Week of December 24, 2003

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Down on Stolo Street
The depth of the tragedy: I looked at the title of this article and avoided it because I was afraid of what it might say [Geri L. Dreiling, "Stolo Street," December 17]. My intuition was on target. I first got teary, then I broke down and sobbed. I asked myself who I was crying for? Ketrease, Annalyn, Dominick, the parents, the "block," the black community? The answer came back: All of the above! She's not the first and sadly, she won't be the last, unless we all change!
Delia Ingram
University City

It only gets worse: Ms. Dreiling states that if Dominick were certified as an adult and convicted, "he'd serve his sentence until age seventeen in a detention center run by the Division of Youth Services. Then he'd be brought back before the judge, who could suspend the rest of his sentence or send him to an adult institution." The provision Ms. Dreiling speaks of, called Dual Jurisdiction, is only a sentencing option for the judge. The child must be accepted into the program and convince the judge to impose it. There is no guarantee that a particular certified child will get this as a sentence. In the present case, murder in the second degree, the sentence is up to 30 years in prison. It is misleading for the public to think that children are treated with less severity once transferred to the adult system. In most cases, they are not.
Teresa Coyle, assistant public defender
Youth Advocacy Unit
St. Louis

Fur Away
Heart pelt: I've reached that age when I find myself asking, "What's wrong with today's youth?"

While reading the partial transcript of the conversation with Miss Missouri USA, 25-year-old Shandi Finnessey, it became clear: Their spoken "beliefs" don't match their "actions" [Unreal, "Shandi in Furs," December 10].

Since when is it more offensive to turn down a gift of dead animals than it is to stand up for your love of animals and refuse to accept the raccoon fur coat from the Missouri Trappers Association? Would Finnessey also have accepted a nice pair of camouflage pants from the Rwandan Armed Forces, who went house-to-house, killing thousands, as camouflage pants are coming back in style?

Indeed, if Finnessey really believed that beauty is more than skin deep, she would know that animals need their skin more than she needs a fur coat -- no matter if she thinks fur is "in" or "out" of style.
Sharie Lesniak, program coordinator, Animal Protection Institute
Sacramento, California

Present Arms
The spirit of fair (gun) play: I must say that I am impressed that a St. Louis newspaper has run such a fair interview with one of the most articulate members of Missouri's pro-gun community [Ben Westhoff, "Love the Gun You're With," December 10].
Tom Zenthoefer

The Brown Chronicles
One good ad hominem attack deserves another: This is a response letter to Christopher Jackson's response letter [December 10] to Scott Miller's letter [November 26] regarding...who cares?

Mr. Jackson, as someone who has had the great misfortune of seeing several of your shows, let me first state that you above all in St. Louis have no business giving an opinion on what qualifies as good theater, good music or a good critique. Scott Miller may not be the next Harold Prince, but he at least makes a very valid attempt at moving the St. Louis theatrical scene forward.

Now I'm not saying I agree with everything that Scott Miller stated in his letter to the RFT, but if you and he were telling me different opinions, I would no doubt listen to him before even entertaining the thought of listening to you.

Your constant need for self-importance through your banal music, your incredibly sophomoric lyrics and your disgusting amateurish column in that rag you're employed by make you nothing but a joke in St. Louis. If you truly knew your reputation in this town, you'd either move or be unable to get out of bed in the morning.

I, for one, am sick of your whiny letters every time someone has an opinion that differs from yours.

I am the first in a line of many people who would like to see CJ Productions permanently shut down. You give theater in St. Louis, music in St. Louis and most of all, gay rights in St. Louis, a very bad image.

Mr. Miller, keep up your good work. If there is a joke to be had in St. Louis theater, its initials certainly aren't S.M.
David Strom
St. Louis

Not wordy, literate: Dennis Brown says Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians is too wordy ["Another One Bites the Dust," December 10]. No, it's literate. I didn't find the script word-laden when I played the male lead in the show at Roosevelt High School in 1970. To the contrary, Mrs. Christie took seriously her charge to flesh out ten characters before killing most one by one. Like many of the great movies on TCM (bless that channel) and the plays of yesteryear, Mrs. Christie's play is dialogue-driven.

The pace of many (not all) of today's movies is dizzying, as if speed -- and volume -- are required to draw fans. That contrast doubled my pleasure at the Rep.

