By Lynn Venhaus

Surely, Christina Rios must be the Energizer Bunny in disguise, for she is non-stop, the epitome of a multi-hyphenate. Fourth grade math teacher by day at The Wilson School in Clayton, she is an actor, director, opera singer (trained lyric coloratura), producer, vocal coach, and intimacy coordinator — and is the mother of four children. She and her husband, Mark Kelley, moved to their dream home this summer. In her case, the plate is not just full, but spilling over.

Next project: Directing a new adaptation by John Wolbers of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for St. Louis Shakespeare, to be presented Sept. 29 – Oct. 7 at the Robert Reim Theatre in Kirkwood.

Christina’s resume includes a long list of challenges, so why should juggling five things at once ever be different? She was the artistic director and frequent director of new-to-St. Louis works at R-S Theatrics from 2009 to 2019.

This past year, she’s played Blanche in Neil Simon’s “Broadway Bound” at New Jewish Theatre last winter, part of the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s “Twelfth Night” in Forest Park’s Shakespeare Glen, and played the exasperated mom of four daughters in “In Bloom,” part of the New Play Festival at Tesseract Theatre Company this summer, acting alongside real daughter Rosario Rios-Kelley.

So, why is she tackling directing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for St. Louis Shakespeare? She discusses her vision and her views about creating art at this time in a very different world.

The cast of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” includes her husband, Mark, also the sound designer and fight choreographer, and her son, Samuel Rios-Kelley. Principal roles are Mike Stephens as Theseus, Lexy Witcher as Hippolata, Molly Stout as Hermia, Jordan Duncan as Demetrius, Rhiannon Creighton as Helena, Noah Laster as Lysander, Mark Kelley as Quince, Fox Smith as Bottom, Luis Castro as Flute, Laurell Stevenson as Starveling, Dan Higgins as Snout, Riley Stevio as Snug, Jodi Stockton and Bryce A. Miller as Titania, Chuck Brinkley and Stephanie Merritt as Oberon, Tielere Cheatem as Puck, Ebony Easter as Peaseblossom, Remi Mark as Moth and Samuel Rios=Kelley as Boy.

Choreography by Mary Mathew, technical direction by Victoria Esquivel, costumes by Olivia Radle, scenic design by Morgan Brennan, Props by Meg Brinkley, lighting design by Erin Reilly, and sound design/fight choreography by Mark Kelley.

For more information, visit

Todd Schaefer as Macheath and Christina Rios as Lucy Brown in “Threepenny Opera” in 2015 at New Line Theatre. Photo by Jill Ritter.

Q & A with Christina Rios

1. What is special about your latest project?

” I feel like we’ve all been in or seen ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at least 20 times, but it has always bothered me that Titania and Oberon never actually apologize for the chaos that they create with their fight, not to each other and definitely not to the world – I’m hoping this production speaks to that and offers some closure there.

“I also love the idea that the fairies can be other beings and ‘poof’ to wherever they want to go because…they’re fairies! I never understand why we, as directors, get characters that are immortal and then walk them around the stage like they’re plain old mortals – hopefully our fairies get to have a bit more fun.

Molly Stout as Hermia and Noah Laster as Lysander rehearsing in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

“We’ve also made Theseus and Hippolyta very ‘Harry and Meghan’ so it’s a royal marrying a commoner now and I think that allows for the tension and ultimately for the ‘awwww’s when they have their wedding dance.

“Speaking of this dance: Mary Mathers has choreographed a GORGEOUS piece that I think everyone should see! And finally, because our sound design can be summed up by calling it ‘Bridgerton Millennial Mixtape.'”.

2. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?

“Wow, great question! I was always going to be a doctor, I wanted to be a neurosurgeon for most of my life, and acting and singing and performing was always just a fun thing I did to blow off steam. I feel like I tripped and landed in an impromptu audition for the head of a music program and suddenly medical school got switched out for opera school and I guess I never stopped.”

3. How would your friends describe you?

“I’m trying to keep the rumor going that I’m mean…but they’d probably say something about me being empathetic and warm…but don’t believe them.:

4. How do you like to spend your spare time?

I have 0 of that. BUT sometimes I do ignore things I should be working on and when I do: it’s ‘Law & Order SVU’ all the way! Olivia Benson is the life-giving elixir we all need more of.”

