New blood at the Orpheum

To restore old theater, board gets a little younger

STORY BY Joe Stumpe

Lobby of the 90-year-old Orpheum Theatre

Lobby of the 90-year-old Orpheum Theatre

Harvey Sorensen is musing about generational musical differences that have probably been around as long as music itself.

“I get Glenn Miller. I don’t have any idea what 35-year-olds like,” Sorensen, a 64-year-old Foulston Siefkin lawyer and chairman of the Orpheum Theatre’s board of directors, said. “We got this group called the Avett Brothers. It sold out in a matter of hours. I never heard of them.”

That disconnect is exactly why Sorensen is bringing younger members onto the Orpheum’s board at a time when he’s also heading up the effort to finally, really restore the historic downtown theater. “It’s important,” Orpheum president Jennifer Wright said. “Our board was well represented in terms of (people) over 50. Under 50, it was lacking.”

It’s not that Sorensen and Wright expect the bulk of the millions needed to come from 35-year-olds, who generally don’t have access to as much philanthropic power as, say, well-connected 64-year-old lawyers.

But younger board members can help generate enthusiasm for the theater and prove to folks with deep pockets that the Orpheum is a viable, valuable and even vital part of the city’s cultural scene. That’s where new board members such as Lily Wu, 27, and Andrew Mies, 40, come in.

Wu is familiar to many Wichitans from her modeling work and job as a reporter for KAKE TV news. She’s also the reigning Miss Kansas United States.

“We really need to get young people involved with culture and the arts,” Wu said. “That’s one of the roles I can play.”

Wu said she likes that the Orpheum staff is not only bringing in acts such as the Avett Brothers — an indie rock band from North Carolina — but is also staging shows by local performers and showing movies at the theater. Renovating the Orpheum fits perfectly into the current effort to revitalize downtown Wichita, she added.

“Young people did not see the Orpheum at its height,” she said. “The Orpheum was the center of Wichita. Right now we’re trying to revitalize downtown Wichita. Why not start with something that’s already here?”

Opened in 1922 as an “atmospheric theater” intended to invoke a Spanish garden, the theater hosted movies and vaudeville acts before its decline and eventual closure in 1974. Since reopening in 1992, about $4 million has been spent on its renovation. A campaign to raise the estimated $13 million more still needed is underway. In May, the theater received $1 million from the Willard and Jean Garvey Trust, the largest gift to date.

Mindy McCoy, a 45-year-old homemaker and new board member, said raising the money “is rather daunting”, but she thinks it can be done.

“He (Sorensen) knows I enjoy live entertainment,” she said. “I guess he thought I could be a goodwill ambassador (for the Orpheum) and support it.”

Another new member, Greg Kossover, 49, said he may be able to advise the Orpheum staff on historic tax credits, cash management and other topics thanks to his background as an executive in Jack DeBoer’s operations, including the Hotel Old Town.

“Also, I just enjoy the theater,” he said.

Other new members include Morgan Overman, 34, Susan Kellerman, 44, Scott Flemming, 40 and Heidi Elliott, 41.

They join the effort at a time when the Orpheum’s staff, headed since last year by president Jennifer Wright, has been earning kudos from many people for a more aggressive, eclectic approach to programming.

“My goal is to build a board that will remain as capable and competent as my Orpheum staff”.

Orpheum Theatre | 200 N Broadway | 316.263.0884 | www.wichitaorpheum.com

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