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Watch: A Virtual Premiere Of 3 Plays By Students Incarcerated at Statesville

Written by on July 3, 2020

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Three short plays, authored by incarcerated students and directed by former Goodman Michael Maggio Fellow Sydney Chatman, will be virtually shown – for free – at 5pm on Friday, July 3.

Scheduled around the July 4 Independence Day holiday, “Stateville Voices” is an invitation to reflect on what freedom and independence mean in a country that incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation; where more than 90 years elapsed from the Declaration of Independence’s proclamation that all men are created equal until Juneteenth, when the last enslaved person finally learned of their freedom; with a criminal justice system plagued by systemic racism that has resulted in the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other Black Americans.

The three performances – Parameters of Closeness by André Patterson; Ain’t Nothing Like Quality Time by Taurean Decatur; and Comic Books and Candy by Antonio McDowell – have all been written by incarcerated students at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, IL during a Spring 2019 playwriting course. Taught by Goodman Artistic Associate Rebecca Gilman, the course was part of the Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP).

Immediately following the plays, Chatman moderates a discussion about the performances, NPEP and life at Stateville during COVID-19, including panelists Antonio McDowell (Stateville Voices playwright who was recently granted clemency by Governor JB Pritzker) and his attorney, Josh Tepfer; Patrick Pursley (NPEP participant and former Stateville inmate); and Jennifer Lackey (Director of the Northwestern Prison Education Program and the Wayne and Elizabeth Jones Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University).

“I love these plays. Some of them are funny, some of them are touching. But all of them are honest and inspiring, just like the men who wrote them,” said Rebecca Gilman in a press release.

Gilman noted that, like all incarceration centers, Stateville has been hit especially hard by COVID-19. “We want people to sit up, take notice, and take action,” she said. “Therefore, we felt it was urgent to present a live virtual event featuring some of the Stateville Voices plays, as well as a panel discussion looking at what life is like at Stateville at the present moment.”

The plays shine a light on those most impacted by forces of systemic racism in America’s criminal justice system and allows the voices of the playwrights themselves to be heard at the very time so many citizens celebrate their own freedoms. As Director Chatman said, “These plays represent a slice of these men’s lives that have been silenced by the [incarceration] system.”

While the plays were meant to have a live performance, organizers say that now is the perfect time to share their stories, and that in-person viewings are planned for the future.

To watch the free performance, audience members can tune into Facebook, YouTube, and GoodmanTheatre.org/Stateville on Friday, July 3 at 5pm. The discussion will follow at 6pm.

NPEP is an initiative by Northwestern University to “provide a high-quality liberal arts education to incarcerated students in Illinois.”

Chicago’s Goodman Theatre is a non-profit arts and community organization located in the heart of the Loop.


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Written By Shelby Kluver