Such notoriety makes this outfit particularly worthy of study herein. Prison Performing Arts’ express design to educate its participants, coupled with its concentration on classical works of dramatic literature, makes it a prime example of a third mindset in theatre-behind-bars: that play making with the incarcerated can increase the participants’ literacy and cognitive skills. These three distinct positions—to entertain, to reform, and to educate—make up the tripod on which prison-theatre traditionally stands. Most discussion of the significance of theatre-behind-bars addresses one of these themes, if not all of them.
Because the three companies have appreciably different operating principles and political philosophies they obviously have distinct relationships with penology as a whole as well as with the specific institutions in which they work. However, they also have several important similarities. While all three outfits worked in several facilities, they all had a home base of sorts: a particular prison where they concentrated most of their efforts. TFTF operated in Riker’s Island; CBT at the penitentiaries in Bordentown and Yardville, New Jersey; and PPA at the Misouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific, Missouri. The different types of institutions, and the different attitudes of the administration, in part, dictated each program’s working style and helped define their work. All three companies also had several multiple programs: professional performances put on for inmate audiences, improvisational workshops for youthful offenders, and shows produced with both inmates and professional actors in the cast. They also all offered acting workshops as preparation for the actual productions.
Research Strategies and Methodology
I have composed these case studies primarily from personal interviews with those involved in the programs: the theatre professionals who run the companies, participating inmates, and when possible the prison’s administration.