COLUMBIA, Mo. | Sorry, but the Okoboji Summer Theatre will NOT be producing "Les Miserables" this year.

"No 'Les Miz' for us," said OST Artistic Director Dan Schultz, bucking the trend of almost every other theater in the country taking on the behemoth.

Schultz, a Stephens College Theatre faculty member and 12-year OST veteran, takes on artistic director duties for the 56th season.

"Our audience won't notice any substantial changes," he said. "There will be a lot of familiar faces on stage and behind the scenes. That said, we will have a whole lot of new people on stage and in the director's chair."

As artistic director, Schultz sets the artistic and educational missions of the theater.

"I select the season with input from my colleagues," he said. "Then I find the directors that are good matches for each project, hire designers, musicians and actors. My goal is for the audience to want to come visit us every single week and bring friends. To do that we need crowd-pleasing shows and very talented people who love to work hard. So, really my job is about putting people in situations where they will thrive and be happy."

Schultz felt the theater was blessed to have such a strong reputation.

"It allows us to attract very high-caliber guests," he said. "So I hope that the audience sees a re-commitment to high quality performances every week."

Schultz said putting the season together was like putting together a great big puzzle: every piece needs to fit perfectly.

"If one piece is out of place, the whole thing won't come together properly. The hardest part -- so far -- has been matching the right people to each show," the 35-year-old said. "It is great, fun work, but it may gray my hair prematurely."

This year, OST is adding a new outreach program called Plays for Living.

"We'll be touring a production meant for elementary-aged children about the issues of bullying, diversity and acceptance," Schultz said. "After each show there is a professionally moderated dialogue where kids can talk about the issues in be play."

OST has already booked engagements at local libraries and camps.

"We should be able to reach some 700 kids this year," Schultz said. "All of the shows will be free. It's one little way that we can give back to the community that has given us so much."

Advanced theater students from Stephens College work at OST as part of their BFA degree program. Schultz, a native of Arizona, was awarded his BFA from Stephens where he has been teaching for the past five years.

"I've worked at a lot of theaters, but nowhere have I had an audience that is so loyal, rewarding and forgiving," Schultz said of the OST attendees. "Seeing many of the same patrons year after year, some of whom have been coming from the day the theater opened, is so unique and special."

In addition to his artistic director duties, Schultz will appear in "The 39 Steps."

"I'm very excited," he said. "This is a show that people will love. I'm also directing 'Don't Dress for Dinner' and the musical 'My Way.' Get your tickets now. You won't want to miss that one."