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.
“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.
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
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.
By Lynn Venhaus Christ Memorial Productions’ presentation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “Oklahoma!” won eight Best Performance Awards for choreography, music direction, lighting, costumes, acting and Best Featured Dancer while Kirkwood Theatre Guild’s production of the George and Ira Gershwin 1920s musical-screwball comedy “Nice Work If You Can Get It” won seven, including Best Large Ensemble Musical Production, Best Director and five acting awards, from Arts For Life Sunday.
It was KTG’s sixth win for musical production since 2000. Both
shows had been nominated for 17 awards apiece. “A New Brain,” which was a local
community theater premiere for Hawthorne Players, won Best Small Ensemble
Arts For Life is a nonprofit organization that encompasses
140 communities and 8,460 square miles in St. Louis city, county and St.
Charles County in Missouri and Madison, Monroe and St. Clair counties in
Founded in 1994 by Lucinda Gyurci as a group dedicated to
the healing power of the arts, AFL has honored community theater musicals for
performances and achievements since 1999 (BPAs), plays since 2015 (Theatre Mask
Awards) and expanded awards in youth musical theater in 2013.
But this is the first time AFL did not host a live gala.
Because of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the ceremony was re-imagined as a
pre-recorded virtual celebration. The 21st annual BPAs took place
June 14, which was the original date, but transitioned to a streaming format broadcast
on Facebook and YouTube.
AFL President Mary McCreight said the coronavirus safety
measures in place and restrictions on gatherings in St. Louis County were
factors in the decision to cancel the live show but still have some sort of
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for our local arts
community to come together online and celebrate the many outstanding
achievements of the previous year,” McCreight said.
There were 15 community theaters and 10 youth-only groups
who participated last year. More than 60 judges in the Theatre Recognition
Guild scored 46 shows — 19 large ensembles, 3 small and 24 youth, featuring
939 roles. For 2019, there were 154 individual nominations from 22 groups, with
36 percent first-time nominees and 65 percent first-time winners.
Goshen Theatre Project, which led all groups with 18
nominations, won five youth awards overall for “Les Miserables School Edition,”
including Best Youth Musical Production, Supporting Actress Natalie Cochran as
Eponine, costume design (Terry Pattison), lighting design (Halli Pattison and
Blake Churchill) and Bennett English as Best Youth Musical Performance as Jean
Other multiple winners in the youth categories were Riverbend
Theatre, which won three for “The Drowsy Chaperone” — director (Kristi
Doering), music direction (Michael Frazier/Alison Neace) and lead actor (Jayson
Heil as the Man in Chair), and Young People’s Theatre, which won two for
“Newsies” – best supporting actor (Will Dery as Les) and set design (Brisby
Andrews and Gary Rackers).
Thirty-three awards honoring excellence during 2019 were
announced by past winners and members of the AFL board of directors, with two
special guest presenters — Norbert Leo Butz, two-time Tony Award winner who
grew up in St. Louis, and Hana S. Sharif, the Augustin Family Artistic Director
of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.
Butz, who also announced the youth musical production
winner, told the audience to believe in themselves, even when it’s hard, and follow
their dreams, noting he had supportive parents and “great” teachers.
“Believe in yourself and keep on being grateful. Stick to
it,” he said from his home in New Jersey. “(Performing arts) feeds our soul,
our minds, our hearts.”
AFL donated to Butz’s charity, The Angel Band Project,
which uses music therapy to help victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence
and advocates for rights of survivors. For more information, visit www.angelbandproject.org
Four special honors were given out to Jennifer Kerner for
her inclusion efforts, Bennett English for Best Youth Musical Performance as
Jean Valjean in Goshen Theatre Project’s “Les Miserables: School Edition,”
Kayla Dressman for Best Featured Dancer as Dream Laurie in CMP’s “Oklahoma!” and Diane Hanisch, the BPA
musical director/conductor for the past 20 years, who won a national Spotlight
Award from the American Association of Community Theatres, presented by Quiana
Clark-Roland. A Lifetime Achievement Award was not designated this year.
