Developed as part of CORNERS, a large intercultural arts project, through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Exodos in Slovenia and other partners, the project involved nine convicted persons working alongside academic and oral archivist Ana Frank, Paula McFetridge, Director of acclaimed theatre company Kabosh, playwright Laurence McKeown and Executive Producer at Exodos Natasa Zavolovšek. Through a series of meetings and workshops, stories were gathered to produce a unique 16 minute play exploring life in prison including daily routines, power systems, small acts of rebellion, communication with the world beyond the walls and imaginary escapism.
Built to Contain, supported in Belfast by NIACRO, was produced over a three-week period: developing script ideas, interviewing individuals with convictions and finally performing and recording the play. This involved the artists facilitating workshops to develop and encourage skills in scriptwriting including narrative, characterization, language and structure; performance skills of voice projection, clarity of intention and emotional development, plus technical skills such as microphone technique, recording and editing.
Producer Nataša Zavolovšek commented, ‘the whole Corners project is dedicated to sharing the stories from one “corner” of Europe to another. The stories of ex-prisoners from Northern Ireland are inspiring, shifting our positions and dissolving stereotypes about prisons and prisoners. The participants all said that art helps them to survive isolation and imprisonment, and our common project can prevent stories from being forgotten and enlighten also other people on other Corners’.
The project also has a strong emphasis on archiving and throughout the entire process participants were encouraged to share personal stories and experiences through one-to-one interviews with researcher Ana Frank. Elements of this archive will be showcased in 2014 in an external installation format and will form the basis for ongoing research work within the Peace Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Damian Smyth, Head of Literature and Drama, at the Arts Council, commented, “Built to Contain is an impressive CORNERS project which has dual impact; developing arts skill of ex-prisoners yet also developing the skills of our professional artists from Northern Ireland in working collaboratively with their European counterparts to produce a lasting piece of artistic work.”
Olwen Lyner, Chief Executive of NIACRO, said: “We, in NIACRO, were keen to support this project, as it provides an opportunity for people who have been in prison not only to enhance their own skills and knowledge through the production of the play, but also to tell their stories in their own words. Given the attitudinal barriers that many people with convictions face on their release from custody, we are pleased that this project presents an opportunity for people to tell their own stories about the reality of life in prison.”
Developed and performed by people with convictions in Northern Ireland.
Recorded by Cormac O’Kane @ RED BOX
Project executive producer: Nataša Zavolovšek / Exodos