Washburn Theatre is presenting a benefit show this weekend. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, the department will stage the Reunion Show in the Andrew J. and Georgia Neese Gray Theatre that will showcase talent from students, alumni and community members.
Sharon Sullivan, chair of the department, said that there are several reasons for putting on the show.
“First, I’m [the] new chair. We’re trying to just revitalize the department,” Sullivan said. “One thing that’s important to me is to connect students with the alums and other community members who are making theater, so I thought it would be really fun to have us all together.”
Sullivan went on to say that Topeka has a fairly big and close-knit theater community with a lot of talent.
“In Topeka, we’re all on each other’s stages,” Sullivan said. “It feels like a theater family to us because we all work together in many different venues. I wanted to do something that would celebrate that diversity, that collaboration [and] all the talent that we have in this town and so that the students could make those connections, too.”
Another goal for the show is as a fundraising event for department scholarships.
“Our scholarship fund hasn’t really increased in 20 years,” Sullivan said. “I see costs are going up and I see so many of our students who have to work to support themselves. It’s keeping them out of the theater where they could learn skills for their future.”
Sullivan said the timing of the show worked out well too.
“Of course, getting to do it during homecoming is amazing for us,” Sullivan said. “We’re hoping to get a lot of feedback and hoping that a lot of people will come celebrate with us.”
One of those people who works on different stages, or off stage really, is Sally Glassman. An avid member of the Topeka theater community as a choreographer, Glassman is currently teaching the class Theater Movement and Dance at Washburn. Sullivan said that without Glassman’s help this show probably couldn’t happen.
“People who are coming back aren’t coming back because of me,” Sullivan said. “They’re coming back because Sally asked them. When I talked to her about it she was all in.”
Sullivan went on to say that because Glassman has been around and teaching in the community for so long, she was able to make a lot of those connections.
Several genres of theater will be featured.
“It’s a lot of singing and dancing and some talking,” Sullivan said.
According to Sullivan, there will be numbers from “Rent,” “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “My Fair Lady,” a reading from “The Raven” and more. One part Sullivan is particularly interested in.
“We have a terrific student improv group here, Up to No Good, they’re a long-form improv [group] but they’re going to do a short improv,” Sullivan said.
While the show will feature a lot of outside talent, students at Washburn will still be heavily involved.
“It’s gotten to the point now that I’m begging people in the hallway to come work [the] box office,” Sullivan said. “All of our students are in the show.”
One of the students involved in the show is junior integrated studies major Emma Staats.
“My role is I am essentially a swing in the show,” Staats said. “A lot of the theater students… what we’re doing is more of the ensemble work.”
Staats said the show really wants to highlight the talents of the alumni and community.
“Our goal was to bring back alumni to preferably star in their own numbers that they were in [at Washburn],” Staats said.
According to Staats, in the past, the department wasn’t as focused on musicals, so many of the alumni are doing numbers from shows outside of what they performed at Washburn.
“We still have some original cast members for some shows,” Staats said. “The goal was that they sing the leads on these shows and then we fill in the ensemble roles and some of the acting roles as well.”
Staats feels that bringing in these community members and alumni is good for the department.
“We have a lot of alumni that stayed within the community, but then some from New York and other places who have really gone on to do big things,” Staats said.
Staats, who is a minor in theatre, said that the department is a big reason she came to Washburn.
“I did theater in high school and I loved it,” Staats said. “A big benefit from choosing Washburn for me was that I knew I wasn’t going to major in theater, it wasn’t something I wanted to devote my career to, necessarily. It was great because Washburn’s theater department is small enough where if you’re not a major or a minor, you can get involved.”
Staats auditioned and received a scholarship from the department during her senior year of high school.
“Along with that is a yearly commitment to two theater courses, one every semester,” Staats said. “I actually wasn’t planning on getting a theater minor but with the scholarship, it’s just worked out that I’ll have enough credits to where I’ll have one.”
The community within the department is also something that Staats loves about Washburn theater.
“I love the intimacy of our Washburn theater department,” Staats said. “Everyone here is a close-knit group.”
With many performing arts departments in schools, there is a competitive nature to the program.
“Because it’s a smaller group, it’s less of that competitiveness and more of just the friendliness and the helping to make everyone better,” Staats said.
Staats said that because of the smallness of the department, there is also some struggle to have the recognition within the university and the community.
“I think this [show] really helps that,” Staats said. “We’re really trying to draw attention to the program and getting people involved in the community… This way, people who are within our community or outside even the state of Kansas can get involved and share with their own individual communities and get them involved or at least get more people aware of Washburn theater.”
Staats hopes that many people will come to the show and maybe even participate in the department.
“Even though I’m not a major, I get to be involved in [Washburn theater] and I love it,” Staats said. “Anyone at all who’s interested in theatrer or interested in performing should audition for a scholarship or audition for a show.”
Tickets for the show are $20 and can be purchased online through Eventbrite or at the box office.