The issue is cold beer. The sale of malt beverages at future performances "is in the preliminary, information-gathering period," says Executive Producer Mike Musick. That has certain Johnson Countians in a fighting mood. "When I think of The Theatre in the Park, I think of kids, and kids and alcohol don't mix," says
Janine Gracy, executive director of the Regional Prevention Center. "We're not teetotalers, but the last thing I'd want to do is sit out there and have a beer and see Annie. That's not appealing.'
Yet Musick says the venue needs money. "We're constantly in financial straits. Of our $400,000 budget, only about 19 percent comes from tax support. Look at the Mid-America Sports Complex, where a quarter-million dollars comes in beer revenue. We've had long-time members and supporters raise the issue, and I owe it to them to research it."
While beer and harder stuff can be seen at Swope Park's Starlight Theatre, The New Theatre and American Heartland Theatre, Shawnee Mission Park audiences can only purchase soft drinks with their nachos, pizza, popcorn and hot dogs.
Powerful forces don't want that to change. "I should probably send a letter in opposition to this activity," wrote Karen Arnold-Burger, presiding judge of Overland Park Municipal Court, in an email to Regional Prevention Center consultant Stephanie Neu.
"We're looking at some formal opposition,' Neu says. "It ... creates an issue of role modeling and social norming, where alcohol needs to be present at everything you do."
"We've gotten a lot of irate letters," Musick says, "and we do want public opinion. Truthfully, I'm glad to see this much emotional outpouring. It shows they care about the theater."
Beer sales have one enthusiastic supporter: Pony Express, an Olathe brewery. "Local brewery, local theater -- we'd love to do it," says sales representative Jodie Jensen. "Actually, we had donated a keg to a Theatre in the Park fundraiser."
Stasha Case, who played Peter Pan at the park this summer, prefers a stone-cold sober audience. "Don't get me wrong. I love my beer," she says. "But not there. It doesn't seem right."