Prism Theatre Company announces the playwrights, directors, and cast of Prism’s first annual Spotlight On festival of new works, sharing the stories of women playwrights throughout the bi-state area. Each night of staged readings will be followed by a talkback with the actors, playwrights, and Prism creative team. 

ACADEME.compassion by Dr. Laura Perkins

Friday, August 13th, 2021

Directed by Wendy Greenwood

A whimsical romp inside the final test of graduate school:  an oral defense of the written exams.  The premise of this academic tradition seems simple enough. Yet, three faculty with wildly different motivations complicate what should be a pro-forma ritual.  In comps, an epic battle ensues; passions flare, emotions erupt, and manipulative moves threaten the student’s chances for success.  

Starring: 

Kelly Howe as Dr. Stepoloni

Eleanor Humphrey as Student

Phil Leveling as Dr. Trout

Kay Love as Dr. Fenmore

See the Dove by Laurie McConnell

Friday, August 13th, 2021

Directed by Rayme Cornell

When a friendless white woman encounters a homeless Black man in a city park, their contentious first meeting morphs into mutually satisfying verbal skirmishes as they battle prejudice, loneliness, Sarin, and Spanx to find friendship and love among pigeons and doves.

Starring:
Eleanor Humphrey as Ava/Pidge

Don McClendon as Jay

Kelly Schnider as Evelyn

Stay Awhile by Dana Hall

Saturday, August 14th, 2021

Directed by Wendy Greenwood

Samantha has been concerned about her mother, Janice, since her father’s passing. This play deals with complex grief and how it impacts the entire family.  It illustrates the changing landscape of mother/daughter relationships.  It’s a window into the world most families do not talk about.

Starring: 

Carmen Garcia as Janice

Kelly Howe as Samantha 

Bandera, Texas by Lisa Dellagiarino Feriend

Saturday, August 14th, 2021

Directed by Trish Brown

A dramedy about marriage, motherhood, and the women who came before us and paved our way, “Bandera, Texas” follows Liz, a native New Yorker forced to relocate to the Texas Hill Country for her husband’s job. She is visited by her long-dead grandmothers, who help her adapt to her new life and remind her that an uprooted woman can grow wherever she is replanted when she knows who she is and carries the people and places she loves inside her. 

Starring: 

Carmen Garcia as Genevieve

Sam Hayes as Liz

Kay Love as Mary

Jeffrey David Thomas as Dave & 11 others

Tickets are $10 minimum donation and can be pre-purchased through the Prism website.  

The mission of St. Louis’ newest professional performing arts organization, Prism Theatre Company, is to promote the work of women and emerging artists, on stage and off, through the lens of theatre for the new world.  We produce both new and classic works in an atmosphere of inclusivity, where artists from all walks of life can come together to explore our common humanity. Prism is creative collaboration, without the cliques.

Prism Theatre Company is the brainchild of Trish Brown and Joy Addler, St. Louis-based theatre-makers and longtime collaborators.   

Trish Brown, a professional director, actress, and theatre educator, has directed regionally, as well as in Canada.  She is a proud associate member of SDC, the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.  She holds an MFA in Directing from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and worked professionally in Chicago for a number of years before returning to the St. Louis area.   A process-based, ensemble director, Trish is trained in and utilizes a number of acting methods in her work while specializing in the Michael Chekhov technique.  She is a founding member of The Moving Dock Theatre Company, a Chicago-based company dedicated to the actor’s creative process through the use of the Chekhov technique.  Theatre education is also a passion of Trish’s and she has taught in regional arts programs such as COCA in St. Louis and Hinsdale Center for the Arts in Chicago.  She is now a Professor of Theatre at Principia College.  Her educational productions have won numerous recognitions, including two Best Production for the  State of Illinois awards from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.  Trish also loves directing film and coaching actors for stage and screen.  

