Writer-Director Helping Small Professional Theatre Sustainment Fund

By Lynn Venhaus
Cory Finley first came on my radar with “The Feast,” his original play that was produced by the St. Louis Actors’ Studio in fall 2017. Since then, he has received national acclaim for two films, “Thoroughbreds” and “Bad Education.” He is definitely one to watch.

Now he is giving back to the small theater company that gave him a shot by being one of the artists trying to help STLAS and others in St. Louis through the Small Professional Theatre Sustainment Fund. This was started to help these struggling companies pay their bills until they can safely re-open.

The coronavirus pandemic has threatened extinction for millions of small businesses all over the world, including theater companies, who will continue to be hit hard as they might not receive any funding in 2021, and if they do, it would be a small amount.

“The federal government has offered some help, but small professional theaters are not in line for major funding and the existing funding that relies on tax dollars is vanishing,” said William Roth, STLAS Founder and Artistic Director. “We decided to take matters into our own hands with the creation of the Small Professional Theatre Sustainment Fund and enlisted the help of well-known St. Louisans with careers in the arts.” 

By donating to the Fund, participants are automatically entered into a drawing to win a virtual hangout with Finley or other famous St. Louis artists Sterling K. Brown, Jon Hamm, Sam McMurray, Beau Willimon, or Neil LaBute (longtime friend of the St. Louis Actors’ Studio).

For every $75 donated to www.stlas.org/sustain, the participant’s name is placed into a drawing for 50 chances to win. The more a person donates, the better their chances are for winning. Contest ends Sept. 17 and the winner will be drawn on September 18.  

During the virtual meet-up, the winner will be able to discuss anything of interest with the artist—from acting tips and insights, to fans just wanting to spend a little quality time. Names will be drawn until all artists are spoken for. For official rules and regulations, please visit the FAQ page. Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

Finley wanted to get involved because he believes in their work and the mission they’re starting.

“I was lucky enough to have STLAS put on a production of my play ‘The Feast.’ I’m a huge fan of the work they’re doing and I’m very concerned about the health of theater in America generally in pandemic conditions. I think it’s a great initiative to help keep vital institutions alive,” Finley said. 

In a short-take review, I described the play this way: “One act, three actors, five genres, so says director John Pierson, who shrewdly realizes an eerie “Twilight Zone”-type mind game by Cory Finley of Clayton, Mo. The twisty-turny original play, only 65 minutes’ long, benefits from an accomplished trio of actors and Patrick Huber’s customary meticulous set and artful lighting design. Pierson’s crisp direction and keen sound design enhance the mysterious off-kilter quality.”

Pierson, a St. Louis actor, director and teacher, has been at John Burroughs School since 1993 and is chairman of the Theatre, Speech and Dance Department.

Finley, 31, a Burroughs graduate, is based in New York City, where he is a member of the Obie-winning Youngblood playwrights group at Ensemble Studio Theater. He received a commission from the Alfred P. Sloan foundation for playwrighting, and was the inaugural recipient of the Gurney Playwrights Fund for “The Feast,” which was presented first at The Flea Theater.

Three years ago this month, Finley’s play “The Feast” fit into the vision at The Gaslight Theatre, STLAS’ black-box home.

“STLAS is committed to bringing engaging theatrical experiences to our community of actors, writers, producers, filmmakers and all patrons of the arts; and to provide a strong ensemble environment to foster learning and artistic expression. Through the use of ensemble work, STLAS explore the endless facets and various themes of the human condition by producing existing and original collaborative theatre,” Roth said.

Finley received high praise for the film “Thoroughbreds,” which he adapted from his play and also directed. It was accepted for the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017, and nominated for the Audience Award in the Best of Next! competition. It played at the St. Louis International Film Festival that November. Sold to Focus Features for $5 million, the film opened in theaters in March 2018.

Finley wrote the crime-drama-dark comedy about two upper-class teenage girls in suburban Connecticut, who rekindled their unlikely friendship after years of growing apart. Then they hatch a plan to solve both of their problems — no matter what the cost. The cast included Anna Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke, and was the last film of Anton Yelchin, who died in a tragic accident at his home in June 2016. The film is dedicated to him.

