The Sunday afternoon sun shines through the window shades of Pacific Place and creates a warm orange color to match the heated temperature in the room. A man sits at his desk, surrounded by one or two portraits of his wife. His theatre achievement awards sit by the desk lamp as he reflects on his bittersweet memories of how he helped build the performing arts community at Webster University.
Beside him is his wife of 65 years, one of his daughters and his dog Andy. Wayne Loui is rich with experiences of family, friends and theater. And those beside him are a part of his story.
The entire Loui family has been involved in theater at one point or another, and it started with Wayne’s dedication to performing arts. Annie Loui, one of his daughters, remembers always being told, ‘‘Dad has to go back to rehearsal.’’
“We grew with the theatre as breakfast, lunch and dinner, ” Annie Loui said. “We would be hearing about it pretty much on a daily basis from birth on.”
Wayne Loui directed his first show at the age of 15, but had no intention of making it his occupation — he was an actor primarily. He graduated from college, went into radio, then television and from there he went into academics where he started teaching theatre. He first taught theatre at Ambrose College in Iowa and then started directing live TV.
All the while, Marita Woodruff, a sister of Loretto at what was Webster College at the time, had an idea. This idea involved creating Theatre Impact Group, which included college and high school students and professional actors performing in a summer series of plays at the Kirkwood Amphitheater. Woodruff called Wayne Loui to help direct these plays. It launched in the summer of 1962. Wayne Loui said putting on the series of shows required hard work.
“I nearly killed myself because it was one show after another and we did them in one week,” Wayne Loui said.
After the first season, Wayne Loui headed back home to Iowa to be with his family. Then, one day he got a letter from Woodruff, offering him a job at Webster to direct the Theatre Department at Webster. Wayne Loui had a feeling it would be good, so he packed up his entire family and moved from Davenport, Iowa to St. Louis, Mo.
The summer performances were held over three years. When the Repertory Theatre was built in 1966, the performances moved indoors. This allowed performances to be a part of the regular academic year, which opened a window of opportunity for Wayne Loui to teach theatre students at Webster.
Amy Loui is another of Wayne Loui’s daughters. She is also an actress in St. Louis. She said her father’s former students will sometimes come up to her during rehearsals for different performances and tell her how he changed their lives.
“People say it over and over and over again., his influence has impacted so many people,” Amy Loui said. “He is the best director that I have ever worked with.”
The cycle of relationships between Wayne Loui and his past students continue and grow into the lives of his children. When Wayne reflects on these encounters, he smiles, even though he prefers to stay humble.
“It makes me feel kind of good, which is not something I will admit to,” Wayne Loui said. “If it turned out well, it was a good thing for [students]. If it didn’t turn out well, it was not that good for either one of us.”
Gary Gaslow is one of the people who approached Amy Loui at productions and express his gratitude for her father’s teaching. Now, Gaslow is an acting coach and professor in the Conservatory at Webster.
“The beginning instructors who sent the first wave of kids through the Conservatory for the first 10 or 15 years, a lot of those students stayed and are now teaching the news influx of kids who are coming through the Conservatory,” Amy Loui said. “It’s one of those really cool circle of life things, circle of talents coming back around.”
In this way, Wayne Loui’s accomplishments with the help of many others helped shape the theatre community in St. Louis into what it is today. Wayne said he is happy with the growth he has seen in the community.
“It has brought a sort of professionalism in, and I stayed with it for a considerably large amount of time,” Wayne Loui said. “It has had its ups and downs and its livelihood. It’s been good.”
Wayne Loui continued directing until 2015, when he directed “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller. For his work in directing the play he received the Excellence in Theatre Award from Insight Theatre Company. He was 84 years old at the time.
“I remember before I took that one, we talked about it a while and I said ‘I don’t know if I can make it,’” Wayne Loui said. “I still stumble around in my speech is all, but we made it.”
Wayne Loui has not seen the Repertory Theater in years. He said when he left, it was something he had to accept.
“Once I quit there, that was the end of it,” Wayne Loui said. “That’s the loss. I had to lose it.”
Wayne and Marita’s legacy lives on within not only the Webster Conservatory, but also the theatre community in St. Louis as a whole. Out of all of Wayne Loui’s memories over sixty-nine years, he has zero regrets.
“I’m very hard to come to a regret,” Wayne Loui said. “I usually stick around and see how things come out. I figure that if I get nothing of it, if I would like it to be better if it was bad, but that’s not regret, that’s a kind of ‘shake your head and go with it.’”