Risdon inmates take on a creative project with an ABC radio producer and the TSO
When playwright, author and ABC Radio producer Paul McIntyre began working with inmates at Risdon Prison on a creative writing and performance project early this year, he didn’t know what to expect of the men and women he’d signed up to work with.
“Like any theatre project, the Convict Monologues has been as much about the journey and process as it’s been about the final script,” McIntyre says of the 10-month project he initiated in partnership with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and Risdon Prison sport and recreation officer Natasha Woods.
“Friendships have been made, barriers broken down, and it’s an experience I will keep with me for the rest of my life. When we started the writing classes, there was a member of the group who said he might write something but could never, ever perform it. A few months later, when he was in full costume rehearsing, I reminded him about that.
“Who better to write about the convict experience than men and women who know what it’s like to be in prison?”
The series of monologues, inspired by the lives of early Australian convicts, premiered at Risdon Prison on Wednesday. TSO performers and Tasmania Theatre Company actors will present the work to the public tomorrow in Hobart.
The prisoners presented their work set to music written by composer Chris Williams, and performed by TSO musicians.
“The TSO has done previous collaborations at the prison, but this is really different to those and far more extensive,” TSO education executive Jenny Compton says. “A lot of the music [in Convict Monologues] is either setting the scene for the next monologue or it is transition music. The music indicates geographical and emotional changes. Some of the monologues are funny, some of them are very, very dark.”
The project was designed to help inmates at Risdon develop their written, oral and interpersonal communication skills during workshops presented by McIntyre and Woods, and through exposure to guest speakers on the convict experience including authors and historians Alison Alexander, Nicola Goc and Stefan Petrow.
“It was a two-way process — as the historians discussed convict life in the early 19th century, so they also learnt about convict life in the early 21st century,” McIntyre says.
Compton says it has been a revelatory project for all involved.
“There are reasons why the arts are really beneficial in helping people resolve things and grow,” she says. “Learning how to fix a car up isn’t going to address why someone is so angry. Writing a monologue [on the other hand] will challenge a person to take a long, hard look at themselves.”
TSO education executive Jenny Compton, left, Paul McIntyre from the ABC, and Natasha Woods from Corrective Services have collaborated with prisoners at Risdon Prison to create the Convict Monologues. Picture: LUKE BOWDEN