The St. Louis Black Repertory Company announces the Morehouse College Glee Club in a special benefit concert Saturday, November 12, 2022, as part of the organization’s annual GALA at the 560 Music Center at 560 Trinity Avenue. 

“This has been an extraordinary year, and we are so happy to be bringing the Morehouse College Glee Club to St. Louis audiences,” said Ron Himes, Founder and Producing Director of The Black Rep. “There is no better way to celebrate our ability to experience the joy of live performance together than to hear these voices. The Black Rep made a five year commitment to present an HBCU Chorale group each year at our Gala.”

The all-male Glee Club was formed at the historically Black men’s university in Atlanta in 1911. They have performed around the world, as well as at historic events such as the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, former President Jimmy Carter’s inauguration, and at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral – a notable alumni of the Glee Club and Morehouse University.

Under the direction of Dr. David E. Morrow, the Glee Club will perform a repertoire of African and American songs for St. Louis audiences. Tickets are available for purchase now.

Funds raised at the annual GALA directly support The Black Rep’s Community and Education programs including classes and workshops, Summer Performing Arts, Teen Tech Training, Professional Fellowships, and Regional Touring Company season for school and community audiences. Shanti Parikh and Dennis Reagan are the co-chairs of the fundraising event.

For concert tickets contact The Black Rep at 314-534-3807 or visit www.theblackrep.org.

By Lynn Venhaus

Bigotry is an ugly thing to witness, even in the context of 1821. It’s expected, but always unsettling, no matter what period.

So, when the first scene of “The African Company Presents Richard III” opens with a condescending and arrogant white supremist shutting down a competing Shakespearean production, that sets the tone for a battle between right and might.

As Stephen Price, the haughty and cruel producer at the Park Theatre, Eric Dean White will make your skin crawl. He is threatened by their success and will use his influence to get the powers-at-be to make it hard on them.

While our sympathies lie with the performers in The African Company, they are having their own conflicts to deal with from within that threatens their existence too.

This 1994 play within a play by Carlyle Brown is a provocative showcase for compelling artists in The Black Rep’s latest riveting work. And opens the Black Rep’s 46th season in fine fashion.

Based on a true story, Brown’s drama is set in pre-Civil War New York when two productions of Shakespeare’s “Richard III” are vying for audiences. Slavery was not outlawed yet, but there were more free blacks living there.

Shakespeare famously said, “The play is the thing,” and The African Company, through the Black Rep’s hard-hitting production, shows you why art can break barriers, and all the challenges are worth it.

Cameron Jamarr Davis as James Hewlett as Richard III. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

The first black theatre in the U.S., The African Company of New York was a downtown theater growing in popularity with not only black audiences, but white audiences too. Their satires drew crowds, particularly when it was about the status quo white society. And the unenlightened were outraged those blacks had a voice. How dare they tackle the Shakespeare and other British classics!

William Henry “Billy” Brown had turned his home’s backyard into The African Grove, where blacks could socialize as society became increasingly segregated, then he expanded to theater, founding The African Company.

Price’s company has paid a renowned British actor, Junius Brutus Booth (father of John Wilkes Booth), a pretty penny and a sweet contract promising a full house, so they want a return on the investment, more revenue, and will not play nice.

The black theater doesn’t have the luxuries afforded the other theater, and most of the actors work as domestic servants or as laborers or in other roles.

“We all charade one great role of the happy, obedient Negro,” says character James Hewlett, the first black Shakespearean actor in U.S., and is playing the lead role.

Some of the cast is worried about the police shutting them down. What if they are taken to jail?

Director Ron Himes keeps the tension simmering both in racial friction and the tussling actors. He ensures that the company’s commitment to art is a focal point, while he laces this distinctive history lesson with humor and music.

As Hewlett, Cameron Jamarr Davis is passionate about the work, and doubles-down on his conviction, despite mounting odds – and a complicated romantic entanglement.

Ann Johnson, the actress playing Lady Anne, is exhausted by her day job and feelings that don’t seem to be reciprocated in equal measure. She is confused by the part and the play’s action, and not afraid to say so. Coda Boyce gives a fierce performance as someone speaking up for herself, and not compromising in a world that expects her to be subservient.

Alex Jay is a strong Sarah, who tries to keep things going smoothly, and is an accomplished seamstress. Costume designer Andre Harrington has beautifully captured the period and the royal costumes.

