The Exquisite Bottle of Champagne that is Dr. Felicia Hardison Londré by Sarah M. Oliver

As of the 2019-20-school term, Dr. Felicia Hardison Londré is now Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emerita, and as she says in her bio, “has scaled back from full-time teaching.”  This issue of Theatre Training News is dedicated to Dr. Felicia Hardison Londré’s excellence, enthusiasm and extreme joy she has poured into not only the UMKC Theatre Division, but also the entire Kansas City theatrical community for over forty years. The 2018 UMKC Today article devoted to Dr. Londré named her “the jewel of UMKC Theatre” and no other title could be as apt.


Dr. Felicia Hardison Londré is beloved.


Dr. Londré was hired by Dr. Patricia McIlrath in the late 1970’s and not only taught classes, but also served as the resident dramaturg and literary manager for the Missouri Repertory Theatre for 22 years. Her scholarly prowess includes publishing over 60 scholarly articles, 25 journalistic publications, 100 book and theatre reviews, and 14 books. Her book, The Enchanted Years of the Stage: Kansas City at the Crossroads of American Theatre, 1870-1930, which won the George Freedley Memorial Book Award presented by the Theatre Library Association in 2008 is a love letter to theatre in Kansas City. And all theatre artisans know that Dr. Londré can be found at almost every opening night, showing her unwavering support for all those making a life in the Kansas City theatrical community.


Announcements of Dr. Londré’s lectures become the hottest ticket in town, whether be it her annual lecture on the Shakespeare authorship question, her Founder’s Day lecture about Dr. Patrica McIlrath forming the Missouri Repertory Theatre and UMKC theatre department (always accompied by Dr. Mac’s beloved Russell Stover’s chocolate), or nightly lectures in Southmoreland Park during The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival that she helped found in 1991.


Never one to rest in one place for very long, Dr. Londré is Co-convener with Kip Niven, organizing KC MOlière (400 in 2022), a city-wide celebration of Molière’s 400th birthday in 2022, bringing together professional and academic participation by all art forms.


In her introduction of Dr. Londré, Kansas City actress Dodie Brown said, “I have seen her in dialogue with her students and she INFUSES them with her energy and support for their achievements. What fortunate students.” Yes Dr. Londré: students, faculty, and theatre patrons have all been fortunate to be graced by your unwavering support and wisdom.


Posted in All

Joining Forces: UMKC Theatre and UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance Merge by Shane Rowse

For decades the UMKC Department of Theatre, and the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance have existed as two separate units. The Theatre Department operated as part of the College of Arts & Sciences; and the Conservatory of Music and Dance functioned as its own entity. That separation ended this year, when all of the performing arts disciplines – dance, music, acting, theatre design & technology, opera, musicology, stage management, jazz studies, and all the rest – were brought together, newly named, as the UMKC Conservatory.

Excitement surrounding the merge begin in March of 2019, when Chancellor Mauli Agrawal announced that “natural partners are aligning,” and officially set the plan in motion. Echoing Agrawal’s sentiments, Ken Martin, the newly appointed Patricia McIlrath Endowed Professor and Chair of the Theatre Division of the UMKC Conservatory, sees the reasons for bringing the programs together as self-evident. “The two divisions were a great match”, he says; “What we do and what they do are simpatico”.

“We couldn’t be happier to be paired with the Conservatory,” Martin says, pointing out that when you look at the big picture you immediately see the two departments’ similarities. “The Theatre Department’s graduate and undergraduate programs were already using a Conservatory model. And, parts of the two programs have been working hand in hand for years.” Theatre’s lighting and stage management departments have worked closely with the Conservatory’s opera and dance programs for a quarter of a century, and in recent years there has been a growing trend toward more collaboration among various disciplines in the performing arts programs.

Martin touches on the common needs that all of the performing arts have where facilities are concerned. With the merger, he sees great new possibilities for making the most of the way we use the spaces we share. By discovering new ways to use the spaces we have, we’re laying the groundwork for future possibilities as the UMKC Conservatory grows.

