Townsend Announces Third Group for performARTS

PrintTownsend Communications in Kansas City, Mo., announces its third installment of performARTS participants.

Underwritten by the Richard J. Stern Foundation for the Arts, the series will be part of the next six issues of KC Studio and will include installments about some of Kansas City’s best artistic organizations. The six featured performARTS organizations were selected out of hundreds of arts organizations across this metropolitan community. In alphabetical order, the six organizations for the 2014-2015 performARTS features are Hello Art, the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, Olathe Civic Theatre Association, Owen/Cox Dance Group, Spinning Tree Theatre and the Youth Symphony of Kansas City.

Hello Art

Hello Art unites fun and informative events that help connect artists with those who appreciate their work. The group’s mission strives to break down the barriers that keep people from exploring Kansas City’s arts scene. The unifying goal is to bring together all who want to appreciate and support the arts — including artists, gallery owners, experienced collectors, and curious beginners — through a year-round calendar of events. First Friday Trolley Tours, Artist Talks and Demonstrations, and Hello Art Member Exhibitions are just a few examples of the types of events offered. These events have opened doors and created access to the arts and lasting relationships between artists and those who appreciate their work.

Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey

A diverse community united by dance to inspire and change lives, Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey has a multi-part mission. KCFAA makes dance accessible to all people by presenting the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ailey II. KCFAA develops and delivers youth programming that uses the art of dance as a vehicle to improve knowledge, increase self-esteem, enhance critical thinking skills, and encourage positive role models and smart life choices. KCFAA reaches more than 30,000 young people each year through 10 year-round programs. Ailey began his relationship with Kansas City in 1968, when he first brought his groundbreaking modern dance company Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. In 1984, KCFAA was born as the official second home to this remarkable company. The organization is gearing up to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

Olathe Civic Theatre Association

Olathe Civic Theatre Association began as the Olathe Community Theatre Association with a $1,000 grant from the Olathe Parks & Recreation Department in 1973. In July 1977, OCTA purchased the Reformed Presbyterian Church, built in 1870. The first production of Arsenic and Old Lace in the newly-christened Buddy Rogers Playhouse came in November 1977. After some highs and lows with codes violations and a fire, the theater reopened in 1983. In the summer of 2008, OCTA was the recipient of a grant to maintain the historical building and both the interior and exterior of the building was repainted, giving OCTA a much needed face-lift. In 2013 the group officially changed its name to the Olathe Civic Theatre Association to better reflect the breadth and caliber of the theater experience it provides. Today, the theater company plans six shows for its 2014-2015 season.

Owen/Cox Dance Group

Owen/Cox Dance Group’s mission is to create new music and dance collaborations, to present high-quality contemporary dance performances with live music, and to engage as wide an audience as possible through affordable live performance, education and outreach programs. With this mission in mind, founders Jennifer Owen and Brad Cox bring together some of Kansas City’s most talented artists, representing a variety of genres, to perform contemporary dance with live music. With diverse backgrounds ranging from the Bolshoi Ballet and the Leningrad Chamber Orchestra, to Alvin Ailey and Dave Brubeck, these dancers and musicians form a highly skilled and multi-faceted corps. The collaborative results speak for themselves: fresh and vibrant new works that are classical in form, but contemporary in expression.

Spinning Tree Theatre

Spinning Tree Theatre, founded by two theater veterans Michael Grayman and Andy Parkhurst, started their small company in April 2011 with Make Me a Song: The Music of William Finn. During the next two years, the company has added musicals and plays. The next season will include four shows. The founders aim to produce works that celebrate and reflect the diversity of Kansas City itself by exploring a variety of cultures and art forms through theater, music and dance. The theater goal is to present new, contemporary and classic pieces that are relevant, thought-provoking and entertaining. The other is to educate, challenge, stimulate and inspire audience and artist alike.

