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Rehabilitation through the Arts
From Sing Sing to Broadway Evening without Walls
A Benefit Performance of R.T.A.
By Loria Parker & Jeanne Lieberman
"Conversations from the Inside" (from left): Rory Anderson, Sean Dino Johnson, Carlos Santiago, Christopher Bradford, Robert Sanchez photo by Meg Williams
On Monday June 5, at Playwrights Horizons, an ensemble of former prisoners from various New York State correction facilities presented an evening of theater that had an impact far beyond the words and actions on the stage. Eight men of differing ages, races and time served behind bars revealed through "conversations from the inside" the stark reality of prison life, from the voices of prisoners of Sing Sing, Woodbourne and Fishkill.
It was an extraordinary evening of shocking reality and, most of all, hope.
Sean Dino Johnson and Robert Sanchez doing "Welcoming
Razzmatazz" by Gregory Fredericks
Just as on the outside, there are rules and regulations and survival mechanisms that must be followed, even if they go against the moral grain of an individual prisoner. In one stirring scene an inmate (Sean Dino Johnson) sees a fellow prisoner lying in mortal pain on the ground. Every instinct compels him to offer assistance, call a guard, but he rethinks the move as he realizes the guard will condemn him for the violence, or the inmates who did this will accuse him of interference and his perceived friendship will surely make him the next target. This simple act of humanity could become his own death sentence.
David Wayne Britton and Rory Anderson performing "Front and Back" written by Philip Hall (incarcerated at Otisville Correctional Facility) photo by Meg Williams
There's a scene of humorous self delusion between two men in the mess hall (David Wayne Britton and Rory Anderson) set around a 14 page letter from a wandering wife on the outside. The betrayed lonely husband, helpless to save his marriage from behind bars, sees only the sweet words of his wife while his companion, a similar victim of infidelity, tries to dispel his pal's illusions and point out the words "divorce papers". Both are hard lessons simply put of the vicissitudes of prison life.
Guest star, Tony Award winner Charles S. Dutton told of his own prison experience and rehabilitation through the arts program where he served time in Maryland.
He then performed a marvelous monologue from Day of Absence by Douglas Turner Ward, as the white mayor of a southern town, deprived if manual labor on which the town depends - janitors, housemaids, etc -after all the African Americans who've vanished from the town begs them to please return so that life can get back to normal.
RTA Cast and Charles S. Dutton - King Lear Scene
(from Left): Alonzo Gregory, George Villanueva, Sean Dino Johnson, Carlos Santiago, Robert Sanchez, Rory Anderson, Christopher Bradford, David Wayne Britton
Cordelia played by Elizabeth Speck. Photo by Meg Williams
Other scenes follow concerned with discipline, regret and finally the former inmates join Dutton onstage to perform last scene from King Lear.
But the real drama onstage is the transformation of the men and women who've been able, through the arts, to peel away the layers of anger, and pain and blaming others to find their own core humanity, through acting, writing and directing. Each of the eight men tells about his own prison journey and where it's led him back in the outside world. With prison sentences that lasted from 8 to 25 years, (one man out only the past 88 days!) their camaraderie and compassion for each other is touching and inspiring. And their gratitude for having been part of the R.T.A. program is palpable, as they then each tell the audience where they are today:
Robert Sanchez served15 years, Rory Anderson-25 years, Sean Dino Johnson- 15 years.
RORY ANDERSON (Company) appeared in numerous RTA productions at Sing Sing including Reality in Motion and The Sacrifice. Early on in his childhood, Rory was bitten by the acting bug, performing as a cast member in his public school's production of South Pacific. As a member of RTA, he wrote an adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's The Sniper, which was produced at the Provincetown Playhouse. He is author of The Homecoming, an original play produced at the Newman Theater. He also co-wrote and directed a stage adaptation of the film Slam, by Richard Stratton and Marc Levin. Since his release, Rory has been an advocate and a model for change. His work with The Osborne Association, Fortune Society, and the Exodus Transitional Committee has given him a forum to express his views on transition for the formerly incarcerated as well as policies governing parole. Rory bows to his family and friends who have been supportive of his endeavors.
CHRISTOPHER "ZUBAIR" BRADFORD (Company) is a bassist, music producer, and songwriter who has performed with many talented musicians, singers, actors, and poets. Christopher is moving from the back of the RTA sound booth to the front of the stage for the first time. With love and peace, be conscious!
DAVID WAYNE BRITTON (Company) is one of the founding members of RTA at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. He recently starred in the M&N production of The Exonerated. At Sing Sing, David played feature roles in the stage versions of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, A Few Good Men, Slam, and Stratford's Decision, which he also wrote. He is currently appearing in the Alzheimer's Monologues, and he most recently made his television debut on May 10th in Law and Order. With his friend and business partner, Vince Warren, he is the founder of Why I Learned the Hard Way, an after school program for at-risk youth.
