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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pitt-Bradford students devise theater project inspired by inmate interviews

BRADFORD, Pa. -- University of Pittsburgh at Bradford theater students have had a unique opportunity to examine what “Being Human” means in a federal penitentiary. This spring, nine students in Dr. Kevin Ewert’s directing class worked to create a dramatic performance inspired, in part, by interviews they conducted with inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution – McKean County. Students will perform this original devised theater project, “Being Human,” at noon Friday, April 8, in the Studio Theater of Blaisdell Hall. The performance is free and will last about 40 minutes. A light lunch will be provided.
Ewert said that the work consists of a series of vignettes and expressive scenes created by the students as a group. During their discussions with inmates, students heard them tell stories, talk about their aspirations, express worries about problems they’ll face when they get out, and discuss coping mechanisms they use in prison. The inmates interviewed were all students of Dr. Tony Gaskew, an associate professor of criminal justice who teaches classes at the prison. Clairise Kalkhof, a junior broadcast communications major from Sigel with a theater minor, is one of the students involved. “You were just talking to people and learning about their life,” she said of the interview portion, which was conducted as a free-ranging group discussion.
Students then worked with Ewert to craft a script that would work with a small cast of characters and a stripped down set since the students will also perform the piece for the inmates at FCI-McKean using only a table and chairs.
“It’s about finding a bold and vivid way to present things using the simplest of means,” Ewert said of the devising process.  Along with pulling thoughts and feelings from the interviews, students also conducted research and discussed current thinking about mass incarceration, then improvised dialogue and movement sequences that could encompass and express key ideas. Kalkhof said that meeting the prisoners affected her. “It was an experience I am always going to remember. I think a project like this is imperative to bring to the public eye. It makes us ask the question, ‘What makes us human?’”
Other students working on the project are William Warren, a business management major from Verona; Steve Owens, a broadcast communications major from Richfield Park, N.J.; James Libonatti, an undeclared student from Whitehall; Jah Wilson, a broadcast communications major from Coatesville; Patrick Martucci, a broadcast communications major from Gilroy, Calif.; Collin Maines, a broadcast communications major from Sheffield; Chrissy Brunecz, a biology major from Bear Lake; and Keyana Campbell, a broadcast communications major from Avondale.
This project was made possible in part by a grant from The Year of the Humanities Program supporting events across all Pitt campuses.