Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Theater Opens Our Eyes
by Agnes Wilcox, artistic director of Prison Performing Arts in St. Louis, Mo.

December 18, 2012

If you want to prepare inmates to rejoin society, create a prison theater program.

Gary Kempker, former Missouri director of corrections, wrote about prison theater:

“It teaches offenders that there is something bigger than their individual wants and needs. It reminds them that they are part of a community that requires them to be responsible and accountable for their behavior and acts. It is teaching the lessons of life to those who have failed those lessons in the past.”
Over the past 20 years, I have seen how theatrical productions provide an excellent environment in which to learn and practice skills that prepare people for success in life and work – among them commitment, self-control, discipline, self-worth and teamwork. In Missouri, the recidivism rate for men and women who have been involved in prison theater programs is less than one-third of the state’s overall rate.

Inmate actors develop verbal, reading and listening skills that lead to greater academic proficiency. If larger roles in a play are given to those who read well, an actor can be motivated to improve his or her literacy skills.
Theatrical productions impart skills that prepare people for life and work, like commitment, discipline, self-worth and teamwork.
Inmate actors develop empathy. They learn to embody, articulate and understand the perspectives and experiences of others, often very different from themselves.

Many men and women are in prison because they have limited problem-solving skills. Their lives have been chaotic, and they have not been able to create a structure for that chaos. Literature, with its use of language and with its study of character and circumstance, helps them see and articulate the process of cause and effect in human lives, sometimes their own.

Actions and their consequences are clear to any actor who spends a semester exploring the role of Hamlet.

This commentary was originally published in The New York Times, 12-18-12

Friday, December 14, 2012

Nick embraces his daughter after his performance in The Tempest, 

 at Racine Correctional Institution, Sturtevant, Wisconsin

The Voyage Home:
The Shakespeare Prison Project Beyond Bars

Starring Nick Leair 
Alumnus of The Shakespeare Prison Project 

   Hosted by Jonathan Shailor Founder and Director, The Shakespeare Prison Project
with special guest Kelley Ristow of The Back Room Shakespeare Project

JANUARY 13, 2013, 2:00 PM





for more information: email:  jonathan.shailor@gmail.com

Thursday, December 13, 2012

New York: Shakespeare Seminar at Woodbourne Correctional Facility

Sunday, December 9, 2012

New Prison Performing Arts Workshop Helps Inmates Prepare for Life Beyond Bars

Photo by Virginia Lee Hunter

Lee Gough (right) plays as a relapsed criminal who tries to get Chris "Stretch" Melton (left) to sell drugs again for him.


"Have you done some time in prison?" asks Raynell Brandon, talking like an infomercial narrator to his fellow inmates at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific. "Having trouble adjusting to society? Solve all of your problems with our new spray, De-Institutionalize Plus! It works in seconds!" The skit, a parody about a spray that magically eliminates the stigma of prison, is just one scene from Going Home, a production facilitated under the direction of Prison Performing Arts. Since 1989 the arts organization has put on dozens of shows and classes in correctional facilities around Missouri, but this is their first workshop to examine release and re-entry into society.

See the full story by Leah Greenbaum on the Riverfront Times Arts Blog: New Prison Performing Arts Workshop Helps Inmates Prepare for Life Beyond Bars

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hiland Mountain Correctional Center Women's Orchestra

For almost a decade, the prison orchestra at Hiland Mountain has provided welcome structure and expression for inmates hoping to challenge themselves to grow despite being locked up. And their holiday concert is coming up.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Hopeful news about The Shakespeare Prison Project (Wisconsin)

In August of this year, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections cancelled the Shakespeare Prison Project (TSP) at Racine Correctional Institution, a medium-security correctional facility in Sturtevant, Wisconsin.  TSP was scheduled to begin rehearsals for Hamlet on September 4, but the plan screeched to a halt when the DOC rejected a Wisconsin Humanities Council grant proposal that claimed the project was a valuable resource in inmate education, rehabilitation and reintegration.  I learned that those claims obliged the DOC to evaluate my proposal using the same rigorous standards applied to "evidence-based" programs that are already in place in corrections. 

Over the past several months, I have been in conversation with the DOC, pleading for a reconsideration of the decision.  The movement to "Save The Shakespeare Prison Project" has also received considerable media attention, and a good deal of public support (over 800 people have signed a petition in support of the project).  