Youth Symphony of Kansas City

Youth Symphony of Kansas City is more than 55 years old and designed to educate young musicians through enhanced orchestral experiences and to build the present and future classical music community. Youth Symphony of Kansas City was founded as “Youth Symphony of the Heart of America” by conductor Leo Scheer in 1958. The organization initially consisted of one orchestra of 80 musicians and has been a musical home to more than 8,500 young musicians in Kansas City. Today, the program has more than 340 students in fifth grade through twelfth grade performing in four full orchestras each year. Ten free concerts are programmed annually throughout the metropolitan area, with the advanced ensembles performing an annual spring concert at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

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Age of Boredom

hr_Transformers__Age_of_Extinction_41A Film Review of Transformers: Age of Extinction

Well … that happened. All 165 minutes of it. All two hours and forty five minutes of low quality special effects, horrific dialogue, zero story and ridiculously lame characters of it.

To say Transformers: Age of Extinction is a colossal waste of money, resources and time, is an extreme understatement.

To be fair, I did spend quite a bit of time trying to write a review that would attempt to constructively critique this film. However, with no redeeming qualities, I can’t. Even with films that I find overall unappealing, I can usually describe aspects that I could see people enjoying – but not here. This is bad. Real bad … and not in the “Hey, let’s get together and make fun of it,” kind-of-bad. This is the kind of bad that makes you wonder “what were they thinking?” Showcasing an unbelievably large amount of product placement with a throwaway plot (if you can call it that) that, when finished, you realize has been nothing but fodder to set up another sequel. This film represents everything that is wrong with the big business of making movies. It is taking advantage of consumers. It hangs it’s hat on the nostalgia of adults and the premise of huge robots riding robot dinosaurs and it barely delivers.

This is a failure in storytelling at the highest level.

Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves. This is not entertainment. This is not even interesting. This is trash. The cost of this film could have educated countries or fed American children for years. The time it took to develop this film could have produced beautiful, inspiring works of man-made ingenuity. The wages the cast and crew earned could have been a paycheck worth being proud of it. But it isn’t. It is not. Under the leadership of director Michael Bay, this is a travesty.

Have I ever made a film? No. Is it difficult? For sure. But this. This should never have been made. Anyone and everyone who signed off on designs, script and/or direction needs to be fired and made to refund audience members for sitting through this drivel.

Do I sound angry? You bet I am. I get to watch movies and tell people what I think as part of my job and the idea of audiences supporting this digital puke has sent me into a downward spiral that clearly puts me the category of internet troll.

I do not care. Transformers: Age of Extinction is the definition of being without quality.

This film is a mess. A horrible unappealing mess. Where the first film was a decent attempt to really make something interesting, something that tried to capture the spirit of the Transformers franchise, this film is the complete opposite. Soulless and uninspired, this film is just not good.

Set after the events of part three, the Transformers are in hiding and being hunted by a special ops division of the CIA. Why? We are told because they are all considered as hostiles after the destruction of Chicago. However, even that premise is up in the air as, at one point, the Chief of Staff requests to have a photoshoot with the President and Optimus Prime. If all the Transformers are hostile – why is the President wanting meet and greet? Who knows. Moving on, just like the subsequent films, this film chooses to stupidly focus on a collection of humans that do not matter. Spouting lines of dialogue that induce mad fits of cringe, this collection of actors and actresses are underdeveloped, cliché and worst of all completely boring. All new to the franchise, they add nothing new and, at times, are nothing but carbon copies of characters seen in prior films. Poorly directed, they spend more times repeating themselves and smacking us in the face with their reasons to be in the film that, by the middle, it becomes laughable. Mark Wahlberg’s character, Cade Yeager (a not too subtle attempt at pulling the Pacific Rim fans – Yeager/Jaeger) states that he is an “inventor” so many times that either he or the writers were in denial and were trying so hard to make it true that had to keep repeating it over and over and over again. The only “fun” character that audiences would even consider caring about is T.J. Miller’s Lucas and he gets thrown away in the first act. I won’t even get into Nicola Peltz’s lame daughter/hot chick character and how obsessed this film is with trying to make her a damsel in distress. Infuriatingly disgusting.

