Tim Robbins has become synonymous with prison dramas.” data-reactid=”16″>Tim Robbins has become synonymous with prison dramas.
The Shawshank Redemption, the revered Stephen King adaptation that turned 25 last month, followed shortly by Dead Man Walking, where he directed his ex-wife Susan Sarandon to the Best Actress Oscar. The guiding theme of these works is empathy—how inmates shouldn’t be fully defined by their sentences and are human beings capable of redemption. 45 Seconds of Laughter, Robbins’ latest turn behind the camera, follows in kind.” data-reactid=”17″>There was The Shawshank Redemption, the revered Stephen King adaptation that turned 25 last month, followed shortly by Dead Man Walking, where he directed his ex-wife Susan Sarandon to the Best Actress Oscar. The guiding theme of these works is empathy—how inmates shouldn’t be fully defined by their sentences and are human beings capable of redemption. 45 Seconds of Laughter, Robbins’ latest turn behind the camera, follows in kind.
Set at the Calipatria State Prison, an all-male maximum-security facility in Imperial City, California, the documentary, which made its North American premiere at the New York Film Festival, is a fly-on-the-wall account of The Prison Project, an offshoot of Robbins’ theater troupe The Actors’ Gang, which teaches acting workshops to the incarcerated, allowing them to access their emotions, form bonds, and break down barriers. Robbins’ group trains the men in Italian commedia dell’arte, and the film chronicles the rehearsal and staging of a performance for their friends and family members, from summer to Christmas.
“What it does in training is, it frees the actor from having to create a character out of whole cloth,” Robbins tells The Daily Beast of the commedia dell’arte technique. “The actor can choose any one of the characters, and this allows them to get at the essence of what we’re trying to do, which is to connect to a deep emotional truth.”
Almost fourteen years ago, one of my actresses, Sabra Williams, came to me and asked if she could start this work in prison. For me, it seemed like a natural extension of the work that we had been doing with the method of acting that we use, since we had already been doing it in schools. So, I gave her some money to start a pilot program and checked in on it. We soon realized, after making some adjustments, how effective it could be as a form of rehabilitation. We noticed a change happening with the people we were working with, and as we got better with it, we came to understand the power in the work, and the effectiveness of the work.
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First off, eye contact. Getting guys from rival gangs to work in the same room to achieve a common goal, and doing it successfully, and seeing how the barriers started to break down was a shift for us. Something about the way that we train actors was translating into something that was truly effective for these gentlemen, and consequently, for the women we worked with as well.
We never know. We don’t want to know. For us, it’s essential to walk into those rooms without judgment, and to operate these workshops in a collective way that isn’t about “teacher knows everything, student knows nothing.” In fact, we try very early on in the workshop to infuse the voices of the people we’re working with as a legitimate voice, so that’s why we always check in after exercises to see how they’re thinking and feeling. I think it’s an anomaly to them; it’s not something they’re used to, to be treated with respect, and it helps in breaking down these barriers. I’m of the opinion that, as Sister Helen Prejean says, “Every person is worth more than their worst act.” I have met many, many people in prison who know exactly what they’ve done, aren’t questioning whether they should be in jail for it, but are looking for a way to change the direction of their life. For me, the future is essential and what happened in the past is not relevant to the work we’re doing.
The Shawshank Redemption and Dead Man Walking, your career’s inextricably linked to prison, and to the plight of the prisoner. Why do you think that’s happened? ” data-reactid=”29″>Between this, The Shawshank Redemption and Dead Man Walking, your career’s inextricably linked to prison, and to the plight of the prisoner. Why do you think that’s happened?
I’m not sure exactly what it is. I know that it gives me hope that it has endured, and that it’s important to so many people. At the core of it, there’s a forgiving heart and a sense of empathy. There are very few films that are about the friendship of two men. And I also think that the enduring theme of that film that resonates with so many people is that, despite what you are surrounded with in your life, despite the paths you may have taken or the bad luck you may have had, that there’s always hope; there’s always a possibility for a place on the beach in Zihuatanejo, and that’s something that people want to hold on to.
