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  • Prison Performing Arts

Board Spotlight: Melinda Ligon

We caught up with longtime PPA Board member, Melinda Ligon, to chat a little about her time with PPA and why she believes everyone should get involved.

How long have you been involved in PPA?

My first introduction was through a “meet and greet” at Michele Sherman’s house. I was impressed by the mission. I believe I first attended a PPA performance at Northeast Correctional Center (NECC) in Bowling Green in 2009. Once I saw a performance, I understood the true power there is within this organization. And then came a Vandalia (Women’s Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center) performance, and the youth programs, and my fate was sealed. I believe I have only missed one production at the prisons since that first one. I remember how full my heart felt each time I saw one of the groups. I knew that other people needed to see a performance to fully understand what PPA achieves.

What is your favorite performance?

Each of the prisons and youth groups brings something special to the table. I remember seeing “Front Page” at NECC and being amazed at the timing and speed the men developed for that rapid-paced show! I still have one of the props in my home … a phone made in the workshop for that production. And then, there was “Quick Brewed Macbeth,” and that became my favorite. My first glimpse at Vandalia showed me women who had such possibility, but there was still a lack of self-confidence and power. Fast forward to “Hip Hop Hamlet,” and I saw women who could not be stopped! They were strong and confident, and loving the skills they had achieved. “Going Home” was remarkable at Pacific, as the men confronted the fears and worries of re-establishing themselves in the world outside of confinement. And every “Hip Hop Poetry Project” at St. Louis City Juvenile Detention Center brings bright new faces. It makes you want to encourage and support a safe, nurturing life for these young people. It also makes you wonder what they have seen in their short lives and can some of it be healed through the arts.

Why do you think PPA’s work is so important for our community? Why should other people get involved?

St. Louis struggles with crime and racial inequality, and lack of opportunity, all tied up with a bow of fear and avoidance. PPA gives each person a chance to realize that “no one is only the worse thing they have ever done.” The justice-involved artists and the audiences both must realize that. Then you can revel in the accomplishments of others, and the growth that is obvious each time you attend a performance. When we step outside our comfort zone, we actually begin to increase our comfort level with those in different situations than we find ourselves. If there is hope of improving the situation, it has to be done together, gradually widening the circle until all are included.

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