Lincoln Theatre performance gives voice to incarcerated

February 2, 2019
Cast members of “$40 and a Bus Ticket” rehearse Thursday at the Lincoln Theatre for their performance on Saturday. From left are Pete Lincoln, Carl Turner, director Stella Ireland (sitting in for Beth Wallace), Sarah Lloyd, Elfa Gisla, Ricardo de Jesus Lopez and Ethan Vanliew.

MOUNT VERNON — How would you rebuild your life from here?

This is the question Stella Ireland wanted to explore when she interviewed about 20 incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people in preparation for her upcoming production, “$40 and a Bus Ticket.”

The show, held Saturday at the Lincoln Theatre, will bring those interviews to life as seven actors in Ireland’s new theater company, Theatre Artists for Social Action, tell the stories of those returning from a life behind bars.

The production is part of a fundraising event held by the Skagit Valley College Foundation and the Skagit-Island Community Partnership for Transition Solutions.

While admission is free, donations will go toward the college’s Second Chance Scholarship, which was started in 2016 by previously incarcerated SVC graduate Kyle Von Stroberg.

Ireland, an adjunct professor, said she formed Theatre Artists for Social Action last summer to shed light on local issues such as incarceration, homelessness, addiction and recovery.

“We have some fabulous theater companies in Skagit County, but I really think we needed a company that focuses on social issues,” she said.

By exposing the public to dilemmas in the community, Ireland hopes people become motivated to make a difference. The company’s projects are research-based and have a focus on finding solutions.

Ireland said “$40 and a Bus Ticket” is the company’s first production and is the product of something she has been thinking about for quite some time.

“I had the idea for years to do something about the criminal justice system in the U.S. and how deeply flawed it is and how much reform it needs,” she said.

That interest led Ireland to partner with Margo Grothe, Life Transitions program coordinator at the college, who helped facilitate the interviews.

Life Transitions is a class that provides resources and guidance to those seeking new opportunities, including those getting out of jail or prison.

Through speaking with people who were or are incarcerated, Ireland said certain themes emerged, including homelessness, addiction and childhood trauma.

Saturday, many of those themes will be presented using the words of those who shared their stories.

There will be no costumes, props or sets. As a new company with minimal funding, money went into attracting strong actors instead of bolstering production value, Ireland said.

In the years to come, Ireland said she hopes to continue addressing social issues through the company, but for now incarceration is her focus.

“My intention is to bring attention to the stories of people in Skagit County who want to rebuild their lives,” she said.

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