Music Theatre of Wichita, the largest subscribed not-for-profit arts organization in the state of Kansas, has attained an international reputation for excellence.
Each summer, MTWichita self-produces five Broadway-scale musical productions, using a unique mixture of top-flight professionals from Broadway and Hollywood, working hand in hand with talented Midwesterners.
The resulting productions have received praise from critics in New York, Los Angeles, Canada, and Europe, and we have been described as one of the nation’s top ten summer theatres. MTWichita is one of the few such organizations to mount all of its own productions each season, rather than bringing in touring packages. Such theatres used to be plentiful, but rising costs have seen their demise all across the country. The unique business-friendly employment in the Midwest allows Wichita to have a thriving full-scale Broadway-quality production house, when cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago do not.
In this way, we annually provide employment, training, and invaluable business contacts for over 250 talented young Midwesterners who work hand in hand with leaders in their field.
While producing its musicals, Music Theatre simultaneously conducts a specialized training program, geared to helping talented young Midwesterners prepare for professional careers. Largely because of this unique program, Music Theatre can boast young alumni onstage or backstage at almost every Broadway musical currently running, and most of the national tours.
We have been praised in British, Canadian and American magazines and newspapers.
New York-based critics Robert Osborne (author and TCM host) and Peter Filichia (masterworksbroadway.com ) have both voiced the opinion we should be given the regional Tony Award for our work.
We have received every major award that local arts groups can receive, including:
Governor’s Arts Award (one for MTWichita, one for producing director Wayne Bryan)
Uncommon Citizen from Chamber of Commerce (one for MTWichita, one for W.B.)
Pride of the City Award from the City of Wichita in 2000
NCCJ Brotherhood / Sisterhood Award (for W.B., because of diverse hiring practices)
AIDS Fund recognition for service to the Community
River Festival recognition for service to the Community
Arts Partners recognition for working with young people
Recognition from Senior Services, Larksfield Place, Presbyterian Manor, etc.,
for all the free programming provided to senior citizens
Several dozen Mary Jane Teall Awards for artistic excellence
Economic Impact of Music Theatre of Wichita
MTW was created in 1972 by the City of Wichita to fill a void in summer programming for the then-new Century II. (Symphony is on hiatus during the summer.) MTW was designed with a two-fold mission: to focus on education, as well as entertainment. It was also agreed that MTW would engage the musicians from the Wichita Symphony to fill its orchestra pit.
MTW has never needed a bail-out or financial assistance from the City of Wichita.
We bring over 65,000 visitors to downtown Wichita every summer.
MTW has a large annual budget (currently 3 million dollars), which it raises each year.
We regularly cover about half of our costs from ticket sales. We meet our other funding needs with corporate, private and foundation contributions, costume and set rentals, and fundraising projects like the Performers Card promotion. We have a 2 million dollar Endowment Fund, financed by the citizens of Wichita to ensure our longevity.
Of our 10,000 loyal season ticket holders, many hail from the Wichita area, but we also host patrons who travel in every two weeks during the summer from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri and Colorado. We also have a number of theatre professionals who regularly travel in from New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, with a result that Music Theatre causes a tremendous boost to restaurants and hotels during the summer season.
MTW is the largest rent-paying tenant of Century II, as well as being the largest employer of the local stagehands union, and the largest summer employer of the local musicians union.
MTW also leases local hotel rooms (around 800 a summer) and dozens of apartments for the summer workers, further boosting the downtown economy. (This does not count the hotel rooms booked separately by visitors, such as the friends and families of our seasonal employees, who come to see the work each summer.)
MTW annually provides employment for around 250 individuals, while also offering a safe and protected educational environment for 200 – 300 children and teens, who are involved in productions and in the Teen Choir.
MTW independently raises its two million dollar annual budget, spending 60-70% of it back into the Wichita economy. Local hotel owners and restaurateurs can vouch for the impact on their business during the performance season. MTW annually contributes in excess of $120,000 in sales tax to the County and State.
