MaryBeth taking her bow

MaryBeth Scherr Babcock

With dozens of plays and musicals under her belt, a much beloved face in Monroe County theatre is stepping away from her work for local schools after 15 years of directing in the community.

MaryBeth Scherr Babcock is known in Monroe County largely for her work in the nonprofit theatre organization The Actors’ Attic as well as for directing performances at Gibault Catholic High School, Columbia High School, Columbia Middle School and Immaculate Conception School.

Though her work with The Actors’ Attic will continue along with her annual ICS performance, her other work will be finishing up this year as she steps away from educational theatre to pursue other interests and relax following a hectic tenure overseeing multiple drama departments.

Scherr spoke about her time directing in the community as well as her many years of experience as an actor here and in Los Angeles.

Originally from Affton, Mo., her interest in the performing arts became clear early on. She recalled her Girl Scout leader saying she’d never done so many plays as when she was in Girl Scouts.

“I wanted to be an actor since I have memory,” Scherr said. “I used to do ridiculous things like pretend in the snow that I was in the frozen tundra and lost. So, drama queen was in my person from a very young age.”

Despite this dramatic passion, Scherr said she only got into real theatre as she attended Bishop DuBourg High School.

Though she didn’t end up getting cast through her freshman year, she won numerous roles during the rest of her high school years as she pushed through any initial disappointment.

After graduation, she briefly attended Loyola University to pursue a degree in theatre education, though the theatre department wasn’t quite the fit for her, and she ended up finishing her education and making many friends at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Scherr gained additional theatre experience doing a number of shows in Carbondale, from summer theatre to working with Midwest Theatre Auditions.

She also spent time in Bloomington, Ind., touring with Authorized Personnel, an improv comedy group founded by friends she had made in college.

Eventually, Scherr made her way to L.A., where she would spend the next 15 years pursuing a career in movie and television acting.

The experience, as it is for just about anyone making such a career move, was rather challenging and it took a great deal of determination just to keep her head above the water.

“When you move to a city like that, it takes a good long time to just figure out how the city works,” Scherr said, “and by that I mean how the entertainment business works in it, what you need to do, and that’s if you’re someone who is persistent.”

Scherr recalled working as a substitute teacher – a good, flexible job for attending auditions as they arise – and a waitress in order to support herself.

She also spent quite a bit of time in L.A. attending additional acting and writing classes. 

Scherr recalled going through the Groundlings program – the starting place for many famous writers and actors – alongside comedian Will Forte and writer Jane O’Brien.

In general, Scherr spoke about her time in L.A. positively, noting that while she wasn’t exactly a movie star by Midwestern standards, the number of auditions she got which led to work made her quite successful compared to many acting peers.

Some of her acting credits include episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Strong Medicine” and “E.R.”

“I know I was successful,” Scherr said. “Through the lens of all the actors I knew out there and how many of them were not working at all, and I worked, period. So the fact that I worked was successful, because so many people go out there and never get one job, ever, that’s real. So, in that regard I was successful.”

With two boys and a husband, Scherr eventually found herself heading back to the Midwest with her family, ultimately settling down in Columbia.

Her acting career continued then, with various auditions and acting opportunities throughout the St. Louis area.

Her directing tenure in the community really began with a production of “The Music Man” in 2007, which came about after ensuring then-ICS Principal Mike Kish she knew what she was doing given her experience working with kids at her sons’ previous school.

The performance proved to be hugely successful in the community, largely due to the inclusion of both children and adults in the community.

“That’s kinda how we billed it to people, is ‘This is a thing you can do this summer with your kid,’ because ‘Music Man’ is such an easy, family-friendly show with lots of kids in it and lots of adults in it,” Scherr said. “It was a very big success, and then the schools started calling me.”

Though the pay offered by CHS and CMS originally didn’t exactly inspire Scherr – she suggested they simply weren’t used to how much proper performances and purchasing rights can cost – she eventually found a situation she was comfortable with putting together shows for both school.

Annual performances at ICS also developed in the years that followed.

Scherr’s time at Gibault started in 2010, as then-principal Russ Hart invited her to oversee the school musicals – though she would, over the years, also end up taking over the two other plays each year.

Also in this time, Scherr, inspired by Youth Sing Praise and the program’s musical-in-a-week performances, pushed to start up the similar summer program for elementary school, middle school and high school that The Actors’ Attic has come to be known for.

