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01 Feb 2020
By Melissa Meinzer

As any plugged-in music fan will tell you, the music scene here is rockin’ and rollin’ — no help needed. On any night, you can find local, regional, and national acts in everything from gritty little rooms to stadiums. Now, a trio of new or reworked events aim to shine a light on the city’s lively musical happenings, leveraging connections within the community and bringing the music to a wider audience.

About a year and a half ago, planning began on what would become the Saint Louis Music Initiative. Featuring the revamped Music at the Intersection festival and St. Louis Music Week, both debuting in September 2020, and 2021’s Midwest Music Summit, the initiative can be thought of as connective tissue for the city’s thriving and ascendant music economy.

“Our city has a roster of artists that are on the rise,” says Sean Smothers, director of strategic partnerships for the Kranzberg Arts Foundation. “The number of folks I was starting to see kind of come into their own was just phenomenal. You saw Tonina [Saputo] getting name-checked by the president!” he says, referring to Barack Obama’s year-end tweet about his favorite music of 2018. The city’s contributions to the global conversations on jazz, the blues, Americana, and hip-hop are legendary.

Smothers reflected on his admiration for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a marquee event that grew from just a few hundred people in Louis Armstrong Park to an international destination. Festival founder George Wein hit upon a stroke of genius in developing the backbone of that festival. “Wein made an overt effort to make sure culture was embedded in the festival in the right way,” says Smothers. “Really, the success of that festival came from not being able to really separate the New Orleans part from the music and heritage part.”

That baked-in culture piece, alongside recognition of the city’s deep well of talent, informed the formation of Saint Louis Music Week, the reimagined Music at the Intersection, and (in 2021) the Midwest Music Summit. St. Louis is known for a tradition of exchange and collaboration, even more so than a specific genre.

“It’s tough to really put your arms around and draw out a single St. Louis sound,” Smothers says. “It’s everybody’s sound. We happen to be right at the geographic center of all these music hubs. We’ve had all these great people pass through our city and leave a piece and take a piece. We’ve also had artists from other places land here to share a new take. That intersection is worth celebrating by lifting up what we have and growing infrastructure for our music economy.”

The whole initiative is in three parts, Smothers explains. St. Louis Music Week, September 4–13, is focused on marketing — illuminating what’s already going on across the city’s vibrant collection of venues. Think of it a bit like Restaurant Week, with artists and venues signing up for no-cost promotion and fans following on social media.

Music at the Intersection, September 11–13, is a place-making event with eight stages hosting more than 60 bands, including local, regional, and national acts. The Intersection name isn’t new; its previous iteration ended about three years ago with a series of shows with local artists in Grand Center Arts District. This new, three-day concept adds the opportunity for music lovers to navigate their own cross-genre music experience.

With one ticket, festival-goers can access shows at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, The Big Top, The Sheldon, The Grandel, Jazz St. Louis, The Stage at KDHX, The Dark Room, Strauss Park, and more. The outdoor venues are also free. (Stay tuned for the artist announcement; at press time, the roster wasn’t yet made public.)

The Midwest Music Summit aims to join artists with publishers, producers, studios, national representation, and each other. Fostering these connections through panels, workshops, exhibitions, and classes will lead to opportunities and relationships. Behind the scenes, partners in the initiative are undertaking a three-year partnership with Sound Diplomacy, an international organization specializing in understanding a city’s unique music economy. This collaborative work will help St. Louis gain a clear picture of the role the music industry plays in our city (economic output, job creation, tourism interest) as well as ways to grow and protect it. The data and insights from the work undertaken by Sound Diplomacy will be made available to the public upon completion.

The effort is uniquely inclusive and grassroots. “We have 100-plus volunteers on seven committees who are helping to inform every aspect of this initiative,” says Smothers. “We don’t consider this initiative as belonging to Kranzberg Arts Foundation. We are helping continue the conversation, but we see this as belonging to the music community and to our city.  We see ourselves as the organization that’s helped ‘build the box.’ But a multitude of organizations are coming forward to put their unique stamp on it.”

That includes bookers from venues across town who are informing the programming for all three events, and marketing directors from a variety of organizations and firms that are pitching in, too. “Instead of viewing this as something that would be competitive, they’re viewing it as something that will lift the tide for all boats,” Smothers says. “It’s a true collaboration.”

For serious music geeks and casual fans alike, the events offer a glimpse at a thrumming ecosystem — one they either live in or don’t know enough about. Either way, the trio of events offers a new lens for considering music in the city and a chance to see work that might otherwise escape their notice.

“We’re really cultivating an experience here,” Smothers says. “This is a choose-your-own-adventure music opportunity. There’s no one genre of music we’re focusing on. Any genre you want to pick, St. Louis has had a significant impact.” 

