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Edison’s Ovations Series Prepares To Take Final Bow But Not Before Debuting Ira Glass

Click through slideshow to view Edison offerings through the years.

Where’s a not-quite-ready-for-The-Fox performer supposed to break a leg in St. Louis? For four decades, it’s often been the Edison Theatre at Washington University.

Charlie Robin
Credit Edison Theatre / Charlie Robin
Charlie Robin
Charlie Robin

Under the leadership of Charlie Robin, The Edison’s Ovations series has locally debuted humorist David Sedaris, the performing group Stomp, the Soweto Gospel Choirandcomposer Philip Glass. It will soon give St. Louis a first look at Glass' second cousin, Ira.(More with Ira Glass, in a minute.)

But Ovations will permanently fade to black after an April 10-11 St. Louis debut by the Giordano Dance Company. The announcement came five months ago. Still, the end feels weird for Robin, who was operations manager for six years and managing director for 15.

“It seems odd after all this time, that there isn’t a following year,” Robin said.

Ira Glass' 'This American Life' In 3-D

The final season offers several first-time St. Louis performances including that of a dance company from Vietnam and a show featuring public radio personality Ira Glass from "This American Life," called “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host.”

"The feeling of the show is exactly like the feeling of one of the episodes of the radio show," Glass said. "It's stories, it's real stories." (Story continues, below.)

Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host - Trailer from Monica Bill Barnes & Company on Vimeo.

"Three Acts," or at least a 12-minute snippet of the show, actually had its national debut at the esteemed Carnegie Hall and is now touring the country. It's been well-received, according to Glass.

"It kills. It really kills," Glass said. "And I'm not just saying that to sell tickets."

Ira Glass talks with Nancy Fowler about the inspiration for "Three Acts," his high-school theater experience and his hopes for the show.

Audiences Down, Ticket-Buyers More Impulsive    

For longtime local theater professional Carol North, the end of Ovations is heartbreaking. North and the Metro Theater Company for children that she headed for 33 years collaborated several times with Robin an d The Edison, for productions including “Hannah’s Suitcase” and “The Giver.”

Carol North
Credit Metro Theater Company / Carol North
Carol North
Carol North

But her fond memories also include Ovations presentations, including a spooky performance in which actors created a house and then an animated ghost out of clear packing tape.

“You just don’t see anything like that anywhere else in St. Louis,” North said. “My best experiences in theater, anywhere in the world, were at The Edison,” North said.

After this season, Washington University has no plans to present Ovations-type fare. Its stated reasons for ending Ovations include “the desire to prioritize student and faculty performances; the increase, in recent years, of other local venues providing similar programming; and cost savings.”

Robin doesn’t agree that other venues are offering enough such programming.

But Ovations attendance is down since 2008, by about 10 percent. That’s consistent with a national trend. The Americans for the Arts’ 2013 National Arts Index (page 65) shows that a national performing arts audience fell from 86 million in 2003 to 77 million in 2011.

At The Edison, the decline has resulted in programming cuts. The number of acts is not fewer but there are 10-to-15 percent fewer performances. Subscription sales are down and the theater has ramped up its efforts for single-ticket sales. People are buying more tickets at the last minute, especially for dance performances, but those sales are influenced by other factors, such as bad weather.

"It’s a changing environment from when I started in the industry 28 years ago," Robin said, in an email.

The full schedule for the final Ovations season can be found on The Edison website.

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.