Deborah Tobola, artistic director of the Poetic Justice Project—a theater company comprised of formerly incarcerated actors—has a lot in common with playwright Claire Braz-Valentine. Both taught creative writing to inmates, using their stories to craft works of original theater. And, likely because of this common source of inspiration, both have heavily addressed themes of crime, punishment, and redemption in their productions.
It’s only right that Braz-Valentine’s Women Behind the Walls, written in 1995, is currently being revived by Tobola’s Poetic Justice Project. The show, which will feature a multiracial cast of five formerly incarcerated women, is set to play, fittingly, at Alcatraz on Friday, Oct. 21—in an actual jail cell. From there, the production will travel to several Northern California venues before returning to San Luis Obispo County in early November.
But for Central Coast audiences, there’s a chance to catch this show first. A VIP preview of the play, directed by Molly Stuckey, takes place Monday, Oct. 17, at La Perla Del Mar at 205 Windward Ave. in Shell Beach. It’s a fundraising event, and tickets go for $100. That includes hors d’oeuvres before the show, dessert after, and an audience “talk-back” with the playwright, cast, and crew. Dining begins at 6 p.m.; the performance starts at 7. Reserve tickets at brownpapertickets.com, call the ticket hotline at 1-800-838-3006, or visit poeticjusticeproject.org.
“This revival by Poetic Justice Project is a gift to the people of California,” Braz-Valentine stated in press materials. “Poetic Justice Project provides artistic outlets to formerly incarcerated people who are looking for a way to give back to the public. And it gives the public a look at real people who are locked behind bars.”
According to the national advocacy group Action Committee for Women in Prison, only seven percent of all inmates in California are women. However, that statistic is quickly growing: Since 1986, that statistic has ballooned 340 percent, making female inmates the fastest-growing portion of the state prison population. Most are in prison for non-violent drug offenses.