“It’s not like dangling out of an elephant’s mouth… speaking in front of an audience is really scary.”
In front of me sits a small-framed, charming woman. Her bobbed and banged, blonde hair has a casual grace, and her bright blue eyes sparkle like a teenager in love for the first time. Bunny Herring is 82ish years old. I had hoped Bunny would reveal the secrets to the fountain of youth, but I came away with more than I had bargained for in this meeting.
Elizabeth “Bunny” Herring ran away and joined the circus at age 18, married a cowboy in Wyoming, rode horses, in the past few years took up the trapeze, and most recently, is teaching theatre to convicts in maximum security prisons.
And we start there, in prison with Shakespeare.
It was hard to believe Bunny would have any insecurities. She looks better than most people I know in their 30s. More athletic than most people in their 20s. Bunny can do the splits. I assumed, the mind/body connection in this woman was fully, for lack of a better word, connected. But, my approach was wrong. There is more than one way to feel connected and confident in yourself. Bunny, although a lifetime performer, had always been shy and scared of speaking in front of an audience…a whole different type of body/mind art.
Bunny’s been conquering this fear lately in prison. Several prisons, actually. She helps teach acting to inmates as a tool for them to express themselves, gain self confidence, and aid them socially in transitioning to the “outside”. The interesting thing is, Bunny will honestly tell you, there is no place she’d rather be, than in prison.
According to Pew research, 1 in 36 men in the state of Missouri are in prison, or on parole, and the recidivism rate is well over 50 percent within 3 years. Even though it was the prisoners she was there to help, nonetheless, it seems the prisoners are the ones helping Bunny get over her fear of speaking in public.
Coincidentally, Saturday evening I had planned to see a performance at the Pulitzer Museum (truly the best gift given to the city of St. Louis in recent decades). It was entitled, “Staging Old Masters”. Former prisoners spent 6 weeks exploring the current exhibit at the Pulitzer and performed self-created short plays based on these explorations. Of course, Bunny was there. If you live in the St. Louis area I highly recommend this experience. These performances are insightful in so many ways. For more information, you can go to http://stagingoldmasters.pulitzerarts.org
The point of all this? Comes back to the physics of us. It’s all relative. What comes easy to some is incredibly difficult for others. The inspiration here is in doing what you otherwise might not dare. We can keep improving on ourselves at any age. When life gets inspired and creativity starts flowing, it’s hard to say who is the sinner and who is the saint.