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Steven Woolf, Longtime Artistic Director Of The Rep, Dies At 75

(Feb. 14, 2019) The Rep's artistic director Steve Woolf finishes off his 30-year-long career this month.
File photo / Lara Hamdan
St. Louis Public Radio
Steven Woolf directed 47 plays during a long tenure as artistic director for the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis.

Steven Woolf, who led the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis as its artistic director for 33 years, died Monday of advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 75.

The Rep produced more than 300 different plays during his tenure. He directed 47 of them. Woolf often turned to well-known 20th-century works by American and British playwrights, including Edward Albee and Arthur Miller. But he also commissioned new works and directed high-profile contemporary plays like Stephen Karam’s “The Humans” and Joshua Harmon’s “Admissions.”

“I think his artist leadership was visionary. He had an amazing ability to really think about what plays were going to resonate with St. Louis audiences at any particular time,” said Mark Bernstein, the Rep’s managing director.

Woolf served as the theater’s production manager and managing director before becoming artistic director in 1986. At that time, the theater’s audience had shrunk, Bernstein said.

For most of his tenure, Woolf led the troupe alongside Bernstein, who is retiring at the end of this year. During that time the organization tripled its annual budget and grew its endowment from $500,000 to $10 million.

It also earned a reputation as a leading regional theater. Its annual budget of more than $7.5 million is second in size only to the Muny's among theaters in the St. Louis region.

Steve Woolf has been artistic director at The Rep for 30 years.
The Rep
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
Steven Woolf led the theater through a period of artistic and financial growth.

“There was a matter of rebuilding the trust of the audiences, and frankly, it happened pretty quickly,” Bernstein said. “He led a terrific recovery of the company.”

In a 2019 interview on “St. Louis On The Air,” Woolf said his time at the Rep was a fulfillment of his lifelong desires.

“I will miss it terribly,” he said. “I hope someone says, 'Why don't you come do some work for me?' It's what I've dreamed of doing since I was in high school and all through undergraduate and graduate school: to be able to work in a major theater in a major city.”

He was succeeded by Hana S. Sharif in the 2019-20 season.

Woolf received several awards for his work, including Lifetime Achievement in the Arts from the Arts and Education Council, the Individual Excellence in the Arts distinction from St. Louis Arts Awards and Webster University’s Declaration of Merit.

Before taking the reins at the Rep, Woolf directed shows in New York and worked in residence at Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia, and StageWest in Springfield, Massachusetts. He also directed shows in New York and at regional theaters around the country.

“Steve Woolf and the Rep are synonymous,” said Gwen Middeke, president of the theater’s board of directors.

Woolf is survived by his brother, Tom Woolf of Tampa, Florida. Information about a memorial service will be announced at a later date.

Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @jeremydgoodwin

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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