The Craig Fahle Show

Inmates Perform Shakespeare in Prison

Thursday, June 3, 2014

Frannie Shepherd-Bates, creator of Magenta Giraffe Theatre, meets weekly with inmates of the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti teaching Shakespeare and directing performances.

For four hours each week, the group goes through theatre exercises and works with excerpts from Shakespeare plays. The participants choose the play and cast themselves.

It's called "Shakespeare in Prison," and it's modeled after the 19-year-old program "Shakespeare Behind Bars."


"Participants in Shakespeare Behind Bars have had only a 7% recidivism rate, as contrasted with the national rate of 67%."

"I think a lot of it has to do with the perspective and the empathy that people gain when they work with Shakespeare," says Shepherd Bates.

She says the women often journey emotionally with the characters. When they performed "The Tempest," the group discussed Prospero's struggle with learning to forgive both himself and those who wronged him.

"For most of the women who participate, they really sort of fall in love with it," says Shepherd-Bates, "and they realize, 'Yeah, these plays are written hundreds of years ago, but I know these people. I am that person.'"

She says the women are able to therapeutically identify with themes like forgiveness, desire for revenge, and being misunderstood.

Currently the women are working on a production of Romeo and Juliet and will host three performances at the end of the month.

"With Romeo and Juliet a lot of what we discussed is the female characters' lack of agency and independence and how that colors all of the decisions they make throughout the play," she says. "These are clearly issues that you and I can relate to, but especially people who have the life experiences that many of these women have had."

-- Shelby Reynolds