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.