Joy Addler is a St. Louis area stage manager, company manager, and nonprofit professional. A proud graduate of The Conservatory of Theatre Arts at Webster University, Joy has a BFA in Stage Management and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management. She is also a member of the Actor’s Equity Association. Currently, Joy works as the Performing Arts Manager for Variety the Children’s Charity, overseeing their inclusive chorus and dance programs throughout the year, as well as serving as the Company Manager and Production Stage Manager for their annual Variety Theatre production. In addition to her work at Variety, Joy works as a freelance AEA stage manager throughout the St. Louis area.  

Addler and Brown began work on Prism Theatre Company over 18 months ago in a pre-pandemic world.  The company was a long-time dream of these partners who wanted to provide a home for artists from all walks of life to shine, especially women.  “As members of the St. Louis theatre community, and in talking to our friends in the community, we noticed a gap in the opportunities for women to really be at the forefront,” says Joy Addler, Prism’s Managing Director. “We want to provide a safe space for the voices of women to really shine and take center stage.” Though the company’s mission puts women at the forefront, men are also an important part of Prism’s work.  “We love all artists and welcome men into Prism, as actors, technicians, directors, designers, and Board members.  Nothing at Prism is exclusionary,” says Trish Brown, Prism’s Artistic Director.      

Prism is also designed as a home for new and emerging artists.  “Because I’m passionate about theatre education, fostering new and emerging artists was an important aspect of Prism,” says Brown.  “I remember graduating from college with my BA in Theatre and wondering, ‘OK, what now’?  It was difficult to break into the theatre scene in a meaningful way.  Few companies were open to mentoring young artists at that time.  We want Prism Theatre Company to be a place where emerging artists can work with kind, collaborative, seasoned professionals so they can learn, grow, build their resumes, and make connections.”    

Theatre artists who are interested in joining Prism’s Board of Directors or Company may contact Prism at [email protected]. Prism invites actors to like us on Facebook for access to audition details for future productions. 

ABOUT PRISM THEATRE COMPANY

Prism Theatre Company seeks to champion the voices and stories of women from all walks of life, giving emerging artists a platform to showcase their work with seasoned professionals. We produce both new and classic works in an atmosphere of inclusivity, where artists from all walks of life can come together to explore our common humanity. Prism is creative collaboration, without the cliques.

Learn more about Prism on our website, Instagram, and Facebook.

By Lynn Venhaus

Greetings! This is a people, places and events column about local and national showbiz items that will appear regularly. Feel free to message me with interesting tidbits.

Today we provide some ways to fill your quarantine days and nights, a list of resources for artists, updates on the Theatre Proms and more.

MRS. AMERICA: St. Louis anti-feminist icon Phyllis Schlafly was an Alton, Ill. housewife when she gained national attention in conservative politics, fighting the Equal Rights Amendment and founding the Eagle Forum in 1972. She’s the subject of a nine-part miniseries, “Mrs. America,” which starts Wednesday, April 15 on Hulu. The first three episodes: “Phyllis,” “Gloria” and “Shirley” will air then, then each week through May 27, depicting the battles between Schlafly and the leaders of the women’s movement in the 1970s.

The cast includes Cate Blanchett as Schlafly, Tracey Ullman as Betty Friedan, Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem, Margo Martindale as Bella Abzug and Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm.

Fun fact: I saw Schlafly debate Betty Friedan on the ERA during college. Phyllis came up to the podium, looking like Betty Crocker, and said: “How many women want to get drafted?” A guy in the audience yelled out: “How many men do?” When Betty came up, in a mumu, she clearly had the crowd on her side. Illinois State University, 1973.

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THEATER PROMS: Springtime is awards season for the theater community, but this year, the mandatory Shelter-in-Place doesn’t allow gatherings of 10 or more. Therefore, events have been cancelled, rescheduled and rebooted

Often referred to as “Theater Prom,” the eighth annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards ceremony was to take place on March 30 at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University, but the event had to be cancelled. Local theater critics still honored outstanding regional professional theater.

