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."