PPA produced Quick-Brewed Macbeth at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center (MECC) on April 24th, 2019. This is the first time the show was performed inside prison since 2015 at Northeast Correctional Center (NECC) in Bowling Green, MO. The information below is provided by Christopher Limber, Artistic Director, who directed the show in both 2015 and 2019. The 2019 production of Quick-Brewed Macbeth was dedicated with love and appreciation to PPA artist and friend, Jerry McAdams.Read More
“The Arts and Education Council, besides providing a creative building filled with some of the finest arts organizations in St. Louis, also have provided space to create,” says Limber. “Space determines motion, and A&E is a valued catalyst. We are thrilled to generate this full-day collaborative on how to passionately empower the creative spirit using the works of Shakespeare. It will be both exciting, deeply enlightening, and, knowing Curt's range of experience, great fun."Read More
An interview with Aarya Locker, Manager of Community Engagement with St. Louis Public Library.
Explain your role with St. Louis Public Library.
I am the Community Engagement Manager and I run our Storytime Theatre program that delivers free theatre to kids all over St. Louis City.
How were you first introduced to PPA?
I met a fellow Teaching Artist that introduced me to Rachel Tibbetts.
What were your first impressions of the organization?
I was excited that they offered theater classes for youth in detention, I feel that a creative outlet is critical to mental health while being detained.
I heard that you are a professionally trained clown - where did you train?
I trained with Shakespeare and Company in Clown and Mask and then worked as a Clown with Cirque du Soleil.
Has your training helped inspire your work with St. Louis Public Library and/or PPA?
Absolutely. I try to introduce a sense of wonder and ridiculousness to every creative endeavor. We all need a little magic and a sense of humor to get through the tough times.
What has been a defining moment during your time partnering with PPA?
I loved doing a residency teaching Macbeth at Hogan street and I look forward to Hip Hop Poetry Project every year.
How do you see the PPA partnership shaping your future work with St. Louis Public Library?
I’d love to get some youth from JDC involved in Storytime Theatre in the future.
Did your interest in prison reform begin before or after partnering on projects with PPA?
Before, I performed and taught in the Women’s prison in Indianapolis and found it very rewarding. I was seeking out an opportunity to work in prisons as soon as I moved to St. Louis.
How has your perception of life inside prison changed since partnering so directly with PPA?
I am not sure I really gave prisons much thought until I’d been in one. It is part of the luxury of my privilege as a middle class white female that I did not have to think about prison life. Working with PPA has given me a wider perspective of the world and allowed me to share empathy with people who are or have been incarcerated. I have learned that anyone can get sentenced to spend time in prison and that prison time can be a spiritually significant and transformative experience for some people and a source of further trauma for others. Prison affects each person differently.
What's next for you and St. Louis Public Library?
We are currently hosting the NEST, a free maker’s playscape in the Central Library. I lead a team of artist facilitators that help kids and their caregivers explore, tinker and invent through August 4th. Then we launch a new Storytime Theatre Season in September 2019.
“It shouldn’t be about me. It’s about giving the mic over to members of PPA, stepping away, and letting them tell their own stories.”Read More
Fifteen years ago, Rachel Tibbetts, while working with a group called Young Audiences of St. Louis, teamed up with Nathan Graves at the St. Louis City Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) to start working on a project together. What began as a grassroots effort to connect justice-involved youth to the arts has grown into a week-long residency that’s well-loved inside and outside the detention center’s walls. Tibbetts is now PPA’s Director of Youth Programs, and Graves is currently serving as Court Administrator for the Family Court - Juvenile Division.
The Hip Hop Poetry Project provides intensive performance arts programming during school breaks at the St. Louis City Juvenile Detention Center. The goal is to have each young person in the facility spend every day of the project in constructive and creative activities. Each year, the youth’s writing is shared through a culminating performance, an anthology, and a music sharing platform.
Remembering how the culminating performance first started, Tibbetts explains, “The first year it was just a writing project, performed last-minute in the cafeteria. Now, we have all these different components. There’s dance, there’s design of all kinds—like graphic, costume, and set design—recording work… it’s a much bigger production. And we’ve graduated to the gym.”
