We lovingly remember those we have lost. Their legacies continue to shine brightly.
Agnes Wilcox, Founding Artistic Director (1947-2017)
Under the artistic direction of Agnes, Prison Performing Arts grew out of The New Theatre. It began with one play about a woman getting out of prison, produced at the St. Louis City Medium Security Institution. There was no looking back. Her vision for engaging justice-involved people in the arts energized St. Louis. By the time she retired in 2015, PPA was operating in 7 facilities across Missouri.
“Agnes created ‘ripples’ of learning, of self-respect, of teamwork that were propagated (and continue) through every single PPA participant as well as through her friends and family. She always presented an intellectual challenge and brought out the best of anyone - inmates, friends, strangers. Her absolutely infectious laugh, friendship, enlightened presence, unwavering commitment to justice, and wise counsel are sorely missed.” – Mark & Peggy Holly, Friends of PPA
Jerry McAdams (1940-2018)
Jerry was a prominent member of the St. Louis theater community and a longtime teaching artist for PPA. He taught at Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific, Missouri where he helped create original productions based on writings by incarcerated artists.
“My dad spent the final part of his life with PPA, bringing theater to those who needed it. His professional life was all about motivation - finding new ways to reward hard work, making people feel valuable and worthy of praise, and so his work at PPA was a natural extension. He was overwhelmed watching the actors discover new skills, ways of expressing and means of self-valuation not previously imagined.” – Ryan McAdams, Jerry’s Son
“Jerry was a human’s human. He believed in everyone, although nobody got a free pass. His greatest strength was his character. Jerry had a way of making you feel great about yourself. I am a better person for having known him.” – Martin, MECC artist
Laura Kay Hulsey (1992-2019)
After her release from prison in 2018, Laura continued her artistic journey with PPAs Alumni Theatre Company. Laura had turned her life around and exemplified the personal power and dedication required for her well-being and success in the community. In every way, Laura was able to realize her dreams – both personal and artistic. She was working three jobs, considering enrollment in college, and pursuing theatre. Laura had just made her professional debut in St. Louis with SATE Ensemble in the production "Antigone," reprising a role she played while incarcerated – but now as a free, employed actor for a flourishing St. Louis theatre company.
“Laura was able to make peace with her past to bring happiness to many, many others through PPA; acting, singing, teaching, and dancing. Laura was always my light in life and PPA gave her the opportunity to be the light for others, and for that, I am forever grateful.” – Sarah Hulsey, Laura’s sister
Danny Kohl (1929-2016)
Danny served as a board member of Prison Performing Arts for more than a decade, acting as a friend, advocate, and mentor for several incarcerated artists involved in the program. He never missed an opportunity to spread the good word about PPA. If you met him—for even a minute—you had the PPA postcard from his pocket and an open invitation to prison performances. Danny's unwavering dedication to social justice, civil rights, education, and the environment was unmatched.
“Danny” by Patty Prewitt
Damn it, Danny – I wasn’t done with you.
I didn’t get enough of your eye-twinkling smile
and rib squeezing, heel-lifting hugs, and
your stories – even the ones I’d heard before
and before that.
I wasn’t done introducing you to our new actors
and watching you size them up while you pull
them in under your protective eagle wing.
The first time I called you Captain-Save-a-Ho,
you reared back and bellowed so hard you choked.
I loved you from the get-go.
Damn it, Danny – I wasn’t done arguing over
Everything we’re not supposed to debate in polite company.
No concern over political correctness, we just shared
As those who truly love each other can.
You were sharp, opinionated, nosy, generous and
charming – yes, Mister Charm, flashing your tired and true
You and Daddy fought ferociously to witness
me walk out of these gray gates into technicolor freedom.
The burden of their disappointment bows my back.
Damn it, Danny – you slipped away
when I wasn’t watching.
I wasn’t done with you