RTA Celebrates the US Premiere of ‘Sing Sing’ At SXSW

Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA), a nonprofit that helps people in prison develop critical life skills through the arts, celebrated the US Premiere of the major motion picture ‘Sing Sing’ at South by Southwest® Conference and Festivals (SXSW). ‘Sing Sing’ is based on the real-life RTA theater program inside a maximum correctional facility.

The majority of the actors in the film are RTA alumni and they include Clarence (Divine Eye) Maclin, John (Divine G) Whitfield, Sean Dino Johnson and Dario Peña. Also in the film are Oscar-nominated actors Colman Domingo and Paul Raci.

Sing Sing is a powerful film that provides a unique lens to the incarcerated community and we are incredibly honored and proud that it brings the impact of RTA’s life-changing programs to the silver screen for the world to experience,” said RTA Interim Executive Director Leslie Lichter. “Congratulations to the entire cast for their superb performances. Our goal is to broaden our impact of fostering personal growth and community building by expanding our reach to more people in prisons across New York and the nation.”

“I am honored to share how RTA made a lasting impact in my life and hundreds more through this beautiful film,” said lead actor and RTA alum Clarence “Divine Eye” Maclin. RTA encourages you to self-reflect and find hope, courage, and community along the way.”

Sing Sing Photo RTA

“As one of the founding members of RTA, this movie holds a unique and very special moment in my life and proves that everything that went wrong in my life ultimately turned out to make everything right,” said RTA Alumnus John (Divine G) Whitfield. “RTA is a miracle-inducing program – I have witnessed transformations, including my own. If not for my time served in Sing Sing, I would have never written 13 novels or 12 screenplays. In life, sometimes you have to get crushed and hit rock bottom to bring out the beauty and the power in us.”

“RTA taught me the true meaning of community, and the film Sing Sing is about finding the confidence and courage to make transformational change and form life-saving friendships,” said RTA Alumnus and Board Member Sean Dino Johnson. The arts are a powerful vehicle that heals, and it is an honor to be part of this impactful film.”

‘Sing Sing’ was directed and co-written by Greg Kwedar and his filmmaking partner Clint Bentley. Mr. Kwedar and Mr. Bentley were inspired to create ‘Sing Sing’ while volunteering as instructors at a men’s maximum-security correctional facility. The film shows facets of life in prison and how the arts can help build community, explore opportunities in education, and seek positive outcomes in life. The majority of the actors in the film are alumni of RTA’s program. RTA’s art-based program is a proven model that helps incarcerated individuals acquire critical life skills and agency.

“We’ve worked on this movie for over seven years, and every time I meet a new RTA participant or alumnus, I grow more confident that this is one of the most unique and transformative programs that I’ve ever encountered,” said ‘Sing Sing’ Director Greg Kwedar.

The SXSW red carpet event kicked-off with a feature session The Beautiful Exchange: Front Row with the Sing Sing Cast with RTA alumnus actor Clarence (Divine Eye) Maclin and cast members Colman Domingo, Paul Raci, and Sean San Jose, followed by the screening of ‘Sing Sing’ which was attended by nearly 400 participants. The event concluded with a panel discussion that featured Director/Co-Writer Greg Kwedar, Co-Writer/Producer Clint Bentley, Producer Monique Walton, Editor Parker Laramie, and Cinematographer Pat Scola.

For nearly 30 years, RTA has worked with professional teaching artists to lead year-round workshops in theater, dance, music, creative writing and visual arts. Founded by Katharine Vockins – who led the nonprofit for 26 years, the RTA model provides an intensive, comprehensive arts program that builds skills so that people can meet the challenges of connecting with family and community when released. Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, more than 1,000 incarcerated individuals have participated in RTA’s program, and thousands more have been touched by RTA, including participants’ friends and family who attend performances and experience firsthand how their loved ones make positive changes in their lives.

RTA currently works in the following New York correctional facilities: Sing Sing, Bedford Hills, Collins, Fishkill, Green Haven, Taconic, Wallkill and Woodourne. RTA has produced dozens of plays and theater productions like 12 Angry Men, Macbeth, The Wizard of Oz, Our Town and A Few Good Men, to name a few. RTA runs workshops year-round in theater, dance, music, creative writing, and visual arts.

Currently, less than 3% of RTA members return to prison, compared to the national recidivism rate of 60%. RTA members often pursue higher education after participating in the program. RTA members and facility staff have recognized a positive change in prison culture as a result of the program. Upon release, hundreds of RTA alumni are giving back to their communities, becoming social workers, advocates, academics and entrepreneurs.

Sing Sing will be released nationwide by film and television studio A24 this July. Watch the trailer and find more information at: https://rta-arts.org/sing-sing-film

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