Performing Georgia’s Carceral Histories

Project Directors: Emily Sahakian (Theatre and Film Studies; Romance Languages), Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin (Theatre and Film Studies; African American Studies)

This Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant-funded project is part of the Global Studies of the American South research category in the Willson Center’s expanded Global Georgia Initiative.

The Georgia Incarceration Performance Project is a cross-institutional collaboration co-directed by Dr. Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin (UGA – Theatre and Film Studies/Institute for African American Studies), Dr. Emily Sahakian (UGA – Theatre and Film Studies/Romance Languages), Professor Keith Arthur Bolden (Spelman -Drama), and Dr. Julie B. Johnson (Spelman – Dance Performance & Choreography). The project will devise and premiere a new performance out of UGA’s archives on Georgia’s carceral history in partnership with archivists from all three branches of UGA Special Collections Libraries (Chuck Barber, Jan Levinson Hebbard, Mary Miller, and Jill Severn).

Inspired by Hargrett Library’s 2019 exhibit on convict labor in Georgia (composed by Sidonia Serafini, English PhD Program) and drawing on the collections of the Russell Library and the Brown Media Archives, UGA and Spelman students will create together from scratch a performance piece exploring this history and legacy in collaboration with their faculty and, when possible, with local incarcerated populations. Collaborations and discussions with  Dr. Caroline Young (Common Good Atlanta) and her incarcerated creative writing students at Whitworth Women’s Facility and with Dr. Steve Soper’s Crime and Punishment class in History (HIST 3775) will contribute to the process of culling UGA archives for revelatory dramatic stories related to Georgia’s carceral history. The performance will be developed as part of several courses in UGA and Spelman curricula (Spring, Maymester, and Fall 2019) and culminate in a full production to be performed at both UGA (Fall 2019) and Spelman (February 2020). Dr. Barbara McCaskill (English) is the project’s co-executive and creative producer.

This multifaceted, archives-to-performance collaboration through curricula and production seasons is a first-of-its-kind partnership between UGA and Spelman colleagues, as well as with area prison programs. The project will build bridges between UGA and Spelman, allowing students to create a new work in a Maymester workshop and publicly perform together. The final performances aim to bring spectators back to the archives and lead to conversations and reflection—across the two campuses and local communities—about Georgia’s carceral history. Additional outcomes include a peer-reviewed journal article and performance videos accessible to the public. Overall, the co-directors anticipate that this project will be a moving and transformative process that (1) positions every collaborator as a co-facilitator of this discussion and co-curator of Georgia’s history; (2) fosters cross-institutional collaboration; (3) enhances curricular offerings with experiential learning; and (4) showcases professional, scholartistic endeavors at their best.