letters

Dear ODAG Actors,

In preparation for the last gathering of ODAG actors on November 19, 2019, audience members and former volunteers were invited to send messages to the men. Here are many of the letters submitted for the occasion.


Dear ODAG actors,
            My husband and I feel very lucky to have been able to see several ODAG performances. We see a lot of professional theater but rarely have those performances reached our innermost emotions as much as have ODAG performances.  ODAG Swagg productions, in particular, have showcased your talents, thoughtfulness and remarkable insights into human nature. Our first performance was on a night with a particularly nasty winter storm. We were so glad we trudged through the snow, wind and ice to see it. Thank you for some wonderful theater and wishing everybody involved all the best.
                        Mary


            The work of ODAG has served to further verify for me the impressive effects of theater on the heart, mind, body, and soul for both the audience and the performers.  I have participated in community theater for many years and have always been aware of the many benefits of working with others in a theater community, which requires taking on many tasks and compounding many talents to create an entire experience for others while also being immersed in that experience yourself.  That said, I have been tremendously affected as an audience member to see how the ODAG experience of making theater happen in the prison has served to deepen my understanding of human nature and to stimulate new thoughts/feelings as a result of the interpretation of classic works. Many ODAG actors have emphasized how their participation in the ODAG program has been a blessing to them.  Please do not forget that your combined efforts serve as a blessing for the audience as well!
                        Melissa


My ODAG Friends: Good afternoon and congratulations!
            As a professional actor and member of both actors’ unions, I attend and/or perform in a dozen or so plays every year and see scores of thespians ply their craft on stage.  I can say without fear of contradiction, however, that the men of ODAG are as talented as any that I have seen perform.  In fact, where I still find Shakespeare a bit intimidating, ODAG executes his text with great confidence and artistry.
            Not only has it been an honor to sit in the audience of an ODAG performance, but I will never forget the evening I spent at Grafton doing improvisational exercises with members of the troupe.  I am absolutely thrilled to hear that Baldwin Wallace University will be continuing Dr. Phyllis Gorfain's magnificent vision as the program has been a true blessing - for those who are unfailingly entertained by ODAG's performances and, of course, for the actors, their friends and their families.  
            I very much look forward to continuing my relationship with ODAG and, again, I salute and celebrate all who have made it such a uniquely inspiring program.
            Sincerely,
                        Peter


Dear ODAG actors 
            Your Macbeth was the first time I was introduced to ODAG. I was so enormously impressed that going to see your plays became one of my mainstays here at Kendal.  I will never forget Scott’s Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene, as she tries to wash her guilt away. Scott responded in our conversation, saying that he went through that (himself); he knew that. I learned his background: from then on there were always special ways to communicate. I care deeply about his well being! 
            Even though I know B-W U will take over and I probably will go to see their productions, I strongly feel the special touch Phyllis had on the play’s production will never be replaced!
            May God sustain you and keep your singleness of your heart in this topsy-turvy age. 
            Cheers and Love,
                        Michi


            Bravo on the remarkable concept & achievements of this/your program. The actors have created the most inspiring Shakespeare productions, infusing meaning into these great works with intelligence, insight & new awareness. I look forward to the continued success & support of this theater. A highlight in the cultural landscape & talent of our region!
            Sincerely,
                        Dan


Dear Phyllis and ODAG:
            There has been so much to applaud and so many to congratulate during these last seven years: Phyllis for her leadership and astounding talents and the actors for their determination and many talents. Watching these performances made the world seemed a much kinder and happier place. 
            Phyllis will be greatly missed but how wonderful that Baldwin Wallace will be picking up the sturdy reins that are still in place. Thank goodness I can begin looking forward to a continuing tradition in May!
                        Marly


Dear ODAG Actors,
            Early after our move to Kendal in September 2016 we heard about ODAG and Phyllis’ work with you. Other residents advised us to not miss attending. Our first opportunity was Macbeth in May 2017 and we have attended every performance since then. (Our advisors were right!) The list of achievements provided to us in Bruce’s email is very impressive.  You have good reason to be proud. The life lessons contained both in the plays themselves and in the cooperation required to build your community of actors will undoubtedly reap benefits to you in your future lives. 
            Wishing you all the best,
                        Tom


            To all the ODAG men—thank you! What your commitment and hard work brings out in every aspect of your productions is an audience dream. Best of all is enjoying the ease of your interactions—with each other behind and on stage and in Q & A sessions, then informally with all of us in the audience who have become your friends.  
            A special wish to Scott—I’ve seen every one of your shows from your first poetry reading on. You’ve made me feel welcome whenever I come. Your progress on the stage and with your life plans going forward is an inspiration. Keep at it!
            Love you all
                        Claudia


