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.

Bringing the magic and artistry of Shakespeare in the Park to communities throughout the bi-state region

On Tuesday, Aug. 3, the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival (Tom Ridgely, Producing Artistic Director) kicks off a brand new regional touring production, “TourCo” bringing the magic of Shakespeare in the Park to public spaces across the bi-state area.

As the first public tour production from this initiative, Othello will travel to 24 public parks. Adam Flores (St. Louis Shakespeare
Festival’s Manager of Community Engagement & Education) directs the 90-minute adaptation starring a company of six actors. The free performances will take place nightly at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday through Sundays from August 3-29.

“Shakespeare’s plays should be as free and available to all as our region’s great libraries and stunning public parks,” said producing artistic director Tom Ridgely in a statement. “This summer especially, we knew we had to do everything we could to share the magic of the Glen with as many communities as possible. And Othello in particular strikes straight at the heart of so many of the challenges facing our region. Experiencing it this way will be a revelation for all of us. We can’t wait to hit the road.”

The Festival will begin the tour in East St. Louis at Malcolm W. Memorial Park on August 3, with sweeping views of the riverfront and downtown skyline. It continues on to Tower Grove Park, one of the more well-known parks on the list, for night two. The Tour will visit each of the past nine neighborhoods featured in it’s Shakespeare in the Streets program as well as many smaller parks in North St. Louis. Farther stops in Illinois include Bellville, Collinsville and Edwardsville. Also included are trips to rural parts of Missouri
with a stop in Hermann (Hermann Farms) and in Sullivan, MO (Harney Mansion Grounds). The production was developed to be performed on lawns, in amphitheaters, and pavilions making it adaptable to the location.

TourCo Schedule
● TUE AUG 3 – Malcolm W. Memorial Park (185 W Trendley Ave, East St. Louis IL 62201)
● WED AUG 4 – Tower Grove Park (4257 Northeast Drive, St. Louis MO 63110) [Audio Description
Night]
● THU AUG 5 – St. Louis Place Park (2008 St. Louis Ave, St. Louis MO 63106)
● FRI AUG 6 – Love Bank Park (2851 Cherokee St, St Louis MO 63118)
● SAT AUG 7 – The Harney Mansion Grounds (332 S Mansion St, Sullivan, MO 63080)
● SUN AUG 8 – Fairground Park (3715 Natural Bridge Ave, St Louis MO 63107)
● TUE AUG 10 – Woodland Park (Pine Lake Rd, Collinsville IL 62234)
● WED AUG 11- January-Wabash Park (501 N Florissant Rd, Ferguson MO 63135)
● THU AUG 12 – O’Day Park Amphitheater (1000 O’Day Park Dr, O’Fallon MO 63368) [ASL
Interpretation]
● FRI AUG 13 – Bella Fontaine Park (9565 Bellefontaine Rd, St. Louis MO 63137)
● SAT AUG 14 – City Park (101 S Buchanan, Edwardsville IL 62025)
● SUN AUG 15 – Bellevue Park (401 Bellevue Park Dr, Belleville IL 62226)
● TUE AUG 17 – Carondelet Park (3900 Holly Hills Blvd, St. Louis MO 63116)
● WED AUG 18 – Chesterfield Amphitheater (631 Veterans Pl Dr, Chesterfield MO 63017)
● THU AUG 19 – Shaw Park (27 S Brentwood Blvd, Clayton MO 63105)
● FRI AUG 20 – Chouteau Park (Choteau Ave & S. Newstead Ave, St. Louis MO 63110)
● SAT AUG 21 – Hermann Farm (526 E 1st St Hermann MO 65041)
● SUN AUG 22 – Jefferson Barracks Park (345 North Rd, W St. Louis MO 63125)
● TUE AUG 24 – Trojan Park (6154 Etzel Ave, St. Louis MO 63133)
● WED AUG 25- Hyde Park (Salisbury St & N. 20th St, St. Louis MO 63107)
● THU AUG 26 – Heritage Park (Brussels, IL 62013)
● FRI AUG 27 – Wehner Park (7600 Hazel Ave, St. Louis, MO 63119)
● SAT AUG 28 – O’Fallon Park (799 E Taylor Ave, St. Louis MO 63147)
● SUN AUG 29 – Ladue Racquet Club (Private Event)

Othello is considered by many to be one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies. An epic tale of political and personal intrigue, it depicts a great leader exploited by his own lieutenant, to disastrous effect. The best villains can always find the chink in a hero’s armor, and when they do, it leads to some of the best scenes in any drama. By turns shocking and profound, Othello depicts the pitfalls of jealousy and self-doubt, and how these faults can tear apart the best of us from within.

