Thank you Evan Bissell for leading a wonderful workshop on Alcatraz this past Saturday, June 4th!
Despite the rain, an intimate group of participants gathered at Pier 33 to ride the ferry through the gray day to Alcatraz. The scent of our oranges, which we used in awareness and drawing exercises, lifted the cold weight of the prison walls with the burst of imagined earth and scented blossoms. We wrote letters to our ancestors, some specific, some vague and imagined, to capture a slice of the present moment in time and perhaps connect with our sense of self in the great stream of time. This workshop was the same starting point Evan used when developing the portraits with the men and youth featured in the artworks displayed in the most recent exhibit on Alcatraz.
We Players borrowed this same exercise during our workshop at the SF Juvenile Justice Center. Masks and letters to ancestors that grew out of the weeks with the youth at the JJC will be featured in our next exhibit on the Rock. We are excited to host a Youth Conference on July 23 and are inviting teens and young adults from a wide array of backgrounds to join us that Saturday afternoon! If you know someone, or group of teens, who may be interested in a unique trip to Alcatraz, please contact we players at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We Players is honored to facilitate discussion on the transformation of identity, restorative justice, and the methodology of state produced inmate portraiture are the primary themes for the exhibition on Alcatraz this Saturday. Bios for our participating artists and practitioners of interpretation and restorative justice are below. We extend our thanks for their talent and dedication to justice and forgiveness.
Reservations are filled for our exhibition opening event this Saturday, but our experience with offering free reservations is that there is usually space for at least a hand full of wait list admissions. If you’d really like to join us and haven’t yet made your reservation, just arrive at Pier 33 between 12:30-12:45, follow the We Players signs to our reservations table, and add your name to the waiting list.
Sujatha’s work is characterized by an equal dedication to victims and persons accused of crime. Sujatha earned her A.B. from Harvard and Radcliffe Colleges and her J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. She has held federal clerkships with the Honorable William K. Sessions, III, Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and with the Honorable Martha Vázquez. Sujatha has served as a consultant to the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, and taught Restorative Justice at New College School of Law and at the California Institute for Integral Studies. In 2008, Sujatha was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship, which she used to spearhead a successful restorative juvenile diversion program in Alameda County.
She is the Director of Community Works’ newest initiative, Community Justice Works, where she continues to implement and expand the restorative juvenile diversion program she began through her Soros Fellowship. Sujatha is also the Founder and Executive Director of The Paragate Project, an organization dedicated to exploring forgiveness. An emerging national voice in restorative justice, she was recently honored as Northeastern University Law School’s Daynard Fellow. Sujatha’s personal and research interests include victims’ voices in restorative practices, the forgiveness of seemingly unforgivable acts, and Tibetan notions of justice.
Evan Bissell is a Bay Area artist and educator whose work is a project-based practice of creating structures of collaborative dialogue and expressions of personal and community truths. Working with groups of people, Bissell facilitates educational, auto-ethnographic and contemplative processes of interviews, research, listening, writing and art-making. In the last five years he has created and publicly installed over 50 original paintings and murals with Bay Area residents on themes ranging from love, to education to incarceration. He has had solo exhibitions at SOMArts Cultural Center, Intersection for the Arts and Marcus Books, and created the original set for the play Mirrors in Every Corner. Evan currently teaches art at El Cerrito High School in the Teen Alive program – combining art with critical group discussion on masculinity and violence.
Jim Breeden has been an Interpreter on Alcatraz for nearly three years. He has done groundbreaking research in what is described as Alcatraz’s first escape attempt, recasting the event in an entirely different light. He is currently preparing for a future display on Alcatraz, which involves comparing Alcatraz to modern American prisons and illuminating alternative approaches to incarceration such as restorative justice.
Born in Portland, Oregon in 1974, Monica Lundy spent her childhood between Oregon, California and Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. She received a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1996. In 2001 she moved to Florence, Italy, where she studied painting independently under the mentorship of Jules Maidoff, founder of Studio Art Centers International. Monica received a MFA from Mills College in 2010 and was also a recipient of the 2010 Jay DeFeo Award in painting and sculpture. She currently lives and works in Oakland, California.
Thanks to a connection through one of our stellar Hamlet on Alcatraz volunteers, We Players is facilitating a workshop at the San Francisco Juvenile Justice Center this spring. Once a week, for the next 7 weeks, I will have the privilege of listening to young peoples’ stories and their perspectives on the Alcatraz themes of justice, incarceration, isolation and redemption. I will support four units of youth (~12-18 students per unit) in creating art that expresses their truths. At the end of the term, Ava and I will work together with the youth for a solid week. We will play with all the material they generate this spring and pull together a final piece/ pieces for presentation on Alcatraz during our June event and third gallery cycle.
This first Tuesday was all about introductions. We Players protocol is to begin sessions with check in. With new groups (and in non-We Players group settings) I like beginning with a thanksgiving address. I asked every young person, each in their khaki pants and unit-specific colored t-shirt/sweatshirt, to share their name and something for which they’re feeling thankful. A few folks passed in most units, but otherwise, the responses were mostly “I’m thankful to be alive,” “for my family,” or “thankful I’m getting out soon.” Not much originality, but most spoke their gratitude with conviction and I could see them all warming up a bit just having to think about that question. What are you thankful for?
I explained I was with We Players, a site-specific performing arts group that transformed public spaces into realms of participatory theater. I mentioned that We Players is really interested in helping people engage all their senses and expand their awareness of the history and energy of a space, more fully awakening to the magical world around them. I described our partnership with the National Park Service and our three year aesthetic exploration of the Alcatraz themes.
I then did a rapid fire telling of Iphigenia and Other Daughters and Hamlet, while showing images of our productions on Alcatraz. They were rivited. I noted the cycles of vengeance that perpetuated murder in both stories. I presented Iphigenia’s questions about freedom at the end of Ellen McLaughlin’s play, and noted how her understanding and compassion and choice not to spill blood finally gave her brother peace. I returned to the cycle of vengeance with Hamlet, highlighting the major revenge themes on the play in my 10 minute summary. But I also emphasized Shakespeare’s focus on an internal dialogue, a man in isolation/ depression pulled in different directions by familial obligations and his own conscience. After all the death, at the end of Hamlet (esp. as emphasized by We Players portrayal of Fortinbras’ arrival), we are asked to hear the bloody story and choose a new path.
“We have some rights of memory in this kingdom, which now to claim our vantage doth invite us.”
These youth are excited to share their voices, to express the truth of their lives and their experiences within our justice system. And I’m excited to share their expressions with the ~5,000 visitors that tour Alcatraz every day. I feel like our 2011 intention of connecting the Alcatraz themes with current realities is actually happening.