Conspire Theatre

Breaking down prison walls for incarcerated women

Sometimes the most powerful theatre in this area doesn't happen where you can see it. Conspire Theatre, for instance, takes place behind bars in the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle. There, every week, company founder and Executive Director Katherine Craft and program developer and co-facilitator Michelle Dahlenburg lead female inmates through theatre games and exercises that incorporate acting, movement, and mime, as well as activities in which the women are able to write monologues and plays, poems, stories, and songs of their very own. This work not only allows for a kind of personal self-expression that some of these women have never experienced but also builds their self-esteem and develops their skills in communication and teamwork. By opening these women to new ways of looking at themselves and the world, by giving them voices with which they can talk back to and even shout down the forces of poverty, abuse, and prejudice that have ground them down, this theatre quite literally changes lives.

Though she's been at this only two years, Craft can see the difference this work makes for these women. So can the Travis County Sheriff's Office, which is why the social services program coordinator has invited Conspire to start a new class for women in maximum security. Craft is eager to accept, but it requires her to raise additional funds to pay for more facilitators, workshop supplies, and gas to get to the jail and back. She's pegged the cost at $3,000 and launched a campaign at IndieGoGo to secure the scratch. As of Monday, Aug. 22, Conspire was two-thirds of the way to its goal. The company has until Sept. 1 to raise the rest.

Look, the past three decades have seen a staggering increase in the number of incarcerated women in the U.S. – from 12,331 in 1980 to 114,852 in 2008 – and Texas alone houses more female inmates than the entire country did 31 years ago. This is a large and growing population in need, and Austin is fortunate to have a corps of committed artists willing and able to offer a service that's proven to be valuable. If you believe these inmates deserve something better than getting lost in the dark pit of our criminal justice system, then this project deserves your support. After all, as Dahlenburg says in a video about Conspire, "At the heart of this work is reminding women inmates that they have not been forgotten." You can see the video and make a donation at www.indiegogo.com/conspireheatre. For more information, visit www.conspiretheatre.org.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Conspire Theatre, Katherine Craft, Michelle Dahlenburg

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