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

Join STLPR for the St. Louis Public Radio Theatre Showcase on the Public Media Commons on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 11 and Aug. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Public Media Commons, 3653 Olive St., St. Louis, MO 63108.

Over the course of two nights, they will feature short performances by some talented local theatre companies. Bring your favorite lawn chair and a picnic, cold drinks will be available to purchase from STL Barkeep!

Sponsored by Carol House Furniture and Wacker Financial Group.

Participating Groups:

A Call to Conscience – Albion Theatre – First Run Theatre – New Jewish Theatre 
Prism Theatre Company – Prison Performing Arts – St. Louis Shakespeare – Stray Dog Theatre – Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis – The Midnight Company –
Repertory Theatre St. Louis – Upstream Theater

Written by Dr. Carole Levin and Produced in Support of The University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis’ Liberal Arts Department

Conceived originally as a reflection on significant moments in the life of England’s most significant regnant queen, Elizabeth I:  To Speak or Use Silence dramatizes episodes in the life of Elizabeth I. 

The docudrama was written by Dr. Carole Levin, Willa Cather Emerita Professor of History at the University of Nebraska, author and editor of numerous books and articles including Shakespeare’s Foreign Worlds: National and Transnational Identities in the Elizabethan Age, co-authored with John Watkins (Cornell University Press, 2009); Dreaming the English Renaissance: Politics and Desire in Court and Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); The Reign of Elizabeth I (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002); and The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics of Sex and Power (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), which was named one of the top ten academic books of the 1990s by the readers of Lingua Franca, September, 2000. 

Dr. Levin is also the past president of the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women, the co-founder and president of the Queen Elizabeth I Society, and is Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. 

This debut production is mounted at her request by Dr. Tim Moylan, professor of English and director of the theater program at the University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis, and produced with the support of the Liberal Arts Department of the university’s College of Liberal Arts and Basic Sciences. 

Dr. Moylan is a long-standing member of the South-Central Renaissance Conference, currently serving as secretary-treasurer as well as a member of the Queen Elizabeth I Society, for which he is also Lord High Treasurer. This is an amateur production, an extension of Moylan’s academic scholarship, and draws on the talents and contributions of fellow faculty, staff, alumni and friends of UHSP and its theater program. 

The show further enlists the talented support of the Greenleaf Singers, a vocal ensemble with performance expertise in a cappella Renaissance music, currently under the direction of Dr. Tristan Frampton ( . 

In addition, the project draws on the costume and prop resources of St. Louis Shakespeare / Smoking Monkey Theater ( 

Show dates and times are June 9 and 10 at 7:30, in the ARB Auditorium on the campus of the University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis. Tickets are $10 and available only at the door; all seating is general admission.  Parking is free and available in the gated university garage. 

Directions:  Forest Park Parkway to Taylor Ave, south past Duncan Ave (four-way stop) to Children’s Place (three-way stop), east to the garage entrance on the right. 

The show has two acts with a run time of approximately 90 minutes with a 10-minute intermission.  For questions or additional information contact Dr. Tim Moylan via email at

By Lynn Venhaus

Behold the youthful energy that lights the fire of William Shakespeare’s classic big love. Erik Peterson and Evie Bennett burn bright as the besotted star-crossed lovers at the heart of St. Louis Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

The dynamic pair immediately signal that this is not your mother’s “Romeo and Juliet,” the one they were forced to read in high school English accompanied by Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film. None of those stuffy 16th century trappings here.

This post-modern adaptation of the seminal romantic tragedy takes place in Verona, Italy, where the Capulets and the Montagues are two wealthy and powerful feuding families. This is not a hybrid version, for the entire cast is in contemporary garb, suitably outfitted by costume designers Amanda Handle and Tracy Newcomb.

This reinvigorated production, at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in the Kirkwood Community Center, is stripped down, with a barebones set designed by Cris Edwards and an essential characters’ only cast, with one actor filling another minor role and the Montagues combined into one parent.

An exuberant Peterson, boyishly handsome like the 1996 Leonardo di Caprio in Baz Luhrman’s bold movie interpretation, bounds on stage and quickly engages as the impulsive, idealistic, smart, and sensitive Romeo.

