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Prison Work

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” ~Henry David Thoreau

Circle time during drama class at San Quentin

Since 2003, Suraya has worked in the California State Correctional System as a theater teacher, director, drama therapist and supervisor for drama therapy and expressive arts therapy students and others interested in bringing the arts as a powerfully transformative tool to correctional facilities.  As a member of the Theater for Change program with the model Resolve to Stop the Violence program in the San Francisco County Jails, Suraya worked for four years with a team of dedicated artists and therapists using tools from improvisation, theater and drama therapy to help men incarcerated for violent crimes reflect on their conditioning and embrace healthier ways of being.  As a two-time recipient of Theatre Bay Area’s CA$H Grant Awards for individual artists, Suraya also directed “Stories from San Quentin,” and “Parallel Play: Original Theatre Inspired by Hamlet.” To watch David Wayne White’s video documentary, “Shakespeare in Blue,” which captures the healing power of using Shakespeare and original theater with men in prison, click the link below:

Watch video: SHAKESPEARE IN BLUE Documentary

Since 2006, Suraya has worked with Marin Shakespeare Company as the facilitator of the Shakespeare Program for male inmates at San Quentin State Prison.  Since her arrival at San Quentin, the men have rehearsed and performed five Shakespeare plays, including “Much Ado About Nothing,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Twelfth Night,” and “Hamlet.”  On August 5, 2011, the theater group at San Quentin performed a hilarious musical version of “Twelfth Night,” adapted by Lesley and Bob Currier (Managing & Artistic Directors of Marin Shakespeare Company), to a very delighted audience!  Click here to see media coverage of “Twelfth Night,”  On June 15, 2012, an ensemble of 15 incarcerated men at San Quentin performed “Hamlet” to a standing-room only audience of inmates, prison staff and outside guests.  Many of them moved to tears by the men’s work, the audience gave the men a standing ovation after the show, and stayed for a very provocative and poignant Question and Answer session with the inmates.  To see media coverage of “Hamlet,” click here. Please see our Prison Bridges Theatre Project page for more information about the transformational theatre work Suraya is doing with others, both with prison populations and beyond.

Video Excerpt of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at San Quentin State Prison (2009)
Click on the video below to see an excerpt from this 2009 show:

Original Theatre Work with the Incarcerated

In 2008 and 2011, Suraya received two separate Theatre Bay Area CA$H Grants for Individual Theatre Artists, which she utilized to facilitate original theatre workshops with inmates at San Quentin. For the first project, “Stories from San Quentin,” men were invite to create an original theatre piece inspired by some moment in their lives in which they were profoundly transformed. In an environment of mutual support and creative collaboration, men wrote and performed autobiographical scenes in which they revealed an outer decision they made that forever impacted their internal world. One man wrote of the physical and emotional abuse he suffered with a foster mother who didn’t really care about him, his foray into drugs, alcohol and crime to escape his pain, and his “turnaround” moment of realizing that it was up to him to change his life for the better. Another shared of his experience growing up in the ghetto in which he was almost killed at 14 years old after being wrongly accused of stealing a bicycle. From that experience, this young man first grasped the futility of violence, and chose to leave behind his gang infested community to pursue a life of peace. In many of the stories, men spoke of a deep hurt they have felt, a hurt they have inflicted upon others, and a decision to shift their lives to have a positive impact on themselves and the world. In the second project, “Parallel Play: Original Theatre Inspired by Hamlet,” men wrote and performed stories from their lives inspired by the themes found in Hamlet of love, betrayal and mental imprisonment.  In one man’s story, he told of how his mother betrayed him when he was 10 years old by leaving him to grow up on the streets and in the juvenile justice system. After years of much pain, despair and misdirecting his anger towards others, this man was able to forgive his mother, seeing that her decision to leave him to the “system” was the most loving one she could make at the time given her own history of drug abuse and psychological problems.  Below are two additional video clips that capture the healing power of drama in prison:

—> Watch Video: Healing Through Drama <—

—> Watch Video: Using Shakespeare to Dive Within <—


Story About Strength
A little boy was having difficulty lifting a heavy stone.
His father came along just then. Noting the boy’s failure, he asked, “Are you using all your strength?”
“Yes, I am,” the little boy said impatiently.
“No, you are not,” the father answered. “I am right here just waiting, and you haven’t asked me to help you.”
~ Author Unknown

© 2012 Suraya Keating
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