While many graduate programs offer their students an opportunity to work within the school, those who attend UMKC are given something more. The department has a long established series of professional co-productions from the on-going work with the Rep to the plays presented at the Unicorn and The Coterie. These relationships provide the graduate students with opportunities to earn professional experience.
One of the most exciting relationships for UMKC Theatre is with the Unicorn Theatre. The department has a tradition of performing new plays with the Unicorn and has provided many UMKC students with an opportunity to present their work. This year, several students worked on An Octoroonby Brendon Jacobs Jenkins. This adaption of a 19th-century melodrama provides an interesting look at racial issues, as well as the occasional ridiculousness of melodrama.
Paige Beltowski (MFA Costume 2016) worked on the previous year’s co-production with the Unicorn. She designed costumes for Mr. Burns, a post-electric play, a show which explores how a reenactment of an episode of The Simpsons can transform into something sacred.
“Working on a co-production with the Unicorn has allowed me to form connections with working professionals in area.” says Beltowski “It has also given me insight into the world of Equity theatre and how to work with Equity actors. UMKC has made these opportunities possible, and working with professional theatres while I am still in school has boosted my confidence in talking to other professional designers.”
The Coterie Theatre also provides students with an opportunity to work professionally, although their crowd is significantly different. The Coterie offers children’s theatre for Kansas City and has earned national attention for their work. Last year UMKC Theatre teamed up with the Coterie to perform And Justice For Some: The Freedom Trial of Anthony Burns, which tells the story of a court case involving an escaped slave. The co-production this year is Hana’s Suitcase: A Holocaust Mystery by Emil Sher. This play shows a Japanese Holocaust instructor and her class decipher the mystery behind a suitcase from Auschwitz. Spanning the course of 70 years, this play provides a touching global perspective on the issue, as well as a human story of tragedy and love.
A truly thrilling co-production this year is undoubtedly UMKC’s upcoming work with the KC Rep in presenting Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare in a new translation by Christopher Chen, as commissioned by Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Play On! Program. Playwright Chen will be in residence doing rewrites during much of the rehearsal process, with exciting challenge for young actors in MFA training. The play will be mounted in Spencer Theatre in May 2017 and will be part of KC Rep’s Origins KC new play program.
The co-productions with the Unicorn Theatre, The Coterie, and the KC Rep all provide students with the skills necessary to compete in professional world. Their work will lead to connections, which will eventually lead to other jobs. These young, emerging professionals who graduate from UMKC Theatre are prepared for the professional world.