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  • Prison Performing Arts


“I’ve never read the novel, but someone gave me a vague description of the storyline. Briefly, I was told that there was family with a few daughters and the matriarch’s position was to find husbands for all her girls to be well taken care of. If I’m correct, she wants to control her children’s lives, like me and probably every mother in the world.” Janiece, playing Mrs. Bennet, shares her first impression of Pride and Prejudice.

Pride and Prejudice, arguably one of Austen’s most popular novels, has touched the hearts of millions of readers since its publication in 1813. If you’ve read the novel, you likely can recall what struck you most about the story, be it Elizabeth Bennet’s hard-headedness or Mr. Darcy’s disdain.

In May 2017, St. Louis-based theatre, SATE, produced an original play called “First Impressions,” a take on the Austen classic. In “First Impressions,” which SATE named after the novel’s original title, the ensemble incorporated a variety of individual’s real recollections (i.e., their first impressions) of the story.

From Pakistan to Paris to St. Louis, 200 years after it was penned, Pride and Prejudice still connects with us. The novel’s universality is what inspired Rachel Tibbetts, who conceived “First Impressions” with Ellie Schwetye at SATE, to launch a new PPA workshop at the Women's Eastern Reception, Diagnostic, and Correctional Center (WERDCC) in 2018. Tibbetts is PPA’s Director of Youth Programs.

Over a three month period, the women at WERDCC wrote about Pride and Prejudice through several lenses: reading the novel, watching a film adaption, and reading and watching a live performance of SATE’s original production of “First Impressions.” “Some had some familiarity, but for the most part, it was a brand new story to everyone,” says Tibbetts. “These first impressions were happening in real time. We studied a lot about Jane Austen herself and everyone just fell in love with her.”

This May, the women at WERDCC will be performing “First Impressions” for the first time inside prison. Instead of the original “impressions,” this production will include the women’s own first impressions of the Pride and Prejudice story, which they captured during the workshop. “This is another ongoing example of a long-term and very important collaboration between PPA and SATE,” says Chris Limber, PPA’s Artistic Director. “Our partnership allows plays to start at prison go to SATE, and vice-versa. It helps in spreading the word about the importance of bringing theatre inside prison.”

He explains that this particular Austen-focused workshop was part of PPA’s ongoing Spoken Word Poetry program. “It’s like a poetry class,” he says, “but it encompasses playwriting—really, anything that’s spoken word. That includes blogging, public speaking, or anything where the writing of the individual is spoken publicly.”

To register for “First Impressions,” you must RSVP and submit clearance forms by Monday, May 6th 2019. Click here to RSVP, and here to access the forms. Show Information: Click here to RSVP! First Impressions Thursday, May 23, 2019 Location: WERCC - Vandalia, MO 1101 US-54, Vandalia, MO 63382 Performance Times: 1:00pm Matinee (12:30pm Check-in) 6:15pm Evening (5:45pm Check-in) RSVP DEADLINE: Monday, May 6, 2019

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