Shawnee Mission East is more than an alma mater for Maggie Niven, daughter of the late actor Kip Niven. She and her father graduated from the high school exactly 50 years apart, and the two shared a connection over their similar high school experiences.
Although Maggie and her father were both pep club presidents and choir members at SM East, Maggie said the high school’s theatre department sparked both her and Kip’s theatre careers. Maggie recently donated about one-third of her father’s play script library to East’s theatre department, including textbooks, play scripts and musical scripts.
“The two of us only have fond memories of Shawnee Mission East, and that’s something really unique and special that we got to share together,” Maggie said.
Shortly after the donation, theatre directors Tom DeFeo and Brian Cappello dedicated a script library in Kip’s honor. The library, located in the theatre department, is now the Kip Niven Memorial Script Library and Theatre Archives. Cappello said the library is a fitting tribute to Niven, who became a leader in the local theatre scene after an acting career on the national level.
“Kip was a great guy, and it’s nice to have something to remember him by,” Cappello said.
At minimum, the scripts and books on theatre criticism and theory are resources for aspiring actors who want to go the extra mile, Cappello said. Some of the scripts in the collection have notes written inside, which can offer insight on the work behind Kip’s process, he said. The scripts can be an example of professional work for theatre students as they learn script writing and directing, he said.
“It’s important that [students] see different approaches to the task,” Cappello said. “We want them to figure it out on their own and figure out what they want to say and how they envision things, but to see examples of real life, professional stuff, it’s an opportunity that a lot of people don’t get.”
After graduating from East in 1963, Kip attended Baylor University for one year before transferring to the University of Kansas. His acting career included roles in Clint Eastwood’s Magnum Force and the CBS sitcom Alice. In University of Kansas professor Kevin Wilmott’s Jayhawkers, Kip played KU men’s basketball coach Phog Allen.
When Kip returned to the Kansas City area, he would stop by the high school every now and then for musical theatre workshops with students, Cappello said. In 2010, Kip was one of the first of inductees into the Shawnee Mission East Theatre Hall of Fame based off of his resume and presence at the school, he said. The significant donation continues Kip’s legacy at SM East, both Cappello and Maggie said.
“He went from being a boy that grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas, to a man that had a successful career on screen and on stage,” Maggie said. “I think that kind of shows anyone from the Midwest that hey, you can make something of yourself, it doesn’t matter where you’re from. It also pays tribute to your hometown.”