GRAND CENTER – In 2010, Taylor Gruenloh saw a production of Lisa D’Amour’s “Detroit” at Steppenwolf in Chicago and knew he wanted to start focusing on giving a platform to new plays.
Gruenloh now serves as the Artistic Director of Tesseract Theatre Company, the company he started in 2010. This summer, the company will premiere its first Festival of New Plays at the .ZACK in the Grand Center Arts District from May 15 to 26.
For Gruenloh and Tesseract, a festival of this nature is the culmination of 10 years of evolution of the company’s mission. Originally, Tesseract’s season featured a combination of new, often local, works alongside older works from the canon. But new plays is now the company’s main focus.
“We have like 70 theater companies [in St. Louis]. But it’s not a lot of new. Some of the new that’s being celebrated here is not new text,” said Gruenloh.
Back in 2010, Gruenloh was studying fiction at Webster University. After finding himself unable to get a real handle on the fiction world, he instead decided to try his hand at playwriting, something that seemed more natural to him after years of acting in plays around St. Louis.
Gruenloh described the early years of Tesseract as “flying blind as a company in our identity” and credits the early group’s inherent diversity as a reason the company was given a chance to succeed.
“And then when all these other great companies came on the scene and celebrated diversity in their mission, we took the opportunity to figure out what gap we could fill and that was new play development,” he said, adding that a new works festival like the one Tesseract will host in May is something he thinks St. Louis still needs.
“I think this town is missing a new play festival on the level of the Humana Festival, and I would love to get there by 2023,” he said, adding that next year, the Festival of New Plays will run for a month instead of just ten days.
Although it can be tough to convince audiences to take a chance on new plays, Gruenloh said it’s worth it.
“We need immediacy in our theater,” he said, speaking about some of the new works Tesseract has helped bring to life, touching on topics like climate change and PTSD.
He also said that in recent years, he’s seen a shift in the theatre community in St. Louis, noting not only the large number of companies but also that it seems the theatre community is taking roots here in a way it hasn’t before. For that, he credits the impact that art can have on a community.
“You can do a show about climate change, you can do a show about immigrants, you can do a show about PTSD and feel like you’re really talking back to the community and get that reward,” he said.
Tesseract’s Festival of New Plays will run from May 15 to May 26. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.metrotix.com/events/detail/festival-of-new-plays.
This article has been updated to better reflect the early history of Tesseract Theatre.