The pandemic at San Quentin hindered the Marin Shakespeare Company’s classes, but Juan Meza prevailed and still pursued his passion for acting.
Meza felt pain in his back and neck, his temperature and blood pressure were at very high levels, and he felt he was about to die, according to KQED.
“There was a lot of fear, there was a lot of anxiety, there’s a lot of unknowns, there was a lot of misinformation going around. In a matter of two weeks, we were now locked in a cell again, unable to move, scared, frightened,” said Meza.
“Acting, performing — doing these things were a release, a very lethargic process of getting stuff out that we needed to and everything. We didn’t have the avenue anymore and we didn’t know if we were going to get it back,” he said.
Marin Shakespeare had been working with the incarcerated at San Quentin for 17 continuous years, providing creative and social outlets for the residents, until the outbreak in 2020, the KQED noted.
Meza, whose stage name is Losdini, says the company’s acting program helped him uncover an untapped side of himself.
When the pandemic hit, Meza’s artistry was put on hold. The Shakespeare classes had to redirect their teaching methods since instructors were not allowed to enter the prison.
In response, Marin Shakespeare recorded a production of Romeo and Juliet, played by some formerly Incarcerated actors who were taught by the company. They sent the video to the men inside San Quentin.
Then the prison stopped the acting program from sending in videos, so the program started sending in educational packets, to enhance the men’s creative skills. Some assignments were themed around friendship, loyalty, and self-care.
San Quentin men get “a lot of positive benefits” from Marin Shakeapeare’s visits and training, said Lesley Currier, its managing director.
When Marin Shakespeare returned to San Quentin, the first classes centered on conversations about how the residents experienced the quarantine.
At that point, Meza had already been paroled and he connected with Marin Shakespeare on the outside, as a member of their Returned Citizens Theater Troupe.
In May of 2021 Meza co-directed his first production and is still pursuing his passion for acting and directing.
“If I had never stepped into that first class in San Quentin with Marin Shakespeare Company, I would not have been able to reveal my humanity,” said Meza
COVID continues to hinder the programing at the prison, but the company managed to stage three performances before live audiences in December 2021. A production of Henry IV is scheduled for August 2022.
“Now that I’m not incarcerated in prison anymore, I still want to go back to the humans that are inside to sit with them and say, ‘Look, we can do this,’” said Meza.
Meza’s motive for returning to San Quentin with Marin Shakespeare is to pay forward what they did for him, reported KQED.