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Problem Statement, Rationale and Literature Review

One Step at a Time

There is limited engagement and research in the region and nationally with offender groups and communities through theatre.

Research practice into prison theatre in English-speaking countries has been dominated by projects in the UK, Australia and USA, most closely aligned with university researcher/theatre practitioners. In Cape Town and more broadly in South Africa, poverty and social inequalities contribute to crime and criminality, as well as popular perceptions of criminals.

The project will seek to understand these relationships through the practice of theatre and social work, through the critical lenses of citizenship and the development of resilience.

The Second Chance Theatre Project will investigate international examples of prison theatre but seek to address the gap in knowledge about global south initiatives that are similar to the South African socio-economic conditions.

The project will investigate modes of practice and research that engage with offender groups and their communities, and the university. Through an inductive research process the project will develop an optimal structured programme of engagement that seeks to understand communities' attitudes and engagement with offenders, through community stories.

Recent studies in South Africa, for example by Miranda Young-Jahangeer[1], Christopher Hurst[2] and Alexandra Sutherland[3], suggest that inmates in prisons who engage in theatre programmes find that their creative expression and critical thinking is enhanced. Their empathy for others is developed through the role-playing that is part of the theatre process.

Often participation in arts programmes lead to an increased sense of wellbeing and resilience.[4] While the development of arts is the primary objective of the project, the benefits and research potential extend into the social and psychological domain.

The benefits of arts programmes in communities (although concerned mainly with at-risk youth) is borne out by a 2012 study carried out in the United States by the National Endowment for the Arts, using four separate longitudinal studies:

  • At-risk youth with high levels of arts engagement show more positive outcomes in a variety of areas than their low arts-engaged peers;

  • At-risk youth with a history of intensive arts experiences show achievement levels closer to, and in some cases exceeding, the levels shown by the general population studied;

  • [5]Academic researchers Christopher John[1], Miranda Young, Alex Sutherland, Marcia Blumberg, for example, discuss distinct experiences in prison contexts, but very little relates to a broader community engagement agenda, parolee projects and social re-integration of offenders - but much can be learnt from engagement with for example, the UK companies, Geese Theatre Company,[2]Theatre in Prisons and Probation (TiPP),[3]Clean Break,[4] and the Staging Human Rights, Cultural Warriors and Favela to the World Brazilian projects.

  • [5] Other research practitioners include James Thompson,[6] Michael Balfour[7], Thomas Fahy,[8] and Jonathan Shailor.[9] However, to date the arts have been shown to be a highly effective medium for empowering youth at-risk and offenders in conflict with the law to change their lives and rewrite their stories.

From 2018 the Second Chance Project will develop theatre and interpersonal skills with offenders, engage further with communities, provide inmates with social work support through NICRO and the UCT Department of Social Development.

Postgraduate Social Work students will provide supervised social work support to the offenders in the programmes, developing their understanding of and skills for community work.

In the programme, midyear and final theatre productions are developed by inmates with staff and students from UCT theatre and workshops from visiting professionals. The final performance has a powerful impact on the offenders' family, friends and community, demonstrating that the inmates' crime is not their entire story.

Once inmate participants are paroled they will train them further in theatre making and performance. They will devise a community and schools programme of theatre workshops and performances. They will create a touring piece of theatre for high schools in Cape Town (potentially reaching 3000+ pupils) and develop a piece of theatre for an annual showcase. Previous experience suggests that this reduces recidivism.

Previous beneficiaries of the programme are as following:
Primary beneficiaries: Participants (male and female) from Pollsmoor and parolees and ex-offender participants from previous intakes of NICRO’s collaboration with Help I am Free. Each year, the beneficiaries were predominantly historically disadvantaged, and about 30% were women. Visitors to the final performances in September each year reached underprivileged youth at risk or in conflict with the law (2,000+ visitors). The visitor profile was gender-balanced, with 70% of them youth, and 80% historically disadvantaged. High school learners from low-income area schools (Khayelitsha, Langa, Delft & Elsies Rivier (3000+ youth).

Secondary beneficiaries include students, artists and people working with arts-focused community-based organisations and initiatives working in underprivileged areas in and around Cape Town; and practitioners and students interested in applied arts (30+).

The project aims to forge working relationships beyond the current investigators, especially with local and community-based arts organisations. This is necessary to develop further understanding of the communities, reduce stigma, and find positive ways to re-integrate offenders into their communities. This will strengthen the relationships between the universities and community-based organisations and make for a more sustainable community engagement.

[1] Young – Jahabeer, M. 2013. Interrogating theatre for debate in Westville Female Correctional Centre, Durban South Africa. Research in Drama Education, Vol 18 .No 2.

[2] John, C. 2013. Catharsis and Critical Reflection in IsiZulu Prison Theatre: A Case Study from Westville Correctional Facility in Durban. Matatu, Vol 44. [3] Sutherland, A. 2013. Playing with gender in a male prison theatre programme in South Africa. Research in Drama Education, Vol 18, No2.
[4] Baxter, V and Low, KE. 2017. Applied Theatre: Performing Health and Wellbeing.
[5] See

[1]John,C.CatharsisandCriticalReflectioninIsiZuluPrisonTheatre:ACaseStudyfromWestvilleCorrectionalFacilityinDurban.Matatu;LeidenIss.44, (2013):85- 96,295.
John C. (2011) Negotiating Prejudice and Creating Hope. In: Francis D.A. (eds) Acting on HIV. SensePublishers

[5] Heritage, P. Taking Hostages: Staging Human Rights. TDR/The Drama Review; Volume 48 | Issue 3 | Fall 2004 p.96-106
[6] Thompson, J. 1998. Prison Theatre: Perspectives and Practice.
[7] Balfour, M. 2004. Prison Theatre: Theory and Practice.
[8] Fahy, T. Captive Audience: prison and captivity in contemporary theatre.
[9] Shailor, J. 2010. Performing new lives: prison theatre

Problem Statement, Rationale and Literature Review: What We Do
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