Take back your mink! Tanya Shields makes her Dartmoor debut in the all American classic as the long-suffering Miss Adelaide. She is joined by Matthew Harvey as Sky Masterson and Lottie Clitherow as the straight-laced Salvation Army sergeant, Sarah Brown.
A sizzling New York tale of gamblers, gangsters and nightclub singers featuring some of Broadway’s greatest show stopping tunes, including Luck Be a Lady, Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat and My Time of Day. With tip-top choreography by Sara Hamilton, and direction from the Royal Opera House's Joe Austin, this is one feel good show you won’t want to miss. A superb professional cast will join 20 enthusiastic inmates in what promises to be a tremendous production for all involved.
Performances for the public take place on May 22nd/23rd at 2pm in the Prison Chapel.
TICKETS: for details on how to obtain a ticket please contact email@example.com
Thrilled to announce the Prison Choir Project has won a Koestler Trust GOLD Award for Carmen in Dartmoor Prison. A huge thanks to the Governor and Staff, to the professional cast, director, musicians and crew and especially to the inmates, who made it all so worth while.
A bit about the Koestler Trust:
The Koestler Awards are the heart of what we do. Each year we award and give feedback to over 3,000 people submitting work across 50+ categories of Fine Art, Craft and Design,Performance and Audio, Film and Animation and Writing. Our Awards Judges include leading names in the arts and creative industries.
Every participant will receive a participation certificate, and around 90% will receive written feedback on their work from the category’s judge, the Koestler Arts Team or a volunteer.
Our entrants tell us that feedback is one of the most rewarding things about entering the Awards.
Feedback from experienced artists/writers is very valuable because it’s genuine, practical and focused. It’s not sugar-coated or a platitude. In many ways it’s the best thing about the scheme.
Koestler Awards EntrantWe give over £30,000 in cash prizes, ranging from £20 to £100. There are additional Koestler Awards for first-time entrants.
By entering the Koestler Awards entrants can gain recognition for their achievements, get feedback on how to develop their creative work and gain motivation to work to a deadline. Many entrants use Awards or sales money to buy further arts materials or pay for courses.
A heartfelt thanks to all involved in this summer's production of West Side Story in Dartmoor Prison, not least the 18 inmates who gave their all, singing, dancing and playing all the Jets and Sharks. It was truly humbling to watch the development of this project from handing out the parts to the final performance in the prison in early August to a packed house of more than 250 fellow inmates, friends and family of the performers, prison staff and supporters of the Prison Choir Project.
A particular thanks to Bill Hadfield (Officer Krupke no less) who combined this important role with his full-time commitment as a member of Prison Staff, to the Governor Bridie Oakes-Richards, to Martin Earl and the Chaplaincy for the use of the Chapel and to all those that came to watch a show. As one audience member (a professional musician) wrote:
Honestly, that experience today was one of my top two ever experiences in music drama in my entire life. Such an incredibly uplifting performance. The pros were absolutely ideal - what a difference it makes having performers at that level: the audience can relax into it and marvel at what's achieved around it. The inmates were stupendous - god alone knows how you got them there to that level in that time, but you bloody did! Heather and I wept from about five minutes in to the very end. I've never seen Heather cry like that! At one point near the end of the first act I didn't know what to do with myself - I thought my heart would burst. The sound and the energy and the positivity in that room were a tidal wave of emotion - it was beyond words.......
A big thank you too to all the professionals that brought such honesty, enthusiasm, talent and good nature to the process. You have made an enormous impact on the lives of so many.
Below a few comments made by the inmates involved. We all miss them and will be back soon to plan the next project:
'I am absolutely overawed at how happy I was for signing up. In the 15 years I've spent behind bars this is one project I would do again and again.'
It has taken me right out of my comfort zone and I have enjoyed every minute.'
'Please hire me when I get out.'
His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Rory Stewart OBE MP, Minister for Prisons and Probation enjoyed a 25 minute programme of opera highlights from Carmen and 'Do you hear the people sing' a taster for this coming summer's production of Les Misérables in Dartmoor Prison. You can read more about the Royal visit in the Daily Mail article here, and in the Express here. Photos of the event can be seen here.
His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales will visit Dartmoor Prison on Friday 23rd March to hear the choir.
During the visit, His Royal Highness will meet privately with the Governor of HMP Dartmoor and Rory Stewart OBE MP, Minister for Prisons and Probation. The Duke will then view participants of the Prison Choir Project programme performing a 20 minute highlights programme from Bizet's Carmen as well as a song from Les Miserables, a taster for this coming summer’s production. The performance will take place in the Prison Chapel.
