KC theatres give professional experience for students

June 1, 2016
June 1, 2016 Stephanie Roberts
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The Coterie Theatre 2015. Photo by J. Robert Schraeder, courtesy of the Coterie Theatre

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (photo courtesy of the Coterie Theatre)

The UMKC Theatre program has an established tradition of working with professional theatres so that its actors, designers, and stage managers may benefit from the experience of working on a professional show. Few theatre departments grant students this opportunity, but UMKC partners with the Unicorn Theatre, The Coterie, and the KC Rep. These partnerships allow the future professionals to gain experiences as well as providing them an opportunity to establish their names in Kansas City.  

The Department of Theatre will partner with the Unicorn theatre to perform Mr. Burns, a post-electric play, written by Anne Washburn. This play tells the story of a group of people who perform an episode of The Simpsons after surviving an apocalyptic shutdown of electricity. Directed by UMKC faculty member Theodore Swetz, this play examines the lasting effect that popular culture can have on entertainment and performance.  

Michael Thayer is one of many UMKC students to have the opportunity to work at The Unicorn. He performed in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo last year, and will be the understudy in the one-man show Buyer and Cellar. Thayer quickly learned that acting professionally is slightly different from performing in an educational setting. “The rehearsal time is cut in half,” Thayer said. “When you work in an educational setting, it’s like a lab. You can experiment and try new thing. In the professional setting, it’s still a lab, but you have to come to it quicker.”Working on these show also allows Thayer to build Equity points, which can ease the process of auditioning in a city such as New York. None of these skills could have been obtained without the training he received from the department. UMKC has given me so many tools. The techniques that they give us allow us to adapt them in our own work.”

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Unicorn Theatre 2014. Photo by Cynthia Levin, courtesy of Unicorn TheatreThe Coterie has long been a partner of UMKC, and past collaborations have included Oliver Twist, The Hobbit, A Village Fable: In the Suicide Mountains (a production that moved to the Kennedy Center), Arthur Miller’s Playing for Time, Our Town, and Lois Lowry’s Number The Stars.  Last year, the co-production was The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, a play that allowed the cast of four third-year actors to perform multiple roles throughout the 60-minute production.  This year’s collaboration is And Justice For Some: The Trial of Anthony Burnwritten by Wendy Lement and Bethany Dunakin. This work tells the story of an escaped slave, who in unjustly sent back to his Southern master. The resulting court case was the driving force that got Lincoln into the White House. Directed by Jeff Church, this play engages the audience by having them act as “1858 Massachusetts State Senators [who] discuss the themes at the end of the play. 

The co-production with the Rep is the classical Dickens story A Christmas Carol. There is also something exciting happening to Spencer Theatre located in the Olson Performing Arts Center. The construction, which began in May, adds a new stage floor, as well as new acoustic and lighting designs. Spencer Theatre will also get an expanded lobby, as well as new restrooms and a second-floor lounge. The construction will be finished in time for the annual production ofA Christmas Carol, which will feature several of our graduate students in various roles.


By Dalton Pierce 


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