Instead, HEC provided a streamcast of the awards on Tuesday, April 7, at 7 p.m. on their Facebook page. The event was downscaled reading of the nominations and awards, but hey, it’s #TCA20. You can still see it! Here is the YouTube link:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/tCo0AFHbChE

The theater critics recorded the nominations, and their voice-overs ran over photos. Then HEC announcer Rod Milam announced the winner. There were 34 categories to give awards in, which cover dramas, comedies and musicals. All in a half hour.

Many thanks to HEC Media, including Dennis Riggs, total pro announcer Rod Milam and ace producer Paul Langdon. Thanks to our theater buddy Andrea Torrence for the work on the graphics – the photos really made the virtual. event “pop.” I applaud your sharp professional skills and your devotion to local theater.

A special award was given to Ken and Nancy Kranzberg for their tremendous support and commitment to the arts. Where would St. Louis arts be without the Kranzbergs?

Here are the winners:
https://www.poplifestl.com/indecent-creve-coeur-new-jewish-theatre-are-big-winners-at-eighth-annual-st-louis-theater-circle-awards-ceremony/

Congratulations to the winners AND the nominees, and everyone who gave of their heart and soul to produce live regional professional theater with such passion and panache in 2019.

It truly was a fantastic year, especially for drama, and what a crowded field of talent among the 125 artists nominated and 51 shows from 25 different companies.

It is a privilege to see such a variety of theater during the year, and as a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle, it has been a real joy these past eight years.

In due time, we’ll be back in darkened theaters watching people create magic. We’ll get to hug and laugh again, and marvel at this thing called art that connects us all.

Even virtually for one evening — that was a welcome respite from the sad, terrifying and anxious daily news, wasn’t it, in what’s become the norm in our current global pandemic. People really seemed to enjoy it, lifted spirits – some casts had Zoom parties.

I look forward to seeing you all again, in the “After Times.”

If you want to see who was nominated, here is the PopLifeSTL article: https://www.poplifestl.com/brighton-beach-memoirs-kinky-boots-and-man-of-la-mancha-lead-8th-annual-st-louis-theater-circle-awards/

In community theater, the Arts For Life board of directors presents two awards events each year, the Best Performance Awards honor musical theater and youth productions, and the Theatre Mask Awards honor straight plays.

The fifth annual Theatre Mask Awards, which honors both dramas and comedies, was to take place at a brunch on Saturday, April 4, at The Atrium Center at Christian Hospital. However, it has been rescheduled for July 18.

The 21st annual Best Performance Awards is scheduled for Sunday, June 14, at 2 p.m. at the Skip Viragh Center for the Performing Arts at Chaminade. However, the AFL board of directors will decide shortly on whether the event will be moved. Stay tuned.

For more information and to see lists of nominations, visit www.artsforlife.org.

You can get tickets to both events for the special price of $40. Visit www.artsforlife.org for more information and to see a complete list of nominees.

Emcees are Donna Northcott, a theater professor at Lindenwood University – St. Charles, for the TMAs, and local singer-actress Karen Fulks for the BPAs.

 (Full disclosure: I am a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle and I am on the Board of Directors of Arts For Life).
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HELP IS HERE: How can you help all the artists around the region and homebound folks around the region? During this unprecedented time of isolation, Stay-at-Home mandate, social distancing to #flattenthecurve, here are some resource links:

Gateway Resilience Fund: https://stlgives.org/covid19/gateway-resilience-fund/

This fund will provide short term monetary relief to employees and owners of independent bars, restaurants, and shops in the St. Louis area affected by closures and other circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Curbside STL: https://www.curbsidestl.com/

CurbsideSTL was created to help support our local independent restaurant and retail businesses and their workers during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Regional Response Fund: https://stlgives.org/covid-19-regional-response-fund/

The fund will be used to direct resources to regional nonprofits that are working with local communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.

St. Louis COVID-19 Artist Relief Fund: https://www.gofundme.com/f/st-louis-covid19-artist-relief-fund

Any individual artist living in the St. Louis metro area who has had an event, gig, or paying opportunity canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis can apply for funding.

