End of Isolation Tour: The BOX as Legislative Theater
- Watch the Pulitzer Center Online Production of The BOX
In 2016 The BOX premiered at Z Space over a three-week run in San Francisco to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 people, including celebrities, representatives from dozens of organizations, and two California senators. As a result, 350 postcards were written by audience members to people in solitary confinement. Directed by Michael Garces and featured in San Francisco Magazine, The California Endowment, W. Kamau Bell’s Kamau Right Now! podcast, Poverty: An Arts Journal, Vice, NPR, KQED, Democracy Now!, the Mercury News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Francisco Examiner. Co-produced by The California Endowment, The Phyllis C. Wattis Foundation, Neda Nobari Foundation, and Toni Rembe & Arthur Rock.
In 2019 The BOX was performed on Alcatraz Island in a powerful and historic moment for the movement against solitary confinement and mass incarceration. Produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center, Toni Rembe, and Arthur Rock and presented in conjunction with Future IDs at Alcatraz, Success Centers, the Stanford Graphic Novel Project, and the Art in the Parks Program of the National Park Service and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Featured in SF Chronicle here and here and covered by the Bay City News.
in 2022, the Box hot the road on the End of Isolation Tour. Despite historic and world-disrupting heat waves and floods, our crew of nine came bursting out of a pandemic and in two months traveled over eight thousand miles in our converted school bus, bringing 25 performances of our legislative theater to 10 communities on the front lines of reimagining justice across the country. Thanks to our collective talent and commitment, we elevated The BOX, to a higher level than it’s ever achieved before. Night after night we stepped onto stages in Baltimore, St. Louis, Austin, Detroit, Chicago, Fayetteville, DC, Philadelphia, Winston-Salem, and Atlanta and experienced something profound. In the words of DC theater critic John Stoltenberg: “It was not just good theater … it was phenomenal. I cannot recall a theater experience that had a greater lock on the conscience of its audience.”
In the words of Gabriel Montoya, one of our crew members: “During the 30 years I’ve been an actor I've encountered a wide array of audience reactions — from walkouts to standing ovations — but reactions to The BOX were unlike any other. There was a reverence for what we did. The show felt like a ritual more than a play … a ritual that tilled the soil of the souls who had experienced the criminal injustice system. One hopes that work will bear abolitionist fruit.”
Listening from backstage, multiple times I heard someone sobbing during the intermission, followed by murmurs of comfort from the strangers seated around them. During our post-show somatic engagement piece, we breathed, grounded, and shook out our anger and pain together, and many times I heard people say they left the theater feeling lighter, stronger, with their senses heightened, despite how terrifying the material is.
“To witness this kind of inhumanity was like being on the front line of war — at war with our participation in this practice no matter how far removed. Now that we know, what do we do? Forced to confront what safety means and where we draw the line on providing it, no one left as they entered.”
—Audience member, Baltimore
As founder, playwright, actor, and survivor —this tour showed me that people all over this country want to see a radical shrinking of our carceral state and a radical expansion of our free communities, just as much as I do. I feel humbled by the road, softened by it, and I’m left with so much gratitude for the people across this country who opened up their homes, their places of worship, their food pantries, their schedules, their wallets, and most importantly their hearts and minds — making our tour possible by daring to show up.
The impact of The End of Isolation Tour was solid and real: audiences in the thousands; hundreds of postcards written to people confined in solitary; dozens of articles, TV, and radio interviews...Our movement is a wave, and each one of us a droplet in that wave. Together we will continue to crash against the fortress of the carceral state, taking as much of the harm it’s done with us as we can as we simultaneously build and resurrect new structures — of healing, accountability, and peace.
Media Coverage of The End of Isolation Tour 2022 (select)
DC THEATER ARTS REVIEW, News
Tour wrap-up and Slideshow
Truthout, Reasons to be Cheerful, Solitary Watch
Watch the performance at The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, PA
Arkansas: Arkansas Times, KNWA
The St. Louis Magazine, Tech Sumo, STL Today, Riverfront Times, STL Jewish Light
Detroit Axios, Model Media
PhillyVoice, Delco Times (also in The Mercury), Axios Philly, Philadelphia Magazine, 95.7 Ben FM, Visit Philly, Billy Penn, Phillyfunguide
N.Carolina Yes Weekly, Triad City Beat, NC Policy Watch
Media Coverage of The BOX (select)
"The Key to Resilience, PWN's Debut Review!
Global Investigative Journalism Network: “Using Theater—and Zoom—to Tell Stories of Investigations into Solitary Confinement”
Local News Matters, “The Box”: Acclaimed play on solitary confinement is remade for the pandemic.
Justice Arts Coalition, “The BOX” Virtual Performance: A Play About Solitary Confinement by Sarah Shourd
Kenneth Rainin Foundation: Future IDs at Alcatraz: Creating Space For Second Chances
VICE: “The Woman Who Turned 410 Days of Solitary in Iran into a Play”
KQED: “Inside ‘The Box’: New Play Explores Life in Solitary”
BANG: “Oakland Writer-Activist Tells Story of Solitary Confinement”
SF Examiner: “‘The Box’ Vividly Looks at Life in Solitary”
Democracy Now!: “‘Opening the Box’: After Being Jailed in Iran, Sarah Shourd Examines Solitary Confinement in U.S.”
KTVU Talks to Sarah Shourd About Her Play “The Box”
San Francisco Magazine: “Being in Isolation, It Physically Hurts,” Jerry Elster and Sarah Shourd
Watch The Global Online Premiere of The BOX
Kamau Bell’s live radio show Kamau Right Now!