Metchosin prison troupe’s play inspired by inmates’ lives

What: Time Waits for No One: A Prison Play

Where: William Head Institution, Metchosin

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When: Opens Friday, continues to Nov. 8. Gates open at 6:15 p.m. and close at 7:15 p.m. Show time is 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $20. Patrons must be 19 and over. Available at MyChosen Cafe, 4492 Happy Valley Rd., or ticketrocket.org 250-590-6291

 

This week, William Head Institution — Metchosin’s minimum-security prison — will be transformed into an amusement park.

Beginning Friday, those entering the jail’s gymnasium will see it transformed. Inmates costumed as carnies will invite visitors to play games and munch on popcorn. Afterward, the prisoners’ theatre troupe — known as William Head on Stage — will première their self-penned drama, Time Waits for No One: A Prison Play in a carnival setting.

This original play is inspired by the 2003 Mitch Albom novel, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. WHOS worked this summer with a team of Victoria theatre artists and musicians to create the piece, which includes original music performed by musician Katrina Kadoski and an inmate band.

The play’s director, Kate Rubin, has directed and acted in other WHOS productions. She says the inmates approached her about adapting the Albom novel, which they’d encountered in the prison library.

“A couple of them had read it. They loved it. They said: ‘Maybe we could create a play with it,’ ” said Rubin, interviewed this week at her Fisgard drama studio.

In Albom’s original novel, an old man called Eddie dies while trying to save a girl from an amusement park accident. In his afterlife, he meets five people whose lives he affected in both positive and negative ways.

In the WHOS adaptation, the central character of Eddie remains, although he is played by different actors. Meanwhile, instead of five people, Eddie encounters — in fable-like fashion —  different spirit animals: a raven, a horse, a raccoon, a buck and a hummingbird.

The experiences recounted by Eddie in Time Waits for No One are inspired by the prisoners’ real experiences — although some have been combined,

One true story is about a man who, as a child, was shunted from foster home to foster home. Some of his adoptive families were abusive. Some were motivated solely by the government paycheques. The only bright spot in the boy’s life was a guitar given to him by his uncle.

“That guitar carried him though his life and was the first gift he’d ever been given. And it has kept him sane, somewhat, in his prison time,” Rubin said.

While the new play contains autobiographical elements, it deliberately doesn’t delve specifically into details of crimes. However, a good portion of Time Waits for No One reflects on what a prisoner’s daily life is like.

“I think what [the play] gets across is there is a lot of time. And there’s a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of things to be challenged by,” Rubin said.

The eight-person artistic team working with the inmates are all women. They include such notables as Ingrid Hansen of SNAFU Dance Theatre and designer Carole Klemm.

It has been plenty of work for the outside team. Over the past three weeks, Rubin commuted daily from Victoria to Metchosin. She said it’s worth it.

“It’s like you go into a place where the need is really great. When you see your work is making an impact on someone’s life, it’s very satisfying.”

A member of WHOS, contacted at the prison this week, said the bureaucratic process involved in getting permission for an inmate interview would miss the Times Colonist’s deadline. However, Rubin provided a statement from a former WHOS actor (now living in Victoria) attesting to the theatre program’s value.

In the note, the ex-inmate, identifying himself only as “K.B.,” wrote that acting and working backstage in WHOS productions gave him a new sense of confidence.

“I have been able to speak at different events without fearing what others may think. I don’t use substances to build that confidence any more ... it’s in me. There is no doubt in my mind that the WHOS program changed who I am and helped me develop the confidence I needed to have a great life,” he wrote.

Rubin said as far as she knows, the 33-year-old WHOS is the only inmate-run prison theatre company in Canada that invites the public to its shows. She added that those who have yet to experience a WHOS show should have no qualms about entering William Head’s locked gates.

“I feel safer in some ways there,” Rubin said. “Because [the inmates] have our back. They are protective and very respectful.”

achamberlain@timescolonist.com

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