Exterior of the Historic Fox Theatre in downtown Springfield
The Historic Fox Theatre, located on Park Central Square, will be the new home of Springfield Contemporary Theatre. (Photo: Downtown Springfield Association)

A new venue, a new season and even a new employee. It’s a time of big growth for Springfield Contemporary Theatre.

The company announced plans to take over as the first resident company at the Historic Fox Theatre, located on Park Central Square May 12 before unveiling its 28th season May 15. It’s a season specially designed for the new venue.

“It’s a great space, it’s a great location, it’s got a lot of history,” said Rick Dines, SCT’s managing artistic director. “It’s a wonderful house. It’s a very acoustically sound house. It’s a house that feels good to be in. It’s one of our downtown jewels, with the Landers and the Gillioz.”

Trial run at the Fox was a success

SCT has already staged a show in the Fox. It collaborated with Mosaic Arts Collective for a production of “The Color Purple” in February. Talks were already in progress between SCT and the History Museum on the Square, which owns the Fox, and “The Color Purple” was treated as a trial run.

It was a very successful trial.

“With ‘The Color Purple,’ it was so thrilling to see the Fox Theatre house a fully mounted theatrical production for the first time in most of our lifetimes,” Dines said in a press release. “The fresh energy not only to all our organizations, but also Park Central Square was inspiring. We look forward to seeing how we can all grow and benefit from bringing this venue to new life. And we are so happy to return SCT back to downtown Springfield.”

Springfield Contemporary Theatre previously operated out of the Wilhoit Plaza. It opted not to renew its lease in January 2021, moving its day-to-day operations to a spot on East Chestnut Expressway. It spent the last two years presenting performances digitally, at the Springfield Art Museum, at Mother’s Brewing Company and on the Back Lot of its Chestnut Expressway space.

A person stands on a stage in front of a backdrop that reads "Rated SGF"
The Rated SGF Film Festival is one of many events that have taken place inside the Historic Fox Theatre. That venue is the new home for Springfield Contemporary Theatre’s productions. (Photo: Downtown Springfield Association)

As the resident company, SCT will use the Fox as its primary performance venue, while continuing to use other venues for smaller productions or special music events. SCT plans to wrap up its 27th season at the Fox Theatre with productions of “Urinetown, The Musical” opening June 16 and the Broadway play “Pass Over” opening July 21.

“The History Museum on the Square is excited to collaborate with SCT on their upcoming seasons,” Sean FitzGibbons, executive director at the History Museum, said in a press release. “So much is happening downtown, we are proud to be a part of Springfield’s growing vibrant arts and cultural community. The combination of Springfield Contemporary Theatre and the History Museum on the Square’s missions is inspiring, and we are ready to get to work.”

‘Ambitious’ 28th season includes Pulitzer Prize winners

SCT’s 28th season features two Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, three Broadway musicals and a holiday show for all ages.

“It’s an exciting season, an ambitious season and we’re having to kind of expand ourselves a bit in order to grow into this new mission and this new level,” Dines said.

It starts Sept. 8 with the musical “Big Fish,” based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the Columbia motion picture written by John August.

“Considering Matthew Shepard” follows in mid-October. The special event will be co-produced with the Springfield Chamber Chorus. It’s a Grammy-nominated fusion oratorio by Craig Hella Johnson that is a response to the murder of Shepard, a college student, in 1998. He was kidnapped, beaten and left to die in an anti-gay hate crime.

Four actors rehearse a scene from "The Color Purple: The Musical"
Imaney Mwiula, LaComa Bass, Adora Snead and Samari Johnson rehearse for “The Color Purple: The Musical.” (Photo: Sony Hocklander)

“Fences,” “Parade” also highlight 28th season

SCT will produce the work of dramatist August Wilson when “Fences” runs March 14-21, 2024. It tells the story of Troy Maxson, a fictional former Negro Baseball League star who works as a garbage man in 1957 Pittsburgh. Maxson is bitter that he never got a shot to play in the Major Leagues and that takes its toll on his relationships with his wife and son, who now wants his own chance to play ball.

“August Wilson is one of the greatest American dramatists to ever live and his work has not been produced in Springfield before,” Dines said. “There have been a couple of attempts to produce August Wilson in Springfield, to my knowledge, but I don’t believe any production has been fully produced. I’m thrilled that we’re going to do a production of ‘Fences.’ It’s right there with ‘Death of a Salesman’ and ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ as one of the great American plays.”

Dines will direct “Parade” June 14-30, 2024. Based on a true story, Leo and Lucille Frank are a newlywed Jewish couple struggling to make a life in Georgia. When Leo is accused of an unspeakable crime, it propels them into an unimaginable test of faith, humanity, justice and devotion.

It’s a play Dines said he’s been wanting to do, the play, one of his favorite musicals, for more than 20 years.

“We were actually slated to do it to close our 2019-2020 season,” he said. “We were three days into rehearsal when COVID shut it down. Part of it has been waiting to have a venue to put it in again. Quite honestly, I have a better venue to put it in now than I did before. I’m very excited to finally get to do that.

The rest of Springfield Contemporary Theatre’s 28th season includes:

  • “Fairview,” Oct. 20-Nov. 5
  • “Treasure Island,” Dec. 1-17
  • “Rock of Ages,” Feb. 2-18
  • “The Other Place,” a co-production with the Resident Artist Ensemble, April 26-May 12, 2024
Andie Bottrell, left, and Keisha McMillen rehearse a scene from Springfield Contemporary Theatre’s production of “The Cake.” Bottrell plays Jen and McMillen plays Macy in the show. (Photo by Payton Jackson)

Wylie-Gaspard joins SCT as production manager

And then there’s the new employee. Katie Wylie-Gaspard, a longtime SCT collaborator, has joined the staff full-time as production manager. She’ll be working alongside Payton Jackson, SCT’s technical director, to help bring productions to life on stage.

Over the years Wylie-Gaspard has worked as a freelance stage manager, scenic designer, scenic artist and interpreter for SCT. She has also served as the technical director for the inaugural year of Springfield Little Theatre’s Education Department at The Judith Enyeart Reynolds School of the Performing Arts, building its studio theatre. Wylie-Gaspard also stage managed for Ozarks Lyric Opera.

The Springfield native is a graduate of Springfield Catholic High School. Wylie-Gaspard started her theatre career as a teenager, volunteering at Springfield Little Theatre and the Vandivort Center Theatre. Wylie-Gaspard studied theatre at Missouri State University before leaving for St. Louis to pursue a degree in American Sign Language interpreting. 

During her time in St. Louis, Wylie-Gaspard worked as stage manager and scenic artist for several theatres as well as the Florissant Valley Theatre of the Deaf. Her proficiency in ASL has allowed her to interpret for numerous Broadway tours as well as musicians like Cyndi Lauper, Dave Matthews and James Taylor. She has also interpreted for numerous local performances as well as events like Ozarks Pridefest.

Jeff Kessinger

Jeff Kessinger is the Reader Engagement Editor for the Springfield Daily Citizen, and the voice of its daily newsletter SGF A.M. He covered sports in southwest Missouri for the better part of 20 years, from young athletes to the pros. The Springfield native and Missouri State University alumnus is thrilled to be doing journalism in the Queen City, helping connect the community with important information. He and wife Jamie daily try to keep a tent on the circus that is a blended family of five kids and three cats. More by Jeff Kessinger