Theatre company William Head on Stage (WHoS) is celebrating 35 years of prison theatre this fall with five weeks of performances kicking off tomorrow (Oct. 7) in Metchosin.
Co-produced by WHoS and SNAFU Dance Theatre, the inmates at William Head Institute will perform Sleeping Giants, a play about what happens when the world stops dreaming. The tale follows five humans and a family of dream spirits, who act as guides through the subconscious landscape.
“The team works really, really hard on making this a unique experience,” said Ingrid Hansen, a co-founder and co-artistic director with SNAFU.
“Instead of choosing a script or play … in the last five or so years WHoS has done a lot of work creating its own show.” Through writing and improv exercises, inmates began to craft something that is their own. “It’s all done in house,” she said.
The team started with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Rip Van Winkle as a “jumping off point and since then have created their own universe,” Hansen said, adding the show is very unique.
“This year we have all the design also being done by the men at William Head Prison. It’s a huge production,” she said, estimating roughly half of the prison population is contributing to the performances in some capacity.
Everything from crafting costumes, installing lighting and developing sets is being done by inmates. Even an inmate band, which includes two musicians playing along with some electronic music mixing, is working on a score for the production. “It’s a huge amount of work that goes on … (But) it’s a whole other level from last year’s production,” Hansen said.
While the show opens to the public on Friday, the opening performance for the company is in front of the rest of the prison population, staff and volunteers. “That’s a very special performance,” Hansen said.
While many inmates get involved with WHoS as “an opportunity to be part of a project that gives something back,” she said, it also gives inmates a chance to be something other than just an inmate, even if only for a few hours. “You get to witness a huge change. Often people come into the first meeting and speak very quietly and don’t make eye contact. Several weeks in, sometimes I don’t even recognize people … They’re very engaged and confident.”
The process of taking an idea and turning it into a performance also holds many key lessons for those involved, Hansen added.
“The teamwork aspect is probably the biggest part of it … you have to work together to make the play come to life.” That means making compromising, negotiating and putting aside differences to get a show to come to fruition. “It’s a really challenging project.”
Hansen noted that director Kathleen Greenfield, also a SNAFU co-artistic director, has done a spectacular job of getting the men involved and making sure their talents and gifts are utilized. That includes working many different cultures and interests into the script.
“The final weekends always sell out,” Hansen said, recommending that audience members get their tickets early. “We’ve already sold a ton of tickets and we haven’t gotten to opening night … It’s something you need to plan ahead.”
The gates to William Head open at 6:15 p.m. and close promptly at 7:15, with absolutely no late comers granted entrance. Shows begin at 7:30 p.m. with performances running on Oct. 7- 8, 14-15, 21-22, 27-28-29 and Nov. 3 to 5.
Tickets are $20, available online at ticketrocket.com and at the Metchosin Country Store (cash only), 4384 Metchosin Rd. All tickets must be purchased in advance and 10 per cent of the proceeds will be go to the Help Fill a Dream Foundation.