Each year, Tibbetts and Graves have tested the project’s limits. “One year, the day before the public showcase, we decided to add a program, so the youth could take home pieces and the audience could read it during the show. Considering the acoustics of the gym, it was easier for the audience to follow along with their work,” Tibbetts recalls.
During the week-long residency, she noticed that not all the youth gravitated towards the writing component. “It can be hard to write about your life. We thought it would be good to include other things, like dance and design, so that everyone who is there during the week can be involved in something.” The youth develop all the content, learn the dances, and design everything in one week.
The audience in attendance grew over time as the performance gained local popularity. “The first audience was maybe 30 people in the cafeteria,” says Tibbetts. “And now it’s sold out every year, and the audience is usually around 150.”
To really invest in the program, Tibbetts and Graves organized volunteers, teaching artists and staff. In the last 15 years, PPA and the Family Court - Juvenile Division has worked with over 30 different artists. Furthermore, PPA and Detention Center staff, teaching artists, and volunteers actively present themselves as a team during the week, so the youth can model that kind of artistic interaction.
“Since we have a proven track record of success in that the youth are able to work together and collaborate, the JDC has given us a lot of leeway with how the groups interact during the week as well as the Saturday performance,” says Tibbetts. “You get to see a lot of stuff this week that you don’t get to see during the year with other youth programming.”
PPA is celebrating more than a 15-year milestone; this year marks the 20th year of partnering with the JDC in St. Louis City. PPA started doing programs with the JDC in 1999 and is proud to be one of their longest-standing partners.
“This is one of the ways we are differentiated compared to other organizations,” says Chris Limber, PPA’s Artistic Director. “PPA, for a long time, has been concerned with working with justice-involved youth as well as adult inmates.”
For more insight into the history of Hip Hop Poetry Project, you can read Nathan Grave’s reflection on the 10th Anniversary showcase here.
To register for the 15th Anniversary Hip Hop Poetry Project showcase, visit prisonartsstl.org/rsvp and submit your RSVP by May 31st, 2019.
Hip Hop Poetry Project: Click here to RSVP!
Saturday, June 1st, 2019
St. Louis City Juvenile Detention Center
3847 Enright Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63108
7:00pm Performance (6:30pm check-in)
RSVP DEADLINE: Friday, May 31, 2019
Guests must be at least 21-years-old
“I’ve never read the novel, but someone gave me a vague description of the storyline. Briefly, I was told that there was family with a few daughters and the matriarch’s position was to find husbands for all her girls to be well taken care of. If I’m correct, she wants to control her children’s lives, like me and probably every mother in the world.”
Janiece, playing Mrs. Bennet, shares her first impression of Pride and Prejudice.
Pride and Prejudice, arguably one of Austen’s most popular novels, has touched the hearts of millions of readers since its publication in 1813. If you’ve read the novel, you likely can recall what struck you most about the story, be it Elizabeth Bennet’s hard-headedness or Mr. Darcy’s disdain.
In May 2017, St. Louis-based theatre, SATE, produced an original play called “First Impressions,” a take on the Austen classic. In “First Impressions,” which SATE named after the novel’s original title, the ensemble incorporated a variety of individual’s real recollections (i.e., their first impressions) of the story.
From Pakistan to Paris to St. Louis, 200 years after it was penned, Pride and Prejudice still connects with us. The novel’s universality is what inspired Rachel Tibbetts, who conceived “First Impressions” with Ellie Schwetye at SATE, to launch a new PPA workshop at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center (WERDCC) in 2018. Tibbetts is PPA’s Director of Youth Programs.
Over a three month period, the women at WERDCC wrote about Pride and Prejudice through several lenses: reading the novel, watching a film adaption, and reading and watching a live performance of SATE’s original production of “First Impressions.”
“Some had some familiarity, but for the most part, it was a brand new story to everyone,” says Tibbetts. “These first impressions were happening in real time. We studied a lot about Jane Austen herself and everyone just fell in love with her.”
This May, the women at WERDCC will be performing “First Impressions” for the first time inside prison. Instead of the original “impressions,” this production will include the women’s own first impressions of the Pride and Prejudice story, which they captured during the workshop.
