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Tag Archives: performing arts

20 Aug 2020

While some may see wearing masks or standing six feet apart as hindrances to artmaking, one St. Louis theatre company has welcomed the new norms to reignite their production methods.

After hosting virtual auditions, rehearsing for hours over Zoom, and then recording scenes in small physically-distanced groups, Ignite Theatre Company will present “A Chorus Line (High School Edition),” online Aug. 26, through Aug. 30. The 5-day streaming event marks a first for the organization.

Adopting new methods

Originally scheduled as a live event at .ZACK Theatre for the beginning of August, the Kranzberg Arts Foundation resident organization quickly pivoted to host virtual auditions in May and Zoom rehearsals through July.

Brionna Lacy of Ignite Theatre Company
Brionna Lacy, photo by Libby Pedersen

Brionna Lacy, 16, who plays Richie Walters in “A Chorus Line (HSE),” has been with the company for almost two years. She said one of the biggest differences between this production and previous ones was connecting with her fellow cast members.

“We do a lot of character and cast bonding to mesh with each other, and we didn’t really have the opportunity to do that this time around,” Lacy said. “It’s been difficult being apart from directors, too … and coming to rehearsal and not being able to connect with them has been hard.” 

With new methods, came new challenges, as well as new learning opportunities for the students of Ignite. Lacy, said she unexpectedly enjoyed learning about film production. “I’ve always been interested in the filming aspect of theatre, it’s really cool to dive into that sort of thing,” she said.

Daphne Kraushaar, photo by Libby Pedersen

Daphne Kraushaar, 16, who plays Al DeLuca in “A Chorus Line (HSE),” said she also liked the “move-making” side of this production.”It’s not like we’re performing a typical musical with cameras … it’s more like we go scene-by-scene and get different shot angles,” Kraushaar explained. 

Instead of filming a single show like previous Ignite productions, this musical was filmed in several takes by a local volunteer videographer, Jorgen Pedersen, and then edited together.

“That’s one of the benefits of filming — if one of us makes a mistake, we can do it again,” Kraushaar said. “And also, different clips can overlap, so if someone makes a mistake, we can put in a clip of someone else … we can sort of ‘Band-Aid’ for each other.”

However, filming the production in scenes wasn’t the only difference.“We’re dancing and singing, but almost never at the same time, which is one of the biggest differences with this [production],” Kraushaar said. “For example, we are recording our voices first … and then they are put together to make one track. Then we will dance to that track, lip-synching to ourselves … some of the dialogue is even [pre-recorded].”

Staying safe and smart, six-feet apart

Ignite Theatre Company presents "A Chorus Line (High School Edition)"
Ignite Theatre Company presents “A Chorus Line (High School Edition)” / poster by Jorgen Pedersen

With the stage blocked into six-foot-squares, the student actors adhered to strict physical-distancing rules while performing, using camera techniques to make them appear closer together. In addition to following all Kranzberg Arts Foundation COVID-19 mitigation policies, the theatre company outlined its own strategy that includes working in groups of 10 or fewer at one time.

“I think that the directors and everyone have done a good job of keeping the rules in place to keep everyone safe,” Kraushaar said, noting that she felt very comfortable during the production process.

“We’re really thankful for the guidance of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation with the reopening and mitigation policies to feel really confident that we’re creating art in the safest way possible,” Managing Director Kimberly Kavanagh said. “We’re [also] grateful for the opportunity to innovate and still be able to not only create something but also be an outlet for students during such an unsure time.”

“A Chorus Line (High School Edition)” presented by Ignite Theatre Company will stream online Aug. 26, through Aug. 29, at 7 pm, and Aug. 30 at 2 pm. Tickets are available through ShowTix4U. This performance is rated PG-13, and parental guidance is recommended.

“This is the first time we will not know what the final product will look like,” Kavanagh said. “I’ll be so proud of the kids no matter what the final product looks like because they worked so hard at something new.”

For more information about Ignite Theatre Company, visit www.ignitewithus.org.

29 Jul 2020
by Joe Hanrahan

The selection of plays for a theatre group’s season is always an exciting, wildly hopeful, sometimes frustrating process. The scripts must play to a company’s strength, while often exploring new themes and production styles to encourage artistic growth. It has to take into account the appropriateness of available spaces for the plays selected, as well as the available pool of talent and their appropriateness for roles needed to fill. Also, a group has to consider scheduling issues such as holidays that might fall during a show’s run, necessary rehearsal schedules, performer availability, and more. And then, you have to secure the rights for a play — not always an automatic.

At The Chapel: Kicking Off The Season — And Punting It Into Next Season

2020 has proven to be a challenging time for everyone, including theatre companies, most of whom have decided to shut down all theatre for the calendar year. The Midnight Company’s challenges started at the very beginning of the virus outbreak. They’d scheduled their first production for May at a space new to the company: The Chapel. The show they chose would be a reprise of a one-person play they’d initially presented at the 2018 St Lou Fringe Festival, “Now Playing Third Base For The St. Louis Cardinals…bond, James Bond.”