Kerner’s recognition was for her advocacy on inclusion and
helping to make the live theater experience accessible to all individuals.
Kerner, a local singer and actress, works to help place people with
developmental disabilities in jobs. She has guided local theater companies in
providing sensory-friendly performances and has worked to create comfortable
environments for those on the autism spectrum and those with sensory processing
McCreight was thrilled about Hanisch’s national award.
“This award is designed to help pay tribute to an
individual for long or special service. It recognizes outstanding dedication,
service and contribution to your organization. It is for someone who has made a
significant impact on the quality of your organization. Diane has done just
that with per professionalism and charm. She is a gem! Not only can she calm
the nerves of a 12-year-old singing a solo, but others who are singing in front
of 700 people for the first time. She arranges and writes the music, gathers
her professional band, and conducts the show with aplomb. Diane cares as much
about our legacy as anyone involved on the Arts for Life Board. No one is more
deserving,” she said.
The annual Youth Scholarships, which are awarded to two students
pursuing a degree in the arts, were announced, with Alaina Bozarth, a graduate
of Metro East Lutheran High School, and Josiah Haan, a graduate of Fort Zumwalt
High School, each given $500. Bozarth plans to major in musical theatre at
Belmont University in Louisville, Ky., and Haan plans to major in technical
theatre and design at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo.
Other ensemble nominees include “Hello, Dolly!” from
Wentzville Christian Church, “Oklahoma!” from Monroe Actors Stage Company and
“The Bridges of Madison County” from Alpha Players of Florissant for Best Large
Ensemble and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” from O’Fallon
TheatreWorks for Best Small Ensemble.
For Best Youth Production, in addition to “Les Miserables,”
nominees include “The Drowsy Chaperone” from Riverbend Theatre, “Matilda” from
Gateway Center for the Performing Arts, “Newsies” from Young People’s Theatre
and “Spring Awakening” from Gateway Center for the Performing Arts.
For the record books, Kimberly Klick won her sixth BPA for
choreography for CMP’s “Oklahoma!”. She had previously won for CMP’s “Mary
Poppins” and “The King and I,” plus “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Big the
Musical” and “Fiddler on the Roof” for other companies. It was her 10th
overall, including wins for Best Featured Dancer in “Brigadoon” in 2000, Lead
Actress for Millie in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” 2006 and Jo in “Little Women”
in 2008, and Cameo Actress in “Titanic” 2003.
It was three in a row for Jonathan Hartley, who won for
lighting design of “Oklahoma!” and had won last year for “Joseph and the
Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at DaySpring Center for the Arts; he won for set
design for DSA’s “Little Shop of Horrors” in 2017. Stephanie Fox won her third
in four years for choreography in Gateway Center for the Performing Arts shows –
“Spring Awakening” 2019, “Carrie the Musical” 2017 and “Thoroughly Modern
Millie” 2016. Terry Pattison also won her third for costume design since 2017:
“Peter Pan,” “The Lion King Jr.” and “Les Miz,” all for Goshen Theatre Project,
and won set design for “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” in 2018.
Joe Paule Sr. won his third for musical direction, for
CMP’s “Oklahoma!”, following CMP’s “The King and I” in 2014 and Hawthorne
Players’ “The Producers” in 2010. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award
last year. It was the second award for Michael Frazier and Alison Neace for
musical direction, this year for Riverbend Theatre’s “The Drowsy Chaperone” and
for Alton Little Theatre’s “The Spitfire Grill” in 2011.
Other multiple winners included two for Alpha Players of
Florissant’s “The Bridges of Madison County” for Lead Actor (Cole Guttmann) and
Cameo Actress (Chelsie Johnston) and Take a Bow Showcase for “Annie” – juvenile
performer (Leontine Rickert) and duo/group (Matthew Joost and Carole Ann Miller).