The Duke of Cornwall is a long-time supporter of the performing arts and regularly attends concerts, plays and operas in both private and public capacities. His Royal Highness is Patron of the Royal Opera House, Welsh National Opera and British Youth Opera. In 2004 The Duke founded Children and the Arts to help disadvantaged young people access creative and cultural experiences.
"Take a group of dispirited, demoralized and devalued men called convicts. Persuade them they can join together in producing a famous musical extravaganza that's good to look at and brilliant to hear. Do it in a barren, famously grim setting known as Dartmoor Jail. Make it a thunderous success. That's what the man from 'outside' did. He came among us one day with his passion for music, his prodigious ability and a committed energy that carried us along with him. 3 weeks later, he had inspired us beyond our dreams. We were in Seville helping to create those Spanish rhythms. We sang with Carmen, we tried to woo those achingly pretty 'factory girls.' We could feel the heat of the midday - and, yes, we had our day in the sun. Now the magician is gone. He and his theatre troupe - those enchanting singers and instrumentalists are a memory - gone to that great, free outside. But we whom you inspired, we'll never be quite the same again. Bravo, bravo, bravo."
Written by Nick, 82 years young and a performer/inmate at Dartmoor Prison
Kerenza peacock - Violin
This was honestly the most worthwhile and fulfilling performance I have ever done. Thanks to the inspired vision of Adam Green we were able to put on a performance of an opera inside Dartmoor Prison, with inmates as choir and audience. Chatting with the inmates, and performing alongside them changed many things for me. When I first heard their voices in chorus, I was stunned by the glorious sound and incredibly high standard. I also noted that it seemed that when they were singing with their full hearts, they were experiencing total freedom.
(In rehearsal I had discovered the arranger had given me as the penultimate number, Sarasate's crazy Carmen Fantasy to be played on stage amongst the choir. The only thing I felt nervous about inside the Prison, was whether I would managed all the virtuoso passages or have a memory lapse!!! But the inmates were so kind, encouraging, respectful and genuinely appreciative that it turned out to be totally fun and I will imagine they are my audience every time I have to play something difficult!)
With thanks to lovely Jan Capiński for the encouragement to share thoughts about this project - here are a few long, rambling paragraphs - tired, caffeine-fuelled with absolutely no interest in grammar, but wanting everyone to know what an amazing thing Adam Green made happen.
I have a tendency to throw myself into situations knowingly unprepared. I mean I knew the notes, I’d just about mastered this new English translation, I’ve sung Carmen a few times before, have a useful resting bitch face and can do a passable post-tequila impression of some flamenco-esque dance moves. But when someone asked me towards the end ‘What did you expect this project to be like?’ I admitted I’d no idea. I really hadn’t thought ahead about what it would be like. The extent of my research was glutting on 5 series of Orange is the New Black, and I’d quietly expected there might be fewer Latinos, American accents and tampon jokes down in Devon.
One thing I knew I did have, was an raw interest in how people live their lives, serve their time and attempt to develop whilst in prison. And I was happily relatively free of judgement regarding their crimes - always open to context - knowing people’s backgrounds, the circumstances, the addictions and struggles in their lives. Being open to the capacity we all have as humans to make mistakes and hope to feel that the rest of our lives are not indelibly marked by them.
What this did mean was that I went into the room on day one, with open eyes and I hope an open heart. Despite this, I never could have anticipated how much this week would surprise me.
Firstly, my gosh could these guys SING! A 14 tenor rendition of ‘when the factory bell echoes through the air’ in Act One left me totally speechless. I heard both a beautifully blended, carefully coloured sound with shimmering soft tones as well as rambunctious, dynamic chorus scenes full of life. The acting was beautiful too - at all times watching 17 characters each playing out their own individual experience, striving to tell their own stories. Throughout the week I delighted in watching people gain in confidence - making themselves vulnerable by committing to the experience and offering ideas at every turn.
One of the most moving things was watching the inmates listening to our director's instruction with such intensity. Propelled perhaps by a sense that this experience wouldn’t last forever, they listened and approached each task with a singular determination. One day when we came in, one of the prisoners was already leading a warmup - they seemed to have so much purpose, a determination to get everything out of this week that they could. Because when we leave, it’s over, and it’s back to the cells. It also makes me wonder about the difference made by having no mobiles - no distractions, the ability just to concentrate on what is happening ‘live’ right in front of you.