The Midnight Company presents Now Playing Third Base for the Cardinals ... Bond, James Bond
The Midnight Company presents Now Playing Third Base for the Cardinals … Bond, James Bond

Written and performed by Midnight Artistic Director Joe Hanrahan, the script focused on 1964 when a teenage boy — set back by world events like the Cuban Missile Crisis and particularly the assassination of John F. Kennedy — finds the world coming back to life with the emergence of the Beatles, a sensational new movie featuring one of the first superheroes, James Bond, and the race of the hometown Cardinals to a pennant and World Championship. The play explores such diverse themes as the racism black Cardinal players had to face as they made their way into Major League baseball, the role WWII played in JFK’s assassination and the history and growth of one-person shows in the theatre scene.

Because of Fringe restrictions, that production was limited to a handful of performances and limited to less than an hour in length. But still, the show was very enthusiastically received by audiences. Never had Midnight experienced such a visceral reaction to a play. So, thinking that the play (with its crowd-attracting title) could draw larger audiences, it was decided to bring it back to The Chapel in Spring 2020; this time with an expanded script that added depth and new stories to the incidents of the script.

But the outbreak of COVID-19 altered opening plans and Midnight made the cautious decision to postpone the show until July. And as the virus strengthened its grip on the world, it was postponed again until August.

And it was only in mid-July when discussions between the small cast and crew resulted in the difficult decision to reschedule the show for July 2021, at The Chapel. The decision was particularly difficult because the people at The Chapel were unfailingly supportive and enthusiastic about the show, right up until the moment of cancellation. They were preparing to undertake all of the safety precautions pioneered locally by the Kranzberg Arts Foundation. But the final decision rested on the entire team’s belief that a greater number of people might want to see this show, and it should be given the chance to draw those crowds.

If you’d like to take a look at the script of the Fringe production, click here

At Kranzberg Arts Foundation Theatres: The Fall Shows — October

As a resident company of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, The Midnight Company had two slots to fill in their 2020 Calendar: mid-September and late October, each for three-week runs.

It Is Magic presented by Midnight Company
It Is Magic presented by Midnight Company

The October show was the first engagement filled. “It Is Magic” premiered in Chicago in Spring 2019. Midnight management saw the production, and it never left their mind. The play was written by Mickle Maher, playwright, and co-founder of Theater Oobleck in that city. Midnight had already produced two plays of Maher’s: “The Hunchback Variations” and “An Apology For The Course And Outcome Of Certain Events Delivered By Doctor John Faustus On This His Final Evening,” first as individual productions, and then on the same bill in September 2018 as part of Faustival, a St. Louis celebration of the work, which involved five different St. Louis companies doing their own take on Faust.

Midnight loved Maher’s work and loved Theater Oobleck. It’s on hiatus now as are most groups, but you can check out their fabled history on their website: theateroobleck.com. They’re a very small group that gets very big recognition and very good reviews in the very competitive Chicago theatre scene.

“It Is Magic” takes place in the basement of a community theatre. Auditions are going on for a new play — an adult version of the Three Little Pigs. Upstairs, in the main theatre, opening night for the Scottish play is underway. Holding the auditions are two sisters — one who has written the new play, the other an actress. Both have volunteered for this community theatre for years, but neither has ever got the opportunity to contribute artistically. Now one sister has written a play that will be produced, the other wants the lead role of The Big Bad Wolf. Auditioning for them is an actor (in a kilt, expected upstairs soon) who also wants the Wolf role, and who also has been with the group for years without a good role. As the play develops, the arrogant artistic director of the group comes down and causes havoc, and later, an actress appears out of nowhere to audition — yes, she is the “third sister” of Scottish play fame.

The play is brilliant, as is all of Maher’s work. It explores the love/hate relationship many people (and many aspiring artists) have with theatre but confirms the magic that infuses the stage. It also has a touch of black magic, so it qualifies as a show that can open on Halloween weekend. (Midnight, like many companies opening a show at that time of year, first looked around for a more traditionally-themed script, like a “Dracula” adaptation they’d always liked.) And with a cast of five, the show gave Midnight a chance to work with more local talent than their usual cast sizes of one or two. 

But as the COVID-19 crisis continued, Midnight saw little choice but to reschedule this show. It’s now slated to run Oct. 21-Nov. 16, 2021, at the Black Box Theatre inside The Kranzberg.

At Kranzberg Arts Foundation Theatres: The Fall Shows — September

After deciding on “It Is Magic” for October, Midnight still had a calendar slot to fill in September. After considering several works, one prominent theme continued to echo for the Company. With the current political turmoil and the upcoming sure-to-be hotly contested elections, Midnight decided to do the one thing it could do best to contribute to possible positive solutions for the country.

Midnight Company presents "Give 'em Hell Harry"
Midnight Company presents “Give ’em Hell Harry”

It brought back a play it had done before (at The Missouri History Museum, during the dawn of the Obama administration) — “Give ‘em Hell Harry” by Samuel Gallu, the one-man show depicting the life and times of Harry S. Truman. The play premiered in 1975 with James Whitmore in the role. The show was shot on the then-innovative format of videotape and released as a major motion picture (for which Whitmore received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.)