Olajuwon Davis is tough and tenacious in his portrayal as the dedicated, steadfast promoter Brown, who tries to not let what he calls “silly” views of white people grind him down. He channels his anger into action.

In real life, Brown wrote “The Drama of King Shotaway,” which is considered the first play by an African American and was about the black Caribbean war of 1796 against white settlers. Somehow, it’s been lost. However, what he did for blacks in theater will never be forgotten.

Papa Shakespeare is trying hard to keep them together. He’s quite a storyteller, a repository of history and wisdom – and colorful, as played by Wali Jamal Abdull. As the racist constable, Dustin Petrillo is a despicable meanie.

The simple set, designed by Jamie Bullins, doubles as a rehearsal hall and a theatrical stage, well-accented by Jasmine Williams’ lighting design.

This well-acted, well-staged play is a noteworthy moment in time that will resonate with modern audiences, for its power is timeless.

The Black Rep presents “The African Company Presents Richard III” Sept. through Sept. 25 at the Edison Theatre on the campus of Washington University. For more information, visit www.theblackrep.org

Photos by Phillip Hamer

By Lynn Venhaus

Bright before me the signs implore me
To help the needy and show them the way
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it’s going to rain today

  • Randy Newman, “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” 1968

As the gap between the haves and the have-nots keeps widening in America, August Wilson’s “Jitney,” the first play of his 10-play cycle in 10 decades of history, couldn’t be timelier.

The play, which is set in the 1970s in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, has lost none of its bite, and in the loving hands of The Black Rep, it is spellbinding. A richly textured tale of economic struggles, racial tensions, fathers, sons, hope, dreams, loss, strength, and the need for and meaning of community.

A jitney refers to an independently owned unlicensed car for hire. Because regular cab drivers did not service the Hill District, Wilson presented this urban renewal scenario for a makeshift gypsy cab service.

The city has decided to condemn the building, which threatens to eliminate Becker’s Car Service, and the owner frets about finances as the other characters have worries of their own. This lyrical production is powerful storytelling at its finest.

Wilson introduces us to the men who make a living driving these cabs as they sit around a dingy office waiting for the phone to ring – as well as the relatives and passengers who stop by.

The era vibrantly portrayed is after the Civil Rights Amendment, but segregation still exists, and the characters deal with those issues. Could home ownership even be possible? The soldiers who fought in Vietnam returned home (or not) with their own stories to tell.

These passionate souls have bonded – or avoided it – through their lives’ triumphs and travails. No one’s had it easy, and the world-weariness shows. But the hope for second chances is palpable.

Featuring a superb ensemble of actors who bring out distinctive characteristics that you won’t soon forget, “Jitney” is a powder-keg of emotions and the evergreen need for connection and kindness in a cold, cruel world.

As the former mill worker who has his share of problems, Kevin Brown gives a powerhouse performance, equal parts fire and compassion.

Becker is grappling with his shame over his son’s prison time for murder. Clarence “Booster” Becker was convicted for killing a white college girlfriend, who had accused him of rape after her father found out about their relationship. As the wayward son, Phillip Dixon offers a complex performance as he seeks to patch up his rift with his dad and a fresh start.

Another standout young actor, Olajuwon Davis, plays Vietnam veteran Darnell Williams, aka Youngblood, and you can feel his desire to realize the American Dream for his family as he works two jobs.

Alex Jay is memorable as Rena, his spunky pregnant girlfriend, and brings out the yearning to be part of middle-class society as they’re starting out, their lives in front of them, dreaming of bright futures.

The cast is enlivened by the dynamic of ace performers J. Samuel Davis, who plays Fielding, and Ron Himes, the director who was called to fill in as Turnbo a few days before the show began its run. Both titans in the local theater community, they are multiple winners and nominees of the St. Louis Theater Circle Awards, and their ease slipping into these roles is one of the joys of seeing them at work.

Fielding is a driver whose life has been marred by alcoholism and Turnbo, a cranky guy who knows it all, likes to stir up trouble.

Another bright spot is Edward Hill as Doub, a Korean War veteran who keeps it all together at the service.

Rounding out the cast is Robert A. Mitchell as Shealy, a local bookie who does not drive but spends his time there using the pay phone to run his numbers game, and Richard Harris as Philmore, as a hotel doorman who gets rides from the guys.