Listen, you don’t get any prizes for being right in this country. In fact, many people that got it wrong, the consequences of which were hundreds of thousands of deaths, many of these people that got it wrong did not suffer any consequences for that—in fact got promotions. Some of them are still around on the news channels.
Not at all.
No. I regret that the Democratic Party didn’t fight harder and the Supreme Court made them stop counting votes. I think they should have fought that. And I have to say, I don’t like groupthink of any kind, and I don’t buy into this blaming of anyone that supports the third party and that’s why we’re in the situation we’re in. You can never assume that someone who voted for Nader—or voted in the last election for Jill Stein—was going to vote for Al Gore or Hillary Clinton. That’s an assumption you don’t have the right to make. I voted for Hillary Clinton from a defensive posture, because I knew from living in New York what an awful person Trump was, but I don’t get why there’s such a rabid … in order to change this and make sure it never happens again, I think some self-reflection is in order, and when you have Super PACs like the one David Brock runs whose sole purpose is to attack and marginalize people on the left for not falling in line, you shouldn’t be surprised that those people aren’t enthusiastic about your candidate. I don’t understand why there’s so much energy being used right now to attack one of the most popular candidates running right now with one of the biggest bases of support.
I’m talking about Bernie. Say what you will about him, whether you want to support him or not I don’t care, but I don’t understand the strategy, because this is your base! These are the people knocking on doors that could make a difference in an election, and to be marginalizing them and attacking them because they support a candidate that you don’t like, for me, is not very wise. I don’t understand it. I just want to say that if you want to talk about unity and stopping this movement toward fascism, you can’t be attacking people that could change things.
You talk about experts that are on our news channels, and I’m sorry but they got it wrong the last time. I would like to see some self-reflection and some humility. It’s something that needs to happen in order for us to not wind up in this situation again, but I don’t see a lot of self-reflection. I see them being touted as “experts” again and I fear that we’re headed down exactly the same road that got us into this in the first place.
2006 political donations to Republican congressional candidates like Michele Bachmann. It just seemed out of character, at least from an outsider’s perspective, and I’m curious how those came to be. ” data-reactid=”61″>Many of your political moves have made sense but the one thing that confused me was the 2006 political donations to Republican congressional candidates like Michele Bachmann. It just seemed out of character, at least from an outsider’s perspective, and I’m curious how those came to be.
Um … yeah, I think we’re all allowed to make a mistake or two. And by the way, none of them would give refunds. Honestly, there’s no … I made a mistake.
It is a strange blurp but … how many years ago was that? Thirteen years ago and we’re still talking about it? I don’t get it. Is it to discredit me, is that what it is?
Well, it’s something that I regret and as I said, I’ve asked for refunds but they never gave any.
It’s 12 actors from 12 different parts of the world speaking in 12 different languages about their ancestors’ migration from oppression to freedom. I have an acting company with people from all over the world, and we started this project a couple of years ago. It’s essentially the story of us; the story of what the circumstances are for people who choose to leave their home countries and find a way to this country. And at the end of the show, I or someone else comes out and we check in with the audience and ask, “How many people here are Native American?” Hands go up. “How many people’s ancestors were brought here against their will?” More hands go up. “Are there any refugee immigrants in the audience?” People hold up their hands, and I ask them where they’ve come from. “Are there any children of immigrants or refugees?” “Grandsons or granddaughters of immigrants or refugees?” More hands go up. And within a few minutes, the entire audience has raised their hand. And then I ask people to share some of their ancestors’ experiences, and we hear extraordinary stories about the amazing courage it takes to leave your mother country, and then have the strength and tenacity to make it through the border, and then to have the strength, tenacity, health and courage to travel to a brand new place and start a new life, and then have the strength to survive there. That is the DNA of our country. We should be talking about immigrants and refugees as people who are deeply inspiring to all of us, and it should be celebrated as an act of courage. These people are fuckin’ heroes.
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