The last newcomers file in and take their seats and the lights dim. The darkness lasts but a few seconds. In that short time, the audience grows still and quiet. They wait in anticipation to see a story unfold before their eyes. Light fills the stage, and all in the audience know it is time for the show to begin…
This experience is one familiar to Steven Woolf. He has worked for the Repertory Theatre to bring countless shows to life whether it be through directing or producing over the last 30 plus years.
Ever since he was a child, theatre has been a part of Woolf’s life. It started with a subscription to a summer children’s theatre where Woolf first discovered his love for theater. This love has carried and extended through his life and career. The theatre’s capability of bringing people to another place while igniting their imagination prompted him to make it a career.
“In live performance, there are just things that you can do to engage people’s minds and entertain them, challenge them, and move them,” Woolf said.
Woolf said he loves all types of theatre from musicals, to experimental theatre, to the traditional performance theatre. He said he enjoys the experimental capability in the black box, theatre performed on a simple set often in one square-shaped room with black walls. Woolf also enjoys the true show one can put on with a musical. In every type of theater, he truly enjoys bringing the audience into the production.
“It’s that conversation in a dark room that makes it special and spectacular,” Woolf said.
Woolf first knew he was meant for the theatre in junior high school. He found his love for directing and producing during high school and college. There, he discovered his dream of wanting to run a major theatre in a metropolitan area. During his time at the Rep, Woolf made this dream a reality. Despite Woolf’s endless love for theatre, he announced his retirement for 2019 in July.
Woolf is the current Artistic Director of the St. Louis Repertory Theatre. Wolf directs and produces for the Rep. He enjoys both parts of his job for the different things they offer and allow him to do.
“In terms of producing, I like putting the teams together and shepherding the show: being able to work with creatives and steering the show into a performance,” Woolf said.
As a director, Woolf said he enjoys working with the actors to create the story. He said he doesn’t like telling each person what they should and shouldn’t do. Instead, Woolf said he enjoys collaborating with the actors individually to help them find their character and place in the show.
Edward Coffield, the Production Manager of the Rep, has worked with Woolf on 330 different shows. He said Woolf’s directing style is unique and Woolf can cast shows very well. Coffield even described Woolf as an “actor’s director.”
“He has a very clear, distinct storytelling style,” Coffield said. “He has a real unique ability to connect his actors to the story he is telling.”
Michael James Reed, a local actor who has worked with Woolf on around six productions, also commended Woolf’s unique directing style. He explained that Woolf comes in with an open mind and figures out the show as the production goes on. Reed said Woolf likes to focus on what the text says and what it means to help add to the story and the production.
Reed said this was especially clear in the Rep’s production of the Christmas Carol. He said Woolf was able to let the actors discover a different meaning and a new perspective in a familiar play.
“He didn’t come in and say this is how we are doing it, and that’s a play everyone kind of knows,” Reed said, “Instead, he came into it without all the answers. Because of that, it was an interesting play, and an interesting play for the actors to work on.”
Joneal Joplin is a local actor and has done 101 shows at the Rep and around 20 with Woolf in his career. He described Woolf as also working with the actors and letting them grow and be creative with their characters. Joplin said this was apparent in many of productions with Woolf including some of his favorites, Terranova, Boys at the Prairie, and the most recent production of Heisenberg.
“I’ve watched him eliciting work out of the actors: not telling them what he wants, letting them find it and then enforcing it,” Joplin said. “It was just one of those absolutely perfect marriages of the material, the director, and the performers.”
Woolf said one of his favorite and most difficult parts of theatre is the constant change and unpredictability of it.
“You can’t predict a day,” Woolf said. “It makes it unique and exciting. You know, then something comes up. There is a set issue, it could be an actor issue, or some component upsetting every apple cart you can find. But, you can find your way through it.”
Coffield, Joplin and Reed all said Woolf has a special love for theatre that is still visible after so many years of working in the field.
“It’s evident,” Coffield said. “You know, he’s been doing this for a long time, but there is still magic for him about it.”
Woolf still loves and enjoys his job, but he said it is time for him to move on to the next chapter. Many such as Coffield, Reed, and Joplin find it will be hard to see him go, and they said it will be difficult to replace him.
“I think Steve always finds theatre thrilling and exciting,” Reed said. “That’s going to be hard to replace.”
Woolf said he has no plans for what he will do after his retirement. He said he sees it as feeling strange to not work at the Rep anymore after so many years, but he continues to look forward to the work he will do in the meantime. Woolf said he looks forward to the new adventure his retirement will bring.
Joplin said he only sees Woolf stepping down from the great responsibility of his job of running the Rep, but he sees Wolf still being involved in theatre and directing.
“I don’t see Steve as ever being out of theatre,” Joplin said.