Striving to better, the Kevin Klines may mar what's well.

Striving to better, the Kevin Klines may mar what's well.
Chris Whetzel

Steve Isom dreamed of a community. As an actor in St. Louis, he found himself working at the craft he loved in what felt like a fractured scene, a group of artists working without a core to coalesce around.

He looked to other cities with thriving theater scenes. He looked at Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. He saw theater artists engaged in friendly rivalry with each other, and struck gold: In many cities with real theater scenes, he realized, the community came together over theater awards. They weren't the Tony Awards. They weren't the Oscars. But they were a way for local theater companies to be recognized, to promote each other and to hone their craft in competition with each other.

St. Louis, Isom thought, needed its own theater awards.

Tony Award winner Kevin Kline came to St. Louis for the first Kline awards ceremony.
Gerry Love
Tony Award winner Kevin Kline came to St. Louis for the first Kline awards ceremony.
Steve Isom at the inaugural Kline ceremony.
Steve Isom at the inaugural Kline ceremony.

"People like competition and getting press," he says. "If you look at when these awards shows started in other cities and the growth of the theater [scene], the [increased] number of theaters — they do it by drawing attention to the theater. It also gives something else for theaters to market."

Sitting in his living room six years ago, Isom decided to create a community like that for his hometown.

"We certainly used the image of a rising tide lifting all boats," he says.

In thinking about exceptional theater in St. Louis, Isom brainstormed names of St. Louis' native sons and daughters, Midwesterners who'd made their mark on the wide world.

One name was the obvious choice.

Kevin Kline grew up in St. Louis. He's made it, in Hollywood and on Broadway: He has won two Tony Awards, for On the Twentieth Century and The Pirates of Penzance, and an Academy Award for A Fish Called Wanda. He has a reputation around Hollywood as a craftsman, someone who chooses his roles discerningly.

When Isom's fledgling group reached out to Kline, he agreed to lend his name to the undertaking. The luminary actor even returned to St. Louis for the first-ever Kevin Kline Awards in 2005.

Kline did press. Kline handed out awards. Kline lent star power.

The number of shows mounted in town jumped dramatically after those first awards, as Isom expected. He cites one small company, the now-defunct Orange Girls, that won three Klines. They'd been a new theater, but after their success at the Klines, they began playing to packed houses.

All the theaters that participated in the Klines promoted one another, with notices of upcoming plays in their handbills and posters in their lobbies.

A community budded.

Ever since that first year, the Kevin Kline Awards have been administered by a nonprofit organization called the Professional Theatre Awards Council, with Isom serving as the executive director. A board of a dozen or so directors set policy and selected the panel of judges.

After five years, Isom left the Kevin Kline Awards. An actor full-time, he has both a career and a family to tend to — a teenage daughter's theater career is getting under way as well. Isom says that he'd always intended to hand the reins to someone else, and in May 2009, he gave control to the board of directors.

Officially, the show has gone on. Last year's gala, in March, toasted a new set of winners. Nominations for the sixth annual Kevin Kline Awards have just been announced.

Some in the theater community fear there will be no seventh.

Cash is tight for the council, as it is for everyone these days. And after operating without an executive director for two years, the cracks are starting to show for the theater council. The Klines' website is temporarily suspended, and last year's winners say their awards haven't arrived yet.

It seems like a bad time to be alienating local theater companies. But the council has announced major changes aimed at "professionalizing" theater in St. Louis, and the changes are rankling some companies.

As of next year, theater companies that want to participate in the Klines will have to pay a set — and escalating — rate to their cast and crew. There will also be an increase in the number of required performances.

Some in the theater community say these new requirements are too onerous for smaller or more experimental theaters. They've been characterized as an attempt to create a theater union, a role doubters say is best left to actual unions such as Actors' Equity Association.