Notice how I’ve barely mentioned the overall story yet? Yeah because it sucks. Amidst all this heavy-handed, tough-guy crap of hunting Transformers, we are made to try and relate to these garbage humans.

I don’t want to waste your time any more, but let’s just say in includes a decapitated Megatron’s evil plot to set off a bomb/tool called “The Seed,” a ton of explosions, more stupid human tricks, bad special effects, very poor editing, disturbingly bad Autobots and possibly one of the biggest product promise let downs in recent history – the Dinobots.

They couldn’t even deliver on that.

Seriously, I want to try and be more constructive but I’ve already wasted enough of my time and yours.

You should not see this movie. You should not wait for it go on DVD or digital download. You should not pay your hard earned money nor should you use your energy to sit through this over-saturated pile of rubbish. Every copy needs to be burned with a public apology issued by Michael Bay.

This film is a failure and under Bay’s leadership this film franchise has been diminished to nothing more than ephemeral idiocy.

I apologize to anyone reading for this review being nothing more than a simple rant. However, this film deserves nothing more.

1 out of 5 Boot Jets That (Spoiler Alert) Send Optimus Prime into Space Thus Showing How Unnecessary Everything That Occurred in This Film Was

Posted in Alex Morales, Cinematic, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Daylilies Dazzle and Fireworks Sizzle at Powell Gardens’ Booms & Blooms

Daylilies Dazzle and Fireworks Sizzle at Powell Gardens’ Booms & Blooms

Festival season kicks off at Powell Gardens on Thursday, July 3, with Booms & Blooms, the biggest one-day festival at the Gardens all year. Always scheduled near July 4, this event is an annual Independence Day Weekend tradition for many across the Kansas City metro.


Booms & Blooms is one of the few times guests can bring in picnics to enjoy on the lawn–and many like to bring elaborate set ups and food to savor together. Others prefer to buy treats from festival vendors. Home-made ice cream with ingredients from the Heartland Harvest Garden, hamburgers, hot dogs, salad in a cup, corn on the cob, cotton candy and shaved ice are among the options.


Daylilies star as the festival’s featured blooms, typically reaching their peak during this timeframe. A stroll through the Perennial Garden provides views of hundreds of dazzling varieties. Throughout the festival, McConnell’s Plantland offers daylilies for sale, making it easy to start a collection of favorites.


No festival is complete without music. Festival music kicks off at 4:30 p.m. with performances by students from the Lee’s Summit School of Rock. The Lee’s Summit Symphony takes the stage on the main lawn at 7:30 p.m., presenting a patriotic pops concert that leads into the festival’s grand finale: a sizzling fireworks display over the lake.


Learn more about the Booms & Blooms Festival and find tips for planning your visit at


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Youth Symphony of Kansas City

Students from more than 125 area schools comprise the four orchestras of the 56-year-old organization, dedicated to providing enhanced musical experiences and free concerts throughout the metropolitan area.

The Youth Symphony of Kansas City was incorporated on July 31, 1958 under the direction of conductor Leo Scheer. The organization initially consisted of one orchestra with 80 musicians. Five weeks later, the group presented its first concert and Mayor H. Roe Bartle proclaimed the week as “Youth Symphony Week.” In 1964, the organization added a younger orchestra, the “Junior Youth Symphony,” due to increased demand. In 1991, a third orchestra was formed. Today, there are four orchestras to accommodate talents from students in late elementary through their senior year in high school.

Executive Director Steven C. Murray has been with the organization since late 2010 and helps oversee the program’s four full orchestras which are graded progressively based on the students’ ability level as demonstrated in the annual audition process. The orchestras are: Symphony Orchestra, an advanced ensemble comprised of students in grades 9-12 conducted by Steven D. Davis; Academy Orchestra, an advanced ensemble with students in grades 8-12 conducted by Russell E. Berlin, Jr.; Philharmonic Orchestra, an intermediate orchestra with students in grades 7-11 conducted by Michelle Davis; and Symphonette Orchestra, a preparatory orchestra for students in grades 5-9 co-conducted by Scott Kuhlman and Dr. Carrie Turner.

