Distinguished Lecture on April 24 Looks at Impact of Shakespeare Behind Bars

By UW-Waukesha

Curt ToftelandWAUKESHA – Curt Tofteland, founder and producing director of Shakespeare Behind Bars, will present “What Dreams May Come?” from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, April 24, in the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.

The distinguished lecture event is subtitled “Art, Theatre, and the works of William Shakespeare: A personal journey into the wasteland of the American Industrial Prison Complex.”

Cost for the lecture is $2 for UW-Waukesha students, $5 general admission. Box office opens one hour before event. For ticket information, call (262) 521-5212. UW-Waukesha is located at 1500 N. University Drive in Waukesha.

The mission of Shakespeare Behind Bars is to offer theatrical encounters with personal and social issues to the incarcerated, allowing them to develop life skills that will ensure their successful reintegration into society.

Tofteland, who has an MFA in acting from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, founded the program in 1995 at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in La Grange, Kentucky. He was inspired to begin Shakespeare Behind Bars via Books Behind Bars, which had been started by Curtis Bergstrand, a sociology professor at Bellarmine University in Kentucky, in 1991.

Prisoners who come to the program are first asked to consider these four questions: Who am I?  What do I love? How will I live my life knowing I will die? What is my gift to humankind?

“Every one of them has a story. They are all human,” Tofteland said. “There is not one inmate that I haven’t learned something from of value, something that has made me a better human being.”

As proof for Shakespeare Behind Bars’ ability to transform lives, Tofteland cites a recidivism rate of less than 6% for prisoners that have been part of the program during its 19 year-history. The national average is around 70%, he said.

Like many admirers of Shakespeare, prisoners in the program find much to like in the beauty of his language and classic stories, but they also find deep connections to their own lives and situations that they very realistically bring to their performances, Tofteland said.

“You see how the work lives in those men,” he said.

Tofteland brings 35 years of professional theatre experience to his current role as a freelance theatre artist – director, actor, producer, playwright, writer, teacher, program developer, and prison arts practitioner.

From 1995 to 2008, Tofteland facilitated the Shakespeare Behind Bars /Kentucky program at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex. During his thirteen-year tenure, Tofteland produced and directed 14 Shakespeare productions. Two participants in the Shakespeare Behind Bars /Kentucky program have garnered three Pen Literary Prison Writing Awards.

During the 2003 Shakespeare Behind Bars production of The Tempest, Philomath Films chronicled the process in a documentary that premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and 40-plus film festivals around the world winning a total of 11 film awards.

Additionally, Tofteland has worked as a prison arts practitioner in the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women, where he taught college classes for Jefferson Community and Technical College and created a 10-minute playwriting program, and the Kentucky State Reformatory, where he taught JCTC classes.

In the summer of 2010, Tofteland partnered with filmmaker/director/producer Robby Henson and playwright Elizabeth Orndorf to create Voices Inside/Out, a 10-minute playwriting program funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, at the Northpoint Training Center in Burgin, Kentucky. Now in its fourth year of funding by NEA, the program has generated inmate-authored plays that have gone on to be professionally produced at Theatrelab, an Off-Off-Broadway theatre in New York City and given readings at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville. A participant in the Voices Inside/Out program has garnered one Pen Literary Prison Writing Award. He is an executive producer of a documentary currently in production on Spoken Word Poets in Prison with filmmaker Robby Henson. The documentary features spoken word poets in prisons in Kentucky and Michigan.

In 2011, Tofteland founded the Shakespeare Behind Bars/Michigan program at the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon Heights, Michigan. In 2012, Curt founded the first Michigan court-ordered, co-gender juvenile Shakespeare Behind Bars program at the Ottawa County Juvenile Detention Center and Shakespeare Beyond Bars program at the Ottawa County Juvenile Justice Institute.

More information about Shakespeare Behind Bars is available at www.shakespearebehindbars.org


UW–Waukesha has the largest enrollment among the 13 UW Colleges campuses. These freshman/sophomore campuses and UW Colleges Online comprise the UW Colleges. They offer an Associate of Arts and Sciences degree and prepare students of all ages and backgrounds for baccalaureate and professional programs.

In addition, UW-Waukesha offers several collaborative bachelor’s degrees through UW-Milwaukee and UW-Oshkosh. Starting this fall, UW-Waukesha is offering the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences (BAAS) degree completion program, a bachelor’s degree that can be earned at UW-Waukesha in collaboration with UW-Parkside. The degree is conferred by UW Colleges. Classes are taught by faculty from both UW-Waukesha and UW-Parkside.

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Andy Turner