Article originally appeared in Arts For Life’s Feb. 18 newsletter. Article written by Kim Klick and Lynn Venhaus

After working as a professional actor and singer for more than 30 years in Las Vegas, including performing opera at the Venetian Hotel on the Strip, Kimmie decided to move back to her hometown.

To leave her comfort zone and start over at 45 years old was daunting.

“More than a few people thought I must have been crazy!” she said.

But she knew it was time for a change and she did have support.

She was hired to work at Nordstrom Department Stores and found an apartment in Valley Park.

“I thought I’d be satisfied with all of that, but I wasn’t. Frankly, I was quite miserable. I was lonely, broke and terribly homesick! Most of all, I missed performing.”

However, things slowly fell into place. She not only found her way into the St. Louis theatre scene but reconnected with childhood friends, settled down here and married Gregg Booker. They grew up in the same neighborhood, and found each other on Facebook.

She started researching St. Louis theater companies, sending out letters and headshots, hoping to be acknowledged, but no response.

One day in 2012, she came across an audition for an upcoming production of August Wilson’s “Fences” at Hawthorne Players.

“I hadn’t even heard of August Wilson! Can you believe that? Someone like me, who has done theatre her entire life, had not heard of August Wilson?”

She showed up, prepared but “terrified.”

“A little-known fact about me is that I had never done a ‘straight play’ before! I had always done musical theatre. So, to put myself in a position where I had to just ACT, well, it was unchartered territory for me, to say the least!”

She was offered the part of Rose, the long-suffering wife who is married to the lead character, Troy.

Kimmie Kidd-Booker in “Fences” at the Hawthorne Players. Photo by Larry Marsh

“It’s one of the most important, historical, emotional, heartfelt roles to exist in American Theatre. I thought, ‘What the hell did I get myself into?’” she said.
She did not need to fret.

“This was one of the best and most fulfilling theater experiences of my career,” she said.

For the record, August Wilson was not only an African American playwright, but also was an amazingly talented award-winning playwright who died too soon at the age of 60, Kidd-Booker explained.

“Fences” is part of Wilson’s celebrated “Pittsburgh Cycle,” sometimes called “The Century Cycle,” in which he wrote 10 plays, each set in a certain decade of the 20th century.

Set in the 1957, it is the sixth play of the cycle, premiered in 1985, and like the others, explores the evolving African American experience and among other themes, examines race relations.

Troy is a Negro Baseball League player who now works as a garbageman – but can’t be a driver (yet). His bitterness is apparent and affects his family – wife Rose and sons Lyons and Cory, and disabled brother Gabriel.

“Fences” won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.
“I am honored and privileged to say I performed in an August Wilson play! Being in an August Wilson play was both thrilling and terrifying. The context is historic and genuine and dramatic. His words are thoughtful and compelling and emotional,” she said.

 While “Fences” is her only August Wilson play to date, she said she is optimistic that moving forward, there will be more opportunities to educate, perform, explore and share the African American experience with everyone.

“Black History Month is just a drop in the bucket. But it is certainly a start. My hope moving forward is that we can continue to gain an understanding of each other and continue a dialogue and put fears to rest. We have many differences, but we must continue to be reminded that we are more alike than we’d like to think,” Kimmie said.

Before she debuted in “Fences,” after a year here, she was considering returning to Las Vegas.

But once she started rehearsals with the cast and crew, then bonding with everyone, she decided to stay.

“My love for theatre kept me here in St. Louis. As I began to meet other theatre people and make more and more theatre connections, I knew that this is where I belonged. These are my People!” she said.

As Eliza Haycraft in the original musical “Madam”

Kimmie recently became part of the AFL Board of Directors. She has won two Best Performance Awards for Best Featured Actress as Glinda in “The Wiz” at Hawthorne Players in 2014 and as Estonia Dulworth in “Nice Work If You Can Get It” at the Kirkwood Theatre Guild in 2019.

She was nominated as Best Actress in a Featured Role as Sister Mary Hubert in “Nunsense” at Hawthorne Players in 2015 and as The Witch in “Into the Woods” at Curtain’s Up Theater in 2018.

Among her roles in regional professional theater, she played Tom Robinson’s wife in “To Kill a Mockingbird” at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, as Lady Bird in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Spellbound: A Musical Fable”and in the ensemble of “Sweeney Todd,” as “Aunt Missy” in The Black Rep’s “Purlie” and as Evangeline Harcourt in “Anything Goes” at New Line Theatre. In January 2020, she starred as brothel owner and philanthropist Eliza Haycraft in the original musical, “Madam.”

About August Wilson

August Wilson

Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel in Pittsburgh, Penn., on April 27, 1945. His mother, Daisy Wilson, was of African American heritage. His father, Frederick Kittel, was a German immigrant.

As a child, Kittel attended St. Richard’s Parochial School. When his parents divorced, he, his mother and his siblings moved from the poor Bedford Avenue area of Pittsburgh to the mostly white neighborhood of Oakland. After facing the relentless bigotry of his classmates at Central Catholic High School, he transferred to Connelly Vocational High School, and later to Gladstone High School.

When he was 15 years old, Wilson pursued an independent education at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where he would earn his high school diploma.

