Blockbuster summer for Western

By Andy Garrison

September 2, 2014

mother-divine-homemusic-man-home                     (photos from http://www.westernplayhouse.com/) Bringing quality performances to Missouri Western is about more than just a unique learning experience for students, it's about building a community around MWSU. This past summer Western faculty have been hard at work bringing in some high profile musicals and some top-notch performers to perform at the second-annual Western Playhouse summer-season. Executive Producer Gordon Mapley says that the Western Playhouse summer performance as been in the works for several years now. "About four years-ago I pitched the idea to President Robert Vartabedian and said, what do you think about us starting a summer professional theater?" he said. Now in its second season, Mapley says that there are no plans on slowing down and that the summer Western Playhouse performances are here to stay. "I mean there is no question that we are doing season four of Western Playhouse and I assume season five and season six," he said. "We are in this for the long haul because we do believe that it’s important to provide the community with the full arts experience and showcase our school and showcase the town of our students and to provide an opportunity for our students. And for all of those reasons I certainly plan on having a season four, five and six and beyond." This summer, the performances were comprised of two plays. The well known title, The Music Man, and a newer title written by  Western's own Mrs. Laurel Vartabedian, wife to University President Robert Vartabedian. Mrs. Vartabedian was very pleased with how the play turned out and enjoyed working with staff both local and from around the country. "Oh I thought it was fabulous," she said. "It had an incredible cast and we had some people that were from out-of-state but we also had local people. I just thought that they were all remarkable and were wonderful to work with." Mrs. Vartabedian explains that writing a musical of this caliber is enjoyable, but it also takes a lot of passion and hard work to pull off. "I would say you just have to start with an idea that is important to you in some fashion I think it’s fair to say that musicals are never written they are rewritten," she said. "It’s really a process that involves a lot of people and that is one of the really enjoyable parts of it but it takes time." Founding Dean of the School of Fine Arts Robert Willenbrink explains that the plays, both old and established in the Music Man, as well as new and fresh in Mother Divine ended up being a great one-two punch for Western. "It went extremely well. Our attendance was very good for both The Music Man and then Mother Divine, they both picked up the second week that they ran," he said. "Getting the opportunity to do a classic musical and then a new musical was a great combination for us for the summer." Mapley agrees with Willenbrink and explains that although he is aware that it takes time to build an audience the plays did very well for themselves this summer compared to last. "I went into this knowing that it was going to take a while to build attendance, to get the word out, to get people to come," Mapley said. "And so each year we have grown our attendance. The second show, Mother Divine, which is a totally unknown show because it’s a new show, that being said, our average attendance at Mother Divine was higher than the attendance at every show we put on first season. So that showing to me that word is getting out that the university has great opportunities for them in summer and the buzz is starting to build and that is a good thing." Willenbrink explains that the Western Playhouse summer performances are about providing learning experiences for our students but that it also extends outside of the borders of our campus to the community of Saint Joseph and beyond. "Well I think it brings exposure to Western," he said. "People came to see plays this summer that have never been on our campus. I think it promotes a sense of community, not only at Western, but in the Saint Joseph and Kansas City area. And I think it exposes the region to the excellence of our programs."