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Rhodessa Jones with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department and fiscal sponsor Cultural Odyssey

Award: $35,000 Performing Arts Grant awarded 1995

Premiered: January 10-21, 1996, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre

Rhodessa Jones worked in partnership with the San Francisco Health Department, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, Cultural Odyssey, and female inmates and ex-inmates to create and produce Buried Fire, an original, interdisciplinary, theatrical work based on a re-telling of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Ugly Duckling.” The project furthered Cultural Odyssey’s efforts to create experimental theater that is rooted in the cultural and economic life experiences of African Americans.

Buried Fire grew out of Rhodessa Jones’s extensive prior work with San Francisco County Jail #7. In 1986, she had been approached by the California Arts Council to teach aerobics to women inmates at the jail. Her work with the women evolved; and she and Cultural Odyssey created and toured, Big Butt Girls, Hard Headed Women, a series of monologues based on interviews with incarcerated women that garnered the BESSIE Award after an extended run in New York City. Jones went on to create The Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women.

Through the Buried Fire project, Jones took the challenging step of creating The Medea Academy, through which women who had been in the Medea Project could continue their work in theater after their release from jail. It was designed to help facilitate inmate reintegration into society through theater, art, and social support.