|dc.description.abstract||This thesis occupies a multidisciplinary space where questions of utility intersect those of aesthetics, to engage with the concerns of theatre, criminology and psychology. As such, it straddles difficult territory: the no-man’s-land of applied theatre in prison contexts, a territory where the epistemological walls around disciplinary boundaries are often fortified, and where research worlds often collide. This thesis moves boldly into this territory, moving within and between the arts and the social sciences in a quest to understand and theorise change within prison theatre practice.
Missing from many discussions of prison theatre is the connection between the often-espoused transformative claims, and what we know ultimately assists people to move away from crime. This is not an easy link to make and for the most part has not been made, due largely to the lack of an adequate theory of change for the work. This thesis develops a model of change for women’s prison theatre. This model is anchored in a three-tiered conceptualisation of desistance from crime and theorises the ways in which our unique embodied and aesthetic medium contributes to the change process. In so doing it provides a relevant and gender-responsive conceptualisation for applied theatre practice within settings with incarcerated women.
Firstly, the research draws upon current theories of desistance to inform the development of an applied theatre practice in two projects with incarcerated women in Queensland, Australia. Secondly, it analyses the experience of the participants, staff and audiences against this theoretical background to understand those elements within the practice that provoke the experience of women’s change as defined by theories of primary, secondary and tertiary desistance; and thirdly, it infuses this analysis with an exploration of the importance of the aesthetic dimension of the theatrical experience for enhancing this change process.
The emerging model identifies a theatre of doing, being and belonging in which the embodied and affective qualities of the practice catalyse the development of those elements known to assist women in their move away from crime. In so doing this thesis highlights the importance of an informed praxis within the field of participatory prison theatre with incarcerated women. It is buttressed, not only by claims of renewal or transformation, but also by the knowledge of the elements of our practice that assist offenders. The research is not evaluative, but conceptual: it provides a preliminary theoretical framework that can inform relevant and appropriate future evaluation. This thesis proposes that, by conceptualising how prison theatre can catalyse change, we are more able to claim the utility of our unique work with women offenders. We can view prison theatre as an ethical set of practices, embedded within the larger context of women’s pathways to crime and incarceration, thereby seeking to ameliorate suffering and restore dignity in ways that are clear and well defined.||