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William Head on Stage celebrates its 40th anniversary with events this weekend

Time Machine exhibit looks back at history of prison theatre program
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Prison Theatre Time Machine, a gallery exhibit and tour, looks back at 40 years of groundbreaking theatre by William Head on Stage. SNAFU

ON STAGE: Prison Theatre Time Machine

Where: Salvation Army Addiction and Rehabilitation Centre, 525 Johnson St.

When: Through May 29

Tickets: $10 (suggested donation) from snafudance.com

Ingrid Hansen has been involved with William Head on Stage since 2006, when she volunteered to lead workshops for incarcerated artists at the federal correctional institution.

Canada’s longest-running prison theatre program had been in full swing for 25 years when the Victoria-based Hansen signed on, and was already the subject of national attention. But the SNAFU Society of Unexpected Spectacles co-founder has injected new life into W.H.o.S. productions in the years since — the latest being Prison Theatre Time Machine, which runs tonight through Sunday at the Salvation Army Addiction and Rehabilitation Centre on Wharf Street.

The project is a collaboration between members of W.H.o.S. and SNAFU, the dance and theatre company Hansen runs with Kathleen Greenfield. Hansen describes the event as “part theatre exhibit, part art installation, part shadow puppetry performance,” with a set co-designed and built by Jeni Luther and several incarcerated artists at the correctional institution.

The gallery exhibit and performance series is celebrating 40 years of prison theatre at William Head. Guided tours through the pop-up gallery include reams of memorabilia from four decades of W.H.o.S., including photos, posters, clothing, news articles, costume pieces, audio recordings and more.

“It’s a tribute to all the hard work and sweat which has gone into making these shows over the years,” Hansen said. “It really is a time machine.”

The company was unable to stage its annual play for the public in 2021, due to the pandemic, which would have marked its 40th year of operation. Hansen felt it was important to mark the date with an appropriate celebration, so Prison Theatre Time Machine was bumped forward one year to its spot on the calendar this weekend.

“Forty years of passing the baton from incarcerated artist to incarcerated artist, as they get paroled, is an achievement,” Hansen said.

W.H.o.S. has grown exponentially during the past 10 years, Hansen said. The artists involved have begun making their own work, collaboratively staging their own shows of original material (in the past, the program primarily tackled work by outside sources, from George Orwell and Bertolt Brecht to J. R. R. Tolkien and William Shakespeare). Attendees will have an opportunity to see the progression unfold this weekend, as Prison Theatre Time Machine is arranged by decade in chronological order.

There will also be music provided by residents of the Salvation Army Addiction and Rehabilitation Centre, Hansen said.

Guided tours of 10 people run every 45 minutes during operating hours. Attendees are required to pre-book, due to demand. Tickets are available for purchase by donation through snafudance.com.

mdevlin@timescolonist.com