Stateville Voices Presents Plays by Incarcerated Students in Northwestern’s Prison Ed Program

Plays written by incarcerated students are on view now in Stateville Voices: A Festival of Short Plays by the Northwestern University Prison Education Program and Goodman Theatre. Three short plays are available now to view and another three audio plays can be heard on the Goodman Theatre website. The three plays premiered on July 3 and are running now on YouTube and Facebook, as well as the Goodman site.

Screen shot: Comic Books and Candy.

Playwright Rebecca Gilman, a Goodman artistic associate, has been teaching playwriting at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois, as part of the Northwestern program. The plays resulted from a course she taught in spring 2019. Gilman also is a professor of playwriting and screenwriting at Northwestern.

Sydney Chatman, former Goodman Michael Maggio Fellow, directs the plays and introduces them.

Scheduled to open on the July 4 Independence Day weekend, Stateville Voices invites us to reflect on what freedom and independence mean in a country that incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation on earth.

The plays are preceded by a 15-minute video documentary about the NPEP program, the three plays and their authors. The plays run about eight minutes each and the whole program is just under 45 minutes. These are the three plays:

Ain’t Nothing Like Quality Time by Taurean Decatur features a grandmother-granddaughter conversation about family matters. Nicole Bush plays Grandma Wanda and Briohna Booker plays Amari.

Parameters of Closeness by André Patterson is a discussion about the search for identity, with David Dowd as Dre and Ginneh Thomas as Ibi.

Comic Books and Candy by Antonio McDowell features two second graders who love both Spider Man and candy. Johnathan Matthews plays Bieber, who has a treasured comic book, and Gabriel Matthews plays Freddie, who tries to buy at least a short-term hold on the book with his collection of sweets.

The three audio plays are The Spark by Craig B. Harvey, Project Window by Michael Broadway, and Paroled by Anthony Ehlers.

Screenshot: Panel discussion. Playwright Antonio McDowell, lower left.

The festival premiere was followed by a panel discussion on the performances, NPEP and life at Stateville featuring Chatman as moderator. Panelists include Antonio McDowell (playwright who was recently granted clemency by Governor JB Pritzker) and his attorney, Josh Tepfer; Patrick Pursley (NPEP participant and former Stateville inmate); and Jennifer Lackey (director of the Northwestern Prison Education Program and the Wayne and Elizabeth Jones Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University). You can view the discussion on the Goodman Theatre website and on YouTube and Facebook.

The original plan was to offer live performances of Stateville Voices at the Goodman, at Kennedy-King College and at Stateville Correctional Center. Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the live performances were canceled but will be held at Goodman and Kennedy-King when it is safe to do so and at Stateville when the prison is no longer on lockdown because of COVID-19.

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Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.