Geese Theatre Company/Stonewall
Arts project Inc began in 1980 as the
result of a phone call from Vera Cunningham,
the recreation director at Stateville
Correctional Centre, a maximum security
prison for 2,400 men.She had a theatre
group inside and was looking for scripts
for 23 African American men. We agreed
on an exchange-a couple of improvisation
classes, a performance of an improv.
based piece called Gimme A Dollar for
the chance to perform and do a few days
On the third day, the inmates lined up, very
formally and gave us tow yellow felt cards
with red roses drawn on them that said” BECAUSE
YOU CARE, WE CAN". And Geese was born.
In 1981 John , the company director got the
idea of an interactive show about maintaining
family relationships during incarceration.
The work was influenced by the French cabaret
idea pf the conferencier, the Marxist interpretations
of the fool in medieval theatre, the popular
theatre ideas of Clive Barker. A year or so
later , rehearsing in a Chicago warehouse in
a space shared with a Lithuanian choir John
created Lifting The Weight, a fast interactive
show for preparing offenders for being free
in the outside world . Eventually John taught
this show and directed it for Geese UK where
it still runs .If there is time , John will
teach the show to Corrections Victoria in 2004.
By 1990-Geese Company had done workshops, interactive shows and a variety of
treatment trainings in 38 states, traveled a half million miles, performed and
spoken in four countries . Gradually the touring company was wound down in order
to focus on longer term therapeutic goals.
From 1991 onwards, Geese Co. transformed into providing intensive, dramatherapeutic
services to incarcerated men, women and children, and then to working on creating
specific programming for entire systems. This led to intensive work in Australia,
Romania, Croatia, and to long term therapeutic relationships in institutions
treating civilly committed offenders for sexual offense disorders. It continues
to do this today.
In 1987 , Geese Company gave Clark Baim a mess of contacts, including Clive Barker,
an old professor of John's and the author of Theatre Games. Geese USA also gave
Clark permission to found a franchised company in the UK. John had scouted out
some of the terrain, and the company had performed in UK and Irish jails and
at the Edinburgh Festival. The company began and John Bergman directed and taught
many of Geese UK’s shows and techniques until 1995—these included:
Are You Positive?, an HIV/AIDS education show; Lifting The Weight; Plague Game;
Violent Illusion (1,2 and 3) ; Hooked on Empty, a drug show; and also Stay, a
domestic violence piece. It was this great company-Geese UK-that got the backing
to turn John Bergman’s “Lifting The Weight” into a CD-Rom.
John participated in this, and the CD won a BAFTA award. Geese UK is still very
much at work doing extraordinary projects and having gained much support from
the British system. They have also published their own handbook.
In 1997 Geese USA began it relationship with GRADO , a Romanian human rights
organization. Geese USA received a visit from Mihaela Sasarman. Ms. Sasarman,
M.Phil. is a directress, and visionary with whom we eventually created Transcena
, an amalgam of Geese USA and part of GRADO. Transcena is responsible for the
creation with Geese Co.USA’s materials as a base , of 5 therapeutic communities
for the treatment of violent men in prison .With Ms. Sasarman we created the
first “co-operative” meetings between police and high school children
since the time of Ceaucescu.
Mihaela has directed numerous prison shows as well as theatre pieces for other
special audiences including the deaf and intellectually handicapped clients.
Coming in 2004 is the continuation of Bill Plum’s (20 year veteran of chemical
dependency training in USA and Eastern Europe) chemical dependency work with
Transcena ,the introduction of drama therapy linked cognitive skills (from James
McGuire) and finally some sex offender specific material.
In the last few years John Bergman and Saul Hewish, the former director for many
years of Geese UK, have both worked together, and had a new book published-Challenging
Experience, published by Woods ‘n Barnes. It is a book of exercises for
the experiential treatment of violent and sexually violent clients. Since leaving
Geese, Saul has created two further companies. He is director of Acting Out Company
which works extensively in the UK in criminal justice, with a focus on theatre,
media and experiential therapy for young offenders and young people in foster
and residential care. He is also co-director of Rideout (Creative Arts for Rehabilitation),
a charity specialising in theatre and multi-arts based projects in prisons in
the UK. Rideout currently has long-term residencies at a number of Midlands-based
prisons, and is in development of a major drama, art and architecture project
for life sentence prisoners.
The company’s long–serving work dog Tosser has also traveled to four
countries , 31 states . She has received mention at three plenaries.
Geese USA continues to work bringing new therapeutic strategies in New England
and the Mid west, as well as currently working in a huge system wide project
for officer ethical development in Corrections Victoria, Australia. In this project
called Setting The Scene/Ethics in Action, Geese will eventually intensively
teach over 950 administrators, officers and community corrections staff how to
make it just a little bit better!
A long way from Vera Cunningham's call.