The Graduates ensemble emerged out of The LCIW Drama Club, a performance ensemble inside The Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St Gabriel that began in 1996. The ensemble was officially born in 2012 with the support of a seed grant from Emerging Philanthropists of New Orleans (EPNO). EPNO funding and additional support from The Open Society Foundations facilitated a writing workshop with students from McMain High School's Students at the Center Program, and participation in a spiritual retreat for women entitled Kindred 360º. Our first performance took place at the Network of Ensemble Theatre's National Gathering in New Orleans in 2012.
Founding members of The Graduates include: Sherral Kahey, Carmen DeMourelle, Ernestine Allen, Wilhemina Joseph, Avrelle Pierre and Carry Emerson. Former members include Antoinette Holmes. The current members are: Taece Defillo, Carry Emerson, Rhonda Oliver, Fox Rich and Shantell Turner.
The Graduates use their personal experiences with the criminal justice system to create performances that: reach out to young at-risk women; give a window into incarceration's effects on individual lives; and encourage those who have the power to shift current policies to do so. The ensemble's performances are directed by: Ausettua Amor Amenkum, Big Queen of the Washita Nation and artistic director of Kumbuka African Drum and Dance Collective; and Kathy Randels, artistic director of ArtSpot Productions and founder of The LCIW Drama Club.