ODAG MEMORIES
            Several years ago, my wife and I went to the ODAG performance of “Othello.” It was a memorable, inspiring and compelling event for several reasons.
1. The degree of security required to enter Grafton prison.
2. The performance of the play which involved all male performers with sparse costumes and sets, putting the audience right into the play.
3. The fire alarm that went off during the play, requiring the performers to return to their cells, and the audience to evacuate the building.
4. Returning to the “auditorium” after the all clear was given, and seeing and hearing the passionate ending to the play.
5. The Q and A with the cast after the play.  They were uniformly praiseworthy of the opportunity to act and really enjoyed doing so. Many said it gave them something to look forward to. One question stands out. Someone asked, “Why Othello?” The response was, “It describes the actions that put many of us here.” There could not have been a better answer.
                        Joe


Dear ODAG Actors,
            I’ve only seen three of your performances, but I treasure each one. You are amazing. It was obvious that you put your souls into your work, and the audience gained from it. 
            Acting is such a risky thing to do. You really made yourselves vulnerable on stage. I have always been too afraid to do that, but partially because I saw how brave you were, I will now consider dipping my toes into play reading. 
            I wish you well. May no one and nothing ever hurt you. I will forever hold each of you in my heart.
                        Linda


            I have come away from seeing the Shakespeare plays you have done with a new insight into the plays brought about by your life experiences that are so different from those of typical performers.  Thank you for baring your souls through the plays and good luck on your futures.
                        Dina


Dear ODAG Actors,
            Thank you so much for all of the insights you have given me over the years. I really appreciated the interesting interpretation you gave to Macbeth about the consequences of choices. Then, your poignant, personal stories from your childhoods was so powerful and insightful. Thank you for giving me these new ways to see the world and to understand what life has been like for fellow human beings.
Thank you. Enjoy your well-earned celebration.
            Yours,
                        Elizabeth


Dear ODAG Folks,
            What a great contribution you have made to our lives with your performances and conversations.  We have been amazed at the depth of understanding you bring to the plays.  Also, for those of us with hearing loss, it has been a delight to attend an event where we can hear every word.  Thank you for your elocution!  Best wishes for the next "act" in your lives!
            Sincerely,
                        John and Anne


To the Men of ODAG –
            Hearty congratulations on your wonderful achievements in the ODAG program!  We have attended many – in fact, nearly all – of your performances, and we’ve been dazzled by your exceptional talents and admirable commitment.  Your presentations of plays ranging from Shakespeare’s to August Wilson’s, along with your own stellar creations, are beautiful representations of your hard work.  The deep insights inherent in your work have given your audiences new perspectives on life’s challenges and rewards. 
            In our post-performance conversations with you, we have been privileged to hear you describe the wisdom your acting and the staging of your plays have generated for you, and we hasten to respond that you have given us a treasured gift indeed.  We wish you the very best as the future unfolds. 
            Sincerely,
                        Carol and Harlan


Dear Members of ODAG,
            We just want you to know what a rich and rewarding experience it has been for us to come to Grafton and see your many performances.  Each production, followed by the Q & A and a chance to speak with you individually, was greatly appreciated by us. It was especially gratifying to see how many of you grew, not only as performers, but also in your ability to understand the why's and how's of drama, particularly in the ways that live performance can transform our own understanding and perception of the world we live in.  So many of the plays you put on were deeply moving, and for us, 'Macbeth' and 'And Yet We'll Speak' were especially memorable.  
            We were also impressed with all the backstage work that contributed to the success of every production, whether it was scenery, costumes, or music.  All of it added to the value of the productions. 
            We are so grateful to have been part of ODAG as audience members and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
            Sincerely,
                        Mary and Tom


Dear Phyllis,
                  Our visits to the ODAG productions were singularly thrilling events for us.  Please extend our thanks and appreciation to the actors you worked with for showcasing their acting skills through your guidance, putting on totally memorable productions of
The Tempest, Othello, Macbeth, and the very personal And Yet We’ll Speak.  The acting, the music, the direction, all were first-rate.  We feel fortunate to have been at the right place and time to take part as audience members.  
                  Congratulations to everyone involved, and especially to those members of ODAG who have returned to their communities since we saw them.
            Best wishes for the continued success of the program,
                        Rod & Gigi


