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RSS FeedPersephone Unbound: Still Point Nurtures the Spirits of Women in Prison
Monday, April 7th, 2014 09:57 AM

Since 1993, Still Point Theatre Collective has been cultivating the expression of voices we seldom hear in mainstream society.  The Persephone Project, named for the Greek mythological goddess who was bound to spend half of her life in the Underworld, creates unique creative opportunities for women incarcerated at Chicago area detention centers. 

Previous participant Roberta Ashley recalls, “I cannot begin to tell you how important these workshops were to me and to the rest of the group… I saw my fellow inmates in an entirely new light, as creative, intelligent women.  The classes were both freeing and empowering.”

The Persephone Project provides a welcome “safe space” in which the women can tell their stories, build community, explore new perspectives, process their pasts, and dare to envision their futures.  Through learning the practical skills of theater-making, including writing, public speaking, and body awareness, the women develop new ways to express themselves.  At the end of a three to four month process, the participants perform their play for guests, prison volunteers, and fellow inmates.  This provides affirmation for the culmination of their work: to experience the smiles, tears, and applause from an engaged audience tells them that not only can they speak out, but that they can actually be heard and appreciated.

As an extension of these workshops, Sisters Rising was started in 2007.  This powerful performance troupe is composed of formerly incarcerated women. Sisters Rising ensemble members create original work which is then performed publicly all around the Chicago area. The women of the troupe are compensated for their work, which helps to instill a sense of respect and responsibility in women who often have difficulty finding employment.

The play Strong Women, performed by Still Point actors,allows the work of Persephone Projectparticipants to travel outside prison walls. The performance was created from the writings of women incarcerated at Cook County Jail, and addresses issues such as violence, redemption, and inner strength. The play is currently available for booking through Still Point.

While it is important to acknowledge the degree to which these innovative programs affect the lives of the participants, it is also important to remember that everyone wins when typically marginalized communities are given a chance to speak. Invited guests and jail staff who have attended Persephone Project performances often speak of being profoundly moved by the experience. The public performances of Sisters Rising and Strong Women help to smash stereotypes about people in prison, and foster a hope for universal healing.  After all, it is when Persephone returns from the Underworld that we can all experience the blessed renewal of spring.

SPTC actresses Jyreika Guest, Lisa Wagner-Carollo, and Gail Gallagher perform Strong Women
(photo by Susan Ericsson)

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