When the new Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Edward Wall, took office in early November 2012, I asked him to review the decision to cancel The Shakespeare Prison Project.

After holding conversations with his administrators, Secretary Wall sent me an email that (1) supported the original decision to cancel, (2) expressed appreciation for my devotion to the project, and (3) invited me to submit a revised proposal that would address outstanding concerns.*  Yesterday, Racine Correctional Institution Warden John Paquin acknowledged receipt of the new proposal, for HAMLET.  It is now under review, with a decision expected in early 2013.

*The revised proposal explicitly addresses concerns about the scale of the project, which in the past required shutting down the prison gym for several days, and other major accommodations at the correctional facility.  The revised proposal also addresses long-standing security concerns associated with bringing in large numbers of guests, props, and costumes.  Finally, the proposal addresses the one issue that prompted this year's cancellation:  it does not include any implications that The Shakespeare Project is an officially sanctioned DOC "program" that holds the status of other "evidence-based" programs.

Stay tuned...

Shakespeare in Prison: Detroit, Michigan

Check out Shakespeare in Prison, a blog sponsored by the Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company (Detroit, Michigan).  Here's an introduction to their work:

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company of Detroit is thrilled to announce its Shakespeare in Prison program, which is being conducted at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, Michigan, beginning in February 2012 and running continuously thereafter. This program, modeled on other successful programs of its kind, will empower inmates through theatre exercises and Shakespearean text to think creatively, re-examine decisions they’ve made, become more in touch with their emotions, and develop crucial life skills to be used both in and out of prison.

Inmates who volunteer for the Shakespeare in Prison program have worked with Shakespearean monologues and scenes in the past, and are currently working on The Tempest, experiencing the empowerment and satisfaction derived from working with this material. There is an idea that only “great actors” can do Shakespeare “right,” and that is absolutely false. Anyone can perform Shakespeare, and everyone has the right to create art as part of being a self-aware and individual human being. Participants will also be given the option of staging a full play by Shakespeare.
Similar programs have proven to be extremely effective in empowering inmates to think creatively, re-examine decisions they’ve made, get more in touch with their emotions, and develop life skills such as confidence in creative thinking and speaking in front of an audience. These programs are also very effective in building self-esteem in the prisoners, and all of these effects have a direct impact on prisoners’ ability to become constructive members of society when they are released, or, if they are not released, excellent citizens and role models in the facility. Magenta Giraffe’s program is modeled after Shakespeare Behind Bars, the oldest program of its kind in North America. The founder and artistic director of that program, Curt Tofteland, has been advising the project’s facilitator, Executive Artistic Director Frannie Shepherd-Bates. Participants in Shakespeare Behind Bars have had only a 7% recidivism rate, as contrasted with the national rate of 67%, and Magenta Giraffe hopes to continue that trend with its own program.

Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, serves as the only prison in Michigan which houses females. The facility provides all reception center processing which includes fourteen housing units for general population prisoners in level I, II, and IV, Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT), Residential Treatment Program (RTP), Acute Care, Infirmary and Detention. The Shakespeare in Prison program will be an addition to the many other programs the facility offers. Adult Basic Education and General Education Development preparation classes are offered, as well as special education services and pre-release classes.. Vocational training is offered in Auto Mechanics, Building Trades, Business Education Technology, Horticulture, and Custodial Maintenance. Prisoners have access to religious services, faith-based programs, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, family preservation programming, twelve step support meetings, and general library and law library services. Prisoners are provided on-site routine medical and dental care. Pregnant prisoners receive counseling, parenting classes, and child care options.

“We’re very excited about Shakespeare In Prison coming to our facility,” says Deputy Warden of programs Karri Osterhaut.  “It is a wonderful opportunity for the female prisoner population to learn about theatre and literature, and about themselves in the process.”

Shakespeare in Prison has the potential for real change in the community, helping women achieve a sense of self that can help them with their families, their community, and their personal future.
For more information about Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company, please visit www.magentagiraffe.org or call 313-408-7269. For more information about Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, please visit www.michigan.gov/corrections.

ABOUT Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company – The Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company is a nonprofit organization that acts to eliminate apathy, violence, prejudice and barriers to education through theatre productions, projects and programs; and further acts to reestablish and expand Detroit’s theatre district.

