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The Department of Performing and Media Arts (PMA)
Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP)
A Theatre Performance Piece created from the
original writings of the members of the
Sunday, May 16, 2:00 p.m.
CONFINEMENTS explores the many ways we are cut off from full participation in life—from physical confinement to afflictions of the body; from the expectations of family to the habits of mind; and from social norms to the foundations of our identities. This original theatre piece showcases a collaboration among two groups of individuals who have experienced confinement in both drastically different and very similar ways. The creator/performers in the ensemble are comprised of five Cornell undergraduate students and three Cornell Prison Education students who have recently returned home from prison. Together, over a semester’s work, they have created a piece of theatre that is moving, insightful, warm, funny and provocative.
Reserve your free ticket at schwartztickets.com. A link will be emailed to you prior to showtime.
Content Warning: sensitive themes, including sexual assault and incarceration
Order of Performance
Confinements: written and performed by Joey Welsh and The Ensemble
Thirty-Five Words: written and performed by Daniella Gonzales
Corona and Confinement: written and performed by Richard (So Rich) Paul
16.2 Million: written and performed by Bailey Landow
Catching My Grandfather: written and performed by Elizabeth Latella
Confinement: written and performed by Angel Torres
Survival Guide for Convicts and COVID, Part One: written and performed by Jesse Johnston
I Am Afraid of Crowded Spaces: written and performed by Soph Tantillo
Aphrodite: written and performed by Elizabeth Latella
I Am the Reason You Should Listen: written and performed by Angel Torres
Survival Guide for Convicts and COVID, Part Two: written and performed by Jesse Johnston
The Holidays: written and performed by the Ensemble
Time Ticks: written and performed by Angel Torres
Tears On the Inside: written and performed by Richard (So Rich) Paul
Survival Guide for Convicts and COVID, Part Three: written and performed by Jesse Johnston
Rene and Sir Chonkalot: written and performed by Daniella Gonzalez and Bailey Landow
Liberation: written and performed by Jesse Johnston
Inside the Box, a poem: written and performed by Soph Tantillo
Survival Guide for Convicts and COVID, Part Four: written and performed by Jesse Johnston
It's Not Weird: written and performed by Bailey Landow
Paying My Respeccts: written and performed by Angel Torres
Commitment and Family: written and performed by Elizabeth Latella and Jesse Johnston
Father's Day: written and performed by Richard (So Rich) Paul
Identity: written and performed by the Ensemble
Closing Music: "93 Years" written and performed by Richard (So Rich) Paul
Letter from the Chair
Dear community members,
In a more typical year, you would be reading this note in a physical program while gathering in a public space. As you well know, there is nothing typical about this year, and so this note must also depart from the conventions that have tended to govern it in the past.
Indeed, what we were intending as a year’s worth of programming at this time last spring has been radically reimagined. I am proud of students, staff, and faculty who have responded with inventiveness and imagination to making virtual work in socially distanced ways. I am proud that the majority of this work is centering perspectives on systemic racism and white supremacist ideology, of which the Department of Performing and Media Arts must take urgent stock, for which we must be accountable, and whose dismantling we must actively undertake. I am proud that numerous BIPOC guest artists and scholars are visiting classes and making public presentations via Zoom. And I am proud that all of this activity is free to our publics, who now more than ever need access to art and intellection that we hope will sustain us through the anxieties and exhaustions of our current political and historical circumstances.
I look forward to a time when we may all convene again in the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts and communally enjoy film, dance, theater, performance art, installation, public lectures, and more. In the meantime, I wish everyone reading this note physical health and emotional and spiritual well-being.
Letter from the Director
As the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation in Washington, D.C. writes:
Nearly all incarcerated individuals are eventually released back into society. Whether they re-enter society successfully — as a contributing member — or unsuccessfully is a matter of public safety. Unfortunately, many returned citizens are unable to make a successful transition and they eventually return to prison. Offenders face many obstacles when they leave prison. Some of these they may have confronted before prison, such as unemployment, substance abuse, low self-esteem, anti-social relationships, and so forth.
