British Columbia

B.C. prisoners produce podcast during pandemic reminiscent of vintage radio plays

For decades, prisoners at William Head Institution in Metchosin, B.C., have put on a stage show for a public audience. This year, they had to change their artistic medium.

After 4 decades of stage shows, William Head Institution inmates had to change their artistic medium

Inmates and actors in a performance of Time Waits for No One at the William Head Institution in 2014. Since 1981, such performances had occurred annually, until the pandemic. (Jan Hamidi)

The show must go on at William Head Institution, pandemic or no pandemic.

Every year since 1981, prisoners at the minimum security federal correction facility in Metchosin, B.C., produce a stage play and perform it for public audiences who are permitted inside to watch. The pandemic means that just isn't possible right now, so production has pivoted and inmates have created a podcast instead.

Called Dark Traveller, the three-part series features prisoners performing the 1940 radio play The Northern Lights, a science-fiction story initially written by Wyllis Cooper.

The podcast also features behind-the-scenes interviews with the incarcerated artists, a mix of creative writing inspired by the play's themes and inmate writing workshops, as well as an original sequel inspired by the old radio show. 

Kathleen Greenfield, co-artistic director of SNAFU Theatre Society and lead artist and editor of the series, said the idea to make a podcast came to the society after setting up a pen pal program for inmates to give them a creative outlet when they knew a stage show could not be done.

Inmates at William Head Institution prepare for their contemporary production of Antigone in 2017. The minimum security facility in Metchosin, B.C., has the longest-running prison theatre company in Canada. (William Head Institution)

The pen pal program connected theatre artists on the outside with inmates and written work and artwork was exchanged between both.

"We noticed the amazing creative writing and amazing visual art that was coming out of the institution and we thought, why don't we try to record," said Greenfield, speaking on CBC's On The Island Monday.

So SNAFU reached out to the Correctional Service of Canada for permission and eventually, society members went into William Head and held 12 workshops and six recording sessions and a podcast took shape.

"I really enjoy the creative writing work that they've done," said Greenfield, adding the pen pal program and podcast were a wonderful way to keep the artists outside, and inside, connected.

A prime objective for prisoners serving time at William Head is to prepare them for an eventual reintegration into society. Greenfield said the stage productions that have been happening for 40 years helped with this and so did the podcast.

Not only are social skills practised, but prisoners also learn a bit about marketing, advertising and show production, she said.

All three episodes of Dark Traveller are now available wherever you get your podcasts. They can also be found posted online on the William Head On Stage website.

With files from On The Island


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