Shining a light on the inmates at William Head Prison has nothing to do with surveillance and everything to do with creativity.
During the month of October and into November the prison gates will be open to the public, who enter to enjoy William Head on Stage (WHoS).
For the past 30 years inmates have been staging productions for the public. They choose the plays, build the sets, manage tickets, sew costumes and perform in the show. This year’s production involves 50 hand-built puppets, 27 prisoners and pure madness. It is an intense collage of stories where animals and humans reveal themselves through humor, darkness and love.
The Prison Puppet Project features 13 fables based on stories written by the inmates. The fables have titles such as The Seal Boy, The Envious Man, and Birds of a Feather. They have even formed their own band and play what they call incarcerated bluegrass funk.
This year WHoS joined forces with SNAFU Dance Theatre, Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop and East Sooke musician Katrina Kadoski.
Kadoski is best known for Cougar Annie Tales, a one-woman show about the life of legendary Cougar Annie. She brought her Cougar Annie show to Sooke last year at EMCS.
For the William Head show Kadoski wrote the score with the help of four inmates.
“They all play instruments,” said Kadoski. “We are an acoustic orchestra that sonically underscores the entire show.”
She said they have adapted traditional pieces and have even written an overture.
Going into prison and working with inmates can be a rather scary experience, but it isn’t for Kadoski. She said she was more afraid of the guards than the prisoners because they can be “robotic” as befitting their job, but the inmates are working on a creative level and it gives them an opportunity to shine a light.
“It’s a real gift to work with these people in this way,” she said. “It’s very therapeutic.”
She said the joy is in finding those hidden gems of talent.
“One guy learned to play guitar in four months, he’s amazing and growing in leaps and bounds. He’s so excited every day and it is so infectious to see the enthusiasm every day.”
The prisoners are as enthused as the outsiders.
“Going through prison… there are many messages we get put into our heads that you are inhuman… The process slowly chips away at you. I didn’t realize how deep it went until I was exposed to the community. Oh yes, this is what not is like to be treated like a person… we need normal human contact without an agenda,” said one inmate.
Public performances of The Prison Puppet Project begin on October 11. Anyone can buy a ticket, although you must be 19-years-of-age to enter the prison.
The performances run Friday and Saturday all through October and on the first two weekends of November. Seating is limited and the November dates always sell out.
Tickets can be purchased at MyChosen Cafe in Metchosin, from Ticket Rocket (inside Intrepid Theatre office at #2-1609 Blanshard St. at Fisgard in Victoria) or by phone at 250-590-6291. All tickets must be purchased in advance, gates open at 6:15 p.m., show beings at 7:30 p.m. No latecomers will be admitted.
For more information visit: www.snafudance.com.