CHARLES DUTTON (Guest Performer) is an honored veteran of stage and screen, as well as an accomplished producer and director. He has two Emmy Awards: in 2002 for his guest-starring role on The Practice, and in 2003 for his guest-starring role on Without a Trace. On stage, Dutton has received Tony nominations for his work in August Wilson's The Piano Lesson and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Other Broadway credits include Wilson's Joe Turner Come and Gone. Dutton's wide array of feature film credits includes: Against the Ropes, Get On The Bus, Mimic, Crocodile Dundee II, A Time To Kill, Mississippi Masala, Alien 3, The Distinguished Gentleman, Menace II Society, Rudy, Surviving the Game, Low Down Dirty Shame, Cry The Beloved Country, D-Tox, Random Hearts, Cookie's Fortune, and Secret Window. Dutton has received recognition from the NAACP with a 2003 Image Award for his role in the television movie DC Sniper, an award he also won in 1992 for his lead role in the critically acclaimed series ROC, where he also served as executive producer. Dutton directed the feature film Against the Ropes, starring Meg Ryan, and the Emmy Award winning HBO mini-series The Corner, which also garnered him an Emmy Award for Best Director.
ALONZO GREGORY (Company) is making his stage debut, however he has always possessed a love for theatrics. He joined RTA in its first year and quickly established himself as the resident set decorator (painting backdrops on sheets). Alonzo's experience in prison fuels his passion for life today. He is currently writing a book chronicling his journey during his life inside. The Fortune Society selected his short story, I Remember When, for publication in Fortune News Winter/Spring 2004 issue, and Poetry.com awarded him the Editor's Choice Award in 2004 for a poem about the heroin addiction which led him to prison. Alonzo has recently launched his own photography business, Angelonzo Images. He dedicates his performance to his mother Diana and hopes that his art and his message inspire others into their peace. "Thank you, my love, my one and only Satya for the undying love and support you've given me thus far. And to many and much more! I love you."
SEAN DINO JOHNSON (Company) is currently a Coordinator of School Based Initiatives and Cultural Outreach with the Council for Unity working to rescue youth from gang involvement. During his 15 years of incarceration, Sean received considerable training in non-violent conflict resolution with the Youth Awareness Program. A founding member of RTA, he appeared in 11 productions, including One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Slam, Stratford's Decision, and Twelve Angry Men. He can currently be seen in Susan Strohman's production of Mel Brooks' The Producers.
CARLOS SANTIAGO (Company) last performed for RTA in the role of Lieutenant Judge Advocate General Daniel Kaffee in A Few Good Men; other RTA work includes The Sacrifice and The Border. On the "outside," Carlos has participated in many poetry readings, the majority of which occurred after the showing of Getting Out, a documentary by George Stoney and David Bagnall, where he was featured. Carlos is currently a New York City Technical Assistance Manager for the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America, where he is responsible for integrating HIV Health Education into currently existing programs. His most admirable credit is love and enjoyment of life with his fiancée Maritza Soto and their precious two-ear-old daughter, Skye Santiago.
ROBERT SANCHEZ (Company). While incarcerated, Robert pursued his education earning a GED, an A.A, a B.A in Behavioral Science and a Master's degree in Professional Studies and Urban Theology. Robert was a founding member of RTA. In December 2000, after 15 years in prison, Robert was approved to participate in New York State's work release program where he immediately found employment as a case manager at STRIVE - East Harlem Employment services. At present, he is the program manager for their social service and fatherhood departments. Robert also worked as a youth counselor for Uth Turn, a program geared to working with youth at risk of entering the criminal justice system. Robert is a published poet and is one of the men featured in the George Stoney/David Bagnall documentary Getting Out. He sits on the Public Private Ventures Ready 4 Work's National Advisory Committee and is a board member of In Arms Reach, a program geared to keeping children in touch with incarcerated parents. Robert is also part of a project aimed at bringing a spiritual center to Harlem.
ELIZABETH SPECK (Company) is a member of Village Playback Theatre, most recently involved with RTA's Stories from the Inside at Sing Sing. She is a registered drama therapist and NYS Licensed Creative Arts Therapist. Her most meaningful appearances as an actor in New York City have been in corrections facilities, hospitals, schools, shelters, and the street, with such companies as Hospital Audiences, the Creative Arts Team, Mass Transit Street Theater, La Mama, and Theater for the New City. "It is a true honor to be on stage with RTA alumni and Mr. Dutton."
GEORGE VILLANUEVA (Company) last performed with RTA in the Sing Sing performance of Slam. He is currently a resident of Park Slope Brooklyn. He is a full-time student planning a career in the construction industry. George has an 8-year-old son named Adam, and he wishes to dedicate tonight's performance to him as well as to his parents.
M.GREGORY FREDERICK, MFA, MPS (Writer, currently incarcerated at Fishkill Correctional Facility) is an award-winning painter, professional musician, published writer, fledgling actor, and dedicated educator. He has spent the bulk of his almost six decades on the planet in pursuit of excellence in these fields, but describes himself as first, " ... a man, a Black man, a father, a grandfather, brother and uncle who is consistently working to learn how to be a better human being. I have been blessed to touch and be touched by the best of humanity from every social, spiritual and professional arena. They have all become my family and they inspire me to understand that change is inevitable, but growth is my option."
