How acting in a prison play taught me about home.
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February E-Zine: Learning to Define Home
That was my Evilene costume, minus the fab robe. Don't worry, I didn't smile on stage, this is post-show. (Hint: You may  want to cue up this song to play while reading for full impact.)

When I think of home, I think of a place with love overflowing... I wish I was home, I wish I could go back with the things I've been knowing.

I sang these lines from The Wiz on stage in maximum security prison last month, toe to toe with 15 incarcerated women. Though I will never be able to understand the experience of what it means to be away from loved ones in this capacity, when the light shifted I caught mothers crying, daughters beaming, fathers wiping away tears. For a moment I felt both the gravity and lightness of what art does for us all, despite our locations or burdens, despite our good or bad acts, despite how we define ourselves: it offers a place to exist, to flourish even. Each woman, most of whom I've witnessed break open in my classroom over deeply personal joys and pains, transformed into munchkins and scarecrows and tinmen, wizards, cowardly lions, good witches and flying monkeys and of course, a girl named Dorothy searching for the meaning of home. For an hour and a half, out of standard prison greens and into quirky costumes, these women were not their past nor their present. They were love, joy, dignity, light, humor, warmth. They were art in motion.

Art, at its best, can bring home closer, or provide a home that lives in the ether, surrounds us, permeates us — a home that makes a nest of the heart.

A double take: learning The Wiz songs on daily commutes/attempting an evil face as Evilene!

How did I come to be the only civilian in a play in prison?

I stepped into the role of Evilene, the wicked witch of the west, when a cast member was unavailable five days before the show. After teaching one night the musical director ran a scale and asked me to repeat, and boom, I was cast on the spot! It was my first experience acting on stage and I worked in record time to learn my lines, put a damper on my always too-smiley face, move in synch with the chorus and channel my inner bitch to sing "No Bad News" (while dancing with a plastic skeleton, by the way.)

It wasn't easy, either. Regardless of my many years on stage as a poet, acting terrifies me! While I was thrilled to contribute to a community I hold dear, part of my yes was also in response to the challenge, a new opportunity to get uncomfortable and lean into the fear and vulnerability.

My reward came in the voices of women I've supported saying, "I'm so proud of you." What an honor it was to make them proud. And when evening rehearsal wrapped after 6 hours in the facility daily, I felt my freedom with a new weight attached, walking through the gates towards the train home.

Maybe there's a chance for me to go back, now that I have some direction. It sure would be nice to be back home where there's love and affection.

I've been holding this notion of home up in different frames, searching to create my own definition. Home is a difficult word for many. Home may not be safe or warm, home may not nourish. Home might represent violence or anger or a torn apart country. Home might lock you up. Home might need to expand or contract to become a concept that can make its own traveling space, wherever one physically exists. A well-intentioned person or two consoled my nerves with, "but it's only a play in prison, you'll be great!" The assumption was frustrating. Prison is temporarily "home" for many, many people in our country. Being housed in prison does not negate talent or contribution — our production was ripe with big voices and true stage-worthy acting. 200 present, engaged "inmates" are just as much an audience as anybody in any seat in any venue I've performed at on the outside.

What I've witnessed is that these women who choose imagination and creative risk, and in a space depraved of vibrancy — they bring home to the stage, a deep internal home that is built twig by twig, a home that does not insist solely on survival, but reaches towards growth, creativity, comfort, love, warmth and care.

Living here in this world is not my kind of fantasy, but it's taught me to love so it's real to me. And I've learned that we must look inside our hearts to find a world full of love like yours, like mine, like home.

What I learned about home this week is that it must transform into a personal definition that transcends the physical location we were raised in, or the place we currently live with an address and a door knocker and a slot for the mail.

Home is carried within, it is a peace that lines the ground we walk on, vibrating through our soles. It is the internal voice that comforts and the center of our love factory when it's pumping on high volume.

My home is where the mountains meet the ocean, it is the calm that cradles me when I set worry aside to step into fear and strap on my wings. Home is a mix of folk lullaby and swaggering hip hop anthem. It is Theme from Spartacus played by Yusef Lateef and the laughter of my love and the ears of my friends and my parent's advice and my sister's silly dance moves. It is the cauldron inside that mixes this unique recipe into a taste for my tongue. The fire inside is a slow burn, not an explosion. It's waiting ready for a pot to cook, a book to read by, a body to warm. And it lives in all of us, ready to ignite.

I encourage you to spend some time creating your internal home — represent it through a poem, song, a drawing. Then, blow open those doors! If you care to share, I’d love to see what home looks like for you.

With vibrating warmth,
Recent Publications

13 Hours in the Future published as part of Split This Rock’s Poem of the Week series! Read the poem here.

This is especially exciting for me, as I support and cherish the work of this organization. I encourage you to learn more about them: The organizers of Split This Rock believe that as citizens and artists, our obligation has never been greater. We call on poets of conscience to move to the center of public life as we forge a visionary new arts movement for peace and justice. Learn more at:

Upcoming Performances

Sunday, February 28, 2016
Doors @ 8:30pm
Guesting with Rabbi D
& Pitchblak Brass Band!

@ Manhattan Inn
632 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NU
Cost: $5-10 suggested entry  

Event Facebook Page here. 
Forthcoming Book Pre-Order Special Offer

It is an understatement to tell you I'm excited about this collection coming in October on the innovative The Operating System press. I encourage you to pre-order your copy here. Pre-sale copies are $8 cheaper, too! 

And if you seriously love poetry (which I know you do), the press is offering a special Women of The OS bundle: my pre-sale book + three other kick ass women's books. Learn more here. It's a stellar deal/steal at $45-60 sliding scale.

What Else?

Another residency you should know about & apply for.

If you follow me on social media, you already know I spent a week at a fantastic residency in Hudson called Drop Forge & Tool. If you're into having time to create and stuff, I suggest you give their website a peek (you might drool, warning.)
Oh yeah, I didn't tell you. I'm back on social media!
Copyright © 2016 Caits Meissner, All rights reserved.

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