The play begins with Truman’s days in the White House, a tumultuous time. After three terms of Franklin Roosevelt guiding the nation through the Depression and World War II, FDR’s death propelled Truman into the Oval Office, introducing a new president that the nation knew only slightly (as FDR knew him only slightly.) Truman’s first four months in office were some of the most critical and overwhelming any President has ever faced: Four months that saw the founding of the United Nations, the fall of Berlin, victory at Okinawa, firebombing in Tokyo, the Nazi Surrender, the liberation of concentration camps, mass starvation in Europe, the controversial decision to drop nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the surrender of Imperial Japan, and finally, the end of World War II and the rise of the Cold War. After Franklin Roosevelt died, and the unknown senator from Missouri took the oath of office, what was called Truman’s “Accidental Presidency” began. But his performance as leader of a changing world in crisis during those whirlwind four months, and after, continues to enhance his reputation and regard.

Two recent books underline the continued interest in and appreciation of Truman’s term in office. Chris Wallace’s “Countdown 1945” focuses on those first few months of the Truman presidency, narrowing in on the final preparations and Truman’s decision to use the Atomic Bomb to end World War II. And A.J. Baime’s “Dewey Defeats Truman” moves ahead to 1948, when Truman’s whistle-stop tour of America helped his underdog campaign win back the White House. (Baime also wrote 2017’s “The Accidental President,” which explores the first four months of the Truman presidency in detail, but also gives a good, balanced overview of his early life and career in Missouri.)

Through research, Midnight (along with most everyone else) came to the conclusion that Harry S. Truman was, at minimum, a decent human being who sat in the Oval Office. It was their goal through this play to offer that example, and to instigate more thought about the type of person that should lead our nation.

At the time of this writing, “Give ‘em Hell Harry” is still scheduled to run this Sept. 17-Nov. 3, at .ZACK Theatre.

At The Kranzberg Theatres: The Fall Shows – New Show For October?

And for an on-going theatre company, the selection of which plays to present never ends.

For Midnight, with the rescheduling of “It Is Magic,” there are now open dates in late October. Midnight does not have to fill those dates, but already has a play in their pocket that — worldwide pandemic allowing — will run at that time.

Note: Any productions that happen at Kranzberg Arts Foundation spaces in the coming months will be rigorously prepared and extensively monitored for safe audience experiences. See the Foundation’s COVID-19 Mitigation Policies here.

And also for Midnight, that leaves June 7-June 27, 2021, at the Black Box Theatre inside The Kranzberg waiting. Hoping things will be back to some kind of (new) normal, the Company is currently looking into a number of scripts for that time.

To stay up to date with what’s happening and what’s coming up, check kranzbergartsfoundation.org for updates on all the activities at their various spaces. And check out midnightcompany.com for the latest on their shows.


Joe Hanrahan is the Artistic Director of The Midnight Company.  As an actor and director, Joe has worked with many St. Louis theatre groups, including the St. Louis Rep, the Black Rep, Upstream, Stray Dog, Metro Theatre, New Jewish Theatre, the West End Players, R-S Theatrics and SATE.  As a playwright, his scripts have been produced by companies and festivals in Kansas, Brooklyn and St. Louis.  As a company, Midnight has produced many works new to St. Louis in a variety of spaces, as well as performing at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival and the Jesse James Farm in Kearney, MO.

06 Jul 2020

Two Kranzberg Arts Foundation resident organizations have found new homes within the Hansen House located at 3617 Grandel Square. 

HEAL Center for the Arts and Fly North Theatricals moved into renovated office spaces this summer at the three-story Victorian house, which formerly housed EarthWays Center prior to its move to the Missouri Botanical Garden in 2010.

“We’ve been trying [to find an office space] since we were established in 2015,” said Harvey Lockhart, executive and artistic director of HEAL. “We’ve been with the Foundation since 2016, and [Kranzberg Arts Foundation Executive Director Chris Hansen] has been actively trying to find a fit for us. It’s been a long time coming.” 

The Foundation invested in rehabbing the house after acquiring it in 2019, and the space opened for the resident organizations in June 2020, with COVID-19 mitigation policies in place.

“Having our own location gives us the flexibility to create the programming we know students need,” Lockhart said. 

HEAL offers music programming for students including lessons and camps, and according to Lockhart, they will now have more adaptability to generate income in the new space. The organization formerly worked out of local high schools, which was convenient for the students, though not having a centralized location proved challenging at times. 

“COVID-19 definitely is causing us to think outside the box a little in regards to what we do,” Lockhart said. “There’s definitely space [at the Hansen House] for us to have a virtual studio where we can do some live-streaming courses and pre-recorded courses.”

HEAL’s curriculum not only teaches students how to play music, but it also teaches them about the music business, including negotiating contracts and booking gigs for the ensemble Point of View, which tours regionally.

Similarly, Fly North Theatricals Artistic Director Colin Healy said the new office space also allows him and the Fly North team to make digital resources amid the pandemic.

“We’ve been producing online content — we’ve sort of switched over to that this summer, and that became our new summer plan, which is kind of awesome and has been fun,” Healy said. The theater company originally planned to present “Assassins” this summer at .ZACK Theatre, however, the production’s opening night has been postponed until Friday, Nov. 20, 2020.

“We’re making lemonade,” Healy added.

Now the organization occupies a space that includes an office where Healy will conduct voice lessons when it is safe to do so (bookings available in September); a rehearsal space for private, physically-distanced dance lessons (bookings available in July); and a production studio.

