Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Child's View of Theatre Magic

Last night, I attended a high school production of "Shrek the Musical." Seated next to me, in the front row, was a friend's three-year-old son. By his reactions, I would say that this was probably his first play.

It is an absolute delight for a theatre educator to sit next to a small child who is experiencing a live stage production for the first time. His eyes were wide. He was absolutely rapt. He gasped, and held his hands over his mouth. He laughed out loud. He was full of questions: "Why is it dark?" "Why is she alone?" "What's that sound?" "Where did the dragon go?" He mimicked what he heard actors say, including the line, "I should have worn a cup," which may or may not have made his phys ed-teacher father proud. He put his head on my shoulder, which, I'm told, is quite unusual for him. He got scared as the dragon got closer to the edge of the stage, and needed the safety of his dad's arms, so over the back of the seat he went, to his dad in the row behind us.

I'm in a place where "regular" theatre doesn't excite me much anymore. I need new and different stimulation. I guess I'm kind of jaded. But spending the evening next to a child who's just discovering theatre was, for me, an incredible reminder that what we do can be magical.

Friday, November 21, 2014

It's a Beautiful Day for Good News, Vol. 4

Another installment of my ongoing refusal to believe that the world is as terrible as the media would lead you to think. People are good, and beautiful things happen all the time.

I almost hope I can get a ticket from this officer. Not really, but sort of.

A California restaurant owner hilariously wages war on Yelp:

An 11-year-old boy donates his organs on his deathbed, and doctors bow to him in honor of his wishes.

US Senator Cory Booker (D- NJ) gave away 81% of his income to charity last year:

Can we all agree that Patrick Stewart is amazing? Here he is, granting a wish to an ill child:

A Canadian guy vandalizes a bunch of signs, and citizens couldn't be happier.

(I dedicate this entry to the memory of my grandpa, "Mike".) A young boy scores a touchdown for the Cornhuskers. Go, Little Red!

A 72-year love affair is finally legalized.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Project Pride updates: new cast, and TedX!

In March, I spoke briefly about Project Pride, the new LGTBQIA/straight-allied teen theatre troupe started by Coterie Education Director, Amanda Kibler. She, Zac Parker, and I are co-directors. It was an amazing experience to be able to give these young people a safe space to be who they are and say what they want to say.

Three cast members from last year are now in college - and we miss them! - and, we only had eight cast members to begin with. Amanda and I contacted as many local high school theatre departments (and some middle schools too) and Gay-Straight Alliances as we could... and now we have a cast of about twenty. ("About" because some are still trying to figure out their schedules.)

So... twenty. Twenty young people, mostly strangers to each other, came together on Monday for our first rehearsal of the new season. The focus, at this early stage, is mostly to get comfortable with each other as an ensemble. It's absolutely crucial that everyone feel safe and supported. So we spent some time creating a "community contract" that everyone could suggest guidelines for, everyone voted on, and everyone signed. In crayon. Because colors!

I'm so happy to have the chance to get to know these young people. And I so happy that they have families who are, at the very least, okay with them being part of this. And some parents are beside themselves with pride and encouragement. One mom told me that her daughter said that by the end of rehearsal, "it felt like family." Another parent said to me, "This is the first time in a LONG time I've heard her talk about having lots of friends, and feeling comfortable and safe."

Those are the very best words to hear.

Our second-year cast members, though, are gearing up for a new performance piece on Saturday. We've been invited to perform at TedXYouth, here in Kansas City. The theme for the conference is "Beyond Truth," and the cast has been working hard to figure out what they meant to them, and how they wanted to express it.

We had tech rehearsal last night. We are so very, very excited.

Ticket information: TedXYouth: Beyond Truth

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Why I'm Not Watching The Royals

As I write this, the Kansas City Royals are one win away from being in the World Series. I don't blame anyone for being excited. Twenty-nine years ago, I went to the parade when the Royals won the Series. Kansas City has had a long, rough road to get to this point again.

But I'm not watching the games, and I don't much care if they win or lose. Please don't hate me for this. Listen.

In high school, I noticed that anyone could name at least one artist (including playwrights) who lived hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago. No one knew a single athlete. This told me that art, in its many forms, has more of an impact on society, and history, than sports.

