Missouri River Festival of the Arts
The Festival’s focal point, Thespian Hall (c. 1855-1857), was acquired in 1975 by the Friends of Historic Boonville through a gift from the Kemper Foundations of Kansas City. It was suggested by Crosby Kemper that Thespian hall would be an appropriate location for an arts festival. Russell Patterson, General Artistic Director of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City was instrumental in the initial stages of planning the Festival and served as Festival Artistic Director for 14 years.
Plans for the first Festival in 1976 considerably speed the first phase of restoration of the hall. The short period from May to August saw the exterior begin to return to its pre-Civil War appearance with the cleaning and tuck pointing of the four brick columns. The interior, while remaining true to the 1901 Stephens Opera House era, had to be prepared for the life of a working theater. The orchestra pit was uncovered and enlarged, and the stage house and dressing rooms remodeled as first priorities. These initial efforts were supported largely by grants from the Kemper Foundations. In subsequent years, many large and small donations of time and money from the community testify to the community’s support for restoration of this important landmark.
For over four decades, with support from the Kemper Foundations, the Missouri Arts Council, Patrons and financial supporters, the Missouri River Festival has continued to grow and has become a highly respected regional arts event drawing thousands of people to the performances and specials events. This is one reason why the Festival is special to Boonville. But there is another reason, and that is the volunteers. Each year hundreds of people volunteer their time and energy to make sure everything is ready for opening night. It give the Festival a special magic and the pride that the volunteers take in the results of their labor is evident during Festival week.