In the last post I talked about trying to remain as accurate with the details of prison life as we can be. But we're finding that sometimes, what reads as most authentic is not actually the real-life thing. This first came up in a costume meeting, when our costume designer Emily Rebholz asked our director if he wanted either of the prisoners to wear a watch or a necklace, which Death Row inmates are allowed to wear. Tommy decided no, because although that may be technically accurate, he felt that it would look unlikely to the audience, and even one minute of an audience member thinking "would you really be allowed to wear a watch on death row?!" is a moment where the connection between play and that audience member is lost.
Similarly, the decision was made to make the onstage cells smaller in their dimensions than originally designed, to capture the claustrophobia of prison. Then, we watched a video that profiled the Indiana State Prison, and realized not only are the cells unusually spacious (bigger than most NYC bedrooms!), we also learned that the prisoners on death row in Indiana are allowed to adopt cats, who live in their cells with them.
So when you come to see our play, know that it has been important to us to honor as best we can the reality of what life on Death Row would look and feel like. But if we were to be as truly authentic as we could be, and have our prisoners in exceptionally large cells, wearing necklaces and watches and playing with their pet cats, you would probably think that we were being completely unrealistic!
Anika Chapin is the Assistant Director for WHEN I COME TO DIE, and the author of bloggledygook.wordpress.com.