In college, I realized that the institution funneled a lot of money to the sports teams, and not much to the theatre department. But when they needed something from the public, who would they hit up? Theatre department alumni who are now famous movie and television stars.

Recently, I watched a mom and her young son waiting to pick up her daughter from dance lessons. The boy looked in the window of the studio, and his eyes went wide. He turned to his mother and said excitedly, "Boys!" I said, "Of course! There are lots of boy dancers!" His mother then quietly explained to me, "His dad told him boys don't dance. Boys play ball." My face fell. Hers was already there. We shared the same sad thoughts. I turned to the boy and said, "Well, there are lots and lots of boy dancers. Some are very famous. Look at those boys there. Aren't they doing a great job? Doesn't that look like fun?" He responded by trying to imitate what he saw them do.

Then, last night, a couple of things happened that really got to me.

I went to my niece's first high school symphony orchestra concert. She was in the regular school orchestra last year, but really wanted to be in the elite symphony orchestra, for which she had to audition. Of course, the family is all very proud of her, and it was on our calendars long before the Royals made the play-offs.

The concert was to start at 7:00. The Royals' game started at 7:05.

The orchestra director came out and informed the audience that she wasn't going to talk as much as she usually does during concerts (really, though, she doesn't talk that much), because she put everything she was going to say in the program, to save time, so "we can all get home and watch some baseball."

I'm sure there were family members of young musicians who appreciated that. But what message did it give the students, dressed in their formal orchestra attire, and tuning their instruments?

The high school orchestra played their three-song set. They were off the stage by 7:11. I checked.

The only things left in the program were the three pieces by the symphony orchestra. I thought, Dang, we're going to be out of here by 7:30. Not quite. Because they needed to stall for time before starting, the director said. We saw why several minutes later, as an athletic-attired young man rushed in, walked in front of the other students, who were wearing their tuxedos and black formal gowns, already tuned and warmed-up, and sat down in front of the conductor. He was the first-chair cellist, and the school soccer game he was playing in just ended, so he rushed over to the concert. He picked up his cello, which had been tuned for him. Now they could start playing.

When they were finished with the three pieces, they stood, we applauded, and the director thanked the audience for being there, then dismissed us quickly: "Go, Royals!" The music portion of the evening had lasted approximately 25 minutes. I heard that pieces were cut from the program at the last minute. I don't know the official reason, but from the look of things, I have a hunch.

There is usually a reception after these concerts. Cookies and punch. You know. To celebrate the young musicians and their hard work. It was conspicuously absent last night. I heard students saying they thought it was so people wouldn't hang around and keep others from getting home to watch the game.

So this is the message this group of young musicians got last night: Music is not as important as sports. You and your work as an artist are not as important as an athletic event. If you enjoying playing sports and music, we are happy to stop the concert, to keep the audience and the rest of the orchestra waiting for your arrival, because your soccer game is more important than your concert. You are more important than the rest of the people onstage with you, because you play sports.

I would never say that sports are not valuable. They absolutely are. They teach teamwork, dedication, ambition, strategy, hard work, and taking pride in what your body can do. These are wonderful things. (By the way, the arts teach these things too, albeit in very different ways.)

I also am not saying that, if a kid likes sports and the arts, she should have to choose between them. No way. (Although, now and then, when a conflict arises, a choice must be made.)

Nor am I saying it's wrong to be excited about your hometown team being in the play-offs. Of  course not.

I am saying that our society consistently makes sports more important than the arts. Athletes are more important than musicians, than dancers, than actors, than designers, directors, painters, writers, sculptors... And we are telling our kids that.

And they are listening.

ADDENDUM, 10-16-14: I've gotten some feedback from people who apparently think I'm slamming sports and/or athletes and/or sports fans. That was not my intention at all. I tried to communicate this in the post, but I guess I wasn't clear.

Sports are great. They are valuable. They are entertaining, and people who play can learn a lot about themselves, and working with others. I have nothing against sports or those who play/support them. Even I'm kind of excited that the Royals are going to the World Series, because that is a super-cool achievement.

My concern is that sports are often emphasized by the general population to such an extreme point that the arts, and especially kids who are interested in expressing themselves artistically, are repeatedly given the message that they don't matter, because they are not as important or, at least, not as cool. Our children suffer for this notion, and that's what I was trying to explain here.

