Help save UMKC’s MFA program


Please write to the UM Board of Curators in our support.

Here is our 3rd missive

Tom Mardikes

Professor & Chair

UMKC Theatre


Eight years ago the UMKC Theatre faculty started using The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle as the teaching blueprint of its professional theatre training program.  One of us brought it into the group, and it immediately resonated with us all.  It’s become a sort of operating system for the department, applicable to all of our disciplines. The book is about growing greatness, and is divided into three sections: Deep Practice (the 10,000 hours of targeted, specific training), Ignition (our students certainly have that) and Master Coaching.

Coyle describes the master teachers and coaches as “quiet, even reserved.  They were mostly older; many had been teaching thirty or forty years.  They possessed the same sort of gaze: steady, deep, unblinking.  They listened far more than they talked.  They seemed allergic to giving pep talks or inspiring speeches; they spent most of their time offering small, targeted, highly specific adjustments.  They had extraordinary sensitivity to the person they were teaching, customizing each message to each student’s personality.”  He calls them “the talent whisperers.”

That’s the faculty of UMKC Theatre:  The Talent Whisperers.  We nurture our students on their path, and most of the interactions are one-to-one.

In Coyle’s follow-up The Little Book of Talent he offers an interesting insight.  He says that learning to teach is like any other talent; it takes time to grow.  He suggests that when selecting a coach or teacher, with all other things being equal, pick the older person.  “That’s why so many hotbeds are led by people in their sixties and seventies.”

UMKC Theatre has a number of professors who could today retire.  Victor Tan for Lighting Design.  Tom Mardikes for Sound Design.  Theodore Swetz for Acting.  Lindsay Davis for Costume Design.  John Ezell for scene design.  Felicia Londré for history and dramaturgy.  They have solid reasons not to retire.  First, why leave when you are passionate about your students and your discipline, and feel you are at the top of your game?  Second, why leave when you love your department and know that if you retire UMKC will most likely not replace you, leaving a massive hole in the program, or get replaced by a part-timer, or replaced by a recently minted MFA on a non-tenure track position.  These dedicated theatre artists and teachers know that if they leave today, they will destroy the department that they love.

Consider what happened with Dr. Jennifer Martin, Hall Family Foundation Professor of Theatre Movement, who after nearly 30 years on this faculty, retired in 2011.  This distinguished, nationally prominent artist and educator’s position today is open, and classes are taught by adjuncts.  Movement is one of the three key components of actor training: Acting, Movement & Voice.  Watching what has happened with Jennifer’s position, senior faculty dread the thought of retiring.

UMKC has spent the last seven years giving almost no raises and keeping critical faculty positions unfilled. UMKC has added nearly 40 Executive/Managerial positions at the expense of 50 tenure-track faculty positions. If hiring does takes place, the positions are disposable faculty; non-tenure track teachers with no rights and who can be dismissed with a couple months’ notice.  These are the young faculty, and they are getting terminated.

Finally, it’s time to address passion.

Last Friday UM System President Dr. Mun Choi called on faculty to remember the passion that they had when they first came to teach, and he asked all to reclaim and work from that passion again.  Well, President Choi, UMKC Theatre faculty never stopped working from our personal, professional and artistic passion—the very passion that has defined and delivered UMKC Theatre to excellence.

SAVE UMKC THEATRE writing campaign:

Please tell five people, and have them commit to telling five more people


Write a Letter:

People have asked what they can do to help Save UMKC Theatre.

Please write letters to the following state and university leaders. We encourage you to use your own personal stories, but see below a sample text that you may include.


University of Missouri Board of Curators

316 University Hall
Columbia, Missouri 65211


Office of Governor Eric Greitens
P.O. Box 720
Jefferson City, MO 65102

Subject: Save UMKC Theatre

Dear ___________________,

UMKC Theatre has for nearly forty years generated and supported Kansas City’s theatre community. Kansas City’s vibrant professional theatre scene has brought the city to national prominence as a center for the arts, and it relies heavily upon UMKC Theatre’s training of its young, emerging artists.

Now the very existence of UMKC Theatre is threatened by administrative budget cuts and we ask you to help SAVE UMKC THEATRE, which in turn will save the livelihoods of hundreds of taxpayers and thousands more people because of the proven domino effect of the arts. Arts and culture add $1.1 billion to Missouri’s economy each year, more than revenue generated by professional sports.

We ask that you urge UMKC’s administration to support and maintain UMKC’s highest nationally ranked program, the MFA in Theatre.


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