During the Great Depression, Orson Welles’ “The Mercury Theatre on the Air” brought new, exciting dramas to communities that couldn’t otherwise afford to attend theatre. Fast-forward to the current pandemic, with theatres mostly closed and so many people out of work. The University of Kansas Department of Theatre & Dance Chair Henry Bial hopes to provide audiences with similar inspiration through “Jayhawk Theatre on the Air,” a live, script-in-hand reading series presented in radio-drama style and livestreamed.
Bial curated the “Jayhawk Theatre on the Air” in conversation and collaboration with the playwrights, including two at KU.
“In this time of scarcity, this series celebrates abundance: the wealth of great stories in the American theatre, the wide range of talents among KU’s students and faculty, and the tremendous possibilities of engaging a broader, more diverse audience through livestreaming,” Bial said. “By doing less – no sets, no costumes, minimal rehearsal time, only one performance per play – we get to showcase more: more student voices, more great stories and more engagement with the playwrights.
Feb. 25: The series begins with “Kingdom City” by Sheri Wilner, a serio-comic tale of a high school theatre production that sparks controversy in a small Midwestern community.
March 9: Students take the stage for “Lot’s Daughters,” an original, psychological exploration of a woman disillusioned by the collision of myth, memory and reality, by KU doctoral candidate Alysha Griffin. Cousins sort through boxes of family treasures recalling different details of their family’s histories.
March 24: “March Madness,” a work-in-progress about race and college basketball by Darren Canady, KU associate professor of English, premieres. The production is not sponsored by or related to the NCAA or NCAA basketball tournaments.
April 14: The series concludes with “Goodnight, Tyler,” a ghost-love story about family, friends, grief and discovering what’s important in life.
A discussion with the playwright follows each performance, which all begin at 7 p.m. For information about the talkback with Wilner, a widely published playwright whose work has been produced around the world, please visit http://kutheatre.com/jta-1. Additionally, the directors and many of the student performers will take part in these discussions.
The readings are directed by Bial (“Kingdom City,” “Lot’s Daughters”), Griffin (“March Madness”) and doctoral student Jenny Sledge Harris (“Goodnight, Tyler”). Like all of productions of University Theatre this semester, “Jayhawk Theatre on the Air” is free and open to the public, though a digital ticket will be required. More details are available at kutheatre.com.
A KU faculty member since 2005, Henry Bial has served as chair of the Department of Theatre & Dance since May 2019, following appointments as director of Jewish studies, chair of American studies, senior associate director of the University Honors Program and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. His research and teaching specialties include religious performance, Jewish popular culture, theatre history and performance studies. He is the author or editor of five books, including ”Acting Jewish: Negotiating Ethnicity on the American Stage and Screen.”
Other members in the “Kingdom City” production are Samantha Gotskind, a sophomore from Overland Park, as Miriam Bloom; Mickey Pluta, a junior from Broomfield, Colorado, as Daniel Bloom; Petricia Hall, a senior from Salina, as Crystal Mathis; Annika Wallace, junior from Atchison, as Katie Merkle; Lane Barrette, a first-year student from Basehor, as Matt Ross; Nathan Paukstelis, a first-year student from Manhattan, as Luke Overbey; and Bailey Dobbins, a recent KU graduate from Edmonds, Washington, as stage manager.
The University Theatre is a production wing of the University of Kansas’ Department of Theatre & Dance, offering eight public productions throughout the academic year. The University Theatre and University Dance Company productions are funded in part by Student Senate fees, and the theatre’s season is supported by Truity Credit Union.
The Department of Theatre & Dance is one of three departments in the School of the Arts. As part of the KU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, the School of the Arts offers fresh possibilities for collaboration between the arts and the humanities, sciences, social sciences, international and interdisciplinary studies. For more information on the University Theatre, visit KUTheatre.com. For more information on the University Dance Company, visit dance.ku.edu.