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News Flash: Theatre Really Can Change Lives

by on Oct.07, 2010, under Politics, Shaheb Cafe, Theatre

Despite my deep passion for theatre I’ve often quoted the cynical aphorism, Theatre changes nothing, but at least it changes that, and I have believed it to be true.

I stand corrected thanks to the new book, Performing New Lives: Prison Theatre by Jonathan Shailor (Kingsley Press, 2010) about 14 prison theater programs.  The chapter “Drama in the Big House” was penned by my good friend Brent Buell, a director, actor and writer who has volunteered for more than a decade for Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA), a division of Prison Communities International, directing plays and teaching acting classes to inmates.  Brent’s locus in the New York State prison system is the original Big House, Sing Sing state penitentiary in Ossining, NY.

I first met Brent in 2004 through our mutual friend David Gaynes and took my first trip via Metro-North train from Manhattan,  zooming along the Hudson to the Big House to see the inmates’ production of Breakin’ the Mummy’s Code, a farce written and directed by Brent (a photo from that production adorns the book’s cover).    I returned the next year to see the bold satire The N Trial, a meditation on the uses of the dreaded “N-word” in our society, including within prison walls, written by inmate Philip Hall, who was wrapping up a 20 year sentence.

Such productions of a full-length play performed for the general public have become an annual event at Sing Sing.  The cast and crew are primarily inmates, co-mingled with professional actors and crew who volunteer their time (continue reading…)

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