With COVID-19 suspending programs in prisons throughout New York State, several of us were looking for ways to continue our work supporting justice impacted people. Betsye Violette, senior coordinator for the Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP), started a monthly Zoom meeting with a group of CPEP alumni who had recently returned home from Cayuga Correctional facility. Betsye wondered if we could create something for these men that would employ the Phoenix Players Theatre Group’s techniques for transformation so that members of her newly formed group might expand skills in self-presentation and interpersonal relationships. I proposed that we create a class with Cornell undergraduates and that her CPEP alumni collaborate with the students and devise a scripted performance to be performed in the spring.
The literature on prison theatre cites a number of researchers who have written about prison theatre’s prospective capacity to engage with rehabilitation on four levels: the personal, social, moral, and judicial. Bessel Van Der Kolk, founder and medical director of the Trauma Center in Brookline Massachusetts and professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, writes extensively on the therapeutic effects of theatre. In his 2016 book The Body Keeps the Score he states: “Theatre gives trauma survivors a chance to connect with one another by deeply experiencing their common humanity.” Van Der Kolk believes that, as a culture “we are trained to cut ourselves off from the truth of what we’re feeling.” Van Der Kolk cites Tina Packer, founder of Shakespeare & Company, who writes that “training actors involves training people to go against that tendency—not only to feel deeply, but to covey that feeling at every moment to the audience, so the audience will get it—not close off against it.”
The process for this collaboration is not unlike what Nick Fesette and I describe in an article co-authored for The Theatre Times: "through this project, we aimed to create a transformative theatre community that utilizes theatre to connect participants to their full humanity." That transformation works in multiple ways: it originates within the participants to repair and restore aspects of humanity that may have been fractured during incarceration and the struggles faced during the re-entry process, while at the same time it works without for students and audiences alike, helping to alter the public perception of the people reductively marked “criminal” and bringing the student participants into publicly engaged work that engenders in them a broader sense of the community in which they live.
The Cornell students enrolled in a three-credit advanced acting class, although acting experience was not a prerequisite for participating in the project. And because the men in Betsye’s group were matriculating students through their CPEP participation, Cornell’s School of Continuing Education registered them so that they could receive the same three credits for their participation. Over the fall semester the group met as a whole weekly and in smaller groups a number of times during the term. The explorations for the devised theatre piece came from the participants but coalesced around the general theme of convergence/divergence: how do members of each group view the members of the other group? What assumptions does one group or members of a group make about members of the other group? Where have their lives been similar and where have they diverged? Within this framework, we posed questions about the “outsider” status of both the students and those “coming home” and how they sense that perception within their communities. There were also common concerns about food, family, friendship, isolation, identity, violations of person, and many other subjects. Sometimes these concerns were similar and at other times, different, among the two cohorts of creators. These topics and additional prompts brought forth social, community, moral, ethical and personal challenges to theatricalize.
Once the script was finalized, individual and group rehearsals were held via Zoom in January and February. Each of the eight ensemble members were filmed individually in February and March of this year, and the performance was edited together and scored in April and May. The collaboration was one of the richest and most rewarding in which I have been engaged during my career. All the writers/collaborators/performers in the class formed a bond of generosity, respect, and genuine warmth that is not always achievable in live devised work, let alone on Zoom, but is deeply reflective of the processes developed in work with the Phoenix Players Theatre Group and previous devised performances I facilitated and staged with students in the Schwartz Center.
The project, as it emerged, was supported with the invaluable contributions and assistance of additional collaborators: Sarah Bernstein, Joey Moro, Steven Blasberg, Warren Cross, and Daniel Halstead. In turn, all of us were supported by the talents, artistry, and moral support of the many gifted staff members of the Department of Performing & Media Arts including Pam Lillard, Fritz Bernstein, Tim Ostrander, Howie Klein, Randy Hendrickson, Lisa Boquist, Chris Christensen, Youngsun Palmer, Chris Riley, Julie Tibbits, Christos Vlahos, Aurora Ricardo and Lindsey White. We are also grateful to Department Chair, Nick Salvato, for his support of this project.
