The Phoenix Players Theatre Group was founded in 2009 at Auburn Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in Auburn New York, by a small group of incarcerated men dedicated to the idea that theatre work, combined with group inner healing work, is a true opportunity for them to connect and to become more fully human.
The Phoenix Players Theatre Group is a program developed by and for incarcerated persons and Communities in a maximum-security prison. It is a transformative theatre community, which utilizes theatre to reconnect incarcerated people to their full humanity. Experiences gained through PPTG significantly increase incarcerated peoples’ chances of transcending the negative labels and histories of criminality that define them within the greater society. —View the PPTG Brochure (PDF)
Michael Rhynes has been incarcerated for over thirty years. He originally named the group the Auburn Phoenix Players but, along with his co-founder, Clifton Williamson, came to the conclusion that while they were both “in” Auburn, they were not “of “ Auburn. Phoenix was selected because, to Michael, the Phoenix represented transformation and rehabilitation. PPTG is interested in transformation. For Michael, rehabilitation is about other people having control over your life while transformation is about taking your own life in your own hands.
The Phoenix Players Theater Group (PPTG) are (sic) a troupe of incarcerated people. Our Mission is to reconnect with and fully engage our humanity through the aesthetics of acting—the mirroring of life as experienced and narrated by others.
As offenders of the law, we remain poignantly aware of the pain and suffering that our actions or inactions have caused our victims and their families, our own families and community.
The members of PPTG consider Flames, written by Michael Rhynes, to be their declaration of action at faith.
Flames acknowledges that it is our burden and duty to prove ourselves worthy of forgiveness and trust from those we have offended. Like the mythological “Phoenix”, we [each] want to rise from the ashes of an unproductive and shameful past to live in the present as a redeemed person.
Each evening’s workshop begins with the PPTG Motto, written by one of the founding members of the group, Michael Shane Hale:
We are a community of transformation.
Through the power of self discovery,
We create the opportunity
To know and grow
After each cycle of training, which can run anywhere from fourteen to eighteen months, the facilitators, in collaboration with PPTG members, devise a performance. The Executive Committee at Auburn has been very supportive of PPTG and permits the group to invite an audience of up to eighty “civilians” to “witness” the performance as part of the transformative process so central to PPTG.
The involvement of community members, as ‘Observer’, ‘Participant’, ‘Guide’ and most importantly, ‘Fellow Human Being’, provides the critical perspective and engagement essential to our group’s healthy balance. Our desire and commitment to touch the suffering and joy of others, to learn the way of empathy, compassion, forgiveness and self‐love, defines who we are as a group. –View PPTG’s introduction to new members (PDF)