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Drama rings true to ex-offender

Performers in tonight's reading of 'The Castle' includes (from left) Latanya Jones, Lonnie Farmer, and Mark Gibson Performers in tonight's reading of "The Castle" includes (from left) Latanya Jones, Lonnie Farmer, and Mark Gibson (Larry Buckley)
By Nancy Shohet West
Globe Correspondent / December 8, 2011
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Of the many things Mark Gibson may have imagined he would do someday, back when he was in prison serving time for what he describes as nonviolent drug-related offenses, he probably never pictured himself playing the part of a former inmate on stage.

But that’s just what he’ll be doing tonight at Babson College in Wellesley during a staged reading of “The Castle,’’ a play written by and originally performed off-Broadway by four ex-offenders. The play is organized into monologues in which each character discusses the personal tribulations that led them to the point of incarceration, and the hopes they place in the rehabilitation process.

The event is the centerpiece of a fund-raiser for Venturing Out, a program close to Gibson’s heart. The Wellesley-based nonprofit offers business and entrepreneurial mentorships for inmates about to complete their terms, in hopes of helping their transition back to civilian life.

Karin Trachtenberg of Southborough started volunteering for Venturing Out several years ago, and when she was approached by the organization’s executive director about producing the event, she saw it as a perfect match for her skills and her commitment to expressive arts therapy.

Trachtenberg is a former actress and a small business owner. She met Gibson when she was leading the 12-week entrepreneurial course he was taking as preparation for his own release.

His hope was to pursue a career in the field in which he had begun making inroads before his sentencing: public relations and marketing for rising stars in the world of pop music.

Gibson did go on to start up his own business, OnThaMark, but he admits that it’s been tough lately for a small-business entrepreneur. He has time on his hands to look for additional work, and so when Trachtenberg contacted him to see whether he knew anyone who might want to audition for “The Castle,’’ it caught his attention.

Gibson had no prior familiarity with the play, but he became quickly engaged in the story it told.

So much of the dialogue in general, and his character’s lines in particular, rang true to him. “There are so many parallels between my life and that of Ken Harrigan, the character I play,’’ Gibson said.

Of the four cast members, two are former inmates without professional acting experience; the other two are actors who have never served time. Latanya Jones, playing the part of former inmate Vilma, finished a term in federal prison in March, and even wrote a book based on her experiences.

It is Gibson’s hope that audience members who see the play take away the message that former inmates are potentially productive community members who deserve a second chance.

“I’m an ex-offender,’’ he said, stressing the prefix. “We shouldn’t be made to wear a scarlet letter the rest of our lives. I’ve paid my debt to society. I only hope that the audience at this reading comes away from it realizing that people can change.’’

Tonight’s performance of “From Offender to Entrepreneur: A Staged Reading of ‘The Castle’ ’’ begins at 7 p.m. in the Sorenson Center for the Arts on the Babson campus, 231 Forest St. It will be followed by a panel discussion, “Working Together to Achieve Economic Independence,’’ moderated by WBUR senior reporter David Boeri and featuring leaders in the criminal justice, business, and government sectors.

Ticket prices range from $10 to $150 (for patron-level premium seating and a preshow reception) and can be purchased by calling 617-279-2421 or by going to

MUSIC EVERYWHERE: Children’s entertainers Ben Rudnick and Friends present their 10th annual Holiday Extravaganza at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the Regent Theatre, 7 Medford St. in Arlington. The band will feature its distinctive spins on favorite Christmas and Hanukkah songs, including tunes from last year’s CD, “It’s Santa Claus!’’ Tickets are $10 for adults; $8 for children and seniors; $7 for Regent members. For tickets and more information, call 781-646-4849 or go to

The acclaimed Aviv String Quartet brings Wellesley College’s fall concert series to a finale Saturday at 8 p.m. with a program featuring Erwin Schulhoff’s String Quartet No. 1, Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80, and Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 3, Op. 30. The free concert takes place in Houghton Chapel on the college campus, 106 Central St. in Wellesley.

The Broadmoor Chamber Singers presents “Winter Moments,’’ a program of seasonal holiday music featuring classical, jazz, folk, spirituals, gospel, and popular tunes, Saturday at 3 p.m. in the Morse Institute Library, 14 East Central St. in Natick. For more information, call 508-651-1066 or go to

The Sounds of Concord, the 2011 Northeastern District Barbershop Chorus champions, and Downtown Crossing, the recent competition’s silver medalists, join forces to present a Christmas concert at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Trinitarian Congregational Church, 54 Walden St. in Concord. It will be followed by a free reception with light refreshments and an opportunity to meet the performers.

Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door; $5 for children and students. For information on group sales, call 866-537-1584 or go to

Enter Stage Left’s adult chorus, the Treblemakers, and the troupe’s middle school/high school chorus, Tone Deft, Too, will present a holiday concert Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Hopkinton Historical Society building, 168 Hayden Rowe St.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for Stage Door members, and are available at

TWINKLE TOES: The Dean College School of Dance will feature “Blinking,’’ an exploration of tiny movement and light performed by Providence-based multimedia dance company Lostwax, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Tickets are $15; $10 for Dean alumni; and $5 for seniors and children 10 and younger.

Reserved seating only; purchasing tickets in advance is recommended.

For tickets or information, e-mail, call 508-541-1605, or go to

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