Music Theatre Wichita offers public a peek into its warehouse

Music Theatre Wichita artistic director Wayne Bryan tries on a costume from the musical "Me and My Girl" that's stored inside an enormous two story warehouse where the group’s sets are stored. The warehouse will be open for tours on Friday.
Music Theatre Wichita artistic director Wayne Bryan tries on a costume from the musical "Me and My Girl" that's stored inside an enormous two story warehouse where the group’s sets are stored. The warehouse will be open for tours on Friday. The Wichita Eagle

Music theater fans: Here’s you chance to storm the barricades, “Les Miserables”-style.

To pose with a 1900s-era luxury Italian car and cruise down “Sunset Boulevard.”

To steer “The Phantom of the Opera’s” creepy black boat. To commandeer Tevye’s cart and pretend to deliver milk to his “Fiddler On the Roof” neighbors.

One of the unique ArtDog events being offered April 24  is a tour of one of Music Theatre Wichita’s two 30,000-square-foot storage warehouses. Vistors will get a rare chance to see the fascinatingly random organized chaos of the storage facility at 1012 N. Washington, which houses thousands and thousands of costumes, props and set pieces that MTW uses, reuses and rents to theater groups across the country.

“We thought this was something people would kind of get a kick out of seeing,” said Wayne Bryan, MTW’s producing artistic director.

The warehouse is a collector’s dream. A Goodwill meets DAV meets flea market. If you can imagine an item, it’s likely somewhere in that two-story warehouse – labeled, inventoried and inspected by Mary Sue Dymack, the rentals and inventory director who’s reigned over MTW’s properties for 40 years.

Dymack has the whole place meticulously organized.

On the first floor, carefully grouped, are giant set pieces for several full productions. The student barricades from “Les Miserables” are piled in one corner, daring passersby not to scale them. (Next weekend, they’re welcome to.)

Another corner is home to the bright pink set of “Legally Blonde,” eerily guarded along the edge by naked purple mannequins that, when onstage, occupy the window of the dress shop where Elle Woods goes shopping for her dream dress.

“There’s the ‘Seussical’ set,” Bryan says, pointing out the doctor’s blue floating bathtub. “And there’s ‘Oklahoma,’” he says, motioning to another stacked-high pile of platforms, barrels, fencing, rocking chairs and a surrey (minus the fringe on top.) “I can tell by Aunt Eller’s windmill.”

Hiding here and there are other giant and famous set pieces. The convertible black car from “Sunset Boulevard.” The phantom’s boat, which the warehouse staff has nicknamed “Cletus.” Tevye’s cart. Half of a vintage sports car.

MTW builds two or three of its own sets each summer, then stores them in case Bryan wants to use them again. But over the past several years, they’ve turned their warehouses into a rental business that brings in around $300,000 a year, about 10 percent of the organization’s operating budget.

The full sets, costumes and all, are advertised on a website, mtwrentals.org, that’s seen by theater groups all over North America. Colleges, high schools and professional theater groups from across the United States and Canada rent them – and pay big money to do so. The set of “Mary Poppins” is the most expensive set MTW rents. It takes three full-sized moving vans to ship it, and the base rental rate is $35,000.

But that’s still less expensive for theater groups than building their own sets.

The second floor of the warehouse might be even more fascinating than the first.

One one side are racks and racks of costumes – random pieces that can be grabbed for general costuming. They’re arranged by color – here’s a section of hundreds of pairs of brown dress slacks, there’s a group of black and white ball gowns. There are wedding dresses, priests’ vestments, men’s blazers, vampire capes and fur coats.

Nearby another section of racks hold full costume collections from specific shows. Back in the corner are the racks where three full sets of the gold high-kicker costumes from “A Chorus Line” live. But it appears two have been rented out. The “Man of La Mancha” rack is full, though, boasting royal purple vestments with ornate, puffy sleeves.

“Mary, can you get my cape from ‘Me and My Girl’ down?” Bryan asks Dymack, who pushes a ladder over to retrieve from a high rack a 30-pound red velvet cape trimmed with animal print.

Bryan wore the cape when he appeared in “Me and My Girl” as Bill Snibson in 1993 and 2004. It’s one of his favorites, and he always remembers where it hangs. He tries it on with a flourish.

The rest of the upstairs is filled with a head-spinning assortment of items, piled on shelves or stacked in corners. Street lamps. Canons. A giant, ornate voting board from “1776” that announced how each state answered on the question of independence.

Dozens of couches. Hundreds of chairs, upholstered and not. Adding machines. Mannequins, full and halved.

Television sets. Computer screens from every generation. Park benches. Baskets. Desks. Bags of pompons. A stuffed pig. Lanterns. Telephones. Fake plants. Faker flowers.

The props and pieces that aren’t acquired by the MTW staff for shows are donated by Wichitans clearing out their junk, and MTW is happy to accept almost all of it, Bryan says.

This weekend, Wichita can inspect almost all of it.

Dymack and her crew will offer guided tours of the warehouse and will serve refreshments in one corner, likely set up on a collection of red tables from “High School Musical.”

Visitors can pose for pictures with on the “Les Mis” barricades, in the “Phantom of the Opera” boat and more.

“We wanted to do something that showed the behind-the-scenes part of things,” said Angela Cassette, MTW’s development director. “We thought it would be great if people could jet over and see something they don’t normally get a chance to see.”

Music Theatre Wichita Open (Ware)house

When: 5 to 7 p.m. April 24

Where: 1012 N. Washington

Online: See a video of the MTW warehouse at kansas.com/entertainment


▪ Eight more interesting events, you can check out at ArtDog, Page 4.