Thousands of St. Louisans have enjoyed Circus Flora’s world-class productions annually for over 30 years. However, the end of the circus season does not mean the clowning around is over.
Offering healing through humor since 2012, Clowns on Call is Circus Flora’s program that ensures young patients at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital receive a healthy dosage of laughter as often as possible.
Yet with the onset of the pandemic, physicians of fun Dr. Pepper, Dr. Too-Me, and Dr. Celia have had to adapt to the cyber realm to maintain a connection with and provide a distraction for hospitalized children of all ages when they need it most.
Without her red nose, Dr. Pepper is Audrey Crabtree, professional performer and coordinator of the program. “This is all new territory,” she said referring to their digital approach.
Before the pandemic, the Clown Doctors visited a few times per week. But since their virtual return in September 2020, they have to make the most out of a one-time weekly check-up via Zoom video calls.
“It’s a little bit of a learning curve but they’re ecstatic to be back,” Circus Flora’s Managing Director Karen Shoulders said.
Dr. Pepper and her comedic accomplices meet their patients on an iPad that on-site child life specialists carry from room to room — after sanitation, of course. Whether they are miming fetch with a ball that is imaginarily thrown through the video or juggling props between one Zoom window to another, Crabtree said, “We’re having fun finding creativity within the confinement of the screen.”
Regardless of the way they connect, Crabtree emphasized that the Clown Doctors are best friends with the children during their time together.
“In the moments we see them, we are always on their team; we always follow their lead,” Crabtree said. “If they’re in a sad mood and want to stay there, we’ll go there too … We just try to engage with them wherever they are and just make a real connection as much as we can. We all need that.”
The fun and games prove to be beneficial for not only the patients, but also the hospital workers, family members, and the Clown Doctors themselves.
“I do different kinds of theatre work and performance, but this hospital clowning is the very best thing I’ve ever done. Big audiences and huge crowds do not compare to this one-on-one engagement,” Crabtree reflected.
Unlike any program in the bi-state region, Clowns on Call features experienced and professional performing artists skilled in a wide variety of genres including clowning, music, juggling, magic, improvisation, puppeteering, dance, and slapstick. “It’s not just a volunteer putting on a nose,” Shoulders said.
Crabtree elaborated by adding, “We have ongoing training and rehearsals, and we’re a part of a national organization that has standards. It’s serious work to make it possible to play in a healing way.”
While the Clown Doctors have found a way to continue making their rounds through Cardinal Glennon, they hope to spread contagious laughter to more patients across the region. “There are other institutions that we could be working with, but we just don’t have the funding,” Crabtree said.
It all started when I pulled into one of the giant concrete parking garages at the University of Missouri-STL, where I was headed to Gallery 210 to view the current art exhibit. After maneuvering my Mini Cooper into a tiny spot, I happened to look up and saw a surveillance camera with a bird’s nest built into it. Twigs and nesting materials were woven together with the camera’s cables to make an integrated and bizarre object. This strange, shocking, and thought-provoking juxtaposition of man-made technology with nature happened about 14 years ago. At that time, the proliferation of surveillance cameras hadn’t reached huge numbers. Or so I thought because I really hadn’t paid attention to them before. Right after that I started looking and was surprised to find them at every traffic intersection, on top of Walgreens, at the bank, and Quick Trip; everywhere. Cameras were recording virtually every moment of our lives in public. Since then, their numbers have only exploded (Proliferate)to the point that we are ‘on camera’ over 75 times per day.
I had no idea my newest art series had just been born or that it would still be expanding right up through 2020, with Eyes Wide Open: Surveillance Seriesat The Kranzberg Gallery. I realized that digital surveillance was seriously threatening our civil rights and liberties online too, in our most private activities, and that most of this was through government and corporate entities. In the time since I saw that bird’s nest, research has uncovered an overwhelming invasion of our privacy occurring with nearly every online activity including email, phone calls, texting, personal finances, photo posts, social media, business communications, political action, and location/movement (Off The Record).
