JoCo on the Go Podcast: Theatre in the Park season gets underway

On JoCo on the Go, episode #129, it’s something Johnson County residents look forward to every year – Theatre in the Park. The season kicks off this month with The Sparkletones, a heartwarming new musical drama about sisterhood and song, and how love endures no matter the time or distance. Hear from the director of the production. Also, learn about the other exciting shows scheduled for both indoor and outdoor Theatre in the Park locations. Find out how to get your tickets and enjoy a night of entertainment.


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Time Subject
00:22 Introduction
00:56 What's in store for the upcoming season of Theater in the Park?
03:03 What goes into a Theater in the Park production?
04:35 Many local performers have gone on to bigger stages
06:11 The Sparkletones
08:42 What's happening now to prepare for the new season?
10:15 How did the pandemic impact Theater in the Park?


Relevant links:

Theatre in the Park


Theresa Freed 00:00

It's something Johnson County residents look forward to every year. On this episode, find out what's in store for Theatre in the Park audiences.

Announcer 00:09

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed 00:22

Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host Theresa Freed a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County government. That Theatre in the Park schedule is out and it's packed with great entertainment for residents of all ages. Here to talk more about that we have with us Tim Bair, Fine and Performing Arts manager for Johnson County Park and Recreation District. And we also have with us Barbara Nichols, who's going to tell us all about this year's season opener. Thank you both for joining us today. First off, can you tell us what's in store for this year's Theatre in the Park season?

Tim Bair 00:56

Absolutely. Well, our season opener is starting and that's why Barbara is with us because she's actually the director of our first show and a co-writer of The Sparkletones. So we get a world premiere right out of the gate for 2022 which is really exciting. And then of course we have our five shows for this summer and we're opening with Something Rotten. And then Descendants, School of Rock, Zombie Prom, so it's good to have a zombie in there, and the SpongeBob musical for our summer season and then in the fall Barb will be back with us actually for Patsy Cline. Always, Patsy Cline, just a very sweet story. And then our holiday show in December is Seussical, The Musical

Theresa Freed 01:39

That sounds like a lot of a lot of fun for all ages, of course, and can you talk a little bit about how Theatre in the park transitions from indoor to outdoor and kind of what that looks like. So people know that you know, almost all year round you can you can enjoy this.

Tim Bair 01:54

For sure we're, indoor, we're at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center and Overland Park at 87th and Metcalf and indoor is it feels like a breeze sometimes really compared to outside. It's in the Black Box Theatre, which is a very, very sweet space. And it's much more intimate of course than outside which is gigantic and has a whole park and wildlife and everything around it. So our outside, outdoor, when we're outdoor, that's that's quite a feat. We have a scenic crew that comes on about mid May that starts building scenery and stuff for us. We have concessions, of course in front of house staff and my word the groundskeepers and the horticulturist, and everybody. So it's, it's, it's quite a big group of folks. And then we move back inside, of course, for fall. So it's kind of always a nice little thing to come inside. I think one of the biggest differences is the weather, of course. And when we're inside, we can focus lights and rehearse and do all kinds of stuff all day long. And at the park, we're not all you know, able to do that. But it, I really enjoy inside, but I think outdoors what probably most everyone associates us with?

Theresa Freed 03:03

Yes, certainly. And I, I tried to remember, I think there was some discussion about just the level of involvement of a lot of people volunteering their time. Can you just talk about what all goes into these productions?

Tim Bair 03:16

Sure. Will we start really early actually, for summer because our auditions are in April now. And, goodness sakes, every show outdoor has a 10-person production staff on it, so there's 50 people that are actually put, helping us put together the shows, music directors, directors, stage managers, choreographers, that kind of stuff. And on a good year, well, I say good year, we could see 600 people audition for our five shows, which is pretty remarkable. Because generally speaking nowadays, we have maybe 150, 175 people that will appear on stage really depends on what shows we have and how big the ensembles are, how many dancers we need, you know, that kind of stuff. So it's a big, it's a, it's a very involved kind of early in the year. And then that takes us through the first weekend in March til our summer season ends. But then of course we carry on with the fall too. And we have individual auditions for our spring show, our fall, and our holiday show as well.

Theresa Freed 04:16

And just the the production experience, it's just amazing. When you watch it and so I just, when I watch it, I'm I'm shocked at how talented everyone is who's involved in all of this. And so can you talk about like has this helped launch careers in theater?