I hope I've cleared up some misunderstandings.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

It's a Beautiful Day for Good News, Vol. 3

Lately, my feed is overflowing with terrible news - most notably, the suicide of Robin Williams and the murder of Michael Brown (and subsequent fallout) in Ferguson, Missouri. As I'm also eyebrow-deep in a post-show emotional letdown (times four), it's been difficult to focus on good things in the world. But they're there, and so this is my attempt to remind us all that although bad things do happen, good things do too.

To support their six-year-old friend, forty classmates wore suits to school:

When a restaurant reviewer made rude suggestions online, the outraged owner spun it, for charity:

Professional wrestlers make a boy's last days very special:

Two local men run to rescue a woman from rape, then hold the attacker until police arrive:!bGMknB

LaVar Burton wanted to reboot Reading Rainbow as an app, so he mounted a KickStarter campaign for the massive sum of $1,000,000. This is his reaction when that goal was met - in 24 hours:

By the way, it has now raised over $5 million - all for children's literacy:

A cop is called to arrest a woman for shoplifting, but buys her groceries instead:

Also, I don't know these kids, but this is a good big brother. Made me smile.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Halftime Report: "Red Death" Reviews

We are halfway through our run of "Red Death" for the Kansas City Fringe Festival, and people are saying some really great things about it. Last night, our show drew a huge crowd, and I was absolutely stunned, watching the line of people enter the theatre to see our show. It was a long line, and we had to hold the house. It's an amazing thing, knowing that people are eager to share in something you've helped create.

So here are a couple of reviews. And, of course, ticket information for our remaining three shows:

Robert Trussell, Kansas City Star:

Those who have attended performances at KC Fringe though the years expect to see something unusual, but few of us have seen anything quite like “Red Death.”

This one-act chamber opera from composer Daniel Doss and writer Bryan Colley offers a concise 40 minutes of vivid gothic horror filled with impressionistic images. The show, directed by Tara Varney and choreographed by Amy Hurrelbrink, is almost as much dance theater as it is opera.

This adaptation of “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe tells the tale of Prince Prospero, who retreats to his castle for a night of revelry with his entourage and servants while a plague ravages the countryside.

According to the program, Colley’s libretto borrows not only from Poe, but from the Roman poet/philosopher Lucretius Carus, Renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne and Ecclesiastes in the Bible, but I confess that I’m too meager a scholar to comment on Colley’s choices. I can say that his libretto is loaded with compelling images.

Doss’ lush score, performed by pianist Michalis Koutsoupides, is darkly romantic, often returning to a haunting waltz-time motif. The music is so compelling that you can easily imagine what it would sound like performed by a full orchestra.

Tenor Nathan Granner plays Prospero with Shakespearean flair and his voice, as usual, is mesmerizing. Soprano Devon Barnes is impressive as Prospero’s unnamed servant, whose perception of the futility of existence draws her magnetically toward death.

Many Fringe shows are bare-bones affairs but this one shimmers, thanks to a delicate, evocative lighting design by Shane Rowse and elegant costumes designed and created by Varney and her collaborators. A cadre of dancers create dreamlike stage pictures.

In essence, this piece is a 19th-century meditation on death, but the combination of music, dance, creative lighting and inventive costumes will linger in the viewer’s memory.



A very strong performance of an effectively creative adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death.

I am not an opera fan, but this presentation could convert me. First, it’s in English, it began with the spoken word, and the company gave out printed lyrics for those of us not used to listening to opera.

But the printed words weren’t needed to understand Nathan Granner. His voice was strong and clear, and his character was compelling. Gorgeous singing. That alone was worth the time.

Devon Barnes had a lovely voice when singing low and soft, but some of her higher sections had a piercing quality to me. Her physical reactions, particularly to the Uninvited Guest, were emotionally effective. Her acting came across as truthful, the emotions coming from within.

Bryan Colley’s libretto and Daniel Doss’s music were quite impressive. They captured the story succinctly, getting us in the spirit, enjoying the characters, and building to the climax. The entertainment at the ball provided emotional variety, and gave the individual dancers a moment in the spotlight, which they deserved. Michalis Koutsoupides accompanied with just the right volume, not drowning out the voices as too often happens in musical productions.

