Downtown Springfield, Mo., theatre continues to draw lovers of the arts. Submitted Photo.
Submitted Photo

Downtown Springfield, Mo., theatre continues to draw lovers of the arts

SPRINGFIELD, MO. – The historic Landers Theatre is a treasured gem in the heart of the Ozarks. Built on what is now historic Walnut Street in downtown Springfield, Mo., this unique and eclectic theatre offers much more than meets the eye from the beautiful stone façade street-side. Shannon Sherrow, Springfield Little Theatre marketing director, recently explained the history of the most sought-after entertainment venues in the area. 

The Landers Theatre and the Springfield Little Theatre are different. The Landers Theatre, Shannon explains, refers to the building erected in 1909 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. The Springfield Little Theatre is the organization born from Central High School graduates, inspired by their drama teacher who encouraged graduating students to form an acting group and perform community plays. Thus, the Springfield Little Theatre was born and is thriving in its 88th season. 

“The Springfield Little Theatre purchased the Landers Theatre in 1970. The company’s first production in the Landers was The Importance of Being Earnest. Springfield Little Theatre members asked people to donate $1 at the time, and the money was then used to fund the first production,” Shannon explained.

The historic Landers Theatre on Walnut Street in downtown Springfield was built in 1909 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Submitted Photo.
Submitted Photo

There is nothing little about the Springfield Little Theatre, and it has a rather huge impact on the community. The theatre is a non-profit organization and receives no state funding, and revenue from ticket sales is small. The majority of income derives from local business sponsors and partnerships, as well as much-appreciated community and individual patron donations. 

The actors on stage are all volunteers. Shannon shared many families engage in acting productions as a family-bonding experience. In the Springfield Little Theatre’s current production, Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang, there happens to be a mother/daughter, sister/sister and father/son duo acting on stage together. 

For Shannon, the Landers is also a family affair. 

“I started volunteering backstage and got my family and children involved. The people who work here are so encouraging and make you feel special, a part of something really big. It is a safe space,” she said. 

The theatre welcomes volunteers for a plethora of behind-the-scenes activities, including (but not limited to): ticket taking, technical assistance (under the supervision of Chuck Rogers, technical director), painting, set construction, ushering for the shows or costume design (no sewing experience necessary. They will work with whatever creative skills a volunteer might possess. The sky is the limit when it comes to volunteers, and the Little Theatre is always open to new ideas and ways of making the theatre experience shine like each well-rehearsed actor on center stage.

Beth Domann is the executive director of the Springfield Little Theatre. Lorianne Dunn is the educational director. These ladies and their respective teams partner to decide which plays will grace the stage. 

The Landers Theatre has musicals that run for three weeks and plays run for two weeks. There are plans for The Broadway Musical Beauty and the Beast in the near future. Submitted Photo.
Submitted Photo

“There is truly a show for everyone,” Shannon said. 

There is a whole process and delicate balance involved in being granted rights to each show, as well as the availability for scheduling actors and enough assistance to make each play come together in a successful production. Musicals run for three weeks, and plays run for two weeks. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is currently showing, with plans for Beauty and the Beast as a near-future production. 

Shannon has been involved in the theatre for six years. She never thought becoming the marketing director would be her future. However, she enjoys every single minute spent in this magical theatrical space. 

She enjoys being backstage as “there is a different and unique energy from the actors behind the curtain, as well as watching the plays from the stairs leading to the second floor and balcony. 

“From the stairs, you can feel the emotion and reaction from the audience. I love the Springfield Little Theatre and Landers because of the feelings it evokes,” Shannon said. “The first time I entered the theatre, the smell hit me, it was in the walls, the smell of possibility. You can feel the history; knowing you are a part of something bigger than you.”

Donors and staff work to stay in line with the rich atmosphere, from the floral carpet gracing the aisles and lobby to the golden gargoyles overlooking the stage and audience seating areas. There are always updates and continual touch ups. The rows are now wider with larger, more comfortable seats, keeping the audience’s comfort at the forefront of the theatre’s agenda. 

There are 525 seats in the theatre. The box seats are available to anyone and reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. They offer a unique viewing experience from the sides of the theatre, which enhances a view of the stage wings. The second story is the most popular, as the view encompasses a grander scale than can be seen from the first-floor seats. A third balcony is no longer used for patron seating. 

Historically, the balcony was used as the segregated section, underscoring its historical significance, yet coupled with a testament to progressive change evident in the building’s rich history. 

In 1909, the Landers Theatre was part of the Orpheum circuit of theaters, showing Vaudeville and “tab” or tabloid shows with a different show each week when it opened, according to Shannon, in addition to the famous Ozarks Jubilee. 

The Springfield Little Theatre offers ghost tours in the fall around Halloween. Submitted Photo.
Submitted Photo

No old theatre would be complete without a ghost story thrown in. 

According to Shannon, there are many ghost stories associated with a building so full of history and constant action.

The Springfield Little Theatre offers ghost tours in the fall, around Halloween. The tours are wildly popular. The top floor of the theatre was once apartments, where at least two former residents said they heard strange noises, saw puzzling green glows, and even heard whispery voices. More than one volunteer is rumored to have seen a man dressed in period attire who simply vanished through the walls during a rehearsal below the stage. 

Whether you wish to volunteer your time at the theatre, indulge in a spooky Halloween ghost tour, revel in the vast history and endless stories the building could tell, or wish to simply find a comfortable seat to enjoy an entertaining live performance, the Landers/Springfield Little Theatre has something to offer to all. And what a treasure that it is located in such an accessible and popular area downtown, surrounded by restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, and eclectic social businesses. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here