Curtain Raiser

"If I could change one thing about theater in St. Louis..."

Alan Knoll (actor): My wish for the St. Louis theater scene is more appreciation for the kind of theater I have been lucky enough to perform the last nine years with the Imaginary Theatre Company: plays for kids. Last summer, while working at the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre, our technical director told me he remembered ITC's production of The Red Badge of Courage. We visited his high school in the '90s, and he could still recall it. I felt two things: 1) old, and 2) honored that this work I love had an impact. By giving our young audiences a taste of creative, professional theater, we are growing new audiences for "grown-up" theater and empowering children to exhibit their own creativity. Maybe the idea of attending (or performing!) a play will be on a par with a movie or sporting event when they mature.

Champe Leary (stage manager): "If I could change one thing about theater in St. Louis, it would be that more people would attend. Wonderful work is being done by many groups all over town, large and small, amateur and professional. But it seems that the competition live theater faces from so many other sources leaves more seats empty than should be. People have so many demands on their time and their wallets, and I sense that nowadays the need to see live theater is not as urgent as it once was. Sure, the blockbusters attract a crowd, but there is significant work being done all the time that sadly does not get the audience it deserves. How do we instill in people this desire to see theater? Start them young. Keep up the school programs. Continue to do the best work we can.

Carter Lewis (playwright): If I could change one thing about St. Louis theater, I would want to see more new and daring original plays produced. I think all theater should be, at its core, educational; the responsibility of each theater is to put its individual audience members at risk. What's the old adage? The arts should "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." One way to do that is to embrace new American writers who are speaking their minds on issues — damn the political torpedoes, and all that. Unfortunately theater in this country is somewhat of an elitist art form; consequently it is often utilized to "comfort the already comfortable" by soft-pedaling muted voices rather than providing a forum for the writers who are shouting. But artists are educational activists, not centrists. So if our state of mind is red, then allow us to give audiences piercing red; it it's blue, allow us to give them luminous blue — but don't try to placate audiences with a red-blue magenta.

Pushkar Sharma (Washington University student, director ofIpi Zombi?): If I could change one thing about theater in St. Louis, I would integrate it. I believe that the content of our theater must continue to address pressing local issues, including that of race. Look around you at the next performance you attend. Who are you there with? Is the audience primarily one color? My experience has been yes. An integrated theatrical community is necessary to break down the barriers of race. Sometimes I think that we live in a city that is not only politically and economically segregated, but also theatrically segregated.

Richard Strelinger (artistic director, Hydeware Theatre Company): If I could change one thing about theater in St. Louis, I would give St. Louis a theater district, where one could find a variety of theatrical venues, all within walking distance of one another, that would be the homes to numerous performing, music and visual artists. I envision a specific part of the city where St. Louisans would know that art and culture have an established home.

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