One Year After the Fire, Great Plains Theatre Thrives

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Abilene, Kansas

Image copyright: The Wichita Eagle

What would you do if one night, your theatre suddenly burned to the ground?

That’s what happened on July 23, 2014, to the Great Plains Theatre in the small town of Abilene, Kansas, destroying the 1882 historic church that had served the Equity theatre company for the previous 20 years.

The devastating loss rallied a community, however, and a year later, plans are in the works for a completely new theatre. We got in touch with Elizabeth Weese, executive director of the Great Plains Theatre, to see how the company has fared in the ensuing year.

Q: Have you started plans for the new building?

A: Because we want to build this new theatre debt-free, it will take us two or three years to raise the money. ALCO Stores’ corporate headquarters was here, and they went out of business, so there’s this huge warehouse office space that was available. It has an auditorium in it. We’re renovating it into a theatre/cinema/office space to use until the new theatre is built.

Q: After the fire, you started out performing at Abilene High School. How has that gone for you?

A: Being at the high school has presented its own set of challenges. They’re going to build a new 800-seat auditorium in the school, so all of this construction is going on while we’re trying to rehearse and perform. So we started looking for another option.

Q: Has fundraising begun for the new building?

A: It’s relatively slow. The fire was so devastating, but we continued with our 20th season, and moved right into our 21st season. We thought we had the plans done for the new building, but just before we were going to announce the start of the capital campaign, a theatre consultant looked at the plans and said we really should do things a different way. So we had planned to launch the campaign with the opening of Damn Yankees this past June, but we’re waiting for the new design. The funds have been coming in, but we haven’t had that grand capital campaign boost, the big splash. Soon we will have the big announcement and show everyone the visual of the theatre design.

Q: In the interim, has the community continued to support the theatre?

A: I’ve noticed this year we have quite a few new patrons who have never been to the theatre before. That’s exciting. The community and the surrounding communities have rallied around us, and we have tremendous support. You look around the country and different places and theatres are closing left and right, and we’re a pretty small community in the middle of America. For us to have been able to keep our Equity theatre going for 20 years is amazing. Hopefully we’ll continue to do it far into the future.

Q: What makes the Great Plains Theatre special to the community?

A: We have a vibrant youth program that’s thriving. Part of our uniqueness is that these kids have exposure to professional actors coming in. There are quite a few who are now off to college and in the fine arts, and it’s because they had this opportunity here in small town America. Great Plains Theatre was an important part of their childhood growing up.

For more information on the Great Plains Theatre and its progress, visit


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