Tara Varney’s direction and Amy Hurrelbrink’s choreography created a powerful experience. The movement was natural, provided a variety of stage pictures that evoked emotion and added visual interest, and covered the audience well. The dancing enhanced the mood and the story, and it gave a fascinating visual behind Nathan’s powerful singing. Dancers Chelsea Anglemyer, Josh Atkins, Amy Hurrelbrink, Tyler Parsons, and Tiffany Powell blended beautifully as an ensemble, and also embodied unique personalities. They listened actively and carried out business that made the scenes realistic without pulling focus. The choreography allowed each of them moments to be featured. At one point their frantic, almost jerky, movements gave the impression of many more dancers than there were. This was an effective contrast to the fluidly slow movements, particularly when Coleman Crenshaw as the Uninvited Guest drew attention merely by his intense stage presence.

Bryan Colley designed a sparse setting that allowed Shane Rowse’s lighting to set the mood. One window lighted in red in one corner, a white-lighted clock in the diagonal corner, a bench with just enough props to give the dancers realistic business on one side and allow them ways to create pictures on different levels—that was perfect to set the tone and give space for the story to unfold. The patterned lighting changes were very effective, and the white light always pinpointed the main action. Tara Varney punched the ending with an
evocative image.


The Fringe, bless its heart, brings us lots of work-in-progress: artists taking advantage of the chance to stage new work, to see how new scripts play before live audiences: simply staged, cut to suit the Festival's crowded schedule — gems in the rough. But here's one that I'd call a gem, cut and polished, all its facets working together: "Red Death" is an operatic diamond.

I blame opera’s social trappings for burying its roots as popular entertainment. Bugs Bunny parodies, if not direct personal experience, leave us with nightmare fantasies of being trapped in swollen Wagnerian productions that just won't end. Never fear! "Red Death" packs its powerful punch in record time: I clocked Friday's opening performance at just 32 minutes.

This will leave you time to admire Bryan Colley's libretto, available on the "Red Death Lyrics" sheet on a table by the Off Center Theatre door. Its story is adapted mainly from Edgar Allan Poe's familiar "Masque of the Red Death, with credited infusions from more esoteric sources (Lucretius, Montaigne and Ecclesiastes). This gem is set by composer Daniel Doss and brought to brilliant musical life by two outstanding singers — tenor Nathan Granner and soprano Devon Barnes — with pianist Michalis Koutsoupides filling in for the orchestra.

But opera is the original multi-medium, and director Tara Varney, ably supported by choreographer Amy Hurrelbrink, has marshaled an artistic team that has these three musicians surrounded and outnumbered. Varney's family, with Hurrelbrink's help, has costumed a cast that includes five fine dancers. Chelsea Anglemyer, Josh Atkins, Tyler Parsons and Tiffany Powell join the choreographer herself in animating that silent threat that's inspired Granner's Prince Prospero to attempt their protection as guests in his party. Dance sequences flow smoothly into and out of the singing as the dancers support and advance the action. Actor Coleman Crenshaw needs no words — only his sinister, masked presence — to spoil the fun as the Uninvited Guest. But no spoiler alert is needed: even if you've somehow missed reading Poe, the title itself reminds us of the inevitable.

Colley has brought his economical art not only to the libretto, but also to the stage setting, subtly enlivened by Shane Rowse's dramatic lighting. The lyrics sheet spells out his scheme rather more distinctly than it has felt in performance. Varney's direction brings all these elements and actors together in a performance that embodies the essential power of opera.

Which you experience this week, quite cheaply and without any dress code. You will not leave the theater humming any of Doss's tunes. But you will be impressed by what a company of hard-working artists can do with a little space and a little of your time as their audience.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fringeful: Why I'm Participating in Four Productions at Fringe this Summer

Really, it's not like I said yes to every project all at the same time. But, somehow, here I am, participating in four shows at Fringe this year.

I knew we were doing "Red Death," of course. It's been in the works for a very long time. (In fact, Bryan talked to Daniel about it about ten years ago, but the project got pushed to the back burner, like they often do.) Then, in February, after a staged reading of a short play I wrote, Kevin King, having recently seen me in "Carrie the Musical," asked if I'd be part of the revolving cast of his show, "Bad Auditions." He said he'd work around the show schedule of "Red Death," so no worries.

