Lights Rise on Grace — Context & Conversation

In preparation for our production of Lights Rise on Grace, Woolly’s literary team has been hard at work. For every one of our shows, they do research to contextualize the play for our artists, staff, and audience, expanding on the issues with which it grapples.

Below, you can check out a sample of this research, focused particularly on the themes of incarceration and re-entry addressed by the play. These are pieces that especially resonated with the actors and creative team of Lights Rise on Grace. You’ll also find notes from Kirsten Bowen, Woolly’s Literary Manager and the production dramaturg on the show, providing more information about the items and why we found them helpful.

A Gentleman’s Guide To Sex In Prison
By Daniel Genis

“The hunger for touch does not always involve sex. Men in prison slap each other on the back and rub each other’s necks and hug and give elaborate handshakes and do strange exercises in which the men use each other’s body weight. It is all an excuse for touch. The condition of being a prisoner, in a point made by Foucault in his brilliant Discipline and Punish, is that of a sexless thing, and much of the experience of incarceration is the prisoner’s reflexive effort, as a human being, to resist that state.”

KB: We found a unique perspective on prison sexual relations in this piece by Daniel Genis, who spent ten years in the New York State prison system for armed robbery and was released in February 2014. Since then, Genis has written pieces and been interviewed about various aspects of prison life from sex to weight lifting to religion in such publications and news outlets as The Paris Review, Newsweek, The Washington Post, Vice, and NPR.

How to Avoid Rape in Prison — Men’s
The Marshall Project

See this video here:

From The Marshall Project:

“New York has had an uneven record on prison rape. In 2010, according to PREA surveys, three of the eleven prisons in the U.S. with the most staff-on-inmate sexual violence were in New York. Since 2009, three corrections officers at Bedford Hills alone have been charged with raping inmates.

KB: The Marshall Project,, a non-profit organization that covers the American criminal justice system, was a major source for our research. We found these orientation videos on preventing prison rape and how to avoid sexual predators. The videos were created by New York State and are funded by a grant under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act and feature inmates from various New York prisons.

According to The Marshall Project, “The orientation videos are an attempt to confront that legacy and to change a prison culture in which sexual assault, and the code of silence surrounding it, remain all too common.” Therefore, the videos are not meant to be comprehensive in presenting the full picture of prisoner sexual relations — TMP asked prison advocates to weigh in on them, and some remarked that stories which were left out include instances of staff-on-male-prisoner sexual violence (this issue is covered in the video aimed at female prisoners), or when relationships are consensual, or begin as consensual, and become coercive.

Nevertheless, because they feature interviews with actual inmates and are filmed in New York prisons, we thought that they would help the actors visualize the world they’re seeking to embody on stage.

Boxed In: How a Criminal Record Keeps You Unemployed for Life
By Kai Wright
The Nation

“The shrinking space for ex-offenders in the labor market has coincided with a rapid growth in the criminal background check industry…The problems with these checks are manifold, including the fact that they’re often wildly inaccurate.”
From The Nation (2013)

The Radical Humaneness of Norway’s Halden Prison
By Jessica Benko
New York Times Magazine

“To anyone familiar with the American correctional system, Halden seems alien. Its modern, cheerful and well-­appointed facilities, the relative freedom of movement it offers, its quiet and peaceful atmosphere — these qualities are so out of sync with the forms of imprisonment found in the United States that you could be forgiven for doubting whether Halden is a prison at all.”

KB: Including this recent profile from the New York Times Magazine on Norway’s Halden Prison is a bit unusual. It doesn’t directly relate to the experience that Large and Riece have in prison, and most of the research we share is meant to articulate the world of the play for the cast and creative team. But, having provided so much information on the punitive American prison system, we thought that it might be interesting to call attention to another methodology which centers on forgiveness and rehabilitation.

Guards and inmates teamed up in the exercise yard of Unit C. Credit Knut Egil Wang for The New York Times

Special thanks to Woolly Mammoth’s dramaturgy team: Literary Manager Kirsten Bowen and Literary Assistant Olivia Haller.