Kansas City Repertory Theatre

Kansas City Repertory Theatre
Kansas City Repertory Theatre
Attendance: 100,000 patrons annually,
13,000 through education/community outreach
Employment: Over 250 professional artists and staff


Spencer Theatre, interior
Located in UMKC Performing Arts Center
Seats: 630
Construct 079small.jpg
Copaken Stage, exterior
Located in downtown KC in H&R Block Headquarters
Seats: 319

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

During this long history, there have been only four artistic leaders: founder Dr. Patricia McIlrath guided the theatre 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 Noel Coward and performing out of a quonset hut on the UMKC campus.[1]

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 an extensive touring program. The growing organization officially took the name "Missouri Repertory Theatre" in 1968, and steadily built an enhanced reputation. Actors and directors of national and international acclaim shared their talents with Kansas City actors and audiences.

Rep audiences were treated to a new level of quality and professionalism when, in 1979, the company moved into 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.[2].

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.

UMKC, however, provided critical sustaining support in the early years of this new not-for-profit corporation, and it continues to support the Rep in four important ways: 1) through direct cash support on an annual basis, 2) through significant cash subsidy of salaries and benefits for the Rep's artistic and administrative staff, 3) 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, and 4) the use of Helen F. Spencer Theatre without having to pay 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 Fugard, David 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 provided a gentle but emotionally provocative artistic touch. He created productions that achieved consistent critical acclaim and attracted a devoted cadre of artists...an audiences. His work deepened the devotion of the theater's long-time fans and new theater-goers, building the number of audience members to its largest in history.

Costin, at the same time, built on the imaginative strategic 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 and deepened the Rep's relationships throughout the community.

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 critical resources to build on the artistic legacies of his predecessors.

The Rep under Peter Altman (2000-2007)

A new era for the company began with Peter Altman assuming leadership in 2000 as producing artistic director. Altman came to the Rep after eighteen years as founding producing director of the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston. Under his direction and that of the theatre's board of directors, led by William C. Nelson, Kansas City Rep was committed to building on its four-decade tradition, further expanding its audience, upgrading and diversifying its range of artists, extending its repertoire to include more new work and large-scale classics of literature and continuing to raise its standards of production. The Board of Directors voted in 2004 to rename the company Kansas City Repertory Theatre to reflect better its identity, location and audience and that same year a major refurbishment of Spencer Theatre was completed.[3]

The Rep under Eric Rosen (2007-present)

Recently, Kansas City Repertory Theatre appointed Eric Rosen as its new Artistic Director.[4] He was a co-founder and artistic director of About Face Theatre, a nationally recognized theatre located in Chicago, and is a leader in the development of new work and an award-winning playwright.

Acknowledged as being at the forefront of American theatre, Rosen has successfully collaborated on invigorating new work with some of the country's top playwrights, directors, actors and emerging artists.

Rosen starts a new era at the Rep with an inaugural 2008/09 season of excitement and adventure including the pre-New York run of the hip-hop musical Clay, August Wilson's final play in his ten-play cycle Radio Golf, Mary Zimmerman's spectacular epic Arabian Nights, a new musical based on Sherwood Anderson's novel Winesburg, Ohio, a brand new thriller The Borderland, Tennessee Williams gripping classic The Glass Menagerie and the hilarious French farce A Flea in Her Ear.

Two Stages. One Rep.

In February 2007, the Rep's longtime goal of opening a second theatre was attained with the opening of Copaken Stage, a new 319-seat downtown theatre located in the heart of the new Power and Light entertainment district.[3]


Kansas City Repertory Theatre (re-printed with permission)

External links

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