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Shakespeare Behind Bars (2005)

Not Rated | | Documentary | January 2005 (USA)
Twenty male inmates in a Kentucky prison form an unlikely Shakespearean acting troupe.


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Twenty male inmates in a Kentucky prison form an unlikely Shakespearean acting troupe.

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Not Rated | See all certifications »


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Release Date:

January 2005 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Shakespeare Atrás das Grades  »

Filming Locations:



Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$2,347, 31 March 2006

Gross USA:

$48,194, 22 October 2006
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References In Living Color (1990) See more »

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fantastic documentary
3 April 2011 | by See all my reviews

The Luther Luckett Correctional Facility is the setting for "Shakespeare Behind Bars," which is a look at prisoners performing Shakespeare in one of 66 programs this particular prison runs. SBB was founded by actor-director-producer-writer Curt Tofeland, and at the time of the filming of this documentary, the program was in its 16th year.

The documentary not only takes us through the rehearsals and performance, but more importantly gives us a look at the convicts portraying the various roles. Despite the fact that they're in for things like murder, manslaughter, and child molestation, they come off as likable, troubled people using the performance experience to learn more about themselves and others. There's Sammi, the computer wizard who runs a computer program at the prison; up for parole in six months, he already has a job waiting for him; Hal, a gay man from a conservative religious family who married and ended up killing his wife; Red, who plays the female role of Miranda, a part that dovetails his own life experiences perfectly, Big G, who plays Caliban, and three men who are cast as Antonio at three different times due to problems.

The production at the time of the documentary is "The Tempest," which is set on an island, very much like the prison itself.

The program gives the men who embrace it some understanding of what they did to their victims and who they are themselves, self-esteem, with the knowledge that they can perform Shakespeare and learn the difficult lines, and a sense of accomplishment, as some of these men have never completed anything in their lives, and provides some catharsis for their emotions. One hopes that if they ever get out, they can bring some of the compassion and discipline with them. Will they? Hard to say.

To hear each of these men describe his crime is a very emotional experience, for them and for the viewer. We're not seeing one-dimensional monsters here, but human beings who have hurt or destroyed their lives and the lives of others by making some really stupid choices, sometimes on the spur of the moment.

Viewers should find this both interesting and fascinating. Even more interesting and fascinating is an update on the prisoners, found here: http://www.shakespearebehindbars.org/documentary/castupdates.htm.

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