Beginning on Tuesday, October 12th, Parkside Professor Dr. Jonathan Shailor’s new book, Performing New Lives, will be available to the public. The book documents extraordinary nationwide programs that unify self liberation with culture, ultimately, shedding new light on humanity. Readers may be surprised to find out what Dr. Shailor’s project entails: Shakespeare and prisoners.
The aim of Dr. Shailor’s experiment, “The Shakespeare Prison Project”, is to instill culture and literacy in the prisoners of Racine Correctional Institution, while providing a productive outlet. The nine month therapeutic approach also aims to encourage a sense of community and empathy.
“This was an opportunity to grow beyond the stigma of simply being a ‘convict,’” said Shailor. “The prisoners were quite varied, and this project helped them to see themselves as a person of worth, someone who could do good work and be appreciated for that.”
The Shakespeare Prison Project gives prisoners the opportunity to study the works of William Shakespeare, with a focus on literacy and the elements of the plays. To accomplish this, Dr. Shailor guides prisoners through weekly sessions, where he trains them in the language of Shakespeare and then leads discussions about how the plays pertain to the prisoner’s lives. The inmates go on to rehearse a Shakespeare play with other theater experts and educators. Finally, they perform a full length Shakespeare play.
“To be able to understand and to perform (Shakespeare’s) works is to expand one’s sense of being and belonging in profound ways. This is not only healthy and ennobling for inmates, but for all of us,” said Dr. Shailor.
Dr. Shailor began working on the project back in 2004 after nine years of facilitating theater empowerment courses at RCI. He was inspired by a woman in Missouri who staged a production of “Hamlet” with prisoners. In his years with RCI, Dr. Shailor has put on productions such as “King Lear,” “Othello,” “Julius Caesar,” and “The Tempest.”
Dr. Shailor was inspired to write and edit Performing New Lives after attending the first national “Arts in Corrections” seminar in Philadelphia. Through the connections he made at the conference, he was able to include 14 chapters from different program facilitators across the country. He and other advocates for the arts in correctional facilities hope that the book will shed the same new light on humanity to the readers as it did to the prisoners.
“I hope that prison administrators, educators, artists, theater people, legislatures, judges, district attorneys, parole officers, and a broad spectrum of the community will read this book. I want them to better understand how theater behind bars can serve as a uniquely humane and effective form of education for prisoners.” said Dr. Shailor.
Due to the positive reception from prisoners and community members alike, Dr. Shailor plans to continue this program with hopes of spreading it beyond RCI. For more information regarding the inspiring project and its developments, visit http://shakespeareprisonproject.blogspot.com.