Keith Thompson, Christina Rios and Marshall Jennings in “Jerry Springer the Opera” at New Line Theatre in 2015. Photo by Jill Ritter.

5. What is your current obsession?

“My house! We just bought a 120 year-old home a few months ago and I feel like I’m living in a castle! I can’t stop taking pictures of the way the light hits different parts…so I end up just treating my home like a toddler – ‘OOOOh!! Look at this, look how cute this room looks!’

6. What would people be surprised to find out about you?

“I’m really 142 years old but I stay young by drinking the tears of my enemies…OR: I guess that it’s hard to upset me because I’m wildly compartmentalized (thanks, trauma!) so it makes it look like I have the thickest of skin, but really it’s because it all just gets pushed WAAAAAY down.”

7. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?

“Going back to school was terrifying – especially as a much older human…so much so that I asked my friend who was babysitting to please not tell anyone just in case I failed and had to drop out. But I graduated with my Master’s, in the height of the pandemic, with a 4.0. And that was sort of my ‘wait, can I seriously do ANYTHING I put my mind to??’ moment.”

8. Who do you admire most?

“Anyone who isn’t afraid of the truth, growth, and the betterment of the world.”.

9. What is at the top of your bucket list?

“It used to be smelling the Corpse Flower but I just did that! It was so stinky!!! I guess next up is for me to be present when my children all see France for the first time.”

Mark Kelley and Christina Rios at the 2017 St. Louis Theater Circle Awards. Three performers from R-S Theatrics’ production of “Boom” were nominated: Nancy Nigh, Elizabeth Van Pelt and Andrew Kuhlman. Photo by Lynn Venhaus.

10. How were you affected by the pandemic years, and anything you would like to share about what got you through and any lesson learned during the isolation periods? Any reflections on how the arts were affected? And what it means to move forward?

Oof. I mean, I’m a raging introvert so the isolation wasn’t actually that hard – especially because it was 6 of us in a 1,300 sq. ft. house 😆 But you know, it really sucked because I guess I thought we all learned something.

Suddenly nurses and artists and teachers FELT like they cracked the code on getting the respect they deserved because we were ALL so hungry for entertainment and we all finally allowed ourselves to see the emotional toll that healthcare was taking on the people we’d always taken for granted and no one had really taken into account how much work teachers actually do until they had to start carrying some of the load.

“…and then it feels like, as SOON as we started inching our way out of isolation and back towards ‘the new normal’ it’s like we all totally forgot and it was back to being disrespectful towards educators and health care professionals and absolutely right back to devaluing the arts.

“Everyone says, ‘we don’t know how to make audiences come out again’ or ‘no one wants to leave their home now that they can order just about everything’ but art…you know…it’s never been about the product. If you think like that, it’s already part of the problem.

“The whole point of theatre, at least for me, is the collective experience of sitting in a darkened room and being told a story with strangers – and you all agree that you’re there and you’re there together and ready to be changed together. It’s a nonverbal contract that allows us all to be safe and at the same time, challenged. We sit and we watch and we are moved and if all of it comes together…a whole lot of the time, we leave better people than when we came. And you can’t do that from a couch in your living room, alone – it comes from being a part of something larger than yourself. And I think that’s beautiful.

“Moving forward we have to recognize that ‘artist’ is a career and therefore should be treated as one. We need to stop devaluing some aspects of art and prioritizing others. We need to remind the audiences that we cannot create what cannot be shared and that our cycle of effectiveness only works if we are all present. Cities, states, and this country needs to double down their funding efforts to make art happen all over and to not allow cost to be the prohibitive part of the process.”

11. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?

“I love to go to Cherokee and just sit and watch the world go by while I have a refreshing beverage and delicious meal.”

12. What’s next?

“I’m doing the thing I’ve wanted to do for years!! I’ll be producing theatre in Hermann, Mo. WITH the people of Hermann AND St. Louis – I feel like we’re never going to advance as people if we just shout at each other over screens, so the idea is half the cast/staff from St. Louis and half from Hermann, and we all convene to create a show – one that we couldn’t have done without each other.

