As people drive down Iron Avenue in Salina, they may notice a new sign and name at a well-known and popular downtown destination, the Salina Theater.
Earlier this year, the former Salina Community Theater changed its name after a few years of debate about what the theater means to people inside and outside the Salina community.
“We’re much more regional than ever,” said Michael Spicer, Managing Director of Theater Salina.
According to Spicer, about 40% of ticket sales for the various theatrical productions at Theater Salina come from people outside of Saline County.
“Last year when we got out of COVID, we sold tickets in 30 different states,” Spicer said.
This regional and national appeal to theatrical arts in Salina is a sign of the theater’s success and growth since the building’s expansion in 2011.
“A big part of that was an expansion of education,” Spicer said. “We’ve been fortunate to have some pretty dedicated teachers since this building opened extra.”
As this educational aspect of theater has grown, it was clear that it needed continued strong leadership for the theater’s educational program, the Center for Theater Arts (CTA), as Megan Coberly, Theater Salina’s director of education, continues a new chapter in her life when her husband accepted a position at Columbia University.
A statewide search for a replacement resulted in several candidates for the position, but one familiar face was chosen as the best cast for the job, Maggie Spicer Brown, who grew up in the theater and is a graduate of Oklahoma City University.
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The importance of education at the level of community theater
Knowing the benefits of a strong community theater education, Brown is excited to take on this role and see how educational opportunities can be expanded.
“Each year, whether it’s in the musical theater program or the dance program, we watch our students develop their skills, strengthen their skills (and) get stronger with their skills,” Brown said.
Each year the theater looks at this educational program and sees how it can be expanded to include new skills and to reinforce the skills already in place.
An example of this was the addition of hip hop dance classes over the past two years.
“They were only in the summer and there was such demand that we did them during the school year,” Brown said. “First year we started with seven students and this year we have 14.”
With the hiring of Brown, Theater Salina has not only retained an Education Director to help with this expansion of educational opportunity. It also announced that its ballet teacher, Jessica Polzella, would be hired full-time and her role would be expanded.
“We can add things that she has certification for that other people at Theater Salina or around town don’t have,” Brown said. “(These) are for adults, young children and everyone in between to expand our repertoire that will hopefully eventually match the expansion of our spaces.”
Coberly said there are currently about 175 students enrolled in various classes, but that equates to over 350 class enrollments.
“A lot of kids take three or four grades, some eight,” Coberly said.
Not only the individual classes are almost overcrowded with students. Coberly said they offer musical theater camps during the summer.
“They’re filled to the brim this summer,” Coberly said. “We had to add one (more) and now it’s full too.”
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There is never a dull moment at the Salina Theater
In addition to these educational offerings, the theater puts on theatrical performances throughout the year.
Theater Salina just announced the new 2022-2023 season, which begins this September with seven shows including The Addams Family, A Doll’s House, Part Two, A Christmas Story and School of Rock!.
Spicer said the theater is closed on some holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, but otherwise the Salina Theater is always a busy place.
“Aside from those days, there’s rehearsals, classes (and) performances in this space every other day of the year,” Spicer said. “In most cases, three to five different activities are running at any one time.”
This last week of May is one of the few times that there is only one thing really going on in the theater. “Kinky Boots” closing the 2021-2022 season. The show is in rehearsals and that’s it for now, but that all changes as the calendar rolls into next month.
“In June we’ll have ‘Kinky Boots’ in the show, we’ll audition ‘Addams Family,’ Summerstage will happen (and) Stage II will begin,” Spicer said.
Additionally, Coberly and Brown said the Center for Theater Arts’ camp schedule begins May 31 and will last through July.
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Spicer said he knows there are changes here now, like the new name, and more changes on the horizon for the Salina Theater, but he hopes people who come and buy tickets for shows take classes at CTA or find other reasons to come to Theater Salina see these changes positively.
“The people who know us, the people who are our patrons, know that whether (the name) is Theater Salina or Salina Community, the quality of what they’re going to see here is going to be the same,” Spicer said .