Saint-Louis artists sought to return to the stage in 2021


Throughout 2021, artists and leaders of arts organizations based in Saint-Louis improvised their way past roadblocks created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Shows moved outdoors. The masks came off briefly, then again. Proof of a COVID-19 vaccination has become as essential to entry as a ticket. Artists, performers and leaders of arts organizations continued to find new ways to adapt to a world of the arts that changed from month to month.

One big change has been the widespread return of live events after months of inactivity due to crowd restrictions and public health measures. Old Rock House, the Pageant, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and other venues resumption of concerts in the spring with limited audiences, social distancing and strict application of masking.

For arts organizations and artists, 2021 has been a year of renewal and a chance to return to what they love. It was clear when over 60 regional and national musicians gathered September 10-12 for the premiere Music at the intersection festival at the Grand Center.

Back on stage

The three-day event organized by the Kranzberg Arts Foundation performances by jazz, R&B, blues, rock and soul musicians which aimed to bring music fans back to theaters while highlighting the city’s musical influence.

“Having a festival like us is not something a city like ours should live without,” said Chris Hansen, Executive Director of the Kranzberg Arts Foundation. “It needs a sustainable festival, supported by civil society and which puts our regional heritage, our regional artists and our industry at the forefront.

The festival was slated for 2020, but organizers have postponed it due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 2021 iteration wasn’t all that planners originally had in mind – the city would not be issuing a permit for an outdoor stage, and social distancing and masking guidelines were a telltale sign of the pandemic in progress.

But it was still a step forward, said Hansen.

The Saint-Louis Symphony Orchestra has prioritized old and new events to keep people coming back to see live music performances. The symphony returned to Forest Park for its annual outdoor fall concert after the symphony performance was canceled in 2020.

“Back in Forest Park in September, we believe we had close to 20,000 people on Art Hill,” said Saint-Louis Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Marie-Hélène Bernard. “That alone will probably remain one of the most memorable and moving experiences of our calendar year 2021.”

The symphony also held its first performance on June 10 at the Washington Metropolitan AME Zion Church and continued its On The Go series of short concerts in outdoor spaces.

“I think the feeling of serving our community and connecting through music and bringing joy and really healing and having people from all walks of life connect with the musicians of the St. Louis Symphony at going out into a community was really the most powerful effort of the season, and possibly the component we’re most proud of, ”said Bernard.

File photo / T Charles Erickson

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St Louis Repertory Theater

Somi Kakoma stars as Miriam Makeba in “Dreaming Zenzile” at the Repertory Theater of St Louis.

The Saint-Louis Repertory Theater closed its doors in 2020 on the day of his production of “Dreaming Zenzile” by Somi Kakoma went from the rehearsal room to the theater. The Repertory Theater opened its season with delayed production.

The one-and-a-half-year hiatus allowed the playwright and creative team to focus on aspects of the play over a longer period of time, said artistic director Hana Sharif.

“New pieces require a deep investment, you don’t know what you have until you put a new piece on its feet when you have actors in the hall and musicians in the hall and it all starts to come together. set up, ”Sharif said. “One of the perks, I think, to ‘Dreaming Zenzilwas that we had this whole rehearsal process to find out what the play was really like in practice when you put this beautiful story and its wonderful music on its feet. And then have a year of reflection between the unexpected closing of the theater and the next rehearsal.

Like many organizations, Dance St. Louis has decided to skip its 2020 festival. Organizers have been working to find ways to bring its annual festival back to the masses this year with a show at the Big Top in Grand Center. The move was a big change for the organization, which typically hosts its festival at the Touhill Performing Arts Center.

“We thought it was time to get back to the audience,” said Michael Uthoff, artistic director of Dance St. Louis. “By creating this, we were able to put forward an idea that other companies could take advantage of if they wanted to. “

The venue only allowed for a smaller incarnation of the annual event, and the rain on the last day forced some performers to adjust their routines to avoid injury, but overall the event was a much appreciated comeback. for the dance presenter.

Connecting with the public online

Several local performing groups have made tentative forays into online streaming in 2020. This year, with the pandemic seemingly here to stay, many have stepped up their efforts online.

