Laura was one of the most authentically talented people I have worked with in 40 years. She was also one of the sweetest, funniest, kindest young women in the world. We were friends and colleagues and all of PPA’s hearts are broken, as we wonder at the illogic of life’s mysterious matters of existence.Read More
Nikeisha is the Detention Program Coordinator at the St. Louis City Juvenile Detention Center. She is an amazing extension of the PPA team. Here’s what she has to say about her role as well as her involvement with our youth programs!Read More
After approving Stacie Lents’ on-stage adaptation of her 2016 novel, Atwood makes plans to attend the prison performance in January 2020.Read More
Prison Performing Arts is thrilled to announce that Shannon Durio is joining the PPA team as our new Managing Director! Shannon will serve in partnership with Artistic Director, Christopher Limber, and Director of Youth Programs, Rachel Tibbetts, to provide executive and programmatic leadership for PPA, and continue to sustain and build the company's fundraising potential, administrative and fiscal well-being, and programmatic growth. Shannon's expertise will provide a welcome support for PPA's unique artistic initiatives in the Missouri criminal and juvenile justice systems.
“The board and staff are very excited to have Shannon join PPA this August. She brings a remarkable wealth of experience and a comprehensive understanding of the workings and demands of our unique and important mission to her position. She understands and believes in the current work and legacy of PPA - utilizing art to heal and sustain the lives of incarcerated artists and justice-involved youth. She values the St. Louis community, and has exceptional knowledge based on her years of working with the St. Louis philanthropic community.” said Artistic Director, Christopher Limber.
“We are absolutely delighted to welcome Shannon to PPA. She joins Christopher Limber, Rachel Tibbetts and the PPA Board at a very exciting time as we look to further extend and enhance PPA's statewide reach and impact. Shannon's background in non-profit development in Saint Louis is impressive and extensive, and she is well acquainted with and inspired by the impact and long history of PPA. With her substantial insight and skills added to the creative force of Chris and Rachel, we are incredibly excited about PPA's next chapter,” said Tara Nealey, PPA Board President.
Shannon Durio comes to PPA with 15 years of development and marketing experience for national and regional nonprofit organizations, including the American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Concordance Academy, and the Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition. She has specialized in meeting substantive target revenue goals for multimillion-dollar budgets, grant writing, improving donor relations and community and corporate outreach, building volunteer recruitment and leading and managing organizational special-event planning. As Director of Donor Engagement, she played a key role in helping raise nearly $5 million to support programs and services benefiting foster/adoptive families in the St. Louis region. For Concordance Academy of Leadership (annual budget of $5+ million) Shannon led the planning and execution of three annual galas; each averaging 500 guests and raising nearly $1 million. Additionally, she has extensive experience in marketing and communications, helping drive organizational engagement through multi-channel social media campaigns, traditional print and electronic collateral, and donor correspondence. Shannon received a B.A. in Communication Studies and an M.A. in Organizational Leadership from Judson University in Elgin, Illinois.
“In January of 2018, I saw the production of Run-On Sentence in Vandalia, and throughout was deeply moved to laughter and tears. Not only was the acting of the highest caliber, but the artistry and emotional capacity of each actor gripped me. In the after-show talkback when the women spoke about the role PPA had played in their journey, I knew there was something incredibly special about the organization. I have been a committed supporter since that day.
The work PPA is doing is transformational for these incarcerated artists, and I am humbled that I can be a vital part of their story. I look forward to partnering with Chris, Rachel, and the Board of Directors, to inspire our community to listen, to give, and to welcome these returning citizens home one day.”
Phew! Our Winter/Spring performance season is a WRAP. We’re taking a moment to catch our breath and reflect on all we have accomplished.Read More
It all started in 2017, when Prison Performing Arts (PPA) began a collaboration with St. Louis University’s (SLU) Department of Fine and Performing Arts.
Lucy Cashion, Assistant Professor of Theatre (and ERA Artistic Director) teamed up with PPA Director of Youth Programs (and SATE Artistic Director), Rachel Tibbetts, to teach weekly poetry, playwriting, and development workshops with PPA participants at the Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center (WERDCC) in Vandalia, MO. For about 8 weeks during the summer of 2017, the group studied, explored, and wrote about the Ancient Greek Princess, Antigone.
The story of fighting civic law to obey divine law became famous in the Classical Greek tragedy Antigone, which premiered in Athens in 441 B.C. Since then, scholars, poets, and playwrights have written their own translations, adaptations, and critiques of the Antigone story, each from a different point of view.
During the workshop, the women of WERDCC wrote a large amount of content that was eventually curated into a script; this script was initially produced in October 2017 at SLU by an ensemble of students. Later, the same ensemble performed the play in prison, in front of an audience of women who wrote much of the play’s original content.
“It was really cool,” says Rachel Tibbetts about the experience of watching SLU’s performance of Antigone at WERDCC. “I mainly watched the women watching the production. Their faces would light up when they recognized their own words.”
The continuation of this tradition resulted in a performance by PPA participants at WERDCC in March 2018.
“Lucy and I started going up to the prison on a weekly basis to direct a version of Antigone with the women at the prison,” says Tibbetts. “It was essentially the same script as the SLU production, but we added more roles so we could cast more actors.”
This new version included all of the women’s original workshop writing as well as scenes from various adaptations of Antigone, including the Sophocles version.
ERA and SATE are bringing Antigone back to the stage in St. Louis this August.
Included in the 7-woman cast is Laura Hulsey, who was recently released from WERDCC and who acted in the prison production. Other cast members include Miranda Jagels Félix and Victoria Thomas, who acted in the SLU production. The rest of the cast is comprised of professional actors from St. Louis.
About the play, Christopher Limber (PPA Artistic Director) remarks, “One of the things that I recall is that, up in Vandalia, Lucy [Cashion] spoke about how inspired she was to do the play with just women, as opposed to a co-ed cast. She really liked something about the all-female version up at Vandalia, which inspired this upcoming female-only production. That’s one of the things that SATE focuses on—doing important new work that highlights women. Part of PPA's mission is to support new work and to collaborate with other excellent colleagues. The journey of this Antigone reflects the brave and resilient resonance of its classic theatrical roots."
We’re thrilled to see Antigone arise again with this ERA/SATE co-production in St. Louis.
Get your tickets for the August production here.
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 email@example.com 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.
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