Dear Grafton Actors,
            I was so fortunate to be able to attend two of your performances.  One was a Shakespeare and the other an original play.  I was struck by your professionalism and enthusiasm, and I was so interested in your personal answers to questions about your involvement in this drama program. One comment I noted was that it gave a feeling of worth and pride in a positive environment as opposed to gaining status with crime or drugs.  Another comment was that embodying the role of the other enabled the experience of true empathy, and how that enriched not only the understanding of self and others, but consequently enhanced interpersonal and family relationships.
            Being able to participate in ODAG has taken you on a journey of self discovery that will continue for your entire life.  It is obvious that each member appreciates this enormous positive impact.  As a retired school counselor, I can only echo this significance and thank you for allowing me to be a witness.  Carry on!
            Sincerely,
                        Janis


            Best Wishes to all those ODAG directors and performers, past and present who have made theatre come alive for these many years.  May they continue to share their talents always!
                        Ruth


ODAG Actors,
            For several years I've looked forward to attending your performances since going to see one or more of Shakespeare's plays every year became a habit of mine long before I moved to Ohio. 
            However, the ODAG performance that I believe is one of the most memorable one for me was "And Yet We'll Speak," when you shared your own stories as well as your talent with us. I think that it took a great deal of courage to share your experiences with us.
            I hope that we can continue to enjoy drama at Grafton together.
                        Barbara


            Congratulations, Phyllis and all involved with ODAG! I'm not surprised that this wonderful program developed from such a wonderful person!
                        Amy


Dear Participants in ODAG,
            Please know that my heartfelt good wishes are with you as you celebrate ODAG.  It has been wonderful to come to your performances over the years, both scenes you wrote and drama you performed of other playwriters.  I felt honored to hear you speak afterwards of how participating affected you.  It helped me examine my own feelings and prejudices.  Thank you so much for being you and putting yourself out there. 
            I wish you well in the future, 
                        Anne


            As we are unable to participate in the celebration of Oberlin Drama at Grafton, we want to try to express our admiration for the program.
            Phyllis Gorfain's presentation on ODAG in the Auditorium at Kendal was one of the first programs my husband I attended as newcomers in 2013.  Her quotes from a few of the participants about how ODAG had changed their lives -- their delight in artistic expression, discovery of their own creative ability as actors, their new-found courage to become vulnerable, trusting, and supporting members of a community for the first time, their ability to recognize and express their own feelings and to acknowledge pain they had caused others....and the impact these experiences had on their relationships with family members -- left me teary-eyed. When Phyllis later asked me to serve as liaison at Kendal for ODAG, I was honored to agree.
                        Marjorie


         We experienced the difference ODAG made to participants when we talked with them during the discussions that followed their performances. For them to have contact with some of us on the outside in communities to which they will return when released, shows both sides that our common humanity allows us to share with each other.  I believe such interactions may help to reduce recidivism -- just as providing free educational programs in prisons has been shown to have.
                        Larry


Hello,
            It’s been 4-1/2 years since I moved from Oberlin to Portland, Oregon, and for some time before that I worked with Phyllis Gorfain in getting ODAG started and got to often be at her active sessions with you. It was a meaningful time for me and I feel it was for many of you as well.  If you remember me, and even if you didn’t know me, I send you my warmest wishes for your future.
            Sincerely
                        Joanne


Dear Phyll and members of ODAG,
            I still remember my first ODAG production: Othello.  I went to support Phyll and to see what she'd been up to.  I didn't really know what to expect, but my expectations were certainly not high.  But within five minutes of the play's opening, I realized with a shock that you were really doing it.  That magical thing that drama sometimes does was actually happening:  I was in the world of the play, it was real, I believed, I cared, I loved it.  That play really blew me away; I cried and cried.  You changed the way I thought about a lot of things.  I have been to quite a few of your plays since then, and they have all been wonderful; you are all so talented, and you bring so much exuberance and heart to your work.  You are fun to be around.  I always want to thank you, not just for your hard work--and I know what a lot of work it is--but for your incredible generosity in putting yourselves out there, in risking yourselves to create these small but, I hope, significant moments of human community and connection.  THANK YOU.  Please know that lots of us are thinking of you and wishing you the best. 
            Sincerely,
                        Jennifer


Dear Grafton Drama participants,
            We congratulate you for your years of dedicated, probing, and high quality performances of plays through ODAG under the leadership of Phyllis Gorfain and others. We have attended most of these productions and have been extremely impressed both by your dramatic skills and the superb way you have dealt with questions that were asked after each performance.
            Your lives and your experiences teach us in so many ways. Thank you!
            You have shown us the power that drama has to lift us beyond the things that constrain us in our lives. We are ever grateful to each and all of you.
                        Carol and Bob


