River Styx Turns 40!

river styxRiver Styx kicked off their 2014-15 season on Monday with readings by Amit Majmudar and local writer Murray Farish, but this year’s season kickoff was a little more special than typical years. The opening of this season of lively readings marked River Styx 40th anniversary season.

“Most people turn 40 with trepidation. River Styx is thrilled to turn 40. We’ve been bringing the best writers we can find to our pages and to our podium for 40 years, and we [were] especially excited to kick off our new season with poet and novelist Amit Majmudar and local short story writer Murray Farish on Sept. 15,” River Styx editor Richard Newman said.

Over their 40 years, River Styx has received many awards both locally and nationally for their work including NEA awards and, on many occasions, St. Louis Poetry Center’s Stanley Hanks Prize. Poems are regularly included in The Best American Poetry, Best New Poets and The Pushcart Prizes: Best of the Small Presses.

The next reading in this year’s season will be held Oct. 20 with writers Sena Jeter Naslund and Jason Sommer. Both Naslund and Sommer are acclaimed in their field. Naslund is a winner of the Harper Lee Award and the Southeastern Library Association Fiction award. Her work has been reprinted globally in Australia and the United Kingdom, and translated into German, Hebrew and Japanese. Her most well-known novel, Ahab’s Wife: Or, The Star-gazer, was a finalist for the Orange Prize.

Sommer has local ties, receiving his PhD. from Saint Louis University after growing up in the Bronx. Sommer received his master’s degree from Stanford and his BA from Brandeis University. His poetry has been published in many magazines including The New Republic, TriQuarterly and Ploughshares, among others. His most recent volume of work is called “The Laughter of Adam and Eve.”

All readings are held at the Tavern of Fine Arts and begin at 7:30. Admission is $5 at the door, and $4 for members, students and seniors. ARTS card holders enjoy 2-for-1 admission. For a complete schedule and list of writers click here. Previous seasons are also available to watch online.

River Styx is an Arts and Education Council PNC Project Grant Recipient and a tenant in the Centene Center for Arts and Education.

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Mustard Seed Theatre Kicks Off Ninth Season

Falling, Mustard Seed Theatre

“Falling,” a play that Jent wrote based on her experience of raising an autistic child, was performed by Mustard Seed, then opened Off Broadway in 2012 to very favorable reviews.

On August 29, Mustard Seed Theatre will open its ninth performance season at Fontbonne University with four shows, three of which are world premieres and one a reprise of an a cappella musical that played to sold-out audiences in 2013. The new season also means a new floor at Mustard Seed’s Fine Arts Theatre at Fontbonne, thanks to the Arts and Education Council’s power2give.org program. This online marketplace allows cultural organizations to post and promote projects in need of funding; then donors can contribute directly to the projects that interest them.

Deanna Jent

Deanna Jent, artistic director of Mustard
Seed Theatre.

“We were able to combine funding from a previous grant with the contributions from power2give.org to fund the pouring of a new epoxy floor in our theater,” explained Deanna Jent, artistic director of Mustard Seed. “This new floor will create a zero entry from the theater lobby to the stage floor, correcting a tripping hazard that’s been in existence for years. The funds from power2give.org made it possible to make our theater more accessible to those unsteady on their feet and/or on wheels. This project wouldn’t have happened without the efforts of the Arts and Education Council in launching power2give.org.”

Recently, Happenings sat down with Jent to discuss her burgeoning theater company.

Why did you decide to start Mustard Seed?
I had been doing freelance work at many of the great theaters around town. I would run across scripts I wanted to direct and propose them to various professional theaters but they weren’t a good fit. So over the course of three or four years, I developed a pile of eight to 10 scripts but either the casts were too large or just not quite right for the other theaters in town.

Weren’t you also teaching at Fontbonne?
This will be my 19th year; I am the director of the theater program. So while I was freelance directing and building up this pile of scripts, I was also, with my professor hat on, placing students in professional internships around town, which were sometimes wonderful and plentiful and other times not. I had this need/frustration about finding a place where my students could get professional experience. So that’s how the idea of developing a
professional theater-in-residence at the university came about. Mustard Seed is built on the mission of doing theater around themes of social justice and faith. How did that occur? A couple of friends and I read through that pile of scripts and we realized they all centered on issues of faith and social justice or both. Given the mission of, which is very much centered on questions of faith and social justice, it seemed to all come together.

What are you most excited about in Mustard Seed’s upcoming season?
I’m excited that we are doing three new plays, two by St. Louis playwrights. One looks at the relationship between a female American Army consultant and an Iraqi woman during war. The other, “White to Gray,” focuses on the day before the Pearl Harbor bombings. Our last new play is a hilarious, futuristic comedy of manners where all the characters live in a virtual reality.

Mustard Seed Theatre is an Arts and Education Council 2014 PNC Project Grant recipient. Click here to learn more about Mustard Seed Theatre.

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GRANTEE SPOTLIGHT: Jessica Hentoff

Jessica Hentoff

Jessica Hentoff

Circus is the most inspirational of all performing art forms because it is about joy, courage and wonder. It is about defying gravity and talking to animals. Circus is about the soaring achievement of the human body, mind and spirit. It is about realizing the archetypal dream of being superhuman.