Multi-faceted, Concerned, and Hyperactively Creative
Many artists focus on one style while specializing in a single medium; I often embrace a wide range of different looks and materials or learn a brand-new technique (such as laser cutting or 3-D design/printing) as I create each new piece. For the floor installation USofA Drone Carpet, I taught myself 3-D design software in order to print 109 tiny drone sculptures (based on the Black Hornet military surveillance drone) using selective laser sintering and nylon powder.
Arranged in the pattern of the American flag, but in grayscale color camouflage, the drones offer a somber critique of the United States. Juggling five or six different series simultaneously, my art deals with things that matter right now: surveillance, natural disasters, climate change, species extinction, our separation from nature, the Anthropocene, and gender issues. I look at connections between our contemporary culture, technology, and nature and try to understand our lives. These series don’t usually come to an end although sometimes I will focus on just one, letting the others hibernate until a new concept reactivates them. Infusing my art with the passion of my ideas is a challenge I love.
Infraredwas the first work in my surveillance series; it was directly inspired by the parking garage encounter. Noticing nature and surveillance cameras were intertwined in the real world, I started picturing them in drawings, paintings, and mixed media artworks. I hid cams in plain sight, assimilated into the natural landscape (Darkwoods I, Darkwoods II, Darkwoods III, and Surge).
Why It Matters
Someone asked me why they should care about surveillance. Right here in St. Louis, government/police surveillance with no oversight is an ongoing concern, threatening the civil liberties of all, but especially those of people of color, immigrant and refugee communities, and local activists. In July, a member of the Board of Aldermen made a resolution for St. Louis to contract for limitless aerial ‘spy plane’ surveillance. The Missouri ACLU websites states that when mass surveillance systems are deployed by local police, they are frequently used to target communities of color. “While the nation is discussing the demilitarization of police, St. Louis is considering turning wartime specific technology on its own citizens. This is a threat to liberty. This summer, Americans have taken to the streets to protest police brutality and demand change. During the protest surrounding the death of Freddie Gray, officials in Baltimore quietly and secretly turned to the very surveillance technology now before the (St. Louis) Board of Aldermen to track protestors.”* After working with the citizens’ group Privacy Watch STL, I know that since at least 2017, our Board of Aldermen has failed to pass a bill requiring oversight, accountability, and transparency of surveillance practices by the St. Louis police. I think this matters. Earlier, our current federal administration overturned the FCC regulation that banned internet service providers from selling our private information without our permission.** Not long ago, my husband and I were sitting at our kitchen table talking about cats even though we didn’t have one yet; only a short time later ads for cat food appeared on our digital devices because our conversation was not private inside our own home. That conversation’s content wasn’t important, but I am concerned that our privacy is seriously impacted by warrantless and unconstitutional surveillance, even when our devices are switched off. Just last week, the news warned of Zoom hacks into email accounts. Events like these are what feed Eyes Wide Open: Surveillance Series.
My goal is to raise awareness of these issues, in the hope that viewers will be moved to support our right to privacy and even to advocate for it. My art looks back at government, corporate, and personal cameras — especially at the vast insertion of surveillance cameras into the natural world — and focuses on the secretive relationship between subject and spectator.
Footnotes: *The River Front Times, Luz María Henríquez, 7/13/2020 ** NPR, March 28, 2017
As an artist, I make things that explore concern about our place as humans living on planet earth. Over fifty galleries, museums and collections have exhibited my work; in 2018, my sculpture Riverbend was installed at the Gateway Arch National Park as Critical Mass for the Visual Arts’ Public Works Project. Botanica absentia – a memorial to future lost species- was at The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in 2019, when I was also the recipient of The Regional Arts Commission’s $20,000 Fellowship Award. As the Nicholas Aitken Artist-in-Residence at The Forsyth School, my project became a permanent campus installation in 2020. This year, my solo exhibition Leaning on Nature was featured at The Mitchell Museum while more work is online at Wayfarers Gallery, Brooklyn. My multi-faceted career has included being a college art professor, historic preservation consultant, Fiscal Analyst for the Missouri State Legislature, self-employed cake decorator, box factory worker, writer, wife, and mother of three.
“Caffeinated Curation” is a routine book and beverage pairing that highlights Blueprint Coffee and relevant reading recommendations from High Low resident artists and community members.
