San Quentin gets ready to go Shakespeare

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The Marin Shakespeare Company has been working with the inmates, who are scheduled to perform "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at noon in the prison's Presbyterian Chapel, according to theater managing director Lesley Currier.

The theater company has worked with the prison for six years, and Currier says the theater program has been well received by the inmates performing the plays and the ones watching them.

"In San Quentin, they say you're not going to find a lot of laughter, but there's dance in the plays, music in the plays, and comedy," Currier said. "It adds something to their lives that they don't get a lot of otherwise."

San Quentin corrections Lt. Sam Robinson said, "It's definitely a different kind of genre than people would expect to see inside of a prison by prisoners. These guys get to see their counterparts speaking in Old English, and bringing history back to life."

For the inmates playing the parts, "It's a rehabilitative tool," Robinson said. "It's showing them the public's still interested in seeing them succeed."

The performers have been working together since September, and have been rehearsing "A Midsummer Night's Dream" for the past four months with the help of volunteers that come to the prison once a week, according to Currier.

She said about 300 fellow inmates are expected to be in the audience for the two-hour play, which will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the performers and members of the theater company.

The inmates in the theater program have "really have become spokesmen at the prison," Currier said. "They're saying the things and they're doing them, and showing how to become a better person, even behind bars."

Currier acknowledged that the program is somewhat controversial because of who the volunteers are helping.

"I can never forget that there are families out there whose lives have been ripped apart by some of the people at San Quentin," Currier said. "There's always a lot of emotion about that, and certainly there's people in the world that don't think that these men should be having this kind of experience or these resources.

"Our feeling here is that some of these guys are going to get out of prison someday, and we would much rather have them get out having studied Shakespeare and learning from it rather than having not," she said.

Robinson said the performance was originally scheduled for this past Monday, but that a piece of missing security equipment caused a lockdown of the prison.

The equipment was later found, but the incident forced prison officials to postpone the performance for a week.

Nevertheless, Robinson said he was looking forward to seeing the play on Monday.

"It lets the guys know they're welcome back in the community, and it's definitely a well-acted out performance," he said.

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