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Tag Archives: performing arts

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.

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