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OPT Celebrates the Many Decades of MSU's Tent Theatre With Documentary

Photo Credit: Ozarks Public Television
Photo Credit: Ozarks Public Television

This summer Missouri State University’s Tent Theatre celebrates its 50th landmark season.  Ozarks Public Television (OPT) is celebrating this milestone with a locally produced documentary.  KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann has the story.

Tent Theatre first began in 1963.  What began as a way to beat the heat of steamy, non-air conditioned auditoriums has grown to become one of Springfield’s most beloved summer traditions. In an upcoming documentary created by OPT, many professionals and well-known actors think back fondly on their experiences with Tent.

“The amazing thing was people really took to the tent.  It became a sort of a social thing that you’d meet at the tent and bring your picnic lunch, or whatever, and enjoy the show. It sold out from the very beginning.”

That’s Dr. Byrne Blackwood, one of the many former MSU faculty members and actors who are featured in the documentary.  Blackwood joined Tent in 1967 and later became managing director from 1973 until 1997.

Another name you may recognize is award winning actor John Goodman, who acted here in 1974 and 1975.

“I saw a production when I first got here and I said there’s no way I will ever be able to be on the stage here, these guys are too good,” says Goodman.

Tom Carter, program and production manager at OPT, says the upcoming documentary features many such people who have been instrumental in Tent’s process over the years.  It also shares archival documents, photos and video clips meant to bring the rich history of Tent Theatre alive.

“We always place a priority on doing local documentaries.  We feel that it’s just a wonderful privilege.  It’s a responsibility in some ways that we think we have to tell these local stories, to preserve local history,” says Carter.

Carter says part of Tent’s appeal has always been that it is light entertainment, causal and fun.

“Tent is always popular with audiences.  It’s got this wonderful history and reputation.  I think people will just really enjoy seeing how that story evolved, and again seeing some of these individuals who’ve been such a part of that story over the years,” Carter says.

The documentary “Tent Theatre: 50 Fabulous Seasons!” will air on July 11th and repeat on July 20th.  OPT and KSMU are both part of Ozarks Public Broadcasting.  For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Bettmann.