Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Prisons and Performance


This seminar starts with the unlikely question of: What can the performing arts, particularly dance and theatre, illuminate about the situation of mass incarceration in America? Part seminar, part immersive context building, students will read and view a cross-section of dance and theatre works where the subject, performers, choreographers, or authors, belong to part of the 2.4 million people currently behind bars in U.S. prisons. Class includes conversations with formerly incarcerated youth, prison staff, juvenile justice lawyers, and artists working in juvenile and adult prisons as well as those who are part of the 7.3 million people currently on parole or probation. Using performance as our lens, we will investigate the unique kinds of understanding the arts make possible, as well as the growing use of theatre and dance, to affect social change and personal transformation among prison inmates. Class trips will include visits to locked facilities and meetings with artists and inmates working behind bars.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Janice Ross

Janice Ross

"When I first entered a youth prison to watch a dance performance, I was curious but skeptical. What could the arts bring that would be important for incarcerated teens? Seventeen years later, after teaching an annual service learning class that has brought scores of Stanford students together with local incarcerated teens to do hip hop dance, I have discovered that the arts, and especially the performing arts, are an endlessly rich and complex perspective from which to view the criminal justice system in America. I am a dance historian by training, with a deep belief in the capacity of performance to bring unique understandings to the most challenging social problems and ultimately to offer new paths for change."