Mind you, the mystery lady's dialogue is spoken quickly in most spots, and that keeps the show moving along nicely. I concur with Mr. Brown's praise of the cast, crew and directors, but I respectfully disagree with his point about verbosity. It was very satisfying to see a full, intelligent script brought to life by the good people of the Rep.
Bill Townsend

More Humbug
You can say that again: I just want to set the record straight on a few things that were mentioned in the dhTV sidebar to Mike Seely's "Rattle and Humbug" cover story [December 3]. First, it was mentioned that some think that dhTV is a "sinking Titanic" and that it is taking away from the money given by KDHX members for KDHX radio. This is not true. If a member pledges money to KDHX, the money goes to support KDHX, not dhTV. dhTV is supported by Charter Communications and grants.

Second, there was comparison between KDHX and dhTV in terms of "members." Membership is currently not our main goal for dhTV, so it is unfair to base our success on that alone. Our efforts right now are concentrated on improving dhTV -- making it a valuable resource for the community, a place for those interested in media to learn TV and filmmaking techniques and have access to equipment.

dhTV aims to give the people of our community a chance to learn the craft of TV and video and provides them a forum to showcase their work. It may never match the viewing ratings of PBS, but that is not the only goal. Can you wander down to KETC, submit an application and have your own show? dhTV is the only place in the city where St. Louisans have the chance to use this medium that is being swallowed up by corporate conglomerates.

Our loftier goal for dhTV is to have it become the home of documentary filmmaking in St. Louis. In the immediate future, we will be helping producers create documentaries about such important local topics as the history of black radio in St. Louis, the Pruitt-Igoe public housing project, the recycling industry and homeless shelters. Our plan is to not only have these projects air on dhTV, but to be screened in public theaters. I believe that many of the projects that we assist independent producers with will not only have an impact on St. Louis, but on a national level as well.

We also have a new initiative called "City Visions," which is, in essence, creating a resource center for local filmmakers. The initiative includes free filmmaking workshops with nationally known filmmakers, a documentary salon where 25 or 30 documentary filmmakers get together once a month to screen and discuss work, an on-line gallery of local short films, the TV show Behind the Lens (which features short films from independent St. Louis producers and a support program for filmmakers that gives them the resources and help they need to complete their short projects.)

The Double Helix Corporation's mission is to foster community participation, knowledge and training in and through mass media. Under the leadership of executive director Beverly Hacker, dhTV is succeeding at that mission -- and is on the road to do much more.
Doug Whyte, development director
Double Helix Corporation
St. Louis

dhTV in black and white: I have been a Double Helix volunteer along with my whole family since 1995 on the television side. I have been a community producer since 1997 and have produced two black shows during this time. I have been an associate member since 1996. People like Lee Whitfield and Tony Renner are racist and don't like the television station because it once catered to the black citizens of the city of St. Louis with most of the programs, unlike the radio station, which caters to the white community. The TV station was meant to teach the citizens of this city about mass media and the programs produced were local. Now it's for college students, and the local community producers have been pushed aside.
Jerry Bey
St. Louis

Hats off to Bev: I am the host of Beyond Barriers -- not "Borders" as Mike Seely incorrectly wrote in his sidebar on dhTV. It is the only show of its kind that addresses issues and services of the disability community. There are many city residents who need and want services. My hat is off to Bev Hacker and the board, as well as other staff and community producers, for improving the quality of programs for Double Helix. Thanks to Paul Dever and my crew for all their support, as well.
Tom Evans Jr.
St. Louis

Defending Donna: Your article about KDHX didn't have too many inaccuracies. However, I was on the board when Donna Kirkpatrick resigned. That's all she did: She resigned. No commentary was directed at her; she responded to nothing. She just resigned. "Grinding inefficiency" probably most characterizes her tenure there.

As far as Double Helix is concerned, the proof is in the results. Both radio and TV are in far, far better working condition than either has ever been. The fact that TV is working at all is some kind of miracle.
Emily Horton
St. Louis

The scandal of Democracy Now: Mike Seely's article on the debacle at KDHX left out one of the most critical elements: the marginalizing of Amy Goodman's Democracy Now. Last winter KDHX began broadcasting this program live from New York at 8 a.m.: prime drive-time. Then sometime in August, the station moved the program to the far less desirable time of 6 a.m. Not only that; KDHX further degraded the status of the program by broadcasting the previous day's show. Yesterday's news and yesterday's commentary.