Very Dear ODAG Friends,
            Bob and I would like to express how much you and your performances have meant to us!
            We have loved getting to know you, and to have shared (as audiences) your wonderful talent -- your intelligence and creativity -- and your deep humanity.
            I feel especially fortunate to have been able to participate with you a bit more when working as Lillian White's Honors Project advisor. The play you devised is truly memorable! You have so much to offer from your experiences and through your artistry.
            We are so grateful that, through Phyllis, you came into our lives. We will never forget you!
            Much love,
                        Ana and Bob


Dear ODAG Troupe Members & Phyllis,
            A note to congratulate all who have been involved in the Oberlin Drama at Grafton program throughout these past seven years! You have made an enormous contribution as a model drama troupe in general and for arts education programs specifically within prison confines.
            My first encounter with ODAG was during your performance of Shakespeare’s
Othello. It was my first time seeing the play live, and certainly my first time ever inside a prison. In the midst of the performance, I suddenly realized that I had forgotten the context in which I was seated, for you captivated my attention as would any compelling theater troupe. You made me lose my sense of time and space by drawing me into the drama. It was soon after this time that Phyllis asked me to consider beginning a choir at Grafton. Because I knew of the artistry you brought to the stage, I was intrigued to explore the possibility of the choir that is now the OMAG Choir. Thank you for that inspiration.
            Perhaps the most memorable performance, although each one has its own special place in my memory, was
And Yet We’ll Speak. The premise of dramatically telling each other’s stories was sheer brilliance. The concept paired with the exceptional acting and poignant sophistication and sensitivity was mesmerizing. I will never forget learning about your life experiences and lessons. And, yet you speak, sing, act, and learn! Very impressive!
            I also want to thank you for being my teacher. You have helped me understand the essence of human development, growth and freedom within spaces of incarceration, however one may define the imprisoned condition. You have welcomed my Oberlin College students and me to your rehearsals and performances with open arms. You have entrusted us with your vulnerable daily stories shared in the Circle of Trust and invited us into the process of creating art. Thank you for teaching and sharing with me.
            ODAG will never end, for it has made an indelible imprint on your and your audience’s hearts and souls. I celebrate your accomplishments through ODAG and those yet to be experienced in other artistic and non-artistic places. You have shown those of us on the “outside” what it is to be wholly human through your artistic expressions! Hearty congratulations!!
            With admiration, gratitude, and best wishes,
                        Jody L. Kerchner, Ph.D.
                        Professor of Music Education;
                        Founder/Conductor OMAG Choir


Dear ODAG Actors,

Scott, Steve, Tony, Sabir, Brian, Dwain, Dennis, Dewey, Nick, and Eric

            We have seen you embrace the opportunities of portraying a wide variety of characters in many different genres, from Shakespeare to your own creations, telling your own stories and the stories of characters who faced their own demons in one way or another. Clearly the experiences of discovering the inner qualities of the characters you have played has been transformative, not only for yourselves but also for the audience who has shared the culminating moments of your journey on stage. We have been moved by your humanity, your humor, and pathos, as well as your personal stories that have emerged.
            We hope you will continue to develop the empathy, insight, and confidence you have displayed, and seek out the opportunities to share with others, whatever you have gained from these experiences. As you have seen from Phyllis Gorfain’s efforts, one inspired person’s efforts can transform the lives of many.
            As your lives evolve and unfold in your communities, we wish you the best of success, good health, and the true happiness that comes from recognizing and celebrating your own and others’ profoundly good hearts, however hidden they may be.
            Sincerely yours,
                        Elinore and John


            I’ve attended many ODAG presentations and productions over the past seven years and enjoyed them all. The actors, the staff at Grafton, the student assistants---all who participated deserve congratulation for working in support of such a good cause and creating such wonderful events.
            I have to say that just managing to make it inside the prison was always memorable. 
            But the play’s the thing and I want to particularly mention
Othello as the production I most enjoyed. I found this to be revelatory both for the skill the actors displayed, particularly Othello and Desdemona, and for the way that the circumstances of the production and of the players revealed what a masterpiece this play is. 
            Above all, to meet the actors on the occasion of one of these performances and to enjoy a conversation with them, no matter how brief, and share with them their triumph over adversity was a wonderful experience, an irreplaceable experience, every single time.
                        -Michael-


Hey guys!
            I enjoyed working with you all so much, and I wish I’d gotten involved with the beautiful ODAG family sooner. You changed my life, and taught me so much. You reminded me that theater is not about the egotistical stuff, but about fun and human connection and sharing stories, which is such a wonderful and important gift. Thank you for everything. (Sending you all virtual fist bumps and high fives)
            See ya later,
                        Hanna Shykind