Monday, November 19, 2012

HAMLET in a South African Prison

Taking “Shakespeare Inside” Out, Colette Gordon Talks to Tauriq Jenkins about Hamlet in prison and a “first for South African theater”

In December 2011, in a community hall in Cape Town, youth awaiting trial in Cape Town from Ottery Youth Care Centre performed their version of Hamlet—created, rehearsed, and performed inside the institution, for one time only before the public and outside incarcerated space.

Performances like this are rarely seen. Shakespeare prison projects tend to allow only fleeting glimpses of performance “inside.” Mickey B, which Ramona Wray wrote about in the fall 2011 special issue of Shakespeare Quarterly, with a follow-up interview with the director in the SQ Forum, is one exception. Through the Educational Shakespeare Company’s film project, prisoners at Belfast’s Maghaberry Prison were able to produce a full-length adaptation of Macbeth which was then screened for audiences outside the prison.

In the case of Hamlet, performed by incarcerated youth in Cape Town, actors and audience experienced a live performance that took both groups away from the prison and expectations of prison Shakespeare.

I interviewed the director, Tauriq Jenkins, about the role and importance of this work and about Shakespeare in a South African context of incarceration.
—Colette Gordon


Monday, November 12, 2012

NEW BOOK: Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard

Just as Larry Newton, one of the most notorious inmates at Indiana Federal Prison, was trying to break out of jail, Dr. Laura Bates was trying to break in. Now, a decade later, her Shakespeare in Shackles program has been lauded by academics and prison communities alike. In this profound illustration of the enduring lessons of Shakespeare through the ten-year relationship of Bates and Newton, an amazing testament to the power of literature emerges. But it's not just the prisoners who are transformed. It is a starkly engaging tale, one that will be embraced by anyone who has ever been changed by a book.

NEW BOOK: Working for Justice: A Handbook of Prison Education and Activism

This volume contains a wide range of work from leading prison activist-scholars who share a common vision of a society that does not depend on mass incarceration to solve its problems.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Shakespeare in Shackles

CLICK HERE to watch an interview with Dr. Laura Bates, founder of Shakespeare in Shackles, the world's first Shakespeare program in supermax.

Laura Bates will present a TED talk (TEDxUCLA) today titled Shakespeare in Shackles: The Transformative Power of Literature.

from the TEDxUCLA site:
Laura Bates has a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in Comparative Literature, with a focus on Shakespeare studies. She is a professor of English at Indiana State University, where she has taught courses on Shakespeare for the past fifteen years to students on campus and in prison.
For more than 25 years she has worked in prisons as a volunteer and as a professor. She created the world’s first Shakespeare program in supermax—the long-term solitary confinement unit.  Her work has been featured in local and national media, including two segments on MSNBC-TV’s Lock Up.
She is the author of “Shakespeare Saved My Life”: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard (Sourcebooks, 2013).

She has been happily married for nearly thirty years to Allan Bates, a retired professor and playwright.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

From the archives: The Shakespeare Project Presents OTHELLO

Photos (c) by Joe Crimmings

Prisoners in The Muddy Flower Theatre Troupe at Racine Correctional Institution in Wisconsin studied, rehearsed, and performed Othello by William Shakespeare, September 2005 - June 2006.

"It was stunning - Shakespeare as Shakespeare was meant to be - real, raw,  and electrifying. The actor who played the lead had a powerful on-stage presence and emoted real anguish. Iago was positively machiavellian. And Desdemona made me cry. It was by far the most memorable performance of  the play I have ever seen - truly transformative." ~ Jean Feraca, host of Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders, Wisconsin Public Radio

Friday, July 27, 2012

Curt Tofteland: Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at Centenary College

Centenary College (New Jersey) will be holding the first event in the 2012-2013 Distinguished Visiting Series Gates-Ferry Lecture on Sept. 5. Curt L. Tofteland will be showing his documentary “Shakespeare Behind Bars” at 6 p.m. in the Sitnik Theater at the David and Carol Lackland Center (715 Grand Ave., Hackettstown) with a refreshment break at 7:30 p.m. and then a separate talk back discussion with Tofteland about his professional experience at 8 p.m. This event is free and open to the public.

Tofteland is the founder of the internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Behind Bars (SBB) program. Shakespeare Behind Bars offers theatrical encounters with personal and social issues to the incarcerated, allowing them to develop life skills that will ensure their successful reintegration into society.