This summer, Fly North has launched a new podcast called “Grown-Up Theater Kids,” an episodic program called “Gin & The Tonic,” which is a “reckless unpacking of music history’s weirdest stories,” and another video series that spotlights local actors.

Prior to moving into the Hansen House this summer, Healy said the organization was challenged by not having a centralized work and rehearsal space. 

“We were renting three different spaces essentially,” Healy said. “It was totally inefficient and, not to mention, expensive.” 

“Infrastructure is one of the hardest things for arts organizations to maintain and fundraise for,” said Andrew Warshauer, Marketing and Communications Director for Kranzberg Arts Foundation. “That’s why our mission is to provide the arts with the infrastructure they need to thrive. It helps to fill a gap, and allows our city’s art scene to flourish.” 

“We’re so grateful to have our own home and grow and really provide the services students need,” Lockhart said.

Healy echoed the sentiment, “It’s just such a flexible and beautiful space, and it means really everything to us. We’ve finally been able to consolidate all the things that we are … To the Kranzbergs, thank you.”

For more information about HEAL Center for the Arts, visit healcenterforthearts.org. Learn more about Fly North Theatricals at flynorthmusic.com.

28 May 2020

“You’re going to have to bring your own popcorn for this one!”

Reimagining what it looks like to connect with the community this year, Kranzberg Arts Foundation resident organization Circus Flora is planning to debut its Virtual Showcase on its website at 7 pm on Thursday, June 4 — the original opening night of their 34th season that has been postponed until 2021.

“There’s really no way to recreate a full-blown Circus Flora production, but we thought we’d do things a little differently,” said Managing Director Karen Shoulders.

Similar to a typical Circus Flora show, viewers can expect to see a variety of acts by performers from all over the world. Also a part of the digital experience this year will be music, guest appearances, and behind-the-scenes footage.

“The Daring Horseman, Caleb … he is practicing and has a new horse and is going to show us what he’s up to,” Shoulders said.

Without giving too much away, another performer Shoulders said viewers can look forward to is Adam Kuchler, a juggler and physical comedian who appeared as the Bellhop in the company’s 2018 production.

“It’s kind of nice to see from your home what our performers are doing,” Shoulders said. “They’re from all over the place, and we can still kind of be together and still experience the same kind of intimacy that Circus Flora is known for — but just in a different format this time around.”

Although we aren’t gathering under The Big Top this summer, Circus Flora’s Virtual Showcase is a modern example of how the community can continue to connect and engage with performing arts.

“This isn’t our first trial and tribulation,” Shoulders said. “There have been many things in our history that have proved to be challenging … but we go on with the show.”

21 May 2020

The St. Louis arts community, including several Kranzberg Arts Foundation resident organizations, will come together for a free virtual benefit to support local artists on Sunday, May 31.

In partnership with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL) and the Regional Arts Commission (RAC), more than a dozen local arts organizations will be featured during the Arts United STL live stream to support the RAC Artist Relief Fund.

While OTSL continues to encourage the St. Louis arts community to get involved, the current roster of performers includes the following Kranzberg Arts Foundation residents: The Big Muddy Dance Company, Circus Flora, Metro Theater Company, Saint Louis Ballet, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, and Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis.

In the age of coronavirus, where artists are compelled to create in front of screens for an audience on the other side of the virtual platform, human connection is much sought after. For St. Louis arts companies like Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, this theme resonates with their work.

A Lovely Sunday for Creve Couer, 2019
“A Lovely Sunday for Creve Couer” presented by Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, 2019, image by ProPhotoSTL

“Tennessee Williams’ beautifully poetic work expresses his longing for kindness and for human connection. That is what we all need now, more than ever,” said Carrie Houk, Executive Artistic Director of Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis. 

Previewing what the audience should expect from their performance, Houk explained, “In our segment, Anita Jackson plays the Williams character Bertha, singing of her desire to be reunited with her love and to take him to Paradise.”

Presenting work based on similar motifs, Metro Theater Company will share an excerpt from a script in development, inspired by submissions from the company’s COVID-19 Memory Project.

"GHOST" presented by Metro Theater Company, 2020
“GHOST” presented by Metro Theater Company, 2020, photo by Jennifer A. Lin

“The four interlocking monologues will be accompanied by an original score by Syrhea Conaway,” said Joe Gfaller, managing director for Metro Theater Company. “Through this performance – and by holding a mirror to the lived experiences of young people in our region as they and their families face COVID-19, MTC continues to serve its purpose to bridge communities, to build empathy, and to create a world in which the emotional wisdom of young people can help us all ensure a stronger future for St. Louis.”

Watch live Sunday, May 31, at 7 pm at ExperienceOpera.org/ArtsUnited or on Facebook via Higher Education Channel TV (HEC-TV).

11 May 2020

The arts are a vital part of our city, social life, economy, and sanity — and in times like these, we feel the importance of art that can inspire us. But, when it comes to reopening our spaces, we know we only have one chance to do it right. Ensuring the safety of our guests, cast, and crew is of the utmost importance before we open our doors again.

Last week, we asked our audience what they would need to feel safe returning to our spaces. This information will be used alongside guidance from our local health and government officials to continue preparing to safely bring the arts back into our spaces. The survey went out to our email and was posted social media. It was open May 4 – 6, and received 915 responses.

