CANTON, Mo. -- Two theater students from Northeast Missouri are hoping to breathe new life into the Lewis Street Playhouse in Canton.
Camden Scifres of Lewis County and Zoe Gudehus of Knox County, both 19, are studying theater at Lindenwood University in St. Charles.
Last year, as an acting class assignment, they were instructed to read Neil Simon's play "Barefoot in the Park," a romantic comedy that premiered on Broadway in 1963.
"We fell in love with it," Scifres said.
Scifres, who is majoring in directing, and Gudehus, who is majoring in acting, decided it would be fun to put together a summertime production of the play. But where?
Scifres knew immediately where he wanted to stage the show -- at the venerable Lewis Street Playhouse in Canton, a vintage 1893 former vaudeville theater that's been used sparingly for theatrical productions in recent years.
Scifres was introduced to the Canton theater while a student at Highland High School in Lewistown, where he was involved in several plays as a member of the school's drama club. The school doesn't have an auditorium, so most of the club's performances over the years were held in Highland's gymnasium.
Then one year someone suggested staging a play in the Lewis Street Playhouse, a former opera house that also has been used as a venue for movies, stage productions, concerts, parties and assorted community events.
The drama club got permission to use the theater, which gave Scifres his first look inside. He was blown away.
"It is absolutely beautiful," he said, adding that the acoustics also are outstanding.
"It really is just a wonderful space," he said.
Scifres and Gudehus approached the theater's management to ask if they could use the theater. "We had the intention of starting our own theater company," Scifres said.
During discussions, however, the managers asked if Scifres and Gudehus would be interested in taking over the existing Canton Festival Theatre, a company that produced many local shows in the past but has been dormant the past few years.
"There haven't been a lot of people willing to take over," Scifres said. He and Gudehus accepted the challenge, with Scifres becoming executive director and Gudehus becoming artistic director.
"Zoe and I took leadership in hopes of revitalizing the company," Scifres said.
Their first big test is quickly approaching. "Barefoot in the Park" is scheduled to run June 21 to 24. Nightly shows Thursday through Saturday are at 7:30, and there will be 2 p.m. matinees both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $12 for adults, $7 for students.
Scifres and Gudehus are co-directing the three-act show, which features six local actors and an all-volunteer stage crew.
"It's really coming together well," Gudehus said.
She said she's excited to be involved in putting together a theatrical production from start to finish. She said it's been an eye-opening experience to discover all of the details that make a play come to life. She hopes all of the bugs will be worked out so opening night goes smoothly.
"That's the scary part," she said.
Gudehus initially got involved in theater while attending Knox County High School in Edina. Like Scifres, she had several acting experiences at Quincy (Ill.) Community Theatre. The two met while performing in the QCT's production of "Tarzan" in February 2017, in which Scifres played the lead role.
They both share a love for acting and are planning theater-related careers. Gudehus said she wants to pursue acting and directing.
"I really want to get my feet in both, so this is kind of a great opportunity to start working on directing outside of school," she said.
Scifres also loves being around the theater -- a place where "magic comes to life," he said.
"I love the sense of collaboration and creation," he said. "I love being able to work with other people and to create things out of nothing."