When someone tells you they are going to the theatre, many times an image of a grand performance hall with an ornate stage and a majestic curtain comes to mind. But theatre can happen anywhere, and the metro St. Louis area has some very unique performance venues that you may not know about including churches, renovated city council chambers, past convents, and old houses.
The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves is currently residing on Theatre Lane in a building that was originally used as a music school when it was built in 1909. The company started out rehearsing and performing in church parlors and schools, but purchased its current location in 1951. Nestled in between houses in a residential neighborhood, you might just drive right past it without even noticing. It looks like any of the other houses surrounding it, aside from the marquee in the front yard. But immediately upon climbing up the steps to the front porch and going inside, you get a sense of how much theatre history has taken place there.
In the main welcome area on the ground floor, cast member pictures of past plays date back to 1952. You can take your time perusing playbills, cast lists, and photos that adorn the walls. Or you can sit in one of the comfortable chairs around the room and listen to conversations about family members who have performed in past productions. It really does feel like you have walked in to the living room of someone’s home. There is an ease and relaxed feeling about the reception area that makes you feel invited and welcomed. As a result, you do not feel like you are getting ready to see a play. You feel like you are getting ready to visit an old friend. And when the house opens for seating, you almost do not want to get up.
When they are ready to seat you for the performance, you are called up by groups. Up the stairs you go to the second floor of the building. All of the walls of any of the rooms that had been there are gone. It is now one open room (aside from the backstage area and the lighting booth). The stage and seating area are small. Which are not necessarily bad things. They lend themselves quite well to more intimate performances. Instead of feeling like a spectator sitting far away, you feel more like you are eavesdropping on the character’s lives and conversations. It sounds a bit voyeuristic, but isn’t that what theatre is anyway?
There is no red, velvet curtain. There are no intricate carvings on the walls. Yes, the stairs creak. Yes, the chairs squeak. And there are even tales of ghosts in the house. Despite this, or because of this, there is a charm to the theatre. You do not feel like you are in a grand playhouse. The Guild makes every effort to welcome you in to their home (complete with brownies and cookies available downstairs at intermission). Upon leaving, you want to thank your hosts for letting you join them and you look forward to being able to spend time with them again.
The Theatre Guild of Webster Groves has been providing community theatre to the St. Louis area since 1926. For more information, please visit their website at http://theatreguildwg.org/.