The creators of Century II had chosen to include a wonderful array of technical shops (paint shop, scene shop, etc.), anticipating that such an arts complex should have a resident production company, actually building sets, props and costumes. In the 36 years since our founding, Wichita-created sets, props and costumes have been seen all across the U.S. and Canada.
Additional Impact of MTW
MTW utilizes the skills of hundreds of loyal volunteers, who aid in all areas of operation, from office assistance to ushering. The MTW Guild provides hundreds of suppers each summer for the cast and crew, and also assist in staffing the gift shop during performances, tallying questionnaires, and helping with a myriad of other projects.
MTW finds corporate sponsors to fund free performances for children with special needs and their families, regularly working with Big Brothers / Big Sisters, Communities in Schools, the AIDS Fund, Maude Carpenter Children’s Center, Rainbows United, Heartspring, and other similar agencies.
We provide signed performances and infra-red listening devices for the hearing-impaired.
MTW has paid for improvements to Century II which have benefited all its users:
MTW purchased portable acoustic shells for the Concert Hall ($70,000),
allowing more flexible stage access for traveling shows and local productions.
(These shells we totally paid for by MTW, are used by the Symphony, and
are owned and maintained by the City. A very happy collaboration.)
MTW has paid for improved lighting for the parking lot and the costume shop.
MTW and Symphony have jointly paid tens of thousands of dollars through the
years to purchase carpets, luxury furniture, and wall décor for the Founders Room.
We have been recognized by the NCCJ (now Diversity Kansas) for our “color-blind” casting and other inclusive hiring practices.
The Disney Company has selected MTW as the ideal Midwestern location for several premiere productions, including the regional premieres of Beauty and the Beast, High School Musical and The Little Mermaid.
We have created unique musical productions (like “Wichita: Our Town, Our Time” to celebrate the Chamber of Commerce) to enhance Wichita’s image.
Large companies like Cessna, Koch Industries, and Spirit AeroSystems cite MTW as one of their prime recruiting tools in luring new executives to the Wichita area.
Several national studies have shown that the abundance or absence of cultural activities is one of the primary determining factors in convincing new companies to move away from bigger metropolitan areas, to cities of our size.
MTW – Impact on Youth
When Music Theatre of Wichita was formed in 1972, the founders chose to state our mission as having a two-fold purpose: to provide first class musical entertainment for people of this region, and to provide educational opportunities for talented young Midwesterners. MTW’s dedication to education has been demonstrated for three and a half decades now, and remains an important component of everything we do.
The most obvious example of this is the Apprentice Program, which involves high school students in all aspects of production, offstage and on. (To participate, a student must be 16 years old, or about to be a sophomore in high school.) Some of the outstanding success stories of former apprentices include Lora K. Powell (stage manager of The Lion King), J. Branson (set designer of the National Tour of The Music Man), and David Neville (nationally recognized lighting designer). In addition to working on productions, each apprentice also participates in workshops and seminars, led by professionals from Broadway and Hollywood, who offer uniquely practical perspectives on living and working in the arts.
Whether or not former apprentice ultimately finds a career in professional theatre, each participant gains valuable experience in a positive, nurturing, drug-free environment during a critical period in his or her life. Each apprentice learns the value of developing a strong work ethic, of meeting deadlines in a timely fashion, and of experiencing the power that only comes from many people working together cooperatively.
The Jester Awards
In 2002, MTW launched a program called the Jester Awards, bringing positive attention to area high schools for the excellence of the musical shows being produced on their campuses. With a skilled and dedicated team of judges attending dozens of performances, the Jester Awards have won high praise for successfully increasing awareness and pride in the achievements of local young people. The program has grown at lightning speed during each of its five years, and has rapidly become an esteemed benchmark for excellence within the Kansas educational community. Since that National High School Musical Theater Awards were launched in 2009, two outstanding Jester recipients have been sent to New York each spring to compete on a national level. In the first year, our actress nominee Jenny Wine won first place in the nation. In 2010, Claire Gerig received a scholarship as “Spirit of the NHSMT Awards.” The local Jester Awards now also carry a cash award to the top two recipients.