Support for Artists and Production Crews:

• I Lost My Theatre Gigs resource list and donation site: https://ilostmytheatregigs.squarespace.com/

• Freelance Artists Resource List: https://covid19freelanceartistresource.wordpress.com/ 

 Alive STL: https://alivestl.org/ 314-993-2777

 Safe Connections: https://safeconnections.org/ Hotline: 314-531-2003

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: https://www.thehotline.org/ Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 Text support: Text “LOVEIS” to 22522

Broadway may be dark, but today you can be a light for the theater community.

Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS launched the COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund to help those onstage, backstage and behind the scenes during and after the coronavirus pandemic. Through your donation to this special fund, administered by The Actors Fund, you can ensure entertainment professionals get the health care, emergency financial assistance and counseling they need.

Any others I miss?

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THEATER UPDATES: I try to keep up with the latest news on cancellations and postponements. Here’s the new one. https://www.poplifestl.com/?p=1845
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THE SHOW MUST GO ON: OverDue Theatre Company had to cancel “My Fair Lady” this spring but has put together a Quarantine Concert for Facebook Live on Friday, April 17, at 7 p.m. Special guests include Kaitlyn Mayse, Lauren Molina and Nikki Snelson. Featuring Kimmie Kidd, Eleanor Humphrey and Kay Love, there are 17 performers from the OverDue family who will perform too.

SOME GOOD NEWS: You know him, you love him from “The Office,” the immortal Jim Halpern of the Jim and Pam office romance. Actor John Krasinski has started his own web series, “Some Good News,” and the first episode on March 29 was such a hit, he has produced two more, all dropping on Sunday nights. It’s both inspiring and distracting.

The first one features an interview with Steve Carell, as they reminisce about “The Office.” Watch here: https://youtu.be/F5pgG1M_h_U

John Krasinski

The second features the cast of “Hamilton”:
And here is the third: https://youtu.be/Eg08rJGKjtA

You can follow his page on Facebook for updates and a link to submit good news.

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CINEMA STL: Like everyone else, Cinema St. Louis has rescheduled some events. Here are the new dates/information: Classic French Film Festival: Working to move to late July/early August; St. Louis Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Film Festival: Moving from May 1 to hopefully this summer; QFest: Moving from mid-May to possibly July; Filmmaking camps: Camps slated for June and July will continue as scheduled for now; I Love Movies Trivia Night: Still scheduled for Friday, June 5, with backup dates of Friday, Aug. 28, or Friday, Sept. 4; St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase: This event is currently scheduled to go on as planned in July – deadline May 31; Golden Anniversaries: Films of 1970: The six-film fest is now slated for the following Saturday-Sundays: Aug. 22-23, Aug. 29-30, and Sept. 5-6 at the St. Louis Public Library’s Central Library; SLIFF: Hoping to go as scheduled in November.

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TEAM LEGEND: About a year ago, singer-guitarist Joanna Serenko won the St. Louis Teen Talent Showcase, sponsored by the Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation. Now she’s a contestant on “The Voice.”

Joanna Sorenko

The poised and talented 2019 Kirkwood High School graduate had a four-chair judges’ turn for her blind audition during Feb. 24 night’s season premiere. She sang Amy Winehouse’s R&B rendition of The Beatles’ classic “All My Loving,” and new judge Nick Jonas fought for her to be on his team. Here’s her performance link:

https://www.nbc.com/the-voice/video/nick-jonas-fights-for-joanna-serenko-who-sings-all-my-loving-voice-blind-auditions/4121502

The Battle Rounds began March 23, and Joanna was paired with Roderick Chambers to sing Billie Eilish’s “When the Party’s Over.” Here is the duet:

https://youtu.be/lVmvz9v5KgE

Kelly Clarkson described their duet as “effortless and beautiful and passionate,” and coach Nick called her a “flawless singer” but picked Rod as the winner — then John Legend stole Joanna, so she advances to the Knockout Rounds on Team Legend. EGOT Legend said she had a lot of “style and grace” in her voice.

