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  • Prison Performing Arts


The Vandalia Women’s Theatre is a resourceful group with an intrepid leader: cast members may disappear, actors may have to take on roles just days before the performance, weather and lock-downs may interfere with rehearsals, and hundreds of lines of Shakespeare’s verse may stump even the most willing actor—but the show must go on, and does—powerfully and inspiringly.

Last Thursday’s performance of Julius Caesar, Acts I & II was an ardent, at times luminous display of dauntless teamwork, joyful energy, and flashes of real talent. One audience member new to PPA called the performance and poetry “inspired and inspiring.”

The actors form an authentic “troupe.” For example, “Cassius” (Nikki) who had reluctantly taken on her enormous role just a few days before, and forced to read from her script, did so with understanding and clear diction. Her fellow actors offered her support by carrying their scripts, (though none needed to consult them as they moved and spoke with confidence).

One actor and poet, new to the troupe and initially head-duckingly shy, read her poetry and responded to the Q and A with visibly increasing confidence and enjoyment. What we witnessed that evening was a meaningful portrayal of Cassius’ treachery and Brutus’ self-deception, inventively set in prison and performed authentically by women who are all too familiar with treacherous gossip. But more than that, we witnessed the wonder of personal transformation, connection, pride, and—remarkably, given the surroundings—joy.

In addition, the poets' work was heart-stopping last evening. Agnes Wilcox must be teaching the heck out of that poetry class.

Who would think that a trip within barbed wire could be so uplifting? (The sadness only comes when one steps out the front door, leaving behind these vibrant, talented women.)

Meg Sempreora, Volunteer in Corrections for PPA since 2001

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