And Still We Rise: A Theater Company with a Mission

Men and women impacted by the criminal justice system turn their personal stories into stage-worthy drama.

Last Year’s Company / Photo courtesy of Dev Luthra, And Still We Rise

Last Year’s Company / Photo courtesy of Dev Luthra, And Still We Rise

And Still We Rise, a theater company comprised of actors who have been impacted by the criminal justice system, has a way of weaving personal stories into heartfelt performances and a knack for exploring the lines between theater and reality.

The troupe recently kicked off its eighth season with a show about the effect of prison on family life. On stage, the actors perform scenes about issues like parenthood while one spouse is on the inside, and reuniting with loved ones after release. Offstage, some of their stories are firsthand experiences: the cast includes Natalie Logan, whose twin brother and son were murdered; Josie Figueroa, whose child’s father is inside; Aqilla Manna, whose son was in prison; Kimberly Smith, who served time at Framingham Women’s Prison; Vanity Reyes, who has never been to prison, but three of her brothers have been arrested; and Lois Frazier, a recovered drug addict, and her daughter Lola, who have been impacted by gangs, pimps, and crime.

And Still We Rise, which takes its name from Maya Angelou’s famous poem, started in 2005 as a post-incarceration program for former prisoners. The company has toured schools, churches, community organizations, and lock-up facilities, and developed their own method of making theater. With each new season and the addition of new group members, they improvise, tell their stories, create a script, and build a show together.

Artistic director Dev Luthra, who has Shakespeare and a slew of other productions under his belt, has helped shape the current show, incorporating bits of Angelou’s poetry with scenes that highlight themes of coping with incarceration. In an interview, Luthra is quick to praise the performers, whose life struggles can be difficult for most people to imagine. “They are the experts of their own story,” he says. “It’s not some skill they had to learn.”

Smith, a performer who got out of prison in 1997, attended a residential drug treatment program before joining the group in 2007. She says the healing experience of theater helped her overcome her drug use. “We are all survivors,” she says. “Our stories are horrific, but we make it through.”

Free admission (donations welcome). 2 p.m., Sunday, October 6, Old South Church, 645 Boylston St. Boston. For more information, call 617-536-1970 or visit