Premiere in Pravieniškės Prison: the first time in Lithuania‘s history that a performance has been presented to an audience in a jail

Premiere in Pravieniškės Prison: the first time in Lithuania‘s history that a performance has been presented to an audience in a jail

What can we do to make prisoners willing and able to change? Is this only a structural problem in prisons? Is society that expects a safer world ready to look at convicts differently? These are the questions to which director Mantas Jančiauskas, playwright Rimantas Ribačiauskas and arts agency Artscape are seeking answers in the play ‘Vedami’ (‘Guided’), which premiered on 13-15 June. For three days, Pravieniškės Prison opened its gates to audiences, with the inmates as actors.

‘Guided’ was born out of workshops organised by the authors and the Artscape team in Pravieniškės Prison since 2021. Developing a genre they have invented themselves, which they call ‘performative encounter’, Jančiauskas and Ribačiauskas are looking for new forms of coexistence in theatre. They are trying to create the mechanics of a performance that actively and provocatively – but safely – involves both convicts and spectators. During a performative encounter, 10 convicts and 10 spectators meet for a dialogue, for which neither side is prepared in advance.

According to director Mantas Jančiauskas, ‘Guided’ is an experiment in which viewers and prisoners embark on an improvised journey together. “In a sense, both groups become both spectators and participants. It was very important for us to make both sides equal,” he says.

“The title of the play encodes a number of meanings,” reflects the director. “It’s like a game that leads somewhere, and it’s also about the supposedly ‘bad’ part of the society behind bars that we exclude and try to lead to change. Lastly, it also refers to the people in prison, who meet and lead each other every day.”.

Playwright Rimantas Ribačiauskas explains that the performance uses a live system of electronics that guides the participants through an ever-unfolding dialogue, at times taking them away from it and immersing them in collages of documentary footage and musical compositions by composer Andrius Šiurys.

“What the spectator will experience in such a performance, how far he or she will go, will depend very much on his or her own disposition and courage. However, people shouldn’t worry too much – we have spent a lot of time thinking about the dramaturgy of the performance, so that it slowly draws the audience into the experience and prepares them for the unexpected,” says the playwright, adding that Matt Adams, director of one of the world’s most renowned interactive theatre groups, Blast Theory, had been consulted in the development of the performance.

Aistė Ulubey, director of Artscape and producer of the play, reveals that during the two years of workshops, when the team visited the prison and worked together with the inmates, they were looking above all for common ground. “We are grateful to the Lithuanian Prison Service for letting us in and believing in our vision,” she says. “We believe this has a very big impact on society. It is an example of how, through art, we can break down walls – in every sense.”

Around 6 000 people are currently serving sentences in Lithuanian prisons. As a proportion of the country’s population, this is one of the highest figures in Europe – Lithuania ranks fourth in the EU in terms of the average number of people in prison per capita.

Concept: Mantas Jančiauskas, Rimantas Ribačiauskas
Director: Mantas Jančiauskas
Texts: Rimantas Ribačiauskas
Dramaturgy: Rimantas Ribačiauskas, Mantas Jančiauskas
Composer: Andrius Šiurys
Executive producer: Erika Urbelevič
Producer: Aistė Ulubey (Arts Agency Artscape)

Further performances of ‘Guided’ will take place in July at Pravieniškės Prison, and during Vilnius International Theatre Festival ‘Sirenos’ in the autumn, as part of the repertoire of the Lithuanian Theatre Showcase.

June 22, 2023