Saturday, December 1, 2012

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 or call 313-408-7269. For more information about Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility, please visit

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.

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