Local comedy gem Esther’s Follies stands up for Sixth Street


Helen Fernandez

Esther's Follies cast members Ellana Kelter, Donnie Loa, Shannon Sedwick and Nathalie Holmes rehearse a skit about Cedar Fever. Esther's Follies has been performing political satire, magic and musical comedy on Sixth Steet for 37 years. 

Alyssa Mahoney

Sixth Street comedy show Esther’s Follies changes week to week to keep up with current events, but the show’s owners said they are opposed to certain larger changes, including planned renovations on Sixth Street, which they said would disrupt the historical community feel of the area.

Shannon Sedwick, co-owner of the comedy show, said she is not in favor of the city’s plan to redesign the street — which would include widening sidewalks, planting trees and updating plumbing and infrastructure — because she thinks it would destroy the historical nature of the street.

Sedwick said she supports increasing retail businesses in the area, but she thinks some of the city’s proposed measures are aimed at closing bars.

“I’m afraid that those who are wanting the winding sidewalks are mainly wanting to get rid of the shot bars,” Sedwick said. “I don’t feel like forcing people is a good idea.”

Sedwick said a 1981 fire that destroyed the original site of Esther’s Follies made her realize how integrated into the community the company had become.

“After the fire, we kind of woke up to the fact that we meant more to the community than we knew,” Sedwick said. “That’s when I started becoming more a part of the community.”

In the rebuilding process, the troupe rented the Ritz and shared the stage with some now-famous bands.

“We shared the stage with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and with some other acts,” Sedwick said. “This was a very incendiary time because punk rockers were big.”

Sedwick said she thinks the company tries to keep political commentary and current events balanced.

“We shouldn’t just be putting down Republicans — we should be putting down Democrats, too,” Sedwick said. “We do have a lot of stuff about Rick Perry because he’s just so easy.”

Ellen Cameron, a Plan II and business senior, said she saw the show last spring and particularly enjoyed how the troupe interacted with audience members.

“It’s also really cool how they use their space — there’s a window behind the stage, and so you can watch people outside stop and stare, confused,” Cameron said.

Cast member Shaun Wainwright-Branigan said one of his fondest memories involved a bystander on the street about 15 years ago. He said the troupe was doing a bit outside when one cast member decided it would be funny to squirt water in the face of a bystander, and the man began to chase him inside the building.

“We chased the guy out of the building,” Wainwright-Branigan said. “You just saw Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny tearing off after this guy — in our costumes and everything.”

Sedwick said she thinks old historical buildings should continue to be featured on the street.

“Old awnings would be great, [but] I don’t think it’s a good idea to put more trees,” Sedwick said. “I think that would block the old buildings and everything from the 1930s to the 1880s is here, and we should embrace what we have here.”