Now I’m looking to the future - and the development of a sustainable theatre program at Monroe Correctional in WA. Some of my readers will remember some of my blogs earlier this year talking about a 5-month program I ran to devise an original play about American violence with 27 men incarcerated at the unit.
The project was amazing, and for the very first time, ever the DOC allowed me to bring in an outside audience of 25 guests from the community. I was able to bring in Artistic Directors, Executive Directors, local artists and city employees to see the final work - and it became an incredible way of building support and interest for the future of the program. To note: I’ve been working at Monroe for 3 years, and in the prison system as a whole for about 8).
Today I’m writing to give you an update on the program and share a bit more background about why I do it, and what I need to work on in the next few months before 2019 kicks off!
Since the performance in June, I’ve been engaged in ongoing meetings with students and University Beyond Bars staff with the goal of creating a stable, ongoing theatre program on the site. And, I’m excited to announce that I just received an $8,000 CityArtist grant from the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture to help sustain this work!
Immediate next steps include:
1) Piloting a 3-week, 6-session Intro to Improv and Social Justice series Feb-Mar 2019 at the MSU minimum security unit. I will teach a Masterclass this winter in preparation.
2) Working with UBB to create a spring/summer theatre series at WSR, medium security.
Details TBD, spring/summer planning will happen over the next two months.
3) Planning a public performance offering for fall 2019
Part of my contract with the city must include a public performance within Seattle. This will likely take the form of a staged reading of student work at a local theatre, with professional actors as well as community members participating.
4) Forming a Public Steering Committee for the project
I’ve already had several individuals pledge their willingness to help raise long-term support and awareness for this kind of work. Community is key!
5) Working with Earthseed Seattle to commission two UBB playwrights to write scripts for a trauma-informed HS theatre program. Each playwright will receive a $250.00 stipend for their work, to ensure we place value on their contributions.
So - why do I do this?
Well, I grew up on a school bus, in a low-income rural community, and I’m a first generation college student. I don’t have a HS diploma, or a GED (surprise!), but I did manage to become quite educated and even attended NYU for grad school. I’ve never had an easy time buying into the popular majority of any community, but I do have an ability to see the people on the margins - and to help others see them too. Education and white privilege have given me class mobility, and I strive to use whatever position I have to be an accomplice to folkx with less power.
I started working in prisons when I was 22. I’m 30 now - and the work continues. I never intended for prison theatre to be a defining aspect of my work as an artist, but once I made real-life relationships within these communities I realized that I had no other option.
My ultimate goal in creating this program is to build a platform for people incarcerated within Washington state to share their stories, and break down stereotypes the public hold about the characteristics of a “prisoner”. Some of my students are activists, some are anime nerds, and some dream of being in a musical. I want to create a program that allows the public to see these men for who they truly are, including all the quirks that make them so very special.
How am I going to make this all work?
Doing this sustainably will require funding. I’ve been working at Monroe for over three years entirely as a volunteer. While I love it, I’m not able to go 52 weeks a year, and I know I cannot realistically promise to do it forever. That being said - I want these guys to have a forever program. The concepts of “time” and “commitment” are deeply felt in this environment and I am highly aware that I have the privilege of walking away whenever I want.
The most direct way to accomplish sustainability is funding. In funding this program - in particular the human labor needed to staff it - I will ensure that I can always replace myself (even if temporarily) with qualified, passionate candidates. These students deserve this.
The other key element is community engagement and buy-in. I’m honored that I’ve been able to share this experience on steemit with all of you, it just expands out the circle of people who know about it all happening! Thanks for being a part of it - and I will say that payouts from my spring posts very nearly would have covered all my gas for the session if the market hadn’t dropped. ;)
For today - I’ll leave off here - although I always have more to say about this work. I’ll be sure to keep sharing updates on what I’m up to and what we’re working on in the coming months!
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