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Kansas City Repertory Theatre


The History of Kisses Preview

David Cale performs ‘The History of Kisses’ at Kansas City Repertory Theatre October 21-November 27. Visit to order tickets!

New-theatrewebSpencer Theatre, interior Located in UMKC Performing Arts Center
Seats: 630

The Kansas City Repertory Theatre is a professional resident theater company of the Kansas City metropolitan area, now in its 45th year.

The theatre has had four artistic leaders: founder Dr. Patricia McIlrath guided the theater from 1964 until she retired in 1985; George Keathley was artistic director from 1985–2000; producing artistic director Peter Altman, who retired in July 2007; and the current artistic director Eric Rosen.

The Rep under Dr. Patricia McIlrath (1964-1985)

Appointed chairman of the University of Kansas City (now UMKC) Theatre Department and director of the University Playhouse in 1954, Dr. McIlrath, believing in the importance of exposing theatre students to the rigors and demanding standards of professional theatre, long dreamed of establishing a company that could provide them such opportunities and also give Kansas City a notable stage company of its own. In 1964, she formed the UMKC Summer Repertory Theatre in the same era when many other companies destined to be recognized as leaders of the nationwide not-for-profit resident theatre movement (such as the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Seattle Repertory Theatre, and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles) were also springing to life.

That same founding year, 1964, James Costin was appointed the Summer Rep‘s administrative director, creating a partnership that would continue for twenty years.

Professional actors, community players, and members of the UMKC Theatre Department, operating on a shoestring budget, worked together that first season to present the Summer Rep’s two-week fledgling season. Fifteen hundred patrons attended performances of The Corn is Green by Emlyn Williams and Private Lives by Noël Coward and performing out of a quonset huton the UMKC campus.

In 1967, the Rep became affiliated with Actors’ Equity Association, the national union of professional actors. As the theatre continued to develop, Dr. Mac launched a touring program. The organization took the name “Missouri Repertory Theatre” in 1968. Actors and directors of national and international acclaim shared their talents with Kansas City actors and audiences.

In 1979, the company moved into the Helen F. Spencer Theatre in the newly-constructed UMKC Center for the Performing Arts. It was named for Helen Elizabeth Foresman Spencer (1902–1982) who along with her husband Kenneth Aldred Spencer (died 1960) built the Spencer Chemical Company which was ultimately sold to the Gulf Oil Company in 1963. The assets of both Spencers would go into the Kenneth A. and Helen F. Spencer Foundation which provided philanthropies throughout the Kansas City area.

That same year marked the not-for-profit incorporation of Missouri Repertory Theatre, under the name MRT, Inc. (later changed to Missouri Repertory Theatre, Inc.), formalizing the long-standing partnership between the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Kansas City’s civic leaders through the creation of a volunteer board of directors.

Construct_079smallUMKC provided critical sustaining support in the early years of this new not-for-profit corporation, and it continues to support the Rep in four ways:

  • through direct cash support on an annual basis,
  • through cash subsidy of salaries and benefits for the Rep’s artistic and administrative staff,
  • by allowing the Rep cost-free use of UMKC’s spaces for its administrative offices, the technical facilities needed to create scenery, costumes, lighting, and sound,
  • the use of Helen F. Spencer Theatre without rent or utility costs.

The Rep, directed by its board, has now operated independently of UMKC for 27 years, and it continues to enjoy the benefits of maintaining its strong commitment to and a close relationship with the university and its theatre training programs.

The Rep under George Keathley (1985-2000)

Dr. McIlrath retired in 1985 as artistic director after serving the Rep for more than twenty years. It was the end of the theater’s “founding era.” An extensive search for her successor led to the appointment of George Keathley as the new artistic director. With thirty-five years of experience in acting, directing, and producing, Keathley was able to build on the traditions of the company while introducing new dimensions and programming to the theatre. He introduced Rep audiences to such contemporary writers as Athol FugardDavid Mamet and Peter Schaffer, and continued the classic tradition with Shakespeare,Sophocles and Molière. At his retirement in 2000, Keathley had personally directed 49 productions. Costin, who died in 2005, also retired in 2000, after completing thirty-six years at the administrative helm of the organization.

It was under the leadership of Costin and Keathley that the theater experienced explosive growth in both its artistic and administrative operations. Keathley created productions that achieved critical acclaim and attracted artists and audiences.

Costin, at the same time, built on the partnership he had created between UMKC and the Rep decades before. His ability to attract and retain creative managers supported Keathley’s work on the stage.

Upon their retirements, at the celebration welcoming their successor Peter Altman, Keathley and Costin each offered a gift symbolizing the passing of their legacies to him. For Keathley the gift was a glass elephant from the original production of The Glass Menagerie given to him by Tennessee Williams many years before. Keathley’s gift symbolized the artistic history on which Altman could build.

Costin’s gift to Altman was an audience base of 100,000 and cash reserves and endowment funds of more than $10 million, making the Rep one of the nation’s most financially stable institutions. Costin’s gift provided Altman with resources to build on the artistic legacies of his predecessors.

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