We are a community of theatre practitioners working directly with people currently and formerly incarcerated in the Washington, DC metro area to creatively reimagine the prison system as we know it. Through theatre for social justice workshops, script writing, performances, and advocacy partnerships, participants affected by incarceration are given a platform to share their stories, tackle complex issues, and lead the criminal justice reform movement.
A justice system radically reimagined
– by people directly impacted by that system
– using theatre as a tool for changing policy and social attitudes, growing community, and achieving economic
and racial justice for all people
(Photo by Manaf Azzam)
Voices Unbarred seeks to reimagine the entire criminal “justice” system as we know it. This includes working towards the end of mass incarceration, exploring restorative justice and other approaches, shifting disparaging narratives about people who have been impacted by incarceration, and exposing the systemic racism and intersectional systems that funnel a disproportionate amount of Black community members into jails and prisons.
To achieve these transformations, Voices Unbarred recognizes the need for a change in how activists and policymakers approach reforming these systems. At the core of Voices Unbarred’s strategy is organizing people directly affected by incarceration and centering their ideas. Voices Unbarred participants use their lived experience and learned theatre techniques to advocate for themselves and the changes they want to see in the system.
We use Theatre of the Oppressed (TO), a revolutionary art form that helps people analyze the world around them, explore social and political issues, and create solutions, to accomplish the following strategies for change:
- Organizing & Base Building
- Narrative Change
- Capacity Building
- Coalition Building
- Healing from Trauma
(Photo by Ryan Maxwell)
Our performances engage audiences both physically and mentally. The type of theatre we do, Theatre of the Oppressed (TO), offers the opportunity to rehearse for the revolution in a safe space and feel truly prepared to enact change in the real world. A diverse audience -- including local policy makers--is invited to attend performances to learn from people with lived experience and participate in collective problem solving through activities such as Forum Theatre.
In Forum Theatre, we stage a true story where one participant felt some form of oppression, yet saw potential for change in that situation. The audience is then invited to jump in and try out different ways to stop the oppression. As a group, we discuss the consequences of the presented solution, both short-term and long-term, as well as how feasible it is. By being in dialogue with various community stakeholders, people directly affected by incarceration are able to advocate for tangible changes to policies and social norms, and Voices Unbarred is able to organize a coalition of advocates invested in change.