Warren Bacon started me on my circus path at the State University of New York at Purchase. Rev. Dr. L. David Harris showed me how circus could change lives with The Circus Kingdom. Nina Krasavina and Gregory Fedin taught me creative excellence at the Circus Arts Center. Reg Bolton defined social circus and why circus works. What inspires me to do circus? It is how I can use it to inspire other people, especially children! When a 5-year-old does a forward roll, a 10-year-old walks a tight wire, a 17-year-old juggles nine objects, an 86-year-old hangs from a trapeze… you see the joy in their faces! They are beaming! Their joy radiates out to the audience.

Jessica Hentoff with her student performers (2014)

Jessica Hentoff with her student performers

This jubilant sense of awe and accomplishment is what fuels me. That, and coffee. I have an amazing job. I am like Peter Pan. I get to sprinkle the fairy dust on people and help them fly — physically, mentally, emotionally and socially. As St. Louis’ only complete circus school, Circus Harmony teaches more people how to defy gravity and other limitations with circus grace and style than any other organization. From our classes and shows in our home ring at City Museum, to outreach classes and performances around town (including our work with Circus Flora), to our Peace Through Pyramids Partnership with the Jewish/Arab Galilee Circus in Israel, to the new Circus Harmony Flying Trapeze Center opening at Union Station, we help people defy gravity, soar with confidence and leap over social barriers, all at the same time. Learn more and be inspired at circusharmony.org!

— Jessica Hentoff, artistic executive director of Circus Harmony

Circus Harmony is an Arts and Education Council 2014 PNC Project Grant recipient. Click here to learn more about Circus Harmony.

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Up, Up and Away!

Dr. Loraine Raziq, Hazelwood School District, with A&E Development Manager Dorothy Powell.

Dr. Loraine Raziq, Hazelwood School District, with
A&E Development Manager Dorothy Powell.

As part of the 2014 Arts and Education Council’s Workplace Giving Campaign in schools, qualifying teachers were eligible to enter a drawing to win a roundtrip airline ticket from Southwest Airlines.

The winners included:

  • Dr. Loraine Raziq, Assistant Principal at West High School, Hazelwood School District
  • Amy Johnson, Technology CA at Green Pines Elementary, Rockwood School District
  • Jane Lindbergh, Green Trails Elementary, Parkway School District
Amy Johnson, Rockwood School District, with Mark McHale, District Coordinator.

Amy Johnson, Rockwood
School District, with Mark
McHale, District Coordinator.

Jane Lindbergh, Parkway School District.

Jane Lindbergh, Parkway
School District.

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Cakeway to the West Celebrates St. Louis

Centene Center for Arts and Education stl250 Cake

Centene Center for Arts and Education/Artist: Emily Cross

They are hard not to notice, given their vibrant colors and premium position, often in front of St. Louis area landmarks. These include many beloved arts and cultural institutions such as the Saint Louis Art Museum, Laumeier Sculpture Park and Powell Hall. By now, 250 decorated fiberglass cakes have been placed at their designated homes across the bi-state region. “Cakeway to the West” is helping to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the
founding of St. Louis in 1764 and you’ll find many of the Arts and Education Council grantees are part of this unique cakeway tour.

Erin Budde, executive director of stl250, which is spearheading all of the anniversary-related activities, explained that more than 160 artists participated in decorating anywhere from one up to 10 cakes. “In decorating the cakes, we asked the artists to coincide with stl250 values — inclusion, collaboration, respecting diversity and affirmation for our region,” said Budde. “But otherwise, we wanted to give the artists an opportunity to express their individual talent and creativity.”

The Sheldon stl250 Cake

The Sheldon/Artist: Grand Center Arts Academy

Megan Clayton, the art teacher at Grand Center Arts Academy, had a small group of her advanced students visit The Sheldon to get inspiration for their cake design.

“We wanted to represent the various aspects of The Sheldon such as the concert hall, gallery space, and architecture,” said Clayton. “The students challenged themselves to represent the music and art in a less traditional way. They separated the different elements by each layer of the cake and they chose to use the icing to help morph one theme into the next. For example, the musicians from the top layer appear to be melting
into the stained glass on the bottom tier.”

Mark Swain created the cake for the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, which stands in front of the Loretto-Hilton Center. He explained that he has had a longstanding love of music and theater, and was active in both during his high school and college days.

The Rep stl250 Cake

Repertory Theatre of St. Louis/Artist: Mark Swain

“In addition, my love of masks and sculpting in leather along with my love of Native American culture all came together to create the foundation of my cake,” he said. “I love to use lots of color in my art work and this cake, along with the eight others I created, afforded me the opportunity to express myself with an abundance of color.”

Budde said the thoughtful designs of the cakes — and the sheer number — have attracted dozens of “cake hunters.” Those interested can download a free app available through iTunes (iPhones only) and Google Play (Android devices) that allows users to engage interactively with the cakes. In addition, the stl250.org website lists the address of each cake location, a short description of that site and the artist’s name who designed the cake.

A&E grant recipients/locations on the cakeway tour include: Centene Center for Arts and Education, COCA/ Center for Creative Arts, Friends of Tower Grove Park, Fabulous Fox
Theatre (home to the Fox Performing Arts Charitable Foundation), Laumeier Sculpture Park, Loretto-Hilton Center (home to Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis), Nine Network of Public Media, Old North Saint Louis Restoration Group, Powell Hall (home to the St. Louis Symphony), and Shakespeare Glen (home to Shakespeare Festival St. Louis).

Nine Network stl250 Cake

Nine Network/Artist: Indy Bowers

Powell Hall stl250 Cake

Powell Hall/Artist: Earl
Miller

Old North STL Cake

Old North Neighborhood/
Artist: Jack Bowe

COCA stl250 Cake

COCA/Artist: COCA

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