An Interview With St. Louis Playwright Nancy Bell
Perhaps best known for her work as playwright-in-residence for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Nancy Bell is an accomplished member of the city’s nationally recognized and ever-expanding theater community. As an experienced playwright with an impressive acting career, Bell has developed her expertise and talent on both sides of the camera. Her acting resumé includes roles in popular television shows like “Medium,” “Supernatural” and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” in addition to a wealth of theater productions on countless stages across the country.
Nancy Bell’s years of dedication, innovation and playwrighting experience highlight the power of artistic excellence, born out of a sense of community. Bell has been the author of the last five “Shakespeare in the Streets” adaptations and will author the 2017 production, “One City,” in which she will transform her conversations with neighborhood residents into captivating, one-of-a-kind performances. Also an assistant professor of theatre at Saint Louis University, this year’s Visionary Awards Outstanding Arts Professional recipient, Nancy Bell, is a leader in the St. Louis arts community.
What was your initial reaction to finding out you were a 2017 Visionary Awards recipient?
I thought maybe they called the wrong person!
You’re currently the playwright-in-residence for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, and author of Shakespeare in the Streets. Can you tell us more about the writing and creative process for these Shakespeare productions?
One of the reasons I feel so humbled by this award is that the truth in the process of writing “Shakespeare in the Streets” is so incredibly collaborative—with the director and designer, and also with the community members who inspire the characters. It’s not just an expression of me. I try to reflect and pass along what I’ve heard and learned, more so than making something up from whole cloth.
‘Shakespeare in the Streets’ is clearly community-driven and community-inspired. What’s your personal vision for community-based arts in St. Louis?
All theatrical art should be community-driven. That’s what theater is for, and that’s what it’s born out of. Barriers between theatrical art and the community happen, but they should be enthusiastically and joyously smashed. Those barriers are based on class and socioeconomics. To hell with them.
What are you working on right now?
Besides working on “Shakespeare in the Streets: One City,” I’m working every single day to oppose the threat of encroaching fascism and the presence of alt-right bigotry at the highest levels of government. It scares me half to death.
How does your acting career influence your playwriting, and vise versa?
All actors have a playwright inside of them, I think. Actors have to master the nuts and bolts of storytelling, and it feels very natural to transfer those skills to playwriting.
The Visionary Awards celebrate the contributions, specifically, of women in St. Louis. Who are the women that inspire your work, and what does it mean to make your work in this complicated, resilient city?
My female students and my daughter inspire me more than anyone. My female collaborators—especially Jenny Wintzer (Director of Education and Community Engagement at the Shakespeare Festival), Lucy Cashion (director of the 2016 SITS, founder of ERA Theatre, fellow SLU professor), and Jackie Thompson (UMSL professor, director of 2015 SITS, actor)—completely blow my mind with their fierce talent and commitment to their fellow human beings. Ilene Berman (artist and previous Visionary Awards recipient) is a constant role model for me about how to check my privilege and fight for what’s right. And Nicole Hudson from Forward Through Ferguson, who I don’t know very well personally, but I recently interviewed, and she really has me thinking about what it means to love St. Louis for real.