Prisoners share theatrical success following innovative theatre intervention project

30 Apr 2019

Prisoners from HMP Winchester have shared Saving Face, a short, powerful piece of theatre inspired by their life experiences, to an invited audience of staff and guests as the culmination of an innovative intervention project.

BearFace Theatre CIC delivered the new applied theatre intervention project in HMP Winchester from January to March of this year, using drama to positively affect prisoners' attitudes, thinking and behaviour. The project is being researched by the Department of Applied Criminology and Forensic Sciences at the University of Winchester and Hampshire Cultural Trust has provided support and fundraising.

Made over 10 weeks in HMP/YOI Winchester, Saving Face was co-created by all participants in the group and holds the voices and experiences of 10 men, most of whom had never previously used theatre as a tool for expression.

At the end of the performance, one of the participating prisoners commented: "I have never in my life felt so valued, this has been a life-changing experience. It's amazing people actually saw our performance and liked it so much."

Kate Hadley from BearFace Theatre said: "The performance was extremely powerful. We are so proud of the group, each individual has contributed their own ideas, energy and commitment to the process. We have explored themes such as the masks we wear, as well as recognising patterns of behaviour and understanding our true selves. They should all be extremely proud of themselves for sharing so honestly and directly in the final performance."

The group worked together over 12 sessions. Following an early session, Dr Angus Paddison, Dean of Winchester University's Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, commented: "This is a highly innovative intervention for prisoners, I have never seen anything like this before. It was inspiring to see the group connect with each other through theatre and take responsibility for themselves. It is clearly having a huge impact on the prisoners, which is crucial."

Gary Wright, Head of Reducing Reoffending at HMP Winchester, added: "We have seen a direct impact of this programme back on the wings. Individuals who have taken part are more aware of themselves and more able to manage and change their emotional reactions. We look forward to being able to offer this to more prisoners at HMP Winchester."

"There is a growing recognition of the power and potential of the arts to create positive change in the criminal justice sector," commented Paul Sapwell, Chief Executive at Hampshire Cultural Trust. "We are proud to have been able to develop and deliver this project as part of our wider social impact programme and it is continually inspiring to see how this kind of work can have a real, lasting and positive transforming effect on people's lives."

Initial findings from the evaluation of the project by Dr Adrian Barton and Alexandra Russell of the University of Winchester provide positive examples of the impact on learners who completed the programme. The report titled 'HMP/YOI Winchester Applied Theatre pilot 2018' is available to download here.

Photo above shows (L-R back): Alexandra Russell, University of Winchester; Gary Wright, Head of Reducing Reoffending at HMP Winchester; Paul Sapwell, Chief Executive Hampshire Cultural Trust; Dr Angus Paddison, University of Winchester
(L-R front): Kate Hadley and Jennifer Walmsley, both BearFace Theatre.

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