Hobbits behind bars at William Head

Federal institution hosts adventure seekers for annual William Head on Stage production.

Anne Cirillo (left) as Gert (a Troll) and Monica Prendergast as Thorin, the Queen of the Dwarves in The Hobbit.

It’s always an adventure to go to prison — although the reason why you’re behind bars can dictate the pleasantness of the experience.

There’s no better setting then, for one of history’s most epic adventure tales, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, making it a fitting choice for William Head on Stage — an inmate-led theatre company inside William Head Institution.

The Hobbit follows the quest of the comfort-loving hobbit Bilbo Baggins through many challenging adventures to win a share of the treasure guarded by the dragon Smaug.

Adapted for the stage and directed by Kate Rubin (who most recently directed Katrina Kadoski in Cougar Annie Tales at this year’s Fringe), WHOS’s production of The Hobbit won’t be a children’s fantasy. It will be more in line with the sensibilities of those performing it — 14 male inmates and three local actresses (Monica Prendergast, Anne Cirillo and Bronwyn Steinberg).

“We put it in a post-industrial setting, not cutesy Hobbit land,” says Rubin. “The story takes care of itself once in that context.”

Navigating the processes and security inherent in working in a prison definitely presents its challenges and has been a lesson in resourcefulness for all involved.

Set designer Carole Klemm created a “post-apocalyptic Hobbit,” built almost entirely out of recycled materials. “We’ve been to the recycling bin more than once,” says Klemm with a chuckle. “It’s like working in a remote location. You really have to plan ahead because you can’t just pick up what you need and bring it in that day. It doesn’t work like that.”

The inmates have also created five giant puppets for the production; building two eagles and turning the Belfry Theatre’s old patio umbrellas into three giant forest-dwelling spiders with the help of local puppet master Tim Gosley who visits the prison weekly to hold puppet-building workshops.

And the stigma of cutesy puppets doesn’t apply here either. “These things are eight to 10 feet long on packsacks, and they’re swooping down over the crowd,” says Gosley.

They’ll also use shadow puppetry to portray those epic scenes difficult to stage inside a federal institution’s “multipurpose area.”

The production also features original music by Katrina Kadoski, ranging from heavy metal to Appalachian rock played and sung entirely by the cast.

Because William Head is a federal institution, there are some rules to follow before going inside as an audience member. The show is open to people 19 and over with photo identification. No money, wallets, purses, tobacco, lighters or electronic devices are permitted inside the institution (lockers are available, or leave them in your car). A shuttle will bring you from the main entrance to the auditorium. You may be scanned upon entry. M

 

William Head on Stage presents: The Hobbit

William Head Institution (6000 William Head Rd, Metchosin)

Tickets: $20 and are available at ticketrocket.org, 250-590-6291 or

My Chosen Cafe (4480 Happy Valley).

October 12, 13, 19, 20, 26, 27

November 1-3, 8-10

Gates open at 6:15pm, Shows begins at 7:30pm.

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