I think, as I had my character walk in a loose limbed, wobbly stroll. But then, as they saw me acknowledge just how ridiculous I found myself, they truly laughed – and the first sliver of connection began. The real deal, the true resonance occurred during my second tale. It was a Jewish folktale about being judged by ones appearance, about assumptions – often erroneous, that people make about one another in a blink of an eye, about how nothing one can say or do can sway those impressions, that can be so very damaging and hurtful. It was during this story that I saw their eyes, some half closed, some trying to look away, but failing, take on that intense focus that told me, they were with me. Really, really, with me; reliving a cruel reality of life that everyone in that room had fallen victim to. And in that blessed moment, in a place of lock downs, pat downs, and guards, we connected.