Curt L. Tofteland: About the Artist


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CURT L. TOFTELAND brings thirty-nine years of professional theatre experience to his current role as a freelance theatre artist – director, actor, producer, playwright, writer, teacher, program developer, prison arts practitioner, and consultant. Curt is the Founder of the internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Behind Bars (SBB) program, now in its 21st year of continuous operation. From 1995-2008, Curt facilitated the SBB/KY program at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky. During his thirteen year tenure, Curt produced and directed fourteen Shakespeare productions. Several participants in the SBB/KY program have garnered multiple Pen Literary Prison Writing Awards. During the 2003 SBB production of The Tempest, Philomath Films chronicled the process in a documentary that premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and forty+ film festivals around the world winning a total of eleven film awards. Additionally, Curt has worked as a prison arts practitioner in the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women – where he taught college classes for the Jefferson Community and Technical College and created a Ten Minute Playwriting Program, and the Kentucky State Reformatory – where he taught JCTC theatre classes. In the summer of 2010, Curt partnered with filmmaker/director/producer Robby Henson and playwright Elizabeth Orndorf to create Voices Inside – a 10-minute playwriting program – funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, at the Northpoint Training Center in Burgin, Kentucky. Now in its seventh year of funding by NEA, the program has generated inmate-authored plays that have gone on to be professionally produced at Theatrelab, an Off-Off-Broadway theatre, and the T-Shrieber Play Festival, both in New York City, and given readings at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville. Participants in the Voices Inside program has garnered one publication, four Pen Literary Prison Writing Awards, and one participant’s play was a finalist in Actors Theatre of Louisville’s 2015 National 10 Minute Playwriting Contest. Curt is an Associate Producer of I Come From: Imagination is Free, a documentary by filmmaker Robby Henson. The documentary features spoken word poets in prisons in Kentucky. In 2011, Curt created the Shakespeare Behind Bars program at the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility (Level II & IV security) in Muskegon Heights, Michigan. In 2012, Curt launched the first Michigan co-gender juvenile Shakespeare Behind Bars (Ottawa County Juvenile Detention Center) / Shakespeare Beyond Bars (Ottawa County Juvenile Justice Institute) program. Additional Shakespeare Behind Bars programs created at E.C. Brooks include: the Journeymen (for offenders under the age of 25) and Shakespeare in Housing Units. In 2014, Curt created three Shakespeare Behind Bars programs at the first Level I minimum security prison (West Shoreline Correctional Facility in Muskegon Heights, Michigan). Curt currently facilitates seven Shakespeare Behind Bars programs in two Michigan prisons serving over one hundred prisoners each week. Curt L. Tofteland_Professional Bio Curt has been invited to share his Shakespeare Behind Bars experience through screening the documentary, facilitating a post-screening audience talk-back, teaching master classes, and visiting classrooms at 50+ colleges and universities (seventy-nine visits) across the United States; he has been a key presenter at the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the Shakespeare Association of America (SAA); he has thrice been a key presenter at the Shakespeare Theatre Association (STA) Annual conference; he has been a five time key presenter at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF), Region III, and once each at KCACTF Region IV, VI, VII and VIII; he has been a VIP guest and presenter at thirteen professional Shakespeare Festivals in North America including: twice at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival (Stratford, Ontario); Old Globe Playhouse (San Diego, CA); Utah Shakespearean Festival (Cedar City, UT); American Players Theatre (Spring Green, WI); Chicago Shakespeare (Chicago, IL); Actors’ Shakespeare Project (Boston, MA); Chesapeake Shakespeare (Ellicott City, MD); Great River Shakespeare Festival (Winona, MN); Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival (Grand Valley, MI); Independent Shakespeare Company of LA (Los Angeles, CA); Kentucky Shakespeare Festival (Louisville, KY); Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park (Oklahoma City, OK – in association with Oklahoma City Museum of Art); Shakespeare Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA – in association with the William James Association); and he has taught the SBB process internationally, in Switzerland, at the International School of Lausanne and the College du Leman in Geneva. Curt is a founding member and a keynote presenter at the inaugural Shakespeare in Prison Conference hosted by the University of Notre Dame in January, 2016 and November, 2013. He was a featured presenter at the Marking Time: A Prison Arts and Activism Conference at Rutgers University in October, 2014. Curt has been the keynote speaker at the Tzedek Lecture at University of Oregon; Jepson Leadership Forum at University of Richmond; Distinguished Lecture at University of Wisconsin-Waukesha; Gates-Ferry Distinguished Visiting Lectureship at Centenary College; Personal Effectiveness and Employability Through the Arts (PEETA) International Symposium, Rotterdam, Netherlands; the European League of Institutes of the Arts (ELIA) Joint International Symposium with