Director Himes capitalizes on Wilson’s ability to draw us into his world that is so vivid. The production is enhanced by spot-on music choices reflecting that era, an impeccably designed set by Harlan D. Penn, the always exquisite lighting design of Joseph W. Clapper and sharp sound design from Justin Schmitz. Jamie Bullins’ costume design shrewdly reflects the characters.

As Wilson chronicled African American life during the 20th century, we learned about specific journeys in a way that resonated universally. Call them ordinary people, but on stage, they create a stunning portrait of America – and they make a beautiful noise. All but one of his 10 plays are set in his hometown.

Because of the Black Rep’s unwavering commitment to Wilson’s plays, we St. Louisans have been fortunate to experience his Pittsburgh plays, or Century Cycle, in the highest quality possible.

These productions, now in the company’s second go-round, have enriched not only my theater-going but also my understanding of humanity. I look forward to the rest I have not seen.

Whether you have seen any or none, engage a ride with “Jitney” May 4-May 29.

The Black Repertory Theatre of St. Louis presents August Wilson’s “Jitney” May through May 29 at the Edison Theatre on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis. For tickets, visit
For more information, visit
www.theblackrep.org

The St. Louis Black Repertory Company revisits the opening production of its 45th Anniversary Season with Sweat by Lynn Nottage in a celebratory performance at the William Inge Theater Festival in Independence, Kansas. Addressing the complexities of race, class and friendship at a pivotal moment in America, the powerful work will be directed once again by Founder and Producing Director Ron Himes.

The William Inge Theater Festival will celebrate its 39th anniversary April 21-23, 2022 by honoring Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage with the Distinguished Achievement in the American Theater Award. Lynn Nottage is the first Black woman to receive the award.

Nottage is the only woman to date to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama two times. Her Pulitzer Prize-winning plays are Ruined and Sweat, and they are two among scores of  award-winning stories written for theatre, film, and television. 

“Playwright Nottage tensely captures the root of our current political and racial tension in society today,” said Himes. “Are we only looking out for ourselves or are we responsible for each other?”

Says William Inge Center for the Arts Producing Artistic Director, Hannah Joyce, “I believe audiences will be deeply moved by Nottage’s work which champions the everyman, the working class, and marginalized. She writes the struggle and humanity of her characters with enormous compassion and respect. There’s no finer playwright in our country than Lynn Nottage to represent true excellence in the American theatre. The William Inge Center for the Arts is long overdue in the presentation of this recognition. We are honored by her acceptance of the Distinguished Achievement in the American Theatre Award.”

The cast of Sweat for The Black Rep’s production features Velma Austin (Cynthia), Wali Jamal Abdullah (Brucie), Amy Loui (Tracey), Don McClendon (Evan), and Brian McKinley (Chris). Franklin Killian (Jason), Blake Anthony Edwards (Stan), Gregory Almanza (Oscar), and Kelly Howe (Jessie) will all be joining the cast once again, as well as Christina Yancy (U/S Cynthia).

The production will feature Scenic Design by Tim Jones, Lighting Design by Jonathan D. Alexander, Costume Design by Hali Liles, Sound Design by Kareem Deanes, and Properties Design by Meg Brinkley. Fight Choreography was done by Paul Steger who is certified by the Society of American Fight Directors and holds advanced certificates from the British Academy of Stage and Screen Combat & Fight Directors. Jim Anthony is the Stage Manager and Acting Fellow Taijha Silas is the Assistant Stage Manager.

Nottage will attend the Festival and accept the Award in person; she will join writers such as Wendy Wasserstein, August Wilson, Neil Simon, Paula Vogel, Stephen Sondheim, David Henry Hwang, and Arthur Miller—among many other theatre luminaries—who have traveled to Independence to accept the Festival’s Distinguished Achievement in the American Theatre Award. 

The Black Rep’s “Sweat”

About The Black Rep

The Black Rep, a 45-year-old legacy Black arts organization, is committed to producing, re-imagining, and commissioning work written by Black playwrights and creating opportunities for new voices and youth. Founded by Producing Director Ron Himes, the vision for The Black Rep continues: a more equitable distribution of opportunities and resources for Black professionals and students in the theatre; improved representation on and back-stage in the theatre industry; and a fostered community culture of support and mentorship for those who will follow.

For more information: www.theblackrep.org

The Muny, the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival and The Midnight Company, with nine, eight and six awards, respectively, led the way at the 2022 St. Louis Theater Circle Awards, which were held in a virtual, streaming ceremony on HEC Media on Monday, March 28, 2022.

