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Birthday bash at Kranzberg Arts Center

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 10, 2009 - It's ironic that HotCity Theatre's "Killing Women" opened the Kranzberg Arts Center's black box theater last September and that "Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom" kicked off the new fall season Sept. 11. But it's new life, not death or doom, that the center has brought in its first year to the Grand Center area and the overall St. Louis theater scene. Celebrating that infusion of energy is the purpose of its first birthday party set for Sunday, Sept. 20.

The 2,000-square-foot black box theater, a 1,040-square-foot performance studio, a second Craft Alliance location and the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri headquarters all reside in the old Woolworth's building at the corner of Grand and Olive. The center is home to Cabaret St. Louis, as well as HotCity, Muddy Waters and Upstream Theatre companies.

For the alternative HotCity company, the venue has provided a new demographic to what was formerly a more on-the-fringe fan base.

"It attracts a more mainstream patron to the theater, yet we're not compromising the mission with those patrons; we're just exposing them to something quite unique," said John Armstrong, HotCity's managing director.

Being in the shared space has also attracted a new crowd of curious theater-goers to Craft Alliance.

"There's this cross-pollination that doesn't usually happen," said Craft Alliance Executive Director Boo McLaughlin, who's planning the anniversary event. "I see people who don't usually come out for visual arts coming in to our gallery and vice-versa."

Kranzbergs 'Thrilled' with Center's Success

Nancy and Ken Kranzberg, the center's benefactors are "thrilled and shocked" at how successful the Kranzberg Arts Center has become in just one year.

"It's just one of the things that's making Grand Center really be an incredible entertainment district; it's really given a spark to the area along with all the other institutions, the Sheldon, the Fox, the Symphony and Jazz at the Bistro," said Nancy Kranzberg, who's also known for her own cabaret performances.

The next goal for the arts hub is the addition of a new eating establishment, but nothing has been finalized.

"They're still talking about it. There will be a restaurant, but right now things are still in the works," Kranzberg said.

Celebrating But Not Singing

The party, taking place from 1 to 4 p.m., is free to the public. Craft Alliance offerings include live performances, clay throwing, creating a graphic self-portrait and a children's design-a-party-hat activity, which are free; others such as trying your hand at making enamel jewelry or clay tile will cost from $5 to $10. Party participants can also visit with Craft Alliance's three artists in residence, who work in fiber, metals and clay.

While Kranzberg will attend the party, she won't belt out "St Louis Blues" or any of the other torch songs she's known for. "I don't want to get in there and sound like, 'Oh, Ken built a place for me to sing'," she said. "But maybe one day, I'll sing there."

Nancy Larson is a freelance writer who has covered theater over the years in St. Louis.

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