Columbia College, Chicago, IL; National Arts Club in New York City; Utah Shakespearean Festival’s Wooden O Symposium; Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University School of Law panel discussion about the First Amendment in Prison: Marking the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail; and the Shakespeare Connection Conference at the Grand Valley Shakespeare Festival. Curt has delivered four TEDx Talks. In 2016, at TEDx Muskegon (Muskegon, MI) on the subject of living in the rub between light and darkness; in 2013, at TEDx Berkeley, on the subject of building circles-of-trust; in 2012, at TEDx Macatawa (Holland, MI) on the subject of revenge and mercy; and in 2010, at TEDx East (New York City), on the subject of shame. Additionally, Curt was a speaker at the 2012 IDEA Festival in Curt L. Tofteland_Professional Bio Louisville, KY; at the Vibe Wire Youth, Inc. FastBREAK Breakfast Speaker Series in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Curt is the recipient of three distinctive fellowships, two from the Fulbright Foundation and one from the Petra Foundation, for his work as a prison arts practitioner using Shakespeare in corrections. Curt’s 2011 Fulbright Senior Scholar Fellowship took him to Australia to share his SBB experience as a co-facilitator with Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s prison program at the Borallon Correctional Centre in Queensland. Curt’s 2015 Fulbright Alumni Initiative Grant took him back to Australia to direct plays written by prisoners from the Voices Inside program, produced by Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble, and performed for prisoners in the Southern Queensland Correction Centre in Gatton and Wolston Correctional Centre in Wacol. In 2015, Curt was named a Creative Fellow at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. The Fellowship took him on a two week tour of New Zealand visiting Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington, where he toured prisons, gave public addresses, served on prison arts practitioner panels, and taught master classes. Curt is the Executive Producer of Prospero’s Prison, a film by Tom Magill, an award- winning Northern Ireland filmmaker and founder of Educational Shakespeare Company. Curt is a published poet and essayist who writes about the transformative power of art, theatre, and the works of William Shakespeare. He has five published essays – “My Better Angels Versus My Lesser Demons” in Paso de Gato: Revista Mexicana de Teatro; “I was Built for Runnin’ but I Dream of Flyin’ in The Possibilities of Creativity, University Auckland Press 2016; “The Keeper of the Keys: Building a Successful Relationship with the Warden” in Performing New Lives: Reflections on Prison Theatre, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010; “As Performed: By Shakespeare Behind Bars at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, KY, 2003” in The Tempest, Chicago: Sourcebooks Shakespeare 2008; and an essay, published in the 2012 edition of the Shakespeare Survey, that is co-written with SBB/KY founding member Hal Cobb – “Prospero Behind Bars”. Curt’s essay – “Shakespeare Goes to Prison: Holding the Transformative Mirror up to Nature: Responsibility, Forgiveness, and Redemption” won the University of Wyoming 2010 National Amy and Eric Burger Essays on Theatre Competition. Additionally, Curt continues to write his own book, Behind the Bard-Wire: Reflection, Responsibility, Redemption, & Forgiveness . . . The Transformational Power of Art, Theatre, and Shakespeare. From 1989 to 2008, he was the Producing Artistic Director of Kentucky Shakespeare Festival. During his twenty year tenure, Curt produced fifty Shakespeare productions, directed twenty-five Shakespeare productions, and acted in eight Shakespeare Productions. As a professional director and an Equity actor, he has 200+ professional productions to his credit. Additionally, he has presented 400+ performances of his one man show Shakespeare’s Clownes: A Foole’s Guide to Shakespeare. Curt L. Tofteland_Professional Bio Curt is a founding member and past president of the Shakespeare Theatre Association, an international service organization for theaters which produce the works of William Shakespeare. He received the 2016 Sidney Berger Award. Curt has professionally guest directed at Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble (Brisbane, Queensland AUS), Chesapeake Shakespeare (Baltimore, MD), Illinois Shakespeare Festival (Bloomington/Normal, IL), Theatre at Monmouth (Monmouth, ME), American Shakespeare Center – Blackfriars Playhouse (Stanton, VA), Actors Shakespeare Project (Boston, MA), Oklahoma Shakespeare (Oklahoma City, OK), Foothills Theatre Company (Worcester, MA), Hope Summer Repertory Theatre (Holland, MI), Kalamazoo Civic Theatre (Kalamazoo, MI), Fort Harrod Drama Productions (Harrodsburg, KY), Actors Theatre of Louisville (Louisville, KY), Stage One (Louisville, KY), Bunbury Theatre (Louisville, KY), Farmington Lunch Time Theatre (Louisville, KY), Kentucky Contemporary Theatre (Louisville, KY), and New Composer Residency (Louisville, KY). In 1989, Curt designed, wrote, and hosted the award-winning creative thinking series, Imagine That for Kentucky Educational Television. Curt is the recipient of a number of prestigious honors and awards, including a Doctor of Humanities from Oakland University, Doctor of Humane Letters from Bellarmine University, an Al Smith Fellowship in playwriting from the Kentucky Arts Council, the Sidney Berger Award from the Shakespeare Theatre Association, the Fleur-de-lis Award from the Louisville Forum, the Mildred A. Dougherty Award from the Greater Louisville English Council, and a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Minnesota.