The Muny’s 2021 production of “Chicago,” which returns to open its 2022 season, took top honors for an individual show with seven awards. Denis Jones, director and choreographer of “Chicago,” and Joe Hanrahan, artistic director of The Midnight Company, each was honored with two individual awards to lead all honorees.

Nominees in more than 30 categories vied for honors covering comedies, dramas, musicals and operas produced by local professional theater and opera companies in the combined calendar years of 2020 and 2021.

Because the coronavirus pandemic brought about the cancellation of so many productions by nearly all local professional theater companies, approximately 75 productions were considered for nominations for the combined years of 2020 and 2021. This compares to roughly 120 to 130 productions normally considered in one year alone.

The eighth annual award ceremony, which was to have been held ‘live’ at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the campus of Webster University, was canceled in February 2020 due to the escalating number of cases of COVID-19. Instead, that event was held virtually in a highly polished presentation produced by HEC Media and streamed on HEC’s YouTube channel, Facebook page and web site, as was this ninth annual event. There was no ceremony of any type by the Theater Circle in 2021.

For the ninth annual ceremony, members of the St. Louis Theater Circle considered nominees from shows produced in the first three months of 2020 and the last eight months of 2021 combined. In addition, a few shows produced between April 2020 and May 2021 were included.

The winners for the ninth annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards are:

Michelle Hand and Nicole Angeli in “It Is Magic”

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Comedy, Female or Non-Binary Role

  • Nicole Angeli, “It Is Magic,” The Midnight Company

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Comedy, Male or Non-Binary Role (Tie)

  • Joe Hanrahan, “It Is Magic,” The Midnight Company
  • Carl Overly, Jr., “It Is Magic,” The Midnight Company

Outstanding Leading Performer in a Comedy, Female or Non-Binary Role

  • Ellie Schwetye, “Tinsel Town,” The Midnight Company

Outstanding Leading Performer in a Comedy, Male or Non-Binary Role

  • Adam Flores, “The Thanksgiving Play,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play

  • Seth Reiser, “A Christmas Carol,” Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Outstanding Sound Design

  • David R. Molina, “King Lear,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival
“Dress the Part”

Outstanding Costume Design in a Play

  • Christina Leinecke, “Dress the Part,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

Outstanding Set Design in a Play

  • Margery and Peter Spack, “The Ville: Avengeance,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Drama, Female or Non-Binary Role

  • Elizabeth Teeter, “The Glass Menagerie,” Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Drama, Male or Non-Binary Role

  • Brian McKinley, “Spell #7,” The Black Rep

Outstanding Leading Performer in a Drama, Female or Non-Binary Role

  • Laurie McConnell, “Annapurna,” St. Louis Actors’ Studio

Outstanding Leading Performer in a Drama, Male or Non-Binary Role

  • Andre De Shields, “King Lear,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

Outstanding New Play

  • “Tinsel Town,” by Joe Hanrahan, The Midnight Company
“Tinsel Town” by Joe Hanrahan

Outstanding Achievement in Opera

  • Patricia Racette, “La voix humaine,” Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Outstanding Production of an Opera

  • “Gianni Schicchi,” Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Outstanding Musical Director

  • Charlie Alterman, “Chicago,” The Muny

Outstanding Choreographer

  • Denis Jones,“Chicago,” The Muny
Smokey Joe’s Cafe

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Musical, Female or Non-Binary Role

  • Natascia Diaz, “On Your Feet!,” The Muny

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Musical, Male or Non-Binary Role

  • Adam Heller, “Chicago,” The Muny

Outstanding Lighting Design in a Musical

  • Sean M. Savoie, “Jersey Boys,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Set Design in a Musical

  • Edward E. Haynes Jr. and Kevan Loney, “Smokey Joe’s Café,” The Muny

Outstanding Costume Design in a Musical

  • Emily Rebholz, “Chicago,” The Muny
Diana DeGarmo “Always…Patsy Cline”

Outstanding Leading Performer in a Musical, Female or Non-Binary Role

  • Diana DeGarmo, “Always…Patsy Cline,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Leading Performer in a Musical, Male or Non-Binary Role

  • Christopher Kale Jones, “Jersey Boys,” Stages St. Louis

Outstanding Ensemble in a Comedy (Tie)

  • “Dress the Part,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival
  • “It Is Magic,” The Midnight Company

