Performance Venues

» The Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts

The Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts

130 Edgar Road (on the campus of Webster University), Webster Groves, Missouri.

The Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts, on the campus of Webster University was the first facility in the United States designed specifically to house both a professional acting company and an undergraduate theatre arts department.

The Center was completed in 1966.

Jacqueline Grennan Wexler (Sister Jacqueline, vice-president of what was then Webster College) 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 $1.5 million from hotel magnate Conrad Hilton &mdash 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, Marita Michenfelder Woodruff (then 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.

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 weighed 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.

Today, the Loretto-Hilton Center is home to two professional performing arts companies — The Rep and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis — and to Webster University's Conservatory of Theatre & Dance.

In 2002, after more than 35 years of service to both professional and academic theatre endeavors, the Loretto-Hilton Center received a major facelift and expansion, resulting in the addition of nearly 20,000 square feet of new backstage space for shops, dressing rooms, storage and studios. The expansion was funded by an unique cooperative fund-raising campaign involving all three of the Center's constituent stakeholders.

The Loretto-Hilton Center is owned and operated by Webster University. The Rep operates completely independently of, but under a mutually beneficial agreement with, the University, and performs on both stages of the Center each year from September through April.

The Loretto-Hilton Center comprises two separate stages:

Virginia Jackson Browning Theatre: A 763-seat auditorium, featuring a three-quarter thrust stage and flexible bay seating that permits the seating capacity of the theatre to grow by nearly 200 seats to accommodate particularly popular performances. No seat in the auditorium is more than 20 rows from the stage.

Emerson Studio Theatre: A flexible "black box" theatre space, located directly below the Browning Theatre, seating approximately 125 and configurable for a variety of stage and seating arrangements.

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