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

The Black Rep continues its season of virtual programming with a mainstage production of Home, a moving love story by American playwright and screenwriter Samm-Art Williams, streaming on Vimeo beginning on April 15 and running through April 25. Nominated for a Tony Award and a Drama Desk Award, the play moved from the Negro Ensemble Company to the Cort Theatre on Broadway in 1980.

Directed by Producing Director Ron Himes, Home tells the story of farm boy Cephus Miles who has inherited the family farm. He is content working the land until the girl he loves leaves for college and marries someone else. After a stint in prison for his opposition to the Vietnam War, he moves to the big city where he enjoys the fast-paced city life. His return to North Carolina, the farm, and the girl, reveals the true meaning of Home.

Produced at the Edison Theatre on the campus of Washington University, the production features members of the Black Rep’s Acting Intern Company with Brian McKinley (Spell #7, Milk Like Sugar) portraying Cephus Miles, Christina Yancy (Spell #7) as Woman One/Pattie Mae Wells, and Tyler White (Spell #7, Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope) as Woman Two; with scenic and projection design by Peter and Margery Spack, lighting design by Joe Clapper, costume design by Ellen Minch, and Kasey Dunaski as stage manager.

Home is supported in part by The Nebraska Rep #realchange. Tickets for Home are available at The Black Rep website at theblackrep.org or by calling our Box Office at 314-534-3807. Streaming free on demand, a suggested donation of $25 will directly help support the theatre company and its artists.

# # #

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. Mainstage productions and education programs combine to reach more than 80,000 people annually.

Article originally appeared in Arts For Life’s Feb. 18 newsletter. Article written by Kim Klick and Lynn Venhaus

After working as a professional actor and singer for more than 30 years in Las Vegas, including performing opera at the Venetian Hotel on the Strip, Kimmie decided to move back to her hometown.

To leave her comfort zone and start over at 45 years old was daunting.

“More than a few people thought I must have been crazy!” she said.

But she knew it was time for a change and she did have support.

She was hired to work at Nordstrom Department Stores and found an apartment in Valley Park.

“I thought I’d be satisfied with all of that, but I wasn’t. Frankly, I was quite miserable. I was lonely, broke and terribly homesick! Most of all, I missed performing.”

However, things slowly fell into place. She not only found her way into the St. Louis theatre scene but reconnected with childhood friends, settled down here and married Gregg Booker. They grew up in the same neighborhood, and found each other on Facebook.

She started researching St. Louis theater companies, sending out letters and headshots, hoping to be acknowledged, but no response.

One day in 2012, she came across an audition for an upcoming production of August Wilson’s “Fences” at Hawthorne Players.

“I hadn’t even heard of August Wilson! Can you believe that? Someone like me, who has done theatre her entire life, had not heard of August Wilson?”

She showed up, prepared but “terrified.”

“A little-known fact about me is that I had never done a ‘straight play’ before! I had always done musical theatre. So, to put myself in a position where I had to just ACT, well, it was unchartered territory for me, to say the least!”

She was offered the part of Rose, the long-suffering wife who is married to the lead character, Troy.

Kimmie Kidd-Booker in “Fences” at the Hawthorne Players. Photo by Larry Marsh

“It’s one of the most important, historical, emotional, heartfelt roles to exist in American Theatre. I thought, ‘What the hell did I get myself into?’” she said.
She did not need to fret.

“This was one of the best and most fulfilling theater experiences of my career,” she said.

For the record, August Wilson was not only an African American playwright, but also was an amazingly talented award-winning playwright who died too soon at the age of 60, Kidd-Booker explained.

“Fences” is part of Wilson’s celebrated “Pittsburgh Cycle,” sometimes called “The Century Cycle,” in which he wrote 10 plays, each set in a certain decade of the 20th century.

Set in the 1957, it is the sixth play of the cycle, premiered in 1985, and like the others, explores the evolving African American experience and among other themes, examines race relations.

Troy is a Negro Baseball League player who now works as a garbageman – but can’t be a driver (yet). His bitterness is apparent and affects his family – wife Rose and sons Lyons and Cory, and disabled brother Gabriel.

“Fences” won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.
“I am honored and privileged to say I performed in an August Wilson play! Being in an August Wilson play was both thrilling and terrifying. The context is historic and genuine and dramatic. His words are thoughtful and compelling and emotional,” she said.

