The Kevin Kline Awards organization has been wrestling with various and significant issues over the last several months. As much of the world is, they’re beset with money woes that have resulted in numerous challenges; major ones such as lack of funds to pay a semi-full time administrator, and less important but touchy ones such as lack of funds to supply awards and citations to last year’s winners.
They’re also being pressured from all sides, from a negative “street PR” cited by some of the smaller groups, to various demands from the bigger groups that, themselves, might be causing these perceptual problems.
Without divulging organizational details or secrets, suffice to say the hard-working volunteer group honchoing the Kevins are trying to establish consensus on standards such as a number of performances and pay rates for actors, directors and designers that would qualify groups to be Kevin Kline members.
These are all but finalized now, but what’s still on the table is the remains of the usually healthy debate, mood and tenor of the organization-wide meetings. These new standards were driven by the larger groups in town – primarily Stages, with The Rep speaking up on their behalf and The Muny enjoying the results.
While some of these efforts were viewed as a move to squeeze some of the smaller theatre groups out, the results were generally positive and accepted as necessary, minimum standards for so-called “professional” theatre in St. Louis. But the negative “street PR” bottom line is as result from one of the only issues not addressed in Kevin Kline meetings – the white elephant in the room – and that•s the issue of what is “St. Louis theatre.”
The current team trying to run the Kevin Kline group cite research undertaken on theatre awards in other cities – Chicago, Washington DC, Phoenix, LA – and how the origin, operation, judging and standards of the Kevins are reflective of those other cities– awards. However, what’s unique about so-called “St. Louis theatre” is that these larger groups – Stages, The Rep, The Muny – not only employ out-of-town talent for the majority of their on and off-stage roles, but also win the vast majority of Kevin Kline Awards. That doesn’t happen in any of those other cities.
And there’s probably not any reasonable course of action the Kevins can take to factor this distasteful matter into the Awards structure. But, to truly gain the credibility and respect the organization needs, they must acknowledge it. I don’t think many other groups want these larger groups to change their practices, their casting and hiring. I would hope they would also want the acknowledgement (from the Kevins, from these theatres, from whatever press is left) that the stuff they do is not “St. Louis theatre.”
As I’ve said many times before, our city generously supports the Arts IN St. Louis, but gives little serious regard to the Arts OF St. Louis – art being created by people who live here, and that includes dancers, musicians, visual artists et al – and that is the soul of a city. By refusing to tackle this delicate issue (after all, no one will criticize the Rep if they hope to be hired by them sometime in the future), the Kevin Kline Awards group is selling our city (and our theatre community) down the river.