Commentary: When it comes to theater, there is something for everyone in St. Louis
Theater in St. Louis is not only alive and well, it's getting stronger than ever. There are over 25 professional theater groups and oodles of community theater groups, some of which have been around forever. Our region has the well-known larger groups such as The Muny, The Rep, The Black Rep and Fox Associates which produces Broadway plays that win Tony Awards and gives us the power to get the best Broadway shows right here in St. Louis. We can also boast across the region of smaller, but vital groups such as The New Jewish Theatre with Kathleen Sitzer at the helm and Philip Boehm's Upstream Theater which presents strong and unique plays from other countries. And don't forget community groups such as The Alton Little Theater or the tried and true Kirkwood Theatre Guild.
These groups cover the gamut from the light hearted to the not so light hearted, from musicals to drama both comedic and serious. Acting groups perform in grandiose palaces like The Fox and often in storefronts that are not so romantic. New venues are always popping up like The Marcelle in Grand Center which houses Scott Miller's New Line Theatre, an alternative musical theater company producing challenging, adult, politically and socially relevant works of musical theater. And the .Zack arts incubator houses well over 20 performing arts groups which includes 7 theatrical groups including groups that have been around for quite a while such as Insight Theatre and newer groups such as Tesseract Theatre Company which provides local playwrights the chance to have their work be part of a series of dramatic readings, possibly leading to a full production slot in an upcoming season.
The .Zack also houses the offices and stage for the Tennessee Williams Festival and The St. Lou Fringe Festival. The theatrical groups share costume and set shops and have a wonderful network of collaboration.
Children's theater, also flourishes in our town with groups such as Metro Theater Company which houses performances at the newly renovated Grandel Theatre and the relatively new Ignite Theater which has performances at the .Zack. Another niche of theater is the often inspiring works produced by our many fine universities in town, but that could be the subject of another commentary. And musical theater deserves its own space. I've mentioned Scott Miller's, New Line Theatre, but also need to highlight Jack Lane's Stages which presents traditional musicals in all their glory.
Other tried and true theater groups include The St. Louis Actors' Studio which brings a fresh vision to theater in St. Louis and is housed in the historic Gaslight Square area of the Central West End and provides a strong ensemble environment to foster learning and artistic expression and Larry Bell of Stray Dog Theater says theater must reflect the human experience by bringing social awareness to universal social issues. Stray Dog is located in the historic and beautiful Tower Grove Abbey.
Max and Louie Productions performs in different locations around town and last year I saw a production of "Grey Gardens" that I really thought was better than the Broadway production. And Hawthorne Community Theater performs on the other end of town in Florissant at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre and they are one of the oldest theater companies in St. Louis, frequently selling out the 567 seat auditorium.
Our great city is right on the mark with theater. High quality actors seem to be staying here, the subject matter of theater seems to be getting more socially conscious, and the actors and audience as well seem to be getting more diverse, reflecting life as it is.
Lana Pepper, the original founding manager of our wonderful Shakespere Festival in Forest Park says the The St.Louis Theater Circle Awards have brought such attention to theater in St. Louis that it is easy to call a friend and say "how about dinner and a play?" There is something going on almost every night. So whether you are up for a giggle or ready to shed some tears, or feel like seeing something outrageous or tried and true, there is something for everyone in a theater in our great town.
Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than thirty years on numerous arts related boards.
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