Jason J. Little, most recently seen onstage with the Festival in King Lear, leads the all local cast as Othello. Courtney Bailey (2021 Confluence Regional Playwright) appears as Desdemona, Charlie Barron as Iago, Ricki Franklin as Emilia, and previous educational touring casting members Hannah Geisz (featured in 2020 production of Cymbeline) as Roderigo, and Jesse Muñoz (2018 Romeo & Juliet) as Cassio round out the company of six.

The creative team for Othello includes designers Laura Skroska (Production Designer), Vanessa Tabourne (Costume Design), Rusty Wandall (Sound Design), Erik Kuhn (Fight Choreography) and the Festival’s tour manager since 2011, Emily Clinger.

Performances are free and open to the public and begin at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday from August 3-29. Performances are 90 minutes long. All ages are welcome. Guests are encouraged to bring their own chairs and blankets. Visit www.stlshakes.org for more information.

Othello is funded by Bayer Fund, Arts Midwest, and the Saigh Foundation. Specific stops on the Tour were supported by Commerce Bank, Dr. Debbie A. Depew, Michael & JiaMin Dierberg, Eric and Mary Koestner, LinkStL, Ed & Tedi Macias, Mary Nigh at RedKey Realty Leaders, Straub’s, Thompson Coburn LLP and UMB Bank.


ABOUT
The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival strives to foster community and joy across the St. Louis region through the Shakespearean tradition of art for all. Since 2001, the Festival has grown from producing a single production of Shakespeare in the Park to a year-round season of impactful programming in exciting and accessible venues throughout the bi-state area. Artistic and education programs reach over
50,000 patrons and students each season and have served over one million since 2001. In 2020, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg News featured the Festival’s stand-out virtual and in-person programs.

Adam Flores is an actor, director, producer and educator based in St. Louis for over a decade. He holds an MFA in directing from Baylor University, and a BFA and teaching certification from Fontbonne University. As an actor, he has performed with over a dozen local professional companies including the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis as part of the Shakespeare in the Streets program in both New World and Blow, Winds. As a founding resident artist of Mustard Seed Theatre he worked in many capacities including helping produce and direct “Bosnian American: The Dance for Life,” a community-engaged project with the Bosnian community of St. Louis. In 2015, Flores acted as a local line producer for the “Every 28 Hour Plays” a collaboration with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the One-Minute Play Festival, and the St. Louis community in response to the Ferguson movement. He began as a theatre educator teaching in the Parkway School district. Later he was Assistant Professor of Theatre at Fontbonne University. He recently also was lead Teaching Artist for the Festival’s Shake 101 teaching residency for the past two years

TourCo’s inaugural production of Othello will visit 24 parks and gathering spaces across Missouri and Illinois in August.

OTHELLO 

AUG 3 – 29 • 6:30p • TUE – SUN

Directed by Adam Flores
Starring Jason J. Little, Courtney Bailey, Charlie Barron, Ricki Franklin, Hannah Geisz & Jesse Muñoz.

The 90-minute adaptation will feature Courtney Bailey (Desdemona), Charlie Barron (Iago), Ricki Franklin (Emilia), Hannah Geisz (Roderigo), Jason J. Little (Othello) and Jesse Muñoz (Cassio).

All performances begin at 6:30 p.m. unless otherwise noted. These shows are free, no reservations or tickets are required. Bring your own chairs, blankets and pack a picnic to meet your friends and neighbors around the corner or find a park in a new spot on the tour to explore. Join us for more free Shakespeare in the Park! Learn more at stlshakes.org/othello

By Lynn Venhaus
As an ever-busy presence in the St. Louis theater community, Ellie Schwetye has created a diverse body of work — acting, directing, producing and sound design for a myriad of companies. While she has been recognized for her individual achievements with multiple St. Louis Theater Circle Awards, she thrives on collaboration.

