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, 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.
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. See our calendar for the dates of our next season's Combined Auditions!
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 SPA strives to produce plays that are intellectually and emotionally stimulating, and even challenging for our student performers and audiences.
The theatre program 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. They have starred and performed in shows ranging from Les Contes d'Hoffmann, to the National Tour of 42nd Street, to The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, to Phantom of the Opera. Our alumni design work has also been featured with theatre companies like The Santa Fe Opera, and many of our design students have the independent business skills to utilize their talents in other media besides the physical theatre. Not to mention, we have graduates in AEA (Actor's Equity Association), SAG (Screen Actor's Guild), ITASE (The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees), and many others. With the training received at Wichita State University, our students can rest assured with the skills that will advance them into a career in the theatre for years to come!
Physical improvements to Wilner continue. Entrances have been rebuilt to accommodate the physically challenged, and there are efforts being made to further those accommodations. Also the 90 seat Welsbacher Theatre at the Hughes Metroplex is increasingly well-equipped. It is used for Second Stage Productions and graduate concerts or portfolio reviews during the academic year. In addition, the Welsbacher Theatre (appropriately named after Dr. Richard Welsbacher) is soon to see improvements to its space and grid! Photos and updates to come soon, stay in touch.
The Theatre Program also has an independently maintained website, which we invite you to visit as well! (Note: Visiting this will take you out of the WSU website.)