01 May 2020

St. Louis-based Consuming Kinetics Dance Company will begin its 11th year May 1, so we checked in with Arica Brown, Founder/Artistic and Executive Director, to talk about the ups and downs the past decade and a year have brought for her and the resident organization.

Like many of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation performing arts residents, CKDC has been virtually active since COVID-19. The dance company has pivoted their educational programs to Patreon, a platform in which users can pay for digital content at various price tiers. Check out CKDC classes on Patreon here.

Q: How are you?

A: I’m doing pretty well, actually. There’s always a silver lining … I’ve been able to get really caught up on all things business. Our files are super organized right now, I’ve gone through all of our archives of videos and images … We updated our website. We’re finally future-focused looking at some strategic planning and development, and we have already planned to hire our second full-time employee this year, which we’re still optimistically moving forward with.

We miss everyone. It’s weird for me, as an extrovert, to not be interacting and collaborating with people and creating art, but we’re adapting and I certainly have found some joy in this sad time.

Q: Where did the idea to start a dance company come from?

A: I always feel a little bit guilty telling the story because it’s not as exciting as I think people hope it is. In 2009, I was right out of undergrad and I wanted an opportunity to continue choreographing, because I found dance really late in life, and I found choreography even later in life … So with my dance degree, I had a full-time career in IT, but I was keeping the dancing going on the weekends and evenings, so I was just as busy as ever just like I was in school.

A group of friends of mine and a few more community dancers that we recruited were just rehearsing and the only performance opportunities that we had were just these organized St. Louis events … that’s basically it. We didn’t have our own concerts, we didn’t have seasons. We used the name Consuming Kinetics Dance Company, and we fully committed to that identity and saw ourselves as a pre-professional company, we just weren’t doing that much because we all had full-time jobs elsewhere.

At that point, I had been working for a couple different dance studios teaching around St. Louis, and I was teaching some kids classes — adult classes were not (common) in 2009 when I started the company. And as people started to become aware of us, they would ask if they could come to rehearsals, but they didn’t want to dance professionally, they didn’t want to go on stage or anything, they just wanted to do the warm-up.

So, I started to realize there’s a market in St. Louis for adults who wanted to dance for extracurricular or for an alternative to whatever other fitness thing they could be doing. I started observing nationally to see if this was a thing … I found that it was not uncommon in the Pacific Northwest and on the West Coast to have a studio that opens exclusively to offer adult classes or companies, like ours, that has an education program … Eventually we started our own business inside the studio and after a couple of years, it just really grew … we outgrew the space and eventually it became a full-time job … I left my job … I always say I didn’t “found” the company, the company found me. I think my biggest (skill) is just bringing people together, and being community-focused, so I’m not good at saying no, and I’m really good at meeting the demands of the community. That’s how it all started.

Q: When you started CKDC in 2009, what music were you singing along to in your car?

A: Oh my God, I love this! There’s a Canadian band named Stars and definitely that was in the CD player of my car playing constantly 24/7. Especially in spring and fall with the windows down, I’d definitely be singing those songs at the top of my lungs as I’m driving around St. Louis.

And then also a little bit more inspiration for my serious, artistic side is a band called Lydia, which I named my cat after actually, because I think Lydia the band is perfect, and I think that my cat is perfect. They are very different now than they were back then, but they had a male and female vocal lead that shared this really beautiful melodic interlacing, catching, pseudo-folk pop music.

I was also starting my obsession with Drake.

Q: Where has dance taken you in the past 11 years, geographically speaking?

A: Part of our strategic plan, our three-year-action plan even, this year our big milestone was hiring a full-time person because one full-time person cannot sustain this org, and next year we hope to have a weekly or monthly stipend for our artists during rehearsals, so we hope to grow in that way, and our third year out, touring and traveling at least in the Midwest is a priority for us.

So far, myself and my assistant artistic director Ashreale, who we’re bringing on full-time this year, we’ve been the only two who have officially taken business trips except last year in 2019, we took a piece of mine to the Exchange (Choreography) Festival (in Oklahoma).

We definitely want to grow our national visibility, and so to this point, it’s been mostly business research since 2009. Every year I would go back, check in on the studios and companies I identified and create relationships with their directors and learn about the new ones that have popped up. Ashreale and I went international, I think it was in 2018. We went to Dublin, Ireland, and also London, just to take dance classes and see where we were on an international scale and kind of how we fit in and see if there are other progressive things we need to kind of get on the boat with.

It was a really great experience. She and I saw one of the most memorable concerts we’ve ever seen in our lives when we were in London, it was just unbelievable and it was a two-man dance performance. I even emailed whoever was the artistic director of Dance St. Louis at the time, it was like an interim and I was like, “You need to bring them here.” We were just so into it. So mostly for inspiration and business growth and seeing how other people run classes making sure we’re keeping up with the times. It’s taken me all over the United States, for sure, and then a little bit internationally, and hopefully more of that in the future.

Q: What’s something you’ve thought about trying in the past 11 years but haven’t yet?

A: In alignment with bringing on Ashreale this year, I hope to have more time that is not work.