PHILIP HALL (Writer, currently incarcerated at Otisville Correctional Facility) was born August 17, 1966 in Brooklyn, New York. His favorite book is Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, and his favorite playwright is Lorraine Hansberry. Philip says, "The steel and stones of prison melts and crumbles before the pages of conscience that give birth to moral and spiritual imperatives that demand nothing less than Change, Change, Change!"
CARLISLE P. "SINCERE" RIVERA (Writer, currently incarcerated at Fishkill Correctional Facility) has been in prison since he was 18. During a 5-year stay in solitary confinement, he learned to tap into his inner self and find a means of expression via poetry. Shortly thereafter, he was introduced to theater via RTA and now loves theater and acting. Having completed two manuscripts and a degree in Business, Carlisle wishes to provide counsel to today's troubled youth and break into the greeting card business.
FRANK RIVERA (Writer, currently incarcerated at Fishkill Correctional Facility) was born and raised in Brooklyn and has been happily married for more than 7 years. He developed an interest in screenwriting after winning a screenwriter's competition at Sing Sing with The 6th Day Of The Red Moon. His love of writing for a live audience began when he co-wrote RTA's very first play, Reality In Motion. Frank has been writing creatively for more than 15 years and, upon his release, he hopes to pursue a career as a playwright, screenwriter and author.
BRENT BUELL (Director) has been a volunteer with RTA for five years and has directed Reality in Motion and Stratford's Decision. He wrote and directed Breakin' the Mummy's Code, the Spring 2005 RTA production. A veteran stage actor, Brent has appeared in dozens of leading roles in works by Ibsen, Moliere, Strindberg, Sheridan, and Shakespeare. His critically praised play, The Gem Exchange, will be moving to a Manhattan production in the near future. He has written and will be directing Undone Divas, a one-woman comedy with Madelene Capelle, premiering in Las Vegas later this year. Currently, he can be seen in the role of Don Ramon in the Eddy Duran/Maverick Pictures comedy, Grand Opening, and as an FBI agent in the thriller, Al Qareem, from director Affandy Farooq. He wishes to thank his wife Janice and his sons Vic, Juan, and Joel.
LORRAINE MOLLER (Performance Coach) includes among her most memorable theatre experiences two productions at Sing Sing: directing One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest and co-directing Slam with Rory Anderson, a cast member in tonight's performance. Other directing credits include: In the Blood, The Crucible, David and Lisa, Playground, Actor's Nightmare, Dracula, Luv, Electra, Voir Dire and Our Town. Lorraine ("Doc") is a full-time professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where she teaches acting, sociodrama, video production and speech. She celebrates sharing this evening with the RTA alumni, some of whom she has known for 10 years, and thanks Peg, Nate, John, Phil, and all the guys for sharing their gifts. To Richard, Annika, Christina and her octogenarian parents, she sends her love.
LINDA ATKINSON (Acting Coach) has performed with the Manhattan Theatre Club, Playwrights Horizons, New York Shakespeare Theatre and in two Neil Simon plays on Broadway. She has acted around the country, performing with the Old Globe in San Diego, ART in Cambridge, the Yale Rep in New Haven, among others. She has made multiple appearances on Law & Order, playing a surveillance officer and, more recently, a judge. She also appeared in the feature filmsTalk Radio, Fools Rush In, and Devil's Advocate. She has directed at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Peterborough Players, Ohio Repertory Theater, West Bank Theatre Cafe, and NBC's Another World. She is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama and has been volunteering with RTA for over 4 years.
Katherine Vockins, RTA Producer and PCI Executive Director, founded the RTA program at Sing Sing in 1996, and has collaborated with NYU to bring theatre programs to the Woodbourne and Fishkill Correctional facilities.
Brent Buell, Director and volunteer with RTA for the past 5 years, has done a fine job of letting these actors find their own truth through performing, and it must be very rewarding to see the amazing effect of this work through the blossoming of the program participants' lives.
The cast of "From Sing Sing to Broadway-an Evening Without Walls." George Villanueva, Alonzo Gregory, David Wayne Britton, Rory Anderson, Sean Dino Johnson, Carlos Santiago, Christopher Bradford, Robert Sanchez . Photo by Meg Williams
Bravo, RTA! Which, by the way, receives no public funding and is solely supported by volunteers and individual donors. What a better society we might be if programs like this were encouraged and supported by our federal, state and local governments. Perhaps the wider acknowledgment and government support of Rehabilitation Through The Arts could lead us to a more compassionate and forgiving place on the world stage.
Monday June 5, at Playwrights Horizons
http://www.p-c-i.org for additional information on RTA.
Rehabilitation Through The Arts receives no public funding and is supported by the generosity of the RTA volunteers, individual donors, community groups and churches and some foundations. RTA is a program of Prison Communities International a 501(c)(3) non profit organization located at: 12 Huntville Road, Katonah, NY 10536-2002
Katherine Vockins, RTA Producer and PCI Executive Director 914 232 7566