December 1, 2020

Webster Conservatory alumni form theater company in Chicago

(Clockwise from center) Miriam Reuter, Matt Wills and John Matteson, some of the founding members of (re)discover theatre. PHOTO COURTESY OF MIRIAM REUTER

Sitting at a diner in the middle of Chicago, four Webster alumni imagined a theater company to bring fresh faces to the classical works of Shakespeare, Chekhov, Beckett.

The alumni often found themselves discovering new things when reading the texts of classic playwrights. They based the name of  (re)discover theatre upon this. The group’s purpose is to find new ways to provide new faces to old classics inlcuding Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Beckett to audiences.

“Often classical work can seem very unreachable to audiences and theater can seem unreachable” Miriam Reuter, Webster Conservatory graduate and a founder of (re)discover theatre, said. “We are trying to bring a fresh and young and new perspective to pieces that have been done before.”

“I think they are off to a great start,” Webster Conservatory professor Doug Finlayson said. “They have figured out the most important element of starting a theater, produce projects. That’s where the excitement is.”

Reuter and her former colleague, John Matteson said they wanted to create something great. Matteson and Reuter took classes together under the direction of Susan Hart and Jeffrey Carlson in Chicago. They decided they would perform a production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

Although they both had the experience, Reuter said the task was not handed to them.

“Along the way, we lost a producer, space and director. That’s when I called Webster for reinforcement,” Reuter said.

Matteson and Reuter contacted Jessica Shoemaker, a Webster alumna, because she specialized in classical text. Shoemaker spent a couple years working with Shakespeare’s material. Not only was she the text coach, but she wound up becoming the character Socrates in Reuter and Matteson’s production of “Hamlet.”

“Webster University Conservatory’s strength, of the program, is they teach you how to collaborate as artists,” Shoemaker said. “There is a huge emphasis placed in ensemble building and development. The way the company was formed was based on that collaborate experience.”

Webster University’s Conservatory students get to know their classmates’ abilities, Shoemaker said. Entering the conservatory as a freshman, students are given an upperclassman mentor. These mentors are called “angels.” Reuter was Shoemaker’s mentor and Shoemaker was directing major Matthew Wills’ mentor. They said they became comfortable working with each other through school projects.

Reuter contacted directing majors Willis and Janet Howe to assist with the production. After accepting the positions, they all moved to Chicago to pursue the opportunity.

“We were looking around the space one night and Matt made a comment, ‘You know this would make a good theater, we should make a theater company’” Shoemaker said.

The initial producer who parted ways with the theater, had plans to fund it. After he left, the funds went with him.  Reuter said the group never expected their goals to come with ease, but because of the, “got to make it happen” attitudes, “impossible” was simply a word that did not exist. In order to fund the theater, the members of the group placed their own money into it as well as donations. from family and friends.

Currently, the theater is working towards having their work seen at the St. Louis, New Orleans and Chicago French Festivals.

“We want audiences to realize that theater is changing and we don’t want to separate the audience from the action, we want to integrate them,” Wills said. “Anyone can go home and watch T.V., but theater is different.”

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