“The StL folks will stay in town for production week and on production weekends and the hope is that we all leave the production having been in each other’s spaces for so long that maybe we are all a little better for it. And then also, the people of Hermann have entertainment that’s not only for tourists but is by and for everyone!”

aida Gruenloh as Camilla, Catherine Analla as Lorelei, Rhiannon Creighton as Rosalind, Christina Rios as Dorothy, Rosario Rios-Kelley as Eileen in Tesseract Theatre Company’s “In Bloom,” a new one-act play by Gwyneth Strope. Photo by Taylor Gruenloh

More About Christina Rios

Birthplace: Complicated but my family is in California and I grew up mostly in St. Louis
Current location: Ferguson
Family: I have a partner that I have been legally bound to for 13 years and 4 children ranging in age from 7-21
Education: I am a doctoral candidate and will receive my doctorate in May 2025, I also have a master’s degree and a couple of bachelor’s
Day job: Math teacher at a local, independent elementary school
First job: Mr. Wizards, baby! Basically worked for FroCus!
First movie you were involved in or made: Hmm…I think the first one that really became anything was a low budget horror movie that was shot in 2006 (?).
Favorite jobs/roles/plays or work in your medium? Directing “Adding Machine,’ ‘Parade,” “Mr. Burns,” “The Light in the Piazza,” and “A Man of No Importance” were all absolute highlights of my life. Being in “Twelfth Night”in 2023, with a cast of almost entirely BIPOC actors was fulfilling on a level I’ll never be able to truly articulate.
Dream job/opportunity: I want to direct opera in much the same way I have directed for years – on a small budget, telling stories, and showing people that these stories are actually all about them.
Awards/Honors/Achievements: hahahahahahahaha – yeah, I’ve never even been nominated for anything 
Favorite quote/words to live by: “Art is a necessity, not a luxury” (it was me, I said that) and “You cannot be what you cannot see” (also me, I also say that a lot)
A song that makes you happy: Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off”

Christina Rios as Blanche in “Broadway Bound” at New Jewish Theatre

By Lynn Venhaus

With full moon magic this week, step into the unique and absurd world created by the imaginative minds at SATE ensemble theatre for “This Palpable Gross Play: A Kind-of Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

It’s Shakespeare flipped inside out, an end-of-summer trifle that follows SATE’s award-winning “Bronte Sister House Party” last year and Equally Represented Arts (aka ERA) with their thoroughly clever “The Residents of Craigslist.”

This ensemble is an appealing, adroit, and gifted group that is fully committed to appearing as if they are self-absorbed, clueless, temperamental, needy, and incompetent actors as the Mechanicals, in addition to feuding royals, and mismatched lovers.

The Mechanicals. Photo by Joey Rumpell.

The innovative Lucy Cashion, in a class all by herself, directs here with a touch of whimsy and a focus on the quirky. She is particularly good at dissecting classics and putting her own spin on them, such as “Trash Macbeth” in 2016 for ERA (St. Louis Theater Circle Award for directing) and “Oedipus Apparatus” for SATE in 2017.

She teams up here with the multi-hyphenate Ellie Schwetye, a distinctive writer also good at different takes on Jane Austen (“First Impressions,” St. Louis Theater Circle Award for Best New Play in 2018), who has adapted this version of Shakespeare’s beloved 16th century comedy.

Normally, the play starts with royal wedding planning, gets sidetracked with love potions and mixed-up pairings, and features a troupe of inept actors rehearsing a play as the special occasion entertainment. Instead of being the side hustle, the Mechanicals have the spotlight, and they shine in all their peculiar glory.

So, dive into their world, not knowing where you will go. You may think you know this play, but here, they’re steering the ship into uncharted, yet kinda familiar, waters. And that’s the fun of it.

The Mechanicals are referred to as skilled manual laborers, and others look down on them. But for this amateur troupe, there’s no way to go but up. Kayla Ailee Bush is bellows-mender Francis Flute, Andre Eslamian is weaver Nick Bottom, Anthony Kramer Moser is joiner Snug, Joshua Mayfield is tinker Tom Snout, Ross Rubright is tailor Robin Starveling, and Kristen Strom is carpenter Peter Quince, the director. Strom’s presiding over the circus as if she’s Orson Welles directing the Mercury Theatre.

