Jefferson City’s theater era is everlasting. While many towns struggle to sustain a single theater, Jeff City has many theaters serving different purposes. Stained Glass Theatre is a faith-based theater, The Little Theatre is the longest-running theater in town, Capital City Productions is the only dinner theater in Jefferson City, Scene One Theatre is an experimental theater that allows original works to be on stage and Itsy Bitsy Broadway is children-focused.
Traditional shows run deep in the town’s history. Community members can see classic plays like “Newsies,” “Guys and Dolls,” “The 3 Musketeers,” “The Sound of Music” and more.
While the list of women impacting the theater industry in Jefferson City is substantial, HER spoke with five of the women making a difference in town.
“Raise a Hallelujah,” “Battle Belongs” and other Christian tracks flow through Emily Roberts’ car stereo on the way to a performance. As an actress and as the executive director of Capital City Productions (CCP), Roberts prioritizes spending quality time with the cast — her people — before a show. “Because once the show is over, we’ll never be that cast again,” she said.
Born and raised in Jefferson City, Roberts grew up in a musical space and has been singing since she was 4 years old. “So, it was natural that that lent itself to musical theater as well,” she said.
Roberts planted her roots at CCP in 2008 when she starred in “All Shook Up” as Natalie Haller. “It was the first show that CCP had ever sold out, and I loved it,” she said. She took time away from theater soon after that performance to grow her family and embrace new roles as a mom and teacher. Her love for CCP really flourished during winter in 2021 when her daughter was a part of “A Christmas Story” at the theater. “We hit the ground running,” she said. “We jumped in volunteering and then we were in the very next show together — my mom and my daughter and myself — and my dad built the sets.”
Now, Roberts’ whole family is involved. Her dad is the facilities manager, her mom is her stage manager, her daughter is an actress and her husband helps out in the kitchen for dinner shows and with off-stage moral support.
As a leader at CCP, Roberts is building a strong bond between the theater and the people of Jefferson City. “Community is a big thing for me — being a part of my community and giving back to my community,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to fill needs wherever I saw them arise.” With that at the forefront, Roberts has helped put together fundraisers for local organizations and assisted in planning events for funding. “When we stepped in [CCP], we used that as another opportunity to help bring something amazing to our community.”
Favorite play: Straight play, “The Play That Goes Wrong.” Musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
Dream role: The narrator in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
When Kira Rutter was 12 years old, her mom tried to sign her up for a theater class. When Kira refused to budge on her theater-is-dumb perspective, her mom signed up her brother instead and made Kira go to all his rehearsals. “I very, very quickly became jealous,” she said. By watching her brother and the other theater members so intently, she inadvertently memorized the whole show. When one of the girls couldn’t make it to the last performance, Kira stepped in for the role of Little Red Riding Hood in “Frumpled Fairy Tales.”
“Right then when it finished, I was like, ‘I’m going to open a children’s theater when I’m a grown-up,’” Rutter said.
Every move Rutter has made since then has been a step in the direction of her dreams. Now, at 32, Rutter is the owner of Itsy Bitsy Broadway — a children’s theater located in Capital Mall.
At Itsy Bitsy, kids learn how to act, direct, use tech equipment, be respectful audience members and more. “We are trying to make young performers, but we’re really just trying to make confident theater participants,” Rutter said. Kids can join a class at the theater starting at 3 years old.
For some shows, the Itsy Bitsy team flips the script and has adults on stage acting while the teens take on the responsibilities of being directors, production managers, stage managers, costume mistresses and more.
“I think theater is fantastic because it allows kids to explore all of the various versions of what they can be,” Rutter said. “It helps widen their scope as to what they are capable of.”
Favorite play: “Once Upon a Mattress.”
Dream role: Glinda in “Wicked,” Eliza from “My Fair Lady” or Princess Fred in “Once Upon a Mattress.”
Unlike most, Sarah Sicht’s role in Jefferson City’s theater scene transpired later in her life. When her son was in elementary school, she took on a time-consuming, sweeping position many parents accept when their child becomes interested in the arts: theater mom.