In the acting categories, Mike Huelsmann’s award for Best
Featured Actor as Jud Fry was his third, after Lead Actor as Javert in Take Two
Productions’ “Les Miz” (2013) and as part of Best Duo/Group in Looking Glass
Playhouse’s “Young Frankenstein” 2015. Kimmie Kidd-Booker’s award for Best
Featured Actress as Estonia Dulworth in “Nice Work If You Can Get It” was her second
win, after Best Featured Actress in “The Wiz” in 2014. George Doerr IV won his
second, as Igor in Alfresco’s “Young Frankenstein,” after winning Best Actor in
2017 for Alfresco’s “The Rocky Horror Show.”
The virtual program included the following production team:
directors Mary McCreight and David Wicks Jr., video supervisor Kim Klick,
visual designers Colin Dowd and Bethany Hamilton, voice-over announcer Ken
Clark and host Karen Fulks.
A list of winners is included here, below.
AFL’s Theatre Mask Awards was originally set for April 4,
then moved to July 18, but now will also be a virtual celebration. The 2020
TMAs will honor excellence in community theater productions of dramas and
comedies during 2019 in a live interactive viewing event at 11 a.m. Saturday,
July 18, on the AFL Facebook page and YouTube Channel. The awards show will be recorded
beforehand and the content will remain on social media.
On March 16, McCreight suspended all public activities of the AFL organization
because of the public health crisis. The extension has been extended until
further notice. Both TRG and TMA branch judges and participating groups will receive
announcements on future developments. As the region re-opens, social distancing
and wearing face coverings continues. At this time, all AFL performance venues
“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.
Any company that won can have a representative pick up
their trophies on July 19 from 1 to 3 p.m. in the parking lot of Clayton
Community Theatre, which is located at the Washington University South Campus
Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road, St. Louis, MO 63117.
By Lynn Venhaus
Treat Mom to a play or musical this weekend? Or next weekend! Any time is the
right time to Go See a Play! Here’s what is happening now. And make time for the Tennessee Williams
Festival! Only once a year, and the time is now!
“Biloxi Blues” Clayton Community Theatre May 2-12 Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. but no performance May 10 Washington University South Campus Theatre 314-721-9228www.placeseveryone.org
What It’s About: The second in “The Eugene Trilogy,” Neil
Simon’s semi-autobiographical comedy centers on the contest of wills between a
drill sergeant and an intellectual recruit at an Army base in Biloxi, Miss., in
1943. Along the way, he loses his innocence in many ways.
“Death Tax” Mustard Seed Theatre May 9 – 19 Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre What It’s About: by Lucas Hnath “As Maxine nears the end of her life she is certain of three things: Death, Taxes and the Greed of her daughter who wants her to die quickly. A desperate nurse vows to keep her alive, but at what cost? Darkly comic, the play explores morality and forgiveness.” Performances take place at the Fontbonne Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd. For more information, call (314) 719-8060 or visit the web site at www.mustardseedtheatre.com.
“Dear Mr. Williams” The Tennessee Williams Festival Friday at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday at 3:30 and 8:30 p.m., May 10 and 11 Curtain Call Lounge www.twstl.org What It’s About: The blue devils of sex, alcohol, and mendacity take center stage in this tender and funny coming-of-age story of a young gay artist. With the great American playwright as his compass, writer and performer Batt takes us on a thrilling and very personal journey out of the shadows into a bright light of self-discovery. The tumultuous-and sometimes treacherous-journey from adolescence to adulthood is one we all must take, but Batt’s one-man tour de force proves that it’s oh so much more fascinating and fun with Tennessee Williams as your guide. “Freaky Friday” Curtain’s Up Theater Company May 10-12 Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Dunham Theatre, SIUEwww.curtainsuptheater.com
What It’s About: Based on the Disney movie, “Freaky Friday” is a musical about a mother and daughter changing places to comical effect.
