Imagine a way to be able to express yourself in a safe and physical way while incarcerated in prison? That is what The Actors Gang brings to prison inmates incarcerated in Southern California. This group of professional actors are diligently working to keep the arts alive in community, including prisoners, after-school programs and performances for low-budget households. Their mission statement: “The Actors´Gang believes in making live theatre accessible to all, regardless of Financial Ability or Disability.” Beautiful!
The Actors Gang is an educational organization that strives to improve the lives of youth and adults that have challenging economic and social issues to deal with. Their “Dead Man Walking” Play Project engages their students in theology, philosophy and law classes that address the moral issue of the death sentence. The Actors Gang prison project utilizes actor volunteers to help provide in-prison theatrical training to inmates.
The Actors Gang recognizes and promotes the fact that the Arts have the power to effect change in the lives of people and thereby can create change in society.
Why do this? Because according to the State of California, arts education can help reduce the rate of recidivism in half! That is a large number.
In past years, arts in prison programs received funding from both state and federal sources. Today, those programs are eliminated and private funding is the only way for these very important programs to exist. When arts in prison programs were established, administrators embraced these programs as a great way for inmates to be able to channel aggression, break down racial barriers, teach social skills and prepare inmates for re-entry into society. At one time, there were art coordinators in all of California’s 33 prisons. Today there are only 2 left.
The Actors Gang-Prison Project is partly funded by the actor/director Tim Robbins, who is also the artistic director. Mr. Robbins frequents the California Rehabilitation Center, a medium-security correctional facility located in Norco, Ca.
The type of theater that the Actors Gang teaches and performs with the prisoners is a style called com media dell’arte and includes ornate costumes and make-up, exaggerated expression and comedic movements. The style of acting focuses on four basic emotional states: anger, fear, happiness and sadness. Certainly these are emotional stages that inmates go through on a daily basis!
Acting for prisoners, is a way of releasing pent up emotions in a controlled fashion, perhaps even teaching them ways to be able to deal with these emotional stages better when they are released into civilian society.