Civic Ensemble's ReEntry Theatre Program Moves to Topmkins County Day Reporting

Civic Ensemble's ReEntry Theatre Program Moves to Topmkins County Day Reporting

The ReEntry Theatre Program of Civic Ensemble will now be meeting weekly on Mondays from 9am to 11am at Tompkins County Day Reporting starting October 16th, 2017. Participation is free and everyone who has experienced incarceration in jails, prisons, or drug rehabilitation programs is welcome to attend. No previous experience of any kind is necessary to participate. Participants who are not mandated to attend day reporting are welcome to attend.

Participants will work with theatre professionals from Civic Ensemble to learn theatre skills and develop scenes based on the ideas each individual brings. Participants will work together to develop material and make decisions about when and where they would like to perform. During the sessions, participants will engage in theatre games, writing exercises, discussions about topics participants care about and want to work on, and planning future activities. Participants do not need experience to participate in the program. Civic Ensemble will help coordinate transportation and childcare assistance for those who could not otherwise participate.

Civic Ensemble launched the ReEntry Theatre Program in 2015 when Lisa Ellin, now Prison & Reentry Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension, and actor in Civic Ensemble's Safety, suggested the idea to Civic Ensemble artist Sarah K. Chalmers. The program was conducted for two years as an 8-week course during which participants created individual short plays about their experiences that culminated in an event for family, friends, community members and employers at the Hangar Theatre. The ReEntry Theatre Program had two productions: A Setback Ain't Nothing but a Setup for a Comeback (2015) and Dreams and Nightmares (2016).

In the spring and summer of 2016, past participants of the program came together for a series of brainstorming sessions to discuss how they wanted the program to grow. Of this approach to program development Chalmers stated, "We are always looking to hand over the reins to the people who are most impacted by the issue at hand, in this case incarceration. It is not for me alone to decide how this program should develop." Participants made it clear that they wanted weekly theatre sessions where they could come together to make theatre, engage in dialogue, and support each other. "I saw the power of this community to build on the past work in a positive way. The 8-week program was great. But we needed something more consistent in our schedules to ground us in the work and give us that creative outlet," offered Antony Sidle, participant since the 2016 program. Sidle continued, "This program has allowed me to use my past to create my future while entertaining, enlightening and evolving."

The ReEntry Theatre Program has been meeting weekly since March of 2017, first at Southside Community Center, then at the Just Be Cause Center on the west end. Participant Brian Briggs said that current participants made the decision to move the meeting time and location because "[they] are hoping to connect to new participants and provide a positive activity to people who are already at Day Reporting." If you or someone you know would benefit from an experience that builds skills, community, and confidence, feel free to just show up and join us for one of our Monday sessions.

Since it's inception in 2015 participants of the ReEntry Theatre Program have participated in several programs and events. The program hosted a chapter for the monthly meeting of The New Jim Crow Community-Read in February of 2017. In the fall of 2016, participants served on a panel at the From Cell to Cell: The Prison in Television and Performance Conference at Cornell University. Upcoming events include participation in a roundtable for a Symposium at Johns Hopkins University entitled, Life Sentences: Seeing the Imprisoned, Emancipating the Humanities. Abdullah Khalil Bey and Antony C. Sidle will be attending the symposium with program director Sarah K. Chalmers.

The ReEntry Theatre Program is currently funded by a grant from the Park Foundation and private donors.

Civic Ensemble is a non-profit theatre company serving Ithaca and Tompkins County that produces new plays by or about women and people of color, re-imaginings of classics, and community-based plays that explore and explode the social, political, and cultural issues of our time. Through the production of plays, after-school and in-school education programs for young people, and civic engagement programs with Ithaca community members, the company works to bring audiences of different races, classes, and experiences together in a public forum on the American experiment. Civic Ensemble is committed to employing Ithaca-based theatre artists whenever possible. It is our vision that theatre be accessible to all people, onstage and off.

Photo Credit Dani Stoffregen

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