The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on May 4, 1997 · Page 80
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 80

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Salina, Kansas
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Sunday, May 4, 1997
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Page 80
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SUNDAY, MAY 4. 1997 PLAINS THEATRE FESTIVAL THE SALINA JOURNAL Great Plains Theatre draws visitors to Abilene with a variety of professional shows By GARY DEMUTH The Snlina Journal BILENE — Whether it's a broad, popular musical or a small, specialized drama, • Richard Esvang is committed to putting on the best show possible at the Great Plains Theatre Festival. "It's been an incredible challenge to do professional theater in such a small community," Esvang said. "But I'm determined to provide the area with good, quality theater. I always say once we get people through the doors, we've got them." Esvang is beginning his third season as the artistic director of the Great Plains Theatre Festival, a nonprofit professional theater that makes its home in the Tietjens Center for the Performing Arts, 300 N. Mulbezry. The theater rents the building from Abilene businessman Terry Tietjens, who converted the 100-year- old former Presbyterian church into a performing arts center as a tribute to his late brother Jerry. "I knew Abilene didn't have a fine-arts center, and I wanted to build something that could be used on a daily basis, year- round," Tietjens said in a 1995 interview with The Salina Journal. "Not only for theater, but for concerts, classes and ex- File photo Richard Esvang, artistic director of the Great Plains Theatre Festival, says he wants to mix artistic and commercial theater but keep strong integrity. hibitions for local artists." Esvang and his wife, Michelle Meade, moved from New York three years ago to begin the theater. At first, Esvang wondered if a professional Equity theater could work in a place like Abilene, but he said the community has been supportive from the start, and season-ticket sales have increased significantly each year. VISIT GAGE PARK 6th & Gage 913-272-5821 World Famous Topeka Restored 1908 Carousel Mile-long Mini Train All American Rose Garden Kids Playground with 160 acres of family excitement PARKS & Topeka Zoological Park RECREATION OF TOPEKA "Our subscribers are a loyal bunch, and our board of directors are fierce," Esvang said. "Everyone is committed to making this theater work." Great Plains has grown in the past three years, expanding from five productions in its initial season to eight this year, including a new children's theater. There has also been a more conscious effort to attract broader audiences this season by producing more musicals and popular entertainment over some of the more limited-appeal plays of last year. "I'm trying to create a definite balance between the artistic and the commercial," Esvang said. "But our goal is still to produce shows of the greatest integrity, whether it's an intimate drama or the broadest musical." The season will start with the classic musical "Fiddler on the Roof," which opens June 12. Other plays include "Driving Miss Daisy," "A Tuna Christmas" and "Frankenstein," and the musicals "Always ... Patsy Cline" and "A Grand Night for Singing." "We wanted to design a season of plays that people would recognize," Esvang said. "But I also saw it as an opportunity to re-examine some of these popular plays. I wanted to take an old classic like 'Fiddler on the Roof and make it seem fresh by looking at it in a new way." Esvang said that one of the main goals of the theater is to become fully subscribed within 10 years, existing on season tickets rather than single-ticket sales or grants. To do this, Esvang plans to consult marketing people and expand the area in which the theater publicizes. Then there's always-the best marketing tool of all: word-of-mouth. "A lot of people visit Abilene throughout the year and hear about the theater," Esvang said. "And when they come and see a show, they're hooked. We now get groups coming in from as far as Colorado and Nebraska." The theater is also prominently featured in the Individual Visitor Information Packet supplied by the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau. According to information hostess Pauline Hazelton, the theater has been a nice addition and a boost for tourism in Abilene. "We have people come from all over and say how impressed they are with the theater," Hazelton said. "And having more plays that people recognize should help attract a lot of out-of-town visitors." Despite the high costs of producing professional theater, especially in a town of around 7,000 people, Esvang said he will do whatever it takes to keep the theater alive and healthy. "If you want to produce quality theater, you need to spend the money to bring in the best people," Esvang said. "And likewise, it's good for members of the community to be able to participate and work in an intensive, artistic environment. "All in all, I think we're more relaxed and better prepared this year. Experience does that for you." ANN .ml \\ Lady Vestey Victorian 'festival CornhuskerVIPs • Jan Berringer, mother of Brook Berringer • Ron Brown • Turner Gill • UNL Spirit Squad • Lil' Red • Video Message from Tom Osborne Superior, Nebraska Memorial Weekend • May 23-25 Parade Saturday at 11 a.m. Entertainment • Gayle Becwar, family ityle comedian and magician • Heritage Zoo • Trolley Tours • Victorian Home Tours • Victorian Tea • Live Area Performers Vendors • Victorian Craft Market • Anticjue/Flea Market • Cuisine Court • Community Vendors Sports • 3-on-3 Basketball • Baseball Tournament Horseshoe Tourney foi on in/orriiofioripocAef ca//Superrof Chamber of Commerce 402 U79 HARPER 1200 E. 10th • GREAT BEND 1-800-658-1765 * Financing Available *Trade-lns Welcome Excellent selection of new & used RV's Recreation Vehicle*. r you 30, you've always TO Salina Journal For All Your Travel Information Weather • Performing Arts • Restaurants • Festivals • Fairs • Attractions * Lodging • Sporting Events

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