Some companies say they no longer see value in the awards and won't participate anymore. Three companies that have always been a part of the awards recently pulled out in light of the changes: St. Louis Shakespeare, New Line Theatre and Stray Dog Theatre.

[Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this paragraph; please see end of article.] Donna Northcott is the founder and creative director of St. Louis Shakespeare. Northcott's troupe has been nominated for its share of Klines. But now, they're out.

"I don't see much purpose in the awards ceremony, other than just the theater community dressing up and having a fun evening," Northcott says, "when all that money and effort could be spent into actually strengthening theater in the St. Louis community.

1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
15 comments
Landonshaw
Landonshaw

Normally, I would never comment on something like this because frankly, I try to just keep my comments to myself and observe. However, I feel I need to say something here. After reading the article and the comments and having heard things within the community, I can only say this one thing...THIS ALL HAS TO STOP! We are artists. At sometime in all of our lives the "theatre bug" bit us and we then strived to develop our art and our craft and have a chance to perform and change lives, which is what we do every time we produce a show. Now it is no secret that people in our industry have egos, which is not necessarily a bad thing if you are able to keep that ego in check. As someone who is not a native to Saint Louis and has been blessed to practice my craft all over the United States I was excited to be able to bring my passion and experience to Saint Louis. I was sad to find so much negativity, name calling, rumors, gossip, and out right cruelty from respectable artists to other artists. I believe the mission and intentions of the Kevin Kline awards came from a great place. Have they had some problems? Yes, but who hasn't. All non-profits and arts organizations have had problems in this economy and these times. At least they recognize it and are truly trying to do something about it. It comes down to if you don't like what they are doing, don't participate. No one is saying you have to. Continue to explore and share your passion and stop all of this hatred and negativity. How are we to succeed as a theatre community when we act in such an embarrassing way with each other. How do we expect audience members to come and support us when they are able to see this mud slinging? Would you support something when you were able to see all of this ugliness happening? Not too sound so simple, but it really comes down to if you don't have anything nice to say, then just don't say it. This whole article and especially some of the comments saddens me. I wake up everyday feeling blessed that I am an actor and an artist. Before I was an Equity actor, I did NOT feel like a failure or feel like I was not a professional. I was honored to become an Equity actor, but I still don't feel I am anymore talented or more important than a non-Equity actor. The word professional does not mean money or budgets or who has more toys to enhance their productions. The word professional is an attitude and an approach to their craft and the way they handle themselves offstage and onstage. Some of you may read this and say, "shut the hell up Landon, you have no idea what you are talking about". And if that happens, it will not bother me because I clearly cannot reach you. However, I am hopeful that the majority of you will read this and just stop for a second and realize that the true goal that will lead to success is to treat everyone with respect and work together. The arts are in trouble my friends, everywhere. The only way we are going to make it is to work together and stop all of this B.S. Agree with me or not, that is simply the key to success. Look at Japan. Look at how this country has seen hell and yet they remained calm and worked together. They put egos aside and respected those with leadership skills and insight and all pitched in to succeed. We can all learn something from them. Now, I am not trying to say for a second that what we are experiencing is even remotely close to the devastation in Japan. However, from every horrible thing that happens, the best thing we can do is to learn from it. That is how I feel and I just felt I needed to share. I hope that my comments and thoughts will resonate with some of you and we can move on from this point and become the STRONG theatre community that we all hope to be. Thank you!

Respectfully,Landon Shaw

*Good luck to all Kline nominees tonight.

Mike Dailey
Mike Dailey

As a St. Louis native that now lives/works in Chicago, my reaction is that the Klines just moved to quickly. 6 years? It seems like you would really want to get 10 or so years under your belt before you make moves/demands like this. Number of performances sounds reasonable to set standards for, but the artist pay scale seems to be an overreach. Perhaps an Equity/Non-Equity seperation would be more useful (which is what they do here.) People here have a similar dismissive attitude about the Jeffs (Joseph Jefferson Awards) but they do help the audience have some guidance about a company's history and they do help the community grow.