“This is another ongoing example of a long-term and very important collaboration between PPA and SATE,” says Chris Limber, PPA’s Artistic Director. “Our partnership allows plays to start at prison go to SATE, and vice-versa. It helps in spreading the word about the importance of bringing theatre inside prison.”
He explains that this particular Austen-focused workshop was part of PPA’s ongoing Spoken Word Poetry program. “It’s like a poetry class,” he says, “but it encompasses playwriting—really, anything that’s spoken word. That includes blogging, public speaking, or anything where the writing of the individual is spoken publicly.”
Show Information: Click here to RSVP!
Thursday, May 23, 2019
WERCC - Vandalia, MO
1101 US-54, Vandalia, MO 63382
1:00pm Matinee (12:30pm Check-in)
6:15pm Evening (5:45pm Check-in)
Monday, May 6, 2019
During my incarceration, I have searched for certain feelings to get me through my time. More times than not I have ended up disappointed only because these feelings when I fain them are short lived. Some of the feelings I search for are feelings of normalcy, freedom, and being loved.Read More
Theatre has the power to change lives. This is particularly evident when producing theatre in a prison environment. The nature of the venue encourages what many thrifty theatre companies must always do – accomplish the impossible – with a tiny budget and devoted individuals.Read More
I ended up at PPA due to being a resident in the XPLOR program. XPLOR is a 10 month long social justice residency program and is sponsored by the National Benevolent Association (NBA) through the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). After applying and being accepted into the program, residents are placed at a nonprofit internship. I was placed at PPA and the rest is history!Read More
Prison Performing Arts: Voices Within
A new documentary by Filmmaker Lisa Boyd
Friday, April 12th @ 7:00 p.m.
DOORS OPEN @ 6:30 p.m.
Lisa's new documentary Prison Performing Arts: VOICES WITHIN, presents portions of the workshop for PPA’s first commissioned play Run-On Sentence by Stacie Lents at the Women’s Prison in Vandalia, MO. The film includes interviews with PPA Founder Agnes Wilcox, Playwright Stacie Lents, and PPA Artistic Director Christopher Limber. We hear firsthand the stories of many of the Vandalia women and many of their mothers, sisters, and children. The emerging subject of this new documentary is the transformational power creating art has for incarcerated individuals offered through Prison Performing Arts. Come and see a special exclusive preview cutting of this new and powerful film April 12 at Chase Park Plaza.
Very limited seating is available - contact firstname.lastname@example.org after March 15th to reserve your spot.
Ms. Boyd recently won "Best Director" from the St. Louis Film Festival in 2018 for her newest documentary "An American Tragedy" about murderer Jeff Ferguson's crime and redemption. “An American Tragedy” movingly and subtly addresses issues related to capital punishment and criminal rehabilitation.
Prison Performing Arts, in cooperation with the Arts and Education Council and Shakespeare Behind Bars, presents a new workshop:
We Know What We Are, But Not What We May Be
Restorative Circles of Reconciliation: Creating Circles of Creativity & Healing
Facilitated by Curt L. Tofteland, Founder and Artistic Director - Shakespeare Behind Bars
Saturday, September 7, 2019, 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Catalyst Innovation Lab
3547 Olive Street, 1st Floor
St. Louis, MO 63103
A dynamic workshop focusing on the work by Curt L. Tofteland, Founder of the internationally recognized Shakespeare Behind Bars program. Curt has 24 years of practical experience working as a Prison Arts Practitioner in prisons around the world. For the past 10 years, Curt has been training arts practitioners who wish to become Prison Arts Practitioners working as facilitators in correctional institutions. As he speaks of his own approach of using Shakespeare and the arts to reach and involve incarcerated artists:
"Masks-of-deception . . . peeled . . . and . . . checked . . . at the portal-of-resignation . . . false-faces-forged with the pain-of-inhumanity . . . received . . . and . . . passed on . . . and . . . received . . . and . . . passed on.
. . a never-ending-cycle-of-circular-abuse . . . Come and learn about creating The Circle Of Trust."
In Curt's life’s work with the incarcerated, it has been his mission to create an alternative to this circular abuse, to inspire an oppositional circle – one of hope and healing – what he calls: The Circle Of Trust.
The Circle Of Trust offers hope and healing in a punishing world of correction designed to strip human beings of identity and belief in humanity - both theirs and others.
