The 7th Annual Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis Aug. 18-28

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis (TWStL) returns for its seventh year, giving center stage to a newly reimagined and sensual Fellini-esque production of William’s romantic Sicilian love story The Rose Tattoo, directed by David Kaplan and performed in the Big Top in the Grand Arts Center.

“This year we celebrate the resilience of love, passion, community, art and the human spirit” said Carrie Houk, TWStL Executive Artistic Director. “How delightful to be moving into the light of 2022 with productions embracing the magnificence of those who ventured from abroad to begin anew. Saluti and avanti!” 

The Rose Tattoo tells the story of love, death, and resilience in a downtrodden but hopeful 1940’s immigrant Sicilian community.  Serafina delle Rose clings madly to her Italian identity, to the fanciful memory of her murdered husband, and to her free-spirited daughter. Will she find love with the banana truck driver?  Are all the rose tattoos a sign?  

Introducing the theme of an Italian circus, Kaplan’s take on Williams’ classic features aerialists, animals, singers and musicians. He surrounds Serafina with a dozen circus performers – including a ringmaster, a strongman, trapeze artists, and clowns – who perform the full text of the play.

Tennessee Williams and Anna Magnani on a Roman holiday filming “The Rose Tattoo”

“This St. Louis Rose Tattoo is performed in a circus as a circus, the better to share what Williams called his ‘limitless world of the dream,’” said Kaplan. “Live goats, accordions, impassioned acting, a play that celebrates the wisdom of desire. What’s not to like?”

Other festival events will occur on the Italian Hill, a St. Louis cultural gem of a location:

The St. Louis Neighborhood Plays, a series of Williams’ one-acts, directed by Robert Quinlan (Associate Artistic Director Illinois Shakespeare Festival). “Tennessee Williams captured the dreams and struggles of an eclectic collection of St. Louisans in several early one-act plays, to be presented “promenade-style” at the Marketplace on The Hill,” said Quinlan.

—thought-provoking Panels, hosted by TWStL scholar-in-residence Tom Mitchell, including The St. Louis Neighborhoods of Tennessee Williams, Tennessee Williams and his Significant Others and For the Love of Italy. From Mitchell: “It is surprising to see how much Tennessee Williams wrote about the neighborhoods of St. Louis where he grew up in the 1920s and 30s. His stories and plays reveal much about the city and about the playwright.”

—Screenings of iconic films based on Williams’ works, to include “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (adapted from a Williams novella and featuring Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty) and Boom (adapted from The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore and featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton).

Other events to be held at various locations on The Hill:

Tennessee Williams Tribute: Selections from Williams’ Italian-inspired writing

Walking Tour of The St Louis Hill

Gelato Social

Bocce Ball Competition

La Dolce Vita Pool Party

Additional events and locations to be announced in the coming weeks!

The full festival itinerary can be found at twstl.org. Tickets can be purchased via Metrotix beginning in July.

About the Festival

In 2014, award-winning producer, casting director, actor, and educator Carrie Houk produced Williams’ Stairs to the Roof with such success that the ongoing annual Festival was established.  The inaugural Festival in 2016 was themed “Tennessee Williams: The St. Louis Years,” followed by “The Magic of the Other” in 2017 and “The French Quarter Years” in 2018. The 2019 festival featured performances of Night of the Iguana and A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur. In 2021, the Festival spotlighted The Glass Menagerie and You Lied To Me About Centralia. The Festival has attracted thousands to its readings, panel discussions, concerts, exhibitions, and productions.

The Festival, which aims to enrich the cultural life of St. Louis by producing an annual theater festival and other artistic events that celebrate the artistry and life of Tennessee Williams, was named the Arts Startup of the Year Award by the Arts and Education Council at the 2019 St. Louis Arts Awards. TWStL has garnered 12 awards from the St. Louis Theater Circle in the last two years and was recently nominated for four St. Louis Theater Circle awards for 2021’s The Glass Menagerie, which was performed where it was first imagined, at the very building in the Central West End where the Williams family settled when they moved to St Louis.

