anonymous donor makes the small theater usable again | Webster Kirkwood Times

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The rapper and native of St. Louis Nato Calife performed on February 23, 2016, during the seventh hour at the Little Theater. This concert was part of the All-Write festival. | photo by Cole Schnell


The reconstruction of the small theater at Webster Groves High School is made possible by a recent donation of $ 2 million from an anonymous former teacher who had a special relationship with the school district.

The Little Theater comeback benefits a plethora of bands at Webster Groves High School, including, but not limited to, the theater and music departments. It will also serve as a space to host guest speakers and a modified cover of the All-Write Festival. The district hopes to innovate on the project in the summer of 2022.

The Little Theater was closed several years ago when water damage caused mold to grow. The gymnasium, originally built against the back wall of the Petit Théâtre, was removed during the construction of the secondary gymnasium of the lycée. The original wall was not built to function as an exterior wall and does not withstand rain well.

Todd Schaefer is responsible for the high school drama department. When he arrived at school in January 2006, the Petit Théâtre was a mess.

“I remember going to Ms. (Mickey) Erb and saying, ‘I need another dumpster.’ It was in bad shape and the space itself was filthy, dirty – it needed a complete cleaning, ”Schaefer said.

During the clean-up, he filled 13 dumpsters. His early technological theater classes played a big part in cleaning up the Petit Théâtre, as they were in a hurry to get it ready in time for the spring production.

Schaefer’s first show was a play called “Marvin’s Room”.

“The opening night of ‘Marvin’s Room’, I discovered a flaw in Little Theater – it leaked terribly,” Schaefer said.

That night there was nearly three inches of water in the front row seats that had come through the floor.

“As I approach, I realize that there is a waterfall running through the back doors and across the front of the stage and down from the front of the stage,” Schaefer said.

The wet conditions threatened the electrical equipment, lighting, set, stage curtains and everything else necessary for the show. The rain stopped almost as soon as Schaefer walked through the door. He and a few guards cleaned up the water and the show was able to open that night.

Although the set was on wheels and had no water damage, flooding remained a problem throughout Schaefer’s 12 years at the Little Theater. Schaefer used the Little Theater as a classroom and had to face the water whenever it rained.

“We just prayed it wouldn’t rain when we were there for a show,” he said. “I threw out trash cans full of water once, twice, three times a year.”

A versatile space

The original Little Theater was modeled after the Yale Little Theater, which has since been remade. As such, the redesign of Webster’s Little Theater will be based on the redesign of Yale.

Schaefer said that after the donation was announced last month, one of the most important tasks was figuring out what the high school needed. A Little Theater redesign advisory committee determined that the most important thing would be to make the space versatile.

Ava Musgraves, senior at Webster Groves High School, has been invited to serve on the overhaul advisory committee. Musgraves is a member of several high school arts groups, including choir and theater.

“It will be a little different,” she said of the design. “The stage can be taken away, the seats can be taken away, it can be used as a rehearsal room or as an event space.

“I think it’s really cool and really smart to make it versatile, and also just to accommodate all the different groups at school,” added Musgraves. “I think there are a lot of bands that just don’t have that kind of space.”

The committee also includes a former student representing the music department, a member of the Statesmen Stars dance team, interior design experts, someone who has designed theaters all over St. Louis, the executive director of Webster Arts and a few others. Schaefer also participated in the committee meetings.

Musgraves compared the Little Theater plan to The Pageant, an event location in The Delmar Loop often used for live music performances and concerts. Webster Groves High School Principal Matt Irvin added that the Staenberg

Performance Lab at the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) is part of the inspiration.

“After going back and forth with Dr Irvin, we figured the most versatile way to use the space would be to have seating options where the seats can be stowed away or they can be taken out, and that is something The Pageant offers. It’s a bit like the bleacher seats, but prettier than the bleachers, ”said Musgraves.

Schaefer said the drama department doesn’t necessarily need the Little Theater for productions, but can use it for presentation work, monologues, Broadway reviews, or an act. It is also intended to be used for musical performances of small ensembles, art galleries or guest speakers for any department.

“It should be a neat community space. It’s right there on the corner of Bradford and Selma, so the parking lots are very close, ”Schaefer said.

Emily Goben is a student at Webster Groves High School. She is the news / opinion editor for the school’s student newspaper, The Echo.

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