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Tag Archives: Resident organizations

15 May 2020

This year looks a little different than what most people expected going into it. That is no exception for Building Futures. 

The Kranzberg Arts Foundation resident organization hosts hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) workshops for local students, however, since the spread of COVID-19, Building Futures is having to build its own future a little differently than originally blueprinted.

“It’s been a new challenge to identify ways to transform methods we’ve created in-person to a virtual platform,” said Grace Pettit, digital marketing specialist for the organization.

Like many other resident organizations, for Building Futures pivoting to digital means maintaining a connection with the community as social distancing becomes the new norm. 

“We’re focused on presenting ideas to students that haven’t been solved before … 

we are living what we teach right now,” Pettit said referring to the pandemic. “There are many barriers and landmines … but it’s refreshing to live what our organization’s mission is about — preparing young minds and individuals to solve these unknowns.”

Exploring the digital environment

In March, the organization launched its “Always Building Online Workshops,” encouraging students to engage with their peers over video to explore new concepts.

According to Pettit, the free videos accessible via YouTube or Building-Futures.org are all student-led, featuring adult teachers as guests, and geared toward students in second to seventh grade.

“In that respect, peer-to-peer learning is kind of happening,” Pettit said.

Virtual projects include designing a flying machine and building a tower out of straws. Students can also learn how to use scrap wood to create art and a handful of other activities.

However, transitioning hands-on learning to a contactless model has presented its own set of challenges. 

“The learning environment is so unique to Building Futures. You come to a workshop and you’re introduced to an idea. You’re introduced to all the tools, methods, and mechanisms that could get you to that end goal … We’re still working through how to capture all of those steps [on a virtual platform],” Pettit said. There are a lot of nuanced moments within learning, especially with what we do and how we do it, and virtual really hinders that.”

Connecting with students in new ways

Despite these obstacles, Pettit said they’ve received photos and videos of students’ projects. Messages from parents thanking them for the online workshops have also been sliding into their DMs.

“It shows that we as Building Futures understand that we need to be taking responsibility for producing and connecting and engaging with [students], even if it doesn’t look the same,” Pettit said. 

Building Futures continues to adapt and build a future for its students however it can.

“We’re really looking forward to continuing to work and come up with new ways to meet these challenges and support our students, educators, and community through whatever means possible,” Pettit said.

Image courtesy of Building Futures.

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.

20 Apr 2020

As springtime begins to bloom outside the windows of our self-quarantine locations, it’s (mostly) business as usual for Urban Harvest STL, which maintains the rooftop garden at .ZACK.

The Kranzberg Arts Foundation resident organization focused on food rights has just finished its first harvest of the season from its urban farms across St. Louis. Farmers collected 50 pounds of various leafy greens, radishes, pea shoots, herbs and edible flowers. 

Like the majority of what the farms produces, Urban Harvest STL will donate these plants to their nonprofit partners. These partners serve local communities with limited access to healthy and nutritious food. In the past year, the organization grew and donated 4,740 pounds of food.

“The need is greater now than ever,” Executive Director Clare Higgins said.

Three organizations Urban Harvest STL regularly donates to include Fit and Food Connection, The Urban League, and North Newstead Association

This year, the organization anticipates making even more donations. Some partner restaurants that typically receive a portion of produce are temporarily shuttered, including The Dark Room at The Grandel

Though the crops are unaffected by COVID-19, the farmers are practicing social distancing while tending the gardens. Additionally, office staff transitioned to working from home. Higgins said everyone feels safe with the measures put in place, and the team even added five new staff members in March. 

Growing community … online

The organization’s mission not only includes providing food resources, but also educational resources. However, conducting food roof visits and workshops is now out of the question. 

“Not being able to gather together means doing it on video,” Higgins said, mentioning the resurrection of the organization’s YouTube page and website blog.

Using the platforms to share learning opportunities on topics such as seed germination and composting, Events & Marketing Coordinator Anna Lin-Schweitzer said they are excited to broaden their reach online. They hope to continue to create digital content to fit the needs of community members, especially as more people turn toward at-home gardening.

“There’s something cathartic about being out with the plants, embracing the small amount of control we have over a small plot of land,” Higgins said. She explained that peas are a good beginner plant because the seeds are large (good for tiny hands), and they sprout fairly quickly. 

Since mid-March, the organization has included 160 packets of seeds along with produce donations to “plant the seed” and encourage others to garden. 

Learn more about Urban Harvest STL at urbanharveststl.org.

10 Apr 2020

The 2020 St. Louis Theater Circle Awards recognized six Kranzberg Arts Foundation resident organizations this week. Outstanding work in professional St. Louis theater is acknowledged during this ceremony, which was presented virtually this year by HEC-TV.

Well-deserved recognition also goes to Nancy and Ken Kranzberg for receiving a special award for invaluable support in the arts. The St. Louis arts is a thriving community because of their longtime contributions.

Many congratulations to the Kranzbergs and the winning resident organizations, listed below.