Last fall, I started as a co-director of an incredible ensemble called Project Pride, an LGBTQIA and straight, allied teen theatre group, started by Coterie Education Director Amanda Kibler. Our devised-by-the-teens show, "Queerios," was in March, and Amanda decided to re-mount it for Fringe.

So that's three shows.

Then, I heard MoJo Invocations was looking for submissions for their production, called "Free to Be KC," based on the soundtrack of my childhood, "Free to Be, You and Me." I submitted a story-poem about tolerance and acceptance, "The Cute Little Woman, Young Jacob, and Me." They're including it in their show.

Four shows, one Fringe, one exhausted, but happy, Tara.

"Red Death":  Ticket info:
Tara Varney's photo.

Project Pride presents: Queerios! "Things are getting better for queer kids, and it’s because of gutsy people like the teenagers who wrote this. A ticket to Queerios is a 2-for-1 deal: a scandalously charming hour of theater and an exhibition of contemporary queer youth courage." (Camp Magazine)

The Coterie’s new Project Pride will perform at KC Fringe. Appearing: members (from left) Josh Metje, 15, Blue Springs; Claire Davis, 18, Lee’s Summit; Christian Williams, 17, Kansas City, North; Leanna Varney, 15, KC; and Leah Brownlee, 18, KC.

Here's an article about "Bad Auditions." I'm thinking of adding some more hyphens to my personal "title." (I will be in the Friday, Saturday, and Tuesday performances.)

Kevin King slates "Bad Auditions" for his Kansas City Fringe Festival entry for 2014.

"Free to Be KC":

Photo: Did you know that the upcoming production of Free to Be KC at the Phosphor Studio (KC Fringe!) features the works of many talented artists such as Tara Varney, Heidi Van, Martin Buchanan (but, really his son), and a character inspired by Alli Jordan!!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The KC Star's article on Project Pride presents: "Queerios!"

I am so proud of these young people, and I am so grateful to be part of this project. They are inspiring, generous, and compassionate. The future is in good hands.

The full article:

The Coterie’s new Project Pride will perform at KC Fringe. Appearing: members (from left) Josh Metje, 15, Blue Springs; Claire Davis, 18, Lee’s Summit; Christian Williams, 17, Kansas City, North; Leanna Varney, 15, KC; and Leah Brownlee, 18, KC.
The Coterie’s new Project Pride will perform at KC Fringe. Appearing: members (from left) Josh Metje, 15, Blue Springs; Claire Davis, 18, Lee’s Summit; Christian Williams, 17, Kansas City, North; Leanna Varney, 15, KC; and Leah Brownlee, 18, KC.JILL TOYOSHIBA/The Kansas City Star


Project Pride will perform during the KC Fringe festival — 5 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m July 25 — at the Off Center Theatre in Crown Center. Tickets are $10. Call KC Fringe at 816-359-9195 or visit

The festival runs Thursday through July 27 at various venues. Read more about it in Thursday’s Preview section.
Project Pride meets in November, December and January to create its shows. Auditions are in October. The troupe is open to all LGBTQIA (the I stands for intersex; the A for “allied” or asexual) and straight teens who are supportive of the community, in grades eight-12. No previous theater experience is needed. Interested? Email Amanda Kibler at

Read more here:

Monday, July 14, 2014

"Red Death" on KCUR

We had the great fortune to be contacted by the beautiful and talented Julie Denesha from KCUR, wanting to do a story on our play. She's an absolute doll.

All photos by Julie Denesha.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Rehearsing "Red Death"

This has been an unusual rehearsal process. For various reasons, like schedules and location availability, we were forced to rehearse the dancers separately from the singers for a long time. Also, early on, the dancers were only available to rehearse when I had to work. Amy Hurrelbrink, who has been in several of our past shows (Lingerie Shop, KHAAAAN! The Musical, Sexing Hitler, Chicken Heart) is the choreographer for this show, and I trust her, and the dancers, completely. But I felt disconnected. And she felt disconnected, because although she had rehearsal recordings of the music, for a long time, they did not include the vocals, so it was hard for her to know what was instrumental, and when people were going to be singing. Of course, that's a detail that's rather important, but there was no way to reconcile that until after the singers knew the music.

