The Austin Chronicle

Shannon Sedwick

Honoring the Cal Ripken of Austin theatre

By Robert Faires, October 16, 2009, Arts

Shannon Sedwick may not have been as nonplussed as the president when he was notified about his Nobel, but the co-founder and star of Esther's Follies was nevertheless surprised when she heard that she was the recipient of this year's special B. Iden Payne award recognizing outstanding contributions to Austin theatre. "We're not always thought of as theatre," says Sedwick of the popular musical comedy revue. But in fact, Esther's is one of the local theatre scene's greatest success stories, running continuously somewhere on East Sixth since 1977 through busts, booms, and even fire. (One burned down the Follies' original home in 1983, but the troupe moved over to the Ritz Theatre without missing a show.) Sedwick is appreciative that the board of the Greater Austin Creative Alliance (formerly the Austin Circle of Theaters), which selects each year's honoree, includes Esther's in the theatre community, but she especially liked getting the word from Executive Director Latifah Taormina, who has a notable background in comedy herself, performing with the storied improv troupes Second City in Chicago and the Committee in San Francisco in the 1960s. "Of course, she would think of what we do as theatre," Sedwick notes.

The award for Sedwick acknowledges an all but unheard run as a performer: more than 8,000 shows, in which she's portrayed everyone from Ruth Carter Stapleton to Hillary Clinton to, of course, Patsy Cline. But in her role as the Follies' co-producer (with husband Michael Shelton), she's also provided employment for hundreds of performers and in some cases even given them their first break on an Austin stage (this writer among them). And in many of their non-Follies ventures – Liberty Lunch, the Ritz Theatre, the Velveeta Room, and most recently, Patsy's Cowgirl Cafe – Sedwick and Shelton have created space for performances. Add to this her roots in theatre at the University of Texas in the late Sixties and her civic involvement in Downtown issues (including serving as longtime president of the Old Pecan Street Association), and Sedwick seems a natural choice for this honor. The award will be presented along with 36 other awards for outstanding achievements in local theatre at the 35th annual B. Iden Payne Theatre Awards ceremony this Sunday, Oct. 18, 6:30pm, in the Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, 701 W. Riverside. For more information, call 474-8497 or visit

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