Freedom to fail: The unintended consequences of a prison drama

David Grant*, J. M. Crossan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This article will consider how the failure of a planned applied drama performance by life prisoners in Belfast's Hydbank Wood Young Offender's Centre in October 2009 demonstrated unexpected outcomes of the project which paralleled the themes of the play. Involvement in the drama-making process had created more than mere freedom from routine, but a freedom to make space for an unfamiliar degree of autonomy, a partial empowerment (Kershaw 2004). The prisoners, who included the play's author and co-author of this article, had succeeded in asserting their right to fail. Conventionally, an artist's right to fail is an assertion of the importance of being able to take creative risks. By committing themselves to this performance, the participants were offering themselves up to the judgement of a highly unpredictable audience, and furthermore were prepared to engage with the additional uncertainties of an improvised interactive ending. More profoundly, the play reflected its author's pre-existing research into deinstitutionalisation which highlighted the inconsistency between the prison system's ostensible commitment to the effective resettlement of released prisoners with the way in which enforced conformity with the prison regime suppressed the very autonomy on which successful reintegration into society depends. Over the course of the drama project significant changes were documented in the core group of six prisoners. It was ironically the thwarting of their goal of sharing their work with younger prisoners that most clearly demonstrated the success of the project in helping to build relationships of mutual trust, as well as providing prisoners with a renewed sense of purpose and self-worth, transferable life-skills necessary to support a positive identity upon release from prison.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)97-100
Number of pages4
JournalPerformance Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Feb 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


Dive into the research topics of 'Freedom to fail: The unintended consequences of a prison drama'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this