The 2020 Arts & Culture Preview

Jan 17, 2020 at 6:00 am
Bassist/songwriter Tonina Saputo.
Bassist/songwriter Tonina Saputo. MIKE ROMER

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

With its 2020 season, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves; 314-968-4925) is starting the new year with a bang. Of particular interest are two of the performances coming to the lauded venue's main stage in winter and early spring: Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, running January 8 through February 2, and Dreaming Zenzile, which will be staged March 18 through April 12. Both productions share the story of immigrants building new lives in America, albeit under very different circumstances. In Mojada, playwright Luis Alfaro updates the classic Greek tragedy with the struggles of immigration and assimilation between star-crossed husband and wife Jason and Medea, who left their home in southern Mexico for Los Angeles. Some of the same themes tether Dreaming Zenzile, a musical by Somi Kakoma based on the life of South African musical legend Miriam Makeba. A fierce opponent of apartheid in South Africa, Makeba rose to prominence for her vocal talent and political voice, with the two frequently colliding in her work. The artist spent decades living abroad due to tensions with the South African government before apartheid was dismantled. In Dreaming Zenzile, the richness of her career and final concert is captured through a layered performance and revelatory songs. — Liz Miller

Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis

Russian-Ghanaian artist Liz Johnson Artur spent her childhood in Bulgaria, Germany and Russia, so when she ended up staying with a Russian family in Brooklyn in 1986, it was her first exposure to a then-predominantly black community. The experience inspired Johnson Artur to photograph the people she met and to create more connection between the African diaspora; more than 30 years later, the artist has dedicated her career to this exploration. You can immerse yourself in her journey at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (3750 Washington Boulevard, 314) 535-4660), which is featuring Liz Johnson Artur: Dusha from January 17 through April 19. In Russian, "dusha" translates to "soul," which is an apt description of the humanity captured in each of Johnson Artur's portraits, videos and sketchbooks. The photos were taken across the world, from Africa to the Caribbean to Europe and North America and capture the full range of the African diaspora. Liz Johnson Artur: Dusha premiered at the Brooklyn Museum and marks the artist's first solo museum exhibition.— L.M.

Katherine Simóne Reynolds

St. Louis is lucky to be home to many talented visual artists, chief among them the innovative and thoughtful Katherine Simóne Reynolds. As both an artist in her own right and the curator for the Luminary (2701 Cherokee Street, 314-773-1533) in St. Louis, Reynolds has shown a strong talent for exploring and gently subverting ideas of black beauty and black masculinity. In March 2018, Reynolds turned her attention to an exhibit centered on ideas about black beauty called Mane 'n Tail. The exhibition explored how beauty supply stores manipulate the way black women feel about themselves, while also offering a viable creative outlet for black women and girls. In addition to curating Mane 'n Tail, Reynolds featured some of her own work in the thought-provoking and insightful show. More recently, in September 2019, Reynolds curated Soft Scrub, a show of work by male black artists who engaged with domestic tasks (cleaning, washing dishes, doing laundry), which are traditionally seen in many black homes as "women's work." Keep an eye out for what this rising talent will do next; if her past work as an artist and curator is any indication, it is bound to be memorable and captivating.— Paul Friswold

High Low

High Low (3301 Washington Avenue, 314-533-0367), a literary cafe run under the umbrella of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, promises "to offer a venue for freedom of expression through spoken and written word." The space, which is divided into several dedicated areas, provides the ideal backdrop for literary events and exploration in the St. Louis community. The library features a rotating selection of books, journals and publications hand-picked by local artists and educators. The space also offers a gallery for literary-based exhibitions, a listening room for readings and storytelling and dedicated room for in-resident writers to hone their craft. High Low is home to St. Louis' third location of Blueprint Coffee and the cafe serves coffee as well as bites developed by Bulrush chef-owner Rob Connoley.— Ella Faust

New Line Theatre

Fairytales and '80s pop music — what more do you need for a successful musical? In March, Head Over Heels, a wild technicolor celebration of The Go-Go's greatest hits, is traveling all the way from Broadway to Grand Center's Marcelle Theatre (3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, 314-773-6526). Staged by New Line Theatre company, the jukebox musical is a modern take on Sir Philip Sidney's late 16th-century work, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia. The musical follows a royal family's journey to save their kingdom from destruction — and on the way, hilarious antics ensue. Created by writer Jeffy Whitty and adapted for the stage by James Magruder, The Village Voice called Head Over Heels "funny and sexy, with a glorious beat!" Follow the fantastical antics of this delightful fairytale set to beloved Belinda Carlisle tunes such as "We Got the Beat," "Vacation" and other iconic hits. Head Over Heels runs March 5 to 28.— E.F.