Daniella Gonzalezis a junior majoring in Biology & Society and minoring in Theatre. She is originally from Miami, FL, where she attended a performing arts magnet school and had the honor of performing in The Women, Ladies of the Tower, Les Misérables, Yellow Boat, and Twelfth Night, among others. She is so grateful to have gotten to know and work with the men that came home, the other Cornell students, and Professor Levitt, and is excited to see their project come to life!
Jesse JohnstonBy some, I have been described as a contrarian. By others, stubborn. By one person in particular, I was even described as “that annoying pebble that wedges itself between the tread of their shoe and clicks against the pavement every time they take a step.” In truth though, I am none of these things, and yet, I am all of them. Just as no one word can be used to describe who I am, no one experience is determinative of who I am either. I, Jesse F. Johnston, used to be a heroin addict. I am a felon. And, I was incarcerated for nearly a decade. But, does having gone through these things somehow transform the man I am today into a junky convict? Of course not! The man I am today studies political science at the University of Rochester. He is a loving father who works two jobs and advocates for criminal justice reform and progressive legislation in his free time. Put simply, the man I am today cannot be confined by the things I have done. Nor can I be confined by the things I am doing. Rather, all of these things can only be used to prepare me for the man I will become.
Bailey Landowis a senior Human Development major with a minor in Theater. Bailey is from New York City and has been acting since she was six years old. Previous shows at Cornell include Love/Sick, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Love and Information. Bailey would like to thank her friends and family for their support and love over the past four years, Professor Levitt for his wisdom, and the rest of her castmates for their enthusiasm for the work.
Elizabeth Latellais a senior in the College of Human Ecology studying Human Development, business, and theatre! Originally from Washington Crossing, PA, Elizabeth grew up frequently going to New York City to see plays on Broadway. She has always loved incorporating her passion for theatre into her activities. She want to thank everyone involved in this amazing project.
Richard (So Rich) Paul
Richard (So Rich) Paul, the owner of So Rich Entertainment LLC, is a music artist, entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, clothing designer, and educator of the youth. He recently served an eleven year sentence, came home and created appositive life for himself through dedication, education, and an immovable belief in himself and his vision. His name emphasizes the point that we, as people, are “So Rich” in many different areas aside from just having money. For example, we are “So Rich” in health, family, love, determination, and loyalty, to name a few. He currently hosts a freestyle cypher show on YouTube named “For My City” where he creates and participates in a rap cypher with the hottest artists from city to city.
Soph Tantillois a junior and studies incarceration and politics as a Government major. After being denied access to continue their assistant teaching through the Cornell Prison Education Program once COVID-19 locked down NYS prisons, Soph was looking for something to fill the gap left by the Prison Education Project. With their experience in a PMA class about the politics of hip-hop and spoken word in the fall of 2019, Soph was excited to get involved with the PMA department again. This experience has been one of their best at Cornell and Soph has loved getting to know their classmates in this course. They would like to thank Bruce, especially, for creating such a welcoming, vulnerable, and understanding space for us to develop our writing. We hope you enjoy these performances!
My name is Angel Torres Jr. I am 41 years old and a recent college (CPEP) graduate who just finished doing a 25 plus year sentence in the NYS prison system. Mentioning college and prison in the same sentence seems like an odd pairing of words. They stick out like a sore thumb. Nevertheless, I am very proud of my achievements, even though they seem to be down played because of where my degree was earned.
