One of many favorite local events derailed by the current pandemic was the eighth annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards Gala, scheduled for March 30 at the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Webster University in Webster Groves.
The ceremony, which drew more than 300 people on average in each of its first seven years, was canceled in early March as stay-at-home orders were mandated in the metro area.
That proved a formidable challenge for the Theater Circle, but not insurmountable. After all, the organization was founded in August 2012, shortly after the departure of the Kevin Kline Awards.
When the “Klines” abruptly folded after handing out awards for the 2011 calendar year, some local theater critics (led by the writer of this feature and Judith Newmark, at that time the theater critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) decided to organize a nonprofit to continue the tradition begun by the Kevin Kline Awards. Since its inception, the Theater Circle, that nonprofit, has sought to honor outstanding achievement in locally produced professional theater.
Representing a range of print, broadcast and online media, the original 15 members of the organization met quarterly to prepare for its initial awards ceremony.
Local actress and arts supporter Eleanor Mullin was named the group’s administrator. Her expertise, developed from years serving on various boards areawide, proved invaluable in establishing the organization’s nonprofit status.
On short notice, the organization held its first ceremony at the Florissant Civic Center Theatre, which more than 250 people attended. That initial gala generated an electricity driven by the energy and enthusiasm of the audience, which considered the night a “theater prom” for the many local actors, directors, writers, technical artists and others who have helped make the theatrical community here vibrant and bustling. It allowed them to gather to celebrate the finest of their efforts.
Driven by that first event’s success, the Bridgeton film production company of HEC Media joined the Theater Circle for its 2014 and 2015 events, producing “live” telecasts from COCA in University City, where attendance peaked at a house-capacity 400 people in the awards’ third year.
The Theater Circle then moved its gala in 2016 to the Skip Viragh Center for the Arts on the campus of Creve Coeur’s Chaminade College Preparatory School, where it returned in 2017. In 2018, the event transferred to the Loretto-Hilton Center, home of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Through the years, the Theater Circle awards have been modified or altered in various ways. In all, honors involve more than 30 categories for comedies, dramas and musicals, as well as two for opera.
In addition, a handful of awards for special achievement are given annually, such as one this year to Ken and Nancy Kranzberg for their long-time philanthropic endeavors on behalf of art and theater in the area, including Grand Center.
Each year, dozens of local professional companies and more than 100 individuals are nominated for outstanding achievement. Those numbers testify to the vibrant, growing area theater community, comprising troupes ranging in size from The Muny and The Rep to many smaller but nonetheless significant groups.
When COVID-19 shut down this year’s ceremony, members of the Theater Circle’s executive board quickly approached HEC Media with an alternative: its own production of the ceremony.
After agreeing to that daunting task, HEC Media efficiently assembled a 31-minute production focused on photos for various nominees announced by the Theater Circle for the 2019 calendar year. The production then was streamcast on HEC Media’s Facebook page on April 7, just eight days after the date of the originally scheduled gala.
In this time of social distancing and sheltering in place, that initial streamcast was viewed by approximately 450 people, an audience larger than any of the prior live galas. Just 10 days later, furthermore, more than 5,250 people had viewed the streamcast.
With these incredible numbers in mind, the organization is eager and hopeful to return to a semblance of normalcy in 2021. Area residents need live theater and other forms of entertainment to enrich their lives in so many ways. In the meantime, in this most unusual year, thanks to HEC Media, the show did go on for the annual St. Louis Theater Circle Awards.
St. Louis Theater Circle, 7162 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis, 314-862-2972, facebook.com/thelouies
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