Last year's stirring Deaf West production of Big River at the Fox Theatre proved one of the theatrical high points of 2005, and the Big River performance that doubled as Kids' Night on Broadway was the pinnacle of the run. Kids' Night transformed the Fox lobby into a carnival midway of theater lore; the place was aswarm with spellbound youngsters participating in pre-show activities.
This year's Kids' Night is Wednesday, May 17, and it promises to be another night to remember. The festivities, which begin at 8 p.m., feature representatives from Stages St. Louis applying stage makeup, as well as volunteers from the Professional Dance Center providing dance demonstrations. Because this year's offering is Dr. Dolittle, the new musical based on the 1967 movie about a veterinarian who can talk to the animals, the Humane Society of Missouri also will be on hand. A question-and-answer session with cast members will be held after the show.
The official New York City version of Kids' Night on Broadway, now in its tenth year, was held in January. (This is the third year in which the Fox has been involved.) Cities in the hinterlands are able to choose a date when they are presenting a family-friendly offering like Dr. Dolittle. It works like this: Each year the show's producer donates tickets for Kids' Night, and then the Fox offers a free child's ticket with the purchase of every adult ticket. There's discounted parking at the various Grand Center lots, and many St. Louis restaurants allow kids to eat for free prior to the performance. (For a list of participating restaurants, visit www.foxassociatesfoundation.org.)
While most shows at the Fox are presented by Fox Associates, this two-week run of Dr. Dolittle is sponsored by Fox Associates Foundation, a nonprofit charitable organization, independent of the Fox Theatre, that was created four years ago by the theater's owners to promote the performing arts in the St. Louis area. The foundation has initiated such annual events as Kids' Night on Broadway and the St. Louis Public Schools Performing Arts Night extravaganza, which is held each April. In addition, the foundation supports the local chapter of the Cappies, a national alliance designed to encourage theater participation among high school students.
Perhaps even more important are the numerous grants that the foundation bestows to local performance groups. Last year, 29 applications resulted in 17 grants, totaling $57,400. The grants ranged from $1,000 to $10,000, with most in the neighborhood of $2,500.
And the foundation is growing. So far this year, grants totaling $66,675 have been awarded to 24 performing-arts groups. There is, of course, the requisite paperwork: Recipients are expected to file a report within 30 days of the time the money was spent. Otherwise, there seem to be few strings attached; recipients are not even required to display the Fox Associates Foundation logo (though most do). That logo is beginning to appear with increasing frequency in area playbills.
Most applications are submitted in September. The seven-person board then meets in the fall to consider the requests, and checks are mailed out by the first of the year.
"Each year we get a few more requests," says the aptly named Grant V. Andree, a sort-of one-man band who administers the foundation from an office in the Lammert Building in downtown St. Louis. "We're happy where we are, but we expect more business."