Subterranean Homesick Blues

The people under the stairs at the St. Marcus Theatre may have to pack up and move out

At this time, Ura asked Jackson to read a letter in which Jackson suggested there was no need for a theater manager at all. The companies could provide scripts to members of the congregation for approval and the companies would haggle over the dates themselves, he said. Jackson proposed the theater be closed down for a "cooling-off period" after June 24, with further discussions about the theater to resume in the fall.

According to George-Carlson, Ura then announced, "I think we've heard enough. I guess we'll have to go into a cooling-off period."

"Al kept trying to adjourn the meeting before anything was decided," says Miller. "The thing that was the biggest surprise to me was that there were about 15 people at this meeting and quite a few of them were arguing passionately in favor of keeping the theater open. Afterward, several of them said to me, "Don't worry, I'm going to fight for you,' which I never expected."

"We asked them not to have Corpus Christi, and they went ahead and had it anyway," claims church-board president Al Ura as one of the reasons for the closing of the St. Marcus Theatre.
"We asked them not to have Corpus Christi, and they went ahead and had it anyway," claims church-board president Al Ura as one of the reasons for the closing of the St. Marcus Theatre.

Miller recognizes that the St. Marcus, church and theater, belongs to the congregation -- and that some productions have been difficult for some churchgoers to accept -- but he argues, "It's not about that the stuff in the theater -- and I'm separating most of the stuff from South Beach -- is so terribly wrong for a church. It's that the stuff in the theater is stuff people disagree about whether it's right for a church. There are people in the church who believe the stuff going on downstairs is good, important stuff that's ministering to the community. I think that's a cool thing. Personally, I feel that way. I feel when we're doing shows, I think they touch people. They're important. They matter for the community. I feel that way about the stuff we do, and I feel that way about the stuff Joan does."

But not enough of the congregation felt that way on Feb. 13. Although, as Ura puts it, Lipkin's Missouri Arts Award "was mentioned," most of the congregation voted to close the theater "because of the nudity and the vulgar language," explains Ura. "We asked them not to have Corpus Christi, and they went ahead and had it anyway." (St. Marcus manager Jackson would not comment on this allegation.)

"People have been asking us if we're in the church business or the theater business," Ura continues. "We only have 16 or 18 people on a Sunday morning. We used to have 180 people in the congregation; now we're down to about 26. (The theater) hasn't done us any good."

Even after Sunday's vote, dissension lingers within the congregation, with some of those in favor of the theater arguing that the church bylaws and voting procedures have not been properly followed. Ura's response to these allegations reveals the division, and suspicion, now present at St. Marcus Church. "That was one of the new members that is trying to take over the congregation," says the longtime board president.

With his wife, Lorraine, in the background, calling -- "Tell him we closed it; that's all that's necessary, Al" -- Ura bids farewell and hangs up.

Lipkin says her energies are now directed toward "getting this devastating decision reversed." Miller, on the other hand, is looking to move on. "The good news is, it's the middle of February, and I don't have to find a new space until November. At least it's not a panic situation.

"In an ideal world, I think Julie and Joan and I will go somewhere together and develop a new space. If that happens, the ultimate fallout is not as bad."

Is there a space for AC/DC, for New Line's next season (which tentatively includes The Cradle Will Rock, A New Brain -- by the author of Falsettos -- and Merrily We Roll Along), and for George-Carlson's proposed Theater 101 Equity company, which she says has "a full season ready to go," including Big River, Rhinoceros, Aristophanes' The Birds and Orphans or She Stoops to Conquer?

"I think this is a wake-up call to the people in St. Louis," says the ambitious new theater kid on the block, George-Carlson, "both the people who have theater companies and the people who patronize those companies. It shows all the more the need for people to galvanize around this issue. There is a real need for a good space for midsize companies.

"I really think it can happen."

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