Prison Performing Arts | St. Louis Public Radio

Prison Performing Arts

Sept. 11, 2017 photo. Prison Performing Arts Sescond Acts Ensemble members Robert Morgan (left) and Lyn O'Brien are buddies as well as fellow actors.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis’ Prison Performing Arts serves 1,000 inmates every year, some as actors, others as audience members. But leaving prison doesn’t have to mean saying goodbye to the program.

Through its Second Acts Ensemble alumni troupe, PPA provides a theatrical outlet on the outside for those who honed their acting skills behind bars.

In our latest Cut & Paste podcast, we talk with Robert Morgan and Lyn O’Brien, two Second Acts members, about how PPA and recently deceased founder Agnes Wilcox changed their lives.

Pulitzer Arts Foundation

Updated September 1 with St. Louis on the Air remembrance –

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed the life and legacy of Agnes Wilcox, who died unexpectedly in Canada earlier this week.

Among the many people who could talk about Wilcox, the founder of Prison Performing Arts, three joined us:

Tracy White sits in front of her mother's house, where she's living after serving more than 18 years in prison.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Gun violence is the result of a series of choices, some of them spur-of-the-moment, others made after much consideration.

The vast majority of men and women in Missouri convicted of gun crimes eventually go free. Next comes navigating life with a felony record, which is a complicated process.

They often have to go back to the neighborhoods where they were arrested, making it hard to escape feuds that had them protectively carrying guns. And the lucrative world of drug dealing can be a temptation when it’s tough to find or keep a job.

June 12, 2017 photo. Patty Prewitt (right) and Amy Sherrill perform a scene from "Run-On Sentence" in the Prison Performing Arts production at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center
Provided | Prison Performing Arts

A St. Louis-based organization called Prison Performing Arts (PPA) is taking a fresh approach in its 27-year-old effort to turn inmates into actors.

The program is known for the “thees,” “thous” and “forswears” of Shakespeare’s scripts. But a contemporary play on stage Thursday at the Women’s Eastern, Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Vandalia expands PPA beyond The Bard.

“Run-On Sentence” is based on interviews done with those inside the institution. Inmate Patty Prewitt said the playwright Stacie Lents took time to really understand their world.

Danny Kohl
From Washington University website

For many who have died, the “good family man” description is draped upon them like an embroidered pall, often as much in the interest of being nice and polite than in descriptive accuracy.

Because Daniel Kohl, who died Saturday, March 12, at 87, was generous, he might agree that this person or that one was a good family woman or a good family man.

But as scientist, a biologist, an eminent one at that — he would want proof also.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Agnes Wilcox founded Prison Performing Arts 23 years ago. Last year, she retired as director of the organization, which involves inmates and former prisoners with theatre.

A few days from now, on January 25, the Arts and Education Council will award her the lifetime achievement award in the arts for her work with the organization and other contributions to the St. Louis arts scene.

Ballet class at St. Louis' Juvenile Detention Center, Daniel Blount aka Orange Crush and guard tower at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific
Nancy Fowler and Willis Ryder Arnold / St. Louis Public Radio

For 22 years, a St. Louis organization has helped prisoners and youthful detainees project words like "thee" and "thou" and practice pliés and arabesques.

Prison Performing Arts instructors work with inmates on projects like performing Shakespeare, perfecting ballet routines and creating hip-hop poetry. It's an effort whose success is told more by anecdotes than analysis.

Three prisoners share their stories through performance.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Recent national prison reforms have included shortening sentences for drug offenders and releasing a number of prisoners because of the changes in sentencing guidelines. Yet roughly 32,000 people are incarcerated in Missouri.

Elizabeth Herring leads the girls in St. Louis' Juvenile Dention Center through the five ballet positions.
Nancy Fowler / St. Louis Public Radio

What does a dancer and former debutante born in 1926 have in common with teenagers at St. Louis’ juvenile detention center?

A lot, as it turns out, according to Elizabeth “Bunny” Herring.

Herring, 89, sees striking similarities between herself and the young women in the ballet classes she teaches inside the locked facility, as part of the Prison Performing Arts (PPA) program.

St. Louis Theater Circle Announces 2015 Nominees

Jan 30, 2015
Provided by the Actors Studio

The St. Louis Theater Circle, a group of local theater critics, released its 2015 award nominees on Friday. 

“It was, I think, a terrific year,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch theater critic Judith Newmark told “Cityscape” host Steve Potter on Friday. “It was a year in which we lost one theater — that’s always going to happen. There also are some new people on the horizon. And it was a year in which, I think Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, which is a free event that draws huge crowds, really came into its own with a double production of ‘Henry IV’ and ‘Henry V.’”

A series of performances at Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts will blur the lines separating art, theater and social work to break down barriers among people and communities.

Courtesy of the Pulitzer

 

Emily Piro, case manager at St. Patrick Center, works with "Staging Reflections of the Buddha."

A series of performances at Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts will blur the lines separating art, theater and social work to break down barriers among people and communities.

Courtesy of the Pulitzer

 

Emily Piro, case manager at St. Patrick Center, works with "Staging Reflections of the Buddha."