Shakespeare in Prisons 2016 Conference

- (part of a series)

Location: DeBartolo Performing Arts Center (View on map )

Shakespeare in Prisons: In Practice
January 25-27, 2016


In November 2013, S@ND was honored to host the world’s first international gathering of prison arts practitioners utilizing Shakespeare as a transformative process in their work with incarcerated populations. Delegates attended from as far afield as Northern Ireland, Wales, England, South Africa, and Australia. Based on the success of the first conference it was determined that the conference be staged on a biennial basis. 

The second conference, staged immediately prior to the STA conference in January 2016 and serving in place of the traditional STA practicum, will focus on practical approaches for working with nontraditional and incarcerated populations and will be led by many of the most noted figures in the field; Curt Tofteland of Shakespeare Behind BarsTom Magill of the Educational Shakespeare Company in Belfast, Sabra Williams of the Actors’ Gang Prison Project in Los Angeles, Michelle Hensley of Ten Thousand Things Theater Company in Minneapolis, Meade Palidofsky of Storycatchers Theatre in Chicago, and Bill & Nancy Watson from Feast of Crispian: Shakespeare with Veterans, a therapeutic intervention for ongoing symptoms of trauma, poly-trauma, and reintegration issues in veterans based in Milwaukee, WI.

Each day of the conference will be divided into plenary and panel sessions in the morning and practical training sessions in the afternoon. More information on these four concurrent workshop sessions is available below. Activities will commence at 9:00am on Monday, January 25th, and will conclude with the STA welcome reception on the evening of Wednesday, January 27th.

Shakespeare in Prisons: In Practice Track Descriptions


Including the Excluded: an award-winning pioneering drama and filmmaking project

The project builds on seven years of work with ex-prisoners, ex-offenders, and people with forensic mental health diagnosis. The focus of the work is on exploring the ghosts and turning points in an individual’s life that led to their mental breakdown and incarceration.

The goal of the project is to enable participants to acknowledge past trauma and transform it through reworking it in their own terms: learning how to write, act, direct, and record their experience on film. The process often leads participants to develop insight and critical distance on their experiences.

Tom Magill, Founder & Artistic Director Educational Shakespeare Company, will introduce the workshop, share some previous work on film, and lead participants through an experiential introduction to the process.


A Taste of The Work of The Actors' Gang Prison Project

The Actors' Gang is a California-based theatre company created in 1984 by Oscar-winning actor/director Tim Robbins. It is one of the most respected and revered theatre companies in the country, with one of the foremost Arts in Corrections programs.

The Actors’ Gang Prison Project was created by Sabra Williams in 2006 as a response to the high recidivism rates in California. This workshop will introduce you to the highly physical and emotional work that we use both as company training for our actors and to help transform the lives of the incarcerated, parolees, and those at-risk.

Sabra Williams, Founder & Director of the Actors’ Gang Prison Project, and Elliot LaPlante, Prison Project Associate, will facilitate the journey into the training of the Actors’ Gang.


Story into Song: Transforming the Lives of Incarcerated Juveniles

This workshop will include writing a personal narrative based on a group writing prompt, creating scenes and songs from these narratives, and performing a staged reading collage.  Participants will learn how this process allows young people to examine their lives, choices, environments, and relationships, integrating past trauma into the present in order to imagine positive, healthy futures. This workshop will also include how to create a learning environment for juveniles that promotes safety, goal-setting, commitment, and positive risk-taking.

Meade Palidofsky, Artistic Director & Founder of Storycatchers Theatre, and Ozivell Ecford, Composer/Music Director, will lead participants through elements of Storycatchers' year-long process of turning individual personal narratives into a group musical production.


The Bard and the Brain: The Power of Shakespearean Verse, Metaphor and the Mask of Character to Re-connect and Re-integrate the Emotional Self

This is an experiential introduction to the work of Feast of Crispian: Shakespeare with Veterans a therapeutic intervention for ongoing symptoms of trauma, poly-trauma, and reintegration issues in veterans. Those symptoms may include dissociation, anger, substance abuse, and feeling disconnected with others. In this workshop we will use a sampling of acting exercises that we use to elicit the physical sensations of emotion, and the techniques that allow participants to immediately speak the poetry and portray the characters in Shakespearean scenes. Through the mask of character, they can explore and experiment with big emotions without having to directly share their own stories. The rhyme, meter, and metaphor of Shakespeare’s dramatic poetry, fire sensory centers in the brain to gently guide them back to the life of their bodies once more. Voice, body, and emotions are combined with personal support from our experienced staff to give struggling veterans a chance to answer the difficult question of “who am I now”.

Nancy Smith-Watson is a trauma informed Somatic Body worker, professional actress and Founder and Director of Feast of Crispian. She has trained at Circle-In-The-Square’s professional acting training program in NYC and as a somatic therapist in Integrative Somatics and Hakomi Body Work in Boulder, CO and Austin, TX with Pat Odgen and Phil Del Prince

Bill Watson is an Associate Professor of Theatre at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a professional actor, director and Co-Founder of Feast of Crispian. Having taught acting in several universities for over 25 years, he trained at the University of Washington as an actor and in Hakomi Psychotherapy skills with Phil Del Prince in Austin, TX. He has appeared as an actor with such theatres as Shakespeare and Company, The Colorado Shakespeare Company, and The Seattle Repertory Theatre among many others.

Major Underwriters:

  • British Council
  • The McMeel Family Foundation
  • The Henkels Lecture Fund, Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts
  • Ryan Memorial Foundation

Presenting Sponsors:

  • Nanovic Institute for European Studies
  • Artworks  National Endowment for the Arts