Victoria Thomas and Ross Rubright. Photo by Joey Rumpell.

Moser is very funny getting into his lion role, and with the others, their idiosyncrasies emerge as they develop the characters for the tragic love story of “Pyramus and Thisbe,” set in Babylon. Andre Eslamian plays Bottom as an insufferable know-it-all. Joshua Mayfield’s Tom Snout is perturbed about how he’s moved around, and so is Kayla Ailee Bush’s Francis Flute. (The sextet is so bad, the audience thinks it’s a comedy). Master thespians, you know.

Well, they may be delusional, but they are giving it their all as they prepare to mount the play-within-a-play, hopeful of entertaining at Theseus and Hippolyta’s royal wedding. Of course, they question their parts, bicker with castmates and Quince, trying to get the attention they need and ‘deserve.’  

Now, in context, we don’t see Theseus and Hippolyta here, but they are the toast of the town, as he is the Duke of Athens and she is the Queen of the Amazons.

I digress.

Puck/Robin Starveling (Ross Rubright), Titania (Victoria Thomas) and Oberon (Spencer Lawton) are outfitted to look like old-timey movie stars of the silent era, extras in “The Great Gatsby,” or maybe Puck is the bartender in “The Shining.”

They have an aristocratic air, and wear Liz Henning’s gorgeous period attire beautifully. As the king and queen of the fairies, Titania and Oberon are estranged and feuding, and Thomas and Lawton make that obvious, as if they are reciting lines in a Noel Coward play.

In another flip, Oberon falls in love with Bottom, who’s now costumed as a donkey. Hee-haw! Eslamian and Lawton display deft physical comedy skills during this turn of events.

Oberon and Bottom. Photo by Joey Rumpell.

Dapper in tails, Ross Rubright introduces himself as Robin Starveling as he welcomes the audience. The tall Rubright is visually striking, and then he begins his contrasting monologues, as if auditioning, and reads a commercial for Lunesta, a prescription sleep aid, including a long list of side effects. It sets the mischievous mood beautifully.

Rubright may not be sprite-size, but as Puck, he smoothly moves around creating dazed and confused mayhem with his lantern, wafting potion, and magic powers.

That iconic butterfly logo will be referred to several times and its shimmering wings used in another ‘wow’ vision from Henning.

Now the star-crossed lovers make an appearance too, as the cast doubles roles: Hermia (Bush), Lysander (Moser), Helena (Strom), and Dementrius (Mayfield). In Shakespeare’s original, Hermia is in love with Lysander, but her father wants her to marry Demetrius, who is in love with her, but Helena is in love with him. It’s complicated.

The creative team is first-rate, too, with Erik Kuhn’s atmospheric lighting design noteworthy. Joe Taylor’s original music score is a delightful throwback to such ‘30s styles as “Moonlight Serenade” and Cole Porter.

 Cashion and Schwetye collaborated on the scenic design – a summer house’s study where Titania and Oberon are ensconced, and use front space for the woodland where rehearsals are staged. Jimmy Bernatowicz, the stage manager, and Rachel Tibbetts, the co-producer, also contributed to the overall experience.

The Mechanicals. Photo by Joey Rumpell.

The play has a fantasy quality reminiscent of the 1935 movie, which is mesmerizing in its depiction of the glistening fairies frolicking in the forest created through rudimentary visual effects back then. (The casting is memorable too – James Cagney is Nick Bottom and Mickey Rooney is Puck!)

“This Palpable Gross Play” is tantalizing with its witty take on illusions and theme of metamorphosis. The folly is fun, thanks to the harmonious cast and crew’s efforts. Adventurous theatergoers can applaud their good fortune at seeing a fresh interpretation of an enduring classic.

Note: The script of “This Palpable Gross Play” will also receive productions with Clayton High School and with Prison Performing Arts.

SATE is presenting “This Palpable Gross Play: A Kind-of Midsummer Night’s Dream” Aug. 16 through Sept. 2, with performances Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. at The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive. It is 90 minutes without an intermission. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased through Eventbrite. For more information, visit

Photo by Joey Rumpell.

