“In California I loved to walk the beaches
and redwood forests.” Native American lifer,
adopted and beaten by his Polish family,
runaway, now forever resident in a Michigan prison.
“The theater workshop is like that.”
-from “For Mike, Because You Asked,” by Buzz Alexander, Founder and Member of PCAP
Into our theater workshops, we bring complete respect for everyone involved, a full belief in the ability of everyone to work together and create a play, and a strategy of discovery. We build our plays through improvisation, using standard warm-up activities, often-used acting exercises, and discussion as a jumping off point for creative expression. There are no scripts, no lines to memorize, no stars—none of the elements that traditionally go with theater.
Though the plays' themes vary considerably, nearly every one centers on community—efforts to form them, the struggle to reconstitute those that have been damaged, the challenge of coming back to one that has been left. In this, the plays often portray the hard realities many prisoners have known and reflect the search for solutions which actors at times consciously offer to their peers in performance. Ultimately, through creating a tight-knit community within the time and space allotted to us, PCAP theater workshops fuel a more general desire to create change in the world through presenting solutions to issues that affect us all.
Facilitators in prisons generally travel to their location one time per week for a 1.5-2 hour session during one or two academic semesters, and in high school once a week for two 50-minute, back-to-back sessions. Workshops typically close with a performance of the play to an audience of peers within the facility and, in most cases, outside guests (occasionally, youth workshops perform on the U-M campus).
For all of us, PCAP theater workshops develop theatrical skills (e.g. story-telling, casting, acting, blocking) as well as other, softer skills such as the ability to collaborate, to lead, to speak publicly, and to express ideas. The attention and praise from the audience during a final performance as well as the week-by-week process of putting a group play together add to the sense of one's own possibilities.