Wednesday 31 October 2012

Opera goes to prison again

In March 2013, Pimlico Opera will be staging Westside Story in HMP Erlestoke, Devizes in Wiltshire. The cast, largely made up of prisoners, with a core team of a professional director, a few professional singers and backstage team will perform Westside Story to the paying public in the prison. It is something that Pimlico Opera has been doing, admirably, for 20 years, all without public subsidy. Each project in prison displays the ability of art to change lives, the prisoners receive coaching and gain in dignity and self-esteem. It can all seem a little worthy on paper, until you go and experience it for yourself.

Two years ago we went to see a performance of Sugar in a women's prison (HMP Send in Surrey), with the women supplying not just the women but many of the male roles, including some pretty amazing gangsters. The performance had amazing energy and commitment  and you sensed again the transformative nature of art. Putting on opera is a collaborative enterprise, and to participate you need to learn that by collaborating with others you can create something greater. It was performed 'in the round', without proscenium with the audience close to the singers, something which seemed to phase them not at all and simply added to the vitality of the enterprise. Coming out again, and going through the security checks to get out of the prison was a surreal experience.

Simply hosting the project is disruptive to the prison's regime and requires support from the staff. And the effect can be greater than just on those taking part. You can read about this in greater detail on the Pimlico Opera website.

All this doesn't come cheap, each production costs £180,000 all of which is found through donations. So Pimlico Opera are appealing for supporters for next year's production. There are two dinners at HMP Erlstoke in support of the appeal, your chance to dine in prison! Further information from their website.

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