The Department of Performing and Media Arts at Cornell University is co-sponsoring Human Again (April 14-16 at 7:30 p.m.), an Auburn Public Theater production based on the work of the Phoenix Players Theatre Group, directed by Professor Bruce Levitt. This unique production outside of the prison walls will include actors performing original material written by the men of PPTG interwoven with video of the incarcerated performers.
The Phoenix Players Theatre Group was founded in 2009 at Auburn Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Auburn New York, by a small group of incarcerated men dedicated to the idea that theatre work, combined with group inner healing work, is a true opportunity for them to connect and to become more fully human. Experiences gained through PPTG significantly increase incarcerated people’s chances of transcending the negative labels and histories of criminality that define them within the greater society.
"One of the reasons I created PPTG is because we're not allowed to have any input into our own transformation," Michael Rhynes, the co-founder of PPTG, says. "PPTG is rooted in the authenticity of our lives. The thing that sets us apart is that we generate the vast majority of our material from our life experiences. We have complete autonomy over our scripts."
Director and Facilitator Bruce Levitt collaborated with the men of PPTG in creating a training process that serves as a catalyst to transformation within the prison setting. After each cycle of training, the incarcerated men devise performances, with the guidance of the facilitators, which take place approximately every 18 months to two years. The men then perform for an audience of 80 invited civilians.
"They want to be witnessed-to alter the stereotypes about incarcerated people and to reveal themselves as unique and multi-faceted individuals who transcend the labels that define them within the greater society," Levitt says.
Witnessing is a critical concept for PPTG and one of the group's main goals. It is part of the transformative power of the PPTG process. Through the sharing of stories and experiences that spread outside Auburn's walls the incarcerated members of PPTG might open up in the minds of the public alternate perceptions of themselves and of incarcerated people more generally.
This production of Human Again is co-sponsored by NYSCA, The Citizen, The Department of Media and Performing Arts at Cornell University. Mirth, A Theatre Company is the not-for-profit fiscal sponsor of the Phoenix Players.
Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Call the box office at 315.253.6669 or go online to auburnpublictheater.org.