Following his father’s death in 1965, a 20-year-old Wilson adopted the pen name “August Wilson” — reportedly an homage to his mother — and declared himself a poet. In 1968, Wilson and a friend, Rob Penny, co-founded the Black Horizon Theater.

Wilson remained primarily focused on making it as a poet — largely to no avail — until moving to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1978.

Wilson wrote his first notable play in 1979,” Jitney,” for which he earned a fellowship at the Minneapolis Playwright Center.

The following year, his new play, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” was accepted at the Eugene O’Neill Playwright’s Conference. The year 1982 was particularly fruitful for Wilson, as it marked his introduction to Lloyd Richards, who went on to direct Wilson’s first six Broadway plays.

“Joe Turner,” the second part of the cycle, opened on Broadway in 1988.He took home another Pulitzer Prize in 1990, this time for The Piano Lesson, following its Broadway premiere.

Wilson died of liver cancer on Oct. 2, 2005, in Seattle. His new play, “Radio Golf,” had opened in Los Angeles just a few months earlier.

Information from www.biography.com is included here.

Mrs. Harcourt in “Anything Goes” at New Line Theatre 2018

Arts For Life’s fifth annual Theatre Mask Awards will now take place in cyberspace on Saturday, July 18, rather than during a brunch at The Atrium banquet center at Christian Hospital.

This year’s event has been cancelled and reimagined because of the current coronavirus public health situation and gathering restrictions in St. Louis County.

The 2020 Theatre Mask Awards, honoring excellence in community theatre productions of dramas and comedies during 2019, will premiere at 11 a.m. as a live interactive viewing event on the AFL Facebook page, but the awards show will have been pre-recorded.

In addition to the TMA Facebook Watch Party, the video will be on the AFL YouTube channel as a live event and then will remain for later viewings. Please subscribe so you can get a reminder of the event.

TMA will announce winners in 18 non-musical play categories. Eleven community theater companies participate in the TMAs.

Since mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the entire St. Louis Metropolitan region. With the need to maintain social distancing and to wear face coverings to lessen community spread, as well as the fact that all AFL performance venues remain closed at this time, the TMA Steering Committee made the difficult decision to cancel the annual TMA gathering and transition to a streamed format .

AFL had previously announced the switch to virtual for the Best Performance Awards, which honors musical theater and youth productions. That ceremony will be streamed Sunday, June 14, at 2 p.m. on the AFL YouTube channel. The TMAs, originally set for April 4, had been moved earlier to July 18.

Uncertainty about when large groups can safely gather in St. Louis County is another factor.

AFL President Mary McCreight emphasizes that the AFL board will continue to base their decisions upon the best information currently available in this rapidly evolving situation and will continue to share information promptly and transparently, mindful of the need for our community to receive timely updates.

“While we are disappointed that we cannot produce the regular in-person ceremony that so many people look forward to attending, we hope that moving to a stream-based format will still provide an opportunity for our local arts community to come together online and celebrate the many outstanding achievements of the previous year,” McCreight said.

The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves led all St. Louis- southwest Illinois metropolitan area community theaters with 27 nominations.

The TGWG produces five plays a season and received nominations for five of its shows during the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (10), “The Bad Seed” (5), “Over the Tavern” (5), “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940” (4) and “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” (3).

Clayton Community Theatre notched 24 nominations — “Biloxi Blues” (13), “A Soldier’s Play” (10) and “Eurydice” (1). CCT also broke a record for having the most acting nominations from a single show – 8 for “Biloxi Blues.”

To see a complete list of the nominees, visit the website: www.artsforlife.org

McCreight had previously suspended all public activities of the AFL organization, effective March 16 until at least May 1, and then the board extended suspension of the Theatre Recognition Guild judging activities, for the BPA branch (musicals), through July 31.

However, some TMA-eligible productions may open earlier if conditions permit. TMA branch judges and participating groups should be alert for announcements regarding future developments.

“As our world, our nation and our region face a major health threat, it falls upon us as a community to adopt measures that will both foster the protection of those who work and ‘play’ in Metro St. Louis community theatre and ultimately allow AFL to continue our charitable mission of service and recognition once the threat passes,” the president added.

For those who have purchased TMA tickets, AFL will contact you about refund options and how your money can be returned. Instead of receiving a refund you might also consider treating the purchase amount as a tax-deductible donation to AFL.

Any company that wins can pick up their trophies on July 19 at 1 p.m. in the parking lot of Clayton Community Theatre.

“We’d like them to send one representative to collect everything and then disperse to the winners,” said TMA/AFL board member Melissa Boyer.

McCreight said AFL appreciates the support shown during these difficult times.

“I am incredibly grateful to all of our constituencies – the board, judges, participating groups, audience members and donors – for their commitment to AFL and their engagement and unwavering support of our local theatre community during these uncertain times,” McCreight said.

AFL was founded in 1994 by Lucinda Guyrci as a local non-profit organization dedicated to the healing power of the arts through its work with youth, the under-served and the community. The BPAs have honored musical theater since 1999 and the TMAs have honored plays since 2015.

“We hope that you and your loved ones stay safe during this difficult time,” McCreight said. “Because of your commitment to our community and belief in our mission, my optimism is not diminished about AFL being able to move forward once this unprecedented time passes.” 

For more information, contact AFL TRG Secretary Kim Klick at [email protected]

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