Interview With Jason Stahr
By: Dora Bell
The Director of operations for the Touhill, Jason Stahr has worked at the Touhill
Performing Arts Center for two decades, and has been involved with theatre for nearly
twice as long. His passion for theatre and education continues to strengthen the
University of Missouri- St. Louis (UMSL) community, especially regarding the arts and
entertainment opportunities here. As the Director of Operations for the Touhill, his duties
range from the vendor's contracting process to managing the departments within the
Touhill, and even communicating between UMSL departments.
It is no surprise that Stahr has invaluable knowledge about the culture at UMSL,
especially since he has worked at the university for one-third of its life. With UMSL
turning 60 years old this year, Stahr engaged in an interview to speak about the
changes, triumphs, and tragedies of the arts and entertainment opportunities at UMSL.
Question: How has the arts and entertainment at UMSL changed throughout your
20 years of experience here?
Stahr: When the Touhill first opened, it was intended to be a hub for the arts quadrant,
which consisted of theatre, music, and a dance component. Unfortunately, the dance
component has been gone for years, and there were many changes to the theatre
aspect. Luckily, music has remained vibrant.
Question: Do you believe that UMSL offers enough arts and entertainment
opportunities to be involved with? If not, how can this be improved?
Stahr: No. The arts are a fundamental necessity to create a well-rounded human being.
There could be a guerilla-type theater for the students to express themselves through
improv. They could perform at the Nosh stage or the Whitaker Hall here at the Touhill.
There are a lot of outlets here for music, but not theatre.
Question: How has student involvement with the arts changed in your time here?
Stahr: The Touhill has more students involved with working here. The administration
office has more student workers than the year before. I think we are an attractive
employer; our hours are random and we can schedule around classes.
Question: How do you think the 2020 pandemic affected the arts at UMSL?
Stahr: Killed it. Not just at UMSL, it was everywhere. The Touhill staying afloat shows
the dedication of the university. Fortunately, we have lots of businesses wanting to rent
at the Touhill, because organizations have been building back up for about two or three
years. The arts really suffered, and some folded. It took sheer will to keep going. Even
for theaters in New York, it was an uphill battle. Another factor that is hindering growth is
virtual performance. Live performances are still a struggle for many organizations
across the country.
Question: In your opinion, what were some of the most interesting or unusual
performances at the Touhill?
Stahr: A number of them. We had the Mienger Puppet Theater within the first three
years here. They made a giant igloo which sat on the floor. Their audience was in the
igloo and they did shadow puppets on the outside of it. We had Native American dance
companies, those are always fun. One of my favorite shows here was Tania
Perez-Salas de Mexico. It was an artistic and highly specific show. We had a
house-made pool on stage and it rained sand. We have had avant-garde regional
companies, so many different things. We have had Pat Metheny from the Orchestrion
Project. We’ve had Jason Derulo, Sara Bareilles, John Waite from Bad English, and Dr.
Maya Angelou. As far as art goes, we’ve seen a lot of different things