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.

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