Instead of going home between her son’s practices at Capital City Productions, she began assistant stage managing, which lead to stage managing, which lead to directing. “It was just one of those things that, once you get involved, you just fall in love,” Sicht said.
She described CCP as a family that welcomed her and her son from the moment they stepped into the theater. “You can’t help but get involved,” Sicht said. From directing to helping with tech to building and painting sets, there are so many ways to get involved at CCP. “Capital City welcomes everybody with open arms,” she said. “That’s why I keep going back and doing more.”
Now, Sicht is also the director of CCP’s children’s theater called Theo’s Thespians, which puts on summer camps for third graders through high schoolers. Her day job is being a principal at an elementary school, and after completing three degrees in education, working with children is natural. “That’s where my heart is — my heart is with kids — so I love that aspect of it,” Sicht said.
When it comes down to what made her stay at CCP, Sicht believes the theater is a place where everyone can belong. “Regardless of where you come from or how old you are or how young you are, the theater is a place for everybody, and that’s why I love it,” Sicht said. “It’s really about bringing out the best in people.”
Favorite play: “Hamilton” or “Dear Evan Hansen.”
Dream show to direct: “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Six The Musical” or “Come From Away.”
With an affinity for the dramatic arts, actress Margaret Graham leans toward more serious roles in shows at Scene One Theatre and Capital City Productions. In high school, she was cast as Amanda Wingfield in “The Glass Menagerie,” a play by Tennessee Williams. “It was at that time that I discovered that Tennessee Williams wrote all of his plays for me,” Graham joked. This show sparked her love for dramas and serious plays. “If you’re sitting and watching a drama, you really have to pay attention to the dialogue and the storyline,” she said. “It really draws you in.”
After she graduated from Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina, Graham’s first play in Jefferson City was “Dearly Beloved” in 2009 at CCP. More recently, she was Miss Hannagan in “Annie” in 2022. At Scene One, she starred in Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love,” directed by Mark Wegman. “That was a tremendous drama,” Graham said. “That’s one of the favorite things I’ve ever done.”
Graham’s gift of performance allows her to take the audience to the next level of emotion and embrace a character while she's on stage. “It’s an incredible thing, and I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world,” she said.
Those who participate in community theater are all volunteers, and Graham emphasized that being involved is a labor of love. “When we talk about our theater, we talk about our ‘home away from home,’ and that’s true,” she said. “Because of the connections that we make — you can’t buy that.”
Favorite play: “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Dream role: Mame in “Mame.”
When Natalie Eickhoff-Newberry was 7 years old, she was in her first play at The Little Theatre of Jefferson City (TLT), “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” She played a fairy, her father played Oberon and her mother was Titania. Her brother was also in the production, and it was the only time all four of them were in a show together. In June, Eickhoff-Newberry starred in “Annie Get Your Gun,” alongside her mother, who directed, and her father, who played Buffalo Bill. “We got to be on stage again and have one last time here together 25 years later,” she said.
Eickhoff-Newberry is now serving on TLT’s board as Vice President for the ‘22-’23 season. She helps pick the shows for the next season, lends a hand in production and supports the cast and team of directors for each show. She also directed the season opener, “Out of the Woods.”
As an adult, Eickhoff-Newberry has learned to enjoy the tech side of production. Even so, she’ll always love singing, dancing and getting into character. “Theater, in general, is my passion,” she said. “Having the opportunity to partake in my passion on a regular basis in this community has been a dream.”
On top of her involvement at TLT, Eickhoff-Newberry has performed at Capital City Productions and Scene One Theatre, and she is also the Vice Chair of the Cultural Arts Commission.
Eickhoff-Newberry continues to be amazed by Jefferson City’s appreciable theater community and the number of people who travel to be a part of productions and watch the performances. “I’m grateful for the community and being so supportive of the arts,” she said. “It’s incredible how many people come do to theater in Jeff City… traveling several days out of the week for several weeks out of the year to be part of this incredibly strong and full theater community here.”
Favorite play: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
Dream role: Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun,” the narrator in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” or Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde.”