01 Feb 2020

South Africa meets St. Louis for two performances that speak volumes about the universal human experience through movement.

By Caitlin Lally

Note: This article has been updated to reflect changes to performance dates and times.

Performing in sold-out shows more than 8,500 miles away, resident company Karlovsky & Company Dance had the opportunity to recently partner with Cape Town’s New World Dance Theatre (NWDT) on a project that transcends cultural differences, emphasizing the power of dialogue in building trust. 

After a year of conversations with the South African dance company, five members of Karlovsky & Company Dance boarded a plane for a two-week residency with NWDT in August 2019.

Taking with them two original works and creating a piece alongside the South African dancers, Dawn Karlovsky, founder and artistic director of the St. Louis company, said audiences expressed deep gratitude following the two companies’ collaborative performances. 

“They were amazed,” Karlovsky said. “We had a group of young students of theirs (NWDT) who stayed afterwards to meet all of us. Many expressed,“‘We have never seen movement like this before.’” Karlovsky recalled one student’s reaction. “They were moved to tears by the honesty and sincerity of the movement.”

With hopes that St. Louis audiences feel similarly, Karlovsky & Company Dance is eager to welcome the dancers to our corner of the world for two weeks when four members of NWDT perform with them on The Grandel Theatre’s stage in June.

The performance, aptly named “Conversations” because of the dialogue that went into forming the collaboration, is a statement on how people learn to understand one another and build trust, despite coming from different backgrounds. 

“Both companies are very much inspired by real-life situations,” Karlovsky said. “My work highlights choreography that illuminates human experience … I think that was one of the things that really drew their attention to us — that it felt real, that it felt human, that it felt like a universal experience can be shared through the kind of work we do.”

The dual-company performance “Conversations” will take place at 7:30pm Thursday, June 18, and Friday, June 19. The concert will consist of original contemporary choreography by both Karlovsky & Company Dance and NWDT, along with a shared piece that the two started building together while in Cape Town.

For more information, contact Dawn Karlovsky at [email protected]

01 Feb 2020
By Melissa Meinzer

At its best, theatre can provide a great deal: It entertains us, it moves us, it sustains us, it reflects us back to ourselves. But for some St. Louis school kids, it can literally save their lives.

Metro Theater Company’s “Say Something, Do Something!” program uses drama to help equip students to face difficult circumstances, from bullying to gun violence. The interactive skits encourage them to consider how to defuse tense moments or intervene when they see interactions going south.

“It’s a theatrical experience, but it’s a theatrical experience with a very specific goal,” says Metro Theater managing director Joe Gfaller. The hope is that, having walked through difficult scenarios in safe circumstances, participants might have access to the strategies later, if necessary.

Metro Theater is directed at young audiences and their families, creating access to theatre as well as the growth and development that it fosters. The company produces plays at The Grandel and takes theatre into schools. Last year, it visited  31 schools across the region.

Launched in Fall 2011, the “Say Something, Do Something!” experience involves a relatively small group of kids — usually about 60 fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders — and a small troupe of Metro actors, as well as a teaching artist who serves as a facilitator. The scripts and entire experience are the result of intense preparation by Metro’s production team. Before they ever take the stage at a school, they’ve conducted interviews with teachers and social workers in the schools and learned all they can about the specific conflicts that kids might be facing. They’ve also researched language, because lingo and vocabulary are ever-changing, and the scenes need to seem feasible.

“We want the language and conflict situation to feel true to life,” says Metro Theater education director Karen Weberman. “It’s what they’re actually going through. Our education is on the ground every week, in classrooms across the city and county.”

She stresses the need for deep listening to the teachers, administrators, and other school staff who know the kids best. “We don’t want this to be, ‘Here’s this program we think you need,’” she says.

Metro’s methodology for the program is backed by serious scholarship. Saint Louis University’s College for Public Health and Social Justice evaluated the program, and Weberman and SLU researchers presented the data last year at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in Philadelphia.

The sessions begin with a deep dive into the study of body language. Actors will freeze into a tableau, which the students can pick apart, examining characters’ motivations and feelings in a specific moment. It’s good training for what comes next — the scripted conflict. The scene is only about five minutes long, Weberman says, and while the conflict itself may vary from season to season or, to some extent, from school to school, one thing is constant: There’s a clear and obvious imbalance of power.

“When the scene comes to the highest point of conflict, the facilitator calls a freeze,” says Weberman. “The students dig into the body language of the characters. We hold up an actual thought bubble, like you might see in a cartoon.”

