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13 July 2010

TEA "Titanic" Mixer at the Muny in St Louis

The Muny (http://www.muny.org)
More than 40 people attended a July 8 TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) mixer at the Muny, a summer musical theater in St Louis, Missouri, which claims the honor of being the largest open-air theater in the US. Founded in 1917, the Muny is located in Forest Park, former site of the 1904 world’s fair.


Here in St Louis, we are technically under the jurisdiction of the TEA Eastern Division (TEA splits the US at the continental divide) headed by Brian Morrow of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment - but a long way from Orlando geographically and culturally. Jumana Brodersen of The J Co, based in St Louis, sits on the Eastern Division Board and organized the event. She is former director of creative development for Busch Entertainment (now SeaWorld) and has been arranging a series of TEA mixers in St Louis, with something of an architectural focus appropriate to the region. The mixer prior to our Muny meeting was at the St Louis Zoo’s new Centennial Hall, a redevelopment of the historic zoo’s former Elephant House.

Our Muny mixer began with a behind-the-scenes tour of the backstage and stage areas, conducted by several members of Muny’s regular summer tech team, including David Lander (David Lander Lighting Design, New York), production manager Sean Savoie (also production  manager/lighting designer at Washington University, where he is overseeing improvements to the theater there), set designer Steve Gilliam and Larry Pry, assistant director of marketing. Many of the attendees came through the local AIA chapter, with which we have a cooperative relationship and plans for future joint mixers (many thanks to executive director Michelle C. Swatek). We were fortunate to be joined by TEA president Steve Thorburn of Thorburn Associates Inc., who came through town on his way from the recent TEA mixer in Germany to his company’s office in Raleigh-Durham, NC.

The conditions at the Muny are unique. Shows change over once a week. Set design and building and lighting and sound design are done at warp speed and with very limited opportunities for fine tuning, revision or review. Simplicity, speed and clarity are the orders of the day with a short timeframe and an audience of 11,000 in an area equivalent in size to a football field. Actors work under extremely hot and humid conditions and wear cold packs under their costumes.

Alas, an open air theater in the Midwest is occasionally going to have a rained-out performance, and those of the group who had tickets to see Titanic: The Musical had our plans thwarted by a series of storms. We took a rain check and are looking forward to Damn Yankees instead.

Thanks to everyone at the Muny for making this possible, and to all who attended.