Book Cover

The Healing Stage

Black Women, Incarceration, and the Art of Transformation

Lisa Biggs

258 pp. 6 x 9
Pub Date: December, 2022

Subjects: Black Studies
American Studies
Gender & Sexuality Studies
Race & Ethnic Studies

Series: Black Performance and Cultural Criticism

order Hardcover $139.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-1493-0
order Paperback $37.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-5856-9
Order PDF ebook$37.95   ISBN: 978-0-8142-8258-8

Finalist, 2023 ASTR Barnard Hewitt Award for Outstanding Research in Theatre History

Winner of the 2023 ASTR Errol Hill Award

Winner of the 2023 NCA Lilla A. Heston Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Interpretation and Performance Studies

The Healing Stage makes the powerful claim that prison performance programs not only serve to enhance the self-worth of incarcerated women, but also provide a space for enacting worlds full of greater justice, collaboration, respect, and Freedom. Moving across disciplines and practices, Biggs unites disparate intellectual, artistic, and activist communities.” —Omi Osun Joni L. Jones, author of Theatrical Jazz: Performance, Àṣẹ, and the Power of the Present Moment

“Biggs’s writing comes alive in her case studies––especially in moments when her mixed participant/observational status leads to a confession of her own fears or deeper connections with the directors and the women participants.” —Rena Fraden, author of Imagining Medea: Rhodessa Jones and Theater for Incarcerated Women and Blueprints for a Black Federal Theatre, 1935–1939

Over the last five decades, Black women have been one of the fastest-growing segments of the global prison population, thanks to changes in policies that mandate incarceration for nonviolent offenses and criminalize what women do to survive interpersonal and state violence. In The Healing Stage, Lisa Biggs reveals how four ensembles of currently and formerly incarcerated women and their collaborating artists use theater and performance to challenge harmful policies and popular discourses that justify locking up “bad” women. Focusing on prison-based arts programs in the US and South Africa, Biggs illustrates how Black feminist cultural traditions—theater, dance, storytelling, poetry, humor, and protest—enable women to investigate the root causes of crime and refute dominant narratives about incarcerated women. In doing so, the arts initiatives that she writes about encourage individual and collective healing, a process of repair that exceeds state definitions of rehabilitation. These case studies offer powerful examples of how the labor of incarcerated Black women artists—some of the most marginalized and vulnerable people in our society—radically extends our knowledge of prison arts programs and our understanding of what is required to resolve human conflicts and protect women’s lives.


Lisa Biggs is an actor, playwright, and the John Atwater and Diana Nelson Assistant Professor of the Arts and Africana Studies at Brown University.




Chapter 1        “She Was No Rosa Parks”: A Black Women’s History of Mass Incarceration in the United States

Chapter 2        How to Stage Healing

Chapter 3        Bad Bad Bad Bad Bad Bad Woman: Making Theater in a Midwestern Jail

Chapter 4        The Pink Dress

Chapter 5        Bring Me My Machine Gun: The Medea Project in South Africa

Chapter 6        It Has Been My Healing to Tell the Dirty Truth

Conclusion      Beyond Incarceration



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