A Christmas classic, a tale of two dogs, a foot-stomping musical and a play from Down Under comprises the lineup for Missouri Southern’s theatrical lineup for 2019-2020.

Last week marked just the second week of Erick Wolfe’s tenure as the new chair for the university’s theater program. Wolfe has 20-plus years under his belt as stage director, instructor and, interestingly, professional fight/movement choreographer.

“I have great faculty and great people here, and the students are amazing this year,” the Texas native said. “Good-energy students.”

Even his theater appreciation classes, he added with a chuckle, “are engaging and excited. I’m like, ‘Wow, this is the first week of school. Let’s keep this going.’”

The four shows include:

• “Hanging Man,” directed by Jim Lile, will run from Wednesday, Oct. 2, through Saturday, Oct. 5, and will tie in with the university’s ongoing Oceania semester.

• “A Christmas Carol,” directed by Lile, will run from Wednesday, Nov. 20, through Saturday, Nov. 23. Starring Ebenezer Scrooge, it will help kick off the university’s holiday season.

• “Mamma Mia!” the beloved musical, will be directed by Wolfe and will run Thursday, Feb. 20, through Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. Because of the size of the production, it will be held at the 1,180-seat Joplin High School Performing Arts Center, 2104 S. Indiana Ave.

• “Two Dumb Dogs” will represent the theater department’s children’s show for the year, scheduled to run Saturday, April 25, and Sunday, April 26. There will also be several shows at local elementary schools. “It’s just easier for us to load up some kids in a van and take the show on the road,” Wolfe said.

All tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students and all performance aside from “Mamma Mia!” will be held inside the Bud Walton Black Box Theatre because of renovation work to the school’s 2,200-seat Taylor Performing Arts Center.

Wolfe said he has one overriding goal for the school’s theater department — to grow the department.

“Right now, we’re mid-ranked with colleges across the country, right there at nice medium plateau, which is nice for the school and everything, but I really want our program to stand out. So we’re taking it in a lot of new directions,” he said.

How so?

The two major influences he plans to make to the department this year include:

• Increasing the number of annual productions.

“We’re also going to be increasing our productions,” Wolfe said. “We’ll be doing two musical productions, one big and one small, and four theater shows” — six total, he said. That way, he continued, “the music theater has two of their own shows and theater has four — two on the main stage and two on the smaller stage.”

Traditionally, the department has staged four plays, and a musical every other year, Wolfe said.

• Redesigning the curriculum to offer a new Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, which are considered to be the most prestigious bachelor’s degrees available in the visual arts. A BFA “will make it more tempting for students to want to come” to Missouri Southern. “A lot of other schools offer up a BFA and that’s what the students want, and I think it’s easy to do.”

More credits in theater, he continued, “gives the students a fighting edge when going to a theater school or fine arts; they can really focus on their craft.”

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