These texts were written by visitors who attended the performances in San Quentin State Prison. These responses were then printed on paper and read to the inside members of the Artistic Ensemble.
“There are no mistakes now,” Banks said to us just before the performance, an intensity seething through the calm of his voice. We gathered into our circles onstage; there was an electric chatter running round the room as the artists exchanged last reminders. Adnan leaned toward me and, with thoughtful earnestness, started the conversation: what does it mean to have mobile phones, the internet, a sweeping ubiquity of surveillance cameras, the prospect of drones hovering over doorsteps? Texting. Swiping. Skyping. Data-mining. The terms were an ominous poem of their own, a foreshadowing of Prince’s captivating meditation on the crumbling of the earth’s future.
As everyone leaned in to hear the conversation, it struck me that the Artistic Ensemble is characterized by this extraordinary capacity to listen deeply, to share, to witness, to make others feel heard and seen. Without the devices and inventions that distract us in our outside lives, the AE seems to cultivate a quality of generous, focused attentiveness that most of us have lost. It is a terrible irony—a blessing born of deprivation—but also something that I feel I am slowly learning back again from the group. We see this in the final scene, when the stones spell out “We Are Here.” It is a resounding call to remember that we as a country have instituted a politics of exclusion and incarceration that locks up people who have so much to give back to the world—their artistry, their humanity, their intellect, their caring, their teaching, their resilience. But it is also a reminder, like the sheet that Maverick stretched out to me as he edged himself forward on the floor, his breath ragged, seeking a hand that would reach back to connect with him, that among the things you have to give us, one is your here-ness, your commitment to being present for each other. You are willing to trust each other: to fall backwards, as Choi does, into an outstretched nest of arms that you know will be there.
New elements had been added to the piece since I had last seen rehearsal: “Richie’s Day” was enunciated now with a pent-up rage that built and built as the routine of days and weeks repeated itself. When Upu led the Haka, later in the performance, I thought about how he had found two different channels for this powerful will to fight back: you can shout in frustration, overwhelmed by the eternal sameness of the routine of incarceration, or you can dance like a warrior. And, as many of the artists said in the Q & A, if you dance in a place like San Quentin, you are dancing for yourself—to declare your right to personhood, to give voice to your own creativity—but you are also dancing for others. Upu taught the dance to Choi and Adnan; Banks and Luke choreographed a section of their own; the wall phrase, the lowering of the sheets, and the interlocking of bodies and jackets are all moments that require you to.
At so many moments in the piece I felt the artists breathing together (even as many in the audience held their breath, caught up in the tension and urgency of the performance). It reminded me of Los saying—after Waterline, I think—that when people shared lines, they were being trusted with parts of others’ lives. In Faultline, the sharing of burdens is quite explicit: when one person names an event with impact, everyone points to some part of their bodies. And Rauch is so brave in this scene. I don’t need to know whose line that was to know that this is a part of someone’s life, now being entrusted to me.