But her name associated with a project means that there will be a high bar for quality and a sharp attention to detail, from selecting a soundtrack to a Jane Austen homage, “First Impressions,” for SATE; to guiding Will Bonfiglio to a third Circle Award for Best Actor in a Comedy in “Fully Committed” at the New Jewish Theatre; to bringing haughty Mrs. White to life in SATE’s “Classic Mystery Game” play; and portraying Emily Post, one of the hostesses in ERA’s “Trash MacBeth.”

She is the co-producer of SATE and has directed and/or worked with Equally Represented Arts (ERA), YoungLiars, West End Players Guild, New Jewish Theatre, Prison Performing Arts, The Tennesee Williams Festival St. Louis, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, The Black Rep, R-S Theatrics, St. Louis Actors’ Studio, The Midnight Company, Stray Dog Theatre, Mustard Seed Theatre and others.

Joe Hanrahan in “Here Lies Henry”

Like many other artists, Ellie was eager to return to live theater when it was safe to do so — either on stage or behind the scenes. And now, it’s happening — she’s directing the one-man show “Here Lies Henry” starring frequent collaborator Joe Hanrahan, whose Midnight Company is producing.

It runs Thursday through Saturdays at 8 p.m. June 10 – 27, with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. June 27, at the Kranzberg Arts Center’s black box theatre.

Most COVID restrictions have now lifted, so with larger capacity audiences allowed, tickets are now available at the door. Midnight was deemed MissouriArtSafe by the Missouri Arts Council, received permission from the City of St. Louis for the production, and followed strict safety protocols. 

Written by Daniel MacIvor, Henry is a man on a mission to tell you something you don’t already know. It is an idyllic — sort of — miserable — sort of — storybook — sort of — nightmarish — sort of — remarkable — sort of — regular show.

Ellie said she was immediately drawn to the material.

“Initially, what I liked about “Here Lies Henry” was the opportunity to collaborate with Joe Hanrahan again. I’ve joked that Joe could hand me the phone book and I’d direct it, if it meant working with him,” she said.. 

“But, of course, the material of the play itself is a draw. The character of Henry is so quirky, he’s such an innocent — but trying desperately not to appear so. It’s a lovely, weird, off-beat meditation on love, life, and death. There’s a Virginia Woolf-like stream-of-consciousness quality to the text, as well as moments that have me thinking about David Lynch and Andrew Wyeth,” she said.

Ellie and Joe have collaborated multiple times.

Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye in “Cuddles,” directed by Joe Hanrahan

“Working with Joe is always a treat. ‘Henry’ is, I think, the sixth project on which we have worked together. Joe finds and writes amazing scripts – all of which are real studies in personality,” she said.

” As both an actor-producer and a director Joe is very laid back. He comes into every project with really clear ideas, and a great sense of play and collaboration. We experiment and laugh a lot during rehearsals. Joe has a great affinity for incorporating rock and pop music into his shows, as I do. I appreciate that he lets me sound design the shows I direct, which he knows I love doing.”

Since the pandemic forced live theater to shut down in March 2020, she said she kept her theater itch scratched with some outdoor theater, video projects and “a few, now ubiquitous, Zoom plays.”

How does it feel to be ‘back in the saddle’ again?

“It’s fantastic! This is my first in-person indoor production since March 2020. It’s pretty cool to be doing this play. Directing a one-man show was the best choice to ease back into the process. The first rehearsal was both terrifying and exhilarating,” she said.

Now she is returning to produce and sound design the play “Top Girls” with SATE — Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble,

“It’s a play we had programmed and cast since before the pandemic. Both my producing partner, Rachel Tibbetts, who is directing the play, and I really love the story, the script, and non-linear storytelling of Caryl Churchill’s text and are thrilled we finally get to bring it back to St. Louis,” she said.

