Monte Riegel Wheeler is one of the Wichita area’s best-known performers, having done live theater on nearly every local stage at one point or another.
That doesn’t necessarily mean he wanted to own a theater.
“The joke’s on me now,” he said with a laugh.
Wheeler and his business partner Brandon Hathaway are the new owners of Mosley Street Melodrama, 234 N. Mosley in Old Town.
Patty Reeder, who had owned the business since its beginning in 1997, officially sold the business Oct. 1.
Reeder, in a Facebook post, said she is looking forward to creative pursuits outside of the theater world.
Hathaway, who has worked at the Drury Plaza Broadview, Corporate Caterers, YaYa’s — and Mosley Street Melodrama — had expressed interest in buying the business years ago, Wheeler said.
At that point Reeder didn’t want to sell, and Hathaway couldn’t convince Wheeler to be an artistic director of sorts for the theater.
Recently Reeder reached out to Hathaway, asking if he would still be interested in buying the business.
This time around, Wheeler had changed his tune.
“I finally sort of caved in to the idea, because I think it’s just an important tradition for our city,” Wheeler said. “It brings a lot of people a lot of joy, and I just want to see that continue.”
The two aren’t planning any major changes for the theater, which is open year-round and produces six melodramas or musical-comedy revues a year. Each show runs for about six to eight weekends.
It is one of a handful of professional theaters in town — everyone at Mosley Street Melodrama is paid for their work.
“We do not have any volunteer actors, nor will we — no one is working for me for free,” Wheeler said. “It’s my heart’s desire to pay people more. ... I am excited to see the rate we get to pay people go up.”
The business is profitable, Wheeler said, “in that, in general, we are in the black most of the time.”
“I feel like there’s a lot of potential for it to grow,” Wheeler said. “This place has been here for 21 years, and I’ve been so surprised at how many people have never heard of it. ... The same is true of a lot of local theaters.”
Mosley Street Melodrama opened in 1997, the result of a partnership between Reeder and Scott Noah. The two had performed together in melodramas over the years at the long-running Empire House Theatre in Old Cowtown Museum, which closed in 1995 to pave the way for Cowtown expansion.
Wheeler helped the two open the place in 1997, and served as an associate producer at Cabaret Old Town (now known as Roxy’s Downtown) for 10 years.
Despite becoming a small-business owner, Wheeler isn’t planning on leaving the stage anytime soon.
He said he will be able to flex his Mosley Street schedule around his performances in Wichita and elsewhere.
“I always call it rotating my crops — I like to bounce around as a performer, and that’s what I’ve done for two decades,” he said. “I can accomplish a lot of work in the daytime here as a producer ... and I can get my own fulfillment as a performer outside of here when the opportunity is something that’s really important to me.”
Mosley Street Melodrama’s current musical comedy revue, “Will Santa Drink Canada Dry?,” runs Tuesdays to Sundays through Dec. 29. The theater will also be open for a New Year’s Eve revue.