June 9, 2009
There are some things you expect at San Quentin. One of them is the lockdown that took place on June 8, 2009 at 8:25AM, sending all the inmates back to their cells and sending me back out the front gate. Samuel Robinson, Public Information Officer at San Quentin, came out to speak to the press shortly after 9:00AM and made the official announcement that the show will not go on, at least not today, due to some “missing security equipment” that caused the prison to go into lockdown.
The show in question is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it’s postponed till further notice. The actors include ten inmates from San Quentin’s Shakespeare drama program. The program is part of San Quentin’s Arts in Corrections Program, which offers Shakespeare workshops as well as classes in block printing, creative writing, painting, drawing, introspective art, and music. These programs are in place not only to “reduce tension” within the prison walls, but to encourage personal growth and offer the inmates the opportunity to create, connect, and contribute to society as a whole.
In 2008, the inmates involved in the Shakespeare program put on their first full production, performing Much Ado About Nothing in front of 300 inmates from San Quentin’s Educational Program. This year’s production of Midsummer is also a full-length show, and incorporates costume design from Marin Shakespeare, including an elaborate donkey head for the role of Bottom, played by inmate Ronin Keating.
This production includes the continued help of Leslie Currier and Suraya Keating of the Marin Shakespeare Company, as well as local actress Linnea George, who will take on the roles of Hippolyta/Titania, Helena, and Hermia, respectively. Keating also directs.
Steve Emrick is the Director of the Arts in Corrections Program at San Quentin, and for his dedication to the program over a span of twenty years (the past six at San Quentin), Emrick was one of forty-nine people worldwide honored by the Dalai Lama for their compassion, service, and humanitarianism at the Unsung Heroes of Compassion 2009 event held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in San Francisco, CA. San Quentin is the last remaining prison to have a comprehensive Prison Arts Program, and since the budget crisis of 2003 that led to the termination of such programs at institutions throughout the state, San Quentin receives funding from private sources, as well as from the William James Association.
While there are always things that you can expect in life, there are some things you do not. A family of Canadian geese having their run of the grounds at San Quentin is certainly unexpected, and so is a group of ten dedicated inmates yielding their life sentences for but a moment, for the sake of a Dream.
The San Quentin Arts Programs are funded by the William James Association, which is dedicated to promoting work service in the arts, environment, education, and community development. www.williamjamesassociation.org.
Story by: Denise Battista