Filmmaking alumnus shines a light on arts education in prisons

UNCSA School of Filmmaking alumnus Caleb Ennis spent two weeks in prison this year. As an employee of Shining Light, a Christian-based performance arts production company, he helped to bring performing arts to a prison community in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“I discovered Shining Light through a friend of mine who is a Juilliard drama alumnus,” says Ennis, who joined the organization as a guest director earlier this month. “Shining Light gives hope to people that society has overlooked.” Ennis was responsible for writing and directing two plays for the production company, leading team exercises that involved physical and emotional awareness and leading and directing rehearsals. 

What began as a small high school performing arts ensemble, Shining Light has grown over the last 20 years to include teams comprised of college students and recent graduates in dance, music, theatre and film working to bring the arts to correctional facilities. Shining Light plans and facilitates workshops to give them the opportunity to perform professional, high quality productions in front of their peers and surrounding communities.

Arts education enables someone in prison to value and regain confidence in themselves. 

Caleb Ennis

“Arts education has the power to transform and change your perspective on life,” says Ennis. “In prison, your character and identity is stripped away and you’re just a number. Arts education enables someone in prison to value and regain confidence in themselves.”

A 2016 graduate, Ennis says that UNCSA helped to prepare him for his meaningful work with Shining Light.

“There were unexpected moments during the workshop that we could not control and we had to figure out an alternate solution. My experience from being on film sets at UNCSA prepared me to find solutions when the first plan falls apart.”

Caleb Ennis

Caleb Ennis '16 directed two Shining Light productions during his two-week stay in Philadelphia. 

UNCSA also taught him a valuable lesson about helping others; a theme that is critically important to Shining Light’s mission.

“UNCSA taught me lessons about helping others as I worked with my colleagues on different projects and shared different perspectives during class,” says Ennis. This translated seamlessly to his work with Shining Light.

“To me, helping others is sharing your knowledge so they can become better people and better artists.”

by Hannah Callaway

November 21, 2016