People might think Marin Shakespeare at SQ simply provides prisoners the opportunity to display their acting talent—but there’s a whole lot more to it.
The program actually bases its core principles around the rehabilitative benefits of drama therapy. Suraya Keating and Marianne S. facilitate the weekly workshops and are both professionally licensed therapists.
“We basically use the tools from theater arts to grow, transform and heal our lives,” said Keating. “When we come together to create a performance, we’re giving each other the space to share our authentic selves.
“To be seen and heard openly, we start to reveal our unique strengths, vulnerabilities and wounds.”
Each SQ theater cycle consists of first performing a Shakespeare play, and then revisiting some of the same themes through originally written “parallel” pieces. That’s where the significant therapeutic work takes place.
“The men get to share their own stories and reach into their own creativity,” said Marianne S. “They discover how to express their own truths.
“Then to actually perform this in front of an audience, they get the chance to directly affect people through their expressions of vulnerability.”
Drama therapy graduate students from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) spend a full cycle working with the SQ troupe. The immersive internship, called a “pre-practicum,” provides ample hands-on experience toward their Master’s.
The last cycle’s two students, Geno Creese and Daphne Ong, culiminated their pre-practicums by performing alongside their incarcerated colleagues Oct. 11.
A professional actor, Ong said she’d reached a point in her career where she felt she needed to reevaluate her future. Drama therapy seemed the natural answer.
“I’d always felt the therapeutic effects of performance art in my own theater experiences,” said Ong. “My work at SQ confirmed what I felt. What haven’t I learned here?
“I got to really engage—not just from an academic point of view, but to really see it in action and actively help people.”
Creese spent four years in Los Angeles pursuing his dreams of acting, but, just like Ong, he said he knew there was something lacking.
“I didn’t just want to be an actor. I wanted to heal and help others heal,” said Creese. “I wanted to share my own experience of healing through performance.
“Seeing all the beauty, joy and light within these guys every week, it really renewed in me the value of community—of a chosen family. It’s something I’ll carry with me.”
Keating first discovered her passion for drama therapy during her own graduate studies in 2005. Like Creese, Ong and many other CIIS students since then, Marin Shakespeare gave her a platform to nurture her craft.
“I’m super proud and touched by the courage, the openheartedness and spirit of support amongst our group,” said Keating. “For me, or any other facilitator, it’s good modeling.
“As we workshop and assume these character roles, it helps us examine what we ourselves struggle with being human.”
Keating splits her Marin Shakespeare duties between SQ and also CMF—where she said she enjoys working primarily with youths.
After already establishing a career in advertising, theater and film, Marianne S. said she went back to school late in life and reinvented herself.
“I was trying to figure out how I could be more of service, and I saw this beautiful program inside San Quentin,” she said. “Working with Suraya, I noticed right away how powerful trust is in this process.
“Men of different races and cultures coming together to put on work done for 400 years. These guys always show up for each other—that’s where all the trust comes in.”