Curse of the Starving Class
William Head Institution, 1988
Curse of the Starving Class
Program Cover, William Head Institution, 1988
With my daughter Tonya and colleague Mike Matthews, I attended a performance of Curse of the Starving Class at William Head Institution located near Sooke, B.C. Passing through security, we were led into what looked like a high-school gym filled with excited men from the inside, and wary guests like us from the outside. One man circled around us and seemed to be sniffing my 20-something daughter. This felt like dangerous theatre.
Shepard's play took on significiant additional resonances when staged by inmates of a prison. The women who played Ella (mother) and Emma (daughter) were brought in to complete the cast, and I imagined what kind of experience it must have been for them to participate in this play. Shepard's story of two children who struggle to find both a place and an identity in the confines of an unstable family brought an enthusiastic response from the inmates in the audience. They knew what this play was about. They understood the feelings of confinement and claustrophobia of the family members. And they seemed responsive to the ways in which all the family members improvised identities in the face of social and personal pressures. Like Herbert Blau's production of Waiting for Godot in San Quentin, this production of Curse of the Starving Class found a receptive and knowing audience. The room was charged with a kind of complicity rarely felt in the theatre.
While the acting was uneven and occasionally marred by parodic self-consciousness, the commitment of the players to their material, their preparation, and the overall staging were a credit to the performers and the institution supporting them to use their time inside to pursue an active life of the imagination.
From the W.H.O.S. Program...
W.H.O.S. presents their 16th stage production to be performed at William Head Prison. This is a major work by Sam Shepard, winner of the Obie Award and one of theatre's most respected and celebrated writers. W.H.O.S. recently successfully performed Sam Shepard's "Mad Dog Blues" and W.H.O.S. President "alias" Harley's Dad, feels once again Shepard is just right for performers and audiences. "The Curse of the Starving Class" was first produced in New York in 1978 by Joseph Papp and the New York Shakespeare Festival Co. and has fascinated audiences since.
At the forefront of the arts in W.H.I. is the William Head On Stage Theatre Society, proudly presenting amateur theatre to the public at large. With each performance, the outside community has become more and more involved. The alliance between the inside and the outside worlds through W.H.O.S. benefits all by creating greater awareness of the positive activities undertaken by those traditionally perceived in a negative light. Prisoner actors have enjoyed self discovery through the performing arts, and the shroud of misunderstanding of social deviance has begun to be lifted for the entire community.
W.H.O.S. is now represented by a new graphic logo. It is our intention to show the public that we are a theatrical group first and convicts second. We felt that the old logo paralleled too closely to the Crime-Stoppers theme.
W.H.O.S. Award Winner
© Marshall Soules 2001