The history of the Wichita Community Theater

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Crawley, James J.
Price, Jay M., 1969-

When the members of the First Unitarian Church in Wichita Kansas met in the autumn evening of 1946 to set up a performance group, they had no idea that they were starting an organization that would change the landscape of performance arts in Wichita Kansas. The Unitarian Experimental Theater expanded out of its small confines of the basement of the church to the University of Wichita's 1,200 seat theater, helping to develop the University's theater program and bring even more attention to live theater in Wichita. With the establishment of the Century II civic center to celebrate the centennial of Wichita's founding, the Wichita Community Theater moved into the Little Theater, promoting its live shows with guest stars featuring the likes of Helen Hayes, Maurice Evans and many others from television and movies. These shows along with the purchase of a new property, the old Temple Emanu-El Synagogue in the College Hill area, increased the reach of the Wichita Community Theater to include classes, meetings and smaller more intimate productions. The history of the Wichita Community Theater is full of successes, including the year in review show, Commedia, donations to the Wichita Public library and scholarships for high school student. The theater has also had its controversies, including the ousting of Mary Jane Teall, the picketing of the College Hill property by religious groups and being on the brink of extinction with bankruptcy. With all of these events, the theater kept producing quality shows. While the actors, directors and designers all strived to create perfection on each individual show, these dedicated volunteers kept much more than the production alive. These men, women and children kept the core spirit of this organization alive keeping the theater running. Although highlighting the history of the Wichita Community Theater, this history focuses more on the volunteers and the sacrifices that were made to keep the organization alive and well. The Wichita Community Theater is still alive and well and producing shows in the city of Wichita to this day. The theater is full of stories, individual tales of comedy and tragedy and events that made each specific story unique. These stories are forever ingrained in the individuals involved and even though only a few of them are highlighted in this paper, while others are not documented. Their efforts reflected in these stories, and many future ones that will keep the spirit of the organization alive for years to come.

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Thesis (M.A.) -- Wichita State University, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dept. of History