He is joined by his swaggering posse of peers, also ready to rock – and rumble. Quinn Spivey excels as lively loyal friend Mercutio while Emma McDonough is an assured, convincing cousin Benvolio.

They crash the Capulet’s ball, where Romeo is struck by a lightning bolt, seeing the beautiful Juliet, and he is soon in pursuit of the fair maiden. Bennett projects the innocence necessary, and shows some gumption, guiding her destiny and with an inner strength that will appear when she’s arguing with her mother.

Infatuated with each other, the couple’s epic serenade commences, and the actors bring the yearning, swooning and thunderstruck emotions out in their lovesick characters. Outside interference will ruin their happily-ever-after plans – and the inevitable comes soon enough, so they must shift emotions with their one heartbeat.

Director Blake Anthony Edwards’ work on the leads’ character development is admirable, and the kids’ blaze with glory, for the most part. He keeps the action moving, managing the time well.

Nic Tayborn started out strong as the noble Count Paris, Juliet’s rich admirer favored by her parents, but as the plot becomes more complicated, then politely goes through the motions.

He’s fine participating in the fight scenes, which are expertly choreographed by Dennis Saldana. The combat is authentically staged.

While a female Benvolio worked well, the gender switch with Tybalt came across as less successful, with Jade Collins playing Juliet’s loyal but hot-headed first cousin. The change in pronouns is made in the dialogue.

The escalation of the Mercutio-Tybalt conflict is such an integral part of this story that it is crucial to portray them as fiery enemies. (Think how important the rivalry between Riff and Bernardo is in “West Side Story.”)

The experienced Donna Parrone brings an earthy, feisty energy to the Nurse role, resonating as Juliet’s confidante and providing a pinch of bawdy humor. She transmits her grief well as her heart breaks over the unfolding tragedy.

As the trusted Friar Laurence who advises Romeo, Nick Freed conveys a genuine gravitas and sincerity.

However, the parents are merely perfunctory in line delivery. Granted, the parents must be the buzz kill in this story, not understanding their children and their long, seemingly senseless, rivalry causing irreparable harm.

But compared to the electric current palpable from the young lovers, they seem devoid of personality. Hillary Gokenbach has more to say as haughty Lady Capulet, given that she and Juliet differ in opinions, than a gentler Lady Montague (Rhianna Anesa). And Lord Montague has been cut out of this version, well, actually the dialogue is merged into his wife’s.

Robert Stevenson as the forceful Capulet isn’t convincing either, as a domineering husband and father who must deal with grief. Emotions should build so that their devastating loss of their only child pulls at our heartstrings.

I think Arthur Laurents was right to cut out the parents in “West Side Story,” for they do not add much – unless they would give their harsh lines some context.

Rounding out the cast are Matthew Kauzlarich as a dutiful(and put-upon) Peter, servant to the nurse, and Don McClendon, imposing as Prince Escalus, who oversees the town.

Good work is evident from sound designer Tori Meyer and sound operator Kevin Doerr. The music that punctuates the performance, especially the end song of “Sorrow” by The National, is a noteworthy addition.

John “JT” Taylor’s lighting design enhances the shifts in mood and tone.

“Romeo and Juliet” is estimated to go back to 1595 and has been interpreted in many ways since then – in music, art, dance, literature, theater, and film. There is even an animated movie with gnomes – “Gnomeo and Juliet” in 2012, and Taylor Swift refers to the archetypes in her song, “Love Story.”

To keep this story fresh and meaningful after 500 years is a challenge, but Peterson and Bennett win over the audience, with several other key high notes standing out.

St. Louis Shakespeare hasn’t been back on the boards since before the pandemic’s first wave, so applause for getting back into the swing, and for the enthusiasm about presenting this production.

“Romeo and Juliet” is being presented Feb. 10 – 20 at the Reim Auditorium at the Kirkwood Community Center, 111 S. Geyer Road, in Kirkwood, Mo. Evening performances are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. For more information, www. Tickets available at or at the theatre box office, which opens 1 hour prior to showtime. Call 314-361-5664 or email if you have any questions.