Workshop cost: $200.00
Call 314-289-4190 for more information, or email email@example.com.
Run-On Sentence, the play PPA commissioned and first developed as part of our New Plays Initiative was nominated by the St. Louis Theatre Circle Awards for BEST NEW PLAY.Read More
UPDATE 4/22/19: Visit the “Past Productions” tab at the top of our website to revisit past shows!
Everyone at Prison Performing Arts is so excited to announce BIG CHANGES coming to our website. Over the next several months, we'll be cataloging past PPA performances, so that you can view photos, videos, programs, reviews, and other related media from every past PPA performance.
First and foremost, uploading this media to our website will offer families of our incarcerated and reentering constituents easy and continued access to pictures, programs and videos of in-prison performances featuring their family members.
Additionally, we are building several additional new pages that will showcase the exciting changes that have come to our organization over the last few years. These include, for example, PPA's New Play's Initiative, the new look of our programs, artwork, and updated branding.
Adding these show archives and programmatic additions with accompanying videos, programs, artwork, production photos, and any recent media from past PPA performances will celebrate and highlight the innovation and on-going exceptional quality commitment of PPA's seasonal artistic work.
Thank you for continuing to follow and support PPA's exciting journey. We're looking forward to painting a more comprehensive and quickly-accessible picture of our work and impact with these new web additions.
In Fall 2018, the PPA Alumni Company began work on writing a new play, Kept Away, designed for family audiences. Kept Away has been commissioned by PPA's long-time collaborator the St. Louis Public Library.
This original production is being written by the company members about incarcerated parents and their struggle to keep connected to their family and children outside of prison. It will open at the Central Library Downtown Tour through 5 or more city public libraries. It is one of four plays that will become available for booking by the PPA Alumni Company in the St. Louis Community throughout the year.
(For more information about our Alumni Company, see our page at: http://prisonartsstl.org/alumni-program)
Kept Away will offer insight into incarceration, rehabilitation, and successful re-entry from the standpoint of parenthood. The play allows the Alumni artists to add a depth of understanding to their community about formerly incarcerated individuals and reclaiming family ties upon re-entry. It also supports their continuing efforts as a returning citizen. By studying, rehearsing, and creating new plays and original characters, the returning citizens of the Alumni Company — all men and women who formerly worked with PPA while incarcerated — continue to grow to understand themselves through contributing artistically to the world. By exploring literature and poetry in developing new dramatic productions for St. Louis audiences, the Alumni Company members articulate their deepest thoughts and discovered ideas.
These continued theatrical contributions to the world — for families, public audiences, and most importantly, for the actors themselves — give voice and image to individuals who often have never before had the opportunity to publicly share their gifts (indeed, their identity) within a performance context that allows them to be heard, understood and appreciated. Through new and exciting performances by the Alumni Company, both joy and community are created.
Kept Away will premier in the Spring of 2019. The project is supported and directed by Christopher Limber, Artistic Director for PPA, and Aarya Locker, Special Events Director for the St. Louis Public Library. Joining them is the playwright, John Wolbers, who will add dramaturgical insight and additional material.
August 28, 2018
Dear Mrs. Piper Kerman,
I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to invite you to Prison Performing Art’s Annual Fundraising Event. Prison Performing Arts (PPA) is a St. Louis, Missouri-based non-profit that goes into prisons and makes plays with incarcerated peoples.
I was moved by your TED talks, We gotta get outta this place and Institutions That Change You. Thank you for those. I am one of the 60 million who have been on the wrong side of the fence. I have learned to deal with people from all walks of life and also fallen into a homogenous group, in an effort to make my time feel short. I have done this on the outside as well. Though it was never so obvious.
Post-incarceration, I consider myself an activist, like you. I feel like we have lost the purpose of incarceration: rehabilitation. To the contrary, my experience was one that promoted closed-mindedness. This was changed by Prison Performing Arts.
PPA gives prisoners in Missouri a better chance of opening their minds and moving toward a productive, happy life. Participants are never turned away. All who want to (and maintain a record of good behavior) are welcomed and taught. People across groups spend time working on memorizing lines and analyzing text. This moves people from social groups divided racially to ones where they share a similar interest. That interest is learning and self-improvement, subtly disguised as tragedy, comedy or creative writing. Participants delve into the great unknown together and when they are released, many of them continue together as part of the Alumni Company.
