New Musical ‘Winfield’ to Debut September 9-11; Auditions for ‘Winfield’ and ‘SpongeBob’ Occur May 3-9

Thanks to the collaborative efforts of Southwestern College’s theatre department, Winfield’s Art and Humanities Council (WAHC), and festival attendee and long-time musical writer Ken Gale, people will soon have a whole new way to experience the unique music festival that happens here every third weekend in September. As part of a community-wide celebration of the 50th Walnut Valley Festival, Southwestern will, for the first time, produce Gale’s “Winfield, A Bluegrass Musical.”

Set at the campgrounds during the festival, the musical tells the story of a first-time attendee who finds love, family, and himself among the strummers and pickers who inhabit the festival campgrounds. Armed with a guitar, his best friend, and a new song, Dusty encounters the ethereal Celeste and falls hard. Along the way, he meets Peg and the pickers of Pirate Camp, Cookie and the Mutineer camp strummers, and the mystical musical minions who inhabit the woods by the Walnut River.

The music and script were written by Ken Gale, who has attended Winfield, taken part in the NewSong Showcase, and writes musicals in his spare time. The show is designed to be performed with musicians playing traditional bluegrass instruments on stage and taking part in the musical, rather than as an offstage accompaniment. 

Southwestern College’s theatre arts department will organize the production, with funding and support from Walnut Valley Festival and a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grant administered by WAHC. Plans call for the show to take place in Richardson Performing Arts Center (RPAC) on the evenings of Sept. 9 and 10, with a matinee on Sunday, Sept. 11. The Sunday matinee will be free of charge to any festival attendee (wearing a wristband), and buses will be on hand to transport people from the campground up to Southwestern College’s campus for the show. 

Professional musicians playing the onstage roles can expect to be compensated, thanks to support from the NEA grant administered by WAHC. Auditions will be held in conjunction with another Southwestern musical production (SpongeBob), according to the following schedule:

  • Tuesday, May 3, 7-9 p.m., in Messenger Auditorium for both shows (SC students)
  • Thurs, May 5, 6-8 p.m., in RPAC for “Winfield, A Bluegrass Musical” (community auditions)
  • Friday, May 6, 6-8 p.m., in RPAC for all ages for “SpongeBob”
  • Saturday, May 7, 9 a.m. to noon, auditions for individuals of all ages for “SpongeBob” and callbacks will be from 3-5 p.m., in RPAC for “SpongeBob”
  • Mon, May 9, 7-9 p.m., callbacks for “Winfield, A Bluegrass Musical” in RPAC

Organizers hope to showcase parts of the musical around the community and on the grounds at the 50th Festival as well. Patrons can expect to see a few songs or scenes at concerts and other events over the summer and into the fall, and there will again be a set at the festival devoted to the songs of “Winfield.” The production will draw on the talents of Southwestern students and faculty as well as community members.

Joshua Robinson, Southwestern College director of theatre, is looking forward to this 50th-anniversary collaboration. 

“We are excited to be working on a project connected to Walnut Valley Festival, an event that really has become an intrinsic part of our identity as a community,” Robinson says.  “It is no accident that most people, when they plan on attending the festival, talk about ‘going to Winfield.’ The musical itself is one that I think that most anyone will enjoy, whether they have attended the festival or not. But to be doing this on the eve of the 50th festival, I feel like this is a chance for our college and the community to join in really celebrating an important milestone for all of us.”  

Ken Gale has been writing for musical theater in Kansas for over a quarter-century.  He wrote the libretto and lyrics and co-wrote the music for the dark “Frankenstein, The Musical,” which was performed at the Orpheum Theater in Wichita in 1996. His Christmas musical “Bethlehem, Kansas” (music, lyrics, libretto) was produced by Wichita’s Music Theater for Young People in 2005 and 2017.  He teamed with playwright Joyce Markley to create the musical “Save Me A Dance” (music, lyrics, original story), which was performed at Mary Jane Teal Theater in 2012.  “Cindy!” (music, lyrics, libretto) was produced by Peabody High School in 2019.  His musical “The President of Zenda” (co-writer of music, lyrics, libretto) is still looking for a venue and producer.  Gale has served as music director for musicals at Music Theater for Young People and Kapun-Mt. Carmel High School. He was the music director, and later the executive producer, of the Wichita Bar Association’s Bar Show for over 20 years.  For his day job, Ken works for the United States District Court.  

Since 1972, the Walnut Valley Festival is traditionally held on the third weekend of September in Winfield and draws a crowd of 10,000-15,000 people to celebrate a blend of all kinds of acoustic music, including bluegrass, folk, Americana, a little bit of cowboy, some Celtic, blues, jazz and swing, and more.

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