The show must go on: Even in face of COVID, Summit Theatre Group finds way to thrive

·3 min read

Becca Stabno was teaching her fitness class, cardio dancing to Broadway tunes, at Summit Theatre Group’s new studio when something struck her.

“I looked around and had this moment of realization,” said Stabno, who is Summit Theatre’s president.

“In one corner were two giant Audrey 2 plants props used in a ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ camp. In another corner, there were props for an upcoming production of ‘Mama Mia!’.”

Elsewhere, there were costumes, a keyboard, a sound board, a light board and even merchandise to sell at the front desk.

“I am so overwhelmed and proud and amazed that in the midst of a pandemic, when everything was about what we weren’t allowed to do, we figured out how to do,” Stabno said.

The nonprofit organization not only learned how to keep going, it moved forward and thrived.

Summit Theatre Group was started in 2012 by a group of area theater and business professionals who used various spaces in Lee’s Summit for a three-show first season. In 2014, the group partnered with Metropolitan Community College-Longview for productions.

Then, in 2017, the group’s board of directors decided to include education in the mission statement, which meant offering a variety of summer camps, workshops and weekly classes.

“We recognized arts education was an important need in our community and we were more than capable of providing quality education to all ages,” said Summit Theatre Group company manager Ginger Birch.

“As (with) most other organizations, the onset of the 2020 pandemic threw a big wrench into our season and education plans for the year,” Birch said, adding that the non-renewal with MCC-Longview, along with closures and cancellations of the season, forced the group to think creatively.

“We needed a place to call home despite the world coming to a halt. It was not lost on us that we had to find an affordable location with aggressive plans to support that financial need or we would cease to exist. We simply were not ready to close the doors.”

They found ways to perform, including a radio play, small summer workshops, online cabarets, a small outdoor production and a masked socially distanced production.

And, in October, they found a spot at 180 NW Oldham Parkway to convert.

“We have loved the flexibility of having our own space where we are not dependent on anyone else’s schedule,” said Laura Heath, committee chairwoman.

“We are able to consider what is going on in the community and the school calendar and schedule events to coincide with school breaks and summer breaks. We do not have to worry about competing with other groups for a limited availability of space.”

Summit Theatre treasurer Jamilee Mediak said the new space has been “a game changer” for directors.

Mediak recently directed Summit Theatre Group’s production of “Mama Mia!” She said that show began when masks were still mandated and “people were unsure what live theater would look like.

“We had complete control over who was in the space and how it was cleaned, giving us peace of mind during uncertain times,” she said. “We were able to keep all of our costumes and props secure and always at our disposal. In the past they would need to travel with us to various spaces and never had a ‘home’ in between rehearsals.

“I still can’t believe that we were able to find, afford and renovate a space during a pandemic,” Mediak said. “Without the support of our patrons, volunteers and board members, we could have never pulled this off.”

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