Max & Louie Productions

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play
Patrick Huber, Indecent

Outstanding Sound Design
Phillip Evans, Indecent

Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama
Indecent

Outstanding Director of a Drama
Joanne Gordon, Indecent

Outstanding Production of a Drama
Indecent

New Line Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical
Tiélere Cheatem, La Cage aux Folles

Outstanding Costume Design in a Musical
Sarah Porter, La Cage aux Folles

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy
Patrick Blindauer, Love’s Labors Lost

Shakespeare Festival St. Louis & The Big Muddy Dance Company

Outstanding Choreographer
Dexandro Montalvo, Such Sweet Thunder, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, The Big Muddy Dance Company, Jazz St. Louis, and The Nine Network of Public Media

Outstanding Production of a Musical
Such Sweet Thunder, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, The Big Muddy Dance Company, Jazz St. Louis, and The Nine Network of Public Media

Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Kelley Weber, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy
(Tie with Katie Kleiger, Pride and Prejudice, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis)
Maggie Wininger, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur

Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy
A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur

Outstanding Director of a Comedy
Kari Ely, A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur

Upstream Theater

Outstanding Actress in a Drama
Donna Weinsting, Salt, Root, and Roe

See the full list of winners here.

Image features “Indecent” by Max & Louie Productions, captured by Don Donovan.

19 Mar 2020

As the spread of COVID-19 continues to have an adverse effect on industries of all types, the St. Louis arts is no exception. These Kranzberg Arts Foundation resident organizations need your support now more than ever. Consider extending a virtual helping hand, and make a donation today. The recently passed COVID-19 relief bill allows those who take the standard deduction to deduct up to $300 of cash contributions to public non-profits.

This list of St. Louis arts organizations will be updated with more information as it becomes available.

05 Mar 2020

Paired with an unassuming latte by @blueprintcoffee, the latest issue of River Styx Literary Magazine is the next feature in the “Caffeinated Curation” series. 📖☕

Recommended by @riverstyxmag Managing Editor Shanie Latham, lattes were her go-to when it came to fueling up during the final production stages of issue 102.

Since 1975, River Styx has published an international, award-winning journal of poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, and art. The non-profit organization recently joined the literary arts community that works out of High Low‘s office suites on the second floor.

Get your hands on a copy here.

 

https://alopainting.com/

01 Feb 2020
By Jen Roberts

It began with a simple but brilliant premise. 

“The idea was that artists were well-equipped to run the artistic part of their careers but needed expert advice when it came to legal and accounting matters,” says Sue Greenberg, executive director of Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts (VLAA), founded in 1982 by the city’s Arts and Humanities Commission and Saint Louis University School of Law.

VLAA and similar organizations throughout the country were modeled after Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in New York City, the first program of its kind. St. Louis is one of three national organizations that decided to include accountants in the program. “I cannot imagine not having the accountants,” says Greenberg. “About a third of what we do is on the accounting side. It just makes sense if you’re trying to help people think about their businesses — that’s a key part.”

VLAA’s board and a law student ran the organization for its first few years. Then the Regional Arts Commission (RAC) saw the nonprofit’s potential and provided office space and funding, so VLAA could hire its first employee. Today, more than 300 volunteer accountants and lawyers provide counsel to artists and administrators in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area. Through the organization’s referral service, clients contact VLAA with a specific question and then are paired with a volunteer who has relevant experience. The questions they receive vary from bookkeeping and taxes to copyrights and trademarks. VLAA also offers assistance about how to set up an LLC and a nonprofit. “In the last 10 days, we’ve had three immigration cases,” Greenberg said in early December. “That’s an indication that what we’re asked to do is sometimes all over the place.”

Educational programming makes up the second part of VLAA’s work, and sessions have included QuickBooks training for nonprofits, how to sign up for health insurance, relevant accounting and legal topics, and a college outreach program called Upstart. There’s a 10-session series for individual artists that includes such topics as copyright, contracts, and taxes. Resources are also available online. “Part of our thinking behind providing information online was that if a filmmaker has a question or was looking for some sort of information, they might find our site when they didn’t know we existed,” says Greenberg.

VLAA has more than 200 new referrals each year. They don’t capture the continued relationships between clients and volunteers but have heard about “people who have been matched with a volunteer and keep going back to them, sometimes for 10 or 15 years, when they have a question,” says Greenberg. 

In November, VLAA moved from its longtime home with RAC on Delmar Boulevard to High Low, the Kranzberg Arts Foundation’s new literary arts venue on Washington Avenue in Grand Center.

The move seemed like a natural fit. “Kranzberg Arts Foundation has dedicated the building to freedom of expression through spoken and written word, and we’ve always been very committed to freedom of expression issues throughout our history,” says Greenberg.

In addition to VLAA, the second-floor offices at High Low houses River Styx, UrbArts, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, Poetry Center, St. Louis poet laureate Jane Ellen Ibur, Shirley Bradley LeFlore Foundation, and a forthcoming writers-in-residence program. Though VLAA just recently moved, Greenberg says, “there’s already synergy with the people on the floor.” 

VLAA hopes this synergy and proximity to other arts organizations will help expand support. “We are looking forward to the writers-in-residence program and think there’s a place for us to support what those writers are doing. I’ve also met with some of the Foundation’s music artists-in-residence,” says Greenberg. “It’s just opening up more possibilities for us to collaborate.”

Greenberg also hopes to find ways to support the St. Louis Art Place Initiative, an effort to renovate vacant houses near Cherokee Street and make them available for low-income artists. “It’s a really great concept,” says Greenberg. “There is a place for us to help them get their finances together.”

High Low also offers event space, which VLAA is using for educational programs and its library. 

Artists and arts organizations often thank VLAA for its free services, Greenberg says, though the volunteers also frequently express their gratitude to be part of the nonprofit’s mission. “The volunteers are constantly thanking us for the opportunity,” Greenberg says. “It’s a really happy place here.”

For more information visit www.vlaa.org.

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.

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