As UMKC Theatre endeavors to enrich the graduate program with professional experiences across the city and beyond, two newly-hired members of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre are already offering outlets to current students to expand the relationship between the institutions. Both Jason Chanos, associate artistic director, and Marissa Wolf, director of new works, see the benefits of collaboration between the university and the professional company. Since KC Rep makes its home on the campus of UMKC, a cross-over between the two is not only practical, it is vital to the survival of both Kansas City landmarks.
Chanos sees UMKC as an untapped resource, one that he hopes to make full use of throughout his tenure with KC Rep. “I come from a background in academia,” he says, “so I know how important it is to incorporate the community of a university into what is being produced on the professional level.” Chanos served as an assistant professor of theatre at Pepperdine University, teaching Advanced Period Styles in Shakespeare and Voice and Movement. He also served as the assistant director for the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival production of The Winter’s Tale in 2014; this is just one example of his national experiences balanced with a local focus.
“I look forward to utilizing the graduate students as much as possible, working around their busy schedules to provide them with as many professional opportunities as possible,”
As associate artistic director for KC Rep, he also has a hand in casting and works with the graduate program to place MFA actors in the co-productions. In recent years, KC Rep productions have featured many UMKC Theatre graduate actors in leading and featured roles in Our Town, A Christmas Carol, and Romeo and Juliet.
In another important function of his new role, Chanos is excited to expand the audience base for both KC Rep and UMKC Theatre. Chanos provides current MA students who teach an introductory course on Theatre to non-majors with materials specific to the current season offered at KC Rep. This enables him to reach hundreds of students who would not otherwise be exposed to professional theatre. He has also made himself and the entire company of the KC Rep available to any instructor in need of a guest speaker involving a current or past production – anything that may enhance the classroom experience.
Marissa Wolf started utilizing graduate talent immediately upon her arrival at KC Rep. As a company with a focus on cultivating work by new playwrights every season, Wolf was welcomed to her new position by hundreds of new play submissions yet to be read. She immediately reached out to the MA students to assemble a play-reading committee, and together the team has made substantial progress in giving each new play the attention it deserves. Under the direction of Dr. Felicia Londré, MA students strengthen their theatrical foundation through courses in theatre history and dramaturgy, and through these courses the skills to critically analyze play scripts are honed. “What a smart, insightful group of students. Their help in this process has been invaluable,” Wolf says.
Another part of the development of new works involves fully-realized productions, and Wolf is already including the UMKC Theatre design team in the company’s latest project. KC Rep’s newly branded Origin KC: New Works Festival is taking over the final slot in the season with two world premiere productions running in repertory. This year, Wolf is thrilled to partner with UMKC and to have MFA costume students design the show. “I am deeply impressed with the level of artistry and imagination among the costume design MFA students. Their work will be instrumental in bringing to life the world premiere productions of Fire in Dreamland by Rinne Groff and Lot’s Wife by Eric Rosen.”
There are many benefits to sharing a campus with one of the most successful theatre companies in the region. Students are afforded every opportunity to contribute and collaborate with professionals, and under the direction of Jason Chanos and Marissa Wolf, the bond between university and professional company has never been stronger
By Collin Vorbeck