In 1989, the Women’s Self Help Center of St. Louis Missouri wanted help in co-producing a play about a woman who was about to be released from prison. The play, Getting Out, was to be shown at a conference where the subject was incarcerated women. However, the Women’s Center asked for assistance with the play from The New Theatre, a performing arts company that was playing at several Missouri venues.
The play, Getting Out, received funding and The New Theatre put on the performance. Inmates were excited to see their lives in prison come to life on stage – performers discovered that inmates were humans not unlike themselves. From this connection, the Prison Performing Arts was formed.
97% of the people incarcerated in Missouri will return to our communities; Prison Performing Arts uses performance arts to help prepare them for that transition.
Prison Performing Arts today, is a multi-disciplinary, literacy and performing arts program that serves incarcerated adults and youth throughout several correctional facilities within the state of Missouri.
Prison Performing Arts believes that youth and adults who are incarcerated can be inspired with intellectual curiosity and personal development by becoming involved in performing arts. They also believe that participating in performing arts can help soon-to-be-released inmates attain skills necessary for successful reentry into society. Inmates will indeed be released at some point and having good communication and self-expression skills can be vital to a healthy re-entry.
The projects that the Prison Performing Arts provides are varied.
Learning Through the Arts is an after school and weekend performing arts class for the St. Louis Juvenile Detention Center and classes range from West African Drumming to Acting and Improvisation.
Arts Alive! works in partnership with other professionals for the youth of the St. Louis Juvenile Detention Center to bring these performances to the community.
Shakespeare for a New Generation is actually an Artist Residency program that works with youth at the Hogan Street Regional Youth Center and in partnership with The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. This program is part of the National Endowment for the Arts Shakespeare in American Communities initiative.
Hip Hop Poetry Workshops are intensive performing arts programs whose classes are held when youth/inmates are on vacation from the St. Louis Juvenile Detention Center. A CD is produced as well as poems and workshops end with a live performance held for student/inmates families and guests.
The Theatre Projects is a program designed for incarcerated adults at two Missouri Department of Corrections adult prisons. Not only do adult prison inmates get to perform, they also receive college credits each semester through Fontbonne University in St. Louis. The wonderful part of this program is the five performances that are given each semester to an audience that includes prison inmates, staff, families and loved ones.
The Prison Arts Program is a morale boosting, personal development program that not only benefits incarcerated adults and youth – but benefits society as well – with prisoners who are released with a better sense of self-worth, self-expression and communication skills.