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ReEntry Theatre Program set to premiere original musical in May

ReEntry Theatre Program warms up at the beginning of their rehearsal with a musical exercise. (Photo by Alecia Solorzano/Ithaca Week)

A group comprised of and led by people who experienced incarceration or court involvement are putting together an original musical set to premiere at the end of May in Ithaca.

“It has been an incredible process, what we do is we are writing kind of based on true stories that are kind of woven together in this beautiful tapestry of involvement,” actor Charlotte Ghiorse said.

“Fallen Branches Plant Roots” is the first original musical developed locally by Civic Ensemble and their ReEntry Theatre Program

Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA) is a statewide-based organization that helps people in prison by hosting a variety of arts programs and workshops. While this organization focuses on those who are in prison, they conducted a study that shows just how important the arts are to prevent these individuals from returning to prison once they are released.

According to their data, “60% of people return to prison within 3 years. At RTA, less than 3% return. Our arts-based program in prison builds critical life skills so that people can meet the challenges of connecting with family and community when released.” This data shows how the arts can be pivotal in helping individuals reenter society which is why programs like ReEntry Theatre Program are important to the local community and beyond.

Developing the script and music to tell their stories The final scene outline of “Fallen Branches Plant Roots” for ReEntry to rehearse and edit at their March 25 rehearsal. (Photo by Alecia Solorzano/Ithaca Week).

The ReEntry Theatre Program puts on a play every season that aims to shift narratives and bring awareness to the issues within the criminal justice system. While their mission is still the same, ReEntry is trying something new this time around, developing a musical with songs written by members of the group. 

“We’ve been talking about wanting to do music forever,” actor Amy Heffron said. “It just happened to be that we just have a bunch of amazing musically artistic people and it’s taken off and I can’t wait.”

The show, “Fallen Branches Plant Roots,” is described by Civic “as a story of family, chosen family, and what it means to show up for one another.” Each character and their lines were carefully crafted by the actors who play them. All decisions were made collaboratively.

Ghiorse plays Sherry, a 14-year-old girl who is “ . . . super neglected, has no support at home, and lives with her grandmother. Her mother is either incarcerated or running around. She doesn’t have any relationship with her father. So she’s really in danger of wanting to act out and run away from home.”

The musical’s logo/concept art. (Photo from Civic Ensemble’s Instagram)

Community impact 

During their March 25 rehearsal, many of the artists expressed how vulnerable this process is for them. As they finished the script of their final scene for the show, they took time to reflect on how they were feeling and if there were other things they wanted their characters to experience when wrapping up their journey.

“I think there’s still a ton of stigma around being incarcerated, chemically dependent, drug addicted, as well as mentally ill,” Ghiorse said. “This breaks down some of the stories and humanizes it for all of us…there’s an urgency behind it and also that these stories need to be told.”

The show acknowledges the harsh realities and stigmas surrounding incarceration as well as raises awareness about the criminal justice system. ReEntry actors say the real experiences detailed in the upcoming show are likely similar to the stories of audiences who have not experienced or been affected by incarceration.

“Honestly, I don’t think our stories are that far away from other people,” Heffron said. “I think a lot of people will find that they or someone they know has experienced some of these if not all of the situations, because we touch base on a lot of different things in this play.”

Heffron continues, “It’s not just incarceration. It’s relationships between parents and children, it’s addictions, it’s teenage floundering and not knowing what to do. It’s being in not great relationships with romantic partners. There’s just a lot of different things. That’s like real-life stuff for people and I think people are going to be able to connect [with it]  in a different sort of way.”

The upcoming show

“Fallen Branches Plant Roots” is set to premiere on May 31 at The Kitchen Theatre in downtown Ithaca. The musical will have a two-week run ending on June 9. Information regarding ticket purchases will be available soon on Civic Ensemble’s website.


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