BC Brings “Theater of Hope” to Women in MCI-Framingham, South Middlesex Correctional Center
CHESTNUT HILL, MA (March, 2011) — Boston College has launched an outreach program—via its Theatre Department and Arts and Social Responsibility Project (ASRP)—to bring theatrical arts to women in prison: at MCI-Framingham, a medium security correctional facility, and South Middlesex Correctional Center, a minimum security pre-release facility.
Offerings are based on what the women prisoners hope to achieve from the program. In addition to performances for the inmates, a series of acting workshops are being offered.
The initiative was spurred by prison chaplain Sister Maureen Clark, CSJ, who reached out to Associate Professor of Theatre Crystal Tiala, chair of BC’s Arts Council and ASRP head.
Sr. Clark—who knew Tiala had mentored a “Theater of Hope” project developed by a BC student—asked if she could bring the project to the prison. It is offered as part of the facility’s “Fully Alive Catholic Chaplaincy Program,” which brings in community members to offer programs to the women.
“Some women are interested in developing their confidence, poise and speaking ability for their future time in front of a parole board or in a job interview, while others are interested in the activity for enjoyment. Many of them enjoy singing, which we include.”
BC senior Caitlin Berger, who worked with Tiala to launch the program and helped lead an inaugural workshop session in February, said she hopes the women leave the sessions with more confidence in their ability to speak and to create.
“I think acting is a wonderful venue for these women that allows them to use not only their minds but also their bodies and emotions to create something unique. Many of these women are enrolled in religious programs and even taking college courses, but I hope that acting will give them the confidence and freedom to imagine,” she said.
BC workshop leaders focus on body awareness exercises, acting warm-ups, vocal production, storytelling and staging basic scenes.
“The women were so funny and friendly that you forgot where you were,” noted BC sophomore Jilliene Jaeger. “It was nice to offer them a short escape and the opportunity to just laugh and have fun.”
Added Nicole Trauffer, also a BC sophomore: “I can’t wait to go back and see the women again.”
Last semester, a performance of a portion of the groundbreaking play “Top Girls,” which had been staged on campus at BC’s Robsham Theater, was presented in the prison chapel for an audience of nearly 100 women. It was met with a standing ovation, rave reviews and was followed by a lively Q&A session.
According to the play’s director—BC Adjunct Assistant Professor of Theatre Patricia Riggin, also a participant in the new outreach program—she was told by Sr. Clark, that “the women are touched by the simple fact that people care enough to come there. They often feel forgotten by society.”
“Working with the prisoners is always a humbling experience,” said Berger, who performed in the play. “They are always extremely grateful, welcoming and kind. Having the opportunity to work with women who are on the whole extremely dedicated to self improvement fills me with hope.”
This initiative is significant, she added, because “many people do not flock to prisons to volunteer. This is unfortunate because everyone deserves the chance to rehabilitate and renew themselves.”
Despite the challenging logistics of taking the program into a prison, Tiala said the BC volunteers “were all very excited and cannot wait to do this again. We are blessed to have this opportunity.”
This outreach experience is important, she added, because it “connects the students’ classroom studies to a practical application, using what they are most passionate about with people they might not normally encounter. They see first-hand the reality of the human condition in the most dire of circumstances, and they can experience what it means to provide a little dignity and kindness to people who might otherwise be forgotten or neglected.”
BC junior Juliana Forsberg-Lary lauded Tiala for developing the program, and described her involvement as among “the most moving experiences of my education, because it gives me a new perspective. I care about bringing art to people who really need it, and I feel these women need it more than anyone I've met thus far.”
Added ASRP student advisor and BC junior Kasey Brown: “Theater gives people the chance to communicate, to feel, to learn and to question. It encourages creativity and imagination, reflection and teamwork. In forming this new relationship with the prison, both students and the women in prison will be able to experience these things together, opening new channels of understanding.”
BC’s Arts and Social Responsibility Project is an initiative of the University’s Institute for the Liberal Arts.
The BC contingent will next offer workshops on Sunday, March 20. For more information on the prison outreach program contact Prof. Tiala at email@example.com.
--Rosanne Pellegrini, Office of News & Public Affairs, firstname.lastname@example.org