While not wanting to be the classic blogger who spends all his time complaining (or alternately patting myself on the back), I’ll try to couch this one as sober (mostly) reflection.
KEVIN KWESTION Things are going well for the PTC (Professional Theatre ________ Council of St. Louis – the word “Awards” has been dropped). It’s a good indication of the group’s seeming shift in focus – from a group that gives Awards to a group promoting St. Louis theatre who also give out Awards. It’s a good shift, and at the recent PTC meeting, everything else seemed to be shifting in the right direction. There’s a new, good PTC website, and everybody seemed happy with the judging process (at least in terms of the process of scheduling judges)
But this tranquility blurs what should be some sober (mostly) reflection about the quality of KK judging, re: HIGH. After being developed at a couple other regional theatres, HIGH was brought to St. Louis with movie star Kathleen Turner in tow. The show received nine Kevin nominations, one of the most honored shows in Awards history. The Rep then gathered a group of its well-heeled patrons to put up a trunk of money to help bring the play to Broadway. There, the show was ripped up and down, and closed within days. The Rep’s PR spin on the affair was that it was just great to get their name in front of New Yorkers (just as they think it’s great when New York actors/directors etc win Kevin Klines in St. Louis and the Rep’s name is mentioned in New York program bios.)
Here’s the questions I would hope the PTC honchos would be seriously discussing: Are our judges too impressed by, say, a former movie star? Are they too impressed by anyone with an out-of-town resume? Are they too impressed by anyone who’s won a Kevin and put it in their program bio? Are they too impressed by curtain speeches that emphasize the “professional” theatre they’re about to see. Are they too impressed with nice, comfy seats and other bricks and mortar? I hope they’re discussing how can a show be so honored by our “experts” and so splattered in New York. How did that happen? Do our judges have any judgment? What can we do about this? But awards are secondary. The state of St. Louis theatre is what’s important. And that’s my big question – How in any way is HIGH St. Louis theatre? It played here, yeah, probably gained and evolved from its experience here, but it was developed elsewhere by people from elsewhere. How is that St. Louis theatre?
Right now we have five “National” theatres that are based here in St. Louis. The Rep, Black Rep, Stages, Muny and Shakespeare Festival. They are theatres that use a whole lot of creative talent from out-of-town. (They also receive the lion’s share of St. Louis money and are nominated for the lion’s share of Kevin Kline Awards.) That’s ok, don’t ever change, we love you. But you’re not St. Louis theatre. St. Louis theatre is the 40 other “professional” groups in town who use almost no talent from out-of-town. I think a clear distinction would help both “groups.” “National” theatres would continue to get the national attention and talent they’ve been getting, and they and St. Louis would benefit with this recognition of theatre power here in town. And “St. Louis” theatre might have a chance to, finally, carve out its own, unique voice and identity. Maybe there should be two awards categories. I don’t know. But I think maybe there should be this recognition, and thus widespread perception of just who and what St. Louis theatre is and is not.
“GO! SEE!” “SORRY, I’LL BE OUT OF TOWN THEN!”
Recently Judy Newmark did one of her blogs on the good practice of theatre people attending other people’s and theatre group’s work. She focused, of course, on Donna Weinsting, who’s been ubiquitous on St. Louis theatre news/discussion sites, reporting on the shows she sees (almost weekly), generally giving each production and performer a thumbs up. Judy’s point in the article was a what good practice this was, and thus how supportive the St. Louis theatre community must be to each other. And while credit must go to Donna and her enthusiastic, faithful theatre attendance and reporting, it can’t hide a natural fact about the St. Louis theatre community. Members of that community only go to see other theatre for two reasons:
- to support friends
- to be seen at a Theatre in hopes of getting work there.
Now neither reason should be criticized. You should support your theatre buddies, networking never hurt anyone. But theatre community theatre attendance seldom moves beyond this narrow circle. For as open-minded, expansive and curious as theatre people should be, those in this town seldom venture outside a narrow group of like-minded individuals. There’s little intellectual or artistic interest evident here when new (and well-reviewed) work appears and few of our theatre elite attend. I thought it was just me. Our FAUSTUS show last summer, though produced in the midst of one of the busiest theatre months in our history, was a St. Louis premiere by a Chicago fringe artist whose work we’d presented very successfully in the past; it got decent PR, was well-reviewed and even took place in a pub where you could drink while you watched the show. I could count the St. Louis theatre folks who came on one hand. As I said, maybe it’s me, cause then I was in the Black Rep’s PERICLES (a big, good production of an almost never-seen Shakespeare) and the 2009 Pulitzer winner, RUINED. And very few St. Louis theatre types (including St. Louis Shakespeare groups’ folks) were seen there. It was shameful, especially since RUINED was dealing with the abuse of women and massive rape that’s happening in the Congo, and very few St. Louis theatre women, who display their social consciousness by posting news items on their Facebook pages, showed up either.
This intellectual and artistic dishonesty, and the growing good-old-boy-and girl support system that pervades our theatre community, has to have an impact beyond itself, perhaps into the perception and understanding of what we have and what’s going in theatre here. We need audiences, critics, Keven Kline judges, etc to see what we do with clear vision. We can only get there by looking at ourselves first.