Anton Yelchin, Cory Finley, Anya Taylor-Joy. Photo by

Indie Wire described the film as “Heathers meets American Psycho.” Rotten Tomatoes had a score of 86% and the critic consensus was: ” Thoroughbreds juggles genres with panache, delivering a well-written and refreshingly unpredictable entry in the teen thriller genre.”

In 2019, Finley scored a Film Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best First Screenplay for “Thoroughbreds.” The annual awards, held since 1984, honor independent filmmakers working with small budgets. For more information on the film, visit www.thoroughbredsmovie.com

Last year, Finley directed “Bad Education,” which was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 and sold to HBO for $20 million. HBO aired it April 25 this year (Currently available in HBOMax catalog) and as of Sept. 8, it is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. It is also available for rental or purchase on streaming platforms.

“Bad Education” is nominated for two Emmy Awards — Best Television Movie and Hugh Jackman for Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie. The Emmy Awards are Sunday, Sept. 20.

The film, based on a true story, focuses on the popular superintendent of New York’s Roslyn school district as well as his staff, friends and relatives who become the prime suspects as the single largest public school embezzlement scandal in American history unfolds. Former Roslyn student Mike Makowsky wrote the screenplay based on the New York Magazine article “The Bad Superintendent” by Robert Kolker.

Finley said he was drawn to the script for several reasons.

“I thought the script had a really unique tone, a complex character at its center, and themes about greed, institutional failure and systemic corruption that spoke to me,” he said.

And working with the cast was a positive experience.

Jackman played Frank Tassone, who was sentenced to 4 to 12 years for the $11.2 million embezzling scheme, and Alison Janney played Pam Gluckin, an assistant superintendent who took part in the scheme.

“I was enormously lucky that my A-list cast all had the work ethic and humility of actors just starting off: particularly Hugh and Alison made my job incredibly easy and were intensely collaborative and open, as well as super-prepared,” Finley said.

He said he is not at liberty to divulge his next project just yet..

How has he been coping with the pandemic in New York?

“My partner is a medical resident who got pulled into the COVID ward right at the height of the pandemic, so I had a very intense view of the worst of it through her. But she’s now back home doing tele-health and things are much more normal,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have a job that I can do from home — the writing and prep parts of my job at least — and so I’m far less affected than many New Yorkers have been.”

What has he learned during this time of quarantine?

“It’s a total cliche, but I’ve learned how important a sense of social community is, and how badly we all need it back,” he said.

Cory FInley at Film Independent Spirit Awards. Photo by Kevin Mazur.

Q&A QUESTIONS FOR “TAKE TEN”
1. Why did you choose your profession? 
I always loved creating and managing made-up worlds: first pretend games, then Dungeons and Dragons, then school plays, then  directing film. 

2. How would your friends describe you?
Tall, polite, bad at remembering things, dad jokes, no sense of direction. 

3. How do you like to spend your spare time?
Playing basketball with great enthusiasm and minimal ability. 

4. What is your current obsession? 
Youtube chiropractic adjustment videos. Also, archived Firing Line videos of William F. Buckley debating prominent leftists of the 60s — Noam Chomsky, James Baldwin, Huey Newton. They show at once how far our politics have come and how little our discourse has changed. 

5. Who do you admire most?
In no particular order: Caryl Churchill, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Lebron James. 

6. What is your favorite thing to do in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area?
Ted Drewes and the Tivoli Theatre.  

More to Know:
Name: Cory Finley
Age: 31
Birthplace: St. Louis, MO (Clayton, specifically)
Current location: Manhattan
Day job: Many years SAT/ACT tutoring
Favorite movies: Brief EncounterThere Will Be Blood

Will Help Struggling Arts Community in Wake of Global Pandemic

Donate for Chances to Win Virtual Hangouts with Sterling K. Brown, Jon Hamm, Beau Willimon, Sam McMurray, Cory Finley and Neil LaBute

The Coronavirus pandemic has threatened extinction for millions of small businesses all over the world, including many beloved St. Louis theater companies. In fact, local and regional arts commissions announced recently that many struggling organizations will not receive any funding in 2021, and those that do are expected to receive only a small percentage of what they have been granted in the past.