In mid-May of this year, more than 515 students took up the chance to audition for one of the four orchestras. Each year, no matter the previous year’s placement, all student musicians must audition. About 390 students are placed among four orchestras.

The mission of the Youth Symphony of Kansas City is to educate young musicians through enhanced orchestral experiences and to build the present and future classical music community. “In our 55 years, we have estimated that about 8,500 have participated in the program,” Murray says. “The common thread is that shared fantastic experience that they take away from their involvement. It’s more than being part of a team, but a community.” To be part of one of these orchestras is to be responsible in knowing the music, how it fits in with the section and then the larger relationship across the orchestra, he explains. “In the end, we build, at present incredible orchestras and a future where these young people continually give their best and rise to the occasion in whatever they set out to accomplish.”

Berlin worked as an instrumental teacher in the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District where he taught elementary, junior high and two senior high classes in his career. Berlin has received many honors, including the Excellence in Teaching Award given by Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce, the Missouri School Music Educator of the Year Award given by the Missouri Chapter of the American String Teachers Association and the Silver Shoe Award given by Lee’s Summit North High School for significant contributions to the students and staff of Lee’s Summit North High School.

“I am pleased to be with this group. I have been conducting for fifteen years. We provide those stair steps that allow musicians to move up,” Berlin says. He also served on the board during the 1980s and has an affinity for the Youth Symphony as his daughter played in the orchestras. He recommended his high school students audition for the Youth Symphony. “When students who make the youth orchestras join, they are eager to learn,” he says. “It is a dream job for those of us who are directors. We get to be educators and more as we know these students all have the same desire to be challenged to make great music.”

Murray articulates that the orchestras are meant to be accessible. “We have financial assistance for students and families. Our concerts are free. We want this program to be available. … It is inspiring to watch the musicians challenge themselves as they receive experiences they don’t get elsewhere including performing at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the Folly Theater, Yardley Hall and more.”

The capstone is to play at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, especially for the seniors. The spring 2015 concert will again be at the Kauffman Center and will feature both Academy and Symphony Orchestras. The Symphony Orchestra played the first concert at the Kauffman Center’s open house. “We also performed at the groundbreaking,” Murray says.

The auditions place students in orchestras. “We work to bring out the best in their playing,” Berlin says. “We see their strengths and weaknesses. As their teachers, we look at teaching tools and want to offer up a mixed repertoire. Each piece played gives them challenges. We may play Mozart or Haydn. There might be romantic pieces or even some pop tunes.”

During the 2014-2015 season, the orchestras will play across the metropolitan area including a side-by-side concert with the Kansas City Symphony Oct. 27 and an open house concert Dec. 14 where all four groups perform at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan. “We applied to perform at the Midwest Clinic in Chicago, which is an international conference. It’s an important step forward to increase the organization’s visibility on a national level,” Murray says. An estimated 17,000 will be in attendance with representatives from all 50 states and 30 countries. “We are one of four full orchestras to perform. It’s great to represent all the good that’s happening here with the thriving arts scene in Kansas City.”

Berlin figures the exposure will also exhibit the professionalism of the conductors and the musicians. “We get to share the quality of what we produce here.” Murray expects the orchestral organization to be distinctively prepared for the future. “We are uniquely poised to be a catalyst offering positive social change through music. We can provide the underserved with hands-on music education. It is incumbent on us to understand the opportunities to serve those needs.

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Remembering the Great War


At the end of June 1914, the world changed dramatically. First there was the assassination of Archiduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, the Duchess of Hohenburg. The Austrian government suspects that Serbia is responsible. A month later, on July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and World War I began. Throughout August 1914, the various European countries declared war on each other and by the middle of the month, several battles throughout France and Belgium occurred.

Now, with the centennial of the start of World War I, the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial and its staff prepare for a spotlight to be turned toward Kansas City. “During the commemoration, the citizenry of Kansas City will find