Expression behind bars
Going into prisons and communicating with and instructing inmates in the art of dance has the potential to be a daunting task for many people, Amie Dowling is not one of these.
Dowling has been an artist in residence for prisons in Massachusetts and San Francisco.
She was in Calgary Jan. 15 as part of the 23rd annual High Performance Rodeo presented by the One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theater to talk about her experiences.
The piece highlighted for the High Performance Rodeo is called 59 Places. In a phone interview Dowling said she collaborated closely with fellow artist Julie Lichtenberg on the piece that is based on the stories of inmates. 59 Places is part of a project called the Performance Project, which is a dance theater company in North Hampton, Mass. where she used to live.
Dowling describes it as, “a collaboration of professional artists and people who are incarcerated.”
“The talk went very well. The room was packed and they even had to turn away people,” said Anne Flynn, professor, program of dance and manager of the Urban Dance Project.
“I was thrilled that there was such a great response to the event and the support from both Theatre Junction and One Yellow Rabbit to co-present the talk is a positive sign of how arts groups can collaborate to make good things happen.”
As well as the talk, Dowling taught a movement workshop to over 60 dance and drama students and faculty at the U of C.
“It was a great workshop and one of the rare times that dance and drama students have gotten together for a workshop,” said Flynn.
“It’s always good to have people come and visit and share the work they are doing. It’s basic circulation of ideas and approaches, and we learn from other people’s experiences, their projects, their funding strategies, all kinds of things. It’s important to feel that you are not working in isolation and that there is a broader community out there working on some of the same things.”
Dowling was in residency at a medium security facility at North Hampton for five years. She worked with different groups and produced four different full-length plays. She said the plays were attended by the sheriff, chief of police and family members of the performers.
She said there are over 2 million people incarcerated in the United States alone and that, “each one of those people is somebodies son or a mother or a father,” and that the effect of that on communities is profound and using the arts is a way of starting a dialogue.
In San Francisco, Dowling is working with a women’s prison and a men’s program called Resolve to Stop the Violence. She said the program is based on the idea of restorative justice.
“When people have done a violent act there are ways through their own self reflection … to restore a sense of safety to the victim,” Dowling said, noting that theater plays a huge role in that.
The High Performance Rodeo runs until Jan. 31.