Bess has been a versatile Theatre Artist in the St. Louis region for over 13 years. In 2018 she had the privilege to collaborate with Prison Performing Arts and SATE Ensemble theatre as an actor/designer for the inaugural production of "Run-on Sentence." Throughout the region, Bess has held the title of Managing Director (HotCity Theatre), Executive Director (Mustard Seed Theatre) and Production Manager (Ozark Actors Theatre, Washington University). She has designed scenery and lighting for various regional companies (*3 Nominations-Theatre Circle Award), as well as Stage Managed and Directed. Along with her work in the Transition Centers for PPA, she also teaches various workshops for COCAbiz. Bess has been a proud Resident Artist at SATE Ensemble Theatre for the past 5 years. Currently, she is a Faculty member at East Central College teaching Technical Theatre and Communications.
John Blair is adjunct instructor in writing and psychology and has taught at several colleges in the St. Louis area. He was a contributing writer for All the Art magazine, a visual arts quarterly magazine in St. Louis until the magazine ceased publication due to the pandemic. Additionally, he is a visual artist and has most recently exhibited his painting at St. Louis Community College, Forest Park.
Maria is passionate about using art for self-expression and encouraging change, awareness, and healing. She co-founded Arts, Writing, and Expression Collaborative (AWE) to provide expressive art and writing opportunities to men transitioning out of the criminal justice system at the Transition Center of St. Louis. She is a Visual Art for Well-Being Instructor who has led workshops for educators, medical and mental health professionals, cancer survivors, and victims of trauma for the Missouri Institute of Mental Health, the Kemper Art Museum, the Cancer Support Community, Webster University, Siteman Cancer Center, and other institutions regionally and nationally.
Through the Center of Creative Arts (COCA), she has worked with numerous under-resourced students from the Ferguson-Florissant School District, St. Louis Public School District, and University City School District. Since 2016, Ojascastro has taught visual arts primarily to adults enrolled in the Stress Management Program at PALM Health, an integrative medicine wellness center.
Maxine du Maine
After graduating from Webster University, Maxine du Maine began her teaching journey in Thailand where she used art to teach underserved students English. Emblazoned by the power of art, Maxine returned to the States with a mission to use art to empower underserved black youth to discover their potential by providing the resources they need to become the leaders they are destined to be. Outside of teaching, Maxine du Maine is a multitalented artist and entertainer. She has received multiple awards at film festivals around the country for her films, she currently plays a supporting role in “The Ghost Who Walks” on Netflix and is currently signed to Wilhelmina Denver models and talent. Additionally, Maxine has won many awards for her paintings and illustrative works that have also been featured in many publications. Maxine has been a teaching artist with Prison Performing Arts since 2018 where she has taught programs at St. Louis City Juvenile Detention Center, Hogan Street Regional Youth Center, and with the Family Court’s Detention Alternatives Program. Maxine’s play Dream On, Black Black: Reflections in Quarantine premiered on Friday, August 28 as part of Project Verse. In addition to writing the play, Maxine also served as director, actor, and editor.
