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Random Thoughts: A community conversation with Steven Woolf

By: Sheila Frayne Rhoades


Steven Woolf

This week West Newsmagazine talks with Steven Woolf, who has been the artistic director of The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis since 1986. “It’s not often you get to live your dream, but I’ve been able to do just that at The Rep,” said Woolf, who is retiring following the completion of the 2018-2019 season. During his tenure, Woolf has directed 45 shows and conducted a series of “theater talks.”

What do you usually do when you have time off?  

During the course of a season, there really are few moments that allow for “time off.” That’s the nature of our theater business and that’s just fine. But, I do enjoy going to the movies – first features on a Saturday morning. I also like to read. I particularly enjoy the works of Daniel Silva, Michael Connelly, John Sandford, etc. And there’s no question that I do watch the political shows on television. Of course, I go to the theater in whatever city I am in, if possible.

What movie can you watch over and over without tiring of it? 

The very first episode released of “Star Wars” and “Hugo” directed by Martin Scorsese. Star Wars was unique and exciting on many levels. Remember that very first shot, when the camera panned down from the ship in space, was a big deal in cinema history. Beyond that, the story was like both a Western as well as science fiction. Plus, the whole idea of the Force has a kind of religious base to it that I found unique in this kind of a film and certainly was followed through the rest of the series. There also was humor and some clever comedy dialog and totally involving battle scenes. As far as “Hugo” goes, it’s about imagination and the magic of film and one young boy’s discovery of a world of invention and visual poetry. It is a moving piece of cinema that is emotionally full and has much to say about how we embrace magical and fantastical worlds with a real humanity to it. Plus, it has an adventure and great characters in a railroad station that are pretty thrilling.

When did you decide to do the work you are doing now? 

Probably when I was in high school. I wanted to work in a major theatrical institution in a big city. So I’ve been very fortunate to be able to do what I do. I’m living my dream – something not many people get to do.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Be kind to everyone you meet. In show business, this is very important as it is a complex and demanding world with lots of very interesting and sometimes exotic people. Taking care to respect and be kind to the denizens of the unique world of the theater just makes the hard work we are doing be recognized.

If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would you choose and why? 

Madeleine Albright – because she has a world vision that I like and she has seen so much, just being able to break bread with her would be fantastic. Ian McKellen – he’d have great stories from his long and storied theatrical career. What fun it would be to hear from him. William Shakespeare – there are so many questions to be asked. And if there was more room at the table, I’d invite the Obamas.

What do you like most about the St. Louis region?

It’s a city of intriguing neighborhoods and cultures that most times mix well and sometimes don’t. But that all provides a rich landscape of stories that I’m not sure really happen in other cities. There are rich and amazing cultural opportunities to explore. And the architecture in the city is quite special. And, how can you go wrong with the pancakes at Half and Half [in Webster Groves and Clayton]?

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