Who would think theater could make a difference in the lives of incarcerated men preparing to re-enter society?
Phyllis Gorfain, Professor of English Emerita at Oberlin College, does. She will speak at 7:15 p.m. on Monday, April 4 at Kendal at Oberlin on how Oberlin Drama at Grafton is helping prisoners.
Oberlin Drama reaches out to men at the Grafton Reintegration Center, a minimum security section of the Grafton Correctional Institution.
Through the production of plays, including scenes or full works of Shakespeare and the bard’s very human characters, convicts can build confidence and life skills.
Gorfain was inspired to start Oberlin Drama at Grafton when her friends, the late Kendal residents Harvey Gittler and Naomi Barnett, invited her to assist them with their Writers Workshop at Grafton. There she helped guide imprisoned writers in reading Shakespeare.
In 2012 she received permission to start the drama program, and has been immersed in it ever since.
“Acting requires participants to inhabit and bring to life characters and actions and thereby probe their own lives far more deeply than does reading a Shakespeare script,” Gorfain said.
In mid-May, the group will premier “Soul Song,” an original piece composed of the men’s stories and experiences from many aspects of their lives. The enacted stories are woven together with song, music, movement, and poetry.
Lillian White has served as associate director of Oberlin Drama at Grafton for the past three years. An Oberlin College senior, she has adapted and devised “Soul Song” as her honors thesis and is the principal director of this year’s original play.
Gorfain, as artistic director, has supervised White and serves both as producer and assistant director for “Soul Song.” In addition, Oberlin College students and a recent graduate serve on the ODAG staff. Nineteen incarcerated men participate in the program, with a 20th soon to be added.
Support is also provided by Oberlin College faculty members with their time and expertise, and Kendal residents who attend the performances. All of the work is volunteered.