San Quentin visit prepared students for "Shakespeare After Prison" event

Seventeen students from Perry Guevara’s Advanced Writing & Research and Science Writing courses visited San Quentin on April 28 to participate in theater exercises with inmates as part of Dominican’s partnership with the Marin Shakespeare Company.

Students then share their experiences at a “Shakespeare After Prison” event at Angelico Concert Hall on April 30.

Lesley Currier, Managing Director of Marin Shakespeare, and Dameion Brown, Artist in Residence, joined the Dominican students in that event. The presentation, in conjunction with Marin Shakespeare's “Shakespeare and Social Justice” arts-in-corrections program, was free and open to the public. It also was part of the Democracy and Equity Initiative at Dominican.

In the spring of 2017 Dr. Guevara, Assistant Professor of Literature and Languages, introduced The Bard’s Beasts, an English course in the School of Liberal Arts and Education that focused on representations of animal life in Shakespeare. Students studied Shakespeare’s animals as well as characters who were rendered inhuman by systems of injustice and treated as if they were non-human.

The work inspired Guevara to connect with Julia Van der Ryn, Director of Service-Learning, and Currier. Guevara’s students attended a series of workshops in preparation for their first visit to San Quentin, where they assisted with the rehearsal for the production of Measure for Measure.

The April 28 visit to San Quentin was the fourth in two years for Dominican students.

“For the students, this has been for the most part a pilot program that’s culminating in what will be the Performing Arts and Social Change minor that launches in Fall 2019,” says Guevara, who is researching restorative practices through the arts and has an essay coming out in June in the journal, Early Modern Culture, describing this experience as a way to teach Shakespeare through community engagement.

“Shakespeare for Social Justice will name the course that is at the cornerstone of this new minor. The minor pairs classes from English, the Performing Arts, and Community Action and Social Change that leads to an internship experience for students where they partner with a community organization that seeks to address equity in the community through the arts.”

Nursing major Dominic Jose ’22 believed the visit would be a humbling experience for him and his classmates.

Dominic also is working with the Returned Citizens Theatre Troupe, which is also affiliated with Marin Shakespeare. This program is for those who are previously incarcerated who are reintegrating back into our local community. They are using drama therapy techniques to work on life skills as they look for jobs and reconnect with family and friends.

“For my visit to San Quentin, I was hoping to gain further insight into what life is like inside prison, and to understand prisoners more,” Dominic says. “I have never been inside a prison before, and I only know things about prison from what I have seen on TV and from what I heard in the Returned Citizens program.”

Nursing major Courtney Sproete Murphy ’22 is involved with Marin Community School in another Marin Shakespeare program works with at-risk youth to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. At MCS, they are using film and drama therapy techniques to help the students tell their own stories in a video.

With her visit to San Quentin, Courtney aims to produce her own story.

“Instead of reading about all of the possible reasons from something like a scholarly source, I wanted the chance to go straight to the source and nonjudgmentally ask prisoners where they think the disconnect between them and society presented itself,” she says. “From their answers, I also want to know if they believe change in a positive direction is possible in today’s society.”

English with a Creative Writing Emphasis major Rick Ramirez ’22 was inspired to join the course after his experience last semester in Guevara’s Genres: Poetry/Fiction course. “The experience this semester has been both profound and compelling,” Rick says.

“I have learned more about the power of theater and other creative arts in their ability to spiritually reform people,” he adds. “I have been inspired by my work with Marin Shakespeare: Returned Citizens to continue to use creative writing to help others creatively express themselves for the better.”


April 29, 2019