Deal with MU revived Missouri Theatre, gave university needed space

Monday, October 15, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:14 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 15, 2012

COLUMBIA — John Murray's job has been a whirlwind since MU took over the Missouri Theatre  last year.

"It's been overwhelmingly positive but a tremendous amount of work," said Murray, assistant director of business services and building coordinator for Jesse Hall.

Since MU announced it would lease and operate the theater, his job has included overseeing it, too.

Murray has doubled his staff to six full-time employees who handle all events for both Jesse Auditorium and the Missouri Theatre. Murray handles scheduling the events.

The 84-year-old theater at 203 S. Ninth St. is just north of campus. The lease with MU runs for three years. After that, the university has the option to buy it for $3.7 million, according to previous Missourian reports.

When the lease deal was made in August 2011, the theater had limited programming and was struggling to stay open.

"The Missouri Theatre has been such a jewel to the community for so long," Murray said. "Through the decades, it has gone through different challenges. They were in a financial challenge that no one could see a way out of."

The deal has revived the theater and given MU, especially the School of Music, a needed space for performances and other events. 

"We hadn't been able to keep up with the demand in Jesse Auditorium," Murray said. "We can now hold two events in one night with using the Missouri Theatre."

Before the deal, the School of Music rented the space as it could for performances. Now, it has been designated the theater's primary user, said School of Music Director Robert Shay.

Over the past year, about 50 School of Music concerts have been performed there, Murray said.

Shay said one of the big changes is that musicians and ensembles have a lot more time in the theater before the performance. "At Jesse, we always had problems getting enough rehearsal time," he said. 

"We are just about to submit our request for 2013-2014, and hopefully we get our things in place before a lot of other requests come in," Shay said.

Organizations and people still can rent the theater. Events have been held there by the True/False Film Fest, the Citizen Jane Film Festival, Boonslick Chordbusters and others.

Additionally, the theater has been a location for weddings, wedding receptions, birthday parties and other celebrations such as one held by the University of Georgia President's Office on the Friday night before Missouri's first SEC game against Georgia, Murray said.

Shay said that if MU buys the theater it would give music students even more access to its facilities; as it is, he said it's great to show to prospective students.

"I think audiences enjoy going there more than Jesse for the kind of music we put on," he said. "The events get a better turnout at the Missouri Theatre."

The theater has 1,200 seats while Jesse Auditorium has 1,700 seats.

Murray said there is a difference in how things sound at the Missouri Theatre versus Jesse Auditorium. "The classical music and acoustic music that have more nuances play better in the acoustics at the Missouri Theatre," he said.

When an organization on campus or in the community wants to hold its event at the Missouri Theatre, Murray personally takes them over to show them the facilities.

"I'm overwhelmed by the beauty of it," he said.  

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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