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The Statesman Features Esther's Co-Founders and Dynamic Duo

 

By Helen Anders

American-Statesman Staff

The play’s the thing wherein Shannon Sedwick and Michael Shelton caught each other. And it’s the thing that’s kept them together through all the stages of their life.

The two were University of Texas freshmen in 1969 when they were both cast in the rock musical “Now the Revolution.”

“Shannon was on my shoulders,” Michael recalls. “I kind of became infatuated with her.”

Counters the woman who would become his wife: “I saw him do a death scene and fell in love.” The production, which was busted by the campus cops for nudity, created the couple now best known as the founders and mainstays of Austin’s Esther’s Follies.

The two moved in together, graduated five years later from the University of Texas and opened the now dearly departed Liberty Lunch, where they built a stage out back for bands in the mid-’70s.

Eventually, they decided to go bigger, renting a place on Sixth Street for $100 to house nightly revues. The couple invited performer friends to show up on Friday starting at 11 p.m. and do their various things. “It just kept going, sometimes for hours,” Shannon recalls.

Finally the fire marshal said the group had to have defined hours. The couple complied, and the resulting show was the foundation for Esther’s Follies, which Shannon describes as “ ‘Saturday Night Live’ with a little ‘Ed Sullivan’ thrown in. It’s a music comedy variety show with magic and political satire.”

Despite its popularity, there were lean years in the ’80s.

“We moved into the dressing room with our dog and cat,” Shannon says. They managed to move out of the dressing room just before the building burned down in 1983. You’d think bickering and recriminations would come into play during these times, but the two say no.

“We were just living for the moment, and we were in sync,” Shannon says. “We had each other’s back.” The couple moved their show into the Ritz movie theater down the block, and Lily Tomlin and Ann Richards, dancing as Ritz cracker boxes, headlined a benefit. In 1987 Esther’s moved again, then finally settled into its current space at Sixth and Red River streets in the early ’90s.

By then, the two were married. After 19 years of living together, they tied the knot in 1988 because they wanted children. They adopted a daughter, Suze, now 19, and later a son, Noah, now 12.

Is there drama in their lives?

“Yes,” Shannon says, “and it’s mostly about writing the shows,” the stress of creating a new one every week.

“We try to make the disagreements pass quickly,” says Michael. “We try to have a loving time.”

Sharing both work life and home life, she says, has its challenges, but these two vow they’ll keep making it work until they shuffle off their respective mortal coils.

“You just have to be able to balance your love life and your work,” Shannon says. “You can’t separate them. Our business is fun, so that helps.”