Saint Louis native, Dr. Philip A. Woodmore has been an active member of the St. Louis music community for many years. Phil received his bachelors from Saint Louis University in Business Marketing and Music Vocal Performance, his masters from Webster University in Music Education, and his PhD in Music Education from the University of Missouri-Columbia. His research interests are the changing voice, voice pedagogy, and the transformative power of music. His dissertation is on the transformative power of music in the choral setting using the auditioned choir in the Off-Broadway run of Antigone in Ferguson. Phil taught choir one year at Ferguson and Berkley Middle Schools in the Ferguson-Florissant School District and then went on to become the choir director at Crestview Middle School in the Rockwood School District where he taught for 12 years. Along with his work in Rockwood, Phil was the Coordinator of the Voice Program at the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) and the artist director of the Allegro Music Company from 2008-2017, was the director of the Saint Louis Metropolitan Police Department Choir since 2009-2017, was the director of the Northern Arizona University Gospel Choir from 2014-2017, Artist in Residency for the State of Arizona for a two year term 2016-2018, minister of music at Trinity Community Church from 1992-2018, and vocal coach to many in the St. Louis and New York. In August 2016 Phil was asked to compose an original score of a version of Antigone translated by Bryan Doerries called Antigone in Ferguson which has been traveling the country for the past four years and premiered internationally in Athens, Greece in June 2016. Since the success of Antigone in Ferguson, Phil has written an original score for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s last sermon The Drum Major Instinct and also for a speech by Frederick Douglass. Phil joined the Muny family for the 2020 summer season and he is looking forward to a great partnership as the Music Director for Muny Kids. During the pandemic Phil took the opportunity to document his journey through Antigone in Ferguson in his first book, “Antigone in Ferguson: A Journey Through the Transformative Power of Music,” available on Amazon and his website. This fall Phil will take on another passion and begin a masters in psychology at Arizona State University. For more information on Dr. Philip A. Woodmore please visit www.philipawoodmore.com
Carl Overly, Jr.
Carl Overly, Jr is a full time artist living in St. Louis. His most recent credits include, Cornwall in St. Louis Shakespeare Festival's production of King Lear, Poochie in COCA's production of Suffer the Children, Chebutykin in ERA Theatre's virtual production of MOSCOW!, Coach in Metro Theater Company’s production of Ghost, and Wolf in the Black Rep's production of Two Trains Running. Carl has worked with St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, SATE, Upstream Theater, Insight Theatre, West End Players Guild, Unity Ensemble Theater, Solid Lines Productions, Mustard Seed Theater, and Magic Smoking Monkey, among others. His directing credits include MotherFu&@$er with the Hat (R-S Theatrics), Anansi the Spider (The Black Rep touring company), Baby Black Jesus (Q Collective) and Assistant Director for We are the Levisons at The New Jewish Theatre. He was a producer for The Every 28 Hour Project (2015 and 2016). Carl was named a Rising Leader of Color by Theater Communications Group (TCG) in 2018 and is a three time St. Louis Theater Circle Award winner.
For PPA, Carl has taught improvisation and theatre at Hogan Street Regional Youth Center and St. Louis County Juvenile Detention Center since 2018. He has also performed in several productions produced by SATE at Hogan Street Regional Youth Center and Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center.
James Still’s plays have been widely produced throughout the U.S., Canada, U.K., Europe, Australia, South Africa, China and Japan. In addition to new projects his recent work includes a trilogy of linked-plays: THE HOUSE THAT JACK BUILT (Indiana Rep), APPOGGIATURA (Denver Center), and MIRANDA (Illusion Theater, Minneapolis). Also: two plays about the Lincolns: THE WIDOW LINCOLN and THE HEAVENS ARE HUNG IN BLACK ( both premiering at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.); a play for one actor about culinary icon James Beard called I LOVE TO EAT (Portland Center Stage); a play for 57 actors called A LONG BRIDGE OVER DEEP WATERS (Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles); LOOKING OVER THE PRESIDENT’S SHOULDER (theaters across the country); AND THEN THEY CAME FOR ME (theaters around the world). Still is an elected member of both the National Theatre Conference in New York and the College of Fellows of the American Theatre at the Kennedy Center. He is a four-time nominee for the Pulitzer, five-time Emmy nominee, received the Otis Guernsey New Voices Award from the William Inge Festival and the Todd McNerney New Play Prize from Spoleto. He is the Playwright in Residence at Indiana Repertory Theatre, Artistic Affiliate at American Blues in Chicago, and lives in Los Angeles.
John Wolbers holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre with extensive experience in theatre for young audiences and modern adaptations of the classics. A professional playwright, teaching artist, director, and performer, he is passionately dedicated to fostering equity and accessibility. His work has been seen on stages and in classrooms across the St. Louis region, and he is incredibly honored to collaborate with and develop curriculum for Prison Performing Arts.
