Rehearsals for Decarceral Futures: Indigenous Theatre About Criminalization and Prison Abolition

deadline for submissions: 
January 10, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Critical Stages/International Association of Theatre Critics
contact email: 


Critical Stages/Scènes critiques

International Association of Theatre CriticsAssociation internationale des critiques de théâtre
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ISSN 2409-7411



Critical Stages/Scènes critiques is available online to the reader without financial, legal or technical barriers. Ιt is a a biannual (June/December). peer-reviewed journal fully committed to the Open Access Initiative. It  offers a platform for debate and exploration of a wide range of theatre and performance art manifestations from all over the world.


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Issue 30 (December 2024)
Guest Editor
Sheetala Bhat

The 2019 report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the rights of Indigenous peoples noted an “alarming increase in attacks on and criminalization” of Indigenous people across the globe. As Luana Ross (Salish and Kootenai) argues in Inventing the Savage: The Social Construction of Native American Criminality (1998), “Any explanation of Native criminality that sees individual behavior as significant overlooks the social and historical origins of the behavior,” which are “victimization and the criminalization of Native rights” by colonial governments.

Criminalization has long been a tool of colonial power. In response to such criminalization, Indigenous artists have used theatre to affirm creative and political agency, and to preserve and imagine alternative systems of justice and rehabilitation. In Medicine Shows: Indigenous Performance Culture (2015), theatre director Yvette Nolan (Algonquin) writes, “Indigenous theatre artists make medicine” through connecting and nurturing communities.

On the one hand, colonial and postcolonial governments have denied, banned, and criminalized creative cultures of Indigenous peoples. On the other hand, Indigenous artists have used performance and storytelling to resist such criminalization as well as for healing. Performance and storytelling are also crucial in many nation-specific Indigenous conceptions and practices of law in Canada. Relationships between decolonial justice, law, criminalization of Indigenous people, and performance and theatre art are complex, layered, and urgent.

Echoing Mark Fisher’s famous words that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism, in her book Carceral Capitalism (2018), Jackie Wang argues that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine a world without prisons.” Abolitionist movements and visions are critiqued for being unrealistic or utopic. Then how do currently and formerly incarcerated people and allies imagine and rehearse for such a utopia in and through theatre? And how do such rehearsals for a decarceral future confront, dismantle, and move beyond not only colonial systems of justice but also colonial imaginations of a society?

This special issue of Critical Stages/Scènes critiques seeks articles that investigate anti-colonial artistic labor against criminalization of Indigenous people around the globe, including but not limited to theatre performances, theatre workshops, rehearsals and creative processes.

We also encourage submissions that explore performance and performativity of criminality, crime, justice systems, courts, and settler nations. Along with scholarly articles, creative reflections, artist interviews,  rehearsal and workshop analyses, and essays on creative protocols for abolitionist rehearsal rooms are welcome.

Potential topics include but are not limited to:

  • Theatre performances about criminalization of Indigenous people
  • Creative and affective labour of prison abolition
  • Relationships between creativity, indigeneity, and colonial tactics of criminalization 
  • Transnational, comparative analysis of Indigenous prison abolition movements
  • Theatre as a tool of healing for incarcerated people
  • Theatre workshops for and by people with experience of incarceration
  • Criminalization of Indigenous ceremonies
  • Designing creative rooms for abolition
  • Performance of criminality
  • Performativity, legality, and settler nations

Scholars and artists working on theatre performances about prison abolition and criminalization of Indigenous people in any geographical context are welcome to submit an abstract of 300 words and a 50-word biography identifying all collaborating authors by October 1, 2023.

Please send your abstracts to

Complete articles will be due on April 1, 2024.

This issue is expected to be published in December 2024.

We request that final submissions include photos and/or videos (permission to use required).

We are open to articles in English and French.

Biography of Guest Editor

Sheetala Bhat is an Assistant Professor at York University’s English Department. She is a theatre researcher, artist, and playwright. She specializes in South Asian theatre and politics, South Asian diasporic theatre in Canada, and Indigenous theatre in Canada. She is the author of Performing Self, Performing Gender: Reading the Lives of Women Performers in Colonial India, published by Manipal University Press. Prior to her appointment at York, she was an Arts Without Borders Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Ottawa.