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August 4, 2009 9:32 AM   Subscribe

"Theatre," says Professor Lorraine Moller, Artistic Director of Rehabilitation Through the Arts at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, in her foreword to Laurence Tocci's The Proscenium Cage [pdf], "may well be one of the few antidotes to the de-humanizing climate of prisons." The use of theater in prisons has many forms: from projects designed to let prisoners tell their own stories as shown in the Austrian film "Gangster Girls" (trailer in German), to the elaborate, high-concept costume dramas of Italy's Compagnia della Fortezza. Some base their work on Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed, others on Moreno's Psychodrama, but many programs use a more direct approach: put on classic plays, and let the play do the illuminating. That's the approach of Shakespeare Behind Bars, the troupe at Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky. Watch the entirety of Shakespeare Behind Bars, a compelling 2005 documentary that follows the troupe for a season as they produce a production of The Tempest.

Other programs, books, and articles of interest:1An excerpt:
"There's a violence epidemic going on in this country," John Bergman sighs at the end of a long and exhausting day. "There's a wholesale trade of guns and knives at street level; there's talk of race hatred again. It's not getting better, and something's got to be done. . . . It's very easy to blame society. There's poverty and racism and outrageous government indifference to alleviating the conditions that breed crime. We can't do anything about that. But we're talking about people who have been self-traumatized as well as socially traumatized. Guys seduce themselves with criminal trickery. They learn how to lie and cheat and steal. That can be confronted. I'm willing to put out energy to push people to take a risk and say it might be possible. I don't get depressed. I love what I do. And I learn. I see what those men inside do and what we make together. It comes from them. These fuckers teach me tremendously."
posted by ocherdraco (8 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've seen Shakespeare Behind Bars and it was profoundly moving. A bit mawkish at times, what with the subject matter and all, but it was really affirming in my opinion. I've taught philosophy (critical thinking / logic) at a maximum-security facility for violent youth offenders and while I don't naively assume introducing the humanities or the arts to inmates will function as a magical cure-all, I saw it change at least some of my students' lives for the better.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:52 AM on August 4, 2009


I saw Shakespeare Behind Bars a few months ago and was riveted, awed, and humbled by the experience. The Tempest was never one of my favorites, until I saw the struggle of Prospero being pondered by a confessed murderer. That actor opened up The Tempest for me, even as Shakespeare opened up new avenues of self-exploration for him. The power of great art to bring about catharsis and healing is marvelous and inspiring.

I am thrilled by the number of links above, implying that the prevalence of drama/artistic therapy is growing. I hope to soon see it applied in other intense treatment programs, such as drug rehabilitation and grief counseling. I hope to someday contribute to bringing artistic therapy into the mainstream, and the work of Curt Tofteland and the others referenced above is a great inspiration.
posted by philotes at 10:10 AM on August 4, 2009


Rhode Island's got 1000 lbs Guerilla.
posted by lunit at 10:30 AM on August 4, 2009


excellent post - thanks much!
posted by jammy at 10:32 AM on August 4, 2009


This subject was also covered in one of This American Life's best episodes: Act V.
posted by kmz at 11:55 AM on August 4, 2009


I saw the SBB production of The Tempest years ago when I was working with the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival. It remains one of the more honest theater performances I've seen. And talking with the convicts afterwards was illuminating.
posted by lholladay at 11:57 AM on August 4, 2009


John Waters wrote a fascinating description of his time working with convicts in his book Crackpot.

I've been teaching improvisation for years and often think it would be interesting to teach it in a local prison. Hmmm.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:25 PM on August 4, 2009


Signals Through the Flames is a documentary about the Living Theatre. They performed a play about prison (military prison) and mid-performance they were arrested and taken to prison (for not paying taxes in protest against war). They also performed in a mental hospital. Highest recommendations.
posted by eccnineten at 8:08 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


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