San Quentin Inmates to Perform Shakespeare

By Erika Heidecker
|  Tuesday, Aug 2, 2011  |  Updated 4:57 PM PDT
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San Quentin Inmates to Perform Shakespeare

"If music be the food of love, play on ..." are perhaps not words  one expects to hear in the halls of San Quentin State Prison.

This Friday, however, 13 inmates will perform one of Shakespeare's  most popular romantic comedies in front of more than 300 of their peers.

Marin Shakespeare Company's Suraya Keating has worked with the  inmates once a week for two hours a day over the past 10 months. The  performers practiced songs, learned dance moves, and rehearsed lines for an  adaptation of "Twelfth Night."

Keating, who has been working with inmates since 2005, holds a  master's degree in art therapy. As a therapist, she sees acting as more than  just entertainment.

"It's getting to step out of that image of ourselves so we can be  more of who we think we are," she said.

The Marin Shakespeare Company, which normally performs at  Dominican University's Forest Meadows, began the program at San Quentin eight  years ago and Lesley Currier, the company's managing director, said the  enthusiastic response from participating inmates and the audience has been  overwhelming.

Currier credits the acting experience with helping inmates to  improve their self-confidence, enhance their conflict resolution skills, and  learn to express emotions. She said that over the years she has seen the  participants transform before her eyes.

Keating agreed and said that this kind of transformation can be an  inspiration to others.

"When a person who has gone to the depths of the shadow of our  society can actually redeem themselves through the arts -- there's a real  gift in that to inspire us to be the best we can be," Keating said.

Currier, who is also performing in the play as one of the show's  three female characters, said that after all the hard work invested in the  play, the participants would love to do more than just one performance -- but  due to security issues, putting on even one show is a hurdle.

"It's always a minor miracle to have one performance happen," she  said.

Keating and the performers are using a script adapted by Lesley  Currier and her husband Robert Currier, the artistic director of Marin  Shakespeare Company.

The Curriers' version keeps the original language, with a few  exceptions, but has been modernized to take place in the 1960s. The actors  will be lip-syncing and dancing to music from the period, including songs by  The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

"It's probably our campiest show yet," Keating said. "It should be  hysterical.
 

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