Not Sleeping Enough


I am sitting in the theater watching tech rehearsal for Cori Thomas’ Lockdown. We have a few previews under our belt.  We are putting in some re-writes and navigating technical hurdles. We are not sleeping enough. In many ways, it’s a bundle of nerves and challenges familiar to every early preview period.  

At the same time, there is also absolutely nothing familiar about this moment.  We are making a play that is larger than a play. Lockdown is inspired by many real people who have been incarcerated for a very long time.  A woman came to our first read-through and sat eerily still for the entire piece. Afterwards, when I asked her what she thought, she explained that her brother had been shot 3 years ago, and listening to the read-through was making her consider the humanity differently of the man who had killed him.  I have subsequently had several conversations with various patrons and friends of the theater who have been incarcerated or have friends who have. We are diving deep into the complexity of what it is to forgive and to be forgiven. It is deeply personal for so many people in ways we do not even know.

At the end of February, I joined playwright Cori Thomas on a trip to San Quentin Prison. I watched Lonnie Morris, incarcerated over 40 years, lead his program No More Tears (  I witnessed over 50 men in his class focusing on “putting a face on violence.”  They are reconciling with the violence they have caused. In just a couple of hours, I was made acutely aware of the depth and complexity as every individual in the room grappled with his actions and inaction.

At Rattlestick, producing Lockdown is just the start of our engagement in this conversation on criminal justice. We have many community partners like Drama Club, Fortune Society, NYC Together, PEN Writing for Justice, Project: Liberation, Rehabilitation Through the Arts - organizations who are working deeply and thoughtfully with incarcerated individuals.  We are holding community conversations after every performance, in partnership with these organization, to hear from some incredible humans who have been incarcerated and are singularly focused on helping those that still are. We want to fully support the depth and breadth of what Cori had the courage to write.

We are making a piece inspired by real people and what is at stake is honoring their lives. Not long after I returned, we set the wheels in motion to film the show so that we can approach San Quentin for permission to share the production with the men incarcerated there.  As one of our community partners advised us, “it’s important that people on the inside know how people on the outside are talking about people on the inside.”

Daniella Topol