And while filling up her plate after such an absence is tempting, she has reflected upon the next steps after the quarantine break.

“As for easing back into commitments, I think the pandemic taught me that being busy isn’t a virtue. I love the many facets of my work in the theatre, but I don’t need to do eleven projects a year anymore. Having said that, I am quite excited for some projects this fall including “Top Girls” with SATE, directing “The Miracle Worker” at Clayton High School, and another project with Midnight later in December,” she said.

Ellie as Emily Post in ERA’s “Trash MacBeth” with Rachel Tibbetts

Schwetye, 39, was born and raised in St. Louis.

During the down time, she explored activities that she had an interest in, but hadn’t given herself the time to dive in — and the opportunity was much appreciated.

“Unsurprisingly, much of it has been outdoors, since that’s been the safest way to socialize. I’ve been gardening a bit. The brilliant Nicole Angeli has been my hiking guru, and it’s been lovely to explore gorgeous conservation areas in eastern Missouri and central Illinois. Last summer, I supported my sister as her ground crew while she paddled the Missouri river — 340 miles! — from Kansas City to St. Charles. Now that was the ultimate stage management gig. Being on the river for four days and the fact that our team was representing the Missouri Confluence Waterkeeper organization opened my eyes to how precious and critical the Missouri river system is to our region,” she said. 

“I’ve also gotten to spend a lot of time at my family’s property in Labadie, Mo., which we affectionately and unoriginally call the Farm. We completed building a house that was inspired by a one-room schoolhouse that once sat on the property. I’ve been working with my dad for the past year on much of the finish carpentry in the house, including framing and hanging doors and cutting and installing window trim and baseboards from hemlock,” she said.

“The Comeback Special” as part of the LaBute New Play Festival at St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Q &A WITH ELLIE SCHWETYE

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

“I’ve always been drawn to storytelling. Theatrical storytelling is a kind of magic. I’m also a bit of a show-off, so performing was a great outlet for that energy. As I developed though, I learned that I love directing and producing so much more. I find the process of bringing artists together in collaboration so much more rewarding than a curtain call.”

2. How would your friends describe you?

“Classic Aries: attention-seeking, passionate, optimistic, ambitious, independent, competitive, a bit selfish, impatient and impulsive.”

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

“Recently. it’s been out at the Farm with my nieces and nephews, hiking with buddies, and reading my dad’s first edition “Foxfire” books.”

4. What is your current obsession?

“My meadow is my current obsession. It’s one little corner of the Farm. I’m keeping a path cleared through it to better observe the variety of grasses and native plants growing there. I have been trying to learn a lot more about our native species. Since I’m out at the Farm almost every week, it’s been amazing watching the changes from season to season.”

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

“I used to be a pretty fast runner. I won a state track meet in the 800m event.”

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

“My college theatre experience was a defining time. I went to a women’s college, which is certainly where my feminist theatre aesthetic was solidified. Knowing that my mentors were a fashion designer who got her start on London’s Carnaby Street in the 60s, a former Breck girl-turned radical feminist bass player, and an East German dramaturg with the Berliner Ensemble probably makes a lot of sense for the theatre I like to make and watch now.”

“A Lovely Sunday in Creve Coeur” as part of an ensemble at The Tennessee Williams Festival in 2019

7. Who do you admire most?

“This is the hardest question of the ten! So many people. My parents, certainly – especially my mom; my sisters. I’ve been learning more about my grandparents and ancestors, and there are a lot of hard-working, gritty folks in my family tree to admire.”

“Artistically, I admire the folks I have the privilege of collaborating with – and there are so many amazing and inspiring artists in this group! I admire my teachers, like Kelley Weber, who encouraged me to be a theatre artist. And I admire the producers who took a chance on me, like Edie Avioli and Scott Sears, and Ron Himes and Linda Kennedy.”

“And I always admire the real women from history whose stories I often get to tell – like Henriatta Leavit, Annie Jump Cannon, Williamina Fleming, Rosalind Franklin, Sr. Jacque-Marie, or Helen Keller. Theatricalized stories of real women will always be the most fascinating to me.”