Both the Battle and Knockout Rounds were taped earlier, so they aren’t affected by the virus shutdown. However, the live shows in May might be, which follows the Knockout Rounds. Go Joanna! (Tune in April 13).

For the first show, a viewing party took place at the Marcus Des Peres Cinema. Due to the pandemic, that can’t happen now. If it starts up again, I’ll let you know.

She used to sing in the choir at Kirkwood’s United Methodist Church and moved here from Cleveland in 2010.

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AND THAT’S A WINNER: Sports commentator and hometowner Joe Buck is reaching out to sports fans, asking them to send videos so he can provide a “play-by-play” of what they’re doing while staying at home — perhaps dribbling in place? Just be careful what you send him.

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HARRY POTTER INTERACTION: Want to escape to fantasy worlds during this global pandemic? “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling has launched a new website called Harry Potter at Home – a free magical resource to keep readers of all ages entertained while staying at home. In addition to the existing interactive features on WizardingWorld.com, the site creators have added new activity kits, “nifty magical craft videos,” quizzes, puzzles, and more. You can also listen to the first book on Audible for free or download and read it from a digital library.

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AND HE SCORES! Congratulations to Tom Calhoun, one of the nice guys in local media and the St. Louis Blues announcer for 33 years, who was recognized with three honors by the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame. He was recently inducted, presented with the President’s Choice Award and given a commemorative 1500th-game plaque at the fourth annual Illinois Enshrinement Dinner.

Tom Calhoun, Tom Morris and Laila Anderson

A veteran of KMOX, WIBV and other stations, he is currently an adjunct communications professor at Southwestern Illinois College and general manager of its campus radio station, Blue Storm. He has never missed a Blues game since 1987 — until the global pandemic sidelined the team and the NHL cancelled the season. (Just think: a year ago, on April 10, we won the first of the 16 games we needed to win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs).

Cutline: Pictured, left to right, Tom Calhoun, head of the St. Louis National Hockey League Off-Ice Crew Tom Morris and St. Louis Blues inspiration and “super-fan” Laila Anderson. Photo by Bill Greenblatt

APPLAUSE, APPLAUSE: The Black Rep was awarded the August Wilson American Century Cycle Award by Christopher Rawson of the Pittsburgh Gazette on its opening night of “Two Trains Running.”

In 2008, they were the third company in America to complete the 10-play American Century cycle and are currently two-thirds of the way through it for the second time. Each of the 10 plays are set in a different decade of the 20th century.

The Black Rep board at ceremony – Rawson at far right. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

Rawson, the newspaper’s senior theater critic and an August Wilson House board member, made the presentation Jan. 10. The award was established only recently, so presentations are being made gradually to the 15 qualifying companies.

 “August is still alive, first, in the people, places and stories from what we call August Wilson’s Hill, and second, in the theaters around the country that bring them to life. This award, presented jointly by his hometown newspaper and his childhood home, celebrates the conjunction of these two. It says that we are all connected in August’s work, through our recognition of its rich humanity and spiritual passion,” he said.

Wilson’s widow, Constanza Romero Wilson, sent thanks to The Black Rep “for your ongoing support of his legacy and for continuing to tell the stories for many generations to come. You ‘belong to the band’!” The quotation comes from Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean,” where “the band” refers to those who struggled to free black Americans from slavery and Jim Crow.

Meadow Nguy

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IN THE CREDITS: Meadow Nguy of O’Fallon, Ill., makes an appearance in the seventh episode of the new Amazon Series “Hunters” starring Al Pacino. She was seen in “Law and Order: SVU” last November, and has been on “Madam Secretary” and “The Blacklist.”
She moved to New York after graduating from Indiana University with a degree in musical theater. She appeared on stages in St. Louis, including the 2012 “Spring Awakening” at Stray Dog Theatre and their world premiere of “Spellbound,” and in the metro-east during her high school years. She won the Illinois Musical Theater Award, her ticket to the Jimmy Awards in 2012.

