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St. Louis celebrates ‘Let There Be Theatre Day’ with no director, no set and one very confused actor

Jacqueline Thompson played the lead role in one production of “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” at the St. Lou Fringe Festival last summer.
St. Lou Fringe Festival
Jacqueline Thompson played the lead role in one production of “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” at the St. Lou Fringe Festival last summer.

At 2 p.m. March 13, some St. Louis theater lovers plan to do exactly what people around the world are doing at 2 p.m. in their time zone: They’ll catch a production of “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit.”

The play has no director, no set and a different leading actor for each and every production. The actor gets the script for the first time as the show begins — and must make sense of what’s happening in real time as the audience watches.

“The actor is only allowed to do it once in their lifetime,” explained Matthew Kerns, St. Lou Fringe Festival president and artistic director. “Once they’ve done it, they’re put in a database and they can never do it again.”

The absurdist drama was chosen for this year’s Let There Be Theatre Day, which celebrates the return of live performances two years after the pandemic shut down stages in New York City and across the country. In St. Louis, the production is being organized by the St. Lou Fringe Festival at the Schlafly Tap Room.

Even Kerns has no idea what to expect. Last summer’s fringe festival included several performances of “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit,” each with a different actor and a wildly different result.

“One artist was laying on the ground at the end of the performance, weeping — and the next artist was giggling profusely at the end of it,” Kerns recalled on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air. “So it’s just about whoever’s in the space and meeting the work.”

Playwright Nassim Soleimanpour has been barred from leaving his native Iran for refusing to serve in the military. Kerns said that having the actor come to the script without being able to prepare first keeps the playwright's words front and center.

For more on Let There Be Theatre Day, and the political resonance of “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit,” listen to Kerns’ interview on St. Louis on the Air.

Related Event

What: “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit”
When: 2 p.m. March 13
Where: 2100 Locust St., St. Louis, MO 63103

Listen to Matthew Kerns tell the story behind “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit"

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.