Artistic creations can be a means for the exploration of human attitudes, feelings and behaviors. The performing arts are an example of an artistic media that can be utilized in this way. For example, the use of theatre and film can be applied as way to explore some of the human attitudes, feelings and behaviors that are related to topics such as tolerance, acceptance, anger, hatred and also forgiveness. Two such performing arts examples are The Laramie Project and Shakespeare as presented in the Secured Housing Unit (SHU) at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (WVCF), a super-maximum security prison in the state of Indiana. These productions offer their creators and viewers alike, the opportunity to learn much about the attitudes and actions concerning how people relate to each other. They also offer an opportunity for people to understand themselves better, as well.
The Laramie Project, developed by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Company, consists of both a theatrical representation and an HBO film based on the actual 1998 murder of twenty-one year old University of Wyoming student, Matthew Shepard. On October 6th, 1998, Mr. Shepard was bound to a fence and severely beaten and left to die in the outskirts of the small town of Laramie, Wyoming. He passed away as a result of the injuries he sustained six days later. This was a hate crime, since Matthew was targeted because he was gay. The Laramie Project originated when members of The Tectonic Theatre Company went to Laramie in order to interview the residents concerning the circumstances surrounding the murder of Matthew Shepard, as well as their reaction to this incident, in order to put on a production pertaining to these events.
Shakespeare, as presented in the SHU at the WVCF, was born out of a prison outreach project that was developed by Associate Professor of English at Indiana State University, Dr. Laura Bates. Dr. Bates offered prison inmates the opportunity to study Shakespeare. She worked with men in solitary confinement as they rewrote the Shakespearian language to “contemporary prose” and the plays’ themes into “life lessons for the convicted and incarcerated” (Scotts-Douglas, 2007, pp, 110-111.). Then, Bates’ drama group, Shakespeare Locked Down, performed and videotaped the production, and in turn they shared their performances of the adaptations with the men in the SHU at WVCF (Scotts-Douglas, 2007, pp, 110-111.).
These productions offered their creators and viewers alike a unique opportunity to learn about human attitudes, feelings and behaviors in relation to the themes of injury and forgiveness. These themes can be seen in scenes from each production. For example, in the HBO film version of The Laramie Project (n.d), there is a very emotional moment in the scene of the sentencing of Matthew’s murderer, Aaron McKinney, where one can see a process of forgiveness beginning to take shape. Likewise, the SHU Shakespearian writers display a similar...