Tim Bair 04:35

Well, it certainly has. And just personally speaking, I'll say it was it's actually where I really began. And one of the very first shows that I worked on as an not onstage person was as a choreographer and Barb was involved it as well. Barb directed Oklahoma, I think it was 1988 I think? Are we allowed to say how old we are?

Barbara Nichols 04:59

Well not very loudly, but yes.

Tim Bair 05:03

I look great for 100.

Barbara Nichols 05:08

When I directed it...

Tim Bair 05:10


Theresa Freed 05:11

That's really impressive.

Tim Bair 05:14

And, and honestly, yes, there have been numerous, numerous people on our stage that have gone on to, you know, regional careers, Broadway careers really. And there have been a few film people, I believe that have been on our stage that have enjoyed some Hollywood success. So I think it's a really, it's a, it's a great place to get a start. And to hone your craft. I had a friend that was a casting director in New York, and she called me one time and she goes, what is in the water in Kansas, all these people from Kansas keep coming in, and they're wonderful. So I think, you know, we're just one theater in town. But I think Kansas City just in general is a really great place. There's a lot of theater going on, people can get on stage, they can work backstage, you know, that's a whole other element to people on production staffs, and technicians that really want to go on and have large careers. Many, many of them have worked at Theatre in the Park with us.

Theresa Freed 06:11

I certainly believe it. And we want to talk about this season opener. So Barbara, tell us all about it. How did this, how did this happen? And then what can the audience expect?

Barbara Nichols 06:22

Well, it's an original musical called The Sparkletones. And the idea of my writing partner, Krista Eyler, who's also in the show, her mother was actually in a singing group in the late 60s For a woman singing group called The Sparkletones. And we took that concept, and then just kind of made our own show out of it. So it's set in the late 60s into the 70s. And it's this group that gets stranded as people who live in Kansas know if the weather can change on a dime, and they're on their way to Denver, and they get stranded in western Kansas because of the weather and have to spend the night at a diner. And things happen that evening about the dynamics of the group. And so it's it's got a great score, it's got some 60s sounding songs, they do some as the group and then it's also telling the story of their lives and their relationships.

Tim Bair 07:17

It's very sweet to true. So I'll say that part of the show is later as I understand it, later in her life, Krista’s mom was a member of a read a how's it called round-robin group where they would trade letters back and forth, how old fashioned writing a hand letter by hand, you know, how fun and, and they incorporated that into the show too. And there's very, very sweet moments in the show when they're conversing back and forth and letters, and it helps tell the story. It's just, it's really sweet. And the music's lovely. And the cast is just wonderfully talented. And I'm just so excited. We get to do it. It's just really fun.

Theresa Freed 07:55

And so what did the audition process look like? How did you fill these roles?

Barbara Nichols 07:59

Um, because this is a co production. We had planned to do it last year and we had already reached out to the actors that we wanted. And so we did not have auditions for this show. We had already cast it and then then we partnered with the park so but it's people, actors people will recognize Krista was onstage last summer in Curtains. At Theatre in the Reed Uthe, has been in many Theatre in the Park auditions. We also have Jennifer Renfrow, Marianne Traxler, who was in shows last summer at the park, and Leah Swank Miller.

Tim Bair 08:34

Yeah, Jennifer was actually Mary Poppins when we did Mary Poppins some years ago, a couple of seasons.

Theresa Freed 08:42

Well, that says a lot about the productions that people keep wanting to come back and do it again. So can you talk a little bit about what you're doing right now? It's rehearsal time, right?

Barbara Nichols 08:53

Yes, we are. We have a five week rehearsal process. So we rehearse Sunday afternoons, and then in the evenings, Monday to Thursday, we're about three and a half weeks in So the show is all staged, most everything is learned. And now we're just having the opportunity to start running acts and what we call cleaning it, tweaking it, grabbing things and finding our moments and fine tuning as we go. So we've got probably seven more rehearsals before we approach tech week, one will start getting on the stage, adding the props, adding the costumes, adding the lights, layering, all those wonderful things in to get ready for performance.

