Below is summary text explaining the puppets and banners that Anna Martine Whitehead created with artists on probation, parole, or supervision through the San Francisco Sheriff's department, in collaboration with We Players' production of Hamlet. Their work is presently on display in We Players' gallery in the cell house on Alcatraz.
While We Players rehearsed Hamlet lines beat by beat over the demanding Alcatraz terrain, new and returning artists at the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department spent Summer 2010 building giant puppets and banners that address Hamlet’s themes - including isolation, redemption, and loss. Over the course of Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet finds himself more and more alone within a court of panderers, backstabbers, adulterers, andmurderers. He struggles with the moral question of how to avenge his father’s death, increasingly aware of the cycle of violence and limitations of reason. He becomes morose, and in the process loses not only his father, but his mother, a sense of family, his love, and ultimately his own life.
These same themes of loss, isolation, and redemption are felt keenly by the 260,000 people incarcerated in California jails and prisons, and the over 446,000 California residents on probation, parole, or supervision. Setting the trend for the nation, incarceration has become an epidemic in California.
The artists who designed the work presented in the gallery are all on probation, parole, or supervision and a few have served time at San Quentin State Prison, directly across the Bay. They have experienced the loss of friends, family, childhood, social standing or a sense of self to violence, drugs, AIDS, and incarceration.
For those who repeatedly showed up to make artwork, several times a week for over twelve weeks, the manipulation of raw material into identifiable images of salvation and remembrance (ghosts, fists raised in the air, and crosses, among other things) was a critical step in their ongoing process of redemption and self-forgiveness. Their lived experience of these themes, as well as their commitment to the art of personal expression, was an important part of We Players’ generative process.