Monday, November 30, 2009

Prison drama an escape for Romanian inmates

By Anca Teodorescu (AFP) – 2 days ago

BUCHAREST — Men convicted of murder, drug trafficking and robbery lined up on the stage of the prestigious Bucharest theatre to be given a standing ovation.

No matter that the audience included 50 prison warders, just in case. The first drama festival for Romanian convicts has been hailed as a success, especially by inmates given a taste of freedom from jails across the country so they can show a more human side.

"I had never been to a theatre before I went to prison and now here I am playing at a huge theatre," said an emotional Norbert Antal, one of 80 inmates allowed out for the two day Exit festival this week.

Antal and six other prisoners from the Timisoara penitentiary in western Romania put on a play about the narcotics trade at the Nottara theatre, which was written by another former prisoner.

"This play talks about our lives. We want young people to be aware of the dangers of drug," said Claudius Satran, 32, who has been in jail for eight years for international narcotics trafficking. He plays the role of a drug addict.

"If this leads just one person not to make the same mistake that we did, then it has all been worth it," said Alexandru Brandusoiu, a 42-year-old also serving time for drug trafficking, who played the role of a policeman.

The play received a prolonged standing applause from the 400 strong audience -- with the 50 warders in civilian outfits to help the actors forget the return journey awaiting them.

Ten works were put on during the Exit festival which was organised by the ART Fusion, a non-government group, and the prisons department.

"It is very important for their self-confidence to discover their abilities, valorise themselves and discover some artistic beauty," prisons service spokeswoman Johanna Popescu told AFP.

After the Timisoara troupe, inmates from Baia Mare were waiting in the wings to put on their play inspired by the theatre of the absurd.

"I never thought that I would ever do theatre, and especially not at the Nottara," said Mihai Dobai, a 22-year-old, in jail for the past 12 months for robbery.

"It has changed my ideas. Before I used to dream of escaping with alcohol but in doing this play I now know that life can be different."

Zoltan Kocze, 40, who has already been in jail for 13-year for murder, was amazed at the support given by the prison staff.

"Theatre has taught me to control myself, which is important because that is why we are in prison. We just can't control ourselves," he said.

"I was once a very difficult man. Thanks to the theatre, I have understood all my errors."

The prison thespians from Iasi, a jail in the northeast of the country, say that inmatest should be given more respect.

"All inmates are human beings," declared, Razvan Zota, 25, who said he was sacked from his job when his boss found out that he had served time in jail.

"It destroys your confidence. But now I feel like a new man. Theatre has taught me to be more social, I have more courage dealing with people," he said.

Director Florin Dumitrescu Carcala is proud of his work with the prison actors and said many call him to tell of their rehabilitation when they eventually leave jail.

"These are changes to their life. I did not produce them but I feel that as a director I made a contribution," he said.

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