I’ve seen amazing things come out of these small troupes of folks. We’d like your help to amplify the signal.
It would be an honor if you considered attending our annual fundraiser. Thursday, September 27, 2018.
Thank you for your time.
Please join us
Dear Ms. Martha Stewart,
I hope this letter finds you well. I am writing to invite you to Prison Performing Art’s Annual Fundraising Event. Prison Performing Arts (PPA) is a St. Louis, Missouri-based non-profit that goes into prisons and makes plays with incarcerated peoples.
I am writing you as a fellow post-incarcerated citizen. I apologize for bringing up what might have been a dark time. It was for me, the last thing I wanted to think about was time. I was overwhelmed by how much time was left. Couldn’t even look at clocks. This avoidance meant I didn’t use my time well, to reflect on decisions and focus on changing for the better. I’m lucky to even see that. Many offenders feel they have no reason to change. They may not be getting out any time soon, or at all. These people are why Prison Performing Arts (PPA) exists.
The programming from PPA provides hope for hundreds of the offenders in Missouri prisons. PPA gives prisoners an opportunity to live in the moment, even while inside. Rehearsals are times to look forward to, and performances are times to work towards. Participants get practice speaking with confidence and holding eye contact (useful for job interviews when they return to the outside). Prison Performing Arts gives prisoners a chance to participate in something bigger than themselves. In a way it’s just a play, but for participants, it is their hope.
There are good and bad days in prison, just as there are for everyone, in any walk of life. I wanted to invite you to attend our 2018 annual fundraiser to provide good-day-opportunities for people. I feel like you know what it is like to be counting down. I feel like you get what it means that inmate involvement in Prison Performing Arts programs reduces recidivism and racial tension. It’s a good thing.
It would be an honor if you considered attending our annual fundraiser. I realize it’s a large ask.
Please join us.
Thank you for your time.
Rachel Tibbetts has been with Prison Performing Arts for nine years. As Director of Education and newly appointed Associate Artistic Director, she develops all of PPA's programs at the St. Louis City Juvenile Detention Center and Hogan Street Regional Youth Center and directs the organization's Alumni Theatre Company.
Fourteen years ago, Rachel was hired as an intern fresh out of college to work as an education associate with the Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington. On her very first day, she was asked to accompany the director to assist teaching a class in a juvenile correctional facility. From that day forward she was hooked.
Rachel has dedicated much of her professional career to developing and administrating PPA's Learning through the Arts programs at the St. Louis City Juvenile Detention Center. Currently classes include "Writing like a Pro" with Sister Barbara Schlatter, "Ballet" with Elizabeth Herring and “Sidewalk Chalk Writers” with Valencia Tims. Rachel develops the classes and hires teachers who are adaptable and can improvise. The nature of these institutions demands flexibility and open-mindedness. Rachel also teaches at Hogan Street Regional Youth Center and for the first time has been asked to direct the students in a production of "To Kill a Mockingbird."
When asked about a particular moment that stands out from her programs, Rachel recalled "the courage of a young man who participated in the Hip Hop Poetry Project in 2007. He wrote a beautiful piece, but didn’t want to read it because he stuttered. But he ended up reading it during our performance. He realized that his voice mattered no matter what and what he wrote needed to be read and heard."
Rachel also directs PPA's Alumni Theatre Company, which is made up of former inmates now living in St Louis, most of whom had worked with PPA while incarcerated. The group meets once a week for training, rehearsal and support. It is difficult and rewarding work that can help people reshape their lives.
"I’ve been surrounded by art my whole life," Rachel says. "My mom is an artist and plays the piano. My parents started taking me to plays and ballet before I even remember being able to talk. Art has always been a part of who I am and it has taught me more about justice, empathy, and caring than anything else — well, besides my parents and friend family, of course."
Alongside her full-time work with PPA, Rachel is incredibly busy, She is also a founding member of Slightly Askew Theatre Company (SATE), where she is an actor, director and producer.