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

I keep a Google doc of plays I’d love to direct or scripts I’d love to develop. Rachel Hanks and I started musing a while back about a play based on the Stevens Sisters (Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell). Writing something original is certainly on the bucket-list. And as a some-time performer, I’m ready for the challenge of a one-woman show.

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

“Discovering and exploring unexpected nature and conservation areas in the region.”

10. What’s next?

“I’m looking forward to the YoungLiars Summer Training Festival in July, then “Top Girls” with SATE in September. I’ll be directing “The Miracle Worker” at Clayton High School in the fall, then in December I’ll be performing opposite Joe Hanrahan in his new trio of short plays “Tinsel Town” about artists in LA, directed by Rachel Tibbetts. It completes a trifecta of work the three of us have collaborated on, which has included “Cuddles” and “Little Thing, Big Thing.”

Ellie with John Wolbers in “First Impressions”

More on Ellie:

Family: my parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, 5 nieces and nephews, and cousins (who are like sisters).
Education: The St. Louis answer: Clayton High School; the real answer: Mount Holyoke College.
Day job: Production Manager with my family’s business serving the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction industry.
First job: My first post-college job was as a professional Intern at the Black Rep. 
First role: Abigail Adams in the 5th grade musical “Dear Abby” (I still remember my big number!)
Favorite roles/plays: My Ozark adaptation of “As You Like It”, Rachel’s and my adaptation, “First Impressions” based on “Pride and Prejudice” (and getting to play Elizabeth Bennet in it!), ERA’s “The Residents of Craigslist”. I’m also really proud of co-founding and producing SATE’s Aphra Behn Festival, celebrating women writers and directors.
Dream role/play: There are two weirdo comedies I’d love to produce, direct, or perform in: “All Our Happy Days are Stupid” by Shiela Heti and “Freshwater” by Virginia Woolf, which she wrote for her sister Vanessa’s birthday party.
Awards/Honors/Achievements: St. Louis Theater Circle Awards for Production, Sound Design, Directing, Script Adaptation, and Performance in an Ensemble; PopLifeSTL’s 2019 Artist of the Year 🙂
Favorite quote/words to live by: “have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves”
A song that makes you happy: “Call Your Girlfriend” by Robyn

“Silent Sky,” which Ellie directed, at West End Players Guild in 2018
“Oedipus Apparatus” at West End Players Guild in 2017

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. 

Inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Aug 12 — Sep 6, 2020

While theaters remain dark, we are excited to share a socially-distant, self-guided tour in Forest Park with custom art installations and open-air performances. The 1.25-mile walk was developed by St Louis Shakespeare Festival and will feature artists from Painted Black STL, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, The Big Muddy Dance Company, Poor Monsters and Jazz St. Louis.

Shakespeare Glen, Forest Park

There is currently a waitlist: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-late-summer-nights-stroll-registration-112138611606

A free outdoor walking experience in Forest Park.

See the park like you’ve never seen it before on this 80-minute jaunt full of poetry, music and art. Loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “A Late Summer Night’s Stroll” puts you at the center of the story: four lovers’ escape to an enchanted wood and the magical night of transformation that follows. A socially-distant self-guided tour of iconic spots and hidden gems, featuring custom installations, open-air performances and charming vignettes.

Free, but registration required. Suggested donation of $20.

Times and Group Sizes

The 1.25 mile walk begins at ten-minute intervals between 5 p.m. – 7:40 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday. Groups are limited to ten or fewer and only one group can register per time-slot (you will not be paired with another group). Guests are strongly encouraged to attend only with members of their own household.

Guests ages 9 and up must wear a face mask or covering in accordance with the City of St. Louis guidelines when in attendance. 

For more information, visit to: https://stlshakes.org/

A Late Summer Night’s Stroll: An Interactive Walk Experience in Forest Park Will Be Offered Aug. 12 – Sept. 6

Producing Artistic Director Tom Ridgely has officially announced the postponement of St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” its 20th Anniversary Shakespeare in the Park production, as well as “Shakespeare in the Streets: The Ville” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Bruce Longworth, has been rescheduled for the 2022 summer season, and “Shakespeare in the Streets: The Ville”, written by Mariah Richardson and directed by Thomasina Clarke, will take place in September 2021. Final dates will be announced at a later time.