Outstanding Ensemble in a Drama

  • “Two Trains Running,” The Black Rep

Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical

  • “Chicago,” The Muny

Outstanding Director of a Comedy

  • GQ and JQ, “Dress the Part,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

Outstanding Director of a Drama

  • Carl Cofield, “King Lear,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival
Two Trains Running

Outstanding Director of a Musical

  • Denis Jones, “Chicago,” The Muny

Outstanding Production of a Comedy

  • “Dress the Part,” St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

Outstanding Production of a Drama

  • “Two Trains Running,” The Black Rep

Outstanding Production of a Musical

  • “Chicago,” The Muny

In addition, arts philanthropists Nancy and Ken Kranzberg were honored with a special award which was originally presented at the 2020 in-person ceremony.  Michael Hamilton and Jack Lane, co-founders of Stages St. Louis and the troupe’s recently retired artistic director and executive producer, respectively, were honored as well for their body of work. The Kranzbergs and Lane each gave a recorded acceptance speech during the virtual ceremony.

The mission of the St. Louis Theater Circle is simple: To honor outstanding achievement in St. Louis professional theater. Other cities around the country, such as Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., pay tribute to their own local theatrical productions with similar awards programs.

Andre DeShields in “King Lear”

Members of the St. Louis Theater Circle include Steve Allen (stagedoorstl.com); Mark Bretz (Ladue News); Bob Cohn (St. Louis Jewish Light); Tina Farmer (KDHX); Michelle Kenyon (snoopstheatrethoughts.com); Gerry Kowarsky (Two on the Aisle, HEC Media); Chuck Lavazzi (KDHX); Rob Levy (Broadwayworld.com); Judith Newmark (judyacttwo.com); Ann Lemons Pollack (stlouiseats.typepad.com); Lynn Venhaus (PopLifeSTL.com); Bob Wilcox (Two on the Aisle, HEC Media); and Calvin Wilson (St. Louis Post-Dispatch). Eleanor Mullin, local performer and arts supporter, is group administrator.

For more information, contact [email protected] or ‘like’ the St. Louis Theater Circle on Facebook.

By Lynn Venhaus
A domino chain of events have a devastating effect on a group of blue-collar steel workers in Lynn Nottage’s hard-hitting play, “Sweat,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2017 and retains its timeliness.

The Black Rep’s outstanding production, which kicked off its 45th season on Sept. 9 and continues through Sept. 26, features powerful performances in a lived-in atmosphere.

You know these characters, the ‘little guys’ who’ve worked the factory floor for years and thought their labor unions would protect them when the corporate owners moved operations to another country for a cheaper labor force.

Set in a local tavern where the Olstead mill workers hang out in Reading, Pennsylvania, this could have taken place in Granite City or Centralia, Ill., or near the shuttered car plants in St. Louis.

Director Ron Himes knows this and understands how today’s political and racial tensions are much the same as then, as well as immigration issues. Those are addressed in two story arcs — changing demographics and the territorial birthright felt by the longtime Caucasian residents.

Sadly, this tale is often not one of fiction in real lives — and has become familiar to anyone living anywhere in the Rust Belt, part of those Northeast and Midwestern regions where an industrial decline has been going on for decades, especially where coal and steel were economy mainstays.

The 2015 play starts and ends in 2008, but most of it takes place in flashback eight years earlier – in 2000, a pivotal time in America, after NAFTA is in place and corporations are going to Mexico. Transparency is not a word in these companies’ vocabulary, as they leave communities shattered and people broken.

The North American Free Trade Agreement was signed by Canada, Mexico, and the United States in 1994 and created a trilateral trade bloc.

The action veers from longtime friends celebrating birthdays, laughing, joking and talking about their lives to escalating tension as uncertainty about their jobs increases, along with harsh outlooks on their economic futures.

This ensemble is nimble and natural, conveying the complexities of their relationships with skill and emotional depth. The cast projects how longtime friends act and what their workplace is like with ease.

Nottage’s dialogue is shrewd and perceptive about race, class and identity. She understands the frustrations of these characters, and the lens in which they view the world.

Nottage, who is the only woman to win the Pulitzer Prize twice for Drama, first for “Ruined” in 2009, frequently writes about marginalized people.

For Cynthia and Tracey, is friendship or survival stronger? The actresses Amy Loui and Velma Austin expertly convey their conflicts and mood shifts, show how friendships sour when misunderstandings and envy erupt.