Tennessee Williams

About Tennessee Williams

Born Thomas Lanier Williams III in 1911 in Mississippi, Williams moved to St. Louis at age seven, when his father was made an executive with the International Shoe Company (where the City Museum and the Last Hotel are now located). He lived here for more than two decades, attending Washington University, working at the International Shoe Company, and producing his first plays at local theaters. He credited his sometimes-difficult experiences in St. Louis for the deeply felt poetic essence that permeates his artistry. When asked later in life when he left St. Louis, he replied, “I never really left.” Most people are familiar with the famous works that have garnered multiple Pulitzer Prizes, Tony Awards, and Academy Awards, such as The Glass MenagerieA Streetcar Named DesireCat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly Last Summer. He also wrote hundreds of additional plays, stories, essays, and poems, many of which are only now seeing the light of day as his estate permits greater access. He is today considered by many leading authorities to be America’s greatest playwright.

:By Lynn Venhaus
The brilliant work, troubled lives and unique personal journeys of two titans of American literature – Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams — are explored in the revealing “Truman and Tennessee; An Intimate Conversation.”

Truman Capote and Williams were gay Southerners who achieved life-changing literary success around the same time, in the late 1940s. As this illuminating documentary shows, they were friends – and rivals – for 40 years. They reveal truths about each other in conversations captured here.

Their professional and personal lives were fascinating, caught the attention of the glitterati in the 1950s and 1960s, and influenced generations, despite crippling addictions that tragically resulted in their deaths.

Because of their inner turmoil, there is a haunting melancholy to their appearances on talk shows – with the erudite hosts Dick Cavett and David Frost, shown here.

Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland has taken an innovative approach to sharing a wealth of archival material, focusing on typewritten and hand-written pages, old photographs, magazine excerpts and selected scenes from their movie adaptations.

“A Streetcar Named Desire,” “The Glass Menagerie,” “Sweet Bird of Youth,” “The Rose Tattoo,” “Suddenly, Last Summer” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” are among the Tennessee Williams’ films. Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood” are shown, featuring interesting backstories.

To add a heightened reality to their personal letters and journals, Vreeland enlisted actors Jim Parsons (Capote) and Zachary Quinto (Williams) to interpret Truman and Tennessee’s wit, wisdom and flair for the dramatic.

Parsons and Quinto, while most famous for their screen work, have had successful appearances on Broadway, notably together in the Tony-winning play revival of “The Boys in the Band.” Using just the right tone and cadence, they infuse this work with an emotional resonance and demonstrate how both authors wrote like they talked, with their distinct voices.

Capote and Williams’ cultural impact is emphasized, and while the dual portraits are informative, what is lacking is some perspective. Adding other talking heads would have been beneficial in establishing their place in the 20th century.

Capote, who was born in New Orleans but moved to Alabama when he was 2, and Williams, who was born in Mississippi but moved to St. Louis when he was 8, were impacted by lonely childhoods and the places they lived.

The documentary isn’t long – 86 minutes, but the wealth of material covered is indeed impressive. And revisiting these gifted men’s most memorable works is a rather satisfying undertaking.

“Truman and Tennessee: An Intimate Conversation” is a documentary
directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland.
It has voice work by Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto. The film is not rated and has a run time of 1 hour and 26 minutes. The film is available for viewing at www.kinomarquee.com, through Kino Lorber. It opened at Plaza Frontenac Cinema on June 25 for a week.

Lynn’s Grade: B

The multi-award-winning Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis proudly announces its Fifth Annual Festival for Thursday, May 7 through Sunday, May 17, 2020, headlining The Rose Tattoo.  A preview performance of the play is set  for Thursday, May 7, with May 8 as the official opening night. There will be more than a dozen separate elements, scheduled so that attendees may attend every one during  the eleven-day run, all held in the Grand Center Arts District and on The Hill.

The theme of the 2020 Festival is “Tennessee Williams & Italy.” Williams frequently traveled to Italy, recalling in his Memoirs: “As soon as I crossed the Italian border, my health and my life seemed to be magically restored. There was the sun and there were the smiling Italians.” He wrote to his grandfather, “It is difficult to tear myself away from Italy which is the nearest to heaven that I have ever been, the people so friendly, gentle and gracious and the days so tranquil and sunny.”

In that spirit the Festival will mount a stunning production of The Rose Tattoo, set in a resilient community of Sicilian immigrants on the Gulf Coast near New Orleans.

