Updated February 2004
The History

or It’s A Long Way From Vera Cunningham’s Call

Geese Theatre Company/Stonewall Arts project Inc began in 1980 as the result of a phone call from Vera Cunningham, the recreation director at Stateville Correctional Centre, a maximum security prison for 2,400 men.She had a theatre group inside and was looking for scripts for 23 African American men. We agreed on an exchange-a couple of improvisation classes, a performance of an improv. based piece called Gimme A Dollar for the chance to perform and do a few days inside.

On the third day, the inmates lined up, very formally and gave us tow yellow felt cards with red roses drawn on them that said” BECAUSE YOU CARE, WE CAN". And Geese was born.

In 1981 John , the company director got the idea of an interactive show about maintaining family relationships during incarceration. The work was influenced by the French cabaret idea pf the conferencier, the Marxist interpretations of the fool in medieval theatre, the popular theatre ideas of Clive Barker. A year or so later , rehearsing in a Chicago warehouse in a space shared with a Lithuanian choir John created Lifting The Weight, a fast interactive show for preparing offenders for being free in the outside world . Eventually John taught this show and directed it for Geese UK where it still runs .If there is time , John will teach the show to Corrections Victoria in 2004.

By 1990-Geese Company had done workshops, interactive shows and a variety of treatment trainings in 38 states, traveled a half million miles, performed and spoken in four countries . Gradually the touring company was wound down in order to focus on longer term therapeutic goals.

From 1991 onwards, Geese Co. transformed into providing intensive, dramatherapeutic services to incarcerated men, women and children, and then to working on creating specific programming for entire systems. This led to intensive work in Australia, Romania, Croatia, and to long term therapeutic relationships in institutions treating civilly committed offenders for sexual offense disorders. It continues to do this today.

In 1987 , Geese Company gave Clark Baim a mess of contacts, including Clive Barker, an old professor of John's and the author of Theatre Games. Geese USA also gave Clark permission to found a franchised company in the UK. John had scouted out some of the terrain, and the company had performed in UK and Irish jails and at the Edinburgh Festival. The company began and John Bergman directed and taught many of Geese UK’s shows and techniques until 1995—these included: Are You Positive?, an HIV/AIDS education show; Lifting The Weight; Plague Game; Violent Illusion (1,2 and 3) ; Hooked on Empty, a drug show; and also Stay, a domestic violence piece. It was this great company-Geese UK-that got the backing to turn John Bergman’s “Lifting The Weight” into a CD-Rom. John participated in this, and the CD won a BAFTA award. Geese UK is still very much at work doing extraordinary projects and having gained much support from the British system. They have also published their own handbook.

In 1997 Geese USA began it relationship with GRADO , a Romanian human rights organization. Geese USA received a visit from Mihaela Sasarman. Ms. Sasarman, M.Phil. is a directress, and visionary with whom we eventually created Transcena , an amalgam of Geese USA and part of GRADO. Transcena is responsible for the creation with Geese Co.USA’s materials as a base , of 5 therapeutic communities for the treatment of violent men in prison .With Ms. Sasarman we created the first “co-operative” meetings between police and high school children since the time of Ceaucescu.

Mihaela has directed numerous prison shows as well as theatre pieces for other special audiences including the deaf and intellectually handicapped clients. Coming in 2004 is the continuation of Bill Plum’s (20 year veteran of chemical dependency training in USA and Eastern Europe) chemical dependency work with Transcena ,the introduction of drama therapy linked cognitive skills (from James McGuire) and finally some sex offender specific material.

In the last few years John Bergman and Saul Hewish, the former director for many years of Geese UK, have both worked together, and had a new book published-Challenging Experience, published by Woods ‘n Barnes. It is a book of exercises for the experiential treatment of violent and sexually violent clients. Since leaving Geese, Saul has created two further companies. He is director of Acting Out Company which works extensively in the UK in criminal justice, with a focus on theatre, media and experiential therapy for young offenders and young people in foster and residential care. He is also co-director of Rideout (Creative Arts for Rehabilitation), a charity specialising in theatre and multi-arts based projects in prisons in the UK. Rideout currently has long-term residencies at a number of Midlands-based prisons, and is in development of a major drama, art and architecture project for life sentence prisoners.

The company’s long–serving work dog Tosser has also traveled to four countries , 31 states . She has received mention at three plenaries.

Geese USA continues to work bringing new therapeutic strategies in New England and the Mid west, as well as currently working in a huge system wide project for officer ethical development in Corrections Victoria, Australia. In this project called Setting The Scene/Ethics in Action, Geese will eventually intensively teach over 950 administrators, officers and community corrections staff how to make it just a little bit better!

A long way from Vera Cunningham's call.


For more info on the cutting edge of Theatre and Drama Therapy,
contact Artistic Director
John Bergman at: Macflap@aol.com or macflap@optusnet.com.au