Milan Prison Passion


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Photography by Clara Vannucci

Clara’s photographs were also featured in Vogue Italia – see link below

Building on the success of previous Prison Passion plays produced in Angola, Louisiana and Belo Horizonte, Brazil we once again worked with The Dundas Foundation to produce The Life of Jesus play inside Opera prison, Milan.

We worked with the prison and an organisation working inside called INSIDE, led by Francesca Ferraresi who helped us gain access and permissions. We were also helped by Europassione Per L’Italia who liaised with the prison and provided costumes.

Italian prisons really understand the value of Theatre and almost all prisons have some connection to at least one Theatre Company working with them. Opera prison is Italy’s largest prison housing some 1500 men with short and long term sentences as well as a high security unit for mafia related crimes. One third of the cast we were working with came from Eastern Europe, men who had immigrated to find a better life and ended up in prison. The prison benefits from having a purpose build Theatre and also has two Theatre Companies actively working there with extra theatre projects using theatre as dramatherapy.

The Director of Opera Liquida [inhouse Theatre Company], Ivana Trettel along with Beppe Ruga had helped us by ensuring the men continued learning their lines which was a great help. Often rehearsing outside, we discovered that their attention span was very short so had to accommodate their way of learning. Some recasting had to happen but it was great to see them stepping up and taking on roles that they wouldn’t have dreamed of being able to undertake. It was great to see their confidence building. One great success story was the young man who played the Narrator who we had overlooked before and was now anxious to show us how capable he was – he did a fabulous job of narration and then also the role of Peter. Great to see.

The men had volunteered to be part of the project for a number of reasons – some wanting out of their cells, some wanting to spend time with their friends, some wanting to be part of a Theatre production and some wanting to tell the story of Jesus. They were a mix of nationalities with a third of them coming from Eastern Europe – all spoke Italian but with varying abilities. A mix of sentences too – some in for petty crimes and some in for murder. Always challenging to see men who have made some really bad decisions and choices getting their lives sorted out and yet still having 30 years to spend in jail.

We also worked with another prison in Milan – Bollate which is a mixed smaller prison – they actually have theatre in their prison and so were really open to the project. We had a selection of 10 women from there and from workshop auditions, chose 6. Again, a mix of Italian and Eastern European and a mix of sentences and abilities. Unusually enough, it was harder to get them up to speed than the men but we only had 2 hours with them a week which was hard.

We were not able to bring the men and women together until the final week and only for one full day of rehearsals which really wasn’t enough time. This is one of the unique aspects of this production – the bringing together of male and female prisoners – helping them work together as a team. It takes time to break down their barriers and nervousness, so being able to work with them longer would have been better. Still, they all respected each other and that is a very positive outcome.

The end production was very well received and the cast were all amazing in how they worked together to create something out of nothing – we had no money for set or sound/lights but the cast really pulled together and found things to make a set out of. They worked very hard to ensure they did the very best they could. Seeing them work together was very moving and seeing them enjoy the applause from the audiences was very special especially seeing them perform for their families.

Suzanne was accompanied on this trip by George Fanzio, a young Italian actor who is fluent in English and wants to be a Director, so we set up a mentoring project with him becoming Assistant Director on the project.

Mentoring is one of the things that Cutting Edge strongly believes in, so it was great to be able to fund this position and work with George. Hopefully, the beginning of a new collaboration.