New collaborations began in the spring of 2019 with the Theatre department’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  Students from the Conservatory Dance program were cast in the show, and professor David Justin from Dance worked with the show’s director, professor Scott Stackhouse from Theatre, to choreograph their movement and blend it with the work that the acting company was doing. The addition of the dancers added an unexpected dimension to the play and helped make it one of the most exciting events of the year. It was a fantastic collaborative achievement, and as we move forward, we know it was just the first of many more to come.

Posted in All

Acting Dives Head First into Auto-Cours by Dakkota Hagar

Theatre is often designated as the most collaborative of all the arts. The MFA in Acting at the University of Missouri-Kansas City acknowledges this and asks students to dive head first into Auto-Cours work. Based on the pedagogy of Jaques Lecoq, Auto-Cours forces artists to work together to create devised theatre. Devised theatre asks the collaborators to bring their own experiences together in order to create a script and, in turn, a show. The 2019 graduating class of MFA actors were able to create a devised piece called The Storytelling Project.

The Storytelling Project was a collaboration between the entire MFA acting class of 2019, director Karen Lisondra, and composer Amado Espinoza. The Storytelling Project explored intimate and imaginative relationships through the Andean Cosmovision’s concept of Pachakutec, or time/space reversal. The devised part of this collaboration began with “soul-texts,” out of which characterization and a script were born. Each of the characters was created from these “soul-texts”. The entire acting ensemble was involved: Marianne McKenzie, Chelsea Kinser, Khalif Gillett, Jason Francescon, Freddy Acevedo, Yetunde Felix-Ukwu, and Emilie Karas, each bringing their own “soul-texts” to the piece.

The group worked together for nine months before the project got on its feet for audiences the first time in Kansas City in 2018. They collaborated with artists across all departments of UMKC’s theatre program. UMKC designers were able to bring lighting, set, and sound to the overall piece in 2018. Marianne McKenzie says, “Without UMKC, we never would have been connected with Karen and Amado, nor had the cool design elements from the students there.”

The journey did not stop there for this successful devised piece. Marianne, Chelsea, Freddy, Yetunde, and Emilie took the show on the road. This fall the group took a revised version of The Storytelling Project, now entirely in Spanish, to Bolivia. The group performed in a number of Bolivian cities, including Cochabamba, La Paz, Tarabuco, and Sucre. McKenzie says that Bolivia served as original inspiration for the piece as both Amado Espinoza and Karen Lisondra have ties to the South American country. “Performing the Pachakutec in Bolivia was like a homecoming,” says Yetunde Felix-Ukwe. “There was an overwhelming amount of resonance when we did the story in front of people honoring their culture, their history, their mythology and their language.”

The entire project is a testament to the lasting impact that courses such as these can have. Undoubtedly this project has truly changed the performers involved as they grew together in their journey making theatre from nothing. They came into the process bringing only their independent experiences and left having created a cohesive piece of theatre. This piece of theatre they created was entirely new and unique to The Storytelling Project.  Karen Lisondra believes “That’s devised theatre.  Find boundaries, limitations to work with, and at the same time believe that everything is possible.“ Lisondra is right; Lecoq’s Auto-Cours is designed to force individuals into creative collisions and for them to figure out amongst themselves how to create theatre. These collisions allow actors to question the ways in which actors perceive themselves inside the confines of an ensemble. For McKenzie, “This project completely changed my perception of myself as an actor. I was very cerebral before, but now I consider myself very physical because of what was demanded of me and because of what I proved to myself during the runs. Also, I unleashed my inner dark clown during the process. I learned I can achieve whatever I want if I just put my mind to it. (…) This project truly changed my life.”


Posted in All

What Caught the Eye: Finding UMKC

UMKC Theatre’s professional training program attracts amazing young artists from all over the country, but what is it that makes it such a magnet for talent? Stephen Jarvis (MFA Sound Design 2020), one of three incoming sound design students this year, landed at the University of Missouri-Kansas City after searching for a program with the right balance of hands-on training and professional experience. “I wanted to find a place that allowed me to develop my skills and help build a professional character,” he recalls, “Sound design is such a new field that I was worried about finding a professional program in a graduate setting.”

