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The College of Arts Sciences

Bruce Levitt to speak on power of prison theater Oct. 28

By: Ashlee McGandy,  Cornell Chronicle
October 12, 2016

Bruce Levitt, professor of performing and media arts and inaugural recipient of Cornell’s Engaged Scholar Prize, will deliver “Human Again: Prison Theatre and the Possibilities of Redemption” Friday, Oct. 28, at 3:45 p.m. in 120 Physical Sciences Building. The lecture is free and open to all.

Following the lecture, which will examine how a public engagement model works within a maximum security prison, Levitt will participate in a panel discussion with Dudley Cocke, director of Roadside Theater at Appalshop, and Sandra Folasewa Oyeneyin ’14, production coordinator for National Geographic Production Studios.

The lecture and panel will be preceded by the Engaged Cornell grantee reception and poster session, where attendees will have the opportunity to meet recipients of Engaged Cornell grants and learn more about their community-engaged work. Open to the public, this event will begin at 2 p.m. in the Baker Atrium and Portico of the Physical Sciences Building.

The Engaged Scholar Prize is an annual award that recognizes a faculty member who inspires others with innovative integration of teaching, learning and research involving public or community-based partnerships. In his teaching, Levitt has developed classes around community-based theater as a catalyst for social change. Since 2011, he has been the lead facilitator for the Phoenix Players Theatre Group (PPTG) at Auburn Correctional Facility, a program initiated by inmates in 2009 with assistance from Stephen Cole, the late professor emeritus of theater arts.

In the process of performance practice and approaching the work as a discipline, the incarcerated men achieve transformation, empowerment and even redemption, Levitt said. PPTG gives them an opportunity to share their stories and experiences and “to be witnessed; to alter the stereotypes about incarcerated people and to reveal themselves as unique and multifaceted individuals who transcend the labels that define them within the greater society,” he said.

Inmate Adam Roberts wrote: “After 16 years in prison, I have learned that volunteer programs like PPTG do more to rehabilitate participants than all the state-mandated programs combined. We could not continue to exist without the dedication and enthusiasm of Professor Levitt.”

As the 2016 Engaged Scholar, Levitt received $30,000, which he has used to fund the completion of “Human Again,” a feature-length documentary about PPTG. The film, shot by college student filmmakers, follows the incarcerated men’s journey toward a public performance of material drawn from Shakespeare, interwoven with original pieces written by the inmates themselves.

Ashlee McGandy is content strategist for the Office of Engagement Initiatives. This article originally appeared in the Cornell Chronicle

Bruce Levitt