The Traverse Theatre’s OpenWrite programme gave inmates from Castle Huntly and Polmont prisons the opportunity to work with theatre professionals to write and develop their own plays and then have them performed by professional actors in front of a live audience at the Traverse Theatre.
Over the course of 6 weeks the programme’s participants worked closely with a professional playwright, drawn from a pool of Scotland’s best writers, to develop their own writing skills. They were also given the opportunity to work with several other theatre professionals, including a director; designer and a technician in order to give them an understanding of the work that goes into transforming a play from page to stage.
The sessions encouraged the participants to consider all the elements needed to write a successful play, allowing them to work towards completing their own short play for performance at the prison and on the Traverse’s main stage. Each of the participants also received a published anthology containing all of the plays written during the project.
Feedback from participants in the project has been extremely positive and as the Traverse Theatre’s Head of Learning Noelle O’Donoghue explains, one inmate in particular is looking to continue his involvement with theatre after his release from prison.
“Baaz Hussein, one of the inmates we worked with at HMP Open Estate (Castle Huntly), got in touch with me recently. He was released at the end of March and is, as he put it, trying to go straight. Although he worked with us a year ago, the project made such an impact on him that he wants to get involved in theatre.
During the OpenWrite project Baaz was able to see the two plays he had written performed by professional actors at the Traverse (he was on a week’s Home-Leave – one of the methods of reintegrating prisoners into their communities) – at the time this was a huge step for Baaz, he was the only one of the prisoners we worked with who came to the Traverse show and It was also the first time he, his wife or his brother had been into a theatre. During his phone call he told me that the night at the Traverse was really special – he was able to show his wife and brother his good side.”
Following their conversation Noelle put Baaz in touch with the Citizen Theatre in Glasgow where he has now joined their community company for local adults.
OpenWrite is part of the Inspiring Change project ran by Motherwell College with the help of investment provided by Creative Scotland through our Inspiring Communities programme. The project aimed to use the arts to support the process of rehabilitation with a view to reducing re-offending. Participants, learning centre staff, prison staff and the project teams were all asked to comment/feedback on the project to a team of independent academics from the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Strathclyde who will produce a report evaluating the project's impact in reducing re-offending and encouraging engagement with learning.
Other arts organisations and prisons involved in the Inspiring Change project included: The Citizens’ Theatre who worked with HMP Greenock and HMP Barlinnie; The Scottish Ensemble and National Youth Choir of Scotland who worked with HMYOI Polmont; Scottish Opera and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra who worked together in HMP Shotts and The National Galleries of Scotland who worked with all five prisons.
Creative Scotland’s CEO Andrew Dixon recently visited some of the projects funded through the Inspiring Communities programme and you can read about his experiences on his blog.
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