History of First Run Theatre

Dr. Don Weiss, an educator, writer, business consultant, and playwright, noticed the lack of outlets for new theatrical scripts by writers in the St. Louis area. In 2002 he formed First Run Theatre to select, develop, and stage full productions of scripts by St. Louis Regional playwrights. He spent a year establishing a board and 501(c)(3) charitable status. By mid-2003 scripts were selected by a reading committee and were given public readings with actors. Out of the readings four scripts were selected, three one-act plays and one full two act play.

First Run’s first season began on October 9th, 2003 at St. Vincent’s Parish Hall in Soulard. Since St. Vincent’s had no theatre First Run constructed a performance space for that occasion. The plays, Combination Curious, Section 335, and The Fifty Dollar Proposition were premiered and given 7 consecutive performances.

The Fifty Dollar Proposition by Vanessa Revard. Pictured: Nick Kelly, Pete Stevens, Jonathan Allen, Kimberly Mason & Brad Slavik.

The second production of the season would be The Shattering by Ron Osborne.

Pictured: Kelly Scaggs,Nancy Crouse & Melanie Allsup

For this production Don acquired the use of the Thomas Hunter Theater at DeSmet Jesuit High School. This began a fruitful association between DeSmet Theatre Department and First Run for the next 14 years. The Shattering was renamed Ruby’s Story and was given off-Broadway performances that April.

This began a fruitful association between DeSmet Theatre Department and First Run lasting for the next 14 years.

In the Spring of 2005 Mario Farwell, a playwright, formed a play reading and discussion group call St. Louis Writers Group meeting at the Soulard Coffee Garden. This group included many First Run playwrights and actors.

In the summer of 2005 Don arranged a series of playwrighting seminars to be given by Dr. David Crespy of University of Missouri at Columbia. Dr. Crespy held these seminars every summer for the next 7 years.

In December 2005 Dr. Don Weiss died due to complications resulting from back surgery. Brad Slavik, one of the board members, was selected to replace Don as President. He continued to occupy the position for the next ten years.

A group of playwrights associated with the St. Louis Writers Group requested in late 2006 that First Run should consider producing short ten-minute plays. First Run agreed and developed the Spectrum Short Play Festival and a separate submission process for it. The first festival was produced in June of 2007 with great success and an annual Spectrum festival continues to this day.

Photos: First Spectrum Short Play Festival with 15 ten-minute plays by 11 playwrights

In early 2007 the St. Louis Writers Group became a subsidiary group under First Run’s 501(3)(c) tax exemption. Mario Farwell continued to run it and became a member of First Run’s Board of Directors. Soon afterward the group moved to its current location at Big Daddy’s in Soulard.

In 2008, due to encouragement from the Professional Theater Awards Organization (Kevin Kline Awards), First Run Theatre began paying its artistic and technical personnel becoming a non-Equity professional theatre company.

First Run Theatre’s agreement with DeSmet High School ended in the summer of 2017 and FRT then shared performance space with KTK Productions at the theatre at Southampton Presbyterian Church for the remainder of its 15th Season. Southampton Presbyterian was sold in the summer of 2018 and FRT spent a year lining up a new performance space.

First Run began its 16th season with a production, in July 2019 at the Theatre Guild of Webster Groves and Spectrum in January 2020 at the Chapel.

Photo: Flynn Hayes, David DeRose, and Barbara Hill in Overdone by David Hawley.

In 2018 First Run changed is submission region from the greater St. Louis area to the Midwest.

Our 17th season had to be postponed due to the Coronavirus Pandemic but we currently plan to resume in March 2021 with the Spectrum short play festival and two productions in July and November.

In its 16 performing seasons (2003 – 2020), First Run has produced 57 shows consisting  of 34 full length, 14 one-act, and 97 short plays.