Dell’Arte in partnership with The William James Association

Dell’Arte’s Janessa Johnsrude & Zuzka Sabata, in partnership with the William James Association, founded the first theatre program offered at Pelican Bay State Prison in 2016 through Arts in Corrections. 

In 2013, the California Arts Council was able to refund a seminal program, founded by the non-profit William James Association in the late 1970s, called Arts in Corrections. This program brings professional artists into prisons to teach their art form to incarcerated people in support of their rehabilitation. Dell’Arte faculty gathered in the spring of 2015 with a desire to work at Pelican Bay State PrisonCalifornia’s only Maximum Security facility located just 80 miles north of Blue lake, in Crescent City, and subsequently applied to contract with the William James Association to provide theatre classes for the inmates there. In March 2016, faculty members Zuzka Sabata and Janessa Johnsrude began engagement inside the prison by establishing one class on the Level 1, or Minimum Security. Today they offer 5 classes on all General Population yards, security Levels 1-4, on a weekly basis throughout the year. They work alongside several other local artists including Julie McNeil who teaches visual art, Cecelia Holland who teaches creative writing and Dale Morgan who teaches guitar. 

Students in the Arts in Corrections Theatre Classes at Pelican Bay work in ensemble to explore the creative act of generating theatre through the study of Commedia dell’Arte, storytelling, character, improvisation, voice work, writing for the stage, and original play development. 

Photos by Peter Merts, 2016, Pelican Bay Minimum Security Facility Theatre Class.
Janessa Johnsrude and Zuzka Sabata with Pelican Bay Students
Janessa Johnsrude with Pelican Bay Students
Janessa Johnsrude and Zuzka Sabata with Pelican Bay students