            The first day I visited you at Grafton, you were rehearsing a vignette from And Yet We Speak about the train. That deceptive locomotive outside the fence that sends messages of forward motion and leaving but being stuck and stranded all at once. As the scene concluded, I saw, through the visiting room window, the train and all its ironies roll by.  In that moment, I got a glimpse of your brilliance, your torments, your wisdom, your convictions, your loyalty and honor, your fears, your humor, and your bravery. In the coming year, I got to know each of you more, just as each of you got to know me. We played games, told stories, and embraced experimentation. We felt a whole lot, we grew upwards and outwards and inwards and sideways. We also wrote, rehearsed, and performed our own play What Really Matters, where we investigated, through Theater of the Oppressed's forum theater, second chances and interventions. Through that process, you became my teachers, my friends, my father figures, my role models. You are the people I think of each time I teach new students, each time I vote on election day, each time I lead a warmup. So, for every next play in my life - new jobs, new relationships, new cities: I dedicate one night's show to everyone in ODAG.
                        Naomi Roswell


To My ODAG Family:
            As Phyllis sent out the email informing me of the changes that are set to come, I became immediately filled with nostalgia about the amazing experience that I had with ODAG. I knew very little about theater when I first joined, but you all made me feel right at home. Many of the times during the school year when I felt overwhelmed and demotivated, coming to ODAG and working with you all encouraged me to push through. To those that I got the opportunity to work with, I miss each of your energies, spirits, the laughs, and the tears that we shared. As for those that I have not met, I apologize that our paths did not get to cross, but I know that you all are just as great. Thank you all for your brotherhood, fatherhood, reliability, strength, and just for being yourselves. Although the world continues to change, remain consistent in your strength, character, mindset, and motivations. There is nothing that you cannot handle. I am sending positive, peaceful, and loving energy to each of you. Find that thing that gets you through it and stick to it.
            Much love,
                        Niya Smith-Wilson


            I wanted to share my gratitude for having the chance to learn with you for two years. It’s one of the most profound ways I’ve shared space and ideas with any group of people throughout my life. It’s wonderful to hear about the many accomplishments of the program, and I’m so glad it will live on.
            Wishing all the best.
                        Natalia Shevin


Hi guys :) I hope you're all staying warm as the winter settles in!
            Sitting down to write this letter is difficult because I find that I have too much to say. It was hard enough to find the words to express how it felt to leave all of you and Oberlin back in May, now saying a proper goodbye to ODAG seems impossible. So, I will not try to make this the perfect sentiment. Instead, I'm going to take this time to think-- as I so often do-- of all of the fond memories I have of ODAG rehearsals and all of you over the last three years. I find myself thinking about the times when Zoe and I were hungry and Brian made us popcorn, and when Steve would still show me pictures of his dogs after Phyllis said they were too distracting in rehearsals. I'm remembering the joy I felt when Sabir told the story of Thumbelina and when Tony sang Michael Jackson and when Dennis and Nick finally came back to the group. I'm thinking about how the beginning of rehearsal was marked by the incredible volume of the music from Dewey's headphones and the end was marked by Dwain walking us down the hall and back onto the yard. I even find myself missing being made fun of by Scott and Eric (I know it was all in good fun but you both know you made fun of me)!
            I know I'm supposed to say that I loved ODAG because I love Shakespeare or theater, but that wasn't the most important part for me. I loved ODAG because it allowed me to meet and get to know you all. Each and every one of you has impacted the course of my life and I am so proud to call you all my friends and my ODAG family, always. You all have so much kindness in your hearts and so much to give to the world, you are some of the most creative people that I have ever had the privilege of knowing. I know that the end of this chapter of ODAG does not mean the end of any of your paths as artists. I just hope that I'm lucky enough to be kept up to speed on your new creations and projects in the future :)
            Missing you all and sending my best from San Francisco,
                        Abby Bordin


Dear friends and fellow creatives,
            As I write this note from the other side of the country, it is hard to believe that four and a half years have gone by since I had the honor of collaborating with you as a student director. It is likewise difficult to put to words the feelings of respect, care, humility, and profound gratitude I have when I think of ODAG. Meeting you was deeply influential, our work together shaped me and the paths I’ve set myself upon.
            I remember with admiration the commitment, courage, vibrancy, and integrity you brought to
Othello, both to your craft as artists, and to cultivating an environment of compassion and exchange. The power of your work reverberated throughout our audiences and the greater community. I can only imagine the richness that has developed in the last years with the new cohort of student collaborators, new actors among yourselves, and of course the invaluable leadership of Phyllis.
            Thank you all for helping me become a better artist and person, for welcoming me, and for allowing me to build with you.
            With warm regards and much gratitude,
                        Sophie Becker


