LAPD State of Incarceration

If you’re in NYC make like a bandit down to the Queens Museum which is hosting the first ever East Coast performance of State of Incarceration (2010-ongoing) by the activist collective Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD).

I’ve been thinking a lot about how gallery spaces can work to induct audiences into a topic as fraught as prisons. Partly because talking about prisons is a two-part process. First, one must explain clearly what problems exist, how deep they run and from where they originated. Second — and usually because the first part is so overwhelming — you need to provide audiences an immediate stimulus to care. (I don’t worry about action at this early stage; if you succeed in getting someone to care, then action will follow later if it is to at all).

Normally, for the second part, a description of deplorable conditions will offend audiences and have them ready to care. But, for me, that’s not enough. It presumes the answer might be the eradication of bad conditions. I don’t want better prisons. I want fewer prisons.

State of Incarceration does an excellent job in jolting people because it describes the tortuous power relations and the dire psychological conditions within prisons. Shouting, noise and continual face-offs between characters amp up the negative energy. There’s no escape and audiences are put literally inside and on top of it all from among the “prison” bunks, and confronted by the illogic of the prison system in the form of maddening cacophony and maneuver.


I’m not usually one for understanding theatre but this direct performance makes sense. It’s made in California, which runs a prison system that makes less sense.

State of Incarceration is a performance space filled wall-to-wall with 60 triple-bunked beds, performers and audience share overcrowded conditions akin to a California state prison. One-third of the state’s parolees settle in the 55 square blocks of Los Angeles known as Skid Row, and State of Incarceration—developed collaboratively by LAPD’s Skid Row artists and in dialogue with organizers and recent parolees—powerfully examines the consequences of California’s penal system on individuals, families and communities. Outlining a ritual of incarceration from entry to release and re-integration, State of Incarceration constructs a complex challenge to the societal perceptions and fear-based policies of a nation with the highest rate of incarceration in the world.

It’s FREE with no reservations necessary!

Friday, January 31st, 7:30pm
Saturday, February 1, 7:30pm
Sunday, February 2, 5pm

Curator and artists’ gallery talk:
Sunday, February 2, 3pm

A free shuttlebus will be making loops between under the 7train CitiField/Willets Point stop and the museum from 2-8pm.

State of Incarceration is staged as part of Do You Want the Cosmetic Version or the Real Deal?: Los Angeles Poverty Department, 1985 – 2014, an exhibition on view at the Queens Museum through May 11.