Today I am proud of all the steps I have taken to get to where I stand. As a father of three, a husband, a brother, a son, uncle, and a friend—there is not a single moment of remorse for all the late nights and long hours studying for my degree. Twenty-seven years ago I'd never have envisioned today. The mere fact that I still breathe, let alone that I have broken the long chain of misguided and uneducated influences and individuals that controlled my life to attain my degree, allows me to continue on and become a better person with hopes of being able to give back to my community. My future aspiration is to work with troubled teens in some form and help them avoid making the bad judgement calls that led me to tarnish my life before I could even enjoy it.
Life now seems so much sweeter. I have a focus. I have a supportive family and friends who remind me of my life. If asked for my biggest accomplishment, I'd have to say making it out alive from that barbaric world called the "legal system/prison," and doing so with time not wasted but rightfully used, to make me the man I am today.
Joey Welshis currently a senior majoring in Mathematics and minoring in Theater. Outside of classes, he plays wide receiver on the Cornell Varsity Sprint Football team, is a member of The Skits Sketch Comedy group, and enjoys producing music in his free time. Joey is grateful beyond words for the opportunity to be a part of this amazing group of people, and he will always cherish the memories made in the process of collaboratively producing this theatrical piece.
Bruce Levitt (Course Facilitator/Director/Film Coordinator) is a Professor in the Department of Performing & Media Arts at Cornell University. He served as Chair of the Department of Theater, Film & Dance from 1986 to 1995 during which time he oversaw the final phases of construction of the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. Levitt has directed over 100 university and professional productions. He teaches courses in Shakespeare, Acting, Text Analysis, New Play Development, Prison Theatre, and the Arts in Incarceration. He served as Producing Artistic Director of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, a free outdoor event that also provided educational programs to children throughout the Kansas City metropolitan area. Dr. Levitt is a former chair of the New York State Council on the Arts Theatre Panel and was elected to membership in The National Theatre Conference in 2009. In 2016, Levitt was the inaugural recipient of Cornell’s Engaged Scholar Prize. His 2018 film, TONY, made with collaborators Peter Carroll and Tony Sidle, won “Best Documentary” in both the 2019 Top Shorts Film Festival and the NYC Short Documentary Film Festival. He holds a Ph.D. in Theatre from the University of Michigan.
At Cornell, Levitt has collaborated in community-based projects with the Lehman Alternative Community School, John O’Neal, Roadside Theatre, Urban Bush Women, Michael Keck, and members of the American Festival coalition. He has co-taught a course in community engagement with Scott Peters, former Co-Director of Imagining America and faculty member in the Department of Global Development and Shorna Allred, faculty member in Natural Resources and a fellow recipient of Cornell’s Engaged Scholar award.
Levitt is the lead facilitator for the Phoenix Players Theatre Group (PPTG), an organization founded by incarcerated men at Auburn Maximum Security Prison. He has been with the group ten years, meeting with them weekly, assisting them on their journey of transformation through the use of theatre techniques. Levitt, and his fellow facilitators, have assisted in devising five original pieces that the group has performed for invited audiences. Inside/out, the group’s first piece was performed in 2011. Maximum Will, the group's second piece, was performed in April of 2012 at Auburn Correctional facility and its development is the basis for the feature documentary Human Again. The group expanded its membership in 2013, and in May of 2014 performed their third original piece titled An Indeterminate Life. With additional new members, PPTG performed its fourth show, This Incarcerated Life, in May of 2016 and its most recent performance, The Strength of Our Convictions: The Auburn Redemption, in 2018. With Nick Fesette he is the co-author of several articles and the subject of a number of interviews focused on his work with the Phoenix Players.
Production Team Profiles
Sarah Eckert Bernstein (Design Coordinator) is the Resident Costume Designer at the Schwartz Center and Senior Lecturer in costume design, costume history, and character design. Some of her recent projects at Cornell include: Locally Grown Dance (LGD) 2020, The Next Storm, The Wolves, Spill, LGD 2019, Awakening of Spring, Mr. Burns, LGD 2018, Hamlet Wakes Up Late, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Baltimore, Eurydice, Desert of Light, All God’s Chillun’ Got Wings, LGDF 2016: Loss, Denial and Desire; The Melodrama of the Krewe of Doberge Ball, On the Verge, and Blood Wedding. Sarah is a graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University and the Yale School of Drama.
