By Lynn Venhaus

After not being on a stage since November 2019, Chauncy Thomas has made quite a comeback this summer – starring in two productions at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in Bloomington, Ill., and as the Gentleman Caller Jim in “The Glass Menagerie” and the one-act “You Lied to Me About Centralia,” which was part of this year’s Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, all outdoors.

As he leaves to return to home in New York City, he will have left St. Louis better than when he arrived, to paraphrase his favorite quote.

Chauncy, a native of Peoria, Ill., landed in St. Louis when he attended Washington University in St. Louis, earning B.A. degrees in both drama and psychology.

He built a versatile and respected career in regional professional theatre before taking off for New York City nearly eight years ago, earning two St. Louis Theater Circle Award nominations for “Intimate Apparel” at New Jewish Theatre in 2017 and “Topdog/Underdog” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio in 2013.

Chauncy Thomas as Lymon and Carli Officer as Maretha in “The Piano Lesson” at The Black Rep in 2013

His resume includes “Clybourne Park” at the St. Louis Repertory Theatre, “The Piano Lesson” at the Black Repertory Theatre, the La Bute New Play Festival at the St. Louis Actors’ Studio and multiple productions at the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival.

Since 2014, he has returned here for productions, including “Dot” at the Black Rep and “The Winter’s Tale” at St. Louis Shakespeare Festival.

“St. Louis is still a place I call home. I still feel incredibly connected to the people there, and especially the theatre community,” he said.

During the pandemic in 2020, he decided to leave New York City for Iowa to stay with his brother and his family in mid-March.

“My twelve-year-old nephew let me use his bedroom, so it was two months of sleeping under Spider-man sheets. In mid-May I trekked to Peoria to stay with my mother. My silver lining of the pandemic is getting to spend so much time with her,” he said.

“I lost all but one of my side jobs, so math tutoring was paying the bills. I got little theatre gigs here and there: zoom readings, workshops, etc. But I truly missed being on stage,” he said. “Most of my actor friends in New York either had to move or were significantly concerned with their finances, so I was still counting my blessings.”

He has worked on many Shakespeare productions and enjoys the challenge.

“I’ve been doing a decent amount of Shakespeare for a decade but last year, I think I figured out how I should approach the work. For the first eight years, I was trying to meet some standard of what I thought Shakespeare was. I’ve since learned I need to bring as much of myself and my racial identity to the work as I can. It’s what makes me unique. I love performing Shakespeare because it’s brilliant, but it also presents the challenge of making a 400-year-old stories relevant to a modern audience,” he said.

With Jacqueline Thompson in “Intimate Apparel” at New Jewish Theatre in 2017.

He has traveled to other theaters in the county, including the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater in Massachusetts.

From his base in New York City, his credits include “Romeo and Juliet” at Lincoln Center Education, “Hamlet” at RIPT Theater Company, “A Raisin in the Sun” at Bay Street Theater, “Our Town” and the television show “Madam Secretary,” in which he played a secret service agent.  

Last year, he wrote a one-act for the theatre season for the Performing Arts Department at Washington University, which was part of the live events cancelled due to the pandemic, but was performed as part of “Homecoming Voices,” four plays by alumni, in March.

His play “The Nicest White People that America Has Ever Produced,” featured a Black writer and a white director discussing race, power and artistic integrity in the film industry — a theoretical discourse that prompted real questions about friendship and ethics.

Doing Shakespeare and Williams in the same summer “has been a challenge,” but he is grateful to be working.

“It’s been crazy, but before that, it was nothing, a famine, so I’m trying to enjoy this feast,” he said. “I thought how in the world am I going to get all of this done, but after I had my mornings free, I worked on the line memorization and text analysis,” he said.

As for playing Jim in two different productions, he described it as “fascinating.”

Williams’ memory play of his family and their life in St. Louis features Jim as Tom’s friend from work who is invited to dinner at the Wingfield home to meet Tom’s sister Laura.

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, “The Moon and Beyond,” ran from Aug. 19 to 29, with its signature play, the one-act and multiple presentations by scholars and a tribute with the cast.

Playwright John Guare wrote a one-act, “You Lied to Me About Centralia,” which imagined what happened after dinner when Jim rushes off to pick up his fiancé at the Wabash train station. The 20-minute play premiered off-Broadway in 2015, and is based on Williams’ short story, “Portrait of a Girl in Glass.”

For the St. Louis Theater Crawl in 2017, the Tennessee Williams Festival performed the one-act with Julia Crump, who returns this year as Jim’s shallow and judgmental girlfriend Betty, and Pete Winfrey, who now lives in New York City, as Jim.

For the radio play version last November, when the TWF pivoted with “Something Spoken,” a series of Williams’ one-acts on radio, Thomas worked opposite Crump for the first time. They were directed by Rayme Cornell, who also directed this year’s live production, presented as a matinee on Aug. 21 and 22.

Thomas described the play as “sweet” and his character thusly.