In an effort to help small professional theater companies in St. Louis as well as those across the nation to pay their bills until they can safely reopen, the St. Louis Actors’ Studio announced today the creation of the Small Professional Theatre Sustainment Fund.
“The federal government has offered some help, but small professional theaters are not in line for major funding and the existing funding that relies on tax dollars is vanishing,” said William Roth, Founder and Artistic Director of the St. Louis Actors’ Studio. “We decided to take matters into our own hands with the creation of the Small Professional Theatre Sustainment Fund and enlisted the help of well-known St. Louisans with careers in the arts.” 

By simply donating to the Fund, participants are automatically entered into a drawing to win a virtual hangout with such famous St. Louis artists as Sterling K. Brown, Jon Hamm, Sam McMurray, Beau Willimon, Cory Finley or Neil LaBute (longtime friend of the St. Louis Actors’ Studio).

For every $75 donated to www.stlas.org/sustain, the participant’s name is placed into a drawing for 50 chances to win. The more a person donates, the better their chances are for winning. The winner will be drawn on September 17.  

During the virtual meet-up, the winner will be able to discuss anything of interest with the artist—from acting tips and insights, to fans just wanting to spend a little quality time. Names will be drawn until all artists are spoken for. For official rules and regulations, please visit the FAQ page. Donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

About the Participating Artists
Actor Jon Hamm is a John Burroughs grad best known for his Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning role on “Mad Men.” He will star in the upcoming film “Top Gun: Maverick” in theaters this winter.See Jon Hamm’s video message here:https://vimeo.com/427780482

Sterling K. Brown is a graduate of MICDS and recent Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner for his work on NBC’s smash hit “This is Us.”See Sterling K. Brown’s video message here:
https://vimeo.com/429676164

A graduate of Washington University, character actor Sam McMurray has appeared in “Freaks & Geeks,” “Friends” and “Raising Arizona.”

Director and screenwriter Cory Finley is another John Burroughs alum. STLAS produced his play “The Feast” and he recently directed the film “Bad Education” for HBO.

Playwright, screenwriter and activist Beau Willimon is yet another John Burroughs alum, STLAS produced his play “Farragut North” (of which the movies “Ides of Mach” starring and directed by George Clooney is adapted.) He developed “House of Cards” for American television and was its showrunner. He most recently wrote the screenplay for “Mary Queen of Scots.”

STLAS Associate and Tony Award-nominated playwright and screenwriter Neil LaBute whose films include “In the Company of Men,” “Your Friends & Neighbors,” “Nurse Betty” and “The Shape of Things.” Neil hosts his “LaBute New Theater Festival” at STLAS’ Gaslight Theater in St. Louis each fall in in NYC periodically.

About the St. Louis Actor’s Studio

The St. Louis Actors’ Studio is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that was founded by William Roth in 2006 to bring a fresh vision to theatre in St. Louis. Housed in The Gaslight Theater in historic Gaslight Square, STLAS is committed to bringing engaging theatrical experiences to our community of actors, writers, producers, filmmakers and all patrons of the arts; and to provide a strong ensemble environment to foster learning and artistic expression. Through the use of ensemble work, STLAS will explore the endless facets and various themes of the human condition by producing existing and original collaborative theatre. To learn more or to make a donation, visit www.stlas.org/sustain. This program would not be possible without the generous support of Mr. & Mrs. Charles L. Barnes and John Russell. 

St. Louis Actors’ Studio will produce the 7th LaBute New Theater Festival. The Theater Festival will run at the Gaslight Theater, 358 North Boyle, home to St. Louis Actors’ Studio.

Professional and high school submissions were accepted October through December 2018. To be considered entries had to have no more than four characters, and be crafted specifically to exploit our intimate performance space (18′ x 18′ stage). Changes in scenery or setting should be achievable in a few seconds and with few major set moves. Our focus is on fundamental dramaturgy: plot, character, theme.