Stacie Lents’s PPA New Play Initiative commissions include Run-On Sentence, which was nominated for a 2019 St. Louis Theatre Circle Award for Outstanding New Play, and the stage adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel Hag Seed. Stacie’s plays have been licensed in the United States, Canada, and the UK. She is an Associate Professor of Theater at Fairleigh Dickinson University and a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, Actors’ Equity Association, and SAG-AFTRA. Stacie received her MFA from Rutgers, Mason Gross School of the Arts and her BA from Yale University.
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My work with PPA continues to inspire and change me. I am grateful to the organization helmed by Chris Limber and, of course, to Margaret Atwood, since my admiration for her novels pre-dates not only my work on this project, but also my writing plays. Above all, I’m grateful to the incarcerated men of NECC and the women of WERDCC for proving to me that art is a window to hope. They’ve also taught me that we rely on theater for empathy, compassion, and social change. I wish I could say it was I who taught them.
Aarya Sara Locker
Aarya serves as an Artist and Advocate using Theater as a tool for Social Justice. Aarya has used her 25 year-long career in Theater Arts and Education to give voice to the under-represented and bring laughter and joy to people in trauma.
As a teacher, Aarya has worked primarily with black youth in free afterschool programs throughout Indianapolis and St. Louis and at juvenile detention facilities. Aarya has served as a teacher for Prison Performing Arts for 12 years, where she has taught clowning and physical comedy, improv and Shakespeare and was a Guest Director for the Alumni Company. Aarya served as the Teaching Artist for St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s Metro Youth program at McCleur, Rittenour and Governor French high schools.
As a Guest Artistic Director Aarya served for three years with The Disability Project leading the ensemble in the creation of original material advocating for visibility and equality for individuals living with identifiable disability.
Aarya performed as a Clown with Cirque du Soleil, as a stage combatant at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London and as an Equity actor at regional theaters throughout Indianapolis and St. Louis including The Indiana Repertory Theater, Phoenix Theater, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, Brown County Playhouse, Hot City Theater, New Jewish Theater and The Black Cat. Aarya currently serves as Manager of Community Engagement for the Saint Louis Public Library where she functions as the Artistic Director of Storytime Theater and “Off The Shelf”.
LaMar "Finsta" Williams
LaMar "Finsta" Williams grew up on St. Louis' South Side. He honed his MC skills throughout the 1990s as part of the hip hop group The Ruckus Crew, as host of St. Louis' longest running the iconic hip hop club night, the Hi-Pointe Café, (where up and coming artists honed their skills and platinum recording producer scouted for talent) as a part-time on-air personality for a show called, “Phatlaces” with DJ Needles.
His focus turned to youth in 2003, when he worked with Better Family Life, teaching children from ages 7-11 about the world of hip hop: breakdancing, graffiti writing, rapping, and DJing. He ran a summer program with Human Development Corporation for on the job training experience with inner-city kids (15-17) and for those that wanted to learn more about the music industry. He joined the Center for Recording Arts staff in 2005 and is an integral part of the teaching team there. Later that year, he became the Music Director for a Prison Performing Arts (Literacy) program entitled 'Hip Hop Project Project' where the kids in the Juvenile Detention Center learned how to write poetry, rhyming skills, choreographed dance and performing in front of their peers and family.
Continuing as Staff Coordinator at Ch’rewd Marketing, Finsta soon became an account manager for Capitol Records, Interscope Records, and Atlantic Records, among supervising other Major Label account managers as well. In 2007 Williams made his exit from Ch’rewd to pursue his own goals in the Entertainment Industry. After a few demands, Finsta started his own Marketing and Promotion company (AMPStLouis - Authentic Marketing & Promotions) in 2008 working with local, indie, and National record labels until today.
KEATING (they/them) is a theatre artist in St. Louis. Keating is the Co-Artistic Director of Poor Monsters and the Communications Director at ERA. They hold an MFA in Arts Management and Leadership from Webster University. Keating created and directed Classic Mystery Game with SATE and performed with Shakespeare Festival St. Louis in Love’s Labors Lost. They are delighted to work with PPA to develop new playwriting curriculum.