Join us on Wednesday, September 20 at 7 pm at Booksweet (1729 Plymouth Rd., Ann Arbor) for a conversation with author Lisa Biggs and U-M professor Ashley Lucas about Lisa’s new book, The Healing Stage: Black Women, Incarceration, and the Art of Transformation.
This is a FREE event, but Eventbrite RSVPs are required.
Over the last five decades, Black women have been one of the fastest-growing segments of the global prison population, thanks to changes in policies that mandate incarceration for nonviolent offenses and criminalize what women do to survive interpersonal and state violence. In The Healing Stage, Lisa Biggs reveals how four ensembles of currently and formerly incarcerated women and their collaborating artists use theater and performance to challenge harmful policies and popular discourses that justify locking up “bad” women. Focusing on prison-based arts programs in the US and South Africa, Biggs illustrates how Black feminist cultural traditions—theater, dance, storytelling, poetry, humor, and protest—enable women to investigate the root causes of crime and refute dominant narratives about incarcerated women. In doing so, the arts initiatives that she writes about encourage individual and collective healing, a process of repair that exceeds state definitions of rehabilitation. These case studies offer powerful examples of how the labor of incarcerated Black women artists—some of the most marginalized and vulnerable people in our society—radically extends our knowledge of prison arts programs and our understanding of what is required to resolve human conflicts and protect women’s lives.
For this event, Lisa will be in conversation with Ashley Lucas, Professor of Theatre & Drama, the Residential College, the Penny Stamps School of Art & Design, and English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan. For six years, she also served as Director of the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) and is currently one of the faculty leads on a large-scale humanities archival project called Documenting Criminalization and Confinement.
About Lisa Biggs //
Lisa Biggs is an actress, playwright, and performance scholar originally from the Southside of Chicago. She is the author of The Healing Stage: Black Women, Incarceration, and the Art of Transformation (2022) and currently serves as the John Atwater and Diana Nelson Assistant Professor of the Arts and Africana Studies at Brown University. As an artist and scholar, Dr. Biggs is interested in the theory, practice, and impact of theatre for social change, particularly the role of the performing arts in movements for social justice. Her scholarship is grounded in a long career as a performing artist. From 1999-2001, Lisa was a member of the former Living Stage Theatre Company, one of the preeminent theatre for social change programs in the country. There she appeared in hundreds of improvisational theatre pieces and facilitated arts workshops for participants aged 3-103. Her acting credits also include productions at the Kennedy Center, Arena Stage, African Continuum Theatre, ETA Creative Arts Foundation, Baltimore Theatre Project, the National Black Theatre Festival, Cultural Odyssey, and Lookinglass Theatre, as well as featured roles on radio and TV, and in the documentary, Walk with Me: The Movie (2013).
Like her performance work, Dr. Biggs’s scholarship is undergirded by an abiding interest in the activism of Black women and girls. Her most recent play, AFTER/LIFE, was awarded a 2016 Knight Foundation Detroit Arts Challenge grant to tell stories of women and girls who lit up and lived through the 1967 Detroit rebellion. Her first book, The Healing Stage: Black Women, Incarceration, and the Art of Transformation (2022) researches the impact of theatre programs for women incarcerated in prisons and jails in the U.S. and in South Africa. Other recent publications about Black women’s theatre as an activist practice can be found at The Conversation (August 2017), in Theatre Survey (2016), Black Acting Methods: Critical Approaches (2016) and Solo/Black/Woman: Scripts, Interviews, Essays (2013).
Dr. Biggs earned a BA in Theatre and Dance from Amherst College (1993), and graduate degrees from New York University’s Gallatin School (MA Playwriting and Performance Studies, 2007) and Northwestern University (PhD Performance Studies, 2013).
About Ashley Lucas //
Ashley Lucas is Professor of Theatre & Drama, the Residential College, the Penny Stamps School of Art & Design, and English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan (UM). For six years, she also served as Director of the Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) and is currently one of the faculty leads on a large-scale humanities archival project called Documenting Criminalization and Confinement. She holds a B.A. in Theater Studies and English from Yale University and a joint Ph.D. in Ethnic Studies and Theatre and Drama from the University of California, San Diego. She is a fellow of the Ford Foundation, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Faculty Engaged Scholars Program, UNC’s Institute for Arts and Humanities, and UM’s Institute for the Humanities. Her research and teaching interests include U.S. Latina/o theatre, prison theatre, theatre for social change, and related topics in acting, playwriting, and comparative ethnic studies. Lucas is also the author of an ethnographic play about the families of prisoners entitled Doin’ Time: Through the Visiting Glass, which she has performed as a one-woman show throughout the U.S. and in Ireland, Brazil, and Canada. Her book Prison Theatre and the Global Crisis of Incarceration (Bloomsbury, Sept. 2020) examines the ways in which incarcerated people use theatre to counteract the dehumanizing forces of the prison. Her scholarly publications include articles in the Journal of American Drama and Theatre, the Journal for the Study of Radicalism, Latin American Theater Review, American Music, and Revista de Literatura Contemporania de México. Together with sociologist Jodie Lawston, Lucas guest edited a special issue of the National Women’s Studies Association Journal on the topic of “Women and Criminal Justice: Policing, Prosecution, and Incarceration” (Summer 2008). Lucas and Lawston also collaborated on an edited volume entitled Razor Wire Women: Prisoners, Activists, Scholars, and Artists (SUNY Press 2011) and write a blog by the same title. Lucas also runs the PCAP Brazil Exchange—an exchange program with the Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro and the Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina—taking students to Rio and Florianópolis each summer to do theatre work inside prisons, hospitals, and favelas.