And after listening to instructions they immediately offer ideas; throwing themselves into the drama with both a sense of having perhaps nothing to lose, but also wanting to show us what they are capable of - proving their worth. When one guy said ‘I can’t believe how good you all are’ I felt an awful subtext of ‘I can’t believe you’re willing to come here and bother to give this amount of energy to us.’ But they could perhaps never know how much talent and skill we see in them.
One of my my favourite moments is watching an huge, stacked, heavily tattooed inmate (the cast will know him as 'Kangaroo Poo’) carrying out a slow motion scene change - lifting a table over and above his head and resting it down in super slow time. He is striving for absolute perfection of detail, shifting his weight perfectly, not rushing a moment and making the heavy table look like polystyrene. I have never watched someone be so careful, so determined. This is a common theme - as well as not judging on appearances - it is often those with tattoos, beards, and muscles who have the most overwhelming capacity for gentleness.
Someone asked - did I feel safe? A fair question given that singing as Carmen, you dance, flirt with and swirl around people that are initially strangers. Whilst of course we had to use common sense, in this project we were inviting exchange - wanting to know the participants better, rather than trying to keep our distance. But yes, I felt truly safe, respected, and supported at every turn.
We didn’t know details of anyone’s crimes - it felt totally inappropriate to ask what anyone had done - it was about individuals, human experience in this singular moment. If I could find out what their crimes were afterwards (with safe distance of risk of judging them) perhaps I would want to know, but not in morbid fascination, only in the same way that I’d want to know where they are from, what their interests are. All part of building up a bigger picture of them as individuals. In a conversation with one of the inmates, he was keen to know what we thought of them - how they were perceived. It seemed so simple - they are all just people.This idea of normality was supported by the sheer amount of laughter and good will in rehearsals. The inmates seem to have a desire to show what they are capable of, both in skill but also in kindness to each other. Wanting people to see their faces individually and not thinking of them en masse like caged animals or statistics. In the breaks, people bring in guitars and sing sensitive love songs. They show us pictures of their wives and after the show introduce us to their parents. It’s like they are saying - we are humans, people, individuals - please see that. When we hand out posters and cards at the end, share hugs and applause for every inmate, there is the sense that people were getting the recognition they perhaps never had in school/families. It is heartbreaking to overhear one prisoner admit he ‘was worried they were all thinking we were monsters”.
Lots of the time I simply forget we are in a prison - when the prison goes into lockdown over a spice (drug) overdose, or when the performance is nearly cancelled over an escaped prisoner on the roof, of course you are reminded. But most of the time we are just people making a performance, treating each other with equal respect and support. This matters for the inmates I think. In some ways there is an idea that this ‘putting on an opera' thing is something extraordinary, but in fact it is the ordinariness of it which I’m told appeals to one prisoner. Sometimes, when able to forget that we are in a prison, this could be an am dram production in a village hall.
It makes sense when many of the prisoners say they love using this project as a way to structure time. Boredom is destructive and I have always wondered how someone could be locked up and isolated for decades, stripped of self worth and limited in human interaction, then supposedly come out a better person?! Self harm and other mental health issues abound - an estimated 93% of prisoners have some kind of mental health condition. So it just seems obvious that these guys need activities, focus, structure, ambition.
As the week progressed there were two things which I loved most. In an environment that strips everyone of their personal identity, it was so good to see them as individuals. At the same time, in an institution that separates and divides, I was happy to see them come together with kindness to one other - with common endeavour.
As with every other ‘outreach' project I’ve done - it’s never a one way exchange. The prisoners encouraged me to find more colours - more truth in Carmen. I loved exploring the idea of things ‘costing’ Carmen (our director Tom’s phrase), perhaps spurred by a desire/need for things to be as real, as far from a false pantomime as possible. To find as much of the drama and emotions that might relate to any of our lives. Decisions made, loves lost, risks taken, lives at stake - all seem the more apt in this environment.
This experience wasn’t without ‘moral maze’ questions. Things I asked myself driving home included: what about the victims? What if the normal sense of rehabilitation doesn’t exist, as inmates may never be let out? Why should we prioritise the development of criminals over those living faultlessly in poverty? When we leave, where does this lead? Was the project just escapism? (haha) How can there be continuity to this experience?
I’m not sure I have answers yet to those questions, but walking around the rest of the prisoners’ cells, seeing only a name and photo, made me aware of the capability, talent and promise I was sure to be locked up behind each door. And the feeling that to encourage self-worth and fruition of these beautiful lives is such a valuable thing. The inmates in Carmen showed a beautiful humanity in tough circumstances. One of the guards was so right when he said following the performance, “What this has proved is that you ALL have value - and you must never forget that.”