Our latest chapter of the series comes from High Low barista Lindsey.
As a tribute to two classics that have carried me through all aspects of life — Stephen King’s “The Shining” is paired with a simple cappuccino. The overall focus on character development in King’s novel brings light to personal challenges that evolve throughout the story. It begins, presenting a seemingly average family situation, taking us on a journey through mental collapse, ending in eventual demise. Similarly, the cappuccino begins its journey as creamy and rich that, as it cools, will eventually evolve into something brighter, with a more expansive flavor.
While the cafe at High Low is temporarily closed, you can still place an order online for your favorite Blueprint Coffee beverage from their Watson or Delmar locations.
“It’s up to independent filmmakers to show what filmmaking could be here.”
That’s what filmmaker Josh Guffey believes when it comes to producing for the silver screen out of the Gateway City.
“I think this community is ready. The talent is here … There’s great infrastructure and the Kranzberg Arts Foundation is a big part of that now.”
From gaining access to tools and training to pitching to investors and more, Guffey, says filmmaking is “hard as hell,” but he wants to help up-and-coming film artists better navigate the scene through the Kranzberg Arts Foundation filmmaking residency.
An Iowa native and filmmaker who launched his career in Los Angeles, Guffey relocated to St. Louis in 2014 with his family in the middle of researching and developing the movie “All Gone Wrong.”Inspired by films that portrayed cops and robbers, Guffey tells a realistic story about narcotics policing with Tony Todd in a leading role, who is well-known for his unnerving performance in the 1992 film “Candyman.”
“What really encouraged me to get going and to shoot the movie in St. Louis was a movie called ‘The Ghost Who Walks,’ shot in 2018 and released 2019,” Guffey said. “The filmmakers — producer Dan Gartner, David Johnson, and the writer/director Cody Stokes — they were super encouraging and instrumental and just really open with their time. I peppered them with questions … and it really gave me the ability to believe in myself to try to make it here.”
In 2019, Guffey was awarded the residency through the In Motion Filmmaking Conference and granted access to a wide array of resources provided by the Foundation including vital infrastructure for planning and production.
“For us, we were in the middle of making the movie, so we held an investor event at the .ZACK Theatre and had a reception where people could see the business plan and just kind of hang out and meet us. That got us money to go into post-production,” Guffey said. “It can be very expensive to get locations, and if you don’t have the money, it can be a barrier.”
With his film now “in the can,” Guffey plans to host a workshop for producers and aspiring filmmakers, “to help people and show that it’s a step-by-step thing.”
“Everybody has a voice, but if you can’t express that voice in the way that you desire … And then you see other people who have advantages and the path to expressing their voice through filmmaking is much easier and much shorter, it can be very frustrating,” Guffey said.
From access to venues for planning and production to theatre space for hosting investor screenings and premieres, Guffey mentioned that “you really see the benefit through all the stages as a filmmaker,” in the Kranzberg Arts Foundation residency program.
“I think so many people who are filmmakers still struggle with these parts of the whole process,” Guffey said. “It’s like, ‘here’s one less thing to worry about,’ and then all of a sudden you have more energy to think of how to make it better, rather than just how to make it.”
In addition to infrastructure, the residency also connects the filmmaker to a network of other local artists and entrepreneurs. Guffey recalled a situation in which he needed the help of a music producer to bring a song in the movie to life.
“It just so happened that Owen Ragland, who’s a former musician in residence, was our guy, so it was nice to keep it within the resident family,” Guffey added. “Just amplifying who these artists are … it creates connections. It’s really cool how that went down.”
Despite the hurdle that has been COVID-19, “All Gone Wrong” is in the final stages before it premieres. Guffey said he feels a responsibility to be a good steward of filmmaking in St. Louis, to help others along the way, and the Kranzberg Arts Foundation filmmaking residency feels like a good place for that.
“We need to support filmmakers and give them a platform to create. It’s just like all arts; there are some mechanisms in place to help artists create, and the more we can do that for filmmakers, the better the movies will be.”
“Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll” will open Oct. 29, with full COVID-19 mitigation policies in place.
