Imagine a world lived behind bars. No matter the choices you make, it seems you always end up making the wrong ones. After existing within the cycle for so long, one wonders whether or not it can truly be broken.
This is exactly what Jail Baby seeks to examine.
Sarasvàti Productions will premiere the original play Jail Baby next week in Winnipeg. The play tells the incredible story of Jasmine, a woman who was literally born into a life of crime.
Since her birth inside a woman’s prison to a criminalized mother, Jasmine has revolved in and out of foster care for years, destined to become one of society’s monsters. When she finds herself pregnant and facing her most serious charge yet, Jasmine is horrified at the thought of having her unborn child repeat her life of desperation.
“We know Jail Baby will open the audience’s eyes to the stereotypes and misconceptions around their lives and will also spark an important dialogue about justice in Canada,” says Sarasvàti Productions artistic director and Jail Baby playwright Hope McIntyre.
Jail Baby was initiated three years ago when Sarasvàti Productions contacted the Elizabeth Fry Society of Manitoba (EFSM) with a desire to work with criminalized women. When EFSM staff asked their clients how they would like to work with a theatre company, they responded with a need for a play to educate the public about their lives and explore the effects of incarceration on their children.
Artists from Sarasvàti Productions were then able to visit the Winnipeg Remand Centre, Portage Correctional Centre for Women, Edmonton Institution for Women and Okimaw Ochi Healing Lodge in Maple Creek. Drama sessions and interviews were conducted with over 60 women about their experiences in prison. As well, research and interviews were conducted with correctional workers, mediation experts, victims’ associations and families of criminalized women.
“When we performed for women in correctional institutions in 2008, we knew we had to find a way to work with this population,” McIntyre says. “What we didn’t expect was that the women would be so eager to share their stories and participate in drama sessions. It was really the first time that some of these women were able to play, to open up and express themselves without judgement. We were touched and honoured that they have allowed us to tell their stories.”
Leading this incredible production is director Ann Hodges, whose career has led her all over Western Canada.
Sarasvàti Productions has enlisted veteran actors Megan McArton and Tracey Nepinak; current celebrated performers Shannon Guile (Hot Thespian Action), Daina Leitold and Cory Wojcik (The Big League); and emerging artists Melanie Dean (August: Osage County) and Ashley Chartrand.
Several high profile Winnipeg lawyers have also been enlisted to play a parodied version of a judge. Saul Simmonds, Rachel Margolis, Amanda Sansreget, Bonnie Gembey and Loretta Ross will take turns participating in an off-the-wall Kangaroo Court scene.
After most shows audience members will be invited to stay for panels on issues related to the play, such as the balance between safety and security, Aboriginal justice and restorative healing models. This will be an opportunity for audiences to participate in a dialogue with professionals, criminalized women and experts.
Founded in Winnipeg 13 years ago, Sarasvàti Productions works to inspire artists and audiences through the use of theatre and to create positive social change.
Jail Baby runs at the University of Winnipeg Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (400 Colony Street) from May 16-26, 2013. Tickets are available online or by calling 204-586-2236.