West End Players Guild

Two plays are coming to the esteemed West End Players Guild (733 Union Boulevard, 314-667-5686) for the spring season. The guild, which is the region's oldest continuously operated theater company, has been presenting "big theater in a small space" since 1911. Up first in 2020 is Jen Silverman's The Roommate, directed by Sean Belt. The buddy comedy follows the recently divorced Sharon, whose husband and son leave her alone in her large home in Iowa. Along comes Robyn, a roommate who leaves an unlikely mark on Sharon's life. The Roommate will run from February 21 to March 1. Later this spring, the guild will debut Bloomsday by Steven Dietz. The play is named for the Dublin-based celebration of James Joyce's Ulysses and unfolds a bittersweet tale of lost love and past longings. Bloomsday poses the question: If given the chance, would you want to travel back in time to revisit your old life? Find out during the play's run from April 17 through 26.— E.F.

click to enlarge Liz Johnson Artur, Untitled, 1996-2012. Chromogenic photograph, 20 x 24 inches. Courtesy the artist. © Liz Johnson Artur.
Liz Johnson Artur, Untitled, 1996-2012. Chromogenic photograph, 20 x 24 inches. Courtesy the artist. © Liz Johnson Artur.

St. Louis Actors Studio

St. Louis Actors Studio (360 North Boyle Avenue) operates under a simple mission: to "explore the endless facets and various themes of the human condition by producing existing and original collaborative theater." With its spring 2020 season, two productions perfectly capture that goal. From February 14 through March 1, the troupe will stage Sharr White's Annapurna. The play tells the story of a surprise visit by Emma to the trailer park home of her ex-lover, Ulysses, after a twenty-year separation. A stunning duet of tangled pasts emerge between the two, ultimately forming an insightful exploration of love and loss. In April, the studio presents the world premiere of Neil LaBute's Comfort. Following the meeting of an estranged mother and son, the play explores the family's relationship amid past and present book deals. Comfort runs April 17 through May 3. Both productions will be directed by Annamaria Pileggi.— E.F.

Arkadin Cinema & Bar

The Bevo neighborhood is already a destination for some of the city's best dive bars and Bosnian food — to say nothing of the iconic Bevo Mill — and soon, it will be home to the only microcinema in St. Louis. In 2020, first-time entrepreneurs Keith Watson and Sarah Baraba plan to open Arkadin Cinema & Bar (5228 Gravois Avenue), a microcinema or arthouse theater featuring one screen and a whole lot of fun. Unlike large multiplexes or historic movie houses, microcinemas offer a different kind of theater-going experience. Typically, microcinemas are smaller, with one screen and more limited seating — Arkadin is aiming for 40 to 50 seats in the cinema — and feature non-mainstream films and programming. They usually offer a bar or lounge area for discussion and encourage a dialogue about film with patrons. When Arkadin debuts later this year, Watson and Baraba plan to operate it three days a week — likely Friday, Saturday and Sunday — with one screening per day. — L.M.

Ultimate Ninjas

Looking for a nontraditional way to kickstart your 2020 fitness goals? Ultimate Ninjas (140 Long Road, Suite 130, Chesterfield; 636-206-8550) might just be the perfect way to get moving in a totally unique way. The concept features an obstacle-based gym offering classes for every skill level. General manager Jamie Rahn has competed on nine seasons of NBC's hit show American Ninja Warrior, and he's dedicated to sharing this empowering, competitive style of exercise with the world. Offering everything from kids' birthday parties to more focused adult fitness classes, you can replace your classic gym membership with this fun alternative in 2020. — E.F.

Xtreme Paintball Park

Xtreme Paintball Park (3545 Douglas Road, Millstadt, Illinois; 618-476-9999) in Millstadt, Illinois, wants to redefine what it means to play a mean game of paintball. If you've ever wanted to experience the closest thing to real-life Fortnite, Xtreme Paintball now offers a Fortnite-inspired paintball experience that brings the online video game to life. Each team starts with no gear and has to dash around the arena to locate and procure weapons. Two-hour sessions cost $29.99 per person, or $24.99 per person for groups of ten or more. Walk-ins are welcome on Saturday and Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. and private parties can make reservations seven days a week.— E.F.

STL Rebel Con

St. Louis-area fans of the famed fantasy show Spartacus are in luck in 2020, as the Sheldon (3648 Washington Boulevard, 314-533-9900) will be hosting the first-ever STL Rebel Con in March. The convention is the first of its kind in town to honor fans and stars of the gladiator-adventure television show. Although most details won't be released until closer to event, the two-day convention promises Q&A panels, photo opportunities and even a chance to meet the stars of Spartacus. The event is scheduled for Saturday, March 21, and Sunday, March 22. Tickets are $79 for a weekend pass, $50 for a Saturday pass and $35 for a Sunday pass.— E.F.