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'We will fix it': Warwick Theatre, MET adjust show plans as they work to rebuild after fire

Warwick Theatre works to rebuild as the show must go on
Posted at 5:32 AM, Feb 29, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the early morning hours of Feb. 7, the historic Warwick Theatre caught fire. The back portion of the building was damaged significantly inside, along with props, costumes and office space.

The fire cost the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre company a rehearsal and performance space just weeks out from the opening night of its next play, Joe Turner's Come and Gone.

Wednesday, producing artistic director Karen Paisley sifted through the racks of costumes she was trying to save. Many are damaged with smoke, singed or have plastic hangers melted into the fabric. Paisley said she has done loads of laundry to preserve 20 years' worth of memories and valuable items.

“Costumes sound like a silly thing. Except for me. They were worn by people I love and actors and artists who made incredible performances in those things," said Paisley. "Also, the financial loss of 20 years collecting an amazing collection of costumes that was being used by a lot of people in town."

Her theatre company was immediately taken in by a local church following the fire so they could continue rehearsals until Paisley found a temporary home at Westport Presbyterian. That is where they are now rehearsing and will perform the next play. The show will go on, but with one less week of performances meaning less ticket sale revenue.

"We employ more than 100 different artists every year and that means somebody's car payment. You know, it's somebody's daycare. You know, most artists are not wealthy. So if we fail, they get hurt. And that just can't happen," said Paisley.

While the move to get actors back on stage was swift, the process of assessing and rebuilding the Warwick Theatre will be slow. Board president Brad Dawdy said they're still in the early stages of dealing with insurance.

"Our primary focus is as you can tell from the joists here and so forth in the walls that has been cleaned out and so forth. And in fact, that process is not even done because we need to have engineers in here to make sure it's even safe to do the clean-outs on the third floor," said Dawdy.

Both Dawdy and Paisley agree that the return to the Warwick Theatre, a staple of Kansas City's midtown, will be worth it in the end.

"I already see a light at the end of the tunnel. There may be a long road to get to that light, but I really see a light at the end of the tunnel," said Dawdy.

"I think that's the moment that it will be worth it. To see the people that we did it for. And we'll be back here. This is not anything we are giving up. The Warwick is not coming down. It's not going to close. It's shuttered for a minute. The building is in no danger of falling down. We are grievously injured. But we can fix it, and we will fix it," said Paisley.

The company's show opens on March 7. If you visit The Warwick's website, you can find the page for ticket sales and a fire recovery fund. There is also a GoFundMe for the MET. Dawdy and Paisley said soon they will need volunteers to help with clean-up and remediation. They ask you to reach out to them via Facebook or directly to volunteer.