Theatre Tours

National Conference Theatre Tours
2023 National Conference Sponsors

2023 Theatre Tours - Kansas City, MO

All venues, dates, times, and order of visits subject to change.

Updated 07.07.2023

The optional 2023 Pre-Conference Theatre Ramble will take place on Sunday, July 16, from approximately 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Registration and breakfast will begin at 7:00 am at the conference hotel. This is an optional event that requires an additional fee. The Ramble will take a group of attendees by motor coach to visit several theatres in and outside of downtown Kansas City. The fee includes a continental breakfast and a sit-down lunch.

Sorry! The Ramble is SOLD OUT.

In-Conference Theatre Tours: The Midland Theatre has offered to open its doors for self-guided tours during Monday's lunch break. Grab a ride share from the hotel or walk 3 blocks to catch Kansas City's free streetcar to the theatre. You may tour any time between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm.
On Wednesday, we'll take a motor coach to tour the Uptown Theater then the Folly Theater.

Aztec Shawnee Theater - Shawnee, KS
Aztec Shawnee Theater, Shawnee, KS

Taken from the Aztec Shawnee Theater website

Built in 1927 by the Boller Brothers, the theater was originally called the Mission Theater due to its Spanish Mission style architecture. In the late 40's, Dickenson purchased the theater, remodeled it, and reopened it as the Aztec Theater. Due to the move to multiscreen theaters, the Aztec Theater closed in 1974.

25 years later the theater was again purchased with plans to restore it. The first addition was a vintage marquee from the Plaza Theater in Abilene, Kansas. But in 2002 the project came to a halt.

In 2017, Chris Calkins along with his brother Jeff and their friend Bruce Young purchased the theater and began the restoration project. After two years of work and typical delays, the completion date was moved to June 2020. Covid-19 created delays in early 2020, and an altered business plan to include live music was formulated, causing the opening date to be pushed back to December 2020.

After nearly 50 years, the grand opening of the Aztec Shawnee Theater occurred on December 13th, 2020, with a gala fundraiser. A few remnants of the original theater still exist as well as other local, historical items. The art deco interior includes a reproduction tin ceiling, light fixtures, and crown molding, all with a vintage feel, but with modern technological conveniences.

Live weekend concerts have steadily increased, and classic movies began being shown in October 2021, starting with the 1931 horror movie “Dracula” starring Bella Lugosi. This was the first movie to be shown at the Aztec in nearly 50 years. The Aztec Shawnee Theater continues to operate with continued support of the local community. This has created a surge of new businesses to open in the Downtown Shawnee area, including breweries, restaurants, and cocktail bars.

Folly Theater - Kansas City, MO
*Folly Theater, Kansas City, MO

The Folly Theater has been at the vanguard of Kansas City performing arts since it opened in 1900 as the “largest and most comfortable” vaudeville house in the Great West. Designed by Kansas City's famed architect Louis Curtiss, the hall received rave reviews for its excellent acoustics, high style, and intimacy. Throughout her first four decades, the Folly stage welcomed revered performers, including the Marx Brothers, Humphrey Bogart, Shirley Booth, Jack Dempsey vs. Jack Johnson, and Gypsy Rose Lee.

Facing a wrecking ball after years of misuse, civic leaders Joan Kent Dillon and William Deramus III rallied to rescue this beautiful theater in 1973. In June 1974, the Folly was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1975 the real work began. Funds were raised, roof leaks were fixed, the building was secured, and a deep cleaning commenced which included removal of nine metric tons of pigeon droppings from the building. The doors reopened permanently in November 1981 under the management of Performing Arts Foundation of Kansas City, a nonprofit corporation. Since then, the theater has welcomed appearances by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Gregory Hines, Barack Obama, Patti Lupone, Yo-Yo Ma, Oleta Adams, and many more. Renowned flutist Sir James Galway knighted the Folly as “Kansas City's Carnegie Hall.” But perhaps Oleta Adams said it best: “Performers really believe that the Folly Theater's walls still contain the souls of all the performers who've been here.”

In 2016 the theater began extensive work to bring “The Grand Lady of 12th Street” into the 21st century. After $6.9 million in renovations including new seats, carpet, handrails, hardwood floors, and curtains; renovated balcony lobby and bar, restrooms, and 2nd floor lounge; updated energy-efficient HVAC system; the addition of Wi-Fi access points and digital signboards; and more, the Folly's historic warmth, elegance, and design remains as a glimpse into the past but with the comfort of present-day amenities.

