New play challenges audience, performers

Despite their title, none of the Prison Plays that will be shown tonight actually feature stories about inmates or life in prison. Instead, they will highlight the creative imagination and storytelling prowess of the men at the Newton Correctional Facility in some of the funniest, most heart wrenching, and most bizarre productions you’ll ever see.

Grinnell students, who also went to the prison last night to perform them at the facility, will perform the plays at the Wall at 7p.m. in Bucksbaum as staged readings. The plays are the culmination of the playwriting class taught by Emma Silverman ’09 and Caitlin Davies ’09 at the facility, a class that has become a mainstay of the Grinnell College Prison Work Shop Program.

“It’s a really wide variety of plays from comedy to the avant-garde to drama,” Davies said. “You can tell that some of the plays are kind of close to the heart, probably some of things these men have dealt with, and some of them are just hysterical.”

Davies first got started in the program when she taught an acting workshop a few semesters ago. Since she’s a theater major with plans to go into education, the workshop program was a no-brainer for her, and she’s enjoyed every minute of it.

“It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve done at Grinnell,” she said. ” I get to work with people from a wide range of backgrounds and who have been stereotyped as a certain category of people. But really they’re no different than anyone else, and they have fantastic ideas and it’s been amazing to harness them.”

Jaysen Wright ’09 is in two of the prison plays: “The Park” and “Off their Rockers”. The first is a story of a young woman struggling with her impending pregnancy, (in which he stars as a the girl’s father), and the second is a comedy about a mental facility, in which he plays a patient. “I think it’s a really awesome to give someone the chance to see something they create come to life,” he said. “Especially the men in the prison–they’re just as creative as anybody and they have less opportunities to do this sort of thing.”

The plays have also sparked interested in the rest of the student body. Graciela Guzman ’11 is excited to see the series of plays and the creative diversity they bring to the campus.

“I think anytime you have a group that’s not traditionally viewed do some sort of work, its always interesting, because it adds a unique factor,” she said. “We don’t see a lot of work from incarcerated individuals here at Grinnell.”