The popular adage that is often tossed around in show business, “the show must go on,” met its match this year as COVID-19 has practically shut down the arts and entertainment industries for months.
Since we made the decision to close our venues to the public starting March 13, 2020, we’ve been strategically preparing for the moment in which we are able to safely welcome guests back through our doors.
With cautious optimism, starting Oct. 29, 2020, we look forward to hosting The Midnight Company’s production of Eric Bogosian’s “Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll,” at The Kranzberg.
We do not take the decision to host a production lightly, and we have spent hundreds of hours staying up to date with the latest information from public health officials. We recognize the gravity of the current public health situation and acknowledge our responsibility in maintaining the utmost standards when it comes to keeping guests, artists, and our staff safe.
In order for the show to be approved for our stages, The Midnight Company has gone through an exhaustive process including being vetted through our own greenlight plan, receiving certification from Missouri ArtSafe, and finally, approved by the City of St. Louis.
The nature of the production has also been taken into consideration. This one-act, one-person production eliminates potential complications with intermission and social distancing on stage.
The Midnight Company’s COVID plan, which was developed alongside the Kranzberg Arts Foundation and approved by the City of St. Louis, is publicly available on their website so that guests know what to expect when they walk through our doors.
“We’ve taken steps to help everyone — cast, crew, and guests — stay as safe as possible through extensive vetting and work alongside our public health officials,” Executive Director Chris Hansen said. “The Midnight Company is committed to ensuring best practices are in place including staging a one-act, one-actor production.”
Additionally, venue capacity will be limited to ensure proper social distancing of six feet or more between guests.
For organizations and artists interested in producing a show in one of our venues, you must be able to effectively take care of your cast and crew. A plan outlining your COVID procedures must be submitted and approved by the Foundation and the City of St. Louis.
“We look forward to welcoming the show to our stage, and will continue working to support the safe creation and presentation of art,” Hansen said.
As we enter the seventh consecutive month of venue closures, we are methodically working through ways in which we can continue to steward the vital infrastructure for artists and arts organizations so that we can once again say without hesitation, “the show must go on.”
Kranzberg Arts Foundation partners with Open Highway Music Festival for month-long brunch and live music series
By Caitlin Lally
Sundays in October are about to get a little louder in Grand Center.
The sound of banjos strumming and voices harmonizing will fill the air outside The Grandel as the community gathers, safely, for brunch and live performances by local Americana and bluegrass musicians.
On the artist lineup for Oct. 18, and also the founder of Open Highway Music Festival is John Henry, (pictured above), who said he is very grateful for the opportunity to work with Kranzberg Arts Foundation to produce the October concert series.
“It was nice to be able to do something a little different from what we do. It’s strange putting on a show during daylight. And while the [music] industry is shut down in a lot of ways, I feel there is a need for music,” Henry said.
“It’s nice to be able to present these shows in a way that supports the artists and gives the fans something to look forward to … it gives people a sense of normalcy in these really unnormal times.”
Like countless events this year, Open Highway Music Festival delayed their ninth annual festival that was scheduled for late July and into August at Off-Broadway due to health and safety concerns caused by COVID-19.
“We saw the industry shut down, so we’ve had to abide by the guidelines set forth by the city, but most importantly we want to put the safety of the patrons and bands at the forefront of everything,” Henry said, who also books talent for the South City venue Off-Broadway.
However, Henry acknowledged that the support for and among the local music scene has grown amid the pandemic.
“In a time of uncertainty and struggle, it’s good to see that many local artists have grown tighter and embraced a sense of community because, without that, things just fall away.”
While the state of the music industry is open-ended as it currently stands, Henry said it’s nice to see the local support for artists.
“I appreciate the efforts of everyone involved to give local artists an opportunity to present their music to people,” Henry said. “It’s been a rough year, obviously, and any little bit helps.”
For more information about Blue Sky Brunch including the full lineup and ticketing details, click here.
In an effort to build sustainable infrastructure and feed artists, The Dark Room and Urban Harvest STL have been collaborating to donate pantry items including fresh produce to local families in need.
