by Wela Mbusi
Westville correctional facility was certainly a unique experience for all of us and definitely left an indelible impression on the cast. Although the facility was an interim holding for prisoners who were about to be released, entering a place that is devoid of all the little mundane things that make up a life, right down to not having privacy when performing your ablutions, always made me wonder what efficacy would mere words performed by actors have there.
Upon arrival we were greeted with an air of enthusiasm, but little did our fragile egos realize that it was not out of anticipation for Shakespeare’s ‘transformative’ words, but due to the anticipation of the new; the unknown; a piece of the outside world they will soon be a part of. After being searched we were told we had to be decently covered and no parts of our body were to be on display.
We were unsure how the presentation of the play and the numerous scenes set in a prison would be received, but they turned out to be the most well received. Due to everyday prison routine we couldn’t stop the production when a large portion of them had to leave for food or roll call but we pushed through until they returned.
The resonance of the play had an effect on how we performed to a certain extent but the idea of staging a production that has immediate relevance to an audience, did add a sense of appreciation for the power of what we do as actors.
For the inmates, the play was their only contact for with the outside and to have been able to bring them that made what we do seem less superfluous.
After the production we got the chance to speak to them and their interest in the play was astounding and questions about the themes were the most surprising, as we thought they wouldn’t want to talk about them.
Such a unique experience which never gets old and one that I would love to do again given the chance.