 While “Fences” is her only August Wilson play to date, she said she is optimistic that moving forward, there will be more opportunities to educate, perform, explore and share the African American experience with everyone.

“Black History Month is just a drop in the bucket. But it is certainly a start. My hope moving forward is that we can continue to gain an understanding of each other and continue a dialogue and put fears to rest. We have many differences, but we must continue to be reminded that we are more alike than we’d like to think,” Kimmie said.

Before she debuted in “Fences,” after a year here, she was considering returning to Las Vegas.

But once she started rehearsals with the cast and crew, then bonding with everyone, she decided to stay.

“My love for theatre kept me here in St. Louis. As I began to meet other theatre people and make more and more theatre connections, I knew that this is where I belonged. These are my People!” she said.

As Eliza Haycraft in the original musical “Madam”

Kimmie recently became part of the AFL Board of Directors. She has won two Best Performance Awards for Best Featured Actress as Glinda in “The Wiz” at Hawthorne Players in 2014 and as Estonia Dulworth in “Nice Work If You Can Get It” at the Kirkwood Theatre Guild in 2019.

She was nominated as Best Actress in a Featured Role as Sister Mary Hubert in “Nunsense” at Hawthorne Players in 2015 and as The Witch in “Into the Woods” at Curtain’s Up Theater in 2018.

Among her roles in regional professional theater, she played Tom Robinson’s wife in “To Kill a Mockingbird” at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, as Lady Bird in Stray Dog Theatre’s “Spellbound: A Musical Fable”and in the ensemble of “Sweeney Todd,” as “Aunt Missy” in The Black Rep’s “Purlie” and as Evangeline Harcourt in “Anything Goes” at New Line Theatre. In January 2020, she starred as brothel owner and philanthropist Eliza Haycraft in the original musical, “Madam.”

About August Wilson

August Wilson

Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel in Pittsburgh, Penn., on April 27, 1945. His mother, Daisy Wilson, was of African American heritage. His father, Frederick Kittel, was a German immigrant.

As a child, Kittel attended St. Richard’s Parochial School. When his parents divorced, he, his mother and his siblings moved from the poor Bedford Avenue area of Pittsburgh to the mostly white neighborhood of Oakland. After facing the relentless bigotry of his classmates at Central Catholic High School, he transferred to Connelly Vocational High School, and later to Gladstone High School.

When he was 15 years old, Wilson pursued an independent education at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, where he would earn his high school diploma.

Following his father’s death in 1965, a 20-year-old Wilson adopted the pen name “August Wilson” — reportedly an homage to his mother — and declared himself a poet. In 1968, Wilson and a friend, Rob Penny, co-founded the Black Horizon Theater.

Wilson remained primarily focused on making it as a poet — largely to no avail — until moving to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1978.

Wilson wrote his first notable play in 1979,” Jitney,” for which he earned a fellowship at the Minneapolis Playwright Center.

The following year, his new play, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” was accepted at the Eugene O’Neill Playwright’s Conference. The year 1982 was particularly fruitful for Wilson, as it marked his introduction to Lloyd Richards, who went on to direct Wilson’s first six Broadway plays.

“Joe Turner,” the second part of the cycle, opened on Broadway in 1988.He took home another Pulitzer Prize in 1990, this time for The Piano Lesson, following its Broadway premiere.

Wilson died of liver cancer on Oct. 2, 2005, in Seattle. His new play, “Radio Golf,” had opened in Los Angeles just a few months earlier.

Information from www.biography.com is included here.

Mrs. Harcourt in “Anything Goes” at New Line Theatre 2018

THE BLACK REP PRESENTS Live Stream Marking the 12 Days of Christmas to Kwanzaa Showcasing Dance, Music and Stories for All Audiences

WHAT: The St Louis Black Repertory Company is presenting A Holiday Soiree to celebrate the season and mark the beginning of a new year. The 12 Days of Christmas will feature dance, music, and storytelling performed by a roster of artist-friends of The Black Rep. The virtual celebration will conclude with I Remember Harlem, in a re-release of the Company’s virtual gala featuring international and national artists highlighting the brilliant works of African American artists such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Langston Hughes.

WHEN: Each day leading up to Christmas a new video will be released at 12pm (cst) on social media platforms. I Remember Harlem will be released on Friday, December 26, the first day of Kwanzaa, and be available through Thursday, December 31, 2020.  

