Life Imitates Art Imitates Life

This Thursday NWFF will be host to perhaps one of the most interesting guests in our history. The man in question is an Ex-Con. You read correctly, someone who was not only convicted of a felony, but was sentenced to life in the maximum security prison San Quentin. A prison with notable connections to the art world, for instance Johnny Cash’s live performances for the prisoners. It’s also home for some of the nation’s most notorious criminals, Charles Manson for one. But don’t worry, there is nothing to fear. This man was pardoned for his crimes, and is not only a fully engaged citizen, he is a talented artist in his own right.

Rick Cluchey, a former inmate, and founder of the San Quentin Drama Workshop, will present a screening of filmed performance of Samuel Beckett’s END GAME.

San Quentin was the home to the second performance of WAITING FOR GODOT in the US. Cluchey was in attendance on November 19, 1957 when the San Francisco Actors’ Workshop presented the play to fourteen hundred convicts. He was amongst those inspired enough to take theatre into his own hands.

I found these accounts on a website about Godot today:

“The curtain parted. The play began, and what had bewildered the sophisticated audiences of Paris, London, and New York was immediately grasped by an audience of convicts, As the writer of ‘Memos of a first-nighter’ put it in the columns of the prison paper, the San Quentin News:

‘The trio of muscle-men, biceps overflowing,…parked all 642 Ibs on the aisle and waited for the girls and funny stuff, When this didn’t appear they audibly fumed and audibly decided to wait until the house lights dimmed before scaping, They made one error. They listened and looked two minutes too long-and stayed. Left at the end. All shook…’

Or as the writer of the lead story of the same paper reported, under the headline, ‘San Francisco Group Leaves S.Q. Audience Waiting for Godot’:

‘From the moment Robin Wagner’s thoughtful and limbo-like set was dressed with light, until the last futile and expectant handclasp was hesitantly activated between the two searching va-grants, the San Francisco company had its audience of captives in its collective hand….Those that had felt a less controversial vehicle should be attempted as a first play here had their fears allayed a short five minutes after the Samuel Beckett piece began to unfold.’”

I often feel like there are moments in history I wish I could have been there for. This is one of them. Thankfully, Thursday I will have the opportunity to hear first hand from Rick Cluchey how that performance affected him. How it transformed his life, inspired him to act, and eventually led to his being pardoned for his work with Beckett himself. And fortunatley this screening and discussion is a moment in history that I won’t miss. Will you?

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