Nora’s Playhouse commissioned award-winning playwright Catherine Filloux (a playwright, librettist, and activist who has been writing plays about human rights and social justice for 25 years) to write whatdoesfreemean? in 2015. Since that time, Filloux and Nora’s Playhouse Associate Artistic Director Amy S. Green have been collaborating on extensive research including interviews with formerly incarcerated women, criminal defense attorneys, corrections officials, prison reform advocates, and forensic psychiatrists.

In the spring of 2016, Green (who is also a professor in John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Interdisciplinary Studies Program) and Filloux co-taught a course, The Drama of Women and Mass Incarceration, which explored depictions of women and mass incarceration in social science, literature, tv, film and theatre.

whatdoesfreemean? has benefited from three staged readings, each followed by discussions with formerly incarcerated women, the playwright, actors, attorneys, corrections officers, and criminal justice scholars. Two of those staged readings were presented at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, once for an invited audience of Nora’s Playhouse patrons in April 2016; the second time in November 2016 for 120 John Jay freshmen, many of whom expect to have careers in law enforcement. Vassar College hosted a reading in December 2017. Through these readings, whatdoesfreemean? has already started to make an impact. Audiences expressed surprise at the dire conditions and the extent of physical and psychological abuse that women in custody endure and asked penetrating questions about what steps are being taken to reform the criminal justice system.

Nora’s Playhouse has been thrilled to support whatdoesfreemean? through its development and we look forward to helping to deepen the narrative about women and mass incarceration through our production of this highly imaginative and poetic theatre piece.

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