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The Bard, Barred – Inmates Perform Shakespeare

A troupe of inmates from the famous Sing Sing penitentiary facility in New York brought to fruition a powerful rendition of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” for their fellow cellmates. The murdering title character, the usurping King of Scotland, is played with elegance and ferocity by an actual convicted killer.
The actor slash inmate Dario Pena played the chilling role, delving into a world of double-crossings, lies, and bloodshed, turning introspection towards his role, but also towards himself. He says that Macbeth jumped out at him, that he could identify with Macbeth. He saw so much of himself in the man, whose tragic character flaw is ego and pride, that he felt drawn to the character.
The performance is the 22nd full-fledged show that the Rehabilitation Through the Arts has put on. The program, originally created in 1996 and funded by a private benefactor, has four main goals: to raise awareness outside of prison, to allow the inmates to express themselves through art and nurture their creativity, to break down racial barriers and stereotypes, and to send a positive message to the other inmates and foster a healthy community. The program puts on two mainstage productions a year, and operates year round with rehearsals and production.
Some inmates, like Brian LaBrosse, say that RTA has saved their lives, started them on a new path and helped them form close friendships. A study of the program reports that participants were better at coping and managing their anger than inmates normally do on average.
Clarence Maclin, playing murdered lord Banquo, explains that the shows teach important life lessons that he can use ‘over the wall’. He gives RTA the credit for being able to show his loved ones that he is prepared to be the good father, son, husband and brother that they can depend on and trust.
The three-night only run of Macbeth included two inmate only shows, and a third show open to invited community guests. There was some trouble over whether or not they should be allowed to do such a dark drama, circling around crime, betrayal, and violent murder. But some, including inmate David Allweiss, thought it was a perfect fit. He says that the play is about choosing to rebel, but being unable to choose the consequences of that rebellion.
The three-night stand of “Macbeth” this month included two inmates-only shows, with a third open to invited guests. The show faces particular impediments unique to their situation. One rehearsal was forcefully ended by the thundering presence of a corrections official collecting the convicts for a head-count to double-check that everyone was there.
Prison, the actors grumble. Always messing up the artistic process.