The explanation? A technical problem, soon to be resolved. The promise? The show would soon be moved to prime evening time. The absurdity? According to a manager, it really didn't matter if people heard yesterday's program -- most of the show was just like a magazine article that could be read at any time. It didn't matter that I and many others had contributed to KDHX because of this program. We could have our donations back if we didn't like the new format, we were told.

Democracy Now is one of the few news programs not controlled by the corporate media. Amy Goodman reports news that most of the mainstream media does not cover. In addition, she presents discussions of both sides of vital issues. For example, this week the show featured Lauri Fitz-Pegado, who ran the Kuwaiti public relations campaign for Hill and Knowlton during the build-up to the first Persian Gulf War, and John Stauber, author of Weapons of Mass Deception. They hold strongly opposing viewpoints and analyses of the controversial testimony given by the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United Sates. The testimony concerned the alleged Iraqi atrocity of pulling babies out of incubators and leaving them to die on the floor. Ms. Fitz-Pegado and Mr. Stauber disagreed on the validity of the young girl's report, which had helped convince many Americans that the war was justified.

Where else does an audience have a chance to hear a debate like this? How are the American people going to learn the truth unless they have many more facts than are presented to them in sound bites by the mainstream media? Shouldn't such a program be made available to as wide an audience as possible?
Margaret P. Gilleo

Union Do's
"Labor" pain: The St. Louis Liaison Committee of Actors' Equity Association (AEA) would like to thank Mathew Everett for his article, "Hard Labor," in the December 3 RFT. While we don't consider AEA membership an obstacle, we know all too well the difficulties facing us in St. Louis and appreciate the exposure of issues affecting union professional actors. However, the article did contain some incorrect information that does not present a fully accurate picture of the AEA actor in St. Louis, and we would like to make some clarifications.

To begin, Actors' Equity Association is a national union and as such, does not have local chapters. As of November 1 the annual dues are $118 per year, plus 2 percent working dues deducted from any pay the actor receives. Once actors join the union, they are still free to work for any company as long as the company signs an appropriate contract with the actor, such as the special-appearance or guest-artist contracts. Also, the official list from Actors' Equity shows over 230 AEA members in the St. Louis area, not 180.

The Rep is not an Equity-only company. The Rep uses students from the Webster Conservatory and has allowances for non-Equity actors in its productions, as do the St. Louis Black Repertory Company and Historyonics, based on cast size and the ratios in their particular contract. Additionally, the statement "only 24 of the Rep's 93 contracts were offered to St. Louis actors" may not accurately reflect the use of AEA members. While we don't know the origins of these statistics, they may include students and local non-Equity actors.

The comment that "several of the smaller commercial companies -- including HotHouse Theatre, City Theatre, Stages St. Louis, (Mostly) Harmless, New Jewish Theatre and St. Louis Shakespeare -- offer, between them, about twenty Equity roles every year" is inaccurate. Stages St. Louis should not be included in this list, as all the other companies listed are non-contract theaters. Stages is a full Equity company, which hires the second-most local professionals under Equity contracts (just behind the Muny) every year. Even so, they too are allowed a number of non-Equity performers in their cast for each show, once again dependent upon the cast size and the ratio allowed in their contract.

The $1,300 per week figure is close to the current Broadway minimum weekly salary and is not indicative of actual pay for local actors. In St. Louis the minimum AEA rates range from $150 per week to approximately $711 per week at the Rep for their main-stage productions.

It is encouraging to read that Scott Miller would love to work with some of the "terrific Equity actors in town." However, his point that "[t]o hire Equity actors, we'd have to pay them six to ten times what we're paying actors now" underscores the amount that these "professional" theaters are paying the non-union actors. While $150 a week would not be considered a "living" wage, nonetheless it is admittedly a great deal more than the $15 to $25 a week which, according to his statement, we deduce Miller is paying the individuals of his non-Equity casts. AEA is doing all it can to help these smaller, non-contract theaters achieve their goals by allowing limited use of AEA members to bolster the seasons where needed. The creation of the Special Appearance Agreement was designed as a concession to the lowest-tier Equity Small Professional Theatre Contract, to allow AEA members to pursue work with these companies.

All actors do what we do for the love of our art and many take it a step further by making it a full-time career choice. We encourage your readers to see union actors in performance and in doing so, to support theaters that utilize local union actors. If in doubt, look for our union affiliation in the playbill.
Erin Kelley, chair
The St. Louis Actors Equity Association Liaison Committee

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