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2022 Gramsci International Prize for Theatre in Prison to Elena Cánovas and the Yeses TheatreCompany



I TEATRI DELLE DIVERSITÀ (Theatres of Diversities)


23rd edition of the International Conference of the European Review “Catarsi-Teatri delle Diversità”


Wednesday, December 28, 2022 /Special online edition


“Catarsi-Teatri delle Diversità” European Magazine in collaboration with Casa Natale Gramsci Association in Ales, Italian Association of Theatre Critics, International Network Theater in Prison (ITI-Unesco Partner)


Gramsci International Prize for Theatre in Prison

(7th edition) to Elena Cánovas and the Yeses Theatre Company


Since her early training in civil service, Elena Cánovas has been inspired by fundamental social principles. She became part of the prison administration and then graduated in criminology from the Universidad Computense. Drawing on her early theater experiences at school, she believes deeply in the transformative power of art, which led her to get her diploma in directing and acting from the Real Escuela Superior de Arte Dramático in Madrid. In 1985, she founded the Yeses Theatre Company, whose members are both inmate actresses and professional actresses, in the former women's prison in Madrid, Yeserías. Since then, her company has put on more than 40 plays, and then transferred the project first to the prison of Carabanchel Mujeres and now to the Madrid I Mujeres penitentiary in Alcalá de Henares.

After its first plays based on scripts by well-known playwrights such as Peter Weiss, Eugène Ionesco, Fernando Arrabal, and Dario Fo (to name a few), the company gradually developed its own approach to dramaturgy, reflected in its collective work marked by its independence and creative freedom. In the publication “Yeses Theatre: Awareness, Will and Courage,” Milagros Sánchez Arnosi, a critic and scholar of contemporary Spanish theatre, recognizes the Company's artistic maturity developed in a series of plays that have distinguished it over time, including La asamblea de las mujeres (based on Aristophanes), La balada de la cárcel de Circe (based on Homer) and original works written by Cánovas herself, including La Confesión, Una no gana para sustos, Rumbo a Guachafita, or Ahora que vamos deprisa, vamos a contar verdades.

The Yeses Theatre experience has gained strength, overcoming difficult periods and inflexible time limitations to achieve goals beyond expectations, such as the professionalization of the company. Yeses is guided by the deeply held beliefs and clear vision of its director who has put her faith in women's empathy. This quality is on display in its most recent production Descalzas (Barefoot), based on the script by Julieta Soria about the life of Saint Teresa of Avila, which is still being staged in Spain's official theatrical circuits. Elena Cánovas gave an interview last November to a Spanish magazine, published by an independent organization for gender equality and human rights, in a monographic issue about “women for peace in times of war.” In her words: “Theatre gives women the power not to think about prison. They not only learn to be actresses but gain self-confidence to give their lives direction and make them useful again.”


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