A life in theater: Sammie Messick loves the adventure

A life in theater can mean a lot of things. One could be a star, an educator, a technician, or a director.

For Sammie Messick, the Lied Center’s longtime receptionist, it means one thing: adventure.

“I like that nothing is routine about my job,” she says. “I don’t have to sit at my desk all day.” Messick has been at the Lied for the past 14 years, and there’s little she hasn’t seen or done working with the artists that come through. Most of the time, things move pretty smoothly. She collects an artist from the airport, secures lodging for them, and makes sure they have anything they need.

But there are times when the job becomes that adventure she truly enjoys.

“One time, we had a group coming in during the spring,” she says, “and the weather interfered. A bunch of their flights got cancelled and rescheduled, so, instead of just going out to the airport once, I had to make multiple trips. The last one was for the bass player. I had a state car, and his standup bass wouldn’t fit in it. So I called a friend in Kansas City, who has a Jeep Grand Cherokee, and we put the bass in that and drove him to Lawrence. Of course, then I had to go back to the airport to get the state car.”

“The best way to describe Sammie is resourceful,” says the Lied’s executive director Tim Van Leer.

But Messick is humble, too.

“What I should have done is just rented a car,” she adds.

Working behind the scenes in the arts often means solving problems. Messick excels at doing whatever is necessary to make things work.

“Once, we had an artist that had a very demanding hospitality manager,” she says. “I called around town, and I couldn’t find anyone willing to do what she wanted. So I catered it myself at my house. I had 13 for breakfast, 17 for lunch and 20 for dinner, and they all thought it was terrific.”

Her pride in the accomplishment is evident, but it isn’t for the sake of being a star herself. She’s just happy she was able to make things happen for the artist.

And most of the stars she works are, as she puts it, just regular people. Recent favorites include David Sedaris and Garrison Keillor.

“He was nothing like the character he plays on the radio or the column he writes in the paper,” she says of Keillor. “He was just like an ordinary person, and I got to talk to him for an hour.” Messick is retiring December 7, and she has no plans to stop adventuring.

“My husband and I just bought a teardrop trailer we hope to drag around the country,” she says, “and we have a 36-foot sailboat on Lake Perry, so we hope to get in more sailing days.”

One wonders how the Lied Center will be able to get along without her.

“Sammie will not be replaced,” Van Leer says with both affection and admiration. “There will just be someone one else answering the phone.”

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