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Grainne and I drive over to the Long Creek Youth Development Center in Westbrook to see the latest Maine Inside Out performance, Days of Change. We walk into a windowless room and sit behind three rows of fold-out chairs filled with students and staff from nearby high schools. Margot Fine, Chiara Liberatore, and Tessy Seward, the women who started and currently run Maine Inside Out, present the show with these words: “We are facilitating artists. The youth with whom we work create the content and it is completely original. We encourage the youth to be directors and performers … We are not trying to create professional actors, but rather to foster skills. Every time we perform, it’s a chance to start a conversation.”

With that, seven young men take the floor, standing back to back. One man narrates on the side with sound effects and song. Throughout the show, the actors take on changing roles as themselves, each other, their family members, and Long Creek staff. Through conversations through imagined vents, they offer the audience a glimpse into their complex histories, and illustrate their more immediate internal struggles with loneliness, missing their families, and lacking an outlet for their emotions.

In the post-show Q&A, one of the actors announces, “I’m proud of the effort that people have put into this group. It surprised me. I told my mother that I was doing this and she told me I was lying. This is not something that I ever would have done before.” His peers echo these remarks. One states, “This meant a lot to me. I had been told not to show my emotions. But that’s not who I am. When I am down in the dumps, I just want to be with Maine Inside Out. It allows me to express myself. To talk openly.”

I meet with Liberatore, Fine, and Seward to learn more about how they started Maine Inside Out. Seward explains: “We met in 2007. I had a project working with youth. Cathy Plourde introduced Margot and me to Chiara. We came up with a mission – to collaborate with people who are incarcerated, or formerly incarcerated, to create original theater that engages the community in dialogue about issues related to incarceration.  We wrote grants for our projects, and for many years we worked project to project.”

Chiara tells me later over the phone that she and Tessy shared experiences working and studying at the Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory in New York City, and that Maine Inside Out developed its program based on that organization’s techniques. “We don’t have scripted lines, so that leaves room for people to step into different roles,” Liberatore explains. “Sometimes it allows a person to step into a role that they had not thought of and that can be kind of magical. It’s a great life skill, too.”   

Now, Maine Inside Out is making the push forward to becoming a sustainable organization. Liberatore expresses, along with this desire to provide more consistent programming, a need for more community involvement. “It would be amazing to have more people coming to our shows. It’s an energetic exchange. When our participants humanity is witnessed, it’s a very powerful force.”

This summer Maine Inside Out will be implementing ongoing theater programs inside Long Creek as well as planning for another fall symposium in the community, focusing on the role of arts in corrections.  Maine Inside Out is also actively working with community members to create stronger and more accessible reentry support in the Southern Maine region.  Please visit their website for more information!

 

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