Former Inmates and College Students Unite for Original Play

Apr 29, 2011

Childhood reflections of former inmates will be juxtaposed with memories of college students in a new production created by the students, former prisoners and award-winning playwright Nancy Hasty. The original work “We Rise” will be performed by elementary education majors at The University of Scranton and former female inmates on Tuesday, May 3, at 7:30 p.m. in the Moskovitz Theater of the DeNaples Center.

Student interest in developing the play grew from a visit to Lackawanna County Prison as part of an emotional and behavioral disorders class taught by Sandra Lamanna, a faculty specialist in the Education Department. During the visit, the female inmates shared their stories in a format similar to the play.

“I always try to bring real-world experience to the class,” said Lamanna. “By hearing the stories of these women, I am hoping the students will develop a sensitivity to the family situations they may encounter as teachers.”

It worked.

“(The visit) struck an emotional nerve,” said Jessica Hanntz, a senior majoring in elementary and special education from Middlesex, N.J. “It took great courage and strength for the women to share their stories with strangers. The hope they had to make their lives better was inspirational. I wanted to be part of this.”

When Professor Lamanna presented her class with the opportunity to work in a production with former inmates, Hanntz and a group of other students – many without theater experience - jumped at the chance.

Hasty, an experienced instructor, director and playwright whose works have been produced off-Broadway, internationally and in northeastern Pennsylvania, is directing and developing the play, which she refers to as an “organic process.”

“The script is being developed by the students and former inmates by talking about what they want to perform,” said Hasty. She said that by comparing and contrasting lives, the play will provide “a peek at different childhoods and bring a hope for future possibilities. The audience won’t know whose story the actors are reading.”

Hasty has authored 10 plays, including “The Director,” “Florida Girls” and, most recently, “Lawnchairs.” Named the Artist of the Year in 2010 by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and NEIU 19, she has served as an instructor in the Arts Alive Summer Program and in the ArtSave program. She directed more than 40 theater productions in the last decade at K-12 grade schools with much of her work focused on at-risk or underserved youth.

Professor Lamanna has noticed her students bloom through this project.

“I have seen some the students gain confidence and understanding,” said Lamanna.

The students hope the experience will make them better teachers.

“I was moved by the calls for help in the inmates stories and their questioning of why adults didn’t see their distress,” said Kathryn Rigby, a senior from Hicksville, N.Y., majoring in elementary and special education. “When I am a teacher, I want to know my students well. I will pay attention to the small cues given by my students.”

The performance is free of charge and open to the public, however, donations are accepted. Seating is limited and reservations are suggested. To make a reservation, call 969-1211.

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