The Northwest Arkansas Prison Story Project is branching out with a new type of performance this year.
For three years, the group has been meeting with incarcerated women to explore the art of storytelling. They tell their stories through poetry, creative writing, song-writing and life mapping. Their stories are edited and scripted into Stories From the Inside Out, a staged reading that is performed by professional actresses – both inside the prison for the entire prison population, and outside the prison for the public.
The project made its first attempt at working with men in prison when it visited the Randall L. Williams Correctional Facility in Pine Bluff in November to present a staged reading of the best of the last four Stories From the Inside Out scripts.
The group didn’t know what to expect, and were pleasantly surprised when the 140 men who attended listened intently and followed up the performance with thoughtful questions, praise, and insightful compliments. The following day, Fayetteville poets Katie Nichol and Matt Henrickson returned to the prison to lead a five-hour creative writing intensive with 20 inmates.
“When the idea of the trip was first conceived, we were eager to share the stories of incarcerated women with incarcerated men, and the possibilities for healing between them this might allow,” said Nichol. “We weren’t sure how the women’s stories – many of which deal with intense abuse by men – would be received by this new audience. And we weren’t sure how open the new group would be to sharing the stories of their own lives.”
Nichol said that by opening the door and inviting men to hear the stories of the women, there grew a hunger in the men to tell their own stories. “It wasn’t just that they wanted to tell their stories; they wanted to be heard.”
With the help of the project’s theatre director, Jonnny Schremmer, the men’s writing has been edited into a staged reading that will be performed by local actors beginning at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7 at Fayetteville Underground, 101 W. Mountain Street in Fayetteville. A suggested donation of $10 is encouraged.
For more information, or to reserve a seat please call project director, Kathy McGregor, at 479-871-4875, or visit the website at www.nwaprisonstories.com.