Hamlet on Alcatraz Outreach

Anna Martine Whitehead and the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department

While We Players rehearsed Hamlet over the demanding Alcatraz terrain, new and returning artists at the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department spent Summer 2010 building giant puppets and banners that address Hamlet’s themes – including isolation, redemption, and loss. Over the course of Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet finds himself more and more alone within a court of panderers, backstabbers, adulterers, and murderers. He struggles with the moral question of how to avenge his father’s death, increasingly aware of the cycle of violence and limitations of reason. He becomes morose, and in the process loses not only his father, but his mother, a sense of family,  his love, and ultimately his own life.

These same themes of loss, isolation, and redemption are felt keenly by the 260,000 people incarcerated in California jails and prisons, and the over 446,000 California residents on probation, parole, or supervision. Setting the trend for the nation, incarceration has become an epidemic in California.

The artists who designed the work here are all on probation, parole, or supervision and a few have served time at San Quentin State Prison, directly across the Bay. They have experienced the loss of friends, family, childhood, social standing or a sense of self to violence, drugs, AIDS, and incarceration.

For those who repeatedly showed up to make artwork, several times a week for over twelve weeks, the manipulation of raw material into identifiable images of salvation and remembrance (ghosts, fists raised in the air, and crosses, among other things) was a critical step in their ongoing process of redemption and self-forgiveness. Their lived experience of these themes, as well as their commitment to the art of personal expression, informed We Players’ generative process.


Franky Alfaro
John F. Earle
James L. Ellis II
Michael Goodwin
LeRoy Hoggis
Alma Johnson
Allen, Alex, Alberto (Cuba), Mike, Oliver and Richard

Banner artists:

Lejhaun Bowden
Daniel Chesnutt
Darinell Collier
Rashawna Dixon
Mariana Duran
Lacresha Foster
Celina Gallardo
Trina Glover
Vinh Hoang
Pamela Watson
Shaun Webb
Keith Williams
Marcella M. Wiltz
Cornell, and Semaj (Doh)

Location: Alcatraz Island, San Francisco
Dates: January 29 – April 2, 2011 

Anna Martine Whitehead Artist Statement
I use video, puppets, sound, and movement to address disremembered histories. My history-telling performances are an extension of my investment in transformative performance traditions, my commitment to disidentificatory countermemory, and my penchant for retelling trauma as fantasy. I uncover the buried histories of space and identity formation to tell new stories of self-actualization. Working within thematic discourses of diaspora, memory, melancholia, and desire, my practice narrativizes those invisible and unwritten moments where hybrid identities and collective knowledges meet.