Drama to explore women’s prison experience

Ms Sarah Woodland is to lead a new applied theatre project involving women prisoners and exploring the female inmate experience through Australian history

Griffith University PhD candidate Sarah Woodland will work with women prisoners on a drama project exploring the Australian female inmate experience from the convict era to today.

The Artistic Director of Griffith’s Theatre Scope initiative (Contemporary and Applied Theatre), Ms Woodland has secured a grant for $19,630 through the Community Partnerships Section of the Australia Council for the Arts.

This will fund the creative development stage of a project she says will use the lens of the past to explore the present. Further funding will be sought in time.

“Beginning in February, I’ll be hosting workshops at the Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre with the ultimate aim of producing a radio play that can be performed within the prison and broadcast to the general public,” said Ms Woodland, an educator and researcher in applied theatre and participatory arts.

“I’m hoping the creativity of the prisoners will be expressed through activities that build trust, encourage collaboration and culminate in a performance that contains truly authentic voices.”

Ms Woodland’s PhD is in prison theatre, exploring devised drama with women and Indigenous participants in correctional contexts.

She said a pilot project in 2012 had engaged inmates through stories ranging from the infamous Lady Juliana convict ship, better known as “the floating brothel”, to contemporary content arising from prisons including Brisbane’s Boggo Road.

“The women were dedicated, creative and energetic as the project demonstrated different ways of interaction. It allowed them to share ideas and examine their own experiences from the safe distance of drama and history,” Ms Woodland said.

“There is a lot of vulnerability because many have been victims of crime. Involvement in the arts is one way to reconnect with humanity and I hope this new project will create a positive legacy for all involved.”

From 2001-2004, Ms Woodland worked in the UK with the renowned Geese Theatre Company, which specialises in theatre and drama projects in prisons. Griffith University will host the company during the Creative Innovations in Corrections 2014 conference in February.

Griffith’s Theatre Scope program operates within the School of Education and Professional Studies and pursues innovative approaches to education and community engagement through drama, applied theatre and creative arts.