- OnStage Editor-in-Chief
Last year, we wrote a feature called "The Brightest High School Theatres in the Country", a feature we will be bringing back this fall. I loved being able to highlight the remarkable work that high school theatre programs were doing. Even more, I enjoyed seeing the amount of pride that came from people talking about these various programs. So I wanted to find a way to do more. Why not extend the same coverage to community theatres?
Many of us know the value of community theatre. Not only is it a place where people can stay active in the art they love, but it can also foster the next generation of professional actors we see on stage and screen. I've spoken to many a professional actor, director, designer that have told me they got their start by being involved in their hometown theatre groups.
So I want to start a column on this site where every week or so we feature a community theatre that is doing some fantastic work, not only on stage but off as well.
If you know a community theatre that you feel is doing outstanding work, either in this country or another one, let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Community theatre".
Wichita Community Theatre - Wichita, KS
The longevity of a community theatre is not only a testament to the success of their productions but to also the passion and commitment of the people who work there. While any amount of years of existence must be praised, there is something unique and special when your group has been performing local theatre since before World War II. But that's just one of the many accomplishments of Wichita Community Theatre.
Volunteer or community theatre has been active in Wichita as early as 1927. According to WCT's website,
"Volunteer theatre in Wichita began in 1927, known then as the “Little Theatre of Wichita,” and in a short period of time became an active and driving force within the Wichita community. By 1939, Mayor Frank Coleman declared a “Little Theatre Week,” testimony to the recognition given to the theatre’s cultural contribution. As one might expect, the onset of war limited theatre activity severely.
In 1946 a rebirth of the theatre, cofounded by Mary Jane Teall, began using the facilities of the Unitarian Church. Throughout the latter portion of the decade, that artistic level of work continued to escalate, and frequent standing-room-only crowds paid admission to see productions. The artistic director during this time was Mary Jane Teall, a graduate of Northwestern University, and a recently hired faculty member of the University of Wichita Drama Department."
Ms. Teall would go on to be involved with this theatre group for 40 years. Sadly, she died in a car accident in 1994. To honor her memory and her great passion for theater and the Wichita community, the Mary Jane Teall Theatre Scholarship Fund at Wichita State University was established.
While the group has performed at a couple of different locations, since 1993, their main performance space is an old Jewish temple now named the Community Theatre Workshop.
Among the many ways people can get involved with this group, they provide not only internship opportunities for students but also director apprenticeships. They also have a vast network of volunteers who aid in everything from building sets to helping out at the concession stand. In addition to their full main-stage season, WCT also features a Readers Series which performs staged readings of various plays from local writers.
Recent main-stage productions include Enchanted April, The Last Night of Ballyhoo, A Christmas Story and August Osage County. Their upcoming production of John Patrick Shanley's Outside Mullingar opens on July 19th and their next production of [title of show] on Aug 10th.
While the locations and faces of Wichita Community Theatre have changed over the years, their mission to be "an all-volunteer organization that promotes quality, affordable live theatre and informal learning opportunities", has remained the guiding light for this group.
At the center of this group are their core values that date back 70 years:
- Professional Ethics – We behave in a professional, ethical manner.
- Respect – We respect diverse ideas and people.
- Audience – We are mindful of our audience when making decisions.
- Volunteers – We depend on volunteers for everything we do.
- Creativity – We foster artistic expression.
- Safety – We require emotional and physical safety for our audience and volunteers.
- Fun – We promote play.
The success and longevity of Wichita Community Theatre is something that every group should strive for. Our best wishes to the folks at Wichita Community Theatre on their upcoming season and best of luck on their current renovation fundraising campaign.