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The Show Will Go On: Crown Uptown Theatre Plans To Resume Operations This Weekend

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Katelynn McIlwain/KMUW
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Max Wilson, general manager of the Crown Uptown Theatre, helped extinguish a fire Friday night. The theater plans to open for shows this weekend.

Despite a fire last week, the Crown Uptown Theatre plans to open this weekend for more performances of “Come Together: A Beatles Revue.”

Max Wilson, the theater’s general manager, said there is likely more than $10,000 worth of damaged lighting equipment after the breaker box caught fire during Friday night’s storm. As of Monday, the power to the men’s restroom, the kitchen and the air conditioning was still out.

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Credit Katelynn McIlwain/KMUW
A fire on Friday night charred a breaker box at the Crown Uptown Theatre.

But Wilson said the lighting company the theater rents equipment from could provide more gear, and the goal is to still have a full weekend of shows, starting Friday night.

“This is a much shorter-term problem than the pandemic was,” Wilson said. “And I think we learned with both crises that our staff is better equipped to handle things than we thought we were.”

The theater originally opened in 1928, but has undergone several changes in leadership and structure in the last 15 years. Ted Morris operated the Crown Uptown as a dinner theater from 1976 to 2009, when he died unexpectedly.

For a decade, the theater went through different owners, and it stopped operating as a dinner theater in 2015. The space was available as an events venue.

J Basham is the current owner and has been since 2019. But the pandemic kept the theater from booking new productions.

Now, Wilson has founded a nonprofit called Crown Arts Collaborative. It will work in partnership with Basham to bring full-scale musicals, plays and films to Crown Uptown. The nonprofit funding model will help keep the bills paid.

The passion to make this a reality is what caused Wilson to run downstairs on Friday and put out the fire after he realized what was happening.

“I think it was sort of a fight or flight,” Wilson said. “And I guess I'm a fighter.”

Crown Arts Collaborative will make its debut in September with “Next to Normal,” a Pulitzer-winning production about a mother's battle with mental health and the effect it has on her family. The group is partnering with the Mental Health Association of South Central Kansas to stage the show, one that Wilson says is relevant.

“Mary Jones, the president of the Mental Health Association, said they conducted a recent poll that they do annually, and suicidal thoughts are up 600% — 600% — among those that they poll every year,” Wilson said.

“I don't think we thought it would be as perfectly timed as it has been, but it's where I think we're supposed to be right now.”

Katelynn McIlwain is KMUW's Korva Coleman Diversity in Journalism intern. She will be a senior this fall at the University of Missouri.