The MTW Teen Choir
In 2003, MTW established a new performing group for teenagers, with its own staff (musical director, choreographer, company manager), and the group was an immediate success. The troupe has now grown into a 75-person choir which annually explores different aspects of the Musical theatre repertoire. The group learns music and staging for five different presentations, and performs more than 35 concerts during the summer. Their reputation has already grown to such an extent that other organizations are engaging the Target Teen Choir to do local programs for conventions and business meetings. Most importantly, the Teen Choir has become a strong and supportive network of young people who enjoy getting together to make music and share each others’ company.
Broadway’s Next Generation
In addition to the local high schoolers, members of the resident professional performing company are also encouraged to look upon MTW as a learning experience. 90% of the young singers and dancers who are hired each summer, apart from the Broadway guest stars and locally based character actors, are collegiates working on a transitional path from the university environment into the professional world. For these performers, MTW is one of the only theatres in the country offering a summer of diversified roles, showcased in a professional environment. The five summer productions are carefully chosen to prepare the performers for the versatility and adaptability necessary for survival. Each production also involves guest stars and artistic staff (directors, choreographers, musical directors) selected from both coasts, who will become the mentors and business contacts for these young aspirants.
Beyond the lessons learned from working hand in hand with top-of-the-line professionals, the MTW staff also offers these students informal workshops on such topics as “How to survive big cities,” “How to find an agent,” “How to determine the right time to join the unions,” “How to select audition material,” “How to prepare resumes and headshots,” “How actors do taxes,” and other such topics, helping to bridge the gap between what they may have learned in college, and what they will need to know in the “real world” of New York or Los Angeles. Many of our alumni, who are currently appearing in Broadway shows, say these classes made all the difference in their adjustment to the completely professional world.
Our Youngest Stars
Over 200 children and teens annually audition in Wichita, hoping to secure young roles in some of the summer productions. Traditionally, over 100 will be selected for participation, receiving instruction, being costumed, and spending at least two weeks working on a Broadway-scale production, making friends and memories that may last a lifetime.
Educating the Community
MTW’s educational commitment does not end with its cast and crew, however. Each summer, a free matinee is produced expressly for “special needs” children (those with physical, mental or financial disadvantages) and their families, with a specially prepared study guide and activity book provided for each child. The Music Theatre of Wichita staff conducts dozens of programs and lectures for various school groups throughout the year, also offering special tickets and backstage tours to summer school classes. Music Theatre also provides a wide array of low-cost or free musical programs to shut-ins, retirement communities, social clubs, and service organizations.
Beyond this, MTW uniquely strives to educate the general populace on the value of America’s native art form, the Broadway musical, by offering pre-show talks and lecture-demonstrations before each performance, often involving guest artists and members of the production staff. A detailed history of each work in the repertoire is specially prepared for the MTW playbill, to complement the learning experience.
Pointing the Way
Music Theatre of Wichita also tries to set a good example as a community leader. MTW has impressively demonstrated cultural diversity in its hiring, programming and governance, and 60% to 70% of our two million dollar annual budget is spent within the Wichita economy. We are told that our productions are a major boost for tourism, with hotels and restaurants positively impacted, and that our high standards provide major incentives for local corporations for whom cultural events are key elements of attracting qualified executives to our area.
2007 – “HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL” and the Disney Connection
We were extremely honored and excited that, due to our close relationship with the Disney Company, Music Theatre of Wichita was selected to be one of only five professional theatres in 2007 given the rights to the stage version of the phenomenal Disney hit, HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL. This show kicked off our 36th summer season and allowed us to place a great “Spotlight on Youth.” In conjunction with this project, MTW offered free musical theatre audition workshops to local high school students and high school educators, which were attended by 450 individuals from distances including Denver and Oklahoma City. The production ended up using 77 students from 29 area high schools, plus 4 home schooled students and 4 local adults. It was so popular that at the end of the season, the entire cast and crew returned for an additional 4 performances.
Partly because of this success, MTWichita was given the rights by Disney to produce Disney’s The Little Mermaid in 2011 – one of only three theatres to receive this honor.