Sunday, March 20, 2011

Theatre: The Malnourished Backbone of a City

This is the letter I wrote to the local paper, hopefully, it's given the ink it deserves.


There is such a vast amount of theatre in Wichita, sadly, getting little to no attention. Reading social media, listening to conversations at work and even mentioning it to my hairstylist today, it becomes increasingly obvious that my generation, or perhaps many, have given up on the art form that gave birth to centuries of cultural sway. March Madness has become a national past time while the scorn the arts receive has become wretchedly accepted.

When I tell people I am an actor, I receive one of two questions. The first being, have you worked at The Crown Uptown? The second, have you worked for Music Theatre of Wichita? To some, or rather, nearly all, Kansans - these two credible and notorious venues are the only theatre happening in the city. Both theatres have been around for years and have built their own fierce and deserving reputation. However, the multitude of alternatives encompassing Wichita are left out of the public eye and ear.

While I do not debase the quality theatre of both venues, I do begrudge the lack of attention shown to the community and the small business theatres in Wichita. When cast in or attending a performance, the lack of knowledge to the location of the theatre is evidence enough there is not enough media coverage, attendance or even respect for these venues.

Opportunity is everywhere. In addition to the Crown Uptown and Music Theatre of Wichita, Wichita Community Theatre, Mosley Street Melodrama, Kechi Playhouse, Cabaret Old Town, Theatre on Consignment, The Guild Hall Players, Wichita Shakespeare Company, University Theatre Programs and Center for the Arts have been producing work for years. Each is unique and brings wonderful experiences to the community. The brand new Laughing Feet, a troupe dedicated to allowing special needs children an opportunity to be apart of the joy of performing. In my perceivably biased opinion, there are too few venues in Wichita.

These companies produce everything from classical, controversial to contemporary work. Most are full season theatres and work to produce quality theatre with local and regional actors year round, sometimes on a small budget. Most give forth their all and play to half full, or smaller audiences. Nearly all have websites and, with the miracle of Map-quest and GPS, there is little difficulty finding them either.

The ticket prices are many times cheaper than a night at the movies, without the added expense of spending an extra 15 or 20 dollars on a mammoth pail of popcorn, two colossal cups of soda. If sold, theatre refreshments are still moderately priced at less than 5 dollars for everything. Cabaret Old Town and Mosley Street Melodrama even offer drinks and food. Shakespeare in the park is free. Overpriced is not a word one can use in regards to this art. It is the economical choice.

Culture and arts are the reasons people move to, visit and stay in cities. Wichita is growing farther east and farther west, the heart of the city is becoming hollow. Without the support of theatre and the arts in the city, we will become a rural town with nothing to do but go out to eat. There are over 1800 restaurants in Wichita, but the populace has the perception that there is nothing to do in town. Go to the theatre. Support the arts by attending showings. See a local band. Do something different over the weekend. Tell co-workers on Monday something interesting.

I grew up in the Wichita Theatre scene. Going to a performance was as normal to me as going to a high school basketball game was for others. I knew about this enigma though. Many do not. It should not just be theatre people seeing theatre. It should be sports fans, students, doctors, sales associates, writers, small business owners, lawyers, bank CEOs attending local productions. The wonderful thing about theatre is there is no limit. There should be no reason to go to the theatre. Do not wait for a group, an office party, the urging of a friend. Attend.

My hope is the arts community in Wichita will begin to flourish; thereby the city will begin to thrive. Without local support for the arts, Wichita will collapse. Culture is the backbone of every city, ours is not beyond repair, but merely malnourished. Let us launch ourselves into a new realm of possibility with a ticket to the theatre.

2 comments:

  1. I completely agree with you. I grew up in Wichita, and have made a life and career for myself as an actor, a performing artist. It deeply saddens me, and is a sign of the times which you mention, that there are no longer any venues left in Wichita that hire in actors on a regular basis. Excepting the few that Music Theatre of Wichita brings in for a couple of months in the summer. Those other theatres, those that pay, aren't often able to provide many of the very talented people who make Wichita their full-time home anything close to a living wage. This was not the case when I got my feet wet doing great shows in the early 90s in Wichita. Great (and not so great) people would come through town to do shows at the Center for the Arts, the Crown, everywhere... and some of that new blood would stick around, because the "scene" interested them, as well as the pace of life. The constant flow of artists coming through town would invigorate the theatre community by challenging the locals to up their game, so to speak, and by bringing in new ideas. Now, due to lack of sales, economy, whatever, these artists aren't being brought in. The young talent doesn't stick around, because there's no work for them, and thus the scene withers. I am with you - I would love for that scene to flourish. I want to see the talent that is there to be recognized and rewarded. Is there a theatre alliance of any kind in Wichita?

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  2. I think that you should consider leaving. Wichita does not exist for the arts. The people do not want them. Communities, towns, even States are founded on common ideas, common interests, and common avoidance. I do not doubt your commitment, but you are sacrificing a great deal of personal growth. You'll make it wherever; you have the ammo.

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Thoughts?