Danny Kruger

Putting criminals on stage

Danny Kruger explains how his theatre company helps offenders to go straight

Danny Kruger explains how his theatre company helps offenders to go straight

Felicia ‘Snoop’ Pearson was a drug dealer, with a five-year stretch for murder behind her and no nice future ahead. But then a random meeting in a Baltimore nightclub, with an actor in the hit TV show The Wire, led to a starring part for herself in the story about the lives and fortunes of hustlers and cops and pimps and politicians. She plays to type, a drug-dealer and murderer, and in the role she has found a sort of redemption, and a deeper truth: ‘Ain’t saying I’m the best actor out there — I know I’m not — but I also know that acting, by showing me how to feel, also showed me I hadn’t been feeling at all. You can’t sell dope all day and still feel. You can’t kill niggas and still feel. You just can’t.’

My wife Emma and I use that quotation to explain why we put criminals on stage, and sell tickets to the public to come and watch them. Creative expression feeds the soul, while the sensation of applause mainlines affirmation into people who have usually got their kicks and their comforts in other, more destructive ways.

The useful irony of acting yourself, or someone like yourself, is that it creates a distance from the personality you have assumed — one’s ‘character’ is revealed as just that, an acquisition which can be analysed and altered. We have seen great changes in our members, and so far none of the men and women we have worked intensively with has returned to prison. Audiences, meanwhile, get more than the voyeuristic tingle of ‘reality theatre’: they watch actors who make up for their lack of professional polish with an abundance of raw integrity.

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