It would be a shame to see them go by the wayside since they are already up and running.

Ben Nordstrom
Ben Nordstrom

I sent this letter to the editor last week...

I recently read Melissa Meizner’s article entitled “Striving to Better, the Kevin Klines May Mar What’s Well.” I have a major issue with Ms. Meizner’s work on the article. The negative tone and piling on against Jason Cannon. If the article is about the Klines and Mr. Cannon is representing the organization, that’s fine. However, at times, her article seems to be taking shots at Mr. Cannon and I’m not sure I understand why. If you want to write an article making fun of Mr. Cannon, then write that article. But apparently, this article is supposed to be about the current issue regarding the Kevin Kline Awards. So stick to that please. Specifically, comments like “Everyone’s got a Jason Cannon story,” and her example that follows and her story of meeting Mr. Cannon at a coffee shop are arbitrary, cheap, and have nothing to do with the Kevin Kline Awards. Our theatre community is a small one. One could also feasibly say, “Everyone’s got a Ben Nordstrom story”, or a “Scott Miller story”, or a “Michelle Hand story”. You get the picture. This is bad journalism. Why did she not also tell a less than flattering story about Andrea Torrance or Donna Northcott or Ed Reggi or Scott Miller or John Contini? Their thoughts and opinions on the issue are expressed in the article also. Why not make a little fun of them too? I also find it disappointing that in researching the Kevin Kline Awards, Ms. Meizner did not report that she spoke to anyone directly associated with the PTAC other than Jason Cannon. What are the current PTAC board members saying? Was Peter Sargent contacted? What about Edward Coffield? Personally, I really would like to know what any of them have to say. I too am seeking some clarity on this issue. But reading this sort of writing is maddening. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a local professional actor, previous Kline recipient, a current nominee, and a colleague or at least an acquaintance of everyone mentioned in this letter. I do not intend to defend or tear-down the Kevin Kline Awards. I’m not really sure what I personally think. I simply wish for fair and mature reporting and a productive discussion among my friends and colleagues. We don’t have to agree on this, but keep the cheap shots to yourself.

Ben Nordstrom

anonymous
anonymous

shut the fuck up

jesus christ, is there a jason cannon cult?

you fucks obviously don't understand how longer-form journalism works

Peter Hasser
Peter Hasser

Dear Vulgar sir or ma'am,

Why do you feel the need to simply shut up those who disagree with you with harsh language rather than present your argument in a detailed manner, as did Mr. Nordstrom and Ms.Hegdahl? Posting in a bigoted manner such as this is an insult to the intelligence of any and every reader, regardless of opinion on the topic.You state in your comment that "[we] fucks obviously don't understand how longer-form journalism works", which may or may not be so, but to make such a comment without providing a more detailed explanation of "how longer-form journalism works" does nothing to advance your point. So please, enlighten the RFT online readership community as to how this journalistic method operates or if you cannot/will not do so, please refrain from making such unhelpful and unseemly comments in the future.

Most Sincerely,

Peter Hasser

Carrie Hegdhal
Carrie Hegdhal

Dear Ms. Menzer and our Theatre Community,Having read Melissa Meinzer's piece on the Kevin Kline Awards, I have to admit that I don't think asking to be compensated $25 is too much. I am a professional actor and I personally have chosen not to work in theatre right now in order to spend more time with my daughter...and I just can't afford it. This is my choice and I hope one that won't be criticized. If an actor would like to work for free that is also their choice (and one that also should not be criticized). However, if the Klines are giving awards to professional theatres and artists I believe compensation is in order. $25 a show doesn't seem extreme as a starting point. My 18-year-old babysitter -who watched my daughter while I was in rehearsals and production- made more than that; not only per show, but per rehearsal. I pay what I think is fair in order to get very good care. I could probably find someone who would work for less but I want my sitter to take this job very seriously and I believe they are doing an important job and should be fairly compensated. Isn't that what should be expected of our theatre professionals as well? Professionals get paid for their work. If not they are volunteers. There is no shame in volunteering but I can't think of a professional who is not paid for their work unless they are volunteering. Call yourself a "Tremendous Theatre Company Who Produces Good Work and Relies on Volunteers" but there must be a way to define a "professional company" and one that has the support and means to pay a minimal amount to the professionals they hire seems like a good way to start this definition.

