Civic theatre alums take on Broadway, comedy

Courtney Cook

“There’s nothing to do in Topeka.” We’ve all heard somebody say it. In fact, odds are you have been guilty of saying it yourself, perhaps even on a daily basis.

However, if you enjoy working with tools, or costumes, or paint, or watching and/or performing in dramas, mysteries, comedies, improvisation, musicals, children’s shows or horror stories, or if you are just looking to be more involved in your community, you are actually living in proximity to one of the nation’s prime opportunities for excitement: Topeka Civic Theatre and Academy.

With a long list of awards and recognitions, TCTA has produced shows that have competed and placed regionally, nationally and even internationally.

“I am always amazed at the talent that we have in our community,” said artistic director Shannon Reilly. “I feel extremely fortunate to be a part of it all.”

Just this year Washburn University graduate and TCTA alumnus Jeff Kready has been a part of the Tony-Award winning cast of “Billy Elliot” on Broadway, a show which set a record of 15 nominations and 10 wins including the coveted Best Musical Tony for 2009. Kready got his start on the stage at TCTA when he was only 8 years old as the title role of “Oliver!”

“He tries to make it back from New York for the Bravo Breakfast fundraiser every year,” said Kready’s mother, Cathy Kready-Smith, who works at Topeka Civic Theatre. “Civic has been a huge part of our whole family’s lives. There’s just nowhere else like it.”

Chelle Decker, another Washburn graduate with a double-major in theater and mass media, first began volunteering at TCTA in 1996. She has since become a member of Laughing Matters, an improvisational comedy company at TCTA, and she is a regular feature in main stage productions. Two years ago, she was hired as the marketing manager for the theater. Her husband and son have since joined her on stage.

“I had no intentions of staying in Topeka after I graduated,” said Decker, “but because of the experiences and friendships I have made at TCTA, not only have I stayed, but my parents and my brother have moved to Topeka, too, and I attribute it entirely to the theater.”

With eight main stage productions, three studio shows, three youth shows, eight Laughing Matters improvisation shows, six Senior Class improvisation shows, seven WTCT radio productions, and year-round academy classes offered each year, there is always something and some way to participate at the Topeka Civic Theatre and Academy.

To learn more about upcoming shows and the different ways to get involved at TCTA, visit