Jarvis discovered UMKC Theatre’s sound program online and within a few days of reaching out to Tom Mardikes (UMKC Theatre chair and professor of sound design), he was on his way to Kansas City for a campus tour. He expected the usual woes of scouting: the tension, the conference room decorum, a brief interview by a member of a boardroom committee. Instead, Jarvis was cheerfully greeted by Greg Mackender (assistant teaching professor of sound design), his warmth and candor a pleasant surprise.

As he toured the department and its facilities, Jarvis noted the breadth of skills students pick up during their graduate careers, that career being working alongside professors and other artists in Kansas City’s growing network of professional theatres. “The equipment and training that I saw made me consider the opportunities I would have. The students were very knowledgeable, and these were first -year students. They made me realize that I too could achieve some long-awaited dreams.”

When professors take on the role of colleague in productions around town, student designers have the advantage of learning on-site, hands-on, and in real time from their mentors. Such apprenticeships are common with Kansas City theatres through UMKC Theatre, and Jarvis comments on the openness instructors show towards working with their students. “It was abundantly clear to me that these professors are just as excited about us as we are about them,” he says.

After some discussion (and not-so-subtle hints from his wife), Jarvis joined the UMKC Theatre sound program in the fall of 2017, and has since been guided by what he calls the “first-class attitudes of the professors,” and by their attentiveness to their students’ professional lives in other areas. Professors like Mackender and Mardikes invest themselves in their students’ extracurricular interests to help designers discover their niche, using their time in production to help students get the most out of their projects. Jarvis says that professional working relationship was what tipped the scale. “I saw a real community between the students and teachers that I had not seen before. Before the trip was over, I knew where my heart lay. I knew that I could be crafted in such a way that I might be a credit to those whom I will work with in the theatre. No other school could give me that kind of confidence and optimism.”

by Calen Welder

Posted in All

On Screen and On Stage: Nick Gehlfuss and Dina Thomas

The Master of Fine Arts in Acting program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City has been ranked among the top programs of its kind worldwide. Actors who graduate from this program are known for their talent as well as their high-quality training, which benefits them in any medium, be it theatre, film, or television. Nick Gehlfuss (MFA Acting 2010) and Dina Thomas (MFA Acting 2011) both serve as examples of this, as they continue to create solid reputations for themselves as skilled, professional actors.

Since graduating, Nick Gehlfuss, who hails from Cleveland, has been working vigorously in theatre, film, and television. He has acted in the shows Shameless and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as well as in the film Love & Mercy.  His Dr. Will Halstead has been a staple on the NBC Chicago franchise, which includes the shows Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D., and Chicago Med.  He has a role in the upcoming film Butterfly in the Typewriter, directed by David DuBois, about the writer John Kennedy Toole.

Of his time at UMKC, Gehlfuss says, “Ted Swetz, Stephanie Roberts, Dr. Jennifer Martin, and Carla Noack inspired and motivated me every day. They were always willing and available to dissect the work and help deepen my understanding of it. I’ll never forget the moment in class when I went from being afraid to fail, to expecting to fail. This informs everything I do.”

Gehlfuss’s career is on a sharp upward trajectory.  Known not only for his natural talent, but for his stamina and professionalism, he offers the following advice to aspiring actors, “If at the end of the day you cannot answer ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Did I do everything I could today to achieve my dream?’ then you must adjust.”

A graduate of the MFA in Acting program at UMKC who is experiencing a different kind of success from Nick Gehlfuss is Dina Thomas, who is working in professional theatre. Thomas, who had studied under Theodore Swetz at Binghamton University, followed him to UMKC. Of this decision, Thomas remembers thinking, “I’m not done training [with Theodore Swetz]. There’s more I can learn and more I can do.” Dina Thomas has learned a lot from Swetz over the years, adding, “His ability to see a person and recognize their potential is a rarity in a teacher.” Thomas has fond memories of her other teachers at UMKC, including Carla Noack, of whom she says, “There’s nothing that Carla won’t do for a student.”

After graduating, Thomas was cast in her off-Broadway debut, Tribes by Nina Raine, which was an opportunity to work with esteemed director David Cromer. She also created the role of Lisette in the world premiere of The Metromaniacs by David Ives at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C. This past year, she performed in I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard at Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City with Theodore Swetz, which was an opportunity for her to come full-circle to act with her teacher professionally on-stage.

