By Kathleen Ryan
For Westfield resident Nina Rodriquez this summer has been quite dramatic, to say the least.
KJ Moran and co-founder Kathleen Ryan developed an idea to create a theatre company specifically focused on promoting social justice. Within a few months, the Justice Theatre Company was established, the first production chosen, a cast selected, and the inaugural performances of Shakespeare Behind Bars scheduled for August 15-16. Rodriquez lends her talents as a part of the cast.
Moran, a freshman at the College of William and Mary, and Ryan, a senior at Fontbonne Academy in Milton, founded the Justice Theatre Company with the idea that “young people can change the world by using the medium of theatre to perform plays that expose and raise awareness of social injustices.”
The Justice Theatre Company plans to donate the proceeds from its productions to organizations that work to end the injustices featured in the show.
A memoir written by Jean Trounstine, Shakespeare Behind Bars describes Jean Trounstine’s experiences teaching English and directing Shakespeare’s plays in a women’s prison in Framingham. With the author’s permission, Moran, Ryan and Larissa Jeanniton, the show’s director, adapted the memoir into a script specifically for the Justice Theatre Company’s production.
The story follows seven women and their journeys through life, literature, lock-ups, litigations, and larceny. Shakespeare Behind Bars reveals the humanity of these women prisoners who, with help from their teacher, overcome the obstacles of performing Shakespeare in prison.
This year, the Justice Theatre Company is focused on the issue of education in prison. While the national recidivism rate is 67.5 percent, education in prison reduces this by 29 percent. Prisoners enrolled in college classes in prison commit 75 percent fewer infractions than incarcerated people who were not enrolled.
Education also offers an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and inequality, making it less likely that children of prisoners end up in prison. Through the loss of Pell Grant Funding in 1994, almost all education opportunities in prison were eliminated. In 2008, some of this funding was renewed.
To directly target the problem, the Justice Theatre Company has partnered with the Prison Books Program in Quincy to donate proceeds from the show to support the education of prisoners.
Shakespeare Behind Bars will be performed by the Justice Theatre Company on Friday, August 15 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, August 16 at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. at Fontbonne Academy on 930 Brook Road in Milton, Mass.
After the August 15 performance, there will be a Q&A session with the author Jean Trounstine. Following the August 16 2:30 p.m. performance, there will be a panel discussion about the state of education in prison. For admission, a $7 donation or a soft covered thesaurus, dictionary, or GED textbook is requested. For more information, please email the Justice Theatre Company at [email protected]
By Kathleen Ryan