Dear ODAG Guys
            (by which I mean, PHYLLIS, Scott, Tony, Steve, Sabir, Brian, Dwain, Dennis, Dewey, Nick, Eric),
            I want to thank you for this opportunity to say hail and farewell. Because I am an egomaniac writer, I first want to tell you where I have been. Then, the best part, tell about what ODAG has meant to me as we write its final chapter.
            Since we last met in May, I tried to get into GRC or GCI for a summer and fall writing workshop . (I have always said it is harder for some to get into prison than others, and I am one for whom it is harder. I know. Go figure) I followed procedures for having a writing workshop in summer and fall and never heard back from the Grafton administrators who said I would be welcome. I am not willing to make the drive in winter conditions, but if anyone knows how I could offer a workshop next summer, let me know, and I will try again. If a few of you are left high and dry at GRC while the troupe moves off to medium security, and if we would be permitted, I could do a correspondence course in creative writing.  I would be willing to do that and have done it for PEN Writers International. I also intend to keep my promise to find publication for Dewey’s ODAG Swagg 2 poem and Shep’s essay on his grandfather. I continue to create writing events for schools and others and to write and publish (just had a poem published on my dad who died in March.) So that’s me for now.

 Now, About ODAG

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air….”
                                    Prospero, in The Tempest

            I came to ODAG late, so I can only speak to its meaning to me in its last five of 14 performances. First, you understand, I have been in the arts in the joint before, mostly creative writing in Lima Correctional for 18 years. (I did four months worth of 24-hour days across 18 years.) And from that experience and my study of other prison arts programs, I know that ODAG has been one of the most fantastic things to happen in any prison in the nation, and one of the better theater groups performing in prison, school, or professional stages.
            Many of you were in ODAG many times for many audiences for many years until I found you, just in time for Macbeth-- only I was too late to get registered to attend Macbeth. So the moment I FINALLY (finally!) got into ODAG, it was for the production of Midsummer Night's Dream, and you guys killed it –um, in the artistic current slang sense of the word. I will never forget Steve Calderone wheeling that little dog around, and when Dennis Klocek and his partners in fashion appeared as the Wood Imps, I was struck by their very presence as well as their costuming. And, oh my gosh, Bottom, is such a great character, and you were  Bottom, Scott Bruegger. And Eric Roberson got the last lines as Puck, who has been called, “the most adorable character in the play.” I was so very moved by the production. Hooked, if you will, as many of us have been by Shakespeare, by Phyllis and her ODAG troupe..
            After that, I came in for some writing workshops where we read poems and drafted some poems.  I have to say that most of you are better writers than you think you are. Sabir Curry, for one! (Like many incarcerated people who probably weren’t such great students in school, he has educated himself and is quite a good writer.)  Shep wrote his essay about his grandfather in one of those sessions. I also attended some viewings and discussions of August Wilson's Fences, and was impressed by Dwain Farrow’s voice in those discussions. Some of you probably don’t recall those encounters as you weren’t performing, but they instructed me in the intelligence and sensitivity of the troupe.
            And then I saw What Really Matters, under the direction of Naomi Roswell, which was really a brave endeavor. It is not the kind of work I liked to do at all, but you all did it mightily. After that, I got to come during a family production of that play, and to meet your families, including Sabir's proud sister, most memorably. The resolution of that play was not one I agreed with, but I certainly enjoyed the production. Was this the production where Tony Chism sang “Man in the Mirror”? Whenever he sang that song, it was the first time I had heard him perform, and it was a striking moment. ODAG SWAG II was also a revelation to me in what people chose to perform. I will never forget how hard Dewey Oden worked on revising his excellent poem and the interesting choices you all made, from Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of my favorite Ohio poets, to Shakespeare, to contemporaries like Maya Angelou. It was a tour of the troupe’s force, a true tour de force.
            Finally, I attended the Merchant of Venice production, under the direction of Tracey Field. It is one of my two least favorite Shakespeare plays, and neither Tracey's directing nor all of your fabulous acting, nor Phyllis' appreciation of the play made me like it, but I will say that Dwain's careful execution of Shylock's lines helped me see for the first time how very terribly Shylock has been used and abused by the so-called Christians, who then throw him out like so much trash, which he is not. The role of Shylock is so very difficult, and Dwain played him so well. I still hate the play for what comes of Shylock in the end. But I really feel that your production helped me to experience the play more fully than ever before. The puppets, which are prevalent in contemporary theater, were an interesting twist, and Dennis Klocek did a great job with his. For a second time, I got to meet your families and friends, most notably, Brian's brother, who came even though he was ill and in severe pain. But how could he not, and miss Brian Druktenis’ excellent delivery of Portia's “quality of mercy” speech? I also saw Nick Perryman perform night for the first time, and his comment about the play in the program was just very trenchant and true, very well-written, as was Eric Roberson’s program comment about the contemporary nature of the play. Our community time with pizza and cookies and conversation that night now seems most meaningful to me, as it really was the end of Shakespeare’s (Prospero’s?) revels with this troupe.

