Theatre department prepares for year without Taylor Auditorium


photo courtesy of

Erik Wolfe, theater department head.

Craig Blotter

With changes planned, Eric Wolfe, chair of the theatre department and a new hire for Missouri Southern, has plenty of work ahead in his first year. Facing a special set of challenges in the next two semesters, Wolfe is determined to carry out his task with excellence.

According to Wolfe, Southern Theatre, located in Taylor Auditorium, will be unavailable for the 2019-20 academic year. He said Southern Theatre will undergo repairs until sometime around May. Appearing relieved, Wolfe went on to explain that Joplin High School had agreed to rent out its theatre to Southern, thus enabling the theatre department to put on its biggest production of the year, Mamma Mia!

Having, previously been a stunt fighter, Wolfe has about 25 years of theatre experience.

“I wound up becoming an international fight director, then started directing and teaching at the university level and fell in love with it,” said Wolfe.

Wolfe had worked in information technology before getting the opportunity to move into theatre as a career. Wolfe said he had grown up in a time when you were encouraged to get a “real job,” which meant pursuing a well-paying career in information technology.

“I was like, ‘Ok, well obviously money and a job I hate doesn’t make me happy. Let me do something I love even if the money is not there,’” said Wolfe.

An unexpected break gave Wolfe his shot at doing something he loved. He was doing stunt work, while also employed in information technology at a casino, when he got a call from a university saying that someone wanted to work with him.

“I’m like, who are you and how do you know who I am,” Wolfe said.

That led to him choreographing operas and going to England to get certified.

Wolfe’s move into teaching happened when a friend called and asked him to serve as an adjunct professor for some combat classes to relieve his overloaded schedule. That began his passion for the world of academia, eventually leading to his opportunity to revitalize Independence College theater program.

This long and curved path has brought Wolfe to Southern, where he plans to streamline the theatre department’s degree requirements, allowing theatre students to focus on their area of study more.

“We’re trying to rebuild the program – basically going through and restructuring degrees and adding new classes, looking at graduation, and making it easier for students to fill the degree requirements,” Wolfe said.

Despite not having Southern Theatre available, Wolfe remains upbeat about the changes being made.

“Everyone’s on board and excited,” said Wolfe, “… everything’s been pretty smooth, but you know, nothing happens overnight in academia.”

Some of the changes Wolfe wants to make in the department include fostering more cooperation with other departments. He said in the past no one else has known what is going on in theatre. His message to students in other disciplines is clear.

“The door is open,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe wants all students to know that if they have any inclination toward acting or singing, they can come audition for parts. Stage design is another avenue open to volunteers.

Putting on Mamma Mia! will work well without Southern’s own theatre, according to Wolfe. He said the sets can be built in minimalist fashion, which will be helpful given the necessity of transporting everything to Joplin High School. “Everybody was on board and excited about it, and it’s a fun musical – people know the music already, and it’s a fun story,” Wolfe explained. Mamma Mia! will run February 20 to 23 at Joplin High School.

To encourage theatre attendance, the department has been giving away free and half-price tickets at events. “We’re just showing people that ‘Hey, we do theatre; come see a show,’” said Wolfe.

He said being in the audience is being part of the show, with an energy that is only found in a live event.