Every Person, Every Voice

by Jess Thorpe | 1 April 2014

I remain passionately committed to the place of art in context of prison and as part of the larger process of rehabilitation and re-integration into society.

An exploration into the making of devised theatre in a prison context and its potential as a radical act of community.

To devise: to plan or invent (a complex procedure, system, or mechanism) by careful thought.Oxford English Dictionary

Devising theatre is essentially the process of creating something new from scratch. Its power is in its infinite possibility and the opportunity it offers individuals to experiment with ideas of content, form, structure, staging and new styles in order to ‘make’ a brand new piece of work.

For the past five years I have worked as a Drama Tutor in HMP Perth, during which time I have led various groups of male prisoners in the process of devising their own theatre work from their own ideas. Each group begins from the same place – with no pre-determined idea, no characters, no script – tasked to make a piece of original performance that will be shared with an invited audience. It is explained that it will be collectively authored and will belong to everyone. The result will be a collage of ideas from everyone and that the process of making this work will be as much part of the experience as the final product.

On realising that there is no script, participants new to this way of working can often question the outcome of the process expressing that they don’t know ‘how’ to make a performance and feel that they would be much more comfortable being told what to do.

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