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


    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




    Costume Program Named Top Ten

    UMKC Theatre's  Costume Design and Technology program was selected as one of the top 10 programs in the country by the Hollywood Reporter.

    Watch this exciting feature by 41 KSHB Kansas City here and read the full Hollywood Reporter article here.