January 21, 2020 —After 36 years in prison, newly released inmate, Jerome Thompson, says he is a changed man. Part of that change is thanks to a theatre program that promotes mutual respect and love.
Kendal resident Phyllis Gorfain, founder and artistic director of Oberlin Drama at Grafton, invited Jerome and other participants to Kendal recently to share their experiences with the innovative drama program.
An Arts Program for Positive Change
“You have no idea how you have effected change in my life. I have so much love in my heart. I love acting and I hope I can continue,” said Jerome, who has been involved with ODAG since it began in 2012. His acting credits include Brutus in “Julius Caesar” and Desdemona in “Othello.”
Jerome will be in Columbus next month to honor Phyllis, who is receiving the Arts Administration Award, one of nine to be handed out by the Ohio Arts Council and the Ohio Citizens for the Arts Foundation.
“Ultimately what I do is facilitate by making art possible in places and for people who don’t have access. I feel very happy that ODAG is being recognized and celebrated,” Phyllis said.
Typically, each production involves 15 actors, all men incarcerated at Grafton Correctional Institution, and a dozen volunteers from Oberlin College and elsewhere. Phyllis’ husband, Bruce Richards, plays a huge role, handling visitor gate passes and other logistics involved in performing inside a prison, maintaining the website and more.
ODAG to Perform “The Merchant of Venice” in May
ODAG will perform its 12th production “The Merchant of Venice: An ODAG Adaptation” four times this May. The first show is for the prison’s general population, the second is for the family and friends of the actors, and the last two shows (May 13 and 14) are for outside invited guests. Registration is required.
The Kendal community has played a major role in ODAG’s success. Residents have donated money, built wooden sets and designed programs. About a third of the audience is usually Kendal residents and staff. In fact, Phyllis was first introduced to the Grafton prison through Kendal residents Harvey Gittler and Naomi Barnett, both deceased, who ran a writing workshop for inmates.