William Head on Stage has partnered with the SNAFU Society of Unexpected Spectacles to produce Prison Theatre Time Machine, a gallery and mini-performance outlining 40 years of shows inside the federal institution.
Attendees at this week’s downtown Victoria installation will move through cloth draped hallways featuring photos, play posters, video footage, costumes, original artwork and props including giant puppets, each hallway representing a decade of prison theatre between 1980 and 2020. A shadow puppet performance will guide visitors, said organizer Ingrid Hansen. The project’s lead artist is Jeni Luther.
“The volume of it is quite inspiring,” said Hansen, referring to memorabilia collected from 60 different plays. Throughout the years, William Head on Stage has progressively done more to make their art from scratch, from handmade props to original scripts, both influenced by their experiences in detention.
“That’s really impactful for the audience – getting to see something that was made by the incarcerated.” The only restrictions around viewing this type of theatre is that it is PG-13, Hansen said.
William Head on Stage features an “intense amount of skill and talent,” she said, noting that participating inmates identify as everything from painters, writers or poets to dancers or hip-hop artists.
“People show up at the first meeting. They won’t make eye contact or (they) stare at the floor with a quiet voice. Three months later, they’re taking the stage so confident you almost literally don’t recognize the person. These projects give space for the incarcerated artists to take ownership and leadership.”
P.H., an incarcerated artist who took part in the 2021 performance, said in a release the theatre group helped him grow as a person. “This creative arts experience affected me so deeply, with a real and lasting raw honesty. I have reconnected with parts of myself that I thought was lost forever.”
An audience member who attended the company’s 2019 production was struck by the honest performances he saw.
“As men, we don’t often allow ourselves the opportunity, or have the opportunity, to be vulnerable, express how we feel, and share that with others,” he said. “It was incredible to witness that.”
The 30-minute installation tours at the Salvation Army Centre at 525 Johnson St. run from 6 to 9 p.m. on May 26 and 27, and from 1:00 to 6:45 p.m. on May 28 and 29. Tickets are available by donation ($10 is suggested) at snafudance.com and are being spoken for quickly, Hansen said. The William Head on Stage shows attract thousands from across Vancouver Island annually.
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