The Metro Theater Company filmed a bilingual production of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle, with audio description for the visually impaired. The show was presented live and outdoors in May and April and was filmed for airing online.

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Jennifer a lin

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Metro theater company

The Metro Theater Company presented a performance of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” this spring.

“What was great is that it allowed us to get this production out to a lot more people than we could have otherwise before the pandemic,” said Joe Gfaller, chief executive of the company. “We were limited to a region of 10 states for streaming, by our coin rights agreement, but every state we were allowed to stream has allowed us to reach school children or families during this run. , really allowing us, I think, increase the impact of the production and help the children and the teachers to access a great theater.

Gfaller said online content can help the business reach people internationally.

“It also shows how this pandemic has sort of democratized access to corporate programming all over the world,” Gfaller said. “We are delighted that there are audiences in Ontario, Singapore and Japan watching our work. “

He said these new international viewers might not support the Metro Theater Company in the long term like audiences in St. Louis do, but that it is good to have them “in the mix”.

Other producers have put their work online. Dacia Polk, also known as InnerGy, hosted their open mic WordUp party and broadcast it on Facebook and YouTube. Polk said the show was a huge success and will air on a Roku channel next year.

“As soon as we deployed the gate, we were averaging 1,000 views,” Polk said. “It was just great to see so many people listening, so many people engaged, a lot of comments, a lot of shares. So it was big, it was major. And 10 episodes was work.

The online expansion has helped arts organizations reach audiences beyond the Saint-Louis area. The Orchester symphonique de Saint-Louis broadcast a live concert for the first time, purchased video recording and editing equipment, and even hired a videographer to help it create professional videos of educational programs and performances. ‘orchestra.

The Creative Arts Center has also grown thanks to virtual tools that have enabled the organization to work with artists outside the region. The expansion was something that couldn’t have happened years ago, said Delaney Piggins, artistic producer for COCA.

“This was our first opportunity to work with a playwright from outside of Missouri,” Piggins said. “It opened up the possibility for us to apply to work with a playwright that we wanted to work with who might not be in our city who might be across the country in this case and create a virtual process that then allowed us to increase the amount of time we were working on a piece before they came in person to create the production with us in a five day rehearsal process.

Adjust priorities and career paths

Like many people across the country quitting their jobs, artists are also questioning things.

Singer-songwriter Javier Mendoza, says Hobo rod, returned to Saint-Louis to perform a series of shows and celebrated the 20th anniversary of her album “Beautiful” at the Blue Strawberry.

“It took me back to 2001, which was all we ever did,” Mendoza said. “Everything was a show, every show was like a moment.”

But Mendoza said the past two years continued to be difficult for artists, especially artists who depend on touring.

“I have a lot of touring friends who are in touring groups and some of those budgets have gone down,” Mendoza said. “They put these artists who were previously in buses, now they are in vans. And I know friends who tell me, “I don’t get in a van anymore, I prefer to teach from home.”

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File photo / Chad Davis

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Saint-Louis public radio

Drangus keyboardist and vocalist Tom Pini performs at the Kranzberg open-air concert on April 16. Pini started Drangus in 2016 after playing in Family Might and Foxing groups.

A lot of musicians have wondered this year if they want to continue.

“Musicians who don’t make music full time or professionally, completely, you know, maybe this is a time when they wonder if this is the best way for them,” said the keyboardist and singer. by Drangus, Tom Pini. “There are, unfortunately, fewer and fewer opportunities, so I see a lot of people questioning. “

But even with fewer shows, Pini said the year had given him and the band a chance to prioritize performance in a way they might not in 2020.

“This year we’ve played three or four shows, and I think that’s actually really good for most of the bands,” Pini said. “So I feel really blessed, I know, so does my team. And I think a lot of people are still trying to find opportunities to play concerts. Since our show in April I think we played The Foundry and then we played Off Broadway. And that’s it, but four shows in 2021 is good for me and where I am. And I know, a lot of people want to play more gigs right now, so all I get is gratitude. “

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