A Year of Theatre at Pelican Bay Prison

Faculty members Janessa Johnsrude and Zuzka Sabata wrap up their first year of teaching at Pelican Bay State Prison this April through a new partnership between Dell’Arte and the William James Association (WJA), which serves California communities in a variety of ways including the The Prison Arts Project. The WJA contracts with professional artists for the project to provide in-depth, long-term arts experiences for incarcerated men and women. In this first-ever theatre program at Pelican Bay, Sabata and Johnsrude worked with students in four different weekly classes focusing on play, ensemble dynamics and creation, physical characterization and expression, writing for the stage and introduced mask work with classes in Commedia Dell’Arte. Throughout the year, Dell’Arte’s teaching expanded from one class with five students to four classes with over 35 students! As part of the project development, Dell’Arte Faculty is also engaged in a correspondence with students giving feedback on scripts and dramatic writing to playwrights taking theatre classes.

Dell’Arte is excited to continue it’s work with the project at Pelican Bay and partnership with the WJA in the fall, which will bring advanced theatre classes for “alumni” of the current program and introductory classes to new students alike. Johnsrude and Sabata will participate in the national Arts in Corrections conference being produced by CA Lawyers for the Arts and The William James Association at Loyola Marymount University in L.A – June 26-30, 2017: Arts in Corrections: Building Bridges to the Future.

Instruction in guitar, writing, and visual art are also offered at Pelican Bay through the William James Association’s Prison Arts Program. The WJA is funded by the California Arts Council’s Prison Arts Program. In partnership with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the California Arts Council has contracted with ten organizations to provide rehabilitative arts services in state correctional facilities including the William James Association. For more information on WAJ, visit their website here.

Photo by Peter Merts