Theresa Freed 09:34

And so when is the opening night,

Barbara Nichols 09:37

March 18. Three weekends through April 3, and I should I'm sure we can just mention that tickets are available at the Johnson County Theatre in the park website

Tim Bair 09:49 And in fact tickets are selling actually nicely right now which is terrific. Theatre in the Park generally has a pretty late-buying audience you know and insert like to be a challenge when we're in a time that there's the possibility of weather, you know, like we're living right now. Summer, one day and a foot of snow the next but tickets are selling well. So it's exciting. So folks should get online and get their tickets and come see the show for sure.

Theresa Freed 10:15

And I think our community is probably just looking for some normalcy and Theatre in the Park certainly represents that. So can you talk about kind of how the pandemic has impacted, production and all of that? And we're kind of where you're at now?

Tim Bair 10:30

Yeah, well, much like everyone else, in 2020, when the world’s shut down, and you know, in March, we were, we were going into our very first night of our spring show tech rehearsal, which was Be More Chill at the time. So they've gone through four weeks of rehearsal and ready to go on stage ready to start tech rehearsal. And that was that it was done. And we, you know, we held on and I kept saying, let's wait a minute, let's wait a minute, you know, we kept thinking, okay, a week, maybe a couple of weeks, maybe, maybe a month, it'll take for this and, and then they and, of course, eventually, our entire season was dark, which was sad. And then last year, you know, we did one, a spring show called Songs for New…Now, which were local songwriters. And we did some songs in the show. And in fact, we featured one of the songs from Sparkletones in that show. So it was kind of a little prelude to doing them for the entire show. And then last summer, we really were the first big theater to open and have a full season. And it benefited us, of course, that were outside, lots of air moving around, the weather was lovely. You know, it was kind of a dip after the whole initial very first big blow up of stuff. So we did, we had such a successful summer season, we had no illnesses and the casts, everything went great. We went ahead and moved into our fall and our holiday show and everything was really good. And I think you're right, Theresa, actually, that when we said we were going to be open, it was a giant sigh of relief. That's great. Let's get out of the house. Let's do something fun, we can do it outside, it didn't feel like, you know, you were closed in around people and stuff. So it was really, really wonderful. And now I think we're hopeful too, that, you know, with this omicron variant and all that kind of stuff, things seem to be getting a little better day by day and rules, get a little relief now and then a little bit but you know, we're moving into this show. And we still have our cleaning protocols. And we're very aware of all that kind of stuff. And I'm just looking forward to another season and a show that people can get excited about and the end of the show is really, really sweet. And it's uplifting. And I'm, I'm just glad that we get to do it. And people will leave. And I know there will be some humming of songs that they've heard.

Theresa Freed 12:52

That sounds good. Yeah, definitely sounds like a great way to kick off this season. I know, a couple years ago, I was able to take my son to Theatre in the Park. And we hadn't done that before, because we just moved to Johnson County and it was Chitty, Chitty, Bang Bang. So when we saw and he was just, he loved it. And we came home, we had to watch the movie on TV had to learn the songs and everything. So I think, you know, it just captures hearts in different ways at different ages. And so it's really exciting to see this season moving forward. And so you know, the important question for our listeners, you know, we know how to get tickets for this performance. So how can we find out that full list of the performances and how to get tickets for all of those shows,

Tim Bair 13:35

You can go straight onto our website And the homepage, you'll see Sparkletones right there. And there's a little bit of a read more right below it. So you can actually go you can read the whole synopsis of the show. You can see lovely bios and photos of Barb and Krista there on our on that show page. And then every single show on our season is listed there too. And there's lots of details. You can buy tickets right there online. Very easy. You can learn about auditions. If you want to come in audition for Theatre in the Park. We're always looking for talent. You can show up, sing a song, do a little dance you never know might be a star.

Theresa Freed 14:11

I'll send my son over. All right, well, thank you both for being here today. And we will have a link to that website in our show notes of the episode. So we can send a lot of people your way. They can sit down and enjoy a great evening of laughter or drama or whatever the case may be for that for that particular performance. But good luck to you both for the season opener and then also the entire season.

Tim Bair 14:38

I appreciate it so much. And thanks for chatting with us. It's nice to be here.

Theresa Freed 14:42

Yes. Thank you.

Barbara Nichols 14:44

Appreciate it. It was nice to be here.

Announcer 14:46

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast visit Thanks for listening.

Park and Recreation