Shakespeare Prison Project

In 2006 QSE’s Artistic Director Rob Pensalfini, alongside international guest Brent Blair, pioneered the Shakespeare Prison Project, Australia’s first Prison Shakespeare initiative. This internationally renowned project has been running ever since with men and women in facilitates, including Borallon Training and Correctional Centre and the Southern Queensland Corrections Centre.

The project works with up to 20 prisoners at a time utilising a combination of Shakespeare text and drama games, in particular Theatre of the Oppressed techniques developed by Brazilian Theatre-maker and activist Augusto Boal. These are designed to create an atmosphere of trust and emotional safety for the participants, to invite them to connect their personal experiences to their acting, and to tease out themes that the prisoners want to explore. A Shakespeare play is then chosen to rehearse and perform based on these themes.

Each project culminates with the performance of this Shakespeare play for families, fellow inmates, and guests. The skills required to produce and perform a Shakespeare play are valuable life skills that are generally not fostered in the prison environment: communication, collaboration, emotional bravery and transparency, mutual support, and above all, empathy. The project also challenges commonly held notions about who prisoners are and what they are capable of.

“What I liked most was the overall sharing –
the experience, the bonds, the love, with everyone. I have learnt to form connections with people I wouldn’t normally cross paths with in day to day life.”
– 2017 Participant

“You can be more than what the system says you are.” – 2013 Participant

Upcoming Performances: In March 2020, we began our second ever Women’s project and were creating an ensemble with a group of dedicated and enthusiastic women. Three weeks later, this project was postponed due to the unfolding COVID 19 situation. We look forward to returning to this project later in the year. In the meantime, our team has been working on the outside to continue engagement with our team on the inside.

To order Rob Pensalfini’s book Prison Shakespeare: For These Deep Shames and Great Indignities click here

If you can support the Shakespeare Prison Project, or know an organisation who might, please get in contact with us at shakespearebeyond@qldshakespeare.org

Find out more about the history of QSE’s Shakespeare Prison Project

Shakespeare Prison Project Press