Unveiling the Magic: Tent Theatre Takes Center Stage This Summer (2024)

Given the Ozarks’ affinity for steamy summers and pesky mosquitos, staging an outdoor theatrical production complete with bright lights, elaborate costumes and heavy makeup might seem like a less-than-stellar idea. That very scenario, however, has been a summertime tradition in the Ozarks for decades and if you’ve spent any time in Springfield you can’t imagine life without it.

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The ’it’ we’re referring to here is Tent Theatre. The tradition goes all the way back to 1963 when Robert Gilmore and Irene Coger, two Southwest Missouri State University theater professors, realized that the school’s existing theater space had become too small and stuffy to stage an adequate production. The pair decided to move the shows outdoors, into a round, tangerine and green tent that seated an audience of about 200 people. And with, a Queen City mainstay was born.

The inaugural season featured four shows over the course of ten weeks, and the very first production was Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn. Audiences loved it. Some would come early with picnic baskets and enjoy dinner outside on the grass prior to show time. Audiences packed the space, sometimes to the point of standing room only. If anything, the season was going too well. Tent theater was outgrowing its tent.

The second year, organizers added a 30-by-55-foot section that accommodated another 150 people. The crowds kept growing and filled the tent night after night.

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In 1968, Craig Hall and the air-conditioned Coger Theater opened its doors and there was talk about moving the summer productions back indoors. Patrons who’d grown accustomed to the outdoor venue, however, flatly rejected the idea. The ambiance of a warm summer night somehow made for a magical and memorable live theater experience that audiences weren’t ready to part with. Tent theater was here to stay.

The venue has continued to evolve over the years. In 1969 the University poured a concrete pad next to Craig Hall to accommodate a rectangular, 100-foot by 50-foot orange and green tent that could seat more than 400 patrons. This set-up was more audience-friendly too, in that it allowed for incremental, elevated seating for better stage views.

According to the Tent Theatre website, Managing Director Mark Templeton and Artistic Director Michael Casey met with Actors’ Equity in Chicago in hopes of transitioning Tent Theatre into a professional theater company. It now operates under an agreement that allows collegiate performers to work side-by-side with theater professionals from around the country. This is advantageous for students because they mentor students and provide valuable connections. It’s also good for audiences due to the caliber of the artistry these performers bring to the stage.

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This summer marks the first season in Tent Theatre’s new John Goodman Amphitheater in the Judith Enyeart Reynolds Arts Park. The 7,700 square foot, open-air amphitheater includes a permanent stage, tiers for 350 removable seats and state-of-the-art sound and lighting. It was made possible by private gifts from donors including actor John Goodman, an actor and MSU alumnus. Outside of the summer Tent Theatre season, the facility will serve as an outdoor classroom and multi-purpose performing arts facility.

The 2023 Tent Theatre season offers an updated version of a beloved Broadway musical, a mystery and a play based on a true story about love and acceptance in a small town.

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Anything Goes
June 23-24 & June 26 – July 1

This production is a 2022 revision of the Cole Porter musical set on an ocean liner. The comedy is chock full of characters, including a nightclub singer, a former evangelist, a gangster, an heiress and wall Street broker. It’s complicated, fun and loaded with rowdy romance, all set to Cole Porter favorites.

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Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
July 7-8 & 10-14

Is a supernatural hellhound prowling the grounds of the Baskerville estate, bringing doom to the men in the family? Good thing Sherlock Holmes and his right-hand man Dr. Watson are on the case. This work is a hilarious spin on Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles that’s fast paced with goofy disguises and plot twists.

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The Prom
July 21-22 & 24-29

Emma Nolan, a high school student, wants to bring her girlfriend to the high school prom and the PTA isn’t having it. The conservative town of Edgewater, Indiana makes headlines over the controversy after a couple of Broadway stars bring attention to the saga, putting Emma’s relationship in jeopardy in the process. The Prom is described as a joyful new musical that celebrates the unifying power of love.

For more information about Tent Theater and to purchase tickets click HERE!

Picnics are not only encouraged, they’re ready for purchase and themed according to the shows. Parking is free, and the venue is fully accessible. For menus and more information, click HERE!

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No one loves the Ozarks more than Murney Associates. Our real estate agents are here to help you navigate one of the most important decisions you’ll make. We encourage you to look at our market updates which highlight real estate trends in Springfield, MO, and the surrounding area, as well as our rankings in home sales. Thanks to our clients for making Murney Associates, Realtors the number one real estate agency in Southwest Missouri.

Unveiling the Magic: Tent Theatre Takes Center Stage This Summer (2024)
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