Their friend Jessie drinks too much and once had dreams of traveling the world but got a job at the factory and stayed. Kelly Howe gives what could be a stereotype some nuance – and superbly displays various levels of inebriation.

The cast is anchored by Stan, the bartender who was injured on the job at the mill and reflects on multiple labor issues as he is often the voice of reason – and at least history.

He attempts to put things in perspective and tells the young bucks who are chomping at the bit that they should be outraged by the bosses, not the little guys trying to get ahead like they are.

In his Black Rep debut, Black Anthony Edwards is impressive as the guy who’s good at listening, who speaks common sense, and has made lemonade out of the lemons he was given impairing his leg and being unable to work at what he did for years.

Physically, he looks like the character Stan. Praise to the costume designer Hali Liles for her spot-on outfits depicting the wardrobes of ordinary people living in the Rust Belt.

After they strike, and Cynthia and Tracey’s sons Chris and Jason are laid off, their lives are altered forever after tensions explode in violence. The fight choreography by Paul Steger is fluid and the cast well-rehearsed to make it seem natural.

Chris wanted to make something of himself, and Brian McKinley earnestly portrays his yearning to achieve, especially after watching his dad Brucie (frequent Black Rep performer A.C. Smith) fall on hard times after being shut out at a textile plant.

The boys serve prison sentences, as reflected in the opening scene with parole officer Evan, played with authority by Don McClendon. Franklin Killian is strong as the hothead redneck Jason, now tattoed on his face and a white supremist. He perfectly embodies the once fun-loving guy now a lost soul.

The subject of the boys’ rage is represented by Oscar, a Colombian American who works as the bar’s busboy but seizes an opportunity to make more money by replacing striking workers. The regular clientele are seething about this ‘scab.’

Oscar, well-played by Gregory Almanza, pours out his heart to Stan, telling him about how ignored he is, perceived to be an immigrant when he was born in the U.S. His dad swept floors at the mill, now he wants to achieve more. He is caught in the crossfire of misplaced fury.

The scenic design by Tim Jones aptly captures this world, with detailed property work by Meg Brinkley, all expertly lit by lighting designer John D. Alexander. The jukebox works well, thanks to the terrific sound design by Kareem Deanes.

Featuring one of the year’s best ensembles, a timely tale and expert production elements, “Sweat” is not to be missed.

Velma Austin as Cynthia. Photo by Phillip Hamer.

“Sweat” will continue through Sept. 26, with Thursday show at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m.

$15 student rush tickets are available for all shows — 30 minutes before the show with a valid student I.D.

For more information: www.theblackrep.org

Season subscriptions and single tickets for “Sweat” are available at www.theblackrep.org or by calling the Box Office at 314-534-3807. Groups of 12 or more may also reserve tickets by phone. Seating will be at 50 percent capacity; for complete information on current health protocols please visit www.theblackrep.org.

The Black Rep’s 45th Anniversary Season sponsors include the Arts and Education Council, The Black Seed Initiative, Centene Charitable Trust, Missouri Arts Council, Regional Arts Commission, Rodgers-Townsend, The Shubert Foundation, the Steward Family Foundation, and Washington University in St. Louis.

COVID-19 PROTOCOLS

Our top priority for reopening is the health and safety of our staff, artists and patrons. We have been working diligently to bring live theatre back. The Black Rep is part of the growing coalition of St Louis performing arts venues and producers that have agreed upon Covid-19 Vaccination/Testing and Mask Requirements for audiences, artists and staff through the end of 2021.

Everyone must be fully vaccinated or have received a negative covid test results no more than 72 hours prior to coming on campus. A Covid19 vaccination card or a negative test result must be presented upon entering the building.

Masks are required at all times while indoors on campus. Even if you are seated in pods and distanced, masks must remain in place.

Everyone will need to complete the visitorscreening.wustl.edu within 2 hours of your arrival to campus. You will receive a message indicating that you are cleared to come to campus and you will be asked to present the “cleared” message to ushers at the entrance of the building. For those without smart phones, there is a station in Mallinckrodt where you can complete the screener on an iPad. If you receive a message that you are “not cleared”, we ask that you not come to campus or leave campus if you are completing the screener on campus.

The St. Louis Black Repertory Company opens its 45thAnniversary Season September 10 with an in-person production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Sweat” by Lynn Nottage. Addressing the complexities of race, class and friendship at a pivotal moment in America,
the powerful work will be presented in person at the Edison Theatre at Washington University and directed by Founder and Producing Director Ron Himes. Previews begin on Wednesday, September 8.

