Carrie Rengers

Music Theatre Wichita documentary educates and entertains

Behind the scenes at Music Theatre Wichita

From first rehearsals to final build and opening night, MTWichita employs 300 seasonal employees to make Broadway-scale musical entertainment possible right in the heart of downtown Wichita. (Courtesy of Music Theatre Wichita / Steven C. Smith / D
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From first rehearsals to final build and opening night, MTWichita employs 300 seasonal employees to make Broadway-scale musical entertainment possible right in the heart of downtown Wichita. (Courtesy of Music Theatre Wichita / Steven C. Smith / D

In addition to producing “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” last week, Music Theatre Wichita also produced a documentary about how the company works.

While the play was about entertaining audiences, the documentary was about educating them – on Music Theatre and Century II.

“The idea was to show people the complexity of what we do … and how this facility has accommodated and encouraged that,” says producing artistic director Wayne Bryan.

Bryan and Music Theatre aren’t affiliated with any of the groups taking stances on whether to save Century II or build a new performing arts and convention center downtown.

Instead, Bryan wants people to understand that there were features built into Century II that would be unusual in today’s buildings, such as paint and carpentry shops, rehearsal rooms and prop and costume shops. He says he wants to make sure Music Theatre continues to have those things, whether they’re in Century II or a new building.

“We’ve always wished we could help people understand the difference between what we do in the summer and what most cities have, which is touring shows,” he says. “There’s sometimes some confusion.”

Bryan says the sets and costumes that the company creates aren’t used only in Wichita. They’re rented to other companies, which accounts for about 10 percent of Music Theatre’s annual income.

“We’re just celebrating what Music Theatre has been able to uniquely do for 46 years here,” Bryan says. “It’s very unusual to have this.”

In May, Bryan began thinking of doing a documentary that would offer a backstage tour.

When most people take a tour, Bryan says, “Inevitably their reaction is, ‘Wow, I had no idea all that went on here.’ 

He knew that “Hunchback” would use projectors to project images into the show’s scenery, so he contacted his brother about doing a documentary to show before performances.

Bryan’s brother, Steven C. Smith, is a four-time Emmy-nominated documentary film producer in Los Angeles.

“He is used to a very swift schedule,” Bryan says.

With help from Wichita’s Digital Brand, which shot footage in June, Smith began editing in early July, and the 9-minute documentary was ready to go by July 26.

“We were shooting for five minutes, but there was so much good stuff,” Bryan says.

The documentary explains how Music Theatre spends 70 percent of its annual $4.1 million budget locally by hiring Wichita talent, renting hotel rooms and apartments and buying supplies here.

“What we do is so unique as a Wichita entrepreneurial business that creates jobs every year,” Bryan says.

The documentary also discusses how Music Theatre has long been something that attracts people downtown.

“We like to think we’re at the forefront of that most of the time,” Bryan says. “We were sort of the Lone Rangers here.”

There’s now going to be a social media push with the documentary. Bryan thinks it will both educate and entertain.

“There’s a lot of joy in what we do that is conveyed when you see it being created,” he says.

“It really does celebrate how Wichita has managed to have such a unique industry that really does have national impact.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers

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