Today, the Folly Theater strives to make the arts accessible and accepting through diverse programming. The theater presents Kansas City's longest running Jazz Series, dating to 1982, as well as an Americana Series and an education-enriching Kids Series. A popular venue among rental clients, Folly audiences also enjoy classical music, dance, drag shows, comedians, social media influencers, and podcasts. There is something for everyone at the Folly.

Jayhawk Theatre - Topeka, KS
*Historic Jayhawk Theatre, Topeka, KS

Located in the heart of Downtown Topeka, Kansas, the Historic Jayhawk Theatre opened its doors in 1926, fulfilling the dream of Topeka businessman E.H. Crosby to build the city's first deluxe motion picture palace. His bigger vision was realized just two years later with the opening of the 300-room Jayhawk Hotel and connecting Jayhawk (Commercial Arcade) Walk. The entire Jayhawk Complex was known for its penthouse and roof garden parties, fine dining, live dancing and entertainment, social and political functions, and cutting-edge amenities, including air conditioning, an elaborate telephone system, marble stairways, ornate chandeliers, bronze elevator doors and spectacular glass retail display cases that lined the Jayhawk Walk.

The theater was designed by the esteemed Boller Brothers of Kansas City, who used this state-of-the-art 'fire-proof' design as a model for numerous classic theaters across the country. Thomas W. Williamson was the renowned architect of record. The decorative proscenium arch is adorned with ornate sunflowers and Jayhawk embellishments, highlighting the stunning Goddess of Agriculture mural, designed by William Peaco of Chicago, all which contributed to its designation as the Official State Theatre of Kansas.

Throughout its early years, the Jayhawk Theatre delighted audiences with a mix of movies and live performances, including Bob Hope, George Burns, Gypsy Rose Lee, and Marilyn Maye. Unfortunately, the theater closed its doors in 1976 and sat abandoned with virtually no maintenance for more than three decades. Since the mid 1990's, there have been efforts to re-open and restore the Jayhawk Theatre. In 2015, after years of planning and investment, the theater reopened for small public events, movies and shows in an unrestored state.

With the inspiring transformation of Downtown Topeka through more than $100M cumulative investment in the past ten years, the Jayhawk Theatre is poised to be an economic driver and anchor for a thriving Downtown Arts & Entertainment District. In May 2023, the theater received the catalytic boost it needed through a $5M SPRINT grant from the Kansas Department of Commerce, acknowledging its tremendous potential to further leverage the State Capital as a vibrant cultural and tourism destination. Restoration is scheduled to begin in 2024.

Leavenworth Performing Arts Center (Hollywood Theater) - Leavenworth, KS
Leavenworth Performing Arts Center AKA Hollywood Theatre, Leavenworth, KS

Taken from the Leavenworth Performing Arts Center website

The Performing Arts Center, formerly called the Hollywood Theater, was Leavenworth's only movie palace. Its decorative Art Deco exterior and opulent interior treatments are hallmarks of the movie palaces that were built across America in the 1920s and 1930s. The theaters were designed to be like showplaces, with sumptuous appointments, inviting the rich and poor alike to share the lavish surroundings and escape into celluloid fantasies.

Built in 1937 - 1938 to the design of Robert Boller, it was part of the Dubinsky theater chain. Boller Brothers were the prominent Kansas City, Missouri, movie theater design firm responsible for many movie palaces built throughout the Midwest and the Southwest. Some Boller-Brother designed theaters in Kansas include the Fox in Hutchinson, the Fox-Watson in Salina, the Granada in Emporia, and the Booth in Independence. In the late 1970s, a local amateur theater group approached the City of Leavenworth about taking over the Hollywood Theater, which was being replaced by a new four-plex. The City agreed and Mr. Stan Durwood, the owner, donated the building to the City. Since that time, the City has spent approximately $200,000 on renovation work. While most of this has been City funds, donations from Hallmark Cards, Melissa Etheridge, fundraisers and a state grant have helped defray the costs.