Executive Artistic Director Carrie Houk has consulted extensively with our region’s Italian-American community to ensure their engagement and to provide authenticity.

Festival highlights include:

▪  Williams’ Tony award-winning masterpiece The Rose Tattoo, which is currently enjoying a triumphant revival on Broadway. The Rose Tattoo will be staged at The Grandel Theatre.

▪   A new collection of Williams’ one-act plays, The St. Louis Rooming House Plays, will provide an immersive experience in Grand Center’s historic Stockton House, where audience members will move from room to room and play to play. Previous versions of this remarkable theatrical experience have been some of the hardest-to-get tickets in town.

▪  An academic series, “Tennessee Williams and his Midwest Experiences,” will bring noted scholars and historians from around the world to discuss how Williams’ life in the Midwest influenced his later life and his works. As audience members will see, his life events in the Midwest permeate his works, and are even directly relevant to his Italian experiences.

▪  A variety of special events including: Tennessee Williams Bus Tour; La Dolce Vita Pool Party at the Last Hotel (formerly the International Shoe Company where Tennessee Williams worked); a staged reading of Glass (which imagines what transpired between Tennessee Williams and lead actress Laurette Taylor on the opening night of The Glass Menagerie) by Michael Aman; Amor Perdido, composed of Williams works that are new to the stage, from the University of Illinois; screenings of Italian-themed The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone and Boom; “TW Jam”, a late-night jam of poetry, monologues   and music; “Tennessee Williams Tribute” at Guido’s on The Hill; the “Williams Playwriting Initiative;” panels, parties, conversation, and much more.

“We are proud that, in five years, the Tennessee Williams Festival has become one of St. Louis’ most widely attended and anticipated cultural events,” said Houk, the Festival’s founder. “Last year, our attendance soared and we were showered with awards. In our fifth season, we aspire to go even further.”

Lead sponsorship of the festival is provided by Emerson.  The Festival is also funded in part by Mary Strauss, Ken and Nancy Kranzberg, The Whitaker Foundation, Regional Arts Commission, the Missouri Arts Council, Missouri Humanities Council, Trio Foundation of St Louis and the Arts and Education Council.

Tickets will go on sale March 1 through Metrotix and at the Fox box office.

For more information, including parking, food, hotels, etc., please contact Helene Estes at [email protected] For media inquiries, please contact Marla Stoker Ballenger at [email protected] or at (314)-997-5525.

About the Festival

The Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis was established in 2016 by Carrie Houk, the award-winning producer, casting director, actor, and educator.   

The Festival, which aims to enrich the cultural life of St. Louis by producing an annual theater festival and other artistic events that celebrate the artistry and life of Tennessee Williams, was named the 2019 Arts Startup of the Year by the Arts & Entertainment Council.

In 2014, Houk produced Williams’ Stairs to the Roof with such success that the on- going annual Festival was established. The inaugural Festival was themed “Tennessee Williams: The St. Louis Years,” followed by “The Magic of the Other” in 2017 and “The French Quarter Years” in 2018. The 2019 festival featured Night of the Iguana and A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur. As the years have passed, the awards have mounted. Last year’s St. Louis Theater Circle gave them eleven nominations and seven awards, and has nominated them for seven more awards this year. The Festival has attracted thousands to its readings, panel discussions, concerts, exhibitions, and productions.

Tennessee Williams

About Tennessee Williams

Born Thomas Lanier Williams III in 1911 in Mississippi, Williams moved to St. Louis at age seven, when his father was made an executive with the International Shoe Company (where the City Museum and the Last Hotel are now located). He lived here for more than two decades, attending Washington University, working at the International Shoe Company, and producing his first plays at local theaters. He credited his sometimes difficult experiences in St. Louis for the deeply felt poetic essence that permeates his artistry. When asked later in life when he left St. Louis, he replied, “I never really left.” Most people are familiar with the famous works that have garnered multiple Pulitzer Prizes, Tony Awards and Academy Awards, such as The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly Last Summer. He also wrote hundreds of additional plays, stories, essays, and poems, many of which are only now seeing the light of day as his estate permits greater access. He is today considered by many leading authorities to be America’s greatest playwright.