Newman University brings back theatre with performances, academic programs

Sep 02, 2011

Though all the world’s a stage, the one at Newman University has been less active in recent years than the school has been accustomed to. That will change beginning this fall, however, when the university revives the theatre program with performances, classes and the beginnings of a full academic program.

Since 1934 theatre has been an important part of the institution, helping students appreciate and participate in the dramatic arts. In the 1960s, the theatre program excelled under the leadership of Lillian (Sister Theophane) Taylor, who directed plays and musicals that drew large audiences. Newman continued to produce plays and musicals until the recent past, but theatre as an academic discipline disappeared from the university several years ago.

Newman officials have now announced the return of theatre, beginning this fall when the university will produce the first of what will become an annual dramatic performance. In the spring 2012 semester, Newman will also begin producing an annual musical. The university will also present a variety of smaller shows through the year, as well as a continuing schedule of concerts by the Newman Chorale and Troubadours singing groups.

For the first time in years, the university will also offer theatre as an academic program. Newman is offering classes beginning this fall that lead to a minor in theatre. Beginning in the spring 2013 semester, the university plans to offer a major in theatre (pending final approval by the Newman Board of Trustees) for the first time in the institution’s history.

“This is truly an historic step for Newman University,” said President Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D. “We’re very excited to bring theatrical productions back to Newman, and to expand our academic offerings in this area. Our students, alumni and people throughout the Wichita community have been very happy to hear this news.”

The fall dramatic performance is scheduled for Nov. 17-20.

Faculty and staff hired

Two people who will be instrumental in the return of theatre to Newman are Mark Mannette, director of theatre, and Rod James, technical director and designer. Both were recently hired to lead the university’s efforts in reviving the program.

Mannette is an actor, director, playwright and educator who most recently served as assistant professor of theatre at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, N.C. He has taught at several colleges and schools, including James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Va., the Brunnenburg Museum & Study Center, Tirolo, Italy, Mary Baldwin College and Stuart Hall Prep School, Staunton, Va., and many others. He has also founded or served as artistic director for production companies, dinner theatres, community theatres, museums and other venues in Florida, North Carolina, Maine, Minnesota and Virginia.

Mannette is renowned for his expertise in Shakespeare, historical theatre, murder mysteries, musical theatre, children’s theatre and other genres. He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Directing Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama in Performance, and a Master of Arts in Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature in Performance, both from Mary Baldwin College in partnership with the American Shakespeare Center. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatre Arts from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut. He and his wife Alice have three sons, Ruel, 16, Aidan, 13, and Benjamin, 10.

Mannette, who has a strong track record of building theatre programs during his career, said he sees great potential for theatre at Newman.

“Newman has great facilities, and our Technical Director Rod James and I share views on what we want to accomplish. We’re initially having to assemble the talent to build the program. Once we start regular productions I think it will generate enthusiasm among other students to participate, or enjoy as audience members. ”

Like Mannette, James brings a wealth of experience to the job. He comes to Newman from PlayMakers Repertory Company in Chapel Hill, N.C., where he was assistant technical director. He has been a director, designer, production artisan, and actor for film, television, stage and studio since 1979. He is also a professional musician and is a Texas state-certified educator in both theatre and art.

James holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Dramatic Art from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and has studied teacher education at the Tarleton State University School of Graduate Studies in Killeen, Texas. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas.

Campaign now underway

While the creation of a new academic major requires the support and efforts of faculty members like Mannette and James, it also requires the support of the Newman and Wichita arts communities. To that end Newman has begun a campaign to secure the funds necessary to support the theatre program.

Newman officials said launching the program will require more than $100,000 per year for the next three years. It is clear, however, that the effect of the arts makes the goal a worthy one.

“We all understand the profound impact the performing arts have on student achievement,” says Director of Mission Effectiveness Charlotte Rohrbach, ASC, Ph.D., who led the committee charged with bringing theatre back to Newman and creating the fundraising campaign. “We are committed to meeting our goal.”

The campaign began with a major gift solicitation from people and organizations with ties to the arts. Other fundraising activities have included two performances hosted by Newman in August 2010 of “The Miracle of Father Kapaun,” a reader’s theatre production based on Wichita Eagle journalist Roy Wenzl’s series of columns about the late Fr. Emil Kapaun, a candidate for sainthood in the Catholic Church. All funds raised from those performances and an associated special dinner went to the theatre campaign.

Newman is also selling “Support the Arts” posters with all proceeds going to the theatre campaign. The poster, which features colorful artwork by Wichita political cartoonist Richard Crowson, sells for $10 unframed, or $50 framed.

Newman will also benefit from the university’s founding and sponsoring order, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ. The religious congregation will match donations from Newman alumni up to $30,000 over the three year period.

To purchase a poster or make a gift in support of the return of theatre at Newman, contact Rohrbach at 316-942-4291, ext. 2167, or Molly Fox at 316-942-4291, ext. 2174.