Also, Amy killed Tiffany and Josh.

Fortunately, everyone healed nicely.

At the same time, it dawned on me that the script was not the script. This is opera; the script is the music. Daniel Doss was furiously composing, but of course that takes time, and at some point, it occurred to me that I couldn't really start my job of directing until after he was done.

Daniel showing Devon something very technical that I most likely do not understand. Opera singers peak mostly Italian, even when they're speaking English.
So I had to put my time into other things, like designing and building costumes.

And borrowing juggling balls from my brother.

We've finally been able to transition into having the entire cast in the same place at the same time. And we discovered that we had to alter some of the pieces in order to fit the puzzle together. There's no picture on the box to guide us in this process.

Look! A singer is singing and dancers are dancing, IN THE SAME ROOM.

The last couple of rehearsals have been an exciting, and sometimes frustrating, time of discovery. Collaboration really gets my creative heart pumping, and everyone is throwing out ideas to try. Some work, some don't, but the point is, everyone gets invested in the story we're telling. It's exhilarating.

And sometimes, silly.

"Red Death" will be presented at Off-Center Theatre, in Crown Center, as part of the Kansas City Fringe Festival.

The cast:
Nathan Granner
Devon Barnes
Chelsea Anglemyer
Josh Atkins
Amy Hurrelbrink
Tyler Parsons
Tiffany Powell
Coleman Crenshaw

Show dates and times:
Friday, July 18 at 8:00 pm
Saturday, July 19 at 3:30 pm
Monday, July 21 at 7:30 pm
Wednesday, July 23 at 7:30 pm
Thursday, July 24 at 6:00 pm
Saturday, July 26 at 9:00 pm

Tickets are $10, with a one-time purchase of a Fringe button for $5. (Keep the button! It gets you into all Fringe events.) Tickets (and buttons) are available at the box office, or you can order tickets online:


Saturday, June 14, 2014

My Lesson in Fundraising

This post is embarrassingly late, but if you were inside my life, you'd know that this really is the first chance I've had to sit down and compose my thoughts for mass consumption.

Two weeks ago, we held a fundraiser - our first ever - for our new show, Red Death. It's an opera, based on Edgar Allen Poe's short story, "Masque of the Red Death." Bryan wrote the libretto, and Daniel Doss, is composing the music. I'm directing and producing.

This isn't my first time at the Fringe Festival rodeo, so I'm not ignorant about budgets and such, but the further we got into this project, the more never-before-seen expenditures came up. It was already going to be our most ambitious (read: expensive) show to date, even without things like piano rental and tuning. Of course, Bryan and I (and everyone else) isn't in this for the massive piles of cash (that don't exist), but we don't want to go into debt either. And most importantly, we want to pay the people who are bringing this show alive. A fundraiser seemed to be the only option.

If you've never held a fundraiser, let me tell you a few things I learned about the process:

1. It's hard. There is a tremendous amount of planning, shopping, requesting/begging, wheeling/dealing, promoting, organizing, loading in, setting up, running the thing, striking, and math involved. It is physically and mentally exhausting and anxiety-producing. Thank Everything for friends like Jill (, who's done it many times before, knows what all needs to be done, then works her butt completely off (don't trip over it, there, on the ground) to help us make it happen. And held my hand at the craft store and Costco as I went wild-eyed and boggle-minded and stopped being able to form clear sentences.

2.  It's expensive. It's a great example of having to spend money to make money. If you don't have food and activities and entertainment, people won't want to come. All that stuff costs money, so the first goal of the fundraiser is to pay for the fundraiser itself. Which is a little Inception-y.

3. My family rocks really hard. Every single one of them pitched in to help. My niece performed (her debut!), my brother worked the raffle table, my dad worked the silent auction table, my mom worked box office, my nephew worked the photo booth with Bryan, and my sis-in-law worked the craft table. They are amazing.

The most important thing I learned about this experience came at the end of the evening, when Jill started wrapping the evening up and thanking people for coming. I was suddenly struck by what really happened: All the people in this room, and several who weren't but contributed online or by handing me a check, believed in us, and believed in our project. They believed enough to spend time and money, and did so willingly. Happily. I'd been feeling guilty and weak about asking for money (and donations for the auction/raffle), but all these people jumped up to help. Because they wanted to. Even people who contributed to the project, in one way or another, and I had their names on a "Do Not Accept Money from These People" list at the box office, insisted on paying. Even people who worked that night contributed money. Even people that I've never even met attended, paid for tickets, paid for auction items, put money in donation baskets, and bought raffle tickets.

