After the scripted lines are spoken, Hand2Mouth's Pep Talk turns into a public forum. The show's actresses play macho coaches, re-enacting speeches from the likes of Al Davis, the late Oakland Raiders owner. At the end, audience members get to share their own motivational moments.
Pep Talk was performed for Seattleites and students at Western Oregon University and Springdale Job Corps. At the end of April, a four-hour super-cut version will be shown at Portland's Surplus Gallery.
None of those audiences is likely to top a cafeteria full of inmates at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility. The women's prison in Wilsonville is the intake site for all Oregon inmates, including one on death row. But Hand2Mouth is the first theater company to pass through its metal detectors, bringing a prison-approved, 20-minute version of its show last week.
"Chariots of Fire" blared and inmates fist-pumped as H2M veteran actresses Erin Leddy, Maesie Speer and Julie Hammond entered, sprinting through the aisles and cheering.
However, the most motivational moments came from inmates.
"Once upon a time, I was a stripper," said a young woman in the back row. In her story, a regular patron confided to her how his life was in a shambles. She urged him to take charge and then didn't see him for months. "But when he came back, he thanked me," she said. "He had money and his daughter back."
Inmate Becky's example came from behind bars. "I was sitting in dorm 400 15 minutes before [prisoner] count, and my bunkmate said, 'I got bunked in for not tucking in my shirt, and oh my God, I'm gonna go to the hole,'" Becky said. "But officer Kilgore gave her a pep talk. He said, 'Where is that thought going to get you? Will that get you back to your child faster?'"
Usually a "captive audience" in Portland's theater scene means Gerding or Artists Repertory patrons held hostage by some talented principal actor. Coffee Creek's women turned the tables. The entry guard is legally required to inform visitors that the prison will not negotiate in a hostage situation.
"When you drive up, it's scary and over-the-top intimidating," said artistic director Jonathan Walters, "but then we're here just looking at each other, all human."