The Performing Arts Center is the home of the River City Community Players, which produce six or seven theater events annually. In addition, the theater is available on a limited basis for other user groups. In the past there have been magic shows, country western shows, gospel shows, dance recitals, rock concerts, children's movies, a wedding, and a funeral held in the theater. In 1999, the New Christy Minstrels put on two shows at the Performing Arts Center. Rock star Melissa Etheridge, a Leavenworth native, performed in the theater during her high school years.

The two-and-one-half story, concrete building represents the Art Deco architectural style of the 1920s-1930s. The central vertical definition on the building's symmetrical south elevation emphasizes the marquee-entry area. The marquee shelters two recessed entries and the ticket booth. The City seal was painted on the recessed circle which was originally painted pink and green. Small shop areas on either side have recessed entries and display windows. This is one of a handful of art deco theaters left in the state. It was placed on the Kansas Register of Historic Places in 1985 and had to wait two years before it was qualified for submission to the National Register.

Liberty Hall - Lawrence, KS
Liberty Hall, Lawrence, KS

In 1856, Kansas' first abolitionist newspaper The Herald of Freedom occupied the corner where Liberty Hall stands. A large fire started by the pro-slavery Douglas County Sheriff Samuel Jones during the Sack of Lawrence burned the Herald to the ground. Samuel Edwin Poole would rebuild a new structure that same year, one that was to become a gathering spot for debates, town meetings and political speeches. In 1882 J.D. Bowersock purchased and renovated the building, adding another floor. It soon became a theatrically themed opera house and well-known entertainment destination. In 1911, a fire started by poor electrical wiring destroyed the building.

The Opera House was completely rebuilt and re-designed in a Beaux-Arts style with an Imperial Roman façade. With added advancements in lighting and technology, the new structure began to show silent films. The first movie with sound played in 1924. Todays movie and concert goers enter the main lobby, greeted by the same hanging chandeliers, beautiful tile floors, and marble staircases of the original building.

Though the structure has stood on the same corner for just over a century, the ethos of Liberty Hall dates back to the Pre-Civil War era of Bleeding Kansas and is heavily tied to the shaping of Lawrence as an essential hub for the anti-slavery movement. The building's original name Liberty Hall comes from an Abraham Lincoln quote where he called Lawrence, KS, “the cradle of Liberty.” Changes in name, ownership, and appearance vary greatly but reflect an ongoing desire to keep the building and its history alive.

Through its fiery history, a variety of entertainers have been to Liberty Hall. Contemporary musicians and performers stand on the same stage as did those of the past century. Present day owners, David and Susan Millstein continue to make improvements and strive to maintain Bowersock's original intention: to bring culture and civility to Lawrence. The original Greek revival murals in the main concert hall were lost over the many changes of ownership during the past century. Ceiling murals added in the 1986 renovations show an ascension into the heavens: from the sky to the stars, then to the planets and heavens. These murals bring an unparalleled beauty to one of the most historic cultural cornerstones in Kansas.

Midland Theatre - Kansas City, MO
Midland Theatre, Kansas City, MO

The Midland Theatre is a 2,200-seat theater located in the Power & Light District. It was built by Marcus Loew, completed in 1927, at a cost of $4 million and was the largest historic theater within 250 miles of the city. The Midland was designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb of New York and the Boller Brothers of Kansas City, and Boaz-Kiel Construction of St. Louis erected the structure. The theatre, built in French and Italian Baroque, was representative of Lamb's work in the late 1920s.The exterior of the theatre was constructed in a Renaissance Revival style in cream glazed terra cotta brick, adorned with engaged pilasters, winged figures, leaves, flowers, swags, volutes, urns, and arches. A four-story arched window rose above a copper and gold marquee that contained 3,600 light bulbs. The theater is well known for its over 500,000 feet of gold leaf, five giant Czechoslovakian hand-cut crystal chandeliers, irreplaceable art objects and precious antiques, and spectacular wood and plaster work.

The Midland closed in 1961, and then after some remodeling, it briefly reopened as an arena that served as the home for professional bowling team, the Kansas City Stars. The Stars were financially unsuccessful, and they left the Midland the same year. AMC Theatres (then a small KC-area regional chain) purchased the Midland in 1966, and the theatre continued to operate as a movie house until 1981. In conjunction with the AMC Empire Theater, located two blocks south, the complex was known as the AMC Midland-Empire. Since then, it has become a performance hall, still used today for concerts and special events. The theatre was placed on the National Register in 1977.