WHERE: The 12 Days of Christmas will be posted on social media platforms @stlblackrep – Facebook and Instagram; I Remember Harlem will be available via Vimeo and on the web. For more information, visit theblackrep.org.

WHO: The event has been put together and organized by members of The Intern Company of The Black Rep.

WHY: To create a safe celebration of the season while putting a spotlight on our wide community of artists – both established and emerging, from all over the country.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Brian McKinley, [email protected], (314) 534-3807

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 About The 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. Mainstage productions and education programs combine to reach more than 80,000 people annually.

The St Louis Black Repertory Company announces three virtual programs for the month of September. Two virtual readings and a virtual discussion with playwright Melda Beaty and Artistic Director of The Ensemble Theatre in Houston, Eileen Morris.

Coconut Cake will be presented in conjunction with The Ensemble Theatre in Houston who originally produced a zoom reading of the play on Father’s Day Weekend. The Black Rep will stream this production September 11-13, 2020 at 7pm.  Coconut Cake features Producing Director Ron Himes who says,

“What I miss most is the chatter in the lobby and the feeling of anticipation as the lights go down and we sit for a moment anticipating another evening in the theatre. We can never replace that experience but we can maintain our connections with our audiences until it’s safe for us to come together again. We are so happy to introduce the work of Melda Beaty to our audiences in September.”

When Eddie Lee’s wife, Iris, joins him in retirement, the truth about his “ladies man” ways resurface. To avoid her, Eddie retreats to the sanctuary of McDonald’s where coffee refills are free and the rest of his retired friends, with marital problems of their own, wait faithfully for him. When a mystery woman moves in down the street, with her Creole wiles, melt in your mouth coconut cake, and medicine cabinet secrets, Eddie is not the only one who pays her a visit; a visit that threatens to change all their lives forever.  Coconut Cake also features, Jason Carmichael, Ted Lange, Alex Morris, and Ed Muth. 

The Black Rep will then have a virtual discussion with Eileen Morris, who directed the production of Coconut Cake, and Melda Beaty, the playwright. This will take place on Friday September 18, 2020.

Melda Beaty

The Black Rep will close the month of September with a virtual production of Front Porch Society by Melda Beaty.  America is on the eve of electing its first Black president. Amidst the town’s excitement over Barack Obama, Carrie Honey grieves her son’s tragic death. After 40 years of failed attempts to seek justice, Carrie has grown bitter and is no longer interested in life’s celebrations, but when a scandal in town rocks this historic day, a past secret is revealed that restores her faded faith.

This production will be live-streamed with direction by Ron Himes. This cast will feature Marjorie Johnson, Marsha Cann, Thomasina Clarke, Perri Gaffney, Keith Bolden, Christian Kitchens, and Wendy Gordon. This production will live stream on September 25, 2020 at 7pm.  The production will then be available until Sunday September 27, 2020 until 7pm.

Additional programming will be announced at a later date.

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About The St. Louis Black Repertory Company

The St Louis Black Repertory Company was 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 performing arts organization in Missouri. Quality professional dramas, comedies and musicals by primarily African-American and third world playwrights are produced. Mainstage productions and education programs combine to reach more than 80,000 people annually.

The Black Rep announces a shift in the schedule of its 44th season. Bubbling Brown Sugar, which would have opened the 44th season at The Edison Theatre in September,  will move into Season 45. Producing Director, Ron Himes explains,“We were looking forward to opening with BUBBLING BROWN SUGAR but we’re not sure what the world post Covid will be. But, we know things will not be business as usual.”

The company’s annual gala scheduled for November 14, 2020 will occur as a virtual event that promises a wonderful evening filled with performances, testimonials, celebrity appearances and award presentations. There will be opportunities for the community to support the work of The Black Rep during this live stream event.

Information regarding the remainder of Season 44 will be forthcoming as we continue to monitor the guidelines and recommendations of the CDC and the county government.

“Due to the impact of Covid 19 on our community and the uncertainty of when it will be safe for our staff to return to work, our artists to the stage, and most importantly when our audiences will feel safe enough to return to the theatre we have decided to postpone the beginning of our regular season”, said Board President, Jonathan Smith.

For information visit theblackrep.org or call 314-534-3807.