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BOOKSHELF: New Line Theatre Artistic Director Scott Miller is also a prolific writer. His latest, “Idiots, Heathers, and Squips,” digs into a new batch of original, interesting musicals produced the first 15 years of the millennium.

He does deep dives into these 11 that represent “the astonishing variety and fearlessness of this new Golden Age:  Urinetown, Sweet Smell of Success, Jerry Springer the Opera, Passing Strange, Cry-Baby, Next to Normal, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, American Idiot, Heathers, and Be More Chill.

It’s available on Amazon for $17.96: https://www.amazon.com/Idiots-Heathers-Squips-Musical-Theatre/dp/B084DR2HNW


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MK Andersen

LISTEN IN: MK Andersen’s “The First Hundred Days.” She is inspired by the idea that if the first hundred days of a presidency are the most pivotal and important, then the first hundred days of X,Y and Z must also be important. New ones are released every Tuesday: https://yourdaybymk.com/podcast-first-hundred-days
:
MK, who operates a wedding planning business, is a graduate of University of Notre Dame with a bachelor’s degree in political science. For the podcast she has talked to a writer at Netflix, a former university president and others. In episode 2, a fascinating talk with former FCC Chairman Newton Minow  (1961-1963) is here. Minow, 94, served under President Kennedy. He practices telecommunications law in Chicago and in 2016, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.

Fun fact: “Gilligan’s Island” creator Sherwood Schwartz named the tiny ship that took that fateful trip for Minow because he thought he had ruined television. Minow is noted for a speech in which he called American television a “vast wasteland.”

Reel Times Trio

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REEL TIMES TRIO: Of course I’m going to plug my own, Reel Times Trio podcast, which is Carl “The Intern” Middleman, myself and a rotating guest to discuss the latest movie releases, what’s out on DVD and streaming, what’s new in Hollywood and Broadway, what’s happening locally, good TV and more.

We’re on iTunes and SoundCloud, and have a Facebook page where we post episodes each week. We also are posted here at PopLifeSTL.com
During the pandemic, after a brief layoff, we have transitioned to Zoom.  Find us here: https://soundcloud.com/lynn-zipfel-venhaus

Bill Hader and Henry Winkler in “Barry”

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ICYMI: Need something to do?
HBO has unlocked the vault on nine popular series that you can watch for free on HBO Now or HBO Go, or if you have cable TV, now through May 31. The shows are: Barry, Big Little Lies, The Wire, The Sopranos, Succession, Veep, Silicon Valley, Six Feet Under, True Blood and Ballers.

Here are musicals and shows to watch online: https://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Broadway-From-Home-157-Musicals-Shows-You-Can-Watch-Online-20200319

Need to know where you can find a movie to watch, whether it’s streaming or not? Check out www.justwatch.com or download the app on your phone.

Did you miss Andrea Bocelli’s free streaming concert from Milan on Easter Sunday? Here is the YouTube link to the half-hour concert, featuring the famed opera singer performing “Ave Maria,” “Santa Maria” and “Amazing Grace”: https://youtu.be/huTUOek4LgU

He told NBC News: “I believe in the strength of praying together. I believe in the Christian Easter, a universal symbol of rebirth that everyone – whether they are believers or not – truly needs right now. Thanks to music, streamed live, bringing together millions of clasped hands everywhere in the world, we will hug this wounded earth’s pulsing heart…”

One of the best ads yet on staying safe for the good of a city, Here’s Doner Advertising Agency’s uplifting message to Detroit: https://youtu.be/JJzlXhXrD7I

Playwright Nancy Bell and Director Lucy Cashion teamed up for “MUTE: A Play for Zoom” that debuted on Facebook April 5. Spencer Lawton was the production manager. )Main photo is a screen shot of the Zoom play, a remarkable achievement.) Here is the Vimeo link to the half-hour production: https://vimeo.com/405178212?fbclid=IwAR2hkRVBGu78QK8rLQWmb6pY-e7fynRixVlGxky1vvhWNxyN3kKY8PrCP0s
Here is our review: https://www.poplifestl.com/visionary-apocalyptic-farce-mute-a-play-for-zoom-brings-joy-in-modern-storytelling/

Ali MacGraw

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MEMORY LANE: Valentine’s Day marked the 50th anniversary of bestseller “Love Story,” the young romance that had hearts aflutter back when I was in high school. This is actually my own book cover.

