Photo courtesy of William Roth
Years ago, CWEnder William Roth was out searching for office space for a graphic arts firm he was planning, when sparkles in the newly-poured sidewalks in the 300 block of N. Boyle Ave. (just north of Lindell) caught his attention. Those glittering sidewalks drew Roth's gaze to a pair of boarded-up buildings that he thought promising. He later discovered that not only were they abandoned, they were roofless too. He reasoned he'd pay less to purchase one of the buildings and fix it up rather than pay rent for years in someone else's property. When the ambitious renovation was completed his firm, The Eleven, Inc, moved in and still occupies the 2nd floor of 360 N. Boyle (Juniper is located on the 1st floor).
Not long after completing the first building, Roth (shown in photo below) purchased the building next door at 358 N. Boyle to house a 99-seat theater and adjoining restaurant. It took a year to put the physical structure together, which gave Roth time to market the theater and build enthusiasm.
When I asked Roth how he manages the demands of his business and his role as artistic director of a successful theater, Roth replied that he "manages by proximity. I live in the neighborhood and my work and the theater are only blocks away." Roth and his wife Elisa, an art teacher at Old Bonhomme School in Ladue, live on Westminster Place.
Ten years ago STLAS (St. Louis Actors Studio) opened with Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance, part of the premier season's Family Dynamics theme. Each season since has been built around a theme, which further engages the audience.
Last spring I overheard a couple explaining to someone who was attending STLAS for the first time that, since moving to St. Louis from New York, they had happily discovered that there are multiple theater companies in town staging wonderful productions with first-rate actors. "We've seen more theater here than we ever could living in New York," she said, "where an evening on (or Off-) Broadway is much more expensive and it's harder to access."
Roth echoed the "new state of the theater" sentiment from an actor's viewpoint. A St. Louis actor is now more apt to find work in town than ever before. Years ago Actors Equity cards were a rarity, now more than ever local actors have these cards. Instead of working for 8 weeks performing for your 6 best friends, and getting paid $100, it's not unusual to make $250 a week performing before an engaged audience. STLAS became an Actors Equity House 3 years ago, and Equity Midwest recently held a meeting in St. Louis which drew 50 local actors.
William Roth, above, an actor himself, has appeared in 50 plays in the St. Louis area. His favorite role was George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in Season 8. Roth added: "I love acting, love actors, and providing a professional place for actors and for myself."
Photo courtesy of William Roth
Next to The Gaslight Theater, where STLAS holds its performances, Roth and partners Henry Arciniega, Neill Costello, and Benet Shaffer added the popular West End Grill & Pub (wegap). "We built this concept of theater and dining - culture, cuisine, and cocktails - on the back of Gaslight Square, which was located right here." The history of that storied entertainment district was Roth's model for eclectic theater, performance space and food. Roth mused that it struck him that in the not-too-distant future his STLAS will eclipse Gaslight's 15-20 year lifespan.
What's next for William Roth and STLAS?
Roth is planning to expand the annual LaBute New Theater Festival One-Acts beyond performances at The Gaslight Theater and more recently New York, hoping to export this popular series to Austin and LA too.
Soon Roth plans a series of 16 mm "Film on Film" events which will feature Polansky films (among others) and cartoon shorts on Saturday mornings. Tune into the website for more information on the movie series as it becomes available.
To celebrate the upcoming Season 10, William Roth and a large committee (yours truly included) are planning a 10th Anniversary event for Sunday, September 11 from 6 to 9 p.m. Actor Sam McMurray (Translations, A Soldier's Story, film credits include Raising Arizona), who attended Washington University and still has ties here will be performing. There's an opportunity for a conversation with the actor following the performance. (McMurray will be teaching a Master's Class on Monday following the event). Expect cocktails, delicious hors d'oeuvres from West End Grill and Pub, selections from 9 seasons of plays, and a great time for a stellar neighborhood theater.
Tickets are limited to the 99 seats in the theater, click here for more information.
Visit the website to see what's scheduled for Season 10, which opens on September 23 with Edward Albee's Three Tall Women.
STLAS (St. Louis Actors' Studio), 358 N. Boyle Ave.