The students fill the bubbles with what a character — aggressor, victim, or bystander — might be thinking. Then the actors break out of the tableau but not their character, and the students take on the role of investigative reporter.

“They’re put in the hot seat, and the students get to interview them,” Weberman says. The students aren’t shy about grilling the characters, she adds. “They really go after the actor who’s playing the bully character. They want to know, ‘Why are you the way you are? Were you bullied?’”

“They want to understand the bad guy as much as they want to help the good guy,” says Gfaller.

After the interrogations, students come up with strategies for better outcomes. The actors run the scene again, and kids can tag actors out and step into the scene themselves to try the strategies.

“We like to say, ‘It’s like rehearsal for real life,’” says Weberman. “It really is all about empathy, stepping into the shoes of another.”

Previous seasons have addressed physical violence and sexual harassment — disheartening realities, Weberman says, for sixth graders. Some of the programming for the upcoming season will continue to look at violence. 

During the forthcoming year, Metro Theater will also work with the Diversity Awareness Partnership, whose “Give Respect Get Respect” campaign pairs older students with local corporate executives in a mentorship program. Metro’s programming for that initiative will address gender identity issues.

01 Feb 2020
Yo Yo of Circus Flora

After nearly 35 years in St. Louis, Circus Flora has a home.

By Jen Roberts

Step right up and prepare to be whisked away to a magical world where people fly through the air, pigs dance, and one brave soul runs and jumps rope on a spinning wheel.

Artistic director Jack Marsh has been part of the wonder since nearly the beginning when his mother worked as a performer and a director. He was 2-years-old when the show debuted in 1986 at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. Marsh never intended for it to be his life’s work, but he was drawn back after law school and several years as a corporate attorney. “Just the magic of it,” he says, “the love for it.”

The one-ring circus was named after an elephant that circus founder David Balding rescued after ivory poachers killed her mother in Botswana. (Flora was an integral part of the circus until the early 2000s, when she retired to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee.) Balding’s idea: to meld modern theatre with a traditional European circus. “It was Balding’s dream to marry his twin loves of theatre and the traditional one-ring circus,” says Marsh.

It’s a circus with a storyline. “Circus typically has very specific images associated with it,” says Marsh. “Some of them are wonderful, like the magic of going as a kid and being transported into this place with beautiful people who are doing these incredible things. That is part of that imagery that we love and embrace.”

But not all circus imagery is so favorable. “There are not-so-positive images, like mistreated animals or tawdy aesthetics and a not thought-out artistic product. We steer clear of those,” says Marsh. “I think we lean into the fact that we are this very nostalgic art form, but we try to find ways where it can appeal to a modern audience.”

Circus Flora is modern, but it still has that traditional appeal that you enjoyed as a child. Inside The Big Top is a sawdust-filled ring that’s reimagined throughout the show. There are acrobats and high-wire artists, “the images you might come to expect,” says Marsh, “but then we wrap it in a fun and goofy atmosphere.”

It’s a show that appeals to everyone. “I think it’s secretly the best friend night out or date night. It’s not a show aimed at 5-year-olds; it’s just as fun for adults,” says Marsh. “That’s the beauty of it: You get all these people from different ages and backgrounds, and they’re going to have the same fun time for the same reason. It’s an amazing popular entertainment that not a lot of art forms can accomplish.”

And the show is local. Typically, the word “circus” conjures memories of traveling shows that arrive in town with lions and elephants and exciting performers. The big tent is set up and taken down nearly as quickly, as the show heads to its next city. Circus Flora is working hard to combat this transient image. “It’s been a while since we’ve played anywhere else, and we have year-round programming,” says Marsh. “We see ourselves as a vital part of the St. Louis fabric.”

For years, Circus Flora used to “squat on the Powell Hall parking lot every summer,” recalls Marsh, adding that the temporary location wasn’t as conducive to establishing the circus as a St. Louis arts institution. The schedule also had to coincide with the symphony’s, and the circus packed up everything after the show concluded each year. 

Then, in 2018 the Kranzberg Arts Foundation stepped in. The nonprofit provided a permanent venue, simply called The Big Top, at 3401 Washington Ave. After years of setting up on the parking lot beside Powell Hall, Circus Flora now has its own space, and the tent remains up for much of the year. Even when it’s not set up during the winter months, the four posts remain and a permanent neon-lit sign points in the direction of The Big Top. As Marsh says, “Our best billboard is our big red tent.”

Marsh hopes this permanent location will enable Circus Flora to help grow Grand Center Arts District while allowing the circus to be “full members of the community,” he says. “We like to stress the St. Louis-ness of what we do and how important the community is to us.”