SATE was founded on the principles of The Viewpoints, a technique of composition that provides a vocabulary for thinking about and acting upon movement and gesture. Originally developed in the 1970s by choreographer Mary Overlie as a method of movement improvisation, The Viewpoints theory was adapted for stage acting by directors Anne Bogart and Tina Landau. Six Viewpoints (space, story, time, emotion, movement, and shape) are considered to be a logical way to create staging with actors.
Whether Rachel is igniting the human urge for expression in her students and teachers or creating an atmosphere where her youth are not afraid to try things and "fail forward," she is constantly making choices and taking chances. Her dedication to art, creativity and experimentation informs her teaching and leadership style.
"Art gave me a voice when I was a shy, often afraid young girl," Rachel recalls. "I’ve recognized the importance of art in my own life and I feel that it’s crucial that all young people have access to the arts so that they can discover their own voice and discover that there’s a whole world out there for them that they can dive into through participation in the arts. Self-worth is an often overlooked, taken-for-granted thing. But it’s so important. You have to feel that you have value in order to make good decisions."
Theater Director, Actor, and PPA Collaborator Christopher Limber Named Interim Artistic Director, Succeeding Founder & Artistic Director Agnes Wilcox, Who Will Retire; Longtime Director of Education Rachel Tibbetts Named Associate Artistic Director
November 1, 2014, St. Louis, MO — The Board of Directors of Prison Performing Arts (PPA), the multi-discipline literacy and performing arts organization that leverages the power of art for personal transformation, today announced the appointment of Christopher Limber as Interim Artistic Director. Limber will succeed PPA’s Founder and Artistic Director, Agnes Wilcox, who will retire from the organization after two decades at the helm. Limber and Wilcox, who have been colleagues and collaborators in the St. Louis theater world for many years, will work together during a transition period during early 2015, with Limber taking the leadership role in March of that year.
“PPA would literally not exist without the passion, creativity and empathy of Agnes Wilcox,” said PPA Board Chairman David Lawton, Professor in the Department of English at Washington University. “Having known that Agnes would be stepping down for a well-earned retirement from PPA, the Board has been working with her to plan for a thoughtful succession. We could not be more pleased to announce that Chris Limber will guide the organization during this coming year. He’s the ideal candidate — not just a highly regarded theatre director and actor with experience at arts organizations, but someone who is passionate about PPA’s mission and experienced in working with our programs and performers.”
“I am fortunate to have had more than 20 happy and productive years at Prison Performing Arts,” said Agnes Wilcox. “I am extremely grateful that my friend and colleague Chris Limber will be using his myriad talents to further our mission.”
"I am delighted to continue the nationally recognized work of Prison Performing Arts,” said Christopher Limber. “I have deeply respected Agnes Wilcox for more than 30 years, having had many chances to work with her, including on several projects with PPA. She and her dedicated staff have made a remarkable difference within our community and the entire nation. To carry on the dynamic work of PPA is an honor and tremendously exciting. The work that PPA’s donors make possible is a profound contribution to our community.”
Limber is a professional director and actor, a published playwright, poet and composer/lyricist, and has contributed educationally or artistically to many major St. Louis arts institutions, including Prison Performing Arts — most recently co-directing Coming Home at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific, Missouri — The Rep, Opera Theatre, COCA, and Shakespeare Festival St. Louis.
Limber has taught actors of all ages at every major educational institution in St. Louis, including COCA, Saint Louis University, University of Missouri in St. Louis, Washington University in St. Louis, and Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville. He has also taught workshops and teacher training at more than 100 middle, high and elementary schools throughout Missouri and Illinois A proud 35-year member of the Actors’ Equity Association and the Dramatists’ Guild, Limber studied English literature and Shakespeare at Exeter College – University of Oxford, England, holds a BFA in Acting from the State University of New York at Purchase, and is a graduate of the Community Artists Training offered through the Regional Arts Commission in St. Louis.
As part of PPA's strategic growth, Rachel Tibbetts, PPA’s longtime Director of Education, will become Associate Artistic Director on January 1. She and Limber will work together to take PPA forward, with equal emphasis on our programs for youth and adults.
