STAGES St. Louis Celebrating 30 Seasons 5

Missouri’s Art Organization of the Year

This year, STAGES St. Louis is launching into its 30th anniversary season with a special honor — helping mark it as the region’s foremost not-for-profit company committed to preserving and advancing the art form of musical theater through performances and education; On Feb. 10, 2016, STAGES  received the highest honor an arts organization can receive in Missouri – through the Missouri Arts Council;  it was named the “Arts Organization of the Year.” Governor Jay Nixon presented  the award in the Missouri State Capitol rotunda in Jefferson City.

STAGES receives about $40,000 annually, in grant funding from the Missouri Arts Council; the organization produces Broadway-quality theater and presents 144 performances, from May through October, to nearly 50,000 patrons at its three local facilities.

One of those facilities is the Kent Center for Theatre Arts, the group’s performing arts academy at 1023 Chesterfield Parkway East, said STAGES Executive Producer, Jack Lane. He and Artistic Director, Michael Hamilton, founded STAGES St. Louis in 1987. Stages was originally in Kirkwood where performances are still held at the Robert G. Reim Theater at the Kirkwood Community Center.

He said the Kent Center, in Chesterfield, is the region’s only year-round arts school with a comprehensive curriculum run by a professional theater company.

“We originally opened the academy in the old Casa Gallardo restaurant in Chesterfield, 12 years ago; three years ago, we moved into the former Kol Am Congregation building and turned it into our academy,” Lane said. “We have multiple studios, our administrative offices and, in the old congregation space, a rehearsal area for our main stage productions in Kirkwood and for multiple academy classes, We’re doing six academy student productions per year in that Chesterfield space, using professional quality costumes, lights, sound and sets.”

Some of those productions include James and The Giant Peach, set for April 22 to 24 and Footloose, to run from July 18 to Aug. 5. Tickets cost from $8 to $12.

STAGES also offers spring break classes at the academy, in Chesterfield, from March 21 to 25, involving musical theater workshops, acting classes, preschool camp sessions and more, for kids ages 4 to 18, with morning and afternoon sessions. Costs range from $155 for half-day classes to $275 for full-day classes for the week, and parents can apply for fellowships to help with the cost. “We have never turned a kid away,” Lane said.

For the last two years, STAGES additionally has put on family shows, as a Theatre for Young Audiences, at 635 Westport Plaza in Maryland Heights – the next production will be Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, set for June 15 to July 3.

The 2016 STAGES season at Kirkwood’s Reim theater launches, from June 3 to July 3, with the Midwestern premiere of the musical comedy It Shoulda Been You – Lane said STAGES is the first theater company in the U.S. outside of Broadway to get the rights to that show.  Afterward, The Drowsy Chaperone will be performed July 22 to Aug. 21, and Sister Act will run from Sept. 9 to Oct. 9. Ticket prices run from $20 to $59.

It’s all been a long journey from STAGES’ humble beginnings, Lane said.

“Michael Hamilton, born and raised in Kirkwood, and I met in 1982 when he was directing me in New York – where I’m from – when I was acting in a production of West Side Story,” said Lane, who is now also producing shows on Broadway.

“He told me about his plans to go back to Kirkwood and open up a theater company.”

Lane decided to put his performing career on hold to come to St. Louis in 1986 and scope the project out.

“We decided, in 1987, to rent out what is now the Reim Theater, meeting with David White, then head of Kirkwood’s parks and recreation department – he decided to give us a shot,” Lane recalled.

“We had a $50,000 budget that first year – this year, our budget is $4.5 million. We were always growing. Our audience doubled after the first year and tripled in our third year. We were, and are now, the only mid-size professional musical theater company in the St. Louis area.”

About 60,000 people come to see all of their shows each year, with 5,000 people annually taking part in educational programs, Lane said.

“We also do a ton of outreach programs, such as at schools in the Rockwood and Parkway Districts,” Lane said.

STAGES also offers a program called Access the Arts for kids with autism and developmental disabilities.

Much of its funding comes from corporations and foundations, as well as individual contributors (called Backstagers) of annual tax-deductible donations. That’s supplemented by entrance fees – last year alone, STAGES took in $2 million from that.

“Coupling artistic productions and education is very important,” Lane said.

“A production can be lighthearted and fun or make people say it made them think differently. For a child, performing arts education can affect every form of study, making them creative and think outside the box. The St. Louis community has been very supportive of us, because they’ve seen the quality of our work.  But we can never rest on our laurels – we have to keep striving for excellence.”

For more information, call 636.530.5959 or visit StagesStLouis.org. 
For tickets to productions, call 314.821.2407.