Thriving Theater in Italy’s Prisons


In this post I would like to focus on the emerging theater programs in Italy. Over the years, as a means of rehabilitation, the program has become so successful it has even overshadowered Italy’s real acting troupes. Their effort even came close to being nominated for an Oscar.

This example would resound very strongly with Foucault because of his extensive effort of reform in the French prison system. Much of ‘Discipline and Punish’ is concerned  with the prison and the panopticon as an expression of power. The physical separation of the prisoners and the surveillance of the gaurds is the  physical disciple that the prisoners have to face. Thus the mental discipline is instilled the prison time table; based on the quality of the prison/rehabilitation program is an example of the latent forms of power. The freedom granted through time for recreational activities might appear liberating at first. Yet, when there is free time in a schedule, it shows that freedom can be something that is given and then taken away. Freedom i in the short amount of time that it allowed in  the schedule disappears as the next activity begins. Furthermore, when considering the activities during free time, the prisoner is truly not free because he cannot do whatever he wants – he must adhere to what is acceptable in the prison environment.

Now let’s consider theater. Theater itself is a creative process; it requires an actor to change him/herself to fit a certain role. Through rigorous practice and memorization one can come close to a recreation/accurate reproduction of a role. The time and effort put into orchestraing the entire effort requires seriuos dedication. Judging by the success of the program each prisoner puts an ample amount of commitment into the performance.

Theater and the arts can have a profound effect on the mentality of a person. When considering the mental state of the prisoners one has to realize that many of these prisoners do not have much else to look forward to aside from the theater. Therefore the program is an example of Foucault’s biopwer because the profound influence theater has. The seemingly benign system pervades the mind and soul of the prisoners and they thus relinquish their own power willingly. The system works very effectively in the way that it allows for the ‘betterment’ and it does so in a way that resounds positively with the prisoners – there is no resistance to the program. In fact, some prisoners do not want to leave because  it gives them something to live for. When released, the prisoners have to try to redefine themselves in an context of a society that is not very welcoming towards ex cons. The prison theater gives the prisoners a new identity that allows them to thrive in an environment that they are comfortable in and have a community in.

The seeming concern with the prisoner’s artistic wellbeing shows the excercize of biopower in the way that the program get hte prisoners very inolved.  Moreover the latent power is in effect when each prisoner practices on his own time. Foucault’s theory would involve the prison to create a time table that would grant them time for recreation such as theater. Thus this is the most sinister form of power because it pervades the prisoners’ very soul – the acceptance of this art form as a means of rehabilitation has a deep effect on their psyche as this method seeks to condition the prisoners for life outside  the bars.


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