On the Eve of Abolition imagines the last day of the last prison. The play is set in the year 2047 in the transnational liberated territories of what used to be known as the US and Mexico, after a movement of abolitionists have created the conditions to end the prison-industrial complex.
On the Eve of Abolition work-in-progress presentation.
Created by Papel Machete, featuring Deborah Hunt, Sugeily Rodriguez Lebrón, Joe Therrien, and with special thanks to the rest of the production team: José “Primo” Hernández, Juan Carlos Dávila, Juan Ruiz Robles, and Jorge Díaz Ortiz. This video was created as a presentation of work in progress and requests for non-monetary support for the 2021 Creative Capital retreat.
This ambitious collaborative project is led by theater and puppetry collective Papel Machete, working-class cultural solidarity organization AgitArte, and master maskmaker, puppeteer, and performative artist Deborah Hunt, all based in Puerto Rico.
“This project is for individuals and communities most impacted by the prison industrial complex,” the artists write. “The US disproportionately imprisons and jails millions of Black, transgender, immigrant, Indigenous, Latinx, and poor people annually, significantly damaging the families and communities of those incarcerated. These communities both stand to gain the most from prison abolition and have the most knowledge through experience of how to organize and fight for transformations that bring us closer to abolition.”
The project centers the organizing efforts of current abolitionists as well as the voices of incarcerated people and families impacted by the criminal punishment system.
The artists will connect the project to Southerners On New Ground’s ongoing grassroots prison abolition work throughout the South. Through a partnership with Prison Radio, they are engaging with political prisoners and currently incarcerated artists, in addition to accessing materials created by incarcerated people in Prison Radio’s archives. They are also partnering with Sisters Unchained, a Boston-based program engaging women/femme-identified and trans youth with family members in the carceral system.
In describing how the project advances racial and cultural justice, the artists write, “We understand that abolition is not just about closing jails and prisons (though this is an important piece). It is about providing the resources we all need to live healthy lives and avoiding punishment-based reactions to crimes. Prison abolition is inherently intersectional, anticapitalist, antiracist, and provides a vision and roadmap leading to a society that values each life as precious.
“As a collective of colonized people, the stories of Puerto Rican people are often told for us by outsiders, perpetuating false narratives about our people and our country. As artists, we must disrupt this process and present our own narratives that draw from history, foster community, and agitate for liberation.
"We see this project as an opportunity to broaden the scope of our work, both in content and form, to build solidarity across struggles in Puerto Rico and throughout the continental US, and to present an anticapitalist, abolitionist vision for our world.”
This post is part of Voices from the Network, unfiltered stories of art and liberation from today's artists.
About Papel Machete
Papel Machete is a radical theater and puppetry collective that produces and performs original work throughout the Puerto Rico and the US. The collective started on May 1, 2006, during the government shutdown, in response to the economic and political crisis generated by the status of Puerto Rico as a colony of the US. Since then, they have established a body of work inspired by a commonly shared aesthetic and values.
Using papier mâché as a medium, Papel Machete explores a wide range of artforms and styles including toy theater, cantastorias, shadow theater, table-top puppetry, masks, performing objects and giant puppets. Papel Machete has brought theater to new audiences and venues to denounce exploitation, build solidarity, and agitate for action in the struggles of frontline communities. They are cofounders and part of the organizing committee of Titeretada, a yearly independent puppetry festival in Puerto Rico. Learn more about their work here.