And, very suddenly, I realized that I wasn't begging. I was giving people an opportunity to help us.

I have this idea that I should be able to handle "It" - every "It" -  all on my own, and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. But it's not. These people wanted to help. They wanted to be there. They wanted to support us. We gave them an opportunity to show us that, and when they did, I was moved to tears by it. (To anyone who knows me, this shouldn't be a big surprise, but I swear, it's genuine.) It's a pretty incredible feeling to know people believe in me, and my work.

Thank you, everyone. Thank you so much for the auction and raffle donations, for the monetary contributions, for the gift of your time and work. Mostly, though, thank you so much for this lesson in support and gratitude. I am deeply moved.

If you're interested in more information about the show, including dates and times, pop over to Bryan's website: Also, there's an online donation button there. Just in case you were wondering.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Red Death": A New Opera by Bryan Colley and Daniel Doss

Many of you are aware that, since 2008, Bryan and I have produced an original play every year at the Kansas City Fringe Festival. Since Fringe is a beautiful testing ground for new and different material, we've tried to challenge ourselves every year to do something we've never done before. We've done comedy, drama, satire, campy musical, staged an old radio play, and some productions that sort of defy categorization.

This year, it's opera.

WAIT! Don't be scared. It's very audience-friendly opera. Intimate opera. It called Red Death, and it's based on Edgar Allen Poe's short story "Masque of the Red Death." Bryan wrote the libretto, and local composer Daniel Doss wrote the music. And it takes my breath away. It is sweeping and intricate and haunting and creepy. Operatic tenor Nathan Granner stars as the "dauntless and sagacious" Prince Prospero, who believes he can escape the disease ravaging the country by locking himself and a bunch of friends in his castle to party on, with Devon Barnes as his servant, who tries desperately to talk some sense into him. Amy Hurrelbrink is choreographing and will join dancers Chelsea Anglemyer, Josh Atkins, Tyler Parsons, and Tiffany Powell onstage.

It is, by far, our most ambitious production to date. Costumes are being designed and built. The set is bigger and more intricate than anything we've attempted before.

These things cost money. So does hiring an accompanist to play Daniel's intricate music. So does renting a piano. So does publicity and marketing (flyers, print ads, etc). So does paying actors, which is very important to me.

So, we've had to face the difficult decision to ask for help in producing this show. Financial help. We've never done this before. It's hard to ask people for money. But if this show is going to be everything that we dream it can be, we have to. Otherwise, production standards will necessarily be lowered. I hate that prospect more than I can say.

On Saturday, we are holding a fundraiser, Masks for the Red Death: A Poe-pourri of Talent and
Activities. It will be held from 7-9pm in the Fellowship Hall (north entrance) at St. Peter's UCC, 700 E. 110th (corner of 110th and Holmes). St. Peter's is a huge supporter of local arts, and they have been extremely kind to us.
We will have entertainment, food, a silent auction, a mask-making "craft buffet," and a photo booth. Individual tickets to the fundraiser are $15, or 2 for $25. Kids,12 and under, will be admitted free. More info at the Facebook event page:
If you want to help our project, but are unable to make it to the fundraiser, Bryan has an online donation button on his website:
Please consider donating. You'll get your name in the program, and our deep gratitude. Maybe I'll sing you a song too. I take requests.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

It's a Beautiful Day for Good News, Volume 2

Here is another installment of my retaliation against "mainstream" news outlets that seem to report on how the world is mostly filled with terrible people doing awful things to each other. I maintain that the world is full of beauty and kindness and wonder, but murder, rape, and explosions make for more dramatic headlines. Screw that.