Steven Blasberg (Director of Photography/Gaffer) is the Master Electrician for The Department of Performing & Media Arts. Restrictions on live performance in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic have allowed Steven to expand his skills to cinematography and live streaming technology. Steven graduated from Cornell University in 2016 with a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering. At Cornell, both undergraduate and professionally, he has worked on student and faculty led productions including Lighting designer for LGD 2016, Associate Lighting Designer for Blood Wedding, and Master Carpenter for 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Outside of Cornell, he has also worked as a Board Operator and House Lighting Designer for the State Theatre of Ithaca for various touring shows and as a Lighting Designer for Encore Players Community Theatre (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Wizard of Oz, Dark Hearts: A Villains Cabaret). Steven is a network and special integrations consultant for MoroMedia.
Daniel Halstead (Film Production Collaborator) became involved in this CPEP/PMA collaboration in 2020, after the onset of COVID-19 forced remote working to become the new norm. His background in design, and production experience, brought experimental virtual production techniques to the project. His work outside of this includes his studies of architecture, management of digital spaces, and volunteering with his local fire department as a firefighter/EMT.
Joey Moro (Editor/Lighting Designer) is a New York based designer who designs lighting, projection, and scenery. He has currently branched into filming and editing live performance, from a background in production photography and content creation. Joey has designed over 150 productions in NYC, regionally, and abroad. Recent Lighting: Bright Half Life (Syracuse Drama Light/Set), La Clemenza di Tito (Curtis Institute), The Rape of Lucretia (Boston Lyric Opera), Awful Event (Baryshnikov Arts Center), Die Fladermaus (SUNY Stony Brook). Recent projection work: Sunken Cities Exhibit (Virginia Museum of Fine Art), 72 Miles to Go… (Roundabout Theatre Co.), Awaken Exhibit (Virginia Museum of Fine Art), St. Joan (Delaware Theatre Co.), A Bright Room Called Day (Juilliard), Skeleton Crew (Dorset Theatre Festival), Vietgone (TheatreSquared), The Last Five Years (Mexico City), Orange Julius (Rattlestick Playwrights Theater). He holds an MFA from the Yale School of Drama. Joey is a visiting Assistant Professor in Design at Syracuse Drama, a visiting instructor at NYU Tish, and guest lecturer at Yale School of Drama.
Betsye Violette (Just/Us Coordinator) is the Senior Coordinator for the Cornell Prison Education program and has taught college courses in English and History both outside and inside prison classrooms. Many of her efforts currently focus on re-entry services for CPEP Alum. She has a dual MA in Literature and History and is working on a PhD in Literatures in English. Her research interests lie in “bad girl” behaviors as a transmission of survival skills, trash culture, nostalgia, and historical sediment.
PMA Production Staff
Director of Productions & Events: Pamela Lillard
Technical Director: Fritz Bernstein
Stage Manager: Howard Klein
Props Coordinator: Tim Ostrander
Master Electrician: Steven Blasberg
Costume Shop Supervisor: Lisa Boquist
Computer Support: Chris Christensen
Media Assistant: Randy Hendrickson
Communications & Events Coordinator: Youngsun Palmer
Box Office Manager: Julie Tibbits
Communications Assistant: Aurora Ricardo
Co-Sponsors & Special Thanks
Co-Sponsored by the Department of Performing and Media Arts, Cornell University Office of Engagement Initiatives, Cornell Prison Education Program, the Phoenix Players Theatre Group, and Cornell School of Continuing Education ...
... Thank you!
Special thanks to
Charles Jeremy, Acting Dean, Cornell School of Continuing Education
CRS Barn Studio/Jeanne Goddard and Steven Stull
Partner Support: Kitchen Theatre Company
Kitchen Theatre Company
The Journey to 30