Almost from the first time Mike Garvey stepped on the Wichita Center for the Arts stage – it was a 1984 production of “Heidi,” and he played Peter, “which is the main little dude,” as Garvey puts it – he knew theater would be part of his life.
Never did he imagine, though, that he’d one day buy the 40,000-square-foot building at 9112 E. Central to start his own performing venture there.
That’s what the Builders Inc. president is now doing with the Wichita Center for the Performing Arts, a place for children to act, sing, dance, do magic, sword fighting and even hula hooping.
“Whether kids like to dance or sing or act or play an instrument, we want them to come here to learn and be able to perform and to have a safe place to express themselves in front of people,” Garvey says.
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There will be four dedicated performance spaces – the 487-seat Prairie Vista Theater, the Cottonwood Gallery, the Firefly Foyer and the Redgate Courtyard – along with 10 classrooms and 13 1/2 acres outside for kids to “dance through the woods – whatever,” Garvey says.
Shelli Kadel, the center’s director, will hire teachers and schedule classes.
“There’s a revenue model that we’re setting up with teachers,” Garvey says.
Kadel says the center will offer teaching contracts for classes it offers.
Other instructors can get involved at a variety of levels, such as renting a studio for a day, a week or on a regular schedule with possibly a split-fee arrangement.
“We hope to have the building operating throughout the day,” she says.
Mornings likely will be more centered on preschool children.
As Have You Heard? reported last week, Discovery Place is taking 12,000 square feet at the center for its preschool. It’s where Garvey’s children go.
“It’s a great creative foundation for kids,” he says. “It teaches them to think creatively.”
Kadel says afternoons may focus more on programs that make sense for home-schooled children, and then other children could attend afternoon and evening programs.
She says there will be camps and master classes on weekends.
There’s going to be a nonprofit side to the center as well with the Wichita Repertory Theater.
“That’s really going to help with the programming,” Garvey says. “It’s going to help produce shows for the center.”
He says he wants to work with other nonprofits to get them in the center as well for additional programming.
“We want to work with them,” Garvey says. “The business is more of a venue rental for nonprofits to come and perform … their work.”
Mark Arts, which is what the Wichita Center for the Arts is now known as, is moving to its new space at 13th and Rock Road late this year.
Garvey will take over the East Central space in February and do some remodeling, including adding stages, sound equipment and lighting.
“We will have limited programming in the spring,” he says. “In the summer we’ll have quite a bit.”
By September 2018, there will be full classes and shows scheduled.
“It’s a fantastic space for what we’re trying to do there,” Garvey says.
He says he’s going to insist that “at the end of each class period, each session, the kids have to perform,” even if that’s just a couple of minutes in front of parents.
Garvey says even if the kids don’t go on to be performers for the rest of their lives, the experience gives them self-confidence and the ability to speak and convey their thoughts well.
“Just giving kids an outlet for that, it helps … inform the rest of their life.”
Garvey says he was an “angsty teen” and that theater “probably saved my life.”
“It helped me deal with things that were going on in my own life, and I just want to provide that for kids.”
Garvey says he was a “somewhat successful” actor in New York and Los Angeles.
“I was always interested in the business side, I think, once I actually knew who I was and what I like to do,” he says. “In fact, I could probably teach a class on what not to do.”
Garvey says he sees potential for theater in Wichita that Wichita may not see for itself.
He says he wants to model his Wichita Repertory Theater after the Tony-winning Children’s Theatre Co. in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Repertory Theatre in Kansas City, Mo.
“We think Wichita should have a Tony award-winning theater,” Garvey says. “We think we’re good enough.”
He adds that Music Theatre Wichita’s producing director already deserves that honor.
“Personally I think Wayne Bryan needs a Tony, but that’s a whole other question.”
Garvey isn’t suggesting that the Wichita Center for the Performing Arts students all need to be stars.
“Whether they are any good or not, I just want them to be able to have that experience.”
Garvey says that foundation could change some lives.
“I was thinking 12-year-old Mike (would be) pretty excited that he got to come back and come up with this idea.”