These bridges, these walls

by Jess Thorpe | 1 January 2016

As the performance began it was hard to imagine a room with more charge.

As part of my work in theatre in Scotland I work as the Visiting Lecturer in the Arts in Social Justice at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. In this role I am responsible for the design and delivery of creative projects in prisons and communities affected by crime. My commitment to this role is fuelled by my passionate belief in the power of the arts as a tool for engagement and as a catalyst for social change.

For the last eight years I have run a weekly drama group in HMP Perth (Scotland) as part of which, once a year, we transform a prison visits area into a studio theatre and present one original piece of devised performance each year. It’s an incredibly successful project and one that continues to produce astonishing results – both in terms of the quality of the theatre produced and the commitment of those that take part.
Artists working in prisons continually face the question: “Why deliver a theatre project in a prison?”. It is a loaded question and one which requires careful negotiating. It’s an inquiry which may of course come from a genuine interest in the value of an arts practice in the context of incarceration but (and perhaps more commonly) it can also belie a mistaken, and arguably dangerous, misunderstanding of the function of theatre in the first place.

You see…

Theatre is not just about entertainment – although it is important to find enjoyment in it.
Theatre is not about showing-off – it takes a brave person to stand up in front of others.

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