Theatre has been a part of the cultural life of Wichita and the University for more than 100 years. The academic theatre program was initiated in 1924 by George Wilner; he continued to develop the program until his retirement in 1960. Dr. Richard Welsbacher began his involvement with WSU in 1958. Two years later, he was appointed director of theatre. When theatre and dance were combined into the School of Performing Arts in 1987, Dr. Welsbacher was appointed Chair of the School. Dr. Welsbacher continued to expand the program until he retired in 1991. During his thirty-year tenure as director of theatre, he directed more than 150 productions and performed more than 200 roles.
Leroy Clark became chair of the school in 1990, and the succession of this position has continued on, making way for our current Chair of the School of Performing Arts, Linda Starkey. Linda has directed many productions at WSU, and in conjunction with her directorial duties continues to coach and teach voice lessons to current students in the program.
Production value is at the very center of the WSU theatre program. Presenting classical, contemporary, and musical theatre productions - as well as original scripts - WSU's Theatre Program enjoys a growing reputation for quality production and academic excellence. Students learn each year in a program that typically produces four Mainstage plays and four Second-Stage productions. Student direction and leadership is encouraged, and each year the faculty select two student proposals to direct one of the Second-Stage plays or musicals. All stage productions are cast from open season auditions and involve nearly 150 students each year. These auditions are meant to represent real-life situations and opportunities, which are presented to our performers upon graduating from the program, and we take pride in the fact that our students learn during auditions just as much as they do in the dance studios and classrooms.
The theatre program – though now more professionally oriented in its training goals - brings to our students and audiences a wide variety of fine theatre and musical theatre from classical to cutting-edge contemporary works, and offers our students with outstanding classroom instruction, supported by a full array of performance and production experiences. All types of plays are presented to give audiences and theatre students an understanding of the richness and variety of styles and periods which characterize the historical evolution of the theatre. In addition, the Theatre Program strives to produce plays that are intellectually and emotionally stimulating, and even challenging for our student performers and audiences.
As always, we are conscious of the importance of exposing our students to artists and teachers other than those currently on faculty. Lectures, master classes, workshops, and seminars conducted by distinguished professionals in the field are held each year as part of the educational and professional experience, either on campus or as part of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Visit www.kcactf.org for more information about the Festival. The theatre program also sponsors the national Playwriting Competition for thirty-four years and produces the winning play during the next academic year. Students thus have the opportunity to work with the authors on original scripts in creating roles for the first time.
Our students and alumni have had performance opportunities and jobs with companies like Lyric Opera, Pittsburg Civic Light Opera, Light Opera Oklahoma, and of course Music Theatre of Wichita. We also have graduates in AEA (Actor's Equity Association), SAG (Screen Actor's Guild), ITASE (The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees), and many nationally and internationally recognized organizations. With the training received in the Theatre Program at Wichita State University, you can rest assured with the skills that will advance and secure you into a career in the theatre for years to come!
The theatre program also offers more than $40,000 in undergraduate scholarships each year to new and continuing students. Our donors come from the community and are generous patrons whose scholarships, grants, and trusts have fostered multiple generations of talented and well-seasoned artists. We are grateful for their contributions, and hope that our productions, performers, and student designers can reflect that gratitude and appreciation.
As WSU Theatre continues to work toward professional and personal excellence, we want to extend thanks to you, our valuable audience members, patrons, parents, donors, and local businesses who have
helped to make our students and program successful. Without Community support, investment, and enjoyment, the arts as we know them would surely become obsolete. However, we can assure you that our
performing arts will continue to delight, entertain, challenge, and affect both the Wichita Community and the Global one!