A lot of people will say, “You’re so lucky you get to do what you love for a living,” and while that is absolutely true and I am so grateful, what people sometimes fail to realize is that you can get burnt out on things that you love just as much as you can get burnt out on something that you don’t love so much.

I would definitely say that the goal is to share the labor of love and be able to employ another full-time artist, which is a part of our mission — to support artists who want to work full-time, and also less things will fall through the cracks … All of those things will help me personally be able to react from a more calm state and be able to better tackle obstacles that come our way including concert cancellations and ongoing struggles with the pandemic, if that is a thing, and who knows what else.

The life of a nonprofit is always torrential and it can be traumatizing at times, but to have another person on my team tackle that and go into the darkness with, I think it’s going to be a huge emotional benefit for me.

Q: What is your favorite dance move?

A: Hahaha, something that’s codified that has a name that I can think of is “banking,” like banks of a river … it’s like a slide on the ground on one leg on the outside of your shin so a little bit hitting the meaty part of your calf muscle and your top arm circles over your head like a helicopter and you just glide on the floor, and there’s so many variations on that move. I love floor work so that’s one that has a term I can assign to it and most people will know if they are dancers. I’m not into ballet, I’m not a “bunhead” or anything, I don’t love pirouettes and jumps, I just love dance as an expressive and healing art.

Q: So, in a life where you might go to the club, are you banking on the dance floor?

A: Hahaha, no, I’m definitely going to pull out my hip hop moves and social dance skills, and I love going out to dance, so definitely that happens in my world. That may or may not be how I found out I love to dance.

Q: Can you recall a time in the past 11 years that has been more challenging than dealing with COVID-19?

A: Yes, and that’s one of the things that I keep trying to remind myself of, is that we’ve been through worse, hypothetically, right? We don’t know how long this thing is going to go on, but like Wednesday, April 29, is our anniversary of the worst hardship that we ever had to overcome. … We were renting from another studio in 2015, and our pretty informal leasing agreement got terminated with no notice, day of. We were ceasing all of our classes and rehearsals in the space. And so we had a student dance concert coming up in a couple of weeks … and we were working on a professional concert that we ended up combining our student and professional companies in one night because of the hardship.

I just remember myself and my two associate directors at the time just sat on my floor of my apartment and wondered, “Is it over? Are we just going to fold after five years, or are we going to suit up and make this thing work?” We didn’t give up obviously. We spent the entire summer — May, June, July — renting from random facilities all over St. Louis … and we just took a month at every location and got feedback from our clients… all the while I was searching real estate, and that’s when we found our studio at 460 Whittier, which is just a couple blocks east of where we are now. We were at Whittier and Olive, now we’re at Taylor and Olive.

We really have grown in this neighborhood, and everything’s changed, you know, things that we thought were benefits to our organization like being under someone else’s roof and paying a sub rental fee and not having all the overhead. I mean, for sure, our expenses are astronomical now compared to what they were, but our exposure has also increased over a hundred fold. Just the physical act of having your own brick-and-mortar and your own logo on the door and traffic driving by and seeing you, has changed everything for us. We’ve been able to further our mission of making dance accessible to everyone and spreading the joy of dance … Everything changed, again it was another hardship time, it was something that looked like an obstacle that we could never overcome, yet somehow it ended up being the best thing that could have ever happened for us.

I always quote one of my favorite artists, Jen Sincero, she says, “On the other side of your fear, is your freedom.” … We’ve been through worse, and we can survive this. We’ve done it before.

Q: What is one thing you’re proud of?

A: I’m so proud that May 1 is going to be our 11th year, like I can’t believe it. We’ve been celebrating 10 years for a whole year, it doesn’t even feel like the end of our 10-year celebration, and you know, we can’t really market 11 years like we’ve marketed the 10-year celebration … But me, personally, I’m super celebrating because I feel too young, and I don’t even understand how it’s already been 11 years, but it’s pretty incredible.

Q: What advice would you give yourself 11 years ago; what did 2009 Arica need to hear?

A: Wow, that’s personal, but the huge difference between me in 2009 and currently, like the advice I think I would have benefited from the most is to not allow exterior circumstances to impact my inner calmness and happiness.

It was a much bigger struggle back then, before I had a full-time salary to do this, and before we had donors, before we had infrastructure. I mean I kept going obviously, tenacity saved the company, but I had a lot of times feeling sorry for myself. “Why is it like this? Why doesn’t St. Louis support the arts? How come dance is underfunded?”

And then I just took control, because if you can’t get what you need, then you have to manifest it, and I wish that back then I would have learned some of those lessons earlier because maybe we would have grown to this point sooner, and be already touring by now.

Q: What are you grateful for today?

A: I am grateful for our conversation today. Quarterly taxes are due, it’s a stressful week and I have to do payroll and I’ve only seen my boyfriend and my cat for over a month … hahaha … not that I’m mad — they’re great company, but it was great to talk to somebody outside of my new norm.

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 Aug 2019
group of 10 musicians sitting and standing

The new class of Music Artists in Residence build on St. Louis’ musical heritage

By Jeannette Cooperman

“To keep creating,” Miles Davis once said, “you have to be about change.” The legendary jazz musician would likely approve, then, of the sophomore class of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation’s Music Artists-in-Residence program. Over the course of 18 months, the residency provides these 10 St. Louis musicians with essential resources, including performance opportunities, access to recording sessions, rehearsal space, marketing support, and industry connections. Besides catching these musicians at local music venues, such as The Dark Room, you’ll be able to hear them on a compilation album slated for release next year. With their impressive chops, these energetic jazz musicians are building on a rich musical legacy.

