CFA School of Theatre partners with the New England Innocence Project and Thurman Center to shed light on effects of wrongful incarceration
By: Alex Ross (COM’22)
A sum of court transcripts, witness testimonies, interviews, and legal documents, The Exonerated is a piece of documentary theater by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen highlighting the lives of six individuals wrongly convicted within the U.S. justice system. After spending the past eight years teaching in two of Massachusetts’ medium security prisons, BU College of Fine Arts faculty member Judy Braha has witnessed both the toll a broken system takes on the incarcerated and the power that the humanities can have in the most inhumane of situations.
“A lot of times incarcerated people have not had exposure to the arts in general in their lives and have not had their imaginations be put up there as a major thing to work on or to work with,” says Braha. “And that [the arts] can really serve them well in their lives, so we’re trying to kind of open that door.”
In partnership with the New England Innocence Project and Boston University’s Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground, Braha has worked to extend the reach of The Exonerated beyond that of your average theater-going audience. During the 2pm matinee performance on Sunday, October 20 and the 8pm performance on Saturday, October 26, there will be 30-to-45 minute panel discussions – talk-backs – with NE Innocence Project members, real exonerees, and their families.
Radha Natarajan, the Executive Director of the NE Innocence Project, attended rehearsals during the first week and spoke to the actors about the nature of wrongful conviction, prosecutorial misconduct and the difficulty of re-assimilation back into normal life for exonerees after their wrongful incarceration.
Speaking in such a public forum allows the exonerees the chance to not only tell their story, but to also make a living out of circumstances that would otherwise cripple their survival in the real world. The talk-back opportunities following two of the performances of The Exonerated were a key part of the NE Innocence Project’s involvement with the play.
And following each of the talk-back panels will be a reception for all guests hosted by the Howard Thurman Center. In reaching out to their student ambassadors, the Thurman Center has also been able to help raise the profile of the production around the BU campus.
In the wake of U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s decision to reinstate the death penalty in federal prisons in July, capital punishment has found itself back in the national consciousness. With The Exonerated being a very anti-death-penalty play, the notion that these individuals could have been wrongly executed even today sheds light on the responsibility of theater artists. Braha, for one, can’t help but wonder if it’s up to the performing arts to change the world.
“Trying to change people’s perspectives, open them to injustices in the world that they maybe haven’t thought through I think [is] a very strong guiding force in terms of the reason we are doing this play,” she says.
The Exonerated opens on Saturday, October 19 at 8 pm in the Joan & Edgar Booth Theater.
Later in the season on the Booth stage is Marcus Gardley’s …and Jesus Moonwalks the Mississippi (December 11 – 15, 2019), Igor Stravinsky’s opera The Rake’s Progress (February 27- March 1, 2020), and Stephen Sondheim’s musical Anyone Can Whistle (April 24 – 26, 2020).
More information at bu.edu/cfa/season.
by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen
directed by Judy Braha
October 18 –27, 2019
Friday, Oct 18 – 8:00pm
Saturday, Oct 19 – 8:00pm
Sunday, Oct 20 – 2:00pm
Tuesday, Oct 22 – 7:30pm
Wednesday, Oct 23 – 7:30pm
Thursday, Oct 24 – 7:30pm
Friday, Oct 25 – 8:00pm
Saturday, Oct 26 – 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday, Oct 27 – 2:00pm
Talk-Back with the Cast
Sat. Oct 19, 8 pm performance
- Kenneth Elmore, Associate Provost and Dean of Students
New England Innocence Project Panels
Sun. Oct 20, 2 pm performance
- Stephanie Hartung, NE Innocence Project board member
- Dennis Maher, exoneree, and family
- Host: Harvey Young
Sat. Oct 26, 8 pm performance
- Lisa Kavanaugh, NE Innocence Project board member and Director of the Public Defender’s Innocence Program
- Victor Rosario, exoneree, and family
- Host: Judy Braha
$15 General Admission
$10 BU Alumni
Free with BU ID, at the door, day of performance, subject to availability
bu.edu/cfa/events or 617.353.3380
Joan & Edgar Booth Theatre
820 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215