In 2007, AEG Live and the Cordish Company formed a partnership to undertake a multimillion-dollar renovation of the historic venue. Since reopening in late 2008, the theater was called the Midland by AMC and hosted events promoted by the AEG Presents (formerly AEG Live) company. Among the major changes, the main-level seating rows were removed and replaced with a tiered open floor plan that allows for banquet-style tables and chairs or standing room for general admission events. The exterior marquee was restored to its original 1927 appearance. The five-level office portion of the theatre that faces Main Street was converted into a mix of bars, lounges, and administrative space. According to the developer (Cordish), all changes meet federal and state historic preservation guidelines.

In 2013, AEG Live, the Cordish Company and Arvest Bank announced that the bank had acquired a multi-year naming rights partnership to the Midland Theatre, which ended in June 2022.

Not only is the Midland an award-winning live music venue, it is also the venue of choice for numerous corporate celebrations, charity galas, weddings and banquets.

The Missouri Theater - St. Joseph, MO
Missouri Theater, St. Joseph, MO

The 1,500 seat Missouri Theater opened June 25, 1927, with Rough House Rosie, an 18-minute silent feature with 25 cent admission. A prodigious young artist from Baxter Springs, KS, Waylande Gregory, created all the plaster ornamentation at the age of 21.

The Missouri Theater was designed by noted theater architects Boller Brothers of Kansas City, Missouri at a cost of $1 million for Paramount Studios. The theater balcony overlooks a house resembling a tented courtyard, decorated with elements from Assyrian and Persian architecture. The theater was principally designed for movies, but could also host live performances, with dressing rooms, a fly loft, and an orchestra pit. It originally featured a Wurlitzer theater organ, sadly no longer in the theater.

Opening right before the Great Depression, it was one of the last “movie palaces” built in the atmospheric style. It remained a cinema until 1970, undergoing a series of unfortunate “modernizations.” After closing, it sat derelict and was slated to be razed during the “urban renewal” that claimed so many downtown structures.

With the vision and funding of concerned citizens, the building was saved. Originally managed by a community arts group in 1976, the city bought the theater in 1978, and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. (NRHP #79001353). A major renovation was done in 2002 and smaller projects continue along with regular maintenance. Two fires threatened the theater, once in 2009 and again in 2011. Thankfully, all damage was quickly repaired.

Today, it is home to Performing Arts Association, Robidoux Resident Theater, The St Joseph Symphony, Creative Arts Productions and Dance Arts Center, to name a few. The current capacity is 1,174 due to seat replacements and ADA accommodations. The event calendar is full for all but a handful of weekends each year.

Uptown Theater - Kansas City, MO
Uptown Theater, Kansas City, MO

1926-1928: Designed by Kansas City architect, Robert Gornall. Completed in 1928, the Uptown Theater was KC's premier entertainment spot showcasing first-run movies. “The Irresistible Lover” starring Norman Carey and Lois Moran opened to a sold-out crowd on January 7th.

1928-1929: Australian born John Eberson created KC's only “atmospheric” theater. It was designed to replicate a romantic, outdoor Mediterranean courtyard. The most prominent feature was the nighttime-sky ceiling, complete with twinkling stars, clouds and mechanical flying birds. In 1928, an unknown comedian, Bob Hope performed his comedy act for a weeklong run of shows.

1930-1939: Movie stars like Joe E. Brown, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Tom Mix and his horse Tony, made appearances on the Uptown stage. 1939: the Uptown copyrighted “fragratone” in which fragrances would be funneled through the ventilation system, adding olfactory pleasure to the entertainment experience.

1970-1989: The early seventies the theater housed the Lyric Opera Company for two years, then the theater became home to the Palace Dinner Playhouse. By the late 1970s the theater began to function primarily as a concert venue. On June 27th, 1979, the Uptown Theater was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, after years of mismanagement, the interior of the theater had fallen into disrepair, and all original details were whitewashed. In 1989 the Uptown Theater closed and for the first time since the 1920s.

1996-PRESENT: $15 million renovation of the theater was completed. The theater was restored in the details and colors of Eberson's original design. In addition, 33,000 sq ft of space was added. Because of the redevelopment, the Uptown remains one of the few remaining atmospheric theatres still in operation.