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‘A Walking Xmas Carol’ Brings A Hip-Hop Dickens To Life In the Central West End

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Shakespeare Festival
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Central West End visitors view artist Mee Jey's window display as part of the “A Walking Xmas Carol” by Shakespeare Festival and Painted Black STL.

The holidays often provide the solace to get through colder months with shorter days and longer nights. But what happens when activities like caroling, “The Nutcracker” and Christmas parties are canceled as unsafe? The St. Louis Shakespeare Festival had an idea: holiday-themed window displays.

“The one holiday tradition that actually seems COVID-friendly is that old one of walking down an avenue and taking in the beautiful holiday window display,” said Tom Ridgley, producing artistic director for St. Louis Shakespeare Festival.

Thus “A Walking Xmas Carol,” an art-heavy walking tour and part hip-hop-inflected musical, was born.

The production draws on the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s socially distant adaptation of its annual Shakespeare in the Park this past summer, when Painted Black STL designed a series of arches for the summer walking tour.

This winter, 17 local artists created 21 window displays in the Central West End that reimagine themes of isolation, greed and generosity from the classic Charles Dickens novel “A Christmas Carol.”

Each window is paired with tracks from the acclaimed Q Brothers Christmas Carol. The Q Brothers are a Chicago-based hip-hop theater group; they wrote the holiday play and perform it each year at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. But this year, the Q Brothers put the play on tape for the first time ever. It makes the perfect soundtrack for the St. Louis walking tour.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Ridgley joined host Sarah Fenske to talk about the unique collaboration. Also joining the conversation was GQ, founder and creative director of the Q Brothers.

“We're in love with words. We're in love with poetry. We're word nerds, wordsmiths, whatever you want to call us,” GQ said. And it shows. The group’s adaptation of the classic tale involves witty takes and humorous wordplay.

“There's four of us with our heads together for 12 hours at a time, and it [just] spirals and spirals,” GQ explained. “And when everyone just busts out at a suggestion that's maybe 130-suggestions deep, we just know it. We're like, ‘OK, that's the one.’

“When we can make each other laugh, we know we're on the right track,” he added.

Check out how three local artists drew on an excerpt of the Q Brothers Christmas Carol for their window display:

Mee Jey
Artist Mee Jey was given three windows (#6/7/8) to utilize — with Scrooge and Belle’s romance as the theme. She designed window displays in 2D and 3D that incorporate recycled fabric, holographs, dancers, mirrors and more.
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Charlie Tatum
Charlie Tatum helped launch the organization Painted Black STL and also served as the artist coordinator for the summer Shakespeare Festival. Her theme involves the Ghost of Christmas present, with some wise words for Scrooge. Her window (#12) depicts our unusual Christmas present — with many people absent from the holiday table and a heavy reliance on technology.
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Bino
Artist Bino is a portrait and fashion photographer in St. Louis. His window display (#17) consisted of large photographs of Black children holding money around their homes, representing supporting youth and giving back to the community.
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Related Event

What: “A Walking Xmas Carol” tour
When: Now through Dec. 23
Where: Various locations in the Central West End neighborhood (view map)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Lara is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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