Clowns on Call is one way that Circus Flora extends the show throughout the year and beyond The Big Top. Through this cornerstone community outreach program, clowns entertain children at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. “It’s healing through laughter,” says Marsh. “The families are going through what I am sure is the toughest experience in their life, and it’s really wonderful to be able to transport them and bring a little bit of the magic to them.”

Circus Flora also provides tickets to underserved communities, so all kids can be part of the experience. “The community-oriented mission is really important to us,” says Marsh.

Marsh admits there are a lot of “unmagical things” that go into planning and executing a show including physical labor, paperwork, and budgeting. But even after all these years, he still gets that “warm, excited feeling in his chest” when he sees the audience’s reaction to a performance. “Being able to trace that moment back through a mountain of hard work from so many talented people is amazing,” says Marsh.

Each year, Circus Flora presents a new theme. This year’s production taking place June 4th through 28th is “The Trial of the Century,” which is best described as a “boisterous courtroom crossed with a circus,” says Marsh, which is sure to bring him back to his days as a lawyer. It’s also sure to tie in elements of St. Louis. After all, Circus Flora is St. Louis’ circus — and it’s not going anywhere.

01 Feb 2020
By Grand Center, Inc.

There’s no better time than at the start of the year to try something new. Lucky for you, there are a ton of ways to get “hands on” in Grand Center Arts District – whether it be through an experience, a workshop, or the discovery of a new musical act. s. Here’s some ideas to get your creative juices flowing. 

Arts

With each exhibition, Pulitzer Arts Foundation hosts a variety of workshops and wellness activities to engage their art-savvy audience in a fresh, new way. Throughout 2020, you are invited to explore ranges of motion and mindfulness (classes include tai chi, yoga, and meditation), workshops and conversations (like paper cutting, tours conducted in Spanish , and conversations with renowned artists and curators), and even unique collaborations with fellow arts organizations like St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Contemporary Art Museum. 

The Contemporary Art Museum’s Spring exhibition series opened in January and with it comes a new event roster that includes several hands-on workshops and activities. Two upcoming events to consider are RE: Soul and Drawing from Observation. For RE: Soul, CAM’s 2020 DJ-in-Residence James Biko traces the history of soul music and contemporary sampling in an interactive spinning session inspired by the work of artist Liz Johnson Artur. For April’s Drawing from Observation, guests are invited to draw their own works inspired by the museum’s exhibitions. After a special tour, CAM provides all art supplies for you and invites you to create freely. 

Music

For those who have made a New Year’s resolution to learn a new musical skill, KDHX’s Folk School classes are now in session. Folk School offers small group classes for adults and teens of all experience levels, from complete beginner through advanced. Class options include Banjo Introduction, Classic Country Ensemble, Guitar, Music Theory, and more. 

At the Arts & Education Council, resident Open Studio Network takes jazz education seriously, year-round. Designed to connect all levels of musicianship to a network of jazz artists across the globe, Open Studio is your digital connection to courses and flexible membership options. Browse your options by instrument, sign-up, and take courses from Grammy-winning masters of their craft – all in a few clicks.

Theatre

The Fabulous Fox’s Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation is committed to bringing theatre to the forefront of creativity from an early age. This year, in addition to their Master Class programs for teens, FPACF has announced a new summer program: Next Stop Broadway. The program consists of classes, workshops, and rehearsals focused on classic Broadway shows. Participants will be taught songs and choreography from two hit shows and also create presentations based on shows in the 2020-21 Fabulous Fox Theatre season. 

Design

Creative Reaction Lab focuses on equity-centered community design and provides education, resources, and opportunities for Black and Latinx youth. Each year, programs include options for both youth and institutions to ensure that means and location do not hinder anyone from receiving the opportunities they deserve. The Equity by Design Immersive Series connects the Equity-Centered Community Design to inclusive and equitable outcomes. Creative Reaction Lab facilitators guide participants through highly interactive activities, dialogue, planning, and reflection regarding power, identity, social equity, and community design.

24 Jan 2020

Kicking off a series of literary works paired with beverages by @blueprintcoffee, this week’s “Caffeinated Curation” features “Little Man Little Man” by James Baldwin and Yoran Cazac, and San Lorenzo filtered coffee from Guatemala, which offers sweet, nutty, citrusy notes, and earthy qualities. 📚☕

Born in 1924, “Uncle Jimmy” as he is sometimes referred, was a Harlem-born openly gay black novelist who addressed issues that were often left untouched. This book, recommended by Gina Grafos of @kranzbergarts, depicts oppression through the lens of a child. “His words are like butter,” Grafos said.

Find this book among High Low‘s shelves of noteworthy literature. Have a recommendation for the next “Caffeinated Curation”? Let us know.

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