Colman Domingo Discusses 'Sing Sing' Drama and Its Arts Rehab Program

Exploring the transformative role of theater in confinement

by Zain ul Abedin
Colman Domingo Discusses 'Sing Sing' Drama and Its Arts Rehab Program
© Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

In the intriguing depths of Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Colman Domingo transforms his acting prowess into a poignant narrative of hope and redemption. His latest project, the summer drama "Sing Sing," promises not just to tug at the audience's heartstrings but also to spotlight the transformative power of art behind bars.

Set against the grim backdrop of incarceration, "Sing Sing" is a summer cinematic exception that likely leaves its audience both moved and contemplative. Domingo plays the character Divine G, a wrongfully imprisoned man whose salvation comes through the theater group of the prison.

The film is inspired by the real-life Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA) program at New York's Sing Sing, where the story not only dramatizes the lives of its characters but also involves those who've lived similar realities.

Domingo stars alongside Clarence "Divine Eye" Maclin, a former inmate and RTA participant, adding a layer of authenticity and gravity to the narrative. Domingo, an Emmy winner and Oscar nominee, shared his insights into portraying Divine G.

This role resonated deeply with him due to the character's persistent hopefulness and intelligence used for advocacy within the oppressive system. "I thought that was an interesting perspective - someone who was using their intelligence while they were inside to advocate for others, using their skills not only for themselves but for others," Domingo explained.

Art Beyond Bars

The character's backstory as a child who dreamt of being a ballet dancer adds a poignant touch to Domingo's portrayal. It allows him to infuse his performance with subtle artistic expressions - a pirouette here, a rhythmic finger play there - highlighting the enduring spirit of the artist within the prison walls.

"Sing Sing" is not just about the performances but also about the power of storytelling within the prison environment. It provides a platform for the incarcerated men to share their stories, thereby humanizing them beyond their crimes.

"How do you distill down to a person's wants, needs, dreams, aspirations, and things that connect us all?" Domingo reflects on the film's intent to present its characters as multi-dimensional individuals rather than merely prisoners.

Filming took place in upstate New York, utilizing several decommissioned prisons and a school for interior scenes, while exterior shots were captured at the actual Sing Sing. This setting profoundly impacted the production, as Domingo noted, "There's no acting that needs to be done when you're in a prison cell.

The air is different in there because of its lack of airflow." "Sing Sing" opens in limited release on July 12 and will be released wider on August 2. It invites audiences to look beyond the conventional narratives of imprisonment and consider the nuanced roles that creativity and community play in the quest for personal transformation and societal rehabilitation.