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Paul

Paul Reichstein

Year of Award: 2014 Award State: New South Wales Arts - Performing > General
The Gilbert Spottiswood Churchill Fellowship to develop skills for the teaching and directing of Shakespeare in correctional facilities - USA
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During my time working for the Bell Shakespeare company in Sydney last year, I came across Shakespeare Behind Bars, an award winning piece documenting the nine months in the lives of a bunch of inmates in an adult correctional facility in Kentucky. These men are introduced to Shakespeare’s The Tempest through an education program run by Prison Arts Practitioner, Curt Tofteland. Over that period of nine months, they rehearse Shakespeare’s play, leading to a final production – behind bars – in front of the prison staff, family and friends.

I’ve spent almost the last decade exploring what personal and social connections we as people make to the work of my four hundred year old dramatist-hero. I’ve spent a lot of time teaching Shakespeare to high school and primary school students and I was fascinated to see how Shakespeare resonated with these incarcerated men.

The connection these men make to the notions of redemption and the personal journeys of Prospero and the other characters is completely illuminating. To be honest, I have seen less emotional connection to Shakespeare’s words in the hands of many a professional actor than I was seeing in these incarcerated individuals and these guys hadn’t had a scrap of professional experience or official training. There was something raw, something visceral and something completely honest about what they were doing with the characters and Shakespeare’s poetry. They seemed to find in Shakespeare both a way ‘in’ and a way ‘out’ of themselves - an opportunity to reflect and an opportunity to purge.

So I wrote to Curt Tofteland, the man responsible for the Shakespeare Behind Bars Company and its education programs. We began an eight-month regular correspondence and he was more than happy to have me visit the company in both Michigan and Kentucky states.

 

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