October 17, 2019

Conservatory students create their own theater company

Fifi’s Playhouse wants to become a platform for artists of all kinds. However, their alma mater is one big challenge to become an independent company.

On an otherwise dark and quiet street, one house on Pasadena Avenue has a low rumble and a purple glow from its windows. Webster students pack tightly into a makeshift cabaret upstairs. Hostess Lize Lewy smirks at the crowd while they wait to meet Fifi, the cat and namesake of St. Louis’s newest theater company.

This was the inaugural show of Fifi’s Playhouse, a theater company started to get more people involved in the art of theater.

“We want collaboration,” Lewy said. “We want it to feel like it’s not just one person’s art; it’s everybody’s art. Everyone had a part, whether they’re a scenic designer or an actor, director or an audience member, to feel like they’re a part of the creative process.”

Lewy and her housemates Sarah Lockwood and Zach Grimm created the non-profit to give students a place to express themselves outside of the classroom. The company would get students such as music majors and set designers who would not normally interact to start collaborating on projects.

“We are using our connections in the Conservatory so that we can eventually expand into the rest of the whole St. Louis community,” Lockwood said.

Conservatory student Rebecca Hartman performs at the first Fifi’s Playhouse cabaret on Pasadena Avenue. Photo by Meghan Storts.

y said part of the reason for starting the company was to find a place to tackle heavy political issues and work on multicultural diversity.

“We are very politically and socially driven,” Lockwood said. “That sort of art or any art should not be censored.”

Lewy also said that Fifi’s Playhouse was different from PING— the student theater club on campus. She said Fifi’s was entirely its own and for everyone completely unaffiliated with the university.

“Our biggest challenge is the fact that we’re starting this completely on our own, and we don’t exactly have the support of everyone,” Lewy said.

Originally, Fifi’s Playhouse had planned on doing a big full season, but now they are focused on building up from where they are now.

“This year has turned into a fundraising year,” Lewy said. “Our big inaugural season is next year but we have already had our first show.”

Their first show for the season was a cabaret featuring the talents of conservatory students singing along with live music. All of Webster was invited, and tickets cost $3.

Fifi’s Playhouse is not always going to be on a stage, Lewy said. She said she wanted the company to be site specific, meaning they will work wherever they can with or without a stage.

“Our future productions are planned for parking garages and other intricate theater spaces,” Lewy said. “Creating those unique platforms to see theater and to bring live music into that I think is another goal.”

Other experimental theater ideas were flash mobs in the East Academic Building and a production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” on the loop. Lockwood admits, however, that their projects are small right now and will wait for the organization to take off to start large projects.

While Lewy and Lockwood were happy about the amount of people that showed up, they had also expressed concerns that the audience was not very academically diverse with most of the audience of the first show being from the Conservatory.

“We want it to not be a Conservatory thing. It just so happens that our friends and our connections as of right now are predominantly conservatory,” Lewy said. “I know for the three of us, our game plan is to graduate and take this somewhere. It’s really just about building connections with everyone.”

Lockwood said that hopefully these little shows will eventually get the word out and more people will trickle in over time. Lewy said she feels excited for the work ahead.

“We’ve done a first public thing. We’ve made ourselves known in some small capacity,” Lewy said. “Seeing who shows up and seeing what our members want to do is our next step.”

Lewy said their next show for the season will be a drag show called Fifi’s Playhaus.

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