Scooter Brown, Jr. holding saxophone

Scooter Brown, Jr.

A resident of East St. Louis, Brown grew up hearing the music of Miles Davis and Russell Gunn, and he’s learned from the likes of Wynton Marsalis and Terrence Blanchard. Today, you might recognize him as the alto sax player in local party band Dirty Muggs. Or perhaps you know him as the program director for Jazz St. Louis’ Jazz Academy. Then there’s his creative collective, Ingenuity, which recently released his debut album, Growth. “We’re what I like to call ‘life music,’” he says. “I love adding my own twist to make the audience feel better when they leave.”

Headshot of Brianna "Be.Be." Brown

Brianna “Be.Be” Brown

The soulful singer is studying jazz vocal performance at Webster University, though her lessons began at an early age, with singing and piano lessons. At Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, she added acting to her resume. Brown has traditionally performed R&B, though she’s recently broadened her repertoire, incorporating more jazz. Her band, Be.Be and the NeoSouls, also performs a fusion of the two genres. She appreciates the latitude that the Kranzberg Arts Foundation grants in encouraging her to blend musical influences: “They really focus on me and my music.”

Headshot of Janet Evra

Janet Evra

A native of Gloucester, England, Evra recently moved to St. Louis, where she’s quickly made a name for her unique mix of Latin jazz, samba, and bossa nova. Last year, she released her debut album, Ask Her to Dance, and she regularly performs at The Dark Room and Evangeline’s, as well as The Sheldon, the Old Rock House, and the National Blues Museum. Now, as one of the music artists in residence, she’s looking forward to even more performances. “Kranzberg does so much for the arts and music,” she says.

Mark Harris II

Mark Harris II

Harris’ musical style is hard to pin down, as evidenced by his single “Goin’ Up” from his new CD, Interstellar. The keyboardist describes his music as “a whole bunch of elements”—jazz-infused with pop and R&B. His inspirations include the likes of Swiss harpist Andreas Vollenweider and contemporary jazz/R&B/funk musician Brian Culbertson. He’s a solo artist, but he performs with a range of bands on occasion. After recently graduating from Lincoln University with a degree in Sacred Music, Harris is “looking forward to connecting with different artists in the area and learning more about the inside of the music business.”

Kaleb Kirby

Kaleb Kirby

The St. Louis native and graduate of Berklee College of Music puts his own spin on jazz, which he explains is a “derivative of hip-hop and pop.” Besides performing with the Kaleb Kirby Quintet (including Adam Maness, Teddy Brookins, Kendrick Smith, and Kwanae Johnson), he DJs and works at Jazz St. Louis. “I write every card on sheet music, and it’s all original,” he says.

Brady Lewis plays trumpet at The Dark Room

Brady Lewis

Though just 25 years old, the trumpeter’s played for more than a decade, performing in jazz combos while attending high school in East St. Louis and college at Northern Illinois University. Today, he fronts the BLStet, often performing at The Dark Room. He’s excited to embrace other experiences through the residency. “I want to take advantage of every opportunity possible,” he says.

Headshot of Ryan Marquez

Ryan Marquez

Art has long consumed Marquez’s life, from choir to dance to piano to visual arts and painting. “I have been on this hustle my whole life,” he says. “Music picked me. I didn’t pick music.” He describes his music as “routes of soul, hip-hop, funk, pop, and areas reflective of my inspirations—for example, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles.” A master of the Key bass, Marquez performs with two bands, pop/soul/funk group Fresh Heir and jazz/funk group The People’s Key. The Kansas City native graduated from Webster University and decided to stick around because he “loved the city so much and got really connected with the community,” he says. “I am excited to have the ability to showcase my original ideas and to collaborate with other artists in the community.”

Katarra Parson sitting on curb outside in Grand Center

Katarra Parson

Music runs in the family for Parson, whose family is full of musicians and artists. She traces back the launch of her career to an evening in 2015 when she performed at open mic collective Lyrical Therapy. “That’s where it all began,” she says, adding that she then “kept getting gigs and more shows.” A vocalist, pianist, and production composer, Parson is looking forward to embracing the opportunities that the residency affords: “Now, with this program, I get to show more of St. Louis my talents.”

Andrew Stephen kneels on keyed instrument

Andrew Stephen

The owner of Eightfold Studios, Stephen not only has recorded a wide range of musical styles—hip-hop, R&B, EDM, rock, jazz—but is himself a versatile producer, pianist, and composer. He studied jazz piano at Webster University and spent a term at Austria’s Vienna Conservatory with acclaimed pianist Danny Grissett. Today, he fronts nu-jazz hop quartet Texturz and recently created an innovative album series, Sample Kulture, rolling out smooth tracks that draw from an array of genres.

