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
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
Outstanding Actress in a Drama
Donna Weinsting, Salt, Root, and Roe
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.
Follow MTC on Facebook for daily free videos for parents, teachers and kids for arts-integrated curriculum ideas to support daily in-home education: https://www.facebook.com/MetroPlays
Share your stories and experiences during the coronavirus crisis with MTC as part of the COVID-19 Memory Project. Stories are being collected now to build a community-based theatrical experience to help our community heal in the months ahead: https://www.metroplays.org/memoryproject
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 Florais 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.
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.”
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.”
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
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.