Wilcox departs PPA having brought local and national acclaim to the organization and its performers. She plans to continue her work in museums, creating performances with former inmates and homeless veterans. She and a colleague are completing a book describing their theory and methodology of working with disenfranchised and marginalized populations. Wilcox will continue to lecture at colleges and universities across the U.S about the importance of the arts in corrections.
To schedule an interview or request additional information, please contact Shelby Partridge at Shelby@prisonartsstl.org or (314) 289-4191.
About Prison Performing Arts
Prison Performing Arts is a 22-year-old, multi-discipline, literacy and performing arts organization that leverages the power of art for personal transformation.
PPA's Adult Programs involve incarcerated men and women at the Northeastern Correctional Center (NECC) in Bowling Green, MO, the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center (WERDCC) in Vandalia, MO, and the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center (MECC) in Pacific, MO. Led by trained theater professionals, program participants write, rehearse, and perform theatre as a way to inspire curiosity, strive for excellence, and develop teamwork and communications skills necessary for successful re-entry into society.
PPA’s Alumni Theatre Program offers those performers who have re-entered society with a supportive and productive way to continue honing their skills, perform for the community, connect to their fellow actors, and earn a modest but essential wage. The organization’s Youth Education Program provides an empowering outlet for productive creativity to kids held at the St. Louis City Juvenile Detention Center and the Hogan Street Regional Youth Center.
In all of its programs, PPA nurtures talent, inspires positive personal change, and presents unforgettable experiences for our St. Louis audiences.
Several years ago, when I was Company Manager for the Shakespeare Festival St Louis, I thought that Forest Park during the festival season would be a wonderful place for PPA's Alumni company to perform. On June 4th and June 11th we had that opportunity, and I hope to help make it happen again and again for years to come.
The green show stage is an intimate setting that welcomes students and non-professionals, and gives them a platform (quite literally) to share themselves with the community, reciting Shakespeare's words. It is a free, inviting, culturally charged atmosphere that is casual, welcoming and accepting.
I sometimes wonder: what is the benefit of our Alumni performances? Is it an opportunity to spread the word about our organization’s mission? Is it a chance for our participants to "act" in front of an audience? Or is it an invitation to be a part of each other’s worlds and aspirations?
On the surface we are disparate and alien from one another, some would say worlds apart, yet we all find ourselves searching for common ground that supports our humanity. Is it as simple as: I see you and you see me? Or does a soliloquy or sonnet gives us space to consider who is there between the lines, between what is spoken and unspoken?
With each breath and intention we receive the power of the written word spoken. We witness the marriage of voices, filled with longing to understand and be understood.
Karen Werner, PPA Board of Directors
I've seen a few shows recently with Prison Performing Arts, and I've been nothing but impressed. I come in not knowing what I'm going to encounter, and I walk out always feeling like I can take on the world.
Theatre is a great way to gain an understanding of others around you, as well as yourself, and I have thanked PPA many times for challenging me to understand others in a way I never imagined. PPA's production of Going Home in the Humanities Festival last month offered that same kind of discovery. Walking into The Stage at KDHX, I figured the play would be one that was like any usual production - beginning, middle, end, maybe with a Q&A. What happened, however, was quite different.
Before my eyes, I saw qualities that have been sadly lacking in some professional performances today: sincerity and enthusiasm. No one was announcing to me who they were, no one trying to prove to me that they were some kind of professional. Instead, each person was up there doing what theatre is supposed to do in the first place: tell a story. And what a story did they tell!
Through humor and reflection, PPA's Alumni Theatre Company shared with us the difficulty adjusting to everyday life after returning home from prison. It made me realize how much I take for granted: the simple handshake of trust between two people, the look of approval someone gives when hiring one for a job, and the ability to grow as a person and grow with others as a team in this big, crazy world. Each scene presented a unique perspective and opened new doors to my understanding.
There is another important lesson I learned from Going Home - everyone has the capability to change. Sometimes the person you thought you were is not always the person you really are or who you can become. That was one of the biggest realizations for me. I may think one way now, but I may have a different view on life in the next five to ten years. And if I want to change for the better, or take a brand new path in life, who is to say I can't?
At the end of the day, no matter what I do in life, what is the most important is that I keep one path near and close to my heart: the path going home.
Insight Theatre Company
photo by Jane Martin