The Public Theater's Mobile Unit has kicked off its sit-down run at the theater, following the final stop of its free tour of Twelfth Night to New York City's prisons, homeless shelters, and community centers. The upcoming three weeks of localized performances provide Public's theatergoers with an opportunity to participate in an experience that the ensemble has been sharing with audiences across New York.
Directed by Saheem Ali, the Mobile Unit's Twelfth Night aims to engage diverse communities with the arts. Below, the cast and crew share their most memorable moments from from the tour.
Sebastian Chacon (Sebastian/Curio)
"There was a lot of work on the part of Saheem Ali, the Latino actors in the cast, and the amazing Ricardo Pérez González to pepper in Spanish in key moments in this show. We have songs in Spanish, and certain characters vacillate between English and Spanish in a way that reflects the way a lot of New York sounds — you can practically hear the barrier being broken as Spanish-speaking members of the audience suddenly relate to the show on a much more personal level. One inmate at MCC even asked me for acting advice and gave me his contact information so I could reach him after he got out."
Michael Bradley Cohen (Orsino/Sir Andrew)
"We just had our best show yet. Absolutely unforgettable. After the show, when asked for responses, one older woman raised her hand and said, 'Thank you for giving me my human back.' Not a dry eye in the crowd."
Danaya Esperanza (Viola)
"At Queensboro Correctional Facility, I began talking with a man who told me he remembers seeing his first (and until that day, only) play in eighth grade. He said that it had inspired him, so he decided to sign up to see us. The love and gratitude with which the women at Taconic Correctional Facility received us was palpable as well. Our play changed there and became a real communal journey — the closest to storytelling around a fire I have ever experienced."
Ceci Fernandez (Olivia)
"Before we go on, the cast gets the chance to chat with the audience. At our last correctional facility stop on tour I was chatting with a group of gentlemen when one suddenly stopped me and said, 'This doesn't scare you?' (indicating his jumpsuit). 'You guys aren't scared, being here with us?' 'Nope," I responded. 'Wow,' he said. 'That feels really nice. Not being scary.'"
Christopher Ryan Grant (Sir Toby Belch/Captain)
"There are so many beautiful and poignant moments from my second 'tour of duty' with the Public's Mobile Unit, but one stands out in particular. I'll start by saying that the women at the Taconic Correctional Facility continually prove themselves to be the most uplifting, magnanimous, and incredibly welcoming audiences I've ever had the privilege to play for. After one of the most special performances of my career, during an impromptu talk-back, one of ladies, in tears, simply thanked us for giving her 'her human back.' I lost it. I had to step into a bathroom and let the waterworks flood forth. In a place that is designed to dampen the spirit, these beautiful ladies shook down the walls with their love and laughter."
Donnetta Lavinia Grays (Feste/Officer)
"Post-performance at Queensboro Correctional Facility, I spoke with an inmate who explained to me that he understood the pain of Viola and Sebastian's separation because his niece, who he adores, lost her twin brother to gun violence. He mourned the fact that, because he was incarcerated, he couldn't be there to shepherd her through that loss. It really weighed on his spirit and the play magnified that for him."
Aneesh Sheth (Maria/Priest)
"Recently we performed at Taconic Correctional Facility in upstate New York. Some of us Mobile Tour virgins were assured by the veterans that this facility is worth every moment of the commute. It was, hands down, our best show, and the entire audience rose to their feet by the time we were finishing the last phrases of the show. We actors thrive on engaged audiences, and these folks were not only engaged but were truly changed by the art they experienced. We often forget the many forms of privilege we carry around with us on a day-to-day basis, and even have our own thoughts or stigmas about the types of populations we perform to. But being in those facilities, interacting with these communities is truly a life changing experience."
David Ryan Smith (Malvolio)
"Taconic Women's Correctional Facility is the best audience in New York. The sound of their laughter will stay with me for a lifetime. For 90 minutes, everyone in that multipurpose visiting room, wholeheartedly agreed to leave the dark prison walls and we traveled together to a sunnier, brighter place called Illyria. It was magic."
Michael Thurber (Antonio)
"We performed for a group of 100 female inmates upstate, and they were the best audience I've ever performed for. Never in my life have I ever seen a group of people react and engage in a piece of theater so fearlessly and openly. They laughed and cheered so loud at some scenes that we had to stop for a solid 15 seconds."
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