Music Theatre of Wichita Gives Actors a Head Start

Many of the nation’s hottest young stage actors bypass New York City to spend their summers at Music Theatre of Wichita – a nonprofit arts organization with a knack for launching tomorrow’s Broadway stars.

“Some of the kids have told us that the word is out there that the quickest way to get to Broadway after college is to stop off in Wichita for a summer‚” says Wayne Bryan‚ artistic director of MTW for the past 18 years. “That’s amazing to me‚ but it seems to be true.”

The theater has a solid reputation in artistic circles across the country for its Broadway-quality musicals‚ with alumni including Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth and Tony Award nominee Kelli O’Hara.

In fact‚ many musicals on Broadway have actors with ties to MTW‚ and the theater was one of the first licensed by Disney to produce Beauty and the Beast in 2004. Since then‚ Wichita-created sets‚ props and costumes have been seen throughout the country‚ with bookings lined up well into 2007.

Receiving the Disney seal of approval means the theater may have access to popular shows faster than it would otherwise – including 2005’s production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida.

“When companies are trying to recruit top-of-the-line personnel here‚ they bring them to one of our productions to show that there’s a sophisticated arts environment in Wichita‚” Bryan adds.

The theater is the largest subscribed nonprofit arts organization in Kansas‚ with 10‚000 season ticket holders packing the 2‚100-seat house for 10 weeks during the summer.

Founded in 1972‚ MTW produces five Broadway-scale musicals each season while simultaneously conducting a training program to help young people prepare for professional careers.

About 4‚000 résumés pour in each year‚ and more than 800 artists audition or interview for onstage and backstage summer jobs – but only about 250 make the cut.

Those artists work hand in hand with Broadway and Hollywood professionals‚ who often end up hiring the young actors after the season ends.

Actors aren’t the only ones who benefit from MTW’s success‚ however. The theater funnels 60 to 70 percent of its $2 million budget into the Wichita economy‚ and it contributes more than $100‚000 in sales tax to the county and state each year.

“We house a lot of artists here for the summer‚” Bryan says‚ “and the downtown restaurants tell us they know when it’s a musical theater night because they’re packed.”