Musical opens season for newly merged KU Theatre & Dance

photo by: Ashley Hocking

Jakob Reitz plays Alfie Byrne in a dress rehearsal of "A Man of No Importance" on Thursday, September 27, 2018 at KU's Crafton-Preyer Theatre.

Friday was the start of something new for theater and dance at the University of Kansas.

The University Theatre and University Dance Company started the 2018-19 season off this weekend with a musical, the first performance for the two departments after they merged this summer.

“A Man of No Importance” opened Friday at Crafton-Preyer Theatre in Murphy Hall, 1530 Naismith Drive. The musical production continues next weekend with three performances at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5-6 and at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 7. Tickets are $10 for children and $25 for adults.

Lusie Cuskey, a doctoral student directing the show, said the story is about a bus conductor named Alfie Byrne who finds happiness by reading his poems to the riders of his bus and running a theater troupe out of his church’s social hall. When Alfie decides to take more of a risk with his art, however, he seems to find disastrous results.

“On the other hand, though, it’s really a story about community and vulnerability and the ways in which letting people know you well enough to really love you also means giving them the chance to really hurt you,” Cuskey said. “It’s a show about the deeply imperfect ways communities struggle to love each other well, and how the best communities try again when they’ve failed.”

Jakob Reitz, a KU junior who is portraying Alfie, said he enjoys the character because he’s an old soul.

“He is so smart and has a great heart and genuinely cares so much about his friends and family,” Reitz said. “It is truly a gift to be able to feel with him on stage every night.”

The musical opened on Broadway in 2002 and is based on a 1994 film of the same name.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

Jakob Reitz portrays Alfie Byrne in a dress rehearsal of “A Man of No Importance” on Thursday, September 27, 2018 at KU’s Crafton-Preyer Theatre.

Cuskey said part of the reason she finds the story so effective is because it does a good job of relating universal struggles. She also finds the production unique because of the number of students involved. Only two people in the cast and creative team aren’t students — set designer Mark Reaney, a faculty member, and music director Ryan McCall, a staff member.

Additionally, she likes to describe the show as a “love letter to the theater” because it is written as a play-within-a-play, she said.

“We’ve had a lot of fun choreographing a production that whirls in and out of moments and memories in a way that allows the audience to experience the full truth of each individual moment without losing sight of the fact that it isn’t all happening in real time but is, instead, a recollection,” Cuskey said.

photo by: Ashley Hocking

Jakob Reitz and Kaia Minter rehearse a scene from “A Man of No Importance” on Thursday, September 27, 2018, at KU’s Crafton-Preyer Theatre.

Theater and dance merger

“A Man of No Importance” is the first production of the University Theatre and University Dance Company as a single entity.

Previously the two departments were separate, but they merged for the 2018-19 school year. The newly merged Department of Theatre & Dance is part of the KU School of Arts, which belongs to the KU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Michelle Heffner Hayes, who chairs the newly merged department, said she hopes the move will make the program more innovative.

“From the day they enter the program, our students become members of a far-reaching, interconnected community,” said Heffner Hayes. “Our faculty and professional staff help them to make the intellectual and practical connections between theory and practice they need to be competitive professionals in academic and professional environments.”

The 2018-19 season

“A Man of No Importance” — Crafton-Preyer Theatre, Sept. 28-30 and Oct. 5-7, 2018

“Electra” — Inge Theatre, Oct. 26-28, 30-31, 2018

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” — Crafton-Preyer Theatre, Nov. 9-11, 15, 17, 18, 2018

Fall Dance Concert — Lied Center of Kansas, Nov. 15-16, 2018

“Romnia” Dance Performance — Sherbon Blackbox Theatre, Feb. 15-16, 2019

“One Man, Two Guvnors” — Crafton-Preyer Theatre, Feb. 22-24 and March 1-3, 2019

“Sycorax” — Inge Theatre, March 29-31 and April 2-4, 2019

Spring Dance Concert — Lawrence Arts Center, April 18-20, 2019

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” — Crafton-Preyer Theatre, April 26, 28, May 2, 4, 2019


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