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History

Posts about WCT History

[catlist name=”History”]

Volunteer theatre in Wichita began in 1927, known then as the “Little Theatre of Wichita,” and in a short period of time became an active and driving force within the Wichita community. By 1939, Mayor Frank Coleman declared a “Little Theatre Week,” testimony to the recognition given to the theatre’s cultural contribution. As one might expect, the onset of war limited theatre activity severely.

In 1946 a rebirth of the theatre, cofounded by Mary Jane Teall, began using the facilities of the Unitarian Church. Throughout the latter portion of the decade, that artistic level of work continued to escalate, and frequent standing-room-only crowds paid admission to see productions. The artistic director during this time was Mary Jane Teall, a graduate of Northwestern University, and a recently hired faculty member of the University of Wichita Drama Department.

During the 1950s, a new organizational thrust began using volunteer efforts led by Martin Umansky (founder of KAKE-TV), Joan Gouldner, Kathleen Edmiston, Robert Harrison (then director of Cessna Credit Union), and Leo Malloy. Productions were held at Wilner Auditorium on the WSU college campus, and WCT obtained its 501(c)(3) IRS tax status.

During this period of time, WCT needed to obtain a permanent home for casting auditions, prop storage, practices, and other administrative needs. The Temple Emanu-el at 258 N. Fountain was purchased and remodeled in the early 1960s. Sufficient admissions had been received and saved during the previous decade to pay cash for the new workshop facility.

According to the February 6th, 1963 edition of Variety magazine, after the Broadway Theatre League dropped Wichita from its itinerary, Wichita Community Theatre stepped in and underwrote two performances of the touring “Miracle Worker” and one performance of “A Program For Two Players” by Helen Hayes and Maurice Evans. The article continues describing audience sizes in the 1960s:

“In 16 seasons the Community Theatre has developed an average audience of 4,000 per show, including 2,800 season subscribers paying $6 for a series of four productions. That represents more than 1% of the city’s population. With never a losing semester, and without benefit of donations or gifts, the group’s treasury this year grew to $57,000, representing the total profits from ticket sales nursed along for 16 seasons.”

When Century II opened in downtown Wichita in 1969, a “little theatre” was included to accommodate around 600 people per performance. This became the new home for WCT “mainstage” productions, while the workshop continued to house costumes and box office needs, in addition to smaller stage productions for training new directors, actors, and stagecrafting needs. The workshop has been home to special productions, and for several decades hosted “Commedia”, a summer satirical musical and comedy revue.

During the 1984-1985 season, the number of shows per year grew from four to eight, with four shows being performed at Century II, and four shows being performed at the Workshop.

In 1989, the Board of Directors voted to have the play selection be done by committee, rather than by the artistic director. Mary Jane Teall resigned after more than 40 years of dedicated service. Her last show directing at WCT was The Dresser. That same year, the City of Wichita renamed the “little theatre” at Century II in recognition of her great contributions to the performing arts in Wichita.

During the 1991-1992 season, financial issues forced a tough decision. The Board of Directors, rather than dissolve WCT entirely, decided to move all eight productions that season from the Little Theatre in Century II to the current Workshop at Fountain and Second. A few seasons of royalty-free shows and extremely limited budgets later, WCT regained its financial stability.

In 1994, Mary Jane Teall was driving to the Judge Riddel Boys Ranch to teach a class on improvisational theater when she was fatally injured in a car accident. To honor her memory and her great passion for theater and the Wichita community, the Mary Jane Teall Theatre Scholarship Fund at Wichita State University was established in 1995.

Today, WCT maintains a small fund for large purchases such as our new concrete sidewalk and our newly refinished floors. All patronage and donations above our normal operating expenses are put into this fund.

In recent years, WCT has boldly entered the digital age by starting an electronic mailing list and comprehensive website. Efforts are underway to digitize all known history of WCT since its humble beginnings decades ago.

Wichita State University maintains several collections and/or scholarships on notable people from the history of Wichita Community Theatre:

Mary Jane Teall
C. Henry Nathan
Harry F. Corbin
Charles G. Pearson

Selected notable Wichita Community Theatre volunteers:

Lawrence S. King
Eric Magnus
Arden Weaver

M. K. O’Roark
Hans Conried