Professional, new, previously unproduced one act play submissions (45 minutes or less) included a letter of inquiry, a synopsis and a 10-page sample from the script.

Four winning plays by high school students will be presented in readings at 11 a.m. on July 20 at the Gaslight Theater. Admission to the reading free.

Six plays were chosen: One group to be performed in the first two weeks of July, the final group in the second two weeks. “Great Negro Works of Art,” a Midwest premiere from Mr. LaBute, will be performed every night for the run of the festival.

“We are thrilled that Neil will be working with us again. Lending his name and talents to foster new works in the theater is just another example of his generosity and commitment to the arts and we could not be more proud to host this ongoing event,” says William Roth, Founder and Producing Director of St. Louis Actors’ Studio.

Festival Creative Team

Neil LaBute – Film Director, Screenwriter and PlaywrightWilliam Roth – Actor, Founder, Artistic Director St. Louis Actors’ StudioJohn Pierson – STLAS Assoc. Artistic Director, Actor, Teacher English and Theatre Departments John Burroughs SchoolNathan Bush – Actor, Professor of Theatre Arts -Oregon State UniversityMichael Hogan – Actor, DirectorWendy Greenwood, Theater Instructor Parkway SchoolsFranki Cambeletta, Founder, Shift FilmsRyan Foizey, Actor, Founder, Theatre LabEdward Scott Ibur –Novelist, Director, St. Louis Literary Award, Associate Director of Dual Enrollment at St. Louis University, Director, Gifted Arts(Writers & Artist Project for Middle School & High School)Julie B. Schoettley – Documentary Film Editor, Script Development EditorElizabeth Helman – Actor, Writer, Director, Professor of Theatre Arts -Oregon State UniversityMaggie Doyle Ervin – English Department, John Burroughs SchoolPatrick Huber – Associate Director, St. Louis Actors’ Studio-Set Design and Lighting, Teacher Theater, Design and Architecture Mary Institute, Country Day Prep SchoolThe following is a list of finalists for the Festival:

July 5-14, Set One:

“Great Negro Works of Art” by Neil LaBute, Directed by John Pierson“Color Timer” by Michael Long (Alexandria, VA), Directed by Jenny Smith“Privilege” – by Joe Sutton (West Orange, NJ), Directed by Jenny Smitn“Kim Jong Rosemary” by Carter W. Lewis (Stl, MO) Directed by John PiersonJuly 20-29, Set Two:

“Predilections” by Richard Curtis (NY,NY) Directed by Wendy Greenwood  “Henrietta” by Joseph Krawczyk (NY,NY) Directed by Wendy Greenwood“Sisyphus and Icarus a Love Story” by William Ivor Fowkes (NY,NY) Directed by Wendy Greenwood“Great Negro Works of Art” by Neil LaBute, Directed by John PiersonHigh School Finalists:

Readings Saturday July 20, 2019 11 am FREE ADMISSION

“Razor Burn” by Theodore James Sanders (Houston, TX)“P.B and Gay” by Dylan Hasted (Glendale, CA)“Stressful Snacks” by Posey Bischoff (St. Louis, MO)“We’ll Go Down(In History)” by Ann Zhang (St. Louis, Mo)St. Louis Actors’ Studio (STLAS) strives to bring a fresh vision to theatre in St. Louis. Housed in The Gaslight Theater, a historic Gaslight Square, STLAS is committed to bringing engaging theatrical experiences to our community of actors, writers, producers, filmmakers and all patrons of the arts; and to provide a strong ensemble environment to foster learning and artistic expression.

WHEN:              July 5 – 28, 2019

Evening Performances – Thursday – Saturday at 8pm

Sundays at 3pm

WHERE:            The Gaslight Theater

358 N Boyle

St. Louis, MO 63108

TICKETS:           $30-Student Seniors, $35 Adult

Individual tickets are available for purchase through Ticketmaster.com, all Ticketmaster Ticket Centers or Charge by Phone at 1-800-982-2787. Tickets will also be available at the theater box office one hour prior to performances.

For More Information call 314-458-2978 or visit stlas.org.