“In the end, it boiled down to the safety of the artists,” Ridgely said in a statement. “The actors’ union hired a very well-qualified epidemiologist to assess the situation, and their determination was that it just wouldn’t be safe to return to work this summer. We wish it could be otherwise, but we have to trust the experts and not take any chances when it comes to people’s health and well-being. We’ll be back though, and we’re already looking forward to how good it will feel when we can all be together again.”

The Festival will spend the additional time investing in The Ville, working closely with 4the Ville and Young Friends of the Ville, its partner organizations on Shakespeare in the Streets.

Mariah Richardson

“I am saddened about the delay but excited about the extra time and opportunity to really learn about the residents of the Ville. Their story is rooted in the earliest history of our city. And a story crying out to be heard,” said playwright Mariah Richardson.

The Festival is continuing to collect stories from current and past residents of the neighborhood and encourage anyone with a connection to submit via mail, email or phone. Details and questions are available at stlshakes.org/theville.

“A Late Summer Night’s Stroll”

In lieu of the original scheduled 20th-anniversary production of Shakespeare in the Park, the Festival is offering a new socially-distant walking experience in Forest Park. A LATE SUMMER NIGHT’S STROLL, loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, will take guests on a 90-minute walk through some of the park’s most iconic spots and hidden gems.

The STROLL will use music, dance and visual art to offer a new and surprising way of experiencing both the story and the park. “Midsummer is one of the most magical and beloved plays in all of world drama. It follows the flight of four lovers into the woods and the night of lyrical transformations that drive them apart and back together again – capped by the famous and hilarious “play-within-a-play” put on by local tradesmen,” says Ridgely.

“This experience will put the walkers at the center of the story.” A LATE SUMMER NIGHT’S STROLL run evenings, Tuesday-Sunday, August 12 to September 6. Groups will be limited to 10 and under with scheduled start times to maintain social distance. The walk is free, but registration is required and will open to the public on Monday, July 13. Suggested donations are $20, and post-walk picnics will be available at an additional charge. “In this time when safe, fun, out-of-home experiences have been almost impossible to come by, we hope to create an activity that allows the people of St. Louis to reconnect with the city and each other in an act of engagement and shared pleasure,” concludes Ridgely.

More information will be available online at www.stlshakes.org/stroll. Leadership support for 2020’s Shakespeare in the Park programming is provided by The Whitaker Foundation, Emerson, The Bellwether Foundation, Edward Jones, Enterprise Holdings Foundations, The Strive Fund, the Missouri Arts Council, The Trio Foundation of St. Louis, Buckingham Asset Management, and the Regional Arts Commission.

The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival presents Shakespeare and works inspired by his legacy of storytelling. Since 2001, the festival has grown from producing a single production of Shakespeare in the Park to a year-round season of impactful theater in exciting and accessible venues throughout the St. Louis community. The festival’s artistic and education programs reached over 50,000 patrons and students during the 2018 season and have reached over one million since 2001. In 2019, the Festival received a “What’s Right with the Region” award from Focus St. Louis

15 arts organizations will join forces with OTSL and RAC to present a streamed concert in support of artists whose livelihoods have been directly impacted by COVID-19.

Together with 14 other arts organizations and the Regional Arts Commission (RAC), Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL) is proud to announce “Arts United STL,” a free virtual benefit in support of RAC’s Artist Relief Fund, which provides critical aid to St. Louis working artists whose livelihoods have been critically interrupted by the pandemic. Produced by OTSL in partnership with the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, this benefit will take place at 7 p.m. on Sunday, May 31st and present performances from local arts organizations, including The Big Muddy Dance Company, The Black Rep, Circus Flora, COCA, Jazz St. Louis, The Muny, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, St. Louis Ballet, St. Louis Children’s Choirs, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, The Sheldon, STAGES St. Louis, the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis, and more. 

