Prison Theatre and an Embodied Aesthetics of Liberation: Exploring the Potentials and Limits

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Woodland, Sarah
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2021
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https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Abstract

Prison theatre practitioners and scholars often describe the sense of imaginative freedom or “escape” that theatre and drama can facilitate for incarcerated actors, in contrast to the strict regimes of the institution. Despite this, the concept of freedom or liberation is rarely interrogated, being presented instead as a given—a natural by-product of creative practice. Drawing from John Dewey’s (1934) pragmatist aesthetics and the liberatory pedagogies of Bell Hooks (2000) and Paulo Freire (1996), I propose an embodied aesthetics of liberation in prison theatre that adds depth and complexity to claims for freedom through creativity. Reflecting on over twenty years of prison theatre practice and research, I propose that the initial “acts of escape” performed through engaging the imagination are merely the first threshold toward more meaningful forms of freedom. I frame these as the following three intersecting domains: “Acts of unbinding”, which represents the personal liberation afforded by experiences with theatre in prison; “acts of love”, which expresses how the theatre ensemble might represent a “beloved community” (hooks); and “acts of liberation”, which articulates how these experiences of self-and-world creation may ripple out to impact audiences and communities. An aesthetics of liberation in prison theatre can, therefore, be conceived as an embodied movement towards personal and social renewal; an approach that deepens our understanding of its oft-cited humanising potential, and its limits.

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Humanities
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© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https:// creativecommons.org/licenses/by/ 4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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Applied theatre
Arts & Humanities
Humanities, Multidisciplinary
Arts & Humanities - Other Topics
theatre studies
prison theatre
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Woodland, S, Prison Theatre and an Embodied Aesthetics of Liberation: Exploring the Potentials and Limits, Humanities , 2021, 10 (3), pp. 101
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