Much like some scripts, life often comes full circle.
For Sharon Hunter, founder and producing artistic director of the new Moonstone Theatre Company, the proof is in the performance. The St. Louis native spent a decade in New York City, cutting her teeth as a professional actor, director, singer and producer. Hunter’s homecoming marks the start of a new act – both for her and for regional arts.
“What I’m doing now, I finally feel like I’ve melded both sides of myself,” she says of founding Moonstone. “For years and years, there was a very artistic side to me, but there was that other side that was business. I’m blending those two parts of myself.”
Hunter first encountered the arts through dance. Her father played music and sang, while her mother tap-danced professionally as a teenager, so the young Hunter was always surrounded by performance.
“She always took me to the theater, and so I loved to perform,” Hunter says of her mother. “It was part of who I was.”
Voice lessons came next, followed by junior high and high school productions when Hunter grew more and more involved in performing arts. Life and careers then ensued, with stints at an advertising company and 10 years on the radio – including serving as the original host of KEZK’s Pillow Talk in St. Louis – but theater always remained in her life.
Then came New York.
Hunter, who holds a master’s degree in theater education, spent 10 years working off-Broadway, including performing her own one-woman cabaret show (which she also staged at The Monocle in St. Louis). At the Gallery Players theater in Brooklyn in 2009, though, the actor earned a small role in The House of Blue Leaves, a 1966 production from playwright John Guare – and she was captivated.
“I was so moved by the writing, and John Guare, how talented and beautiful [it was],” she says. “Even though it’s a comedy, there’s something about it – it’s a beautiful way of telling the story of all these people and how much mental illness affects everybody in the family.”
The play centers on a zookeeper who dreams of becoming a big-time songwriter – an admirable enough goal. However, the man also wishes to whisk his mistress off to Hollywood, with his schizophrenic wife still in the picture – not so admirable. It’s a madcap show that’s as hysterical as it is complex and heartrending.
“I would watch the first act of the show, thinking, ‘One of these days, I’m going to produce this,’” Hunter says.
She was right. The House of Blue Leaves makes a fitting intro for Hunter’s new troupe – and not just because staging it fulfills the dream she had on the East Coast.
“I’m looking at work that I can produce that will help and reach audiences in a way that shows humanity and diversity – and really touches topics that are sometimes difficult and sometimes teachable,” she says.
Hunter laughs and acknowledges that starting a theater company hasn’t been easy – but she’s found a family in the process.
Currently self-funded, Hunter has her cast and crew for the company’s debut – including two married couples and a father-and-daughter combo – as well as a publicist and social media pro to promote the production.
“I really want to collaborate and work with other people in this genre,” she says. “It’s such a collectively creative atmosphere. It has really made me feel like this is the right choice.”
The next step involves finding donors and sponsors to help the troupe thrive. (Potential patrons should visit its website.) The area arts community has been welcoming and supportive, and Hunter wants also to get involved with other women-owned businesses here; in fact, she’s made a point of hiring several women for the troupe’s first production.
Hunter hopes to run three shows in the 2020-21 season, including The House of Blue Leaves, scheduled to debut this coming July 16 in the Wool Studio Theatre at the St. Louis Jewish Community Center – another supporter in her ventures. The show will run Thursdays through Sundays for three consecutive weekends, officially marking her return home.
“I want to take that knowledge and those skills and bring it back here,” Hunter says of her stint in the Big Apple. “It’s a time where there are a lot of challenges that St. Louis faces, but art transcends. I think this is a good time to do that – I think you can reach a lot of people.”
Moonstone Theatre Company, 3547 Olive St., St. Louis, 314-707-1134, moonstonetheatrecompany.com