As much as Music Theatre Wichita is known for its flashy mainstage shows, Wayne Bryan says, there’s equal accomplishment in the company’s educational mission.
“We’ve always prided ourselves that it’s not enough for us to put on shows in the summer, but we want this to be a learning opportunity for everybody involved,” said Bryan, entering his 33rd season as producing artistic director. “Not just the high-schoolers and the college people, but also for our Broadway folks who get to learn some new things.”
“For those of us who have been here for a while, it’s a learning summer – trying new things … new techniques or just learning how the new shows are constructed,” he added. “It’s always a learning adventure.”
The result is the debut, beginning Monday, of the MTW Online Academy, with three video courses available online at mtwichita.org/education/online_academy:
“GameChangers,” with Bryan and Lyndy Franklin Smith, a former MTW company member and guest director who is now artistic director of Kentucky’s Lexington Theatre Company, discussing pivotal moments in the history of musical theater.
“Recording them was just joyful,” Bryan said. “I think audiences will enjoy the interplay and the information. They’re not at all stuffy or dated or time driven. We’re looking at overviews of what influences whom. I’m learning something in every episode, and that’s the goal at this time of life, to just keep learning.”
“Gotta Dance,” with Brian J. Marcum, artistic director of MTW and the successor to Bryan’s role as producing artistic director, teaching dance moves for expected audiences from beginners to professionals.
“It’s like being in the studio when I teach. I mess up a few times, and you get that for free,” Marcum added with a laugh.
“Technically Speaking,” with production director Mitchell Southerland discussing various aspects of backstage jobs in the theater. That sprung out of a successful “Tech in a Box” last year, which provided interns with the ingredients to make a stage prop, as well as learning how a stage manager does their job.
“The behind-the-scenes world is part of the process that many people don’t get to really see,” he said. “The ability to bring people along with me and show what goes into making light and design or showing what a stage manager does was really exciting for me.”
Each course is $50. The number of episodes range from six to 12, and each have a different release schedule.
The courses come after a year when the pandemic forced MTW to change its game plan, canceling its season for the first time and offering online sessions to keep the company top-of-mind and extend its outreach in the community.
“Everything pivoted to doing this digitally,” Bryan said. Subscribers, he said, were hungry for some connection through the summer.”
He hopes the Online Academy courses satisfy not only MTW patrons but provide material for educators adjusting to virtual school.
“I was just trying to find a format I thought would be interesting to lay people who enjoy their musicals but are not experts, but also perhaps to teachers who need to put together curriculums who need an overview of musical theater,” Bryan said.
“Teachers are just struggling to fill those hours on Zoom every week,” he added. “It’s something we can do to help them.”
Music Theatre Wichita celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer, with a revised schedule that moves productions from its longtime home at the Century II concert hall to the Capitol Federal Amphitheater in Andover and the Century II convention hall.
Bryan, Marcum and Southerland said they may consider extending their courses beyond the next few months, and Bryan said discussions have been made about further in-person instruction in a post-pandemic world.
All three said they enjoyed producing the online courses, all of which were produced and edited by Southerland. Marcum returned to his teaching role after time on the faculty at Syracuse and Oklahoma City universities, and Bryan saw the online discussions as an extension of his onstage role introducing each show on the Century II stage.
However, “These weighed on me because they are for posterity,” he added.
Marcum said he hopes the MTW audience is responsive to the Online Academy.
“We’ll give people who are stuck on their computers or TV screens a little hope, a little entertainment, a little instruction,” he said.