A restaging of a television classic will bring Kansas University performers together with professional actors.
When Del Unruh heard that a Lawrence acting company was preparing a stage version of "Schoolhouse Rock Live!" he had to think fast. After all, Kansas University's Theatre for Young People also had a production in the works and there wasn't room in Lawrence for rival performances.
"We met with them and said, 'Have we got a deal for you'," he said with a laugh.
Unruh, who is on sabbatical this semester from his duties as director of University Theatre, and Kathy Pryor, associate director of University Theatre, formed a plan they thought would work for everyone and pitched it to the Seem-To-Be Players, the professional children's theater company that also wanted to stage the show.
Unruh and Pryor, along with Ric Averill, artistic director of the Seem-To-Bes, and Shane Scheel, the company's former manager, agreed to a joint venture that placed the university into a collaboration with the professional acting company.
"It's really good luck on our part to collaborate with another arts entity in the community. It really strengthens everyone," Unruh said during an interview prior to his leave.
The show opens at 8 p.m. Friday in the Crafton-Preyer Theatre in Murphy Hall. It is a musical restaging of the Saturday morning ABC television classic that taught kids everything from how politics work to English grammatical structure through cartoons and music.
Songs like "Conjunction Junction," "I'm Just a Bill" and "Interplanet Janet" reached an entire generation of kids and the KU theater department hopes to reach many more with the stage version.
"It will have all the songs everyone knows and loves, and we're hoping everyone loves it enough to buy a ticket," Unruh said.
Adapted for the stage by Scott Ferguson, Kyle Hall and George Keating, the plot follows a young teacher overcome with anxiety on how to teach students. Through the accompanying songs, the teacher learns the best way to reach kids.
Performances are slated for the public and for area school-district students. Averill will direct the show. Scheel is the music director, and two of the Seem-to-Be's professional actors will participate. The company also is responsible for developing the teaching guides used by instructors in connection with the show.
Choreography is by Marianne Kubik, assistant professor of theater and film. Theatre for Young People will supply lighting and set designers, build the set and provide usage of the Crafton-Preyer Theatre stage.
"We are doing all the physical production work," Unruh said.
KU actors include Ryan Butts, Bree Bruns, Bevin Hamilton, Xavier Rice, Lauren Stanford, Laura Pardue, Nicholas Probst and Colum Morgan. They will go on a short tour with the acting troupe later in the semester.
"It's the first time in a while that KU Theatre for Young People has had a chance to tour," Averill said. "We're really excited about it."
While the show allows university students a chance to rub elbows with a professional acting troupe, the venture also benefits the Seem-To-Be Players.
"It allows us access to designers and set shops so we can mount a more detailed production than we can usually stage by ourselves," Scheel said.
It also requires a greater time and resource commitment from the group, which is curtailing some of its national touring schedule to concentrate on the KU production.
"It's a large project for us," Scheel said. "The players really have all their eggs in one basket on this one."
University Theatre has collaborated in various ways with groups on past productions. For "Mirror/Mirror," an original theatrical play about Wellsville artist Elizabeth "Grandma" Layton, the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence Arts Center and Lawrence Public Library all hung exhibits about Layton in conjunction with the university production.
This is the first time the KU theater has shared its facilities and personnel with a professional company, but the faculty are already planning future collaborations. A joint venture between University Theatre, the Lied Center and a Japanese performance company is being planned for the fall 2000 season that will result in the staging of William Shakespeare's "MacBeth."
"It's worth all the effort," Unruh said. "It makes events more meaningful for people, and it gives the events higher visibility.'
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What: "Schoolhouse Rock Live," a musical based on the classic ABC series and staged by the Seem-To-Be Players and Kansas University's Theatre for Young People.
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Oct. 15-16 and 21-23 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 17.
Where: Crafton-Preyer Theatre, Murphy Hall.
Tickets: Available at the Lied Center Box Office, 864-ARTS; Murphy Hall Box Office, 864-3982; and Student Union Activities Box Office, 864-3477.