Shakespeare frees prisoners at Fairfield University


The R&J Project presents a free screening of the documentary film Shakespeare Behind Bars April 6

Image: Shakespeare Behind Bars

What happens when actual murderers, fugitives and thieves take on the roles of characters in "The Tempest" by William Shakespeare? Fairfield University's R&J Project brings to the fore yet another example of the power Shakespeare's work wields - in this instance over a 21st century prison population - in Hank Rogerson's "Shakespeare Behind Bars, A Documentary Film." Based on the work of Shakespearean director Curt Tofteland, who spent a year working with convicted felons in Kentucky's Luther Luckett Correctional Complex as they rehearsed and successfully performed a full production of "The Tempest," the documentary will be shown on Tuesday, April 6, at 7:30 p.m. in the Kelley Theatre at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts. The screening will be followed by a conversation with Tofteland who will be in attendance. This free event is part of the Arts & Minds season.

Lynne Porter, Chair of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts, says, "This film showcases the powerful personal journeys these inmates take, as they wrestle with performing Shakespeare's work. The play gets to the inmates at a root level, allowing them to come to terms with the crimes they committed. In many ways, Shakespeare is teaching these men how to be human."

As these remarkably unique actors search for truthfulness in their characters, they also search for truth inside themselves. Through "The Tempest," a play fittingly about forgiveness, these deeply scarred men discover the power of art to lead them toward redemption and transformation.

Image: Shakespeare Behind BarsTofteland, whose work with Luther Luckett inmates began in the mid-1990s, leads the theatre troupe as the prisoners cast themselves in roles reflecting their personal histories and fates. Their individual stories, including information about their heinous crimes, are interwoven with the plot of "The Tempest" as the inmates delve deeply into the characters they portray while confronting their personal demons.

According to Porter, "Mr. Tofteland's work with inmates is an inspiring integration of art, psychology, education, and spirituality." And while today's economic and natural upheavals make it easy to question the value of the arts, she says Tofteland's work "shows us how the arts are not an 'add-on' to society, but an integral piece of both personal and societal healing."

Produced by Philomath Films, "Shakespeare Behind Bars" was honored at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, the Edinburgh International Film Festival, and the Independent Film Festival of Boston, among others.

This major event is part of the university-wide examination of "Romeo and Juliet" in The R&J Project and is sponsored by the Humanities Institute of the College of Arts and Sciences, the Department of Visual and Performing Arts, Peace and Justice Studies, and the Theatre Program.

For more information, contact Porter at (203) 254-4000 ext. 3406 or by e-mail at

Photo credits:  Hank Rogerson. Top: Sammie (Trinculo) aids Demond (Stephano). Bottom: Hal (Prospero) concludes the play.

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Media Contact: Joan Grant, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2950,

Posted on March 29, 2010

Vol. 42, No. 252

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