A new organization of critics, the St. Louis Theater Circle, will present awards next year for shows that are produced in 2012 in St. Louis.
The group, which held its first full meeting on Tuesday at the University City Library, will call its award the Louie.
Ladue News critic Mark Bretz first proposed a St. Louis critics' organization several years ago. The idea gained fresh impetus in June when the Kevin Kline Awards' parent organization, the Professional Theatre Council of St. Louis, announced that it was suspending its activities, including judging, to re-evalute its future in light of ongoing financial problems. Whether or not the council reorganizes, it will present no awards for 2012.
When I talked to Bretz about that a few weeks ago, we agreed this was a good time to reconsider his idea. It seemed feasible because there are similar organizations in other cities and because a similar St. Louis organization already exists for movie critics. Harry Hamm of KMOX Radio pointed out that the Circle, entirely separate from the Klines, will be valuable whether it reorganizes or not.
The Circle has only one purpose: to honor St. Louis theater.
The nominees for 2012 Louie awards will be announced in mid-January and the awards will be presented at a party in the spring.
Because it is an organization of critics, theaters and theater artists will not be members of the Circle. There are no dues, which should not be necessary because we intend to spend as little money as possible. Louie awards will be certificates, and the party will not include food or drink, although we hope to hold it someplace where people can buy those things.
Nevertheless, we hope it will be fun. Bob Wilcox of HEC-TV's “Two on the Aisle” pointed out that the Kevin Kline awards party was the only occasion all year when artists from different theaters got together to celebrate everyone's work, and that it would be pleasant to continue that tradition. The only other activity the Circle plans is a website, which is in the works.
The Louies will be presented to theaters that produce musicals and straight plays in St. Louis, excluding tour, college and community productions. There's no special number of performances that must be staged to qualify; each critic will continue to review plays that he or she deems appropriate. Those productions will be considered for Louie awards.
But, who's a critic? According to an old saying, everybody is; the Circle, however, is a little less accommodating. Membership is limited to reviewers who have a forum, who see a minimum of 50 productions in St. Louis a year and who review a substantial number of those. A reviewer at an established outlet automatically qualifies; others, such as self-published bloggers, must be vetted and invited.
Besides Bretz, Hamm, Wilcox and me, the founding members of the Circle are Steve Allen of Stage Door St. Louis, Andrea Braun of the Vital Voice, Bob Cohn of the St. Louis Jewish Light, Chris Gibson of BroadwayWorld.com, Gerry Kowarsky of “Two on the Aisle,” Chuck Lavazzi of KDHX radio, Andrea Torrence of the St. Louis Theatre Snob blog and Lynn Venhaus of the Belleville News-Democrat. Veteran St. Louis actress Eleanor Mullin is the Circle's volunteer administrator.