Arts United STL was first envisioned by OTSL General Director Andrew Jorgensen as a way for St. Louis’ established arts institutions to help support the community’s vibrant arts ecosystem. After an initial consultation between OTSL, RAC, and the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, a consortium of 15 organizations was invited across an array of arts mediums. In the coming days, RAC will also encourage open submissions from independent artists and other arts organizations to further highlight the artistic diversity of the city. 

More information about Arts United STL can be found on Opera Theatre’s website at ExperienceOpera.org/ArtsUnited, which will also host the live video stream on Sunday, May 31st. In addition, viewers may watch the livestream via YouTube on Opera Theatre’s channel. Viewers will be encouraged to donate to the RAC Artist Relief Fund during the concert. To date, the Artist Relief Fund has distributed $136,500 in direct support to individual artists. The goal of Arts United STL is to raise an additional $250,000 through 1,000 individual donations and sponsorships. Supporters may donate to the Artist Relief Fund at ExperienceOpera.org/ArtsUnited at any time before, during, or after the live event.

The arts and culture sector is an important driver for the St. Louis economy. According to the 2015 Americans for the Arts Economic Prosperity 5 study commissioned by RAC, the nonprofit arts and culture sector generated $590.9 million and 19,129 full-time equivalent jobs for the greater St. Louis area during that same year. Since the start of the pandemic, based on research conducted by Americans for the Arts, 89% of St. Louis City and County arts institutions have canceled events that would have reached more than 285,000 individuals.

“This benefit represents an exciting and collaborative effort to respond to the global crisis affecting the arts and culture sector in our region,” said Mont Levy, chair of the board of commissioners at RAC. “As the major public funder of arts in the region with a mandate to support individual artists, we know it is RAC’s responsibility to provide emergency support during this time of great need. We could not be more grateful to Opera Theatre of Saint Louis for spearheading this event, or to the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival and every participating organization for their work to highlight the rich cultural tapestry of our region and support their fellow artists.”

The Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis is the largest annual funder of non-profit arts in the region, providing grants to individual artists, arts and culture organizations, and other programs since 1985. RAC established the Artist Relief Fund through the St. Louis Community Foundation on April 1st to help working artists who have lost income due to the pandemic. So far, the fund has distributed $500 and $1,000 grants to more than 130 artists and will resume accepting new relief applications once additional funds have been secured.

OTSL General Director Andrew Jorgensen says of the effort, “We are thrilled to be collaborating with so many other arts organizations to help local artists, whose work makes St. Louis an immeasurably vibrant, special place. OTSL couldn’t be happier to produce this concert in support of artists during these difficult times. This benefit will highlight a fantastic array of art from different genres that reflect the artistic diversity and traditions of this community. I am so grateful to all my many colleagues who are uniting in this remarkable way to support one another and our entire arts ecosystem.”

All participating organizations are donating their time, with production costs and staffing needs covered by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, additional staffing needs covered by St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, and an in-kind donation from Switch. The program will be directed by St. Louis Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Tom Ridgely. Arts United STL is produced in partnership with the Regional Arts Commission, and the following arts partners: The Big Muddy Dance Company, The Black Rep, Circus Flora, COCA, Jazz St. Louis, The Muny, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, St. Louis Ballet, St. Louis Children’s Choirs, St. Louis Shakespeare Festival, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, The Sheldon, STAGES St. Louis, and the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis.

Here is the HEC featurette piece: https://youtu.be/Upzz841hHX4

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About Regional Arts Commission

The Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis (RAC) supports artists and arts organizations through grantmaking, strategic initiatives and other programs that build capacity, improve quality and advance diversity, equity and inclusion within the region’s arts and culture sector. Celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2020, RAC has been pivotal in nurturing the vibrant art scene throughout St. Louis, awarding more than 7,000 grants totaling over $100 million since its inception in 1985. Directed by a board of 15 commissioners appointed by the chief executives of St. Louis City and St. Louis County,  RAC prioritizes quality in its support of nonprofit arts organizations, individual artists, and programs and promotes partnerships that strengthen the sector and drive progress throughout the region. RAC receives its funding from hotel/motel room sales tax revenue from St. Louis City and County. Visit www.racstl.org for more information, or follow us on Facebook at Regional Arts Commission or Twitter @RACStLouis.