From radishes and collard greens to oregano and thyme, Sally’s Rooftop Garden — which is located above .ZACK and maintained by Urban Harvest — has produced over 550 pounds of organic produce so far this year, according to Drew Hundelt, Urban Harvest’s Director of Urban Agriculture.
“Urban Harvest strives for building stronger communities around food, so like making every process of food available to the surrounding communities, from growing it to eating it,” Hundelt said.
Food and beverage director for Kranzberg Arts Foundation, Gene Bailey explained that the vegetables and herbs were originally destined for the menu at The Dark Room. However, when the pandemic hit, he started thinking about how the food could still be put to use.
“We wanted to be able to donate it in a way that it would still carry its mission. We intended to sell it at this restaurant that showcases local artists, so we were looking for a way to use it that might still focus on benefiting artist communities. Me and [Executive Director Chris Hansen] went back and forth on it,” Bailey said. “We didn’t want to dictate who it’s for, but we wanted to put it through a channel for a community that was artist-rich.”
“Gooseberries, a restaurant in Dutchtown South, has now been doing weekly food pantry donations every Saturday since May to people in that community, which includes a lot of artists, as well as families in need,” Bailey said estimating that about 15 families per week have benefited from the donation bags.
In the earlier months of summer, leafy greens and herbs from Sally’s filled the donation bags. Hundelt said the later summer harvests produce larger crops including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and corn. After Hundelt and his team gather the food, Bailey divides it among bags consisting of hand sanitizer from local brewing company, 4 Hands, and pantry staples such as crackers, peanut butter from Performance Food Group.
“We plan on continuing this project … It’s something I want to make sure that we can carry on,” Bailey said. “It’s been good to tangibly do something with those resources.”
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.
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, 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].”
“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.”
“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.”
“Caffeinated Curation” is a routine book and beverage pairing that highlights Blueprint Coffee and relevant reading recommendations from High Low resident artists and community members. Our latest chapter of the series comes from High Low barista Josie.
Sometimes a book just calls to you. One day working at High Low, “Leo the Late Bloomer” by Robert Kraus just jumped out and intrigued me deeply. After picking it up, the art touched something in me even more. Upon reading, it still surprised me.
Leo can’t write, draw, read, or talk … yet all of the other kids can. In some aspect of our lives, all of us have felt “slow” or “behind,” or that we didn’t live up to the expectations of others. Every time we see Leo, he looks uncomfortable, frustrated, or defeated. His watchful father is constantly looking for signs of progress. “What’s wrong with Leo?” We learn after a while that bloomers can’t bloom while being watched. Even when not being watched, the seasons pass. Still no blooming. Still no blooming! Until finally out of nowhere, he does. The first time he speaks, he says a whole sentence. Turning to his mother and father with elation in his eyes, he says … “I made it!”
The drink I’ve chosen to pair with this book … Let’s just call it Josie’s Special. Really, it’s my guilty pleasure. This book made me cry a lot, so I do need it. I also find it fitting because I make this drink in a very individualized way. I cater myself in the way I would for someone I really want to feel loved. To make it extra special, just for that person exactly the way they like it. Which is my favorite way to prepare any beverage.
First, I add just a tiny bit of water to the bottom of a 12 oz cup and completely fill the rest of the cup with ice. I brew a double shot of espresso and pour that over top, in an even swirl to melt the ice. I then agitate the beverage and swirl the cup for as long as it takes to fog up the glass and bring everything to its coldest possible temperature. And then I fill the rest up with even more ice. Lots of raw sugar, to taste. I usually go back and add more. A lot of ice, because I savor it and want to drink it slowly (probably over the course of a couple of hours) without the flavor diluting too much while the ice melts. It has to have a straw so that I can texturally enjoy the crunchiness and the more complex molasses-y flavor of raw sugar as a chaser. When the coffee stays separate from the sweetener, each shot retains its individuality and I remain an active listener to the flavor and present in my sensory experience.
This drink has been with me — and there for me — for a long time. To this day, I have a soft spot for the burnt-toast flavor of the over-roasted and unevenly extracted shots I tasted in some of my favorite community-oriented spaces over the years. A lil’ bit of sugar can take the edge off of anything.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.