TCG Experience with Shakespeare Behind Bars.

Last month thanks to Center Theatre Group, I was given the once in a lifetime opportunity to attend the theatre communications group conference full circle in Portland, Oregon. Along with Felipe CTG’s Emerging Artists and Arts Professionals Program Associate And 3 inspiring peers- Elian, an aspiring lawyer, Hollis, a thriving actress and Yessica, a future marine biologist.

This conference was filled with workshops such as diving into & the changing culture of the theatre, becoming a hero in your community as well as co creating theatre with incarcerated populations when I came across this workshop description in the TCG agenda I knew I had to attend it- Non profits such as Open hearts open minds, the old globe, and Shakespeare behind bars would be speaking on the panel.

I remember as a kid I came across a book in my garage called Shakespeare behind bars- ‘The power of drama in a women’s prison’ too young to read it at the time I knew that I would be involved with SBB in the future- I’ve always hated the prison system, I think it’s unjust and inhumane. But programs such as Shakespeare Behind Bars which offers “theatrical encounters with personal and social issues to incarcerated and post-incarcerated adults and juveniles, allowing them to develop life skills that will ensure their successful reintegration into society” gives me hope, and as an activist, I must do what I can to help others. listening to the founder of Shakespeare behind bars Curt L. Tofteland speak was beyond amazing- The wisdom and understanding of others he had when he talked about the incarcerated population was unexplainable.

Society puts an extreme fear based label on prisons and prisoners but what many don’t understand is that being human we all make choices and mistakes. According to the panelists, there are problems with the prison administration none with the prisoners when Shakespeare behind bars goes into the prisons. As a non-incarcerated human being working with an arts program in prison you must have acceptance and compassion working with an open heart and no judgment, saying yes to resistance so everyone’s voice is heard through the theater. The environment is filled with deep respect and total confidentiality. This builds a safe space, full of trust. After every performance, the room explodes with love, tears, and joy. “We’re all just human beings” Curt states.

I am very lucky to have sat in and experienced this panel at the TCG conference. I gained much knowledge and wise words from Curt Tofteland. I am inspired to volunteer with Shakespeare behind bars once I turn 18 and will be attending the sbb workshop to become one next year. Being involved with Center Theatre Group and attending the Theatre Communications Group Conference made me realize more than ever before, the power of theater and how in the words of Augusto Boal
“Theater is a language through which human beings can engage in active dialogue on what is important to them. It is a lab for problem-solving, seeking options and practicing solutions”

Growing up we did not have any arts program or community resources so my mom founded the Los Angeles Drama Club- where the youth of South LA analyze and perform Shakespeare. I am excited to share my experience from the Theatre Communications Group Conference with my community. Being involved with center theater group has inspired me to become an active leader for social change of the arts in my community just like the way CTG has been with the Los Angeles Theatre Community for the past 50 years.

Posted by Lily Larsen

I am a 17-year-old​ activist/arts advocate and have been participating in marches, protests and petitions since I was 5 years old. I serve on Mayor Garcetti's Youth Council for South LA. And have generated a petition to ban factory farming in California with over 55,000 signatures. I organize community events and get teens like me connected with social justice issues and activism all over LA.

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