Even in the midst of a deadly pandemic, political turmoil, and everything the average person faces today, conversations about mental health are often avoided or overlooked. Sharon Hunter wants to open the conversation.
Hunter is the artistic director of production for the Moonstone Theater Company, which she founded in 2019. Following delays related to the pandemic, the company will launch its inaugural season in November at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center.
Hunter hopes the mental health-themed season will help open the door to some tough discussions.
âWe’re very open and honest about other illnesses, but we should also be just as open and honest about how people struggle with their emotions or their mental health. We can all relate to this, whether it’s what we’ve been through or what our friends and family have been through, âsaid Hunter. âTheater is such a way to inspire conversations. Sometimes it can help us solve our own problems.
The Moonstone Theater’s first performance will be “Jake’s Women” by Neil Simon. This heartwarming and poignant comedy, which takes place from November 4 to 21, follows novelist Jake, who dreams of the women in his life – living or dead – in order to overcome a marital crisis. Hunter herself plays Karen, Jake’s sister.
âJake has mental health issues, but a lot of them were exacerbated by the death of his first wife, and he’s never been able to deal with it. He sees a therapist, but he tends in his mind to have conversations with the women in his life, âHunter said. âSome are in real time with his current wife, but most are with the women in his life that he thinks about as he works on things. You see how he sees them and how he is able to overcome these problems because of them.
The second show of the season, âProofâ by David Auburn, will run from February 17 to March 6, 2022. âProofâ follows the daughter of a recently deceased math prodigy and her struggles with a similar genius and mental illness. A third show, which has yet to be announced, will have a similar theme.
Hunter said she was inspired by pandemic struggles and social isolation when selecting pieces for the inaugural season.
âThe theme is really about a person’s personal journey with their mental health, whether it’s dealing with loss, grief or loneliness,â she said. âI think it’s very important to talk about it.
No stranger to show business
Hunter, originally from Florissant, first became interested in theater when she was a student at Rosary High School. A dancer growing up, Hunter enjoyed participating in school musical and theatrical productions, often playing the lead role. She followed her college experience with a decade of community theater and local radio, including Y98 and KEZK. Radio fans might recognize her voice as the original host of the overnight demand show Pillow Talk.
After his radio stint, Hunter devoted himself to theater full time, performing with the Imaginary Theater Company and the Repertory Theater of St. Louis. The theater brought her to New York City, where she lived for 10 years, performing off Broadway and in her own cabaret show.
Hunter returned to Saint-Louis in 2016 with the dream of starting her own theater company.
âI was really excited that St. Louis had become a very big theater city,â Hunter said. âIt seemed like there was a strong female presence and the women were starting to do a lot more. I thought it was the right time for me to come back.
She spent the following years lining up her ducks. But just when everything was in order, the pandemic struck.
Concerned about the state of the industry, Hunter launched the St. Louis Theater Community Working Group, which met twice a month via Zoom starting in April 2020. Hunter invited all of the troops from St. Louis theater and artistic directors to discuss how to maintain the industry. alive during the pandemic.
Returning to her radio days, Hunter also launched “Moonstone Connections,” a podcast in which she interviews theater professionals. Past guests have included Amelia Acosta Powell of the Repertory Theater; Korean-American writer Scott C. Sickles; and John O’Brien, programming director of the Fabulous Fox Theater.
In preparing for the first season of Moonstone Theater, Hunter made it his mission to select plays that have never been performed locally, or that have not been performed for many years. While looking for a space for her company, she decided that the new Kirkwood Performing Arts Center was the place to be.
âI really wanted a house for my theater. I am now a resident company in their theater studio and have a place where I can do all of my shows. ‘Jake’s Women’ will be the very first full production in their movie studio, âsaid Hunter. “We are all very happy to bring this show to St. Louis.”
The Moonstone Theater Company’s inaugural season includes three shows, all held at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center, 210 E. Monroe Ave. For show times, tickets and more information visit moonstonetheatrecompany.com, or call 314-707-1134.