Monday, November 05, 2007

Macbeth Goes Behind Bars

I was intrigued by a story in today’s Post about a performance of Macbeth at the Patuxent Institution, a maximum security prison. It was the brain-child of John Wilt, a long-time Shakespeare buff and a warden for the last 37 years at this facility.

A few changes had to be made in preparation for the performance. Stainless steel swords used in the final dual were replaced by sticks. Two parts for young children were written out. The ten-minute intermission was eliminated so as not to allow down-time in the middle.

The inmates’ ticket price of $5 allowed them to invite up to two guests for the performance. For most of them this is a huge chunk of the $20 a month they get paid. As it turns out 150 of the approximately 800 convicts bought tickets.

For some this was their first introduction to Shakespeare. One prisoner commented that it wasn’t anything like TV or cable. “It’s a whole ‘nother level when it’s live.”

The 59-year-old mother of another inmate smiled as she sat with her son, even though the play is a tragedy. Afterwards she commented that she could see many parallels between her son’s troubled life and Macbeth’s tragic fall. “What Macbeth did is he listened to the wrong people and he did the wrong thing because of it,” she said. Wasn’t that the case for many of those in the audience?

There is something unique about the Patuxent facility. The emphasis there is on treatment rather than punishment. Whereas about half the inmates in Maryland’s other prisons are arrested within 3 years of being paroled, Patuxent has a zero recidivism rate. Maybe it’s a willingness to take chances on things like a production of Macbeth that is contributing to this success rate.

This story made me wonder if these inmates who have now had a taste of Shakespeare would like a chance to read or see other plays or even to act them out. After all, Shakespeare wrote about the foibles of humanity, of crime and punishment, things of which they are well aware.


Blogger Kristin said...

What a great opportunity for the inmates. Shakespeare's completely different when presented live, with some many parallels to my own life. The witches. The murder. Well, maybe not.

I do very much appreciate a prison focusing on rehabilitation versus punishment, though.

9:26 AM  

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