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With school budgets cut, St. Louis’ Black Rep looks for alternative ways to put students in seats

Aine O'Connor | St. Louis Public Radio.
Kingsley Leggs and Ron Himes

The founder and producing director of St. Louis’ Black Repertory Company, Ron Himes, was a freshman in high school the first time he was exposed to a live play. And then, it was only under extenuating circumstances.

“I think it was only because I was in the honors group,” Himes said on Friday’s “Cityscape.” “The students in the honors group got to go to cultural events, which didn’t make any sense. It seemed like everybody but the honors group needed it.”

Himes absorbed what the St. Louis Symphony, the St. Louis Art Museum and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis had to teach him about the power of the arts on those field trips, going on to found largest, professional African-American theatre company in the nation. However, the disparity in arts access always stuck with him.

“When we started the company, one of the things I was committed to was making sure other kids did not have that experience, that we exposed kids to theatre at as early an age as we possibly could,” Himes said.

For African American kids, seeing African American actors on stage lets them know that they can do it too.

Enter: “Put A Child in a Seat,” an education and outreach program founded by volunteers, which raises money to bring students whose schools can’t afford to send them to the theatre into performances by the Black Rep. On Oct. 17, St. Louis’ Black Rep will use its powers of entertainment to benefit “Put a Child in a Seat” as well as the group’s summer performing arts program.  The group will host a cabaret show featuring Katie McGrath and Kingsley Leggs.

Leggs, an actor and singer who graduated from Normandy High School and went on to work with St. Louis’ Black Rep and then, on Broadway, said he saw his first play in junior high school. “It’s a little difficult these years, that [art and bus] programs are cut and you don’t get that exposure. It is so important to a child’s development,” said Leggs.

“For African American kids, seeing African American actors on stage lets them know that they can do it too,”  said Himes. “It also has people on stage they can identify with and stories they can relate to.”

On Friday’s “Cityscape,” Himes and Leggs joined the show to share details of the performance and more information about the education and community program the theatre organization does:

Related Event

What: The Black Rep Presents "A Night of Art and Cabaret"
When: Saturday, Oct. 17,

  • Reception and silent auction, 5:30 - 8:00 p.m.
  • Performance at 8:00 p.m.

Where: 6662 Olive Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63130More information.

“Cityscape” is produced by Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer, and Kelly Moffitt. The show is sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.    

Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

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