A courageous and heartbreaking story explores the lives of a tight-knit group of factory workers who spend their days drinking, sharing secrets, and laughing. When layoffs and strikes create tension within the group the trust is broken. “Playwright Nottage tensely captures the root of our current political and racial tension in society today,” said Himes. “Are we only looking out for ourselves or are we
responsible for each other?”

The cast features Velma Austin (Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Screened in Porch), A.C. Smith (King Hedley II, The Trials of Brother Jero), Amy Loui (Canfield Drive, Three Ways Home), Don McClendon (Blues for Mr. Charlie), and Brian McKinley (Home, Spell #7). Franklin Killian, Blake Anthony Edwards, Gregory Almanza, and Kelly Howe will all be making their debut at The Black Rep

The production will feature Scenic Design by Tim Jones, Lighting Design by Jonathan Alexander, Costume Design by Hali Liles, Sound Design by Kareem Deanes, and Properties Designed by Meg Brinkley.

Fight Choreography will be done by Paul Steger who is certified by the Society of American Fight Directors and holds advanced certificates from the British Academy of Stage and Screen Combat & Fight Directors. Jim Anthony is the Stage Manager and Technical Fellow Tatiana Durant is the Assistant Stage Manager.

Season subscriptions and single tickets for “Sweat” are available at www.theblackrep.org or by calling the Box Office at 314-534-3807. Groups of 12 or more may also reserve tickets by phone. Seating will be at 50 percent capacity; for complete information on current health protocols please visit www.theblackrep.org.

The Black Rep’s 45th Anniversary Season sponsors include the Arts and Education Council, The Black Seed Initiative, Centene Charitable Trust, Missouri Arts Council, Regional Arts Commission, Rodgers-Townsend, The Shubert Foundation, the Steward Family Foundation, and Washington University in St. Louis

  • Set to emerge from the pandemic for live audiences, the compelling new season of work features both well-established and new Black voices, the Black Rep has announced. The St. Louis Black Repertory Company will begin its 45th anniversary with in-person performances beginning in September at the Edison Theatre on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.

    The season opens with “Sweat,” a Pulitzer-Prize winning drama fitting for the current times, followed by “Dontrell,
    Who Kissed the Sea,” exploring one young man’s present-day heroic quest. The season continues with “Fireflies,” a
    telling of the complexities of love and color, and “Behind the Sheet,” the untold story behind the sacrifices made for
    a significant medical breakthrough. The season closes with “Jitney,” August Wilson’s powerful look at one
    community’s unwavering determination and connection. Each production will include post-show talk backs and
    intergenerational matinees.

    “As we all pick up the pieces of our life in our community, we wanted to include a range of plays that explore how
    people define their self-worth and cope with society’s view,” said Ron Himes, Founder and Producing Director of
    The Black Rep. “With each of our five productions this season we’ll ask our audience to join us to explore their own
    identity and place. And, I personally can’t wait to see everyone.”

    Sweat by Lynn Nottage September 8-26, 2021 at the Edison Theatre, Washington University

    Addressing the complexities of race, class and friendship at a pivotal moment in America, this heartfelt drama tells
    the story of a group of co-workers who find friendship working on a factory floor. With layoffs and picket lines
    entering the picture, these friends must decide if they should look out for each other – or prioritize themselves.

    Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea by Nathan Alan Davis January 12-30, 2022 at the Edison Theatre, Washington
    University

    When 18-year-old Dontrell Jones decides to voyage into the Atlantic Ocean in search of an ancestor lost during the
    Middle Passage, his family struggles with the thought of losing their prized son. Blending poetry, humor, wordplay
    and ritual, this rhythmic journey is a present-day hero’s quest to explore the lengths and depths we must go to
    rewrite history’s wrongs.

    Fireflies by Donja R. Love February 9-27 at the Hotchner Studio Theatre, Washington University

    Set in the Jim Crow South, “Fireflies” tells the story of Olivia, the inspiring speechwriter and force behind her
    charismatic husband Charles and his freedom movement. When four little girls are bombed in a church, the
    couple’s relationship is thrown into jeopardy.

    Behind the Sheet by Charly Evon Simpson March 16-April 3 at The Berges Theatre, COCA
    This compelling work challenges what history remembers and reframes the very origin story of a great medical
    breakthrough. This production is made possible in part by the Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan
    Foundation Science and Technology Project along with additional support from Caleres and The Black Rep’s
    Sophisticated Ladies.

