This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: August 28, 2008 - As Grand Center has picked up steam, unveiling ever more outlets for the arts - particularly since the new millennium, thanks to the Contemporary Art Museum and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts - any naysayers or nitpickers have been largely silenced. Except that, to this day, what has seemed missing was no longer the grandeur of the endeavor, but a centering force behind it. There has never been a flagship building or venue to cohere the district.
Though she can't say for sure, well-known arts patron Nancy Kranzberg believes that such a need was the topic of discussion between her husband, Kenneth Kranzberg, and Grand Center president and CEO Vincent Schoemehl Jr. when they hatched the idea for the Kranzberg Arts Center, a multidisciplinary arts hub that will be offering its first live performance Aug. 30, a cabaret show featuring New York-based cabaret guru Stu Hamstra, alongside a handful of St. Louis' most touted local talent.
"We're just thrilled that Grand Center is finally not just pie in the sky, and that the Kranzberg Center is there to enhance the whole idea of what Grand Center should be," says Mrs. Kranzberg.
Located in what was once midtown's famous Woolworth's store, the building retains the streamline deco facade and the "Woolworth's" lettering laid into the sidewalks approaching the entrance doors. The Kranzberg Arts Center also now serves as home to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri and to a second location of the Delmar Loop-based Craft Alliance , with 1,400-square foot exhibition space visible from the street and another 4,000-square feet of studio space.
Black Box and Beyond
Two performance spaces round out the center's offerings: a 2,000-square-foot, black box-style theater that can seat up to 110 people, and an adjacent, 1,040-square-foot studio theater that can seat up to 80.
Though the Kranzberg Arts Center is seen by some as the crown jewel of Grand Center's rebirth, it's being given a slow polish as separate facets come together. While the Big Brother Big Sister offices and the Craft Alliance's endeavors are fully up and running, the theater spaces are still being assembled.
"It's another one and a half weeks of construction" on the larger theater space before it's fully up and running, according to operations manager Nick Uhlmansiek, who on Thursday was working with a small team to install risers and unpack boxes of seats. "And I still have curtains coming in, which we'll use as a sort of proscenium."
Hot on the heels of those last pieces of work, the HotCity Theatre Company will become the first of three local theater groups that will re-establish the Kranzberg Arts Center as its home venue when it debuts the play "Killing Women" (written by a 2004 alum of Washington University, Marisa Wegrzyn) on Sept. 19. Following that, works from the Upstream Theater and the Muddy Waters Theatre Company will be staged in the black box theater.
Come to the Cabaret
The studio theater, meanwhile, is already receiving buzz that it may become the new hub for St. Louis' eager-to-bust-out cabaret scene. Cabaret St. Louis will bring Steve Ross to the Kranzberg Oct. 1-4. And Casual Cabaret , a locally produced series of cabaret shows that heretofore found its home in the now-shuttered Minions Cafe in Maplewood, will be in residence at the Kranzberg for at least the first six months of this year's series, says producer De Kaplan.
"To young and old alike, [cabaret] is a form of entertainment that is absolutely coming back," says Kaplan. "For us to be here, in a space where arts patrons can mingle, in an area where the arts are being anchored, it is a great opportunity for us to be exposed to a wider audience."
Mrs. Kranzberg jokes that when some folks heard about plans for the center and its cabaret-friendly studio space, they probably remarked, "'Oh, I see Ken built Nancy a cabaret theater.'" Because indeed, Mrs. Kranzberg has performed as a singer around town for a number of years.
Her response to that? For one, the studio space will also serve well for poetry readings and smaller musical offerings. And, for two, "I'm not booked to perform there. But I'm a ham. That doesn't mean I won't ever."
Rose Martelli is a freelance journalist.