Front & Center

Keeping Theater Alive

Just a few months ago, Moonstone Theatre Company founder Sharon Hunter was preparing for her very first show, The House of Blue Leaves, at the Jewish Community Center’s Wool Studio Theatre. An actor, director and area native, Hunter says she had always dreamed of staging her own company of players in St. Louis.

When the pandemic put her plans on hold, she started looking for other ways to keep the spirit of live theater intact. She organized companies of all sizes to form the St. Louis Theatre Community Task Force and says they are working together to shape the future of stage art in St. Louis. From The Fabulous Fox Theatre and The Muny to The Black Rep, St. Louis Actors’ Studio, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, COCA and many more, members of the group are committed to bringing back live theater in a way that’s stronger and more socially conscious than ever, Hunter says. The task force’s nearly 30 members hold Zoom meetings every Thursday, and they discuss timely topics like conducting safe, sanitary auditions, rehearsals and performances.

“After lockdown began, some people were saying on social media that they didn’t think theaters would be able to come back,” Hunter says. “But I think the local arts community has always been very collaborative and resilient. I thought, what if we got local theater companies together to talk about practical concerns and solutions so we can keep it alive? I sent letters of invitation to the different companies around town, and their response was wonderful.”

Hunter says she has sought advice from local health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Local infectious disease specialist Dr. Shephali Wulff has spoken to the group about preventing contagion while staging live theater. Other discussion topics have included providing masks and hand sanitizer for audiences, increasing space between seats, reconfiguring and sanitizing venues, applying for special grants, training extra understudies if cast members become sick, and even developing virtual theater programs.

Hunter hopes to make the task force a permanent fixture in the St. Louis theater community so it can overcome future hurdles as a team. “I really believe we can get back to live performances,” she says. “We’ll have to be educated and sensitive to everyone’s needs, but that’s what the task force is all about. You can’t have a thriving local cultural scene without live theater; people need shows that entertain, enlighten, teach and heal. My reason for creating the task force was to band our companies together, regardless of size or budget, so we can show a completely united front. I think if we do that, audiences will see that we care, and they will feel safe to return. We’ll all come back changed, but better.”

She adds that everyone involved seems glad to have an outlet for their comments and concerns, like John O’Brien, programming director for The Fox. “With such a vast group included, we can share a wide variety of perspectives and ideas, and having a new platform to do that is especially helpful,” he says. “We need each other now more than ever, and it’s inspiring to see the ways in which members of the community have come together to lift each other up. We will return with a renewed energy and passion for live theater.”

the arts online
Shakespeare Festival St. Louis
Actors present readings and short plays on the festival’s website.
sfstl.com

Metro Theater Company
Check out the company’s instructional Facebook videos led by teaching artists.
metroplays.org

Saint Louis Ballet
Enjoy a video recording of ‘Could this Be Love?’ from February 2020.
stlouisballet.org

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