Also, the side note regarding Mr. Cannon and "everyone having a story about him" seemed completely off topic, inconsiderate and hurtful. Should the posters have continued to advertise an actor who was no longer doing the role? What did this have to do with the article and how the Klines should be run? Everyone has a "story" and I have no doubt there are people who have a "story" or two about me (please don’t post them), but I don't think they're newsworthy or pertinent. Miss Meinzer should stick to the facts instead of buying into the rumor mill that brings down the professionalism and respectability of our theatre community.

Sincerely,Carrie Hegdahl(oh I mean anonymous)

Question?
Question?

I do enjoy Kline. However, I feel it important to note that he is not the only famous St. Louis native with Broadway experience. This city always seems to forget its native son, Scott Bakula. Hi has won a Golden Globe, and has been nominated for Tony as well as counteless other awards, he is famous on stage and screen, and yet he has been omitted from the St. Louis walk of fame, and never seems to get any credit as a famous local. Why does local theater never reach out to him? And why is he always forgotten?

Bob Gerchen
Bob Gerchen

Yeah, I've got a Jason Cannon story, too. "The story goes" I saw the production of Hamlet referenced in the article. "The story goes" that the sets were effective. "The story goes" the direction was tight. And "the story goes" that Jason's performance was nothing short of brilliant. I could count the number of artists who could have pulled off what Jason did on one hand, with fingers left over. It was cheap for the author to make Jason's efforts on that show a function of ego, instead of a function of ability. While the article legitimately examines the precariousness of the Klines' future and the need for reforms (a strong exec director who focuses on fundraising and marketing the community as a whole, separating Equity and non-Equity companies for consideration would be good starts), taking snide potshots at one of the central characters in this story (a guy who has willingly put himself at the thankless center of this shitstorm) is crap journalism. Ms. Meinzer would be well advised to stay on point.

anonymous
anonymous

i didn't see any snide potshots

here's one, though: you seem like an oversensitive pompous ass

Anonymous
Anonymous

From one anonymous person to another,It is quite precarious for you to call Mr. Gerchen, who simply highlights the journalistic unprofessionalism of writing with a bias, an "oversensitive pompous ass". Attempting to belittle Mr. Gerchen's argument through an ad hominem comes dangerously close to a declaration of your own self-importance. Seeing as your comment suggests that your opinion is obviously the only viable opinion that a person could have, you sir/ma'am are bordering on pomposity yourself.

And please, if you want to be snide, at least know the definition so that you may actually succeed at being so.

Peter Hasser
Peter Hasser

The post was intended to be satirical. Therefore, yes, you may very well say that I was being pompous.

-Peter Hasser

anonymous
anonymous

christ, and i thought gerchen was pompous

Linda
Linda

Great article. Thanks for showing different sides of the story. The first year of the Klines, I was so proud to be part of St Louis Theatre. Now, not so much - it seems to be the MUNY, FOX & Stages awards - the companies with the most $$$. It no longer represents small professional theatre and it's ashame.

Scott Miller
Scott Miller

Excellent article, very balanced, very accurate. Too bad you left out Jason Cannon's recent quote that theatre companies just don't care about actors. A classic. :)

Kincaid Robert1
Kincaid Robert1

You are an ass. The two biggest jokes in St Louis Theater are New Line and Stray Dog.....no matter what the future holds for the Klines, not having you involved in it can only help their cause. Go write another book that no one buys and give it a rest.

 
Loading...