This past weekend I was at the Missouri State Thespian Conference in St. Louis Missouri. A nice conference where I met some great students. Had a particularly fun playwriting workshop – it’s fun to be in the same room with people who think the same way as you do about playwriting. So often I get the blank stares and the sound of crickets in the back ground.
The greatest thing was that I was able to stay with friends. So not only did I get to stay in a lovely house and actually have someone to talk to (really, there’s nothing more depressing that being alone in a hotel room at the end of the day…) I got a guided tour of St. Louis from a couple who have lived there their whole lives.
I don’t know a lot about St. Louis. I know that it had recently been deemed the US’s most dangerous city (much to the chagrin of my St. Louisian friends) I know about the big arch. (And it is big.) I know about the city’s racial tensions. I didn’t know the Cardinals had won the World Series (my brother is shaking his head right about now). I didn’t know that most people from Missouri don’t have southern accents (now I’m shaking my head!) and the most important thing is that I didn’t know Tennessee Williams spent formative years in St. Louis.
I always directly connect Williams with A Streetcar Named Desire and for some reason thought he was from Louisiana. Oh no. Not only is he from St. Louis but The Glass Menagerie is set in St. Louis and I got the grand tour of all the places mentioned in the play as well as seeing the apartment Williams grew up in.
What can I say other than – “Cool!” Sorry. I should have said something better than that. What do you think I am, a writer?
The line between fiction and reality really seemed to waiver as I saw the apartment where Tom stood on the fire escape and smoked cigarettes. International Shoe where Tom worked. The Building which housed the secretarial school Laura went to. The zoo and Jewel box where Laura walked to with her club foot and light coat. The distance from the apartment to the zoo is about two miles and it’s amazing to think about that walk.
I am told that Williams hated St. Louis. He tried to fit in and it just didn’t work and it wasn’t till he moved to New York that he found his place. But let me tell you, as a writer, it’s thrilling to see the stomping grounds of another writer. Particularly an iconic writer.
St. Louis is a city of contrasts and a city that is steeped in history. The place has a lovingly maintained historical architecture presence, which our hosts told us was for the most part the work of individuals, and not the government. The World’s Fair was held in St. Louis in 1904 and there are numerous buildings that still remain. Block after block of huge individual mansions that were built to hold visitors to the fair and have been kept up.
In contrast, we drove through a neighbourhood that for lack of a better phrase, looked like it had been bombed out. Boarded up buildings and an eerie quiet.
There seems to be a lot of separation of race. Again it’s a historical city in that regard, St. Louis is the place where the Dred Scott position passed. I observed a lot of black people living in one area, white people living in cut off gated communities that shout “stranger keep out!” Having said that, our hosts believe the situation is getting better, especially with the attitudes of younger generations.
It was quite an interesting place to visit, and I look forward to going back.