The Festival’s 20-year-old touring program returns for the second time as the free and outdoor public park tour, TOURCO, throughout Missouri and Illinois with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The production will be directed by Tre’von Griffith, St. Louis/NYC-based theater artist, composer and founder of WerQfest also known as Tre-G, and featuring costumes by acclaimed local fashion designer Brandin Vaughn. This 90-minute highly musical afro-futurist adaptation will play in 24 different locations August 2-27 starting on opening night at Kiener Plaza in the heart of downtown St. Louis.

“It’s family-friendly. It’s fun. It’s completely free to attend. And it’s coming to a park near you.” – Director Tre-G.

Cast includes:
Tiélere Cheatem … Helena/Hippolyta/Peter Quince
Rae Davis … Hermia/Tom Snout/Titania
Ricki Franklin … Demetrius/Nick Bottom
Asha Futterman … Theseus/Oberon
Mel McCray … Lysander/Francis Flute
Christina Yancy … Egeus/Snug/Robin/Puck

The Cast

Frequently Asked Questions:


  • 6:30 PM – 8:00 P.M. Central Time


  • TourCo is free and open to everyone, no reservations are required. Seating is first come first serve. Bring your own chairs or blankets. All ages welcome. 
  • Find the location closest to you:


  • There are performances nightly Tuesday-Sunday. There is no show on Monday. 


  • Audio Descriptions will be provided by Mind’s Eye Radio on August 3 at Tower Grove Park
  • ASL Interpretation will occur on August 26 at Chroma Plaza

Guests are encouraged to call ahead to the Box Office (314-287-3348) with any Park accessibility questions for the tour date they plan to attend. 


Yes! Well-behaved and leashed pets are allowed at all performances. 


Guests can bring their own food and drink. Select sites will have vendors as noted. 


It is always our hope to perform, so the decision to hold or cancel the show is rarely made before showtime (6:30 pm). In the event of bad weather, the performance may be delayed. Check social @stlshakesfest across platforms for updates or call 314•287•3348.


TUE AUG 2Kiener Plaza500 Chestnut St,. St. Louis, MO
WED AUG 3Tower Grove Park [AD]4257 Northeast Drive, St. Louis, MO
THU AUG 49 Mile Garden9355 Gravois Ave, Affton, MO 63123
FRI AUG 5Etzel Heights SubdivisionSparta Ct and Robert Powell Pl, St. Louis, MO
SAT AUG 6Bellevue Park401 Bellevue Park Dr, Belleville, IL
SUN AUG 7Fairground Park3715 Natural Bridge Ave, St Louis, MO
TUE AUG 9Crown Square (Old North)1400 St. Louis Ave, St. Louis, MO
WED AUG 10O’Day Amphitheater1000 O’Day Park Dr, O’Fallon, MO
THU AUG 11Schroeder Park359 Old Meramec Station Rd, Manchester, MO
FRI AUG 12Love Bank Park2851 Cherokee St, St Louis, MO
SAT AUG 13Harney Mansion Grounds332 S Mansion St, Sullivan, MO
SUN AUG 14Pomme Creek Park1 Golfview Dr, Arnold, MO
TUE AUG 16Schlalfy Bottleworks7260 Southwest Ave, Maplewood, MO
WED AUG 17Carondelet ParkLoughborough Dr and Field, St. Louis, MO
THU AUG 18Chesterfield Amphitheater631 Veterans Pl Dr, Chesterfield, MO
FRI AUG 19City Park101 S Buchanan, Edwardsville, IL
SAT AUG 20January-Wabash Park501 N Florissant Rd, Ferguson, MO
SUN AUG 21Heritage Park131 Illinois River Rd, Brussels, IL
TUE AUG 23Fountain ParkFountain Ave & N. Euclid Ave. St. Louis, MO
WED AUG 24Jones Water Park2600 Caseyville Ave, East St. Louis, IL
THU AUG 25Shaw Park27 S Brentwood Blvd, Clayton, MO
FRI AUG 26Chroma Plaza [ASL]4041 Chouteau Ave, St. Louis, MO
SAT AUG 27Hermann Farm526 E 1st St Hermann, MO

For more information, contact Allie at or call 314-287-3348.