University of Melbourne Magazine

New take on prison drama


    Leah Sanderson

    Leah Sanderson

    Most of the prisoners at Southern Queensland Correctional Centre have experienced a fair bit of drama in their lives. Now, with a little help from Leah Sanderson, they are taking to the stage to explore drama of a different kind – Shakespeare.

    Sanderson is project manager for the Shakespeare Prison Project, run by the Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble.

    The group works with inmates at the maximum-security prison to produce a Shakespeare play in three months. Sanderson directed the most recent production, Twelfth Night.

    While the prisoners generally have no experience of drama, and may initially find Shakespeare’s work daunting, they work together to get to grips with the texts.

    “Shakespeare isn’t written to be read off the page, so I think a lot of people who have read Shakespeare in high school found it quite dull or quite complex. Shakespeare is meant to be spoken, acted and engaged with,” Sanderson says.

    “Lots of the men actually relate to Shakespeare far more than they think they will.There are so many hearty themes that cross all sections of society and experience that a lot of them really surprise themselves with how much they enjoy it.”

    While the project’s most basic objective is to help the prisoners put on a play, there are many spin-off benefits. Sanderson has seen improvements in participants’ literacy, teamwork skills and self-confidence.

    There’s also evidence that it helps reduce violence within the prison environment.

    The public are invited to watch one performance of each play. Sanderson says the experience often challenges people’s perceptions of prisoners.

    Her role allows Sanderson to combine her passions for social justice and creative arts. “I absolutely love going into prison,” she says. “The relationships and friendships we develop with the participants are really refreshing.”

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