Theater alums, students and faculty reunite to raise funds for the department

Theater has often been a communal activity that has brought people together with intentions to educate, inform or entertain. Keeping up that tradition, on Oct. 13, an audience gathered in Andrew J. and Georgia Neese Gray Theatre at Washburn to witness the “Theatre Reunion Show.” The fundraiser event was put together by the theater department with the help of current students, alumni and faculty members.

The money raised from ticket sales will go toward funding the theater department, in particular their scholarship programs. Outside the theater hall, there were 28 items, which included an assortment of items such as plates, books, cups and coffee grinds to bid on in a silent auction.  

Sharon Sullivan, professor and chair of the theater department, started the evening by enlightening the audience on the purpose of the show. 

“What we have here are students sharing their talent and goodwill,” Sullivan said. “As the years have gone by, the scholarships have not increased, and this has meant that students have had to do other things than theater. We want to increase that scholarship funding so that students can develop more theater skills.”

The show was bookended by two performances, “La Vie Bohem” and “Seasons of Love” from “Rent.” Dan Denton was the soloist for the galvanizing “La Vie Bohem.” Denton studied voice performance and psychology at Washburn and is now working in film acting and teaching voice in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

The next number was the “Vanilla Ice Cream” from the musical “She Loves Me,” which was performed by Lara Brooks, a lecturer at Washburn.

The show went on to feature alumni who told stories and performed songs from musicals like “Spring Awakening,” “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Hairspray.” 

Karen Miller-Thornwall and Brittany Turner brought thunder to the stage as they gave a masterclass in Irish tap-dancing by performing the “Drums of Belfast.” Currently, Miller-Thornwall teaches in the kinesiology department. Turner is her classmate from the Driscoll School of Irish Dance.

Jeff Montague, who graduated in 1978 and has been active in the Topeka Civic Theatre and at Washburn, reprised his role of Henry Higgins from “My Fair Lady” for which he won a Best Actor award.

“Sweet Transvestite” and “Time Warp” from “Rocky Horror Picture Show” were also notable performances. Scott Frost, theater major, took on the role of the transvestite alien, Frank N. Furter, and mirrored Tim Curry’s mannerisms.

The Washburn Improv Troup “Up To No Good” also got their chance to shine in a seven-minute improv show. They based their skit on the audience suggestion, which was toilet paper. What started out as an innocent there-is-no-toilet paper escalated into a full-on dystopian government hunt for a manufacturer of illegal toilet paper. This elicited plenty of laughter from the audience.

Among the other performances was the “Yell Like Hell” routing performed by theater students. Their performance earned them a runner-up place in the competition Thursday, Oct. 11.

The show ended with a sonorous and heartfelt “Seasons of Love.”

The whole event was an example of the way theater connects people. Theater alumni who may have majored in other subjects never truly left the stage. They are still doing theater-related things and helping raise money for scholarships was just one of them.