Shakespeare Behind Bars


Shakespeare Behind Bars is a feature documentary about the all-male Shakespeare company working within the bars of The Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky. The film follows 20 inmates, and five of those in-depth, for 12 months as they rehearse and ultimately perform a Shakespeare play for their fellow inmates. In a surprise turn, they are also invited to take their show on the road to other prisons, thus becoming the only touring inmate Shakespeare ensemble in North America.

Ninety-seven percent (97%) of the 2 million prisoners in the U.S. (the most of any country) will one day walk the streets again. In a political climate that is largely about throwing away the key, the Shakespeare Program at Luther Luckett helps men rehabilitate, as the words of Shakespeare act as a catalyst for the men to examine their past with remarkable candor. They are all individuals who have committed the most heinous crimes, and who are now confronting and performing those crimes on stage. In this process, we see these unlikely men testing the power of truth, change, and forgiveness.

This year, the troupe stages “The Tempest”, Shakespeare’s last play. Combining several genres, The Tempest has elements of romance, tragedy and comedy. The play focuses on Forgiveness as the main theme, and also explores the ideas of Isolation, Vengence, and the Father-Daughter relationship. The inmates cast themselves according to their own crimes and lives, and what they are willing to take on emotionally. And just as in Shakespeare’s day, men play all the female roles.

As this cinema verite film progresses, the themes and plot of The Tempest are revealed as the inmates discover parallels with their own lives in the play. The film follows the personal narratives of the five main characters in their day to day life in prison as well as in rehearsal, documenting their struggles to change within a very rigid system. We follow these men as they strive for transformation and forgiveness through the power and poignancy of Shakespeare and the inspiration of art.


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