With well over a decade of putting on numerous shows in Monroe County – Scherr said there were a few years where she directed 15 separate performances – she remarked on all the time and effort that goes into managing something like a youth play.

“Any play is, at a minimum, 150 hours of work for the person who’s directing and producing, because really in educational theatre, you’re not just directing. You’re directing and producing,” Scherr said. “It’s your job to put the costumes together, unless you’re working in some fabulous school and they have three or four educators… but in our schools, it’s a one-man-band situation, and you are the producer making all of it happen with volunteerism or with students.”

In addition to the hours of work, there are many other aspects to youth theatre Scherr spoke about – some more fondly than others.

One task that was never fun was contending with the disappointment many students faced upon seeing a cast list, though her own experiences with rejection, both in high school and L.A., gave her an appreciation for the feelings her students dealt with.

“All the years in L.A., I feel like I have this frame of reference of ‘You don’t get what you want most of the time,’ and I try to be as understanding about it as I can while I still have to move forward and do that thing, not cast them the way they want to be cast,” Scherr said.

She also spoke at some length about the many benefits of theatre, waxing poetic about her love for her students and the joy she feels having put together countless shows with countless students.

Indeed, while she’s leaving to work as an actor and director at a somewhat slower pace, Scherr emphasized her relationship with actors is going to be difficult to leave behind.

“The hardest part of quitting, the only hard thing about quitting the schools, it’s the only thing and it’s everything that I love those students, and I love how much they love theatre,” Scherr said. “I love how many theatre makers that I have helped to put out in the world and offshoots of them. There are tons of people who came through these programs and went on to study theatre.”

Scherr isn’t the only one grateful for the legacy she leaves behind.

Hart spoke about his time working with Scherr, particularly voicing his deep appreciation for the quality of her musicals each and every year.

He noted Scherr had a definite impact on Gibault’s enrollment, as there were many young students who grew up participating in or hearing about her shows and thus were intensely interested in being one of her students.

“I enjoyed working with her about as much as anybody because she cared about our kids,” Hart said. “She wanted to get everybody involved. Whether you were on the stage crew or whether you were the star, it didn’t really matter. It was like a club that everybody knew they were a part of and everybody cared for each other. She was amazing at getting people to do great things.”

Scherr’s many students will also look back on their time with her fondly.

Among them is Annie Dent, who got to know Scherr largely from her time in theatre at CHS.

Dent, who is currently a teacher but also works as a stage manager for The Actors’ Attic, called Scherr “the heart and soul of educational theatre in Monroe County,” echoing Hart’s sentiment about Scherr’s efforts to make students welcome in the drama department no matter their interest.

“As a former student and now a fortunate colleague, I see her direct from a place of humility, patience and gratitude time and time again,” Dent said. “I am so grateful for her support over the past decade-plus of our relationship, and I am so thankful that she chose to direct in our community.”

Valmeyer Music Director and CHS graduate Emily Brutton also remarked on her experience as a student and colleague of Scherr’s.

She recalled how Scherr helped her flourish in drama despite initial shyness her freshman year, further commending her for all her work in the community.

“Throughout the last 15 years, I have seen so many students empowered by her compassion, her trust and her high expectations, myself being one of them,” Brutton said. “She truly allows students to take full responsibility for their part onstage and in the crew, granting room for artistic freedom and encouraging new ideas. She has helped shape not only great artists, but great humans.”

Looking ahead, Scherr said she plans to continue acting as she always has, also using her upcoming free time to write plays as she can.

Further, she spoke about how she’s currently finishing her master’s in theatre education – an achievement she’s long aspired to.

Scherr also noted she plans to remain in Monroe County, emphasizing that she will continue to be active in community theatre productions.

“I would love to be, as I always have said, mid-coastal, but it’s really hard to do that because it’s so super expensive out there,” Scherr said. “But I’m not looking to leave. Everyone thinks I’m moving to California. Just because I want to have some place to hang my hat there doesn’t mean I’m leaving here, because I don’t want to leave here. And the Actors’ Attic is still going and will still go, and I’m still directing one play a year at Immaculate Conception.”

Scherr finishes her time directing local educational theatre with a performance of “Freaky Friday” which takes place this week at Gibault with performances at 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee.

Tickets are available at the door, and reserved tickets are currently available at

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Andrew Unverferth

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