New theatre program in Prince George helps inmates find their voice and communicate better

·2 min read
A dramatic performance at Theatre NorthWest in Prince George, B.C. The theatre company has launched a new program with the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre to help inmates develop their communication skills. (Theatre NorthWest - image credit)
A dramatic performance at Theatre NorthWest in Prince George, B.C. The theatre company has launched a new program with the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre to help inmates develop their communication skills. (Theatre NorthWest - image credit)

A theatrical company in Prince George, B.C., is providing a unique opportunity for local inmates to find their voice through acting and storytelling.

On Wednesday, Theatre NorthWest announced its new Theatre in the Pen program in collaboration with the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre.

The program is inspired by similar artistic rehabilitation programs for inmates, such as the 41-year-old "William Head on Stage" at the William Head Institution on Vancouver Island, and the Pops in the Pen music appreciation program organized by the Prince George Symphony Orchestra.

Sessions of Theatre in the Pen, which started three weeks ago and are held once every week, include small-scale performances and different games and activities designed to develop communication skills among the participating prisoners.

Unlike the program at William Head, Theatre in the Pen doesn't involve a full-length production because inmates at the Prince George Regional Correctional Centre are serving shorter sentences.

Theatre NorthWest artistic producer Marnie Hamagami, who previously worked at the Prince George Symphony Orchestra, says she has been passionate about organizing a jail theatre program since she watched a show produced by William Head on Stage 13 years ago.

"I have wanted [the program] to get off the ground for ages. There [are] lots of opportunities for arts organizations to contribute to the communities that support us, and this is one way that we can do that."

Andrew Kurjata/CBC
Andrew Kurjata/CBC

Inmates having fun reading Shakespeare

Artistic associate and program co-ordinator Bradley Charles says the theatre has conducted three 1½-hour sessions, where six to eight participants read and discuss drama scripts that they choose from Charles's recommendations.

Charles says the inmates did a good job and had a lot of fun reading the first scene of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream in the first session.

"Just to throw them in the deep end — Shakespeare is a little tricky, obviously," he said. "It sometimes doesn't make a lot of sense … and that's what we started with to talk about how to make a story make sense."

Jason Peters/CBC
Jason Peters/CBC

Charles says the program isn't about rehearsing for a real show but rather about training them to tell their personal stories effectively — to their prospective employers and loved ones.

But he notes that the theatre and the correctional centre are willing to have inmates acting in real shows in front of the public.

Charles says he has friends who went through the justice system but didn't learn any useful skills during incarceration that helped them reintegrate into society, so "it means the world" to him the Theatre in the Pen program might help prepare inmates for a better life.

"This is absolutely the most impactful work I've done at Theatre NorthWest so far, and it's only just started," he said.

The Theatre in the Pen is partially funded by the B.C. Arts Council.

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