For most folks‚ summertime represents an opportunity to kick back and relax. But for one dedicated group of volunteers‚ summer in Springfield means just one thing – it’s showtime at The Muni. A local tradition for more than 50 years‚ the Springfield Municipal Opera Association is one of the nation’s largest all-volunteer community theater organizations. “We do four shows each summer‚ but we have volunteers working throughout the year to make the season a success‚” says Laurie O’Brien‚ who has been involved on stage and behind the scenes since the 1970s.
Each year‚ The Muni welcomes more than 40‚000 patrons to its lakeside amphitheater‚ offering the very best of Broadway musicals. In July 2006‚ The Muni welcomed its 1 millionth visitor during its highly successful run of Aida. “It’s always wonderful to see families come out with their picnic baskets and blankets‚” says O’Brien‚ who teaches physics at Glenwood High School when she’s not at the theater. “There’s something about sitting out under the stars that adds a measure of mystery to the show. I remember one night when we performed during a lunar eclipse – it was just amazing.” Of course‚ an outdoor venue can also mean complications – especially when Mother Nature gets involved. “The uncertainty of weather is a factor. The humidity can affect the sound system and‚ invariably‚ we’ll have costume issues. This past summer was extremely hot‚ so the person playing the Lion in The Wizard of Oz had a rough time. But everything has a way of coming together.” In fact‚ The Muni has a way of bringing people together‚ too. “I met my husband through a show‚” O’Brien says. “We actually have several couples that got together through The Muni. It’s a real family environment. Everyone gets involved‚ whether they’re painting the set or selling popcorn.” But don’t let the hometown atmosphere fool you. The Muni is widely known for its consistent professionalism and talent. “I think it’s unusual for a community of this size to attract such a high level of talent. We attract people from Champaign‚ Decatur and even St. Louis to our auditions. And we’ve had a number of performers go on to Broadway.” For those who remain in Springfield‚ however‚ The Muni offers a creative outlet and an opportunity to bring live theater to local audiences. “It’s a unique experience – there’s a very real interaction between performers and the audience. We try to offer a good variety of shows and keep our prices low so that audiences can continue to enjoy quality theater.”