With changes, live theater returns to Wichita

Published: Apr. 28, 2021 at 11:48 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Music Theatre Wichita on Wednesday night, April 28, kicked off its first performance a year after being forced off stage by the COVID-19 pandemic. For the performers, crews and audience, Wednesday night was a celebration of the return of live performances. Music Theatre Wichita’s first performance of the season took place at the Capitol Federal Amphitheater in Andover. While a different setting than the traditional stage at Century II, after a year of dark stages, people are relieved to see energy return with venue lights shining.

Music Theatre Wichita Producing Director Wayne Bryan said the public interest has been strong leading up to a new season after a difficult year away from shows in front of live audiences.

“...We are so pleased that people seem more than willing to come find us wherever we are so they can have the joy of live performances again,” Bryan said.

The experience in 2021 is different from what people familiar with MTW are used to. Among the changes is the move outdoors for most shows at the amphitheater in Andover and a longer season that concludes in November.

“Space, distancing, health protocols, COViD testing, all those things were very important for us if we were going to go back to live performances,” Bryan said.

Despite the changes and adjustments that come with them, Bryan said after a rough year for performers, “they are so excited to be back.”

You can learn more about MTW, see the list of shows for the new season, and find ticket information on the professional live performance group’s website.

For Wichita’s Crown Uptown Theatre, a change comes with how it’s operating. This month, the Crown Uptown launched a nonprofit arm of its operation.

“Finally have a sustainable way of bringing theatre back to this stage. A way that we can jump off, bringing those bigger shows back that we’re known for. In addition, we’re also going to be doing two concerts of original music and choreography and one [locally written and produced] feature film every year,” said Crown Uptown Theatre Executive Director Max Wilson.

To fund performances, concerts and events, being a nonprofit will allow the Crown Uptown to get grants, donations and sponsorships. They will also be opening an art gallery.

Wilson said, “The for-profit method is a very tricky one for producing bigger-scale shows like the ones that we’re doing, especially in a barn like this with the electricity alone, the facility fees are wild.”

The theatre said this will also help to better support the arts in the area.

“This building, this space, has not had consistency for a very long time and there are so many people that it means the world to. And this is our mission to give it that consistency,” Wilson said.

Crown is hosting a first fundraiser on May 22nd, which will be a Game Show Night! They will announce what they have in store for the rest of the season that night.

The for-profit arm of Crown will also remain for things like renting out the space for weddings, concerts and other events.

During the past year, Congress passed more than $16 billion in aid to support venues, theatres and production companies. The industry is now seeing some movement on that front. This week, the Small Business Administration reopened its online portal to take applications for Shuttered Venue Operators Grants. The SBA was supposed to start taking applications in early April, but technical issues delayed the launch.

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