And the movie turns 50 in December. I wrote about the movie’s impact. We all wanted to be Ali MacGraw. We sure did copy her fashions. Here is that link:
 https://www.poplifestl.com/love-story-at-50-the-iconic-romance-revisited/

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WORD: “The world needs artists more than ever to remind us what truth and beauty and kindness really are.” — Terence McNally (1938-2020), in his Lifetime Achievement Award speech at last year’s Tony’s.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
At its best, “Crowns” is a jubilant celebration of family, faith and traditions, and the Black Rep’s sharp ensemble radiates joy as they take us to church. It’s a gem of a show, gleaming with polish and pizzazz.
The small cast of seven raises their glorious voices in beautiful harmonies, delivering spirituals, gospel standards, church hymns and ballads, which are woven into a story thread that includes vignettes.
As the youngest Yolanda, Tyler White, opens with hip-hop, to set the scene for her life in Brooklyn and showing her youthful energy and independent spirit. She moves down South, to stay with her grandmother, Mother Shaw (Anita Jackson), after a family tragedy. She learns about her history, forges an identity and what it means to have these “church ladies” in her life.

By honoring women who have impacted their lives, we feel the reverence and love for these role models. They are having as much fun on stage as the audience.
With outstanding creative elements, the show pops with color – especially Designer Daryl Harris’ gorgeous costumes and an incredible array of hats that reflect time periods and fashion trends.
The women are decked out in well-tailored Sunday best that reflects their characters. In a dramatic entrance, a rainbow of similar dresses is lowered for the women to change into and tell us about their journey.
Scenic Designer Dunsi Dai’s innovative set includes a large straw hat as the centerpiece. Joe Clapper’s lighting design enhances that symbolic piece.
With considerable flair, director Linda Kennedy focused on what made this 2002 gospel musical by Regina Taylor strike a chord with audiences. It has become the most produced musical in the country.
If Taylor’s name rings a bell, she is an award-winning actress, best known as the housekeeper on “I’ll Fly Away,” NBC’s critically acclaimed drama that ran for two seasons from 1991 to 1993.
She was inspired not only by her role models and the music of their churches, but also a coffee-table book, “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church,” by Craig Marberry and Michael Cunningham.
Musical Director Charles Creath expertly plays keyboards and Matthew Clark handles the percussion, a tight combo at the rear of the stage; they sound terrific. The score, with familiar gospel songs, is at times moving and other times fun.
The movements all have a purpose, too. An experienced Alvin Ailey dancer, choreographer Kirven Douthit-Boyd’s work is another bright spot, conveying the faith, hope and love of this group.
Eleanor Humphrey as Jeanette, Tyler White as Yolanda and Anita Jackson as Mother Shaw in “Crowns.” Photo by Phillip Hamer.Anita Jackson, with customary power and grace, commands the stage with her vocal prowess and leadership role.
Other likable presences include Leah Stewart as Mabel, Amber Rose as Velma, Maureen L. (Hughes) Williams as Wanda and Eleanor Humphrey as Jeanette. They work together well. Tyler White is a natural as Yolanda.
As the sole male in multiple roles, Myke Andrews’ winning personality is a plus, and he also has a strong voice.
The show is structured with vignettes that are told like at a church service – procession, morning service, wedding, funeral, baptism and recessional. It flows well, engaging us with their stories and songs.
The cast connects the message and history lessons with warmth and good cheer. They make these characters come alive – people you know or wish you knew.
The Black Rep’s production of “Crowns” runs Thursdays through Sundays Sept. 5 through Sept. 23 at Washington University’s Edison Theatre, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call (314) 534-3807 or visit www.theblackrep.org.