    Jitney by August Wilson May 11-29 at the Edison Theatre, Washington University

    Set in the late 1970’s, August Wilson’s first in his 10-play cycle of 10 decades of history in Pittsburgh takes place
    in the midst of urban renewal and follows a group of men who make a living driving gypsy cabs, as they navigate
    love as fathers and sons, loss and hope, and ultimately, community.

    Subscriptions are available for purchase now by calling the box office at (314) 534-3807 or online
    at www.theblackrep.org. Groups of 12 or more may also reserve tickets by phone. Opening Night packages as
    well as a New Flex Pass are available, along with an early purchase Post Pandemic discount.

    Season and individual production support has been provided by: The Arts & Education Council, Black Seed
    Initiative, Caleres, Centene Charitable Foundation, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Missouri Arts Council, Regional
    Arts Commission, Rodgers-Townsend, Shubert Foundation, Steward Family Foundation, and Washington
    University in St. Louis, with additional support from the Black Communities Investment Initiative of the St. Louis
    Community Foundation.

    About The Black Rep
    The Black Rep, a 45-year-old legacy Black arts organization, is committed to producing, re-imagining, and
    commissioning work written by Black playwrights and creating opportunities for new voices and youth. Founded
    by Producing Director Ron Himes, the vision for The Black Rep continues: a more equitable distribution of
    opportunities and resources for Black professionals and students in the theatre; improved representation on and
    back-stage in the theatre industry; and a fostered community culture of support and mentorship for those who will
    follow.

    For more information: www.theblackrep.org

The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright visits St. Louis to discuss her timely and important works, being presented locally by both theatre groups 

ST. LOUIS (June 18, 2021) – The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (The Rep) and St. Louis Black Repertory Company (The Black Rep) are pleased to welcome two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage to St. Louis for a very special roundtable event, Telling the ‘Tale’ with Lynn Nottage on Friday, June 25 at 6 p.m. via Facebook Live and YouTube. Hana S. Sharif, Augustin Family Artistic Director at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and Ron Himes, Founder and Producing Director of The Black Rep will spend 90 minutes in conversation with Nottage, moderated by Adena Varner, Director of Learning and Community Engagement for The Rep. 

The conversation will center on two key works by Nottage being presented by the local theatre groups: Mlima’s Tale, currently being performed by The Rep through July 11 at the Catherine B. Berges theatre at COCA; and Sweat, set to open The Black Rep’s 45th season from September 8 through 26 at the Edison Theatre at Washington University. 

“Lynn Nottage is one of the most important voices in modern American theatre, so bringing her thought-provoking, Mlima’s Tale, to life as The Rep’s first in-person production this year has been a true joy” said Sharif. “It is a gift for the St. Louis community to have two of her groundbreaking plays produced this year. I am delighted to partner with Ron Himes in this incredible opportunity to delve deeply into her work and the themes she explores.”

Himes added, “I’m looking forward to being in conversation with these two brilliant women of the theatre and to continue The Black Rep’s relationship with Lynn Nottage by presenting Sweat to open our in-person 45th Anniversary season. We have presented Intimate Apparel and Ruins in past seasons and our audiences have been moved; our artists have been challenged. Mlima’s Tale continues to elevate Nottage as one of our best American playwrights.”

Nottage is the first, and remains the only, woman to have twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Her plays have been produced widely in the United States and throughout the world. She was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2019. 

Telling the ‘Tale’ with Lynn Nottage is a free online event with an RSVP required via Eventbrite.

About The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Rep is the St. Louis region’s most honored live professional theatre company. Founded in 1966, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is a fully professional theatrical operation belonging to the League of Resident Theatres, The League of St. Louis Theatres and is a constituent member of Theatre Communications Group, Inc., the national service organization for the not-for-profit professional theatre. Visit www.repstl.org for more, and find The Rep on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.

About St. Louis Black Repertory Company

Founded in 1976 by Producing Director Ron Himes, The Black Rep is one of the largest professional African-American theatre companies in the nation and the largest African American professional performing arts organization in Missouri. Quality professional dramas, comedies and musicals by primarily African American and African Diaspora playwrights are produced. Main-stage  productions and education programs combine to reach more than 80,000 people annually. For more information visit theblackrep.org

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