Can a theatre program help rehabilitate Ontario prisoners?

GRAVENHURST, ONT. – The gymnasium-turned theatre at Beaver Creek minimum institution is full of the trappings of a highly anticipated performance night.

Crew members check lights and actors fidget with their costumes. The director, 25-year-old Jill Kooymans, is easily identified as the one with the booming voice flying around the room to put out minor fires and give time warnings — one hour to showtime, half an hour, 10 minutes.

The lead actor, sweating in a suit and flat cap, listens to her calls while pacing and muttering lines under his breath. He’s been in prison for 16 years, waiting for a time when he feels like a member of a real community. Tonight he’s counting down for the project that feels like a step toward that possibility.

A uniformed man enters the gymnasium just as 11 inmates gather around Kooymans and two volunteer actresses. He’s here for a different count, the tallying of inmates ‘— a nightly occurrence but one which feels out of place juxtaposed onto a whimsical warm-up routine.