Dina Thomas continues to be cast in juicy roles in theatre, saying that when she auditions in New York, “People ask, ‘where did you train?’ and I say, ‘UMKC.’ They say, ‘UMKC? We see really good actors from there’.” Thomas is proud of where she trained, adding, “There’s a pride to our work. There’s a pride to who we are as UMKC actors. I’m proud to maintain that standard for myself.”

by Amanda Davison



Posted in All

2018 Actor Showcase

Discover the talent of the eight graduating actors from our MFA Acting program!

Left to right: Chioma Anyanwu, Amy Billroth-MacLurgCharlie Spillers, Megan Sells, Duncan McIntyre, Jay LoveHeather Michele LawlerKen Sandberg

Pearl Studios
519 Eighth Avenue, 12th Floor, Studio “H”
New York City, NY.

March 6th, 2018: 2:00pm, 4:00pm, 5:30pm
March 7th, 2018: 3:00pm, 5:30pm

Please RSVP indicating which performance you will be attending to:

Posted in All

National Design Portfolio Review

UMKC is a Member School of the National Design Portfolio Review that is held in New York every May. Talented young theatre designers present their portfolios after they graduate from our programs and enter the profession. NDPR attracts professional producers, directors and designers from across the country to informally talk with recent graduates and review their work. NDPR is an introduction of talented, emerging designers to the industry and a celebration of the theatre profession.

Learn more here

Posted in All

The Commendable UMKC Co – Productions

When a theater graduate student enters the work world, it is important for him or her to have a good résumé and knowledge from both the classroom and participating in the surrounding theaters. The more established theaters that the students work with, the better their résumés will be, and the easier it will be for them to get hired. UMKC Theater is fortunate enough to have two great theaters that students co-produce with; the Unicorn and the Coterie. Students who participate in these co-productions go through the process of working in professional theatre with high standards and work alongside equity actors and stage managers.  Two wonderful co-productions that happened this year are Hana’s Suitcase at the Coterie and Men on Boats at the Unicorn Theatre.

Hana’s Suitcase, written by Emil Sher and based on the book by Karen Levine, tells the story of a Japanese Holocaust educator, played by Andi Meyer, and her students who receive a suitcase from Auschwitz on which is written the name Hana Brady. Curious about the suitcase and its owner, the teacher and students uncover the tragic story of a young girl taken before her time.

This co-production was part of a collaborative relationship that has been instrumental for The Coterie since 1992. The relationship between the Coterie and UMKC Theatre began as a program offering MFA actors the chance to work alongside established theater professionals. Today, the co-productions feature both student actors as well as MFA designers and coaches from nearly every area of UMKC Theater.

UMKC students filled the play’s crew and production staff. Mark Exline was the scenic designer, Stella Tag was the costume designer, Jesús Manuel Rivera was the sound designer, Jamie Leonard was the projections designer, Nils Emerson was the MFA technical director, Lisa Tinker was the MFA production assistant, and Micah Thompson was the assistant lighting designer. All contributed to a wonderful production. In the press release Hana’s Suitcase, the Coterie praise the students and the school:

“The Coterie is proud to continue its this long-standing relationship with UMKC Theater, which benefits up-and-coming young professionals by providing practical, professional work experience, both on stage and behind the scenes.”

The first co-production of 2017 was Men on Boats by Jaclyn Backhaus, performed at the Unicorn. Men on Boats tells the story of an 1869 expedition of a group of men to chart the course of the Colorado River, but there is a catch. All of the roles are played by women. With Vanessa Severo playing the fearless but one-armed captain John Wesley Powell, the play gave an opportunity for both the third and second year MFA actresses to be united onstage. The women also were able to act with their teacher Carla Noack, who gave a solemn yet humorous performance as Powell’s brother Old Shady.

The outstanding set which displayed the Colorado territory in a way that was both real and fantastical, was done by scenic designer Kelli Harrod. Harrod also built four boats that the actresses needed to lift, drop, and shake so they could stimulate ridings through both rough and gentle currents.

