During late summer of 2023, as preparation for the Department of Theatre & Drama’s fall production of Intimate Apparel began, some of the students in the cast had an idea. The semester prior, Myles Mathews (BFA ’25) and Myah Bridgewater (BFA ’25) had both taken the class “Theatre and Incarceration,” offered through U-M’s Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) at the Residential College, and it had left a deep and lasting impression on them. The course, taught by Ashley Lucas (professor of theatre & drama and the Residential College) and Mary Heinen McPherson (MSW ’12), PCAP’s co-founder and program coordinator, involves students traveling to Michigan prisons to conduct weekly theatre workshops with incarcerated people.

The idea was to share Intimate Apparel, in some way, with the incarcerated community. The play centers on Esther, a Black seamstress trying to make her way in the world of early 20th-century New York City, and involves her correspondence and ill-fated relationship with George, a man working on the Panama Canal who dreams of coming to America.

When Ashley Lucas sought permission to perform the play in area prisons, Myles and Myah felt certain it would be denied. To their surprise, Lucas obtained permission for the students to perform the full play. In the weeks following the University Productions run in the Arthur Miller Theatre, the students got to work preparing for a set of vastly different performances. They ultimately gave five performances of Intimate Apparel in four Michigan prisons, with Myah in the role of Esther and Myles in the role of George. 

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