Commentary: St. Louis boasts a wide variety of opportunities to enjoy quality theater
Every time I begin to write about theater in our town, I panic. Where do I begin and what should I focus on?
We all know about the Fabulous Fox, Shakespeare in the Park, The Muny, The Rep and groups that are tried and true such as Stages, New Line Theatre, Upstream Theatre, Stray Dog Theatre, Max and Louie, The St. Louis Actor's Studio and the list goes on and on, just to name a few.
I was recently at a dinner party here in St. Louis and a couple from Chicago pointed out that St. Louisans are always coming to Chicago for theater but we have a ton of high quality theatrical groups right here and they often come to St. Louis to see a show.
Years ago, I took a short writing course from Washington University's late and beloved Professor William Gass. The most valuable lesson I took from him was to write in the form of lists. So here goes.
So what and how should I list? We have wonderful musical theater from The Fox and its Broadway Series down to Fly North Theatrical which performs at the .Zack in Grand Center and produces new, local, accessible, high quality works. Mike Isaacson, Artistic Director of The Muny says, "The musical is now one of the world's greatest and most beloved forms of entertainment and art." Scott Miller of New Line Theatre says, "The best musicals have everything the best plays have, great words, great characters, great emotions, great drama and comedy, timeless themes, universal truths, but musicals also have music.”
And Circus Flora and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis really belong in the musical theater category as well.
Mary McCreight of the Arts for Life organization points out the plethora of community theater in our region and says, "We are a "mini: community theater community and awards program. Every year judges are sent out to the community to review the mom and pop theaters as well as the well-established community theaters in Missouri and Illinois, and an awards program is held yearly.”
There are children's theaters of all kinds. Metro Theater is a well-known group that has been around forever and has been nationally recognized. There’s also Ignite Theater, The Rep has a children's theater, The Imaginary Theater Company, and COCA has all kinds of children's productions and acting classes.
Then there are those theater companies whose works don't necessarily fall easily into a category. There is Joan Lipkin's That Uppity Theater Company which promotes active community involvement and deals with racial, gender and disability issues, Susan Colangelo's "St. Louis Story Stitchers," which is comprised of youth from 16 to 24 with song, dance and spoken word productions and The St. Louis Fringe Festival which is a combination of genres and whose performances are by, as they say, brave artists and for bold audiences.
Carrie Houk's Tennesse Williams Festival is produced in late summer and now compares to the Tennessee Williams Festivals in New Orleans and Cape Cod. Philip Boehm's Upstream Theater produces foreign works that have been translated by Boehm himself into English and there are many strong theatrical groups in our local universities.
And the venues for performances are all over town. Saint Louis University's theatrical performances are at the Grandel Theater and the Kranzberg Arts Foundation has 18 theater groups working in their facilities. Stages has a beautiful new theater in the new Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.
As my friend Lana Pepper, one of the founders of the Shakespeare Festival says, "In St. Louis you can go to dinner and a play practically every night of the year."
Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than forty years on numerous arts related boards.