Now in its 18th year, Shakespeare Behind Bars is the oldest program of its kind in North America. SBB programming serves incarcerated adults and youth using the works of William Shakespeare. Philomath Films chronicled SBB in a documentary that premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and 40+ film festivals around the world. Tofteland has been invited to share his Shakespeare Behind Bars experience through screening the documentary, facilitating a post-screening audience talk-back, teaching master classes, and visiting classrooms at 33 colleges and universities (49 visits) across the United States.

“I am very pleased to serve as Gates-Ferry Distinguished Lecturer this fall and hope that my talks are informative and enlightening for those who are in attendance,” says Tofteland. “My work has made a difference in those who may have been uninspired. To make a positive impact on these individuals has been an experience that has been so rewarding.”

Tofteland will be teaching on the Centenary campus all week to students as part of his lectureship. The Spring Gates-Ferry lecturer will feature the former congresswoman Liz Holtzman.

by Warren Reporter, nj.com

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Rehabilitation Through The Arts Helps Teach Life Skills To Prisoners - NY1.com

Click here for the TV news story

                 Frank Delila of NY1 interviews RTA member before "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"

Katherine Vockins, RTA Founder:  "Our mission is to use the arts to transform the way people think and feel inside prison, so they are prepared to be better citizens on the inside, and also to come home, and be better citizens at home."

Aside from Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, the program has also produced August Wilson's Jitney, and Two Trains Running.

Vockins:  "New York State's population in prison is roughly 88% people of color:  35% Latino, 50% African American.  So using a playwright, and using stories about situations that deal with marginalized or minority people, is one of our goals. And also using plays that have some kind of transformative nature to it,where they can show cause and effect, where they show change, or reasons to change."

Click here to go to Rehabilitation Through the Arts website

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Rhodessa Jones, Idris Ackamoor Selected as US Department of State Arts Envoys

Rhodessa Jones and Idris Ackamoor have just been selected as "ARTS ENVOYS" by the U.S. Department of State, Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau!! As two of the Bay Area's most revered artists they received grant support to represent San Francisco as they journey to South Africa to continue their work in collaboration with Urban Voices Festival inside the Naturena Women's Prison in Johannesburg, South Africa and then journey on to participate in the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa. This unprecedented support for Cultural Odyssey's international cultural exchange program is testament to the continued artistic vision of Rhodessa and Idris. Sharing their unique brand of "ART AS SOCIAL ACTIVISM" with the global community sheds light on ALL of the exceptional artists who reside and conduct their work in SAN FRANCISCO!!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

At Philadelphia's InterAct Theatre March 30- April 1


written and performed by
Iyaba Ibo Mandingo

directed by Brent Buell

Meet Iyaba Ibo Mandingo, formerly Kenny Athel George DeCruise - painter, poet, husband, father, son, and undocumented immigrant from Antigua.  At the age of eleven, Iyaba is plucked from the tropical comfort of his boyhood and taken to life in America where he must navigate his way to manhood without the guidance of a father.  Using canvas, paint, poetry, prose and song, Iyaba tells us a story of his transformation from “Mommy Me No Wanna Go Merrica”- a prophetic piece that hints at the many trials he will face in a new land - to his powerful political poetry that would lead to his arrest and attempted deportation in post 9/11 America.  Throughout the play Iyaba shares his rage, his determination, and his hope while he paints his self portrait and successfully struggles to redefine his humanity, rediscover his smile, and truly accept himself for the first time.

Next Up:

03/31 - 04/01, 2012

InterAct Theatre
2030 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

    Friday March 30 & Saturday March 31 at 8pm
    Sunday, April 1 at 2pm

Tickets & Information: http://bit.ly/unFRAMEDinPhilly


On Monday, February 27, Iyaba and Brent took unFRAMED inside Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, NY at the invitation of the NAACP and the ILC (Prisoner's association).  They were thrilled to return to the prison where Iyaba and Brent first met as volunteers in 2001.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Prison Performing Arts Started 21 Years Ago

Director Agnes Wilcox passes out scripts to performers during rehearsal for “The Tempest” at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center on Nov. 10. Wilcox started the Prison Performing Arts program 21 years ago. She also features another adult program at a men’s prison, the Northeastern Correctional Center in Bowling Green.    

Katie Currid reporting for The Missourian (1-12-12)
Retrieved from http://www.columbiamissourian.com/multimedia/photo/2012/01/12/prison-performing-arts-started-21-years-ago/