The Canadian lottery winner of $40 million donates it all to charity:

His doctor told this teenage cancer patient that he could only go to Prom of he wore a surgical mask all night. His friends didn't want him to feel alone:

An eight-year-old boy, saving up to buy a PlayStation, was so moved by a nearby fatal house fire, that he bought something else instead:

High school students show appreciation to an elderly neighbor who brightens their days:

12-year-old CEO donates proceeds to send kids to camp, because "Why not help a kid?":

Thanks to Bryan and Jill, who help by sending me good news links.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Always an Adventure: Dramarama, Spring 2014

Today was the last Dramarama class for the 2013-2014 school year. In the fall, I teach playwriting for third-fifth graders, then acting exploration for fourth- and fifth-graders. In the spring, it's acting exploration for second- and third-graders... then kindergarten and first.
After-school classes are this weird Twilight Zone area for students: They're out of school, but they're not out of school. So teaching an after-school arts class - which is pretty much guaranteed to be full of imaginative, energetic kids - can be just that much more exhausting. Teaching an after-school arts class to kindergartners in the Twilight Zone... Jeez. I can barely have a coherent conversation afterward.
I do love arts education, and I am deeply convinced of its value and necessity. But it ain't always easy.
This year's second-third grade class was called Monster Hunters. Every week, we "traveled" to The Island of Forgotten Monsters - which we figured out, as a group, how to get there (it involved a portal). We were given hints by the "monster" who lived in the classroom, which the class was able to draw, one line at a time, and learn the name of, one letter at a time, as the marker was passed from student to student, until everyone decided the tasks were complete. As it turned out, this monster's name was Paqufcezam, but we called it "Paq," and when it started leaving letters for us, outlining the day's adventure, this class decided to write back.
Reading a letter from Paq. I love this picture.
This Monster Hunters class is a version of what's called "process drama," in which the instructor essentially sets up parameters, and then lets the class take over the group storytelling. It's fun, because, as the instructor, I have no idea what each class will bring. It's tiring because, as the instructor, there is no way I can prepare. Also, I have to keep my eye on the clock so we dismiss on time, and that's a challenge when I have to work "returning to the classroom" into the story.
But it's totally worth it.
What wonderful goofballs.
So today was the last session of K-first's six-week Acting Safari class. It's also a process drama class, in which we mysteriously receive an envelope each week, informing us of Where, and When, we'll be traveling. The first class is spent creating the mode of transportation, which can travel through space AND time. This class decided to build a vehicle, complete with a kitchen and bunk beds, that launches off of a roller coaster track and into the air. When we get to where we're going, we can shrink the Where-and-When Machine and make it invisible, so we can carry it with us and don't lose it, which is a really nice feature. (Also, between classes, we can leave it in the room and no one will bother it.) Today, we went to Saturn, in the year 3000. Since 2014, it's changed from a gas giant to having a "robot" surface, so that was handy. Unfortunately, we had to defeat King Darth Vader (once you defeat the King, all the other Darth Vader clones are destroyed), and that took some strategizing. It was decided that some of us would distract King Darth Vader, while the rest of us snuck up behind him to hit the "OFF" button on his light-saber-holding arm. We knew this would work, because once it's switched off, he can't switch it back on, because King Darth Vader's other hand is a spoon. Duh.
Of course, we were victorious.
Because what could possibly go wrong, with this group of adventurers?



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

So. Art. The visual kind.

Drawing, I suppose, was my first artistic expression. I guess it's probably everyone's. My mother tells me that I stopped all visual art expression when I was in eighth grade, after my art teacher at school told me I was "doing it wrong." It took me until college to pick it up again, but by then I'd been seized by the Theatre Monster, and anything non-performance-related was relegated to the back burner. I did occasionally find time to make jewelry and sew and decoupage, but all in fits and starts.
This fall, during Carrie, I found myself surrounded by people who art pretty much all day, every day. I have other friends who are visual artists, but I don't go to their house after a show and sing or paint until all hours of the morning. So I became inspired again. I started carrying around a sketch book. I drew almost every day. I posted some photos on Facebook.
And a crazy thing happened. Someone commissioned art from me. And paid me. Then someone else did too, only they wanted something bigger.
Memo line of my first art sale
So, here are a few photos of the things I've been working on recently. Let me know if you want to own one. Or more than one, even. Because all the cool kids are doing it.
Heidi Heidi Heidi OH!  -  Sold
Taped Before a Live Audience  -  Sold
Spring is Sure to Follow  -  Sold
Press Conference 
Immediate Lemonade

Hidden in This Picture

This is my arm, and it is not for sale.