Endings and Beginnings
            My personal experience aside, the statewide influence of ODAG has been phenomenal, and we all know that the whole powerhouse behind it has been Phyllis Gorfain. Her work for this group has left me awe-struck, and I have to tell you, when she stood before 700 people in Columbus this spring, and they saw the video of her and about her and about all of you, they were awestruck also. I think she was the only person of the many honorees that day who was given a standing ovation. And yet, I believe Phyllis has never done it for the honor. I think she has done if for theater and for the 66 men who have benefitted from her interest in their well-being and the thousands of audience members who saw your work. I am so sorry she is giving up this work, and so astounded at her generosity and hard work at finding a way to make the work go on—lining up another college, another director, another name.
            This will mean change for those of you who are moving into the new group. Change is hard. It may be exhilarating. It may be frustrating. I am sorry that the change leaves out a few of you, who cannot go with the group. What I will say to all of you is that you have been fortunate to have experienced the dream that was ODAG. May it follow us all the days of our life and may what you learned in ODAG give you strength and courage to perform well.
            And now, as another poet wrote:

            …to make an end is to make a beginning….
            The end is where we start from. And every phrase….
            ...and  every sentence is an end and a beginning,
            Every poem an epitaph. And any action
            Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
            Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.

I send all best wishes to you as you make your end and your beginning!

Diane Kendig
Poet, Creative Writing Professor, Volunteer


Dear Men of ODAG,
            My friends and collaborators! A heartfelt greeting from Perú - hola, hermanos en el espíritu! - to the old salts whom I know and cherish, and to those who found their way to ODAG in recent years.
            I knew this day would come; doesn’t make it easier. It is hard to sum up the impact of our collaboration - it impacted so deeply my personal, artistic and political growth, and continues to have a profound impact on how I move through the world. Tuesday and Thursday evenings are embedded in my mental calendar; even a few years after marking my days by them, I often find myself on a Tuesday or a Thursday remembering that in a visitation room in Ohio, a group of individuals are choosing to show up to do art and to make a community. 
            At this moment, all I can say is THANK YOU. Thank you for giving of your stories and experience so generously, for sticking through the many challenges of being an ensemble, for your commitment to showing up and bearing witness, for teaching me important lessons about presence and gratitude and appreciation, for always striving towards the next level of theatrical craft, for showing me how to hold simultaneously both unconditional acceptance and a sense of expectation/accountability to make a difference in the world. 
            Keep doing your work in the world, and I’ll keep doing mine. I look forward to the day when our journeys bring us back together. 
            Yours,
                        Lillian White


            Humans have only been a blip in the earth’s history, and each of us only lives to see tiny pieces of something larger than we can fathom--yet a moment can feel like a whole world. The time we shared in ODAG was but a piece of all our lives, and every year the program grew and faced new wins and challenges, but I cherish every memory I have and lesson we shared together.
            I am so grateful for the foundation carried on by those who were part of the OGEEP family and enjoyed hearing about the experiences you shared before I even knew I’d end up in Ohio. I feel lucky to have soaked up what I could from all you offered so generously. And to those who joined after I was already a member, thank you for all your questions, ideas, and even unintentional changes you brought with you. I wish I knew then all I know now so I could have given and received even more, but I’m learning that is almost always the way.
            A year out of college, I feel like an adult for possibly the first time. I am responsible for my own growth and stability in ways I didn’t fully understand within the structure of schooling. As I figure out my priorities, face my insecurities, and find ways to educate myself outside of the classroom, I find myself missing ODAG far more than I do most of my classes or peers. All that we shared and created has only grown in importance with time. I find opportunities in arts and activist communities here that come close to these valuable memories, but none as consistent or vital. There was an urgency underneath us when we gathered to use creativity to problem solve--whether it was the show, a policy change, conflicting ideas within the group, or just how to have the MOST fun. I have yet to find myself a family in Minnesota with as much passion, vulnerability, wit, and gosh darn resilience. My sense of self and purpose is noticeably stronger and clearer now than even a year ago; I truly mean it when I say that so much of this growth came from what this group modeled: a constant willingness to embrace the uncomfortable (whether it be a silly exercise, a tutu, or a tough conversation) and do so with the knowledge that we would get through it and find moments of joy and celebration even when it seemed far off.
            I cry tears of relief and hope for our friends who have rejoined the outside world, and I look forward to hearing about the BW programming, but my heart and soul is most with those of you who will be gaining the time and energy for other projects. I hope you continue to find people to be creative with, share stories and jokes with, and hold each other accountable to personal goals (read that play! Write that poem! Learn that dance!). If it takes time, I know you know that everything you need is within you. I have given Phyllis some of my affirmations that, even if they seem cheesy most days, end up leading me to surprising heights over time. I would love to stay in touch (and hold myself accountable to that!) and hope you know how deeply I care despite time and distance. I want to know what you are doing, thinking, reading and am happy to share about the theatre I am doing and seeing in Minneapolis (it’s amazing!).
            Until next time,
                        Eliana Meyerowitz