“I felt there were several directions it could have gone, and I love where Rayme guided us. I know this isn’t technically Tennessee Williams, but it’s certainly Williams adjacent. Many of my favorite plays are American classics, and I’m rarely able to get cast in those kinds of shows, so this was a real treat. Jim is a man with big dreams, and I love to play characters with strong wants and needs; they make the most compelling characters,” he said.

With Elizabeth Teeter in “The Glass Menagerie” this summer. Photo by ProPhotoSTL.

Crump said acting with Thomas is “a master class,” because he makes “bold choices, good choices.” She described him as a “generous and talented actor.”

Elizabeth Teeter. who played Laura in “The Glass Menagerie,” said she agreed with Crump completely. She participated in an interview along with Thomas, Crump and director Brian Hohlfeld regarding TWF St. Louis on the PopLifeSTL.com Presents…podcast on Aug. 14.

“I do look at these as two separate characters,” Thomas said. “Obviously, John Guare took some liberties, and so many things are open to interpretation.”

Chauncy said the perspective of the one-act was fascinating. “I’m either bending the truth, or avoiding the truth,” he said.

As for being part of this ensemble, he described the cast as “absolutely amazing.”

“The other three actors started rehearsal on August 2, while I started on August 9, and we were in tech on the 12th, so I had to figure out what was going on at a faster rate than ever before. On my first day of rehearsal, we didn’t even do a reading of the whole play. We started with Act 2, and after listening to the other actors for the six pages before my entrance, I immediately understood what story we were telling, the tone, the pace, and where I fit into the narrative. These three actors are so vibrant, in-the-moment, and honest, that they do much of the work for me. I don’t have to ‘act’ with them; I can simply exist,” he said.

Besides Teeter as Laura, Brenda Currin plays Amanda and Bradley James Tejeda plays Tom.

Working where Tennessee Williams lived as a boy has been a special experience as well.

“In terms of performing, rehearsing, and living — not the same unit, but the same building — in the apartment where Williams lived, it’s incredibly surreal,” he said.

“To quote Jim, ‘I’m usually pretty good at expressing things, but–this is something I don’t know how to say!’ When Carrie Houk (TWF Artistic Director) called me to offer me the role and explain the production, I was in such disbelief that I didn’t tell anyone about the production for weeks. It seemed unfathomable,” he said.

“All I can say is this production feels magical. I took my first acting class as a sophomore at Washington University, and, that year, Henry Schvey, chair of the theatre department, was directing ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ I was a member of the backstage crew, which was my first experience with a mainstage production, and in many ways my introduction to theatre. And now, 17 years later, I’m performing in the play, at Williams’ home, and the opening night gift my director Brian Hohlfeld gave me is Henry Schvey’s new book about Tennessee Williams. How is this my life?” he said.

Chauncy Thomas, right, in ISF’s “The Winter’s Tale” this summer. Photo by Pete Guither.

For his second year at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, he played Camillo and four small roles in “The Winter’s Tale” and Angelo in “Measure for Measure.”

Afterwards, the festival inducted him into the 2021 Actor Honor Roll.

“Chauncy Thomas is a wonderful addition to our Illinois Shakespeare Festival Actor Honor Roll, He creates rich, nuanced characters that are accessible yet complex. Chauncy is a skilled professional who also is the consummate company member: supportive, positive, and kind. It is a pleasure to welcome him to the honor roll,” said ISF Artistic Director John C. Stark.

In 2017, to celebrate the ISF 40th anniversary, they unveiled “40 Years/40 Actors,” a media display, to recognize “the passion, skill, and talent of select festival performers from the past four decades,” and continues with the annual Actor Honor Roll.

“I’m truly touched and honored by this recognition. This theatre means so much to me! I’ve met some of the loveliest people I could ever hope to meet, it’s the closest professional theatre to my childhood home (it’s an amazing blessing to have my mother in the audience five times in one season,” Thomas said.

“It’s been instrumental in my development as a classical actor, and it’s also been the setting or overlapped with some of the biggest emotional highs and lows of my life. When at its best, a theatre is a family, and I’m thrilled to be the newest member,” he said.

‘Take Ten’ Questions and Answers:

 1. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?

“Originally, I was so fascinated about how theatre was an exploration of myself. I’m now intrigued by the power of storytelling, the interpersonal connections I make with other artists, and the exploration of the human spirit.”

Chauncy and Reginald Pierre in “Topdog/Underdog” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio in 2013. Photo by Patrick Huber

2. How would your friends describe you?

“I took some direct quotes: ‘Funny, witty, smart, creative, thoughtful, organized and an amazing friend.’

“Weird.”

“They wouldn’t.”

“Strangely intellectual and precious for a man with this many muscles.”

“Very very very intentional.”

“A chill control freak with unlikely interests.”

“Loyal, brilliant, hilarious, thoughtful, deeply introspective, principled, all around awesome.”

3. How do you like to spend your spare time?

“I spend as much time with my friends as I possibly can.”

4.What is your current obsession?

“I’m so late, but the ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender.’”

5.What would people be surprised to find out about you?

“I’m ludicrously goofy.”

6. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?

