FAQ on aufBruch prison theatre

  1. Who is allowed to participate in aufBruch theatre projects? How are the participants chosen?

In in principal, the project is open to every inmate, regardless of the crime they have committed. As external artists, we do not receive any files on the prisoners and are not informed about their individual crimes.


All those interested can apply to participate, however, the prison decides whether they are allowed to do so, and some are rejected by the prison because of their behaviour or status in the prison (ability to work in a group, etc.). All inmates allowed to participate can take part in pre-rehearsals. Here we present to them the different areas of work they will face during the theatre project (speech, voice, chorus, physical and singing training, as well as acting and improvisation exercise) and provide them with all the other necessary information (rehearsal times, project duration, commitment to the project).

After the pre-rehearsal phase, the inmates then decide whether they want to work with us or not. Those that decide to stay form the ensemble for that specific show and the majority of them stay until the end.


  1. How is the project perceived in the prisons?

Good, in principal, although only a portion of the prisoners are interested in culture or theatre at all. For many, sport, watching TV and other leisure activities are much more important. Those that participate are often very open towards and interested in making theatre.


The prison’s management appreciate and support the theatre projects, especially because of the positive effects they have on the participants in terms of building up new skills.


  1. How large is the group of performers?

Depending on the prison and the conditions, we work with an ensemble of between 10 and 25 prisoners.


  1. How do the other prisoners, who are not participating, react to the actors?

In different ways. Sometimes they do not understand why the performers are participating and spending most of their free time at rehearsals, sometimes with resentment, since taking part of the project means a change to their normal routine, extra attention and exceptions from regular everyday life in prison.


However, in general, the performers are always given respect for their achievement on stage in the end.


  1. What kinds of plays are performed?

We perform classical and modern/contemporary plays, which largely deal with historical conflict or myths. What is important is that the material dealt with in the plays is related to the prisoners’ contexts and experiences, and that all the characters can be played by the inmates.


  1. Which criteria are used to choose the plays?

Because of funding conditions – applications for funding are usually developed and submitted a year and a half to a year before the actual production – the artistic directing team (director/dramaturges) chooses the plays based on their experiences about the group that they are expecting to work with. The make-up of the ensemble is different in each prison.


  1. Do the plays deal with their crimes?

Since aufBruch is not given any files on the prisoners, nor do we want to receive any, we are not informed about their individual crimes and do not want to deal with them explicitly. However, often the classical material/plays we choose explore conflicts or life situations that often play a role when someone commits a crime, such as concepts of honour, insults to honour, jealousy, striving for power, wealth, etc.


  1. What are the main differences between doing theatre in prison as opposed to performing theatre in everyday life?

Making theatre in prison is limited in terms of space and time, there are very tightly defined parameters in which the rehearsals and performances are allowed to take place, which is decided in advance and cannot be changed. Using technical elements (fog, lights, pyrotechnics, props, dummies) is limited by the security guidelines of each prison.


The situation in prison always plays a role in the extent to which the performer is prepared to “open” themselves up in the character/on the stage or to contribute personal insights. Influencing factors here are the hierarchy of the prisoners among themselves or the image an individual wants to present to the social workers, psychologists or evaluators.


  1. What are the aims of the work in prison?

aufBruch’s work artistically examines political and social processes and cycles in our society and has chosen prison as the main site for this examination.

The aim is to use art to make prison, which normally excludes the public, publicly accessible;

The aim is to give the prisoners a language, a voice and a face through teaching them the craft of acting, thus creating the possibility for an encounter between inside and outside that is free of prejudice;

The aim is to create lively theatre of a high artistic standard, developed out of the combination of the personalities and the dramatic text, which will impress the audience with its authenticity and strong statements.

aufBruch sees itself and its works as the artistic mediation between the world within the prison walls and the world outside. It sees its theatre as thought-provoking, inspiring people to reflect on the issues and as the basis for a respectful encounter between criminals and the rest of society, who are both members of a European society.


  1. Does performing certain plays have a pedagogical or psychological background?

No, the motivation for our work is purely artistic, though at the same time we choose the plays taking into consideration the context of the actors/prison (see questions 5 and 6).


  1. Is performing theatre part of the prison’s aims of social reform?

Thanks to years of working in Berlin prisons, providing cultural activities to the inmates as a leisure activity is becoming more and more significant for the prisons. The parameters and extent of these however still depend on the individual decision-makers in the prisons.


  1. Is re-socialisation supported by aufBruch’s work, or is that the intention?

Today’s prisons fundamentally aim to re-socialise the prisoners, which is why all activities offered to prisoners by the prison are chosen according to this premise. It is indisputable that performing theatre helps to develop the personality and build social competencies, and can therefore be judged as a support to the process of re-socialisation.


To what extent this is sufficient to prevent repeat offences or to integrate successfully after release from prison cannot be measured or proven. Many factors play a role in this.


In our opinion, every form of positive experience is helpful and desirable, both for the prisoners and the public and the encounter with each other. Theatre can be a stimulus and initiator of this.


  1. Does acting change the prisoners’ character in any way?

Regardless of the fact that we – despite the intensity of working together – only get to know the side of the prisoners they choose to show us, and therefore certainly cannot fully judge their character, it can be observed that the majority of the actors’ self-esteem, self-confidence, ability to work in a team and their capacity for expression and articulation all increase throughout the project.  


  1. What feedback do you get from the actors, how do they find acting and does it have an effect on them?

The feedback is usually positive, especially after they experience the performances in front of an audience. They are surprised at what they are able to achieve and about the recognition that they get from the audience and also their relatives or their social environment in prison (group leaders, social workers, psychologists) too.

They are usually interested in taking part in the next theatre production again, some even perform in our external productions after they have been released, or come to visit the productions as a member of the audience.


  1. How do the visitors react to the plays performed?

Our audience is very diverse and has a wide range of reasons for visiting prison theatre performances.

On the one hand, there are the classical theatre-goers, who want to see a special kind of theatre and also those who are mainly interested in the social context of prison theatre. On the other hand, people are also motivated by a desire to take a look behind the prison walls once and to see what prison is like or who is in our prisons.

After the performance, there is an open audience discussion, in which the visitors talk to the prisoners.

The audience’s response is extremely positive. Those who visit the prison theatre for the first time are surprised and impressed for a long time afterwards by the prisoners’ convincing performances and the professional character of the event. They usually return to subsequent productions and bring new guests with them, which is why public interest in the performances is continuously growing.