“A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” The Tennessee Williams Festival May 11- 19 Saturdays and Sundays at 1 and 5 p.m. www.twfstl.org
What It’s About: Four eccentric and unforgettable women fry
chicken, plan a picnic to Creve Coeur Lake, and cope with loneliness and lost
dreams in an efficiency apartment on Enright Avenue in the Central West End
circa the mid-1930s. Williams gives us more laughs than usual, but no less
poetry or poignancy. Williams believed that growing up in St. Louis was
essential to the shape of his work. A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur is one of
his few plays set here, and was the inspiration behind TV’s “The Golden
Director: Kari Ely
Starring: Kelly Weber, Ellie Schwetye,
Madea’s Farewell Play Tour May 10 – 12 Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 and 7:30 p.m. The Fabulous Fox Theatre www.fabulousfox.com What It’s About: Tyler Perry’s 21st stage play Starring: Tyler Perry, Tamela Mann, David Mann and Cassi Davis Patton
“Mamma Mia!” Alton Little Theater May 10-19 Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. 2450 N. Henry in Alton 6180462-6562www.altonlittletheater.org What It’s About: Love, mishaps, and music by ABBA will have audiences dancing in the aisles again as they feel transported to the Greek Island of Kalokairi on the eve of a wedding.
“Mamma Mia!” Looking Glass Playhouse May 2 – 12 Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. 301 W. St. Louis St., Lebanon, Ill.www.lookingglassplayhouse.com 618-537-4962
What It’s About: Through ABBA’s hits, a romantic comedy
tell the hilarious story of a young woman’s search for her birth father. This
sunny and funny tale unfolds on a Greek island paradise. On the eve of her
wedding, a daughter’s quest to discover the identity of her father brings three
men from her mother’s past back to the island they last visited 20 years ago. A
mother. A daughter. Three possible dads.
“Nice Work If You Can Get It” Kirkwood Theatre Guild May 3-5, 9-12 Evenings at 8 p.m., Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Robert G. Reim Theatre Website: https://www.ktg-onstage.org/ 314-821-9956
What It’s About: A screwball comedy set in the Prohibition
era with songs by George and Ira Gershwin. Elegant socialists and boorish
bootleggers clash, when playboy Jimmy Winter meets a female bootlegger, Billie
Bendix, on the weekend of his third or fourth wedding.
“The Night of the Iguana” Tennessee Williams Festival May 9 – 19 The Grandel Theatre What It’s About: based on Williams’ 1948 short story, which was then developed into three acts for Broadway production in 1961. A Tony nominee for Best Play, it was adapted into a 1964 movie, directed by John Huston, that starred Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. The play focuses on a former minister, barred from his church for defaming God, who works as a tour guide. He is accused of statutory rape of a 16-year-old girl in his tour group. Director: Tim Ocel Starring: James Andrew Butz, Lavonne Byers, Hannah Sturgis, Harry Weber, Spencer Sickmann, Greg Johnson, Victor Mendes, Luis Aguilar.“Over the Tavern” The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves May 3 – 11 Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.www.theatreguildwg.org 314-962-0876 What It’s About: In that most idealized period of 20th-century America, the Eisenhower years of the 1950s, the Pazinski family has a lot going on in their cramped Buffalo apartment. The youngest of the bunch, 12-year-old Rudy, is a smart, wise-cracking kid who’s starting to question family values and the Roman Catholic Church. When Rudy goes up against the ruler-wielding Sister Clarissa and announces that instead of being confirmed he’d rather shop around for a more “fun” religion, all hell breaks loose.” Parental discretion is advised.
Director: Warren Frank Starring: Henry Alverson, Jimmy Hall, Andrea Jacobson, Tracy Murphy, Pepi Parshall, Declan Ryan, Patrick Ryan “Salt, Root and Roe” Upstream Theatre April 26 – May 12 Shows at 8 p.m. except Sundays at 7 p.m. but May 12 at 2 p.m. Kranzberg Arts Centerwww.upstreamtheater.org What It’s About: Tim Price’s play is about the nature of change, the comfort of home and the eternal bond of love, set against the mythical backdrop of the Pembrokeshire coast in western Wales. Identical twins Iola and Anest, who are devoted to age other and aging fast. Anest’s daughter, Menna, rushes to her long-abandoned childhood home where her own ideas of love and compromise are tested to the limit. Director: Kenn McLaughlin Cast: Donna Weinsting, Sally Edmundson, Eric Dean White, Amy Loui
Of Note: A U.S. premiere in co-production with Stages
Repertory Theatre of Houston.