With the sort of clarity and theatrical density that only the two-hander can achieve, the season of exclusively two-character plays will journey through our most closely complex relationships: Mentor and Apprentice; Husband and wife; Mothers and Child.

Our 2019-20 season:

“Fifty Words” by Michael Weller

Directed by Associate Artistic Director John Pierson

September 20 – October 6, 2019 

While their nine-year-old son is away for the night on his first sleepover, Adam and Jan have an evening alone together, their first in years. Adam’s attempt to seduce his wife before he leaves on business the next day begins a suspenseful nightlong roller-coaster ride of revelation, rancor, passion and humor that explores a modern-day marriage on the verge of either a breakup or deepening love and understanding.

“Mr. Weller is a bold and productive dramatist.” —NY Times. 

“The best thing about Weller’s play is that it offers no easy answers for making a relationship work. Its shades of gray are less than comforting but realistic as husband and wife struggle to describe and resolve their complex feelings for each other.” —International Herald Tribune.

 

“A Life in the Theatre” by David Mamet 

Directed by John Contini

December 6 – December 22, 2019 

 Starring Founder/Artistic Director William Roth and Spencer Sickmann (Farragut North, The Feast, LaBute Festival)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Speed-The-Plow” takes us into the lives of two actors: John, young and rising into the first flush of his success; and Robert, older, anxious, and beginning to wane. Their short, spare, and increasingly raw exchanges reveal the estrangement of youth from age and the wider, inevitable and endless cycle of life, in and out of the theatre.

“A comedy about the artifice of acting… It is also about the artifice of living… An evening of pure theatre.” – The New York Times

“A comic masterpiece.” – New York Daily News

“The warmest and often the funniest play in town.” – New York Post

“[Mamet has] the most acute ear for dialogue of any American writer since J.D. Salinger.” – Village Voiceb

“Annapurna” by Sharr White

Directed by Associate Artistic Director Annamaria Pileggi

February 14- March 1, 2020

After twenty years apart, Emma tracks Ulysses to a trailer park in the middle of nowhere for a final reckoning. What unfolds is a visceral and profound meditation on love and loss with the simplest of theatrical elements: two people in one room. A breathtaking story about the longevity of love.

“Sharr White’s ANNAPURNA is a comic and gripping duet…The closer [the characters] get to understanding what drove them apart, the more engrossed we become in watching them draw together.” —San Francisco Chronicle. 

“What if you had experienced the defining moment of your life—but couldn’t remember it? Sharr White’s remarkable two-person play ANNAPURNA…deals with just that dilemma, as well as other imponderables such as the vagaries of love and the philosophical clarity of impending death.” —LA Times.

 “…at the heart of each character is a lyricism that simply can’t be suffocated. Sharr White has created two fine and ferociously damaged people caught in the emotional whirlpool of not being able to live with or without each other.” —Huffington Post. 

“White’s poetry is endearing and quite lovely, and his dialogue is sharp, funny and consistently very honest…”—BroadwayWorld.com.

“Comfort” by Neil LaBute

Directed by Associate Artistic Director Annamaria Pileggi

April 17-May 3, 2020

A new play by STLAS friend and associate Neil LaBute in which a successful author and her son meet after some time apart and revisit their troubled relationship. What’s at stake? Whether or not the instinctive bond between mother and child can survive not just the past, but also two new book deals.

“Mr. LaBute is writing some of the freshest and most illuminating American dialogue to be heard anywhere these days.” —NY Times. 

“No contemporary writer has more astutely captured the brutality in everyday conversation and behavior: That kind of insight requires sensitivity and soul-searching.” —USA Today.

 “It is tight, tense and emotionally true, and it portrays characters who actually seem part of the world that the rest of us live in.” —Time. 

ABOUT ST. LOUIS ACTORS’ STUDIO St. Louis Actors’ Studio is one of the leading professional theatres in the St. Louis. area, producing a four-show season of plays at our 97-seat Gaslight Theatre. STLAS collaborates with renown director, screenwriter and playwright Neil LaBute to produce the LaBute New Theater Festival each July in St. Louis and each January in New York City. The festival is a one-act play competition for emerging professionals and high-school writers.