Springfield, Missouri, is far removed from the glittering lights of Hollywood and New York City, so it may be the last place you think of as a thriving hub of theatrical activity. However, this city—the third largest in Missouri—has a rich theater history. Springfield has been the starting place for many acclaimed actors, including silent film actress Pearl White, of “Perils of Pauline” fame, and more recently Kyle Dean Massey, John Goodman, Kathleen Turner, Jack Laufer and Tess Harper.
Here are the top five theater hot spots to check out in the “Birthplace of Route 66.”
Springfield Little Theatre
Springfield Little Theatre at the Historic Landers Theatre.
If it’s old-world charm you’re looking for, Springfield’s Landers Theatre is the place to book your next theater experience. The historic venue—built in 1909 and rebuilt in 1921 after a devastating fire—is home to the Springfield Little Theatre, Missouri’s oldest and largest civic theater operation. In 1970, Springfield Little Theatre purchased Landers Theatre and has since worked to restore the 527-seat theater back to its 1909 Baroque Renaissance elegance.
The theater’s Media and Marketing Associate, Alex Scranton, said the volunteer-driven organization has been a staple in the community for 81 years.
“Our shows are created by members of the Springfield community, for the Springfield community. Besides our casts, which sometimes have more than 95 performers, we also have a huge volunteer base that helps us prepare for each show, whether that be sewing costumes, building the set or promoting the show in the community. We truly are your community theater.”
Springfield Little Theatre produces a season of nine plays and musicals for some 60,000 patrons annually, but those aren’t the only options for theater-goers. Landers Theatre also features concerts and recitals by the Springfield Regional Opera and the Springfield Ballet, including its annual performance of The Nutcracker.
Springfield Contemporary Theatre
Springfield Contemporary Theatre.
Find energetic, modern works on the cutting edge of theater production at the Springfield Contemporary Theatre. The non-profit production company, located in Downtown Springfield, performs more than 30 weekends per year.
SCT is known for its high standards of theater—and its high-caliber talent. Through a partnership with the Actors’ Equity Association, the organization is able to bring notable actors to the stage, such as Broadway star Kim Crosby and Lucas Grabeel from the High School Musical franchise.
“SCT’s theater seats 87 people, wrapped around three sides of the stage, which makes for an intimate experience,” said Rick Dines, managing artistic director.
“We have one of the most immersive theaters in town; you’re sitting just 16 feet from the stage. We also bring in shows that are edgier than you might find at other local theaters. Those shows are picked by the directors—the artists themselves—so they are already bringing in a passion for the material, and that passion is reflected in the productions.”
Recent shows include “Xanadu,” “Hair,” and “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”
The Mystery Hour at the Historic Gillioz Theatre.
The Gillioz Theatre draws in a larger crowd (more than 1,100 seats are available) looking for diverse entertainment options, from a rock concert one night to “Rocky Horror Picture Show” the next.
Located on Historic Route 66, the Gillioz (pronounced gil-LOIZ) was built nearly 90 years ago. Its design reflects the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style that was popular in the early 20th century, and its ornate interior, with Egyptian/Art Deco motif, has wowed guests for decades, including Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and Elvis.
Venue manager Joy Bilyeu-Steele said the architecture and welcoming atmosphere are some of the features that set the theater apart.
“The building itself is just breathtaking. I literally find something new every time I walk in. And we want you to feel like you’re part of something bigger when you’re here; this is your historic Gillioz Theatre. It belongs to the community.”
The Gillioz was meant for movie premieres and vaudeville routines, and it enjoyed decades of success. However, in the 1980s and 90s, it fell into disrepair. It would take 16 years to restore The Gillioz to its former glory—it reopened in 2006 and has since hosted a steady stream of films, concerts, comics and Broadway performances.
And with its back row just 100 feet from the stage, it is one of the few places you can get up close to the stars, Bilyeu-Steele said. “Knowing you’re going to be 20 feet away from Pat Benatar or Elvis Costello during a performance is an incredible experience.”
Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts
Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts. Credit: Missouri State University Photo Services.
One of the newest and largest event venues in Springfield, Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts is expansive, with a 2,264-seat theater (including multi-level boxes and orchestra pit), as well as public and private reception areas. It is located on Missouri State University’s campus and named after the wife of well-known developer John Q. Hammons.
There is something for everyone at the hall, including theater productions, concerts, children’s shows, emerging artist series and more. Its size also allows for national tours of Broadway productions, such as “Wicked.”
The Hall is a pivotal part of the arts community in Springfield. It partners with other arts organizations to bring in touring artists, and to house ongoing exhibitions celebrating the works of local artists and student artists. Missouri State also offers a variety of free performances here through its departments of Music, and Theatre and Dance.
The Hall, which opened in 1992, is available for rental for concerts, conferences and large-scale receptions.
Deb Gallion, The Hall’s director of marketing and promotions, said that in addition to the caliber of shows they bring, the venue’s staff and crew make invaluable contributions to each performance.
“We have a wonderful backstage crew of permanent staff and student workers who get uniformly rave reviews from all the artists who perform in our theater. We also have box office, marketing, business office, building staff and student workers who add their expertise and hard work to every production.
“Patrons of music and theater in Springfield and the surrounding area are very fortunate to have such a wide range of entertainment choices, and we are very proud to be a part of it.”
MSU Theatre and Dance Department
Missouri State University’s Theatre and Dance Department. Credit: Missouri State University Photo Services.
Watch history in the making at a Missouri State University’s Theatre and Dance Department production. MSU is known for being the starting place for many successful actors, including prolific actor John Goodman and budding star Kyle Dean Massey.
Theatre and Dance Department Head Dr. Christopher Herr said the department’s strong theater program allows the university to successfully present a variety of productions each year, ranging from classic plays to contemporary musicals and faculty-choreographed dance shows.
With two theaters located in Craig Hall—Coger Theatre, which holds 500, and Balcony Theatre, which holds 100—the department hosts six main-stage productions and two dance concerts each year. Student groups also have regular performances.
In June and July, Craig Hall’s patio is transformed by a large tent to make way for Tent Theatre, a 350-seat summer stock theater that features professional actors and technicians from across the country through the Actor’s Equity in Chicago.
“Our students are trained by excellent faculty; strong teachers with decades of professional performing and design experience,” Herr said. “Our programs are nationally recognized and getting stronger each year, and alumni work regularly on Broadway and in regional theaters across the country, and on film and television of all kinds.”
With something going on any given weekend, the area’s theaters offer a wealth of options for visitors and residents alike. Don’t let the curtain set on your visit to Springfield without checking out one of these amazing venues!
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