“In my early teenage years, I was very depressed and often had suicidal thoughts. No one could tell, because from the outside I seemed as if I was thriving. I was gay, in the closet and had plenty of friends, but no close ones. I was in a particularly bad place one day when I was 14 and called one of my acquaintances to ask if we could hang out. Twenty years later, I was best man at his wedding. I’m a person who struggles with feeling I may be a burden to someone, so the act of reaching out to the person who is now my oldest childhood friend was the first time I realized I was allowed to ask for emotional help when I needed it.”

7. Who do you admire most?

“My mom. She’s elegant, hilarious, benevolent, poised, and tough as nails.”

8. What is at the top of on your bucket list?

“Acting in a play I’ve written.”

9. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?

“City Museum.”

10. What’s next?

“I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about that, yet. But the next play on my schedule is in St. Louis in 2022.”

Chauncy Thomas

More Information on Chauncy Thomas:

Age: 36

Birthplace: Peoria, Illinois

Current location: New York City

Family: 2 full brothers, 2 half-brothers, and 2 step-siblings

Education: BAs in Psychology and Drama from Washington University

Day job: Currently a math tutor. In a non-Covid-19 world add catering waiter, chess tutor, and I occasionally portrayed historical leaders for executive leadership trainings for Fortune 500 companies.

First job: House painter

First role: A guard in my high school’s production of “Cinderella.” First professional role was Father Ant in “The Ant and the Grasshopper” for Imaginary Theatre Company.

Favorite roles/plays: Booth in “Topdog/Underdog,” Walter Lee Younger in “A Raisin in the Sun”

Dream role/play: Belize in “Angels in America”.

Awards/Honors/Achievements: One Kevin Kline Award nomination and two St Louis Theater Circle Award nominations

Favorite quote/words to live by: “Leave everyone better than you find them.”

Chauncy Thomas in “Alabama Story”

A song that makes you happy: “Groove Is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite

To listen to the PopLifeSTL.com Presents…Podcast about the Tennessee Williams Festival, visit: https://soundcloud.com/lynn-zipfel-venhaus/poplifestlcom-presents-august-14th-2021?fbclid=IwAR3lA4F4DCuAk67je9tNrFsb36G1fhaS6RFcZmOkWI0Lx6zQnvPyrCUg0jk

For more information on the Tennessee Williams Festival, visit https://www.twstl.org/

As a secret service agent in “Madam Secretary”. Photo provided.
In “Percentage America” by Carter Lewis at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo by Patrick Huber.
“Clybourne Park” at St. Louis Repertory Theatre. Jerry Naunheim Photo.

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.

The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival is pleased to welcome back audiences for a new season of free Shakespeare productions in 2021, beginning with the return to Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park with King Lear. 

The Festival is committed to preserving the health of our staff, actors, and audience and will share complete safety precautions closer to performance dates in compliance with the guidelines of health officials.

The 21st season of outdoor performances starting with KING LEAR starring André De Shields in Shakespeare Glen, a new 24-stop touring production of OTHELLO and the return of Shakespeare in the Streets in the historic North St. Louis neighborhood of THE VILLE.

On May 3, the company of 18 talented (and fully vaccinated) actors will come together in St. Louis for the first rehearsal of King Lear under Director Carl Cofield. Get to know their names and faces. 

This is the 2021 Shakespeare in the Park cast: 

André De Shields (King Lear), Rayme Cornell (Goneril), J. Samuel Davis (Kent), Leland Fowler (Edmund) Allen Gilmore (Fool), Nicole King (Cordelia), Jason Little (Albany), Daniel Molina  (Edgar), Carl Overly, Jr. (Cornwall), Michael Tran (Oswald/France), Jacqueline Thompson (Regan) and Brian Anthony Wilson (Gloucester). With support from Atum Jones and the St. Louis Black Rep Intern Company: Kentrell Jamison, Theorri London, Brian McKinley, Tyler White and Christina Yancy.   

Reservations for King Lear will open on May 2!  Stay tuned for more information on how to attend. The opening show of the 21st season will run June 2 – June 27.

KING LEAR

Shakespeare Glen, Forest Park June 2-27
Tony, Emmy and Grammy Award-winner André De Shields (Broadway: HadestownThe Wiz) stars in Shakespeare’s greatest — and most modern — masterpiece.

Carl Cofield (Associate Artistic Director, Classical Theatre of Harlem) directs an all-BIPOC cast from New York, Chicago and St. Louis.


OTHELLO Aug. 3 -29

TourCo presents 24 performances in Missouri & Illinois
Our new outdoor touring troupe visits public parks across the bi-state region. A Living Study Guide before each performance explores the themes and modern impact of Othello — Shakespeare’s gripping tragedy of jealousy, race and resentment.


SHAKESPEARE IN THE STREETS: THE VILLE Sept. 9-11

Annie Malone Children’s Home, 63133

After an extended storytelling residency, Shakespeare in the Streets returns with a new play based on Shakespeare and inspired by the Ville neighborhood, one of the most historically significant Black communities in America.