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USD’s Sather Researches Prison Theatre Programs

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Danielle Sather is a Theatre Arts major at the University of San Diego. Sather received a 2012 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) award to continue her research on The X Project. Sather, below, shares her thoughts on the project that began last fall. She is interested in exploring how theatre can help prisoned youth. She will travel to Texas and Kentucky this summer to learn from experts in this field.

Performance can be found in the most unpredictable of places; one of those places being prison.

Under the supervision of Dr. Monica Stufft, assistant professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies, I am exploring how prison theatre can foster rehabilitation, self-discovery and self-expression behind bars. I am particularly interested in identifying the most effective prison theatre practices to use with youth.

This summer, I’m visiting the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center in Houston, Texas, to shadow Brigit Walker, the founder of the Children’s Prison Arts Project, as well as a medium security prison in Danville, Ky., to observe Curt Tofteland, founder of Shakespeare Behind Bars. By networking with and interviewing current prison theatre practitioners, I will gain a deeper understanding of what it means to make art with people behind bars and how it can help change lives. Both Walker and Tofteland spoke during our initial interviews of the need for more artists in the field and offered to help further my experiential research by shadowing their programs. I was extremely grateful for those offers and jumped at the opportunity.

My project began in Fall 2011, when I started a pen pal correspondence with an inmate at the Hughes Unit maximum-security prison in Gatesville, Texas, while working on a project on Prison Theatre for a Theatre History course. In Spring 2012, my pen pal and I co-wrote a play by mail that interweaves our stories. When I am in Texas for my visit to observe Walker, I will also visit my collaborator in order to discuss the experience of working on the play.

Creating theatre is an incredibly rewarding experience, regardless, but working with people behind bars is humbling and requires passion. Prison theatre not only affects participants in positive ways, but it can also help transform the misconceptions of people behind bars that are held by the larger community or the general public. Performance can create bridges and it offers arenas for honesty and exploration.

Through my research, I hope to better understand how these programs are structured and implemented so that I may organize my own program to work with youth behind bars across the country.

— Danielle Sather

Photos courtesy of Danielle Sather

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