|Marita Michenfelder Woodruff|
and Jacqueline Grennan Wexler
Theatre Impact inspired more than its audience, because it prompted Marita Michenfelder Woodruff (then Sister Marita, who, along with Wayne Loui, was principally responsible for the summer program) to seek a better year-round space for her student actors.
In addition, Theatre Impact's success proved that undergraduate students and professionals acting together was a happy arrangement which should continue into the school year, so the combination served as a model for a new concept in theatre education at Webster College. Those interests propelled the drive for a new building, and Theatre Impact served a further purpose one summer when it tested a thrust stage in the exact dimensions proposed for the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts.
|You Can't Take It With You|
Few people outside the region had heard about Theatre Impact, however. So when daily papers from Wilmington to Tucson, from Fall River, Mass., to Jackson, Miss., in Chicago and in New York City reported that a small Catholic college for women near St. Louis would dedicate a stunning new art center on May 8, 1966, people took notice.
The Loretto-Hilton was the first facility in the United States designed specifically to house both a professional acting company and an undergraduate theatre arts department. Credited with creating a regional theatre with that unique mix were Sister Francetta Barberis, president of Webster College, and Jacqueline Grennan Wexler (then Sister Jacqueline), the school's vice president, who explained, "The Center's aim is to get our students and our faculty involved in the real work of professional theatre as opposed to the mock-heroic world of the educational theatre."
Built mainly with a gift of $1,500,000 from Conrad Hilton to express his gratitude to the Sisters of Loretto for their role in educating him, the building was designed to fulfill its theatrical and educational mission. The Ford Foundation had granted monies for design consultation with technical specialist George C. Izenour and scenic designer Jo Mielziner. Sir Tyrone Guthrie, whose Minneapolis theatre was already in operation and who advised that seats be "not too comfortable or people will fall asleep," gallantly donated many hours of consulting time. For over a year, Sister Marita and Wayne Loui, who was also a member of the college's theatre arts department, worked with St. Louis architects Joseph D. Murphy and Eugene J. Mackey on the building's design.
Laura Esterman, Lenny Baker and Ensemble
When the building was completed, Engineering News-Record called it "remarkable". The auditorium, designed for conversion from classroom to theatre, chapel or concert hall, and back again, had the capacity to add sections which adjust capacity from 499 to 1200 with the mere movement of an elevator platform and retractable walls (the largest of which weighs 34 tons, but is so well-balanced that it can be driven by a 3/4 horsepower motor). The lobby can be an art gallery, and the building's scene, prop and costume shops (which were originally planned as classrooms), ballet studio, recital hall, green room and offices afford immediate commerce between the parts that must come together to form the magic whole of a production.