The Unicorn has been doing co-productions with UMKC for the past ten years. It started small, but over the years it has grown, and the Unicorn welcomes the students from UMKC, even hiring them after graduation. The students bring young blood and new perspectives to the theater and the students get opportunities to learn from professionals and get real world experience.

According to Levin, “These students can come to graduate school and work, to get out of the classroom, and work with different types of people. We get to know these students and they get experience that will impact them for the rest of their lives.”

These co-productions add real-world experience to UMKC students’ educational journeys, and the theaters benefit from the students as well. Hopefully, these relationships will last long into the future.

by Ellen Hayek

Posted in All

UMKC Helps Pave the Way for Future Ph.D.s

Amanda Dawson. Photo by Manon Halliburtin

Students from the Master of Arts in Theatre program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City are flourishing in Ph.D. programs across the country. With the opportunity to learn from internationally respected professors like Dr. Felicia Londré as well as opportunities to gain dramaturgy experience at professional theatres like the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, universities across the country receive prospective doctoral students from UMKC’s graduate theatre program as the highly qualified scholars they are. 

From the 2016 class Collin Vorbeck and David Ruis were both accepted into Ph.D. programs. David Ruis is attending the University of Kansas, where he is Co-Chair of KU’s Theatre Graduate Students Organization and is serving as dramaturg for several productions, including Sarah Ruhl’s Late, a Cowboy Song under the mentorship of Dr. Jane Barnette at KU, as well as for Angelina Weld Grimké’s Rachel at the KC MeltingPot Theatre under the direction of Dr. Nicole Hodges Persley. 

Collin Vorbeck started his first year at Texas Tech University to work towards his Ph.D., and is currently acting in a production of the musical Heathers: The Musical. He was drawn to Texas Tech because its program emphasizes the necessity of interdisciplinary work. “I’ve always had an end-goal of professorship on some level or another,” Collin says, “but Dr. Londré’s guidance, both in the classroom and during side coaching sessions, truly inspired me to take this next step.”

Three other graduates of the UMKC Masters in Theatre program have recently obtained their Ph.D.s: two at the University of Missouri-Columbia and one at the University of Kansas. This past May, Dr. Andy Pierce (2007) obtained his Ph.D. from MU. He is currently the Education Coordinator at Starlight Theatre, where he has been for the past ten years in different capacities. His position allows him to be part of twelve different education programs, working with five-year-old campers all the way up to college-aged interns. Dr. Pierce says, “attending UMKC was the best choice of my professional and academic career.” 

Dr. Amanda Dawson (Boyle) from the class of 2012 obtained her Ph.D. this past spring from the University of Kansas. Currently, she is an assistant professor of speech and theatre at Brescia University in Owensboro, Kentucky. Dr. Dawson says, “My time at UMKC was, without a doubt, a positive, life-changing experience. There are so many elements of the UMKC experience that have made me who I am. For starters, Dr. Londré quickly became my mentor and remains in that role to this day. She taught me a passion for theatre and dramaturgy that I could not have imagined. I met a group of theatre artists that today remain some of my closest friends.” Before attending KU, Dr. Dawson was the literary manager and resident dramaturg at the Unicorn Theatre. She says, “When I started at UMKC I had no intention of going on to the Ph.D., but because of Felicia Londré’s confidence and encouragement, I applied for Ph.D. programs. Dr. Londré helped me to apply and I was accepted into numerous programs.” 

Dr. Vanessa Campagna (2012) went directly from the M.A. program at UMKC into the Ph.D. program at UM-C. She graduated as the Doctoral Marshal in May 2015 and is in her second year as an assistant professor of theatre at Monmouth College (Monmouth IL). She teaches Classical Theatre History, Modern Theatre History, World Dramatic Literature, and Script Analysis. She also directs one mainstage production per year, such as the upcoming Meet Me in St. Louis, as well as supervising student directing projects. She says, “My time at UMKC is the time I became a historian. It was at UMKC that I learned to love the history of theatre, and that I began to understand and appreciate that history’s breadth and depth. Additionally, Dr. Londré’s sharp editorial eye helped me to become a strong writer. In short, I am absolutely indebted to the education I received in those two years!”

Posted in All