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Goodman Theatre Hosts Virtual Premiere of STATEVILLE VOICES

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Goodman Theatre Hosts Virtual Premiere of STATEVILLE VOICES

What is the real meaning of freedom and independence? Goodman Theatre has announced Stateville Voices, the virtual premiere of three new short plays-Parameters of Closeness by André Patterson; Ain't Nothing Like Quality Time by Taurean Decatur; and Comic Books and Candy by Antonio McDowell-all directed by former Goodman Michael Maggio Fellow Sydney Chatman. This festival of short plays written by incarcerated students at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, IL is the result of a Spring 2019 playwriting course taught by playwright and Goodman Artistic Associate Rebecca Gilman as part of the Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP). Immediately following the plays, Chatman moderates a discussion about the performances, NPEP and life at Stateville during COVID-19, including panelists Antonio McDowell (Stateville Voices playwright who was recently granted clemency by Governor JB Pritzker) and his attorney, Josh Tepfer; Patrick Pursley (NPEP participant and former Stateville inmate); and Jennifer Lackey (Director of the Northwestern Prison Education Program and the Wayne and Elizabeth Jones Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University). Presented free of charge, Stateville Voices appears live on Facebook, YouTube and on Friday, July 3 at 5pm, followed by the discussion at 6pm. Note: prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, live performances of the Stateville Voices plays were planned for Goodman Theatre, Kennedy-King College and Stateville Correctional Center. The Goodman intends to facilitate the live presentation when safe to do so.

"I love these plays. Some of them are funny, some of them are touching. But all are them are honest and inspiring, just like the men who wrote them," said Rebecca Gilman. "As is the case with all incarcerated people, the population at Stateville has been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19. This was a preventable disaster and we want people to sit up, take notice, and take action. Therefore, we felt it was urgent to present a live virtual event featuring some of the Stateville Voices plays, as well as a panel discussion looking at what life is like at Stateville at the present moment."

Scheduled around the July 4 Independence Day holiday, Stateville Voices is an invitation to reflect on what freedom and independence mean in a country that incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation; where more than 90 years elapsed from the Declaration of Independence's proclamation that all men are created equal until Juneteenth, when the last enslaved person finally learned of their freedom; with a criminal justice system plagued by systemic racism that has resulted in the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other Black Americans.

"I'm honored to collaborate, center and uplift the voices of the men in the Northwestern Prison Education Program. Of the many projects that I have directed, this project is special because it reminds me that our collective voices desire to be heard," said Director Sydney Chatman. "My goal as a director is to work with stories that bring joy and agency to our communities. These plays represent a slice of these men's lives that have been silenced by the carceral system. I have hope that we, as a nation, will see these men. This is a celebration-a small victory of visibility and evidence that theater can be a catalyst for change and healing. My dream is that their words and imaginations free us from our biases and motivate us to do more than applaud, but take action."

The cast includes Briohna Booker (Amarri in Ain't Nothing Like Quality Time), Nicole Bush (Intimacy Police in Parameters of Closeness; Grandma Wanda in Ain't Nothing Like Quality Time), David Dowd (Dre in Parameters of Closeness), Gabriel Matthews (Freddy in Comic Books and Candy), Johnathon Matthews (Bieber in Comic Books and Candy) and Ginneh Thomas (Ibi in Parameters of Closeness).

"As our nation reckons with the systemic racism of America's criminal justice system and its pernicious investment in policing, criminalization and incarceration, hearing the voices of these playwrights shines a crucial light on those most impacted by these forces," said Jennifer Lackey. "We see not only the extraordinary talent of these students, but also the transformative power of education behind bars. While COVID-19 devastates prison populations, and forces those who are incarcerated into increasingly dangerous and isolated environments, the human connections forged and nurtured by prison education are needed now more than ever."

The Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP) is an initiative of Northwestern University to provide a high-quality liberal arts education to incarcerated students in Illinois. A partnership among Northwestern, the Illinois Department of Corrections, and Oakton Community College NPEP is intended to reduce recidivism while extending the benefits of education to those behind bars. When it launched in 2018, it was the first program in the state to offer a comprehensive liberal arts curriculum to incarcerated students. As part of plan to expand, the program is preparing to offer the first college-in-prison program for women in Illinois.

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