Happy You...!! Theatre Company Producer Kim in rehearsal with participants.Next week Happy You…!! Theatre Company opens a new Forum Theatre production, Been Through Enough, in Ōtepoti (Dunedin).

Happy You…!! is the inspiration and dream of Otago Corrections Facility (OCF) drama tutor Ruth Carraway. All members of the Company have links to the justice system, as staff or as people with offending histories who have been on sentences or orders with Corrections.

Devised and written by the Happy You…!! troupe, Been Through Enough follows Chris, an ex-prisoner, as he tries to make a new life for himself and his children – but with a twist…

Been Through Enough is a truly special production,” says Happy You...!! Director and Facilitator Ruth Carraway. “It is written and performed by people who have used their real-life experiences to create a transformative piece of art.”

Ruth says she uses drama in a Forum Theatre format as a tool to prompt reflection and change within participating actors and the audience.

“Forum theatre is interactive and encourages the audience to reflect on what they have seen, and what they could or would do in that situation to change the outcomes,” she explains. “Our stories are written by the actors, from their lived or known experience. They reflect the challenges of prison leavers, as they reflect on what lead to their offending, or seek to reintegrate back into the community and put their offending histories behind them. The piece is performed as scripted without interruptions, before being ‘replayed’, with the audience invited to step on-stage and get involved. They can command the show to ‘freeze’ at any point to change the plot – and potentially the characters’ fates.”

“This process offers the audience a means of connecting with the story, using their different world experience to seek solutions to the play’s dilemma,” says Ruth. “It also demonstrates to the players a new perspective, and that there can be many different solutions to what can seem an insurmountable life challenge. It’s particularly special using this format with people who have been on the wrong side of the justice system. It not only gives them a space to discover their talent and confidence, but invites the audience to step into their shoes and understand their obstacles. The whole experience promotes mutual empathy between the audience and actors.”

Some of the cast rehearsing for Been Through EnoughOCF Learning and Interventions Manager Sherie Lucke says they have seen positive changes in the men involved in Ruth’s prison-based drama groups and Forum Theatre drama productions.

“The arts are an important tool in rehabilitation.” she says. “Through the arts, men and women we manage are challenged to step outside their comfort zones. Putting yourself out there on the stage in theatre is especially challenging. The experience of drama draws the men out of themselves, gives them a different perspective on a problem and the opportunity to walk in the shoes of another. It builds confidence and gives participants a platform to learn how to communicate and express themselves – all essential skills for a successful reintegration.”

This is Happy You…!!’s second community production with people who are currently, or have been, on sentences or orders with Ara Poutama Aotearoa, as they create and perform these intimate works of theatre. Their last production, Messed Up, was also part of the Dunedin Fringe Festival in 2021.

Ruth says she is thrilled with the production and bringing it to an audience. She notes that she’s not alone working on the production, and couldn’t do this without the support of her theatre whānau Kim and Iraia, alongside musician Annah Mac, who is performing at most shows!

Been Through Enough runs at Te Whare o Rukutia 26-27 May and 3-4 June at 7.30pm. Click to learn more and book tickets.