            ODAG, for me, has always been and will always be a family.  I say that because the men of ODAG taught me many things: what it means to work hard, to be dedicated, to be resilient, how to be an excellent listener and student while also standing firm in your own talents and contributions.  But the most important things I learned from the men of ODAG you can only learn from family: how to care deeply for each other no matter the circumstances and always see the best in one another no matter what anyone else sees.  I will forever be grateful for these lessons.
                        Joey Flegel-Mishlove


Dear Oberlin Drama at Grafton company members,
            I have effectively been making theater since I was three years old. Even now that I’ve graduated from Oberlin; having acted and directed professionally in Boston, New York City, Poland, and Cleveland; I can honestly say that it has been the most incredible privilege of my life so far to have made theater with you all.

Here’s why I say that—

            I think so much of what makes good theater useful and beautiful in our hurting world has to do with the process by which it is created and not just the flashy production that audiences get to see.
            At its core, ODAG has always been committed to fostering personal growth and social understanding amongst its members. While I have witnessed that growth happen for all of you in ODAG’s performances, it was even more exciting to see that growth occur in our rehearsals, check-ins and check-outs, and warm-ups before the shows. So, I think the secret sauce of Oberlin Drama At Grafton is process!
            Even though this chapter of ODAG is coming to an end, I am excited to hear about all the ways in which you will continue your own, personal rehearsal processes for the rest of your lives. I hope you (and I!) always incorporate breathing and stretching exercises, like we do in warm-ups, into our days! What if we lived in a world inside or outside of Grafton in which everyone paused to take a real breath before reacting? And what if we lived in a world in which we pumped ourselves up with mantras like “that’s gonna happen” instead of succumbing to hopelessness? And how amazing would it be if we really checked in with each other in each and every room we entered?
            To Dwain, Nick, Scott, Brian, and Eric, I miss being in rehearsal together! As a young, college kid working with you all, you taught me so much about what it means to remember your highest priorities. Dwain, before check-ins, you would always ask me about my family. You taught me to remember my people even amidst the busyness of being a theater-obsessed student. You’re right—people are ultimately more important than plays. Nick, I remember that you were always reading and writing and doing so with this incredible joy! Have you read the poet/professor Ross Gay’s work? I bet you would like it. Scott, you have such a natural excitement when you approach a new play! May we all take a dose of that! Brian, your work ethic, whether it came to memorizing lines or your incredible wood work, will always inspire me. Eric, I always appreciated your easygoing sense of humor that you brought to your characters and to the ensemble. That’s what we all need in 2019—more ease.
            To the men of ODAG whom I don’t know, congratulations on all of the work that you put into being a part of this group! I wish you all the best for your eventual transitions out of Grafton too!
            To the current group of student-directors, may you continue to embody a brand of leadership that is filled with humility, especially when working alongside elders. May our liberty and theater-making be perennially bound up with the men of ODAG from Oberlin College theater to stages all around the world (paraphrasing from Indigenous artist, activist, and academic, Lilla Watson).
            To Phyllis, where does one even begin in thanking you? Thank you for pouring your life’s work into ODAG. I will forever cherish all that you taught me about teaching, and when I teach my first Shakespeare acting class at some college somewhere someday, I will be thinking of you.
            I’ll end with a quote from Mrs. Michelle Obama’s new book, Becoming. She says, “[for] me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”  
            Here’s to endlessly being in process together on our journeys toward becoming our fullest selves.
                        Katy Early

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