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Students prepare to share ‘inside’ experience with ‘outside’ audience

Jacob Miller performs in Inside Story in 2015.

The Prison Theater Project class presents their on-campus performance Sunday, February 3, at 2 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium.

Nine Bethel College students spent the January interterm in a “foreign culture” located less than an hour from campus – inside Hutchinson Correctional Facility.

The students joined nine HCF inmates, all under the direction of John McCabe-Juhnke, Ph.D., professor of communication arts and director of theater, for the fourth iteration of Prison Theater Project’s Inside Story.

A main purpose of the class, said McCabe-Juhnke in his introduction to the second of two HCF performances of Inside Story, Jan. 25 at the prison’s medium-security East Unit, is to help students develop empathy.

According to the students’ interterm journals, that purpose was fulfilled, he said.

Although the Prison Theater Project class is now officially over, the students have one more requirement to complete – performing Inside Story on campus on Feb. 3.

The performance is free and open to the public. A talkback with the students will follow.

Inside Story consists of four short plays within a framework built of excerpts from the journals the students wrote in GoogleDocs and the inmates in blue books like those used to give exams.

The on-campus performance allows the students to share their experience with peers and others who couldn’t come to the Jan. 25 event, which was open to the public, subject to prison regulations and background checks.

But it’s also a way for them to pay tribute to their nine incarcerated colleagues, with whom they will no longer be able to personally relate.

The four one-act plays are Last-Minute Adjustments by Rich Orloff, in which a baby minutes from birth tries to avoid the risks of joining the human race; If at First by John Edward O’Brien, where a frustrated playwright tussles with his characters to tell the best version of the story; The End of a Perfect Game by Jay Rehak, which shows a major-league pitcher struggling with his insecurities at an unexpected time; and At the Time by Winter Miller, in which high school students experience normal teenage anxieties on a seemingly ordinary day that turns out to be anything but.

The plays are interspersed with comments from both HCF inmates and Bethel students about the experience of crossing cultures – for both groups – to do theater together.

“This experience has … helped lead me to discover,” one student wrote, “that there is always some way for you to connect to another human being, even if you live in very different worlds.”

The nine Bethel students performing Feb. 3 in Inside Story are Bailea Crist, freshman from McPherson, Charlotte Ehrmann, freshman from Augusta, Naomi Epp, senior from North Newton, Colton Lumpkins, freshman from Wichita, Cami Mills, sophomore from Wichita, Lincoln Moyo, senior from Hesston, Lauren Nehrbass, senior from Parsons, Isaiah Smith, senior from Kansas City, Kan., and Mary Vermillion, junior from Newton.

Bethel College is the only Kansas private college listed in Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section for 2018-19. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu.

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.