Ben Wheeler stands against brick wall

Ben Wheeler

Following in the footsteps of his father and brother, who played upright bass, Wheeler studied jazz bass at Webster University, where he now teaches jazz and music history. In the late ’90s, he played in the swing cover band Swing Cat Swing, and he’s performed with such St. Louis jazz legends as Dave Stone and the late Willie Akins. These days, he performs with Dave Venn, Tango Underground, and the LustreLights, though he’s looking to branch out as a bandleader and composer with his new project Solid Ghost.

01 Aug 2019
Scene from "Salt, Root, and Roe" by Upstream Theater

The region’s small and midsize theatre and dance companies offer a wealth of options. You just need to know where to look.

By Alison Gold

“When people say, ‘Oh there’s nothing to do here in St. Louis on a Friday or Saturday night,’ I think they’re crazy,” says Joseph Novak,

After living in several places across the United States, the tech director believes St. Louis’ art scene is particularly vibrant — for those who pursue it. “I think people just aren’t looking outside their box.”

Part of the reason small and midsize arts organizations get overlooked, he believes, is that there is such a vast range of options across the region. “Because there are so many arts groups in St. Louis, I think some tend to go unseen,” he says. “A lot of people are just not aware of their works.”

Novak has worked on a wide range of shows across St. Louis, including Max & Louie Productions’ June production of Indecent, the true story of a Polish-Jewish playwright who, in 1906, pens a controversial script dealing with prostitution, homosexuality, and cultural assimilation. “I think it has a lot of social impact,” says Novak, who hopes to work on similar projects in the future. 

“I think the art scene is growing and blossoming here,” he says. “A lot of companies seem to be doing more shows, and the quality just keeps going up.”

Swimming Upstream

Upstream Theater Company is about to start its 15th season, making it one of St. Louis’ longest-running small professional theaters. In fact, Upstream is “the oldest resident company in the Kranzberg ecosystem,” says artistic director Philip Boehm. “We’ve been able to produce plays where St. Louis audiences are the first to see these international works in the United States. That wouldn’t have happened without the Kranzberg Arts Foundation.”

To date, the company has produced more than 40 plays from nearly 20 countries, the majority of which has been the United States premieres from around the globe: Australia, Argentina, Croatia, and more. The company’s goal is to “move you and move you to think.” 

This year, Upstream kicks off the season with The Agitators, the story of Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass’ 45-year friendship that helped shape American society. Lisa Tejero, a Broadway veteran who’s also done work at The Rep, will direct Mat Smart’s powerful play, Sept. 27-Oct. 13.

Upstream is also expanding beyond St. Louis. This October, it will bring Salt, Root, and Roe (pictured above) — the story of a set of aging identical twins who live by the sea in Wales — to Houston. The theater company produced the U.S. premiere this past spring right here in St. Louis.

“We want audiences to think about what they see,” says Boehm. “It seems to me that theater in the United States, in general, could benefit from more international work.”

Stepping Out

Ashleyliane Dance Company
Ashleyliane Dance Company/photo by Peter Wochniak

Dance has been a part of Ashley Tate’s life since she was a child. “I don’t really know myself without dance,” she says. “I’m a shy person, so it’s my way of being my most expressive self.” She started out with ballet, tap, and traditional dance. Eventually, she joined the St. Louis Rams’ cheerleading squad. 

Then, in 2007, she launched her own dance company, Ashleyliane Dance Company. “I wanted to continue giving adults a place to train and dance, including those who worked full-time,” she says, noting that the company rehearses at night. The company started out dancing at festivals and fairs—“anywhere that promoted the arts.” 

Now, it spans a professional dance company, an entry program, a summer junior program, and a full drop-in class schedule. Ashleyliane produces at least two main-stage concerts per year and hosts several other events, in addition to partnering with other organizations. “I want to inspire people to know it is hard, but you can make dance a full-time career,” she says. “We’re a small but mighty organization.”

In late October, Ashleyliane will perform Phantom of the Opera while playing up masquerade themes. Then, for Valentine’s Day next February, Ashleyliane will host a hair and fashion dance show focused on the theme of love, which diverges from the typical format of a dance recital in its imitation of a fashion show.

Tate says, “We wanted something interactive and fun for the audience.”

Freedom to Flourish

Big Muddy Dance Company at The Grandel Theatre
Big Muddy Dance Company at The Grandel Theatre

After working on productions across the country, Andrew Snyder can appreciate what makes St. Louis’ art scene so special. “Everyone is here to support everyone else,” says Snyder, the lighting designer, and stage manager at The Big Muddy Dance Company. “You don’t always get that in other cities. Someone is always there to help, no questions asked.” 

On Nov. 9-10, the Inaugural Big Muddy Dance Fest will showcase all the company has to offer. Participants can enjoy classes, workshops, auditions, panel discussions, vendors, and networking with other dancers.

A few days later, on Nov. 14-15, the company will stage a Christmas Carol production — with a contemporary twist. The show will be set against live music of an original arrangement of Tchaikovsky classics, with themes of love and redemption at the forefront.

Then, early next year, Big Muddy will perform Beat Ballads, featuring the music of British composer Joby Talbot, whose work has ranged from a BBC comedy to a ballet of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Moves & Grooves will follow in April and feature the sounds of Henry Saiz, an electronic music artist. The historic Grandel Theatre will play host to both shows.

As Snyder notes, Grand Center Arts District‘s artistic hub offers endless variety: “You can walk in and see anything.”

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