SOMERS — The language of Shakespeare was “alien” to inmate Megale Taylor when he was introduced to it at the Racine County Correctional Center, he told a group at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Sunday.
It was far from the slang and street talk Taylor, now 43, used growing up in the Robert Taylor Housing Project on the south side of Chicago.
But, the plight of the characters was something Taylor could relate to. The characters he portrayed on stage as part of the Shakespeare Prison Project — from a fool to Marc Anthony — provided insight into his own psyche.
The project was developed by Parkside communication professor Jonathon Shailor, who is now teaching a conflict resolution course in the correctional center.
In front of an intimate group of 18 in Studio A of the Rita Tallen Picken Regional Center for Arts and Humanities, Shailor and Taylor performed scenes from the plays they worked on together from 2004 to 2008, including, “King Lear,” “Othello,” “The Tempest” and “Julius Caesar.” It is a program Shailor hopes to gain approval to continue at the jail.
“I saw myself in the character of The Fool,” Taylor said, of the “King Lear” character, adding it was not because this character was a jester, but because the fool had the wisdom to show a king the mistakes he was making. “I found confidence in that character. It helped me dig deep into the layers of myself.”
Portraying Roderigo in “Othello” helped Taylor work through feelings of low self-esteem, while playing Stefano, a drunken butler in “The Tempest,” provided a looking glass into the dysfunction caused by his past chemical abuse.
“It made me see how messed up I was,” Taylor said.
As a teen, Taylor became involved in gangs and drugs. He spent most of his adult life living on the street or in prison.
In 2002, he was arrested on charges of battery and cocaine delivery. In the end, he served six years in prison for his crimes.
He said “he found himself” through the the Shakespeare Prison Project.
Taylor said his last performance, as Mark Antony, symbolized a “metamorphosis” in his character.
“I could see all the things I wanted to see in myself,” he said of playing that role.
Shailor said the inmates learn more than how to act. They also gain insight into themselves and others — the “subtle, complex aspects of the human condition” that only Shakespeare can reveal, he said.
Each participant kept a journal during the experience.
They also develop skills that help them transition back into society, such as teamwork and communication skills, Shailor said.
Taylor is attending Northcentral Technical College in Wausau to become a computer support specialist and works at a deli.
Earlier this year, he appeared in a production of “The Death of Innocents,” a play by the anti-death-penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean.
“Theater has opened my eyes to humanity,” Taylor said.