WSU Newsline: The rise and fall of opera houses in Kansas
Monday, June 1, 2009 12:08 PM

The scripts are available for printing and for sound bite identification.


Go to http://www.wichita.edu/newsline to get the current Wichita State University Newsline. If you cannot access the Newsline at the Web address above, contact Joe Kleinsasser at (316) 978-3013 or joe.kleinsasser@wichita.edu. Newsline cuts may be edited to suit your needs. If you have additional questions for Jane Rhoads after listening to the WSU Newsline, please contact her at (316) 978-3773 or jane.rhoads@wichita.edu.



No matter its size, Kansas residents took enormous pride in their community's opera house or hall. The glory age of Kansas opera houses has long since passed, but their significance in Kansas history is well documented in the book "Kansas Opera Houses — Actors and Community Events 1855-1925." The book's author, Jane Rhoads, director of undergraduate success programs at Wichita State University, visited 432 Kansas towns during the past 17 years, researching Kansas opera houses. The book has been selected as a 2009 Kansas Notable Book, by the Kansas Center for the Book at the State Library of Kansas.


Voice wrap:

Announcer: What's the first thing that comes to mind when someone says Kansas? It's probably not opera houses, yet Kansas is rich in opera house history. Jane Rhoads of Wichita State University learned a lot while visiting 432 Kansas towns during the past 17 years researching Kansas opera houses.

Rhoads: Opera houses came in all shapes and sizes, all the way from an empty room above a grocery store to something as magnificent as the Brown Grand Theatre in Concordia. Altogether I found information concerning 903 opera houses that existed in Kansas.

Announcer: Rhoads is the author of the book "Kansas Opera Houses — Actors and Community Events 1855-1925." If you're looking to do something a little different, consider visiting some of these historical places. You, like Rhoads, may be intrigued by the social and theatrical significance wrapped around these opera houses. This is Joe Kleinsasser at Wichita State University.


Sound bite #1

Rhoads talks about the heyday of opera houses in Kansas. The sound bite is 14 seconds and the outcue is "to 1910."

Rhoads: "Opera houses in Kansas were particularly popular from shortly after the Civil War until basically World War I. The heyday of opera houses was about 1880 to 1910."


Sound bite #2

Rhoads explains why she studied opera houses. The sound bite is 14 seconds and the outcue is "in Kansas."

Rhoads: "My great grandfather built an opera house in Eldon, Iowa, the McHaffey Opera House, and as a child I used to visit there, play on the stage and loved it. And so when my children were grown, I wanted to find out how many opera houses there were in Kansas."


Sound bite #3

Rhoads says opera houses brought entertainment and excitement to the community. The sound bite is 26 seconds and the outcue is "a community building."

Rhoads: "Opera houses really could be thought of as community centers, and they were where churches met before they had actually built their church building. They were where traveling troupes played. The troupes brought with them, you know, entertainment, excitement to the community. They were where the various civic organizations met. So you really could think of an opera house as a community building."


Sound bite #4

Rhoads says a number of interesting opera houses still exist in Kansas. The sound bite is 26 seconds and the outcue is "the Orpheum."

Rhoads: "There's a number of really interesting opera houses that still exist in Kansas. Several of my favorites would be the McPherson Opera House, which is in the process of being renovated. The Brown Grand in Concordia is certainly the most elaborate, but other communities have done a nice job with their opera houses, too — Wamego, the Columbian Opera House; Waterville, (and) Wichita, the Orpheum.


Sound bite #5

Rhoads talks about factors that led to the end of the opera house era. The sound bite is 37 seconds and the outcue is "torn down."

Rhoads: "Opera houses really were the community center and seemed to be the distinguishing moment. The end of the opera house era would be when the high school built an auditorium. Everyone remembers the opera house; that's where we graduated. And once the graduations stopped, opera houses tended to fall into disrepair. Another thing that caused the opera house era to end was fires, because this was the day when there were no fire stations. So if a fire erupted, and opera houses were lit by gas, so many of them burned down and those that didn't burn down were simply torn down."


Sound bite #6

Rhoads talks about how the remaining opera houses are used today. The sound bite is 31 seconds and the outcue is "commercial properties."

Rhoads: "Altogether, there are 54 opera houses in Kansas still standing with their stages, and, of these, 16 are still used as entertainment venues, and 18 are used as community centers. There are several opera houses then that have stages, but the building's empty. And then there are a number of opera houses that are used for a variety of community events. They are used as shopping malls, as furniture stores, commercial properties."

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Contact: Jane Rhoads, (316) 978-3773 or jane.rhoads@wichita.edu.
Created on Jun 1, 2009 12:08 PM; Last modified on Jun 2, 2009 9:02 AM