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St. Louis, Home of the Gateway Arch/Arts

A few weeks ago, I kept a promise to myself, and went to see Bob Mitchell's Militant Propaganda Bingo Machine sketch comedy troupe for the first time. It was a Sunday night, and the group was performing at Off-Broadway down near the Lemp Brewery. There was a sparse crowd (Sunday night is not a good night for the performing arts, or anything, really, in St. Louis), but I was impressed by the talent and energy displayed by those on stage.

From there, I headed to the CWE, and my new favorite bar, Sol, which was featuring a group performing Flamenco. Again, a tiny crowd of enthusiasts were there (it was still Sunday night), but they were entertained by committed and authentic performers.

That evening gave one pause to reflect on what seems to be a renaissance of performance and art underway in our town. I'm most familiar with theatre, of course, and most of us in that line are all too aware of the many, many theatres that have been born in just the past few years, and of the ambitious schedules most of them are pursuing.

When I talk about that to a civilian, I try to conjure that some of the reason for the plethora of theatre groups is the economy. With jobs, and money, and the opportunity to build careers in the business world down (especially in St. Louis), I posit that since there's nothing else to do, people who would otherwise be busy with other things are saying, “What the heck. I'm not doing anything else, I might as well do theatre.” That's a simplification, and doesn't account for some people who are focused on the art of theatre, but I think that has to be an explanation for just how much theatre (and other arts) is going on in town.

Casual observance has shown me that the other arts – visual, dance, film, and, of course, music – are all over the place too. Check out the RFT and other media, or just keep your eyes open. For whatever reason it's happening, it's a phenomenon I'm hoping we all (and that includes the media) can recognize, channel, support and exploit.

St. Louis may have lost AB and a few dozen other corporate headquarters, a car plant or two and many more manufacturing jobs, some great restaurants, and dozens of small businesses in strip malls or little neighborhoods, but it must have one of the healthiest (in terms of activity if not dollars) arts communities in the nation.

I'm thinking that this foundation of arts in our city could perhaps lead to a new reputation for St. Louis, a new energy, and a new road back to a thriving metropolitan area.

It's gonna take a lot, including luck. We have the ubiquitous need for in-depth media support, but before that, it's going to take the enthusiastic support of all of us. It's going to take all of us in theatre supporting everyone else in theatre, whatever our personal or professional opinions might be of our rival groups. And it's going to take everyone in town supporting everything going on – obscure theatre groups, flamenco on Sunday nights, garage band rock at local bars, art openings at out-of-the-way galleries et al.

Going to see as much of this stuff as possible is good for us, and good for our city.

We're all in this together, and the sooner we figure that out, the better chance we'll all have to be here when the night comes.


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Revised: October, 2007
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