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Tag Archives: Upstream Theater

19 Jun 2020

This year, Juneteeth comes amid a global pandemic and an invigorated movement against police brutality and racism. While the day commemorates the emancipation of the last enslaved people in the Confederacy, specifically in Texas, the ancestors of those who were enslaved are still fighting for liberation as systematic oppression has not disappeared, but merely transformed and has become more insidious.

With this in mind, we tapped into the powerful and transformative capacity of the arts to share the voices of our resident artists and organizations. 

We asked our Kranzberg Arts Foundation family, “What does Juneteenth mean to you this year?” Here are some responses we gathered …


“Juneteenth is the celebration of the liberation of Blackness.

“To me, it represents disembodying white supremacy in all forms so that Black people have the freedom to just be.

“I hope one day Black lives and bodies gain true, tangible freedom, reparations, and justice in this country and in this city. And I hope for it soon.”

-Katarra Parson, 2019-20 music artist in residence


Ashreale McDowell, photo by David Moore, edit by Sonja Petermann
Ashreale McDowell, photo by David Moore, edit by Sonja Petermann

“As a Black woman, I am ashamed to say that I never truly understood the importance of Juneteenth and what it means for my community. It wasn’t something that was taught in the schools I attended, and it really wasn’t mentioned amongst conversations where I grew up. 

“My entire life I celebrated the fourth of July. I loved the fireworks and all of the festivities that take place during that time. In the midst of all the excitement and glamour of celebrating the fourth, I never really stopped to think about what I was truly celebrating. 

“July Fourth, America’s independence day, America’s “freedom” day. How could I have been celebrating a national holiday of independence and freedom, when in reality it wasn’t meant for me. 

“My people were not free, there was no independence for us. We are still not free. We are still living in a world of racism and social injustice. We are fighting to have the right to LIVE! I made a vow to myself and to my people, that I will no longer celebrate and participate in a holiday that was not meant for us. 

“For me this year, Juneteenth means awakening!” 

-Ashreale McDowell, Assistant Artistic and Executive Director, Consuming Kinetics Dance Company


“Juneteenth is a time to celebrate how far we as a society have come while assessing how far we still have to go. This important day still receives little attention, but I am hopeful that because of recent events that will change. 

“Juneteenth, to me, means that while this marked the end of slavery in the United States, it represents the greatness that is the African-American legacy. It represents breaking chains and breaking barriers literally and figuratively…something that I hope continues with greater acceleration.”

-Ashley Tate, Artistic and Executive Director, Ashleyliane Dance Company


Saint Louis Story Stitchers commemorated Juneteenth with the release of a new podcast episode. In Episode VII, from the StitchCast Studio, St. Louis youth discuss “Compounding Issues” during the pandemic such as health disparities, mental health, economy and unemployment, education facing St. Louis’ economically-challenged minority neighborhoods. The episode was recorded on May 26, 2020. Listen here. 

StitchCast Studio Drop June 19 from Saint Louis Story Stitchers on Vimeo.


“Growing up in Texas, I remember when Juneteenth became a state holiday in 1980. That was a long time coming. Just like the 1865 event it celebrates — the announcement in Galveston made two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. I want to celebrate progress, but why does it always take so long to get here?” 

-Philip Boehm, Artistic Director, Upstream Theater


“I salute Juneteenth. I honor my Black colleagues in the Arts. And I’m proud of those who have taken to the streets in the last several weeks, making this Friday, perhaps, the most significant Juneteenth ever.”

-Joe Hanrahan, Co-founder and Artistic Director, The Midnight Company 

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

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

By Alison Gold

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

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

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

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

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

Swimming Upstream

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

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

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

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

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

Stepping Out

photography backdrop
Ashleyliane Dance Company/photo by Peter Wochniak

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom to Flourish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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