In the Kansas City area, most venues for live theater offer viewers a chance to get lost in the action onstage.
That’s a little tougher to achieve at Starlight Theatre, which seats almost 8,000, especially if you aren’t in the first 20 rows. And the Music Hall, with a capacity of 2,363, can leave you feeling like you’re watching a show from the next county.
But most venues offer an up close and personal experience. Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s main stage, the Spencer Theatre, seats about 600. So does the New Theatre in Overland Park. The number doesn’t leave anyone feeling too far from the stage.
Eric Rosen, the Rep’s artistic director, looks for opportunities to enhance the feeling of intimacy, as he did with the Living Room’s production of “Carousel,” for which a stage was constructed on top of the area where the orchestra seats usually are. Patrons closest to the stage felt like they were part of the show.
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The Rep’s upcoming production of “Our Town” will try to give audiences a similarly close-up experience. The set has been extended over what is usually the orchestra, designed to allow viewers a unique viewing experience.
The Rep’s downtown venue, Copaken Stage, seats a little over 300. If you’re in the lower section, you get a nice view of the stage, just as you would in a 150-seat theater. The auditorium’s steeply raked shotgun design, however, might make patrons on the back row wish they’d brought binoculars.
The Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts has two excellent venues, both of which afford at least some patrons an intimate viewing/listening experience. Helzberg Hall, where the Kansas City Symphony performs, seats 1,600; thanks to the hall’s design, there’s really not a bad seat in the house.
Next door, the Muriel Kauffman Theatre seats 1,800, which allows a fairly close viewing experience for anyone in the orchestra; for those seated in the upper tiers, the stage can sometimes feel far, far away.
But many of the city’s theaters abide by the philosophy that less is more. The Unicorn Theatre has two stages, both of which can seat about 150. That’s about how many theatergoers can fit into Quality Hill Playhouse downtown. That’s also the typical size of an audience at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre.
The Off Center Theatre, the Crown Center venue where Musical Theater Heritage performs, can seat about 200. That’s how many can be seated at the H&R Block City Stage in Union Station, where Kansas City Actors Theatre often performs and Theatre for Young America is a resident company.
Just Off Broadway Theatre in Penn Valley Park is home to two resident companies — MeltingPot KC and Journeyman Theatre. The space is flexible and can seat from 180 to 220, depending on the stage configuration.
At the Living Room, near 18th and McGee streets, the seating chart changes for every show because the company has a variety of performance areas, and each show has a unique stage configuration. It usually seats about 75, although that can go up to 110 or 120.
The most intimate venue in town? The Fishtank Performance Studio near 18th and Wyandotte streets. It can seat a maximum of 50, but usually seats less. Shows there are about as close-up and personal as they get.