Jonathan Shailor is a professor of communication at the University of Wisconsin–Parkside, where he has directed the Certificate Program in Conflict Analysis and Resolution since 1996.
Previously, Shailor taught at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Ithaca College in New York. He is a certified mediator and an organizational consultant. Shailor calls his approach to community-engaged teaching and learning “The Theatre of Empowerment”—using storytelling, dialogue, research, and performance for personal development and social change. He and his students bring this approach to their work with at-risk students, the homeless, the incarcerated, and other marginalized groups.
Shailor has been working with incarcerated men at Racine Correctional Institution in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, since 1995, with courses such as “King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Exploring Models of Mature Masculinity” and “Open Heart, Clear Mind: An Introduction to Meditation.”
In 2004, Shailor created The Shakespeare Prison Project (SPP) at Racine Correctional Institution, a program that has been celebrated in The New York Times, on Wisconsin Public Radio, and elsewhere. Each year, Shailor works with 15 to 20 prisoners to study, rehearse, and perform a Shakespeare play for inside men, family members, and other outside guests. In addition, the participants develop original plays based on their personal responses to Shakespeare’s text. Professional actors, consultants, and reviewers contribute to the work. The goals of the program are to help the men develop greater literacy, self-awareness, empathy, and communication skills, preparing them for successful re-entry into the community. As of 2020, more than 1,000 prisoners have benefitted from the program. Graduates have given talks at the University of Wisconsin–Parkside, at international conferences at Columbia College Chicago, and at the University of Notre Dame. In 2016, SPP graduate Haisan Williams spoke on behalf of the program at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on a panel titled “Shakespeare in the Criminal Justice System.”