By Kevin Collison
A nonprofit group wants to raise the curtain on the long-forgotten dinner theater space at Unity Temple on the Plaza and offer it as an affordable venue for socially-conscious theatrical productions.
The premier of the new musical Broke Open will be the initial fundraiser for the planned Unity Performing Arts Center. The production addresses racism and homophobia in Alabama during the 1960s and will run Aug. 12-15.
The show stars Greta Ogelsby, a veteran of the Kansas City Reparatory Theater, and Sarah Tannehill-Anderson, a multiple Grammy and Emmy Award winner, according to Keith Andrews, the author of the show and supporter of the theater effort.
“The goal is to provide an affordable venue for production companies, there’s a lack of affordable venues in Kansas City,” Andrews said.
“The mission is to educate, inspire and provide an affordable venue for historically and socially conscious productions.”
More information about Broke Open can be found here.
The dinner theater space was part of the original design of Unity Temple when it opened at 707 W. 47th St. in 1948. It’s located in the lower level of the building and can seat about 350 people.
“The restaurant served, what was considered radical at the time, an all vegetarian menu,” according to a press release by the theater backers.
Andrews estimated the theater ceased operations sometime in the 1970s. In later years, the space was taken over by Eden Alley, a well-regarded vegetarian restaurant that ultimately closed in 2018 after operating 25 years.
During Eden Alley’s tenure, a wall was built separating the back stage so it could be used for office and storage space.
The goal of the fundraiser is to remove the wall, and restore and update the equipment, lighting and sound systems. The estimated cost for getting the theater back in operation is $30,000- to $40,000.
Two other productions are planned as part of the inaugural season. The Bessie Coleman Story, starring Sandra Campbell, is about the first Black female commercial pilot. The Life and Times of Barbara Jordan, a Civil Rights leader later elected to Congress, stars Jacqueline Gafford.
Andrews said the commercial kitchen at the space is still in good condition and backers of the Unity Performing Arts Center are looking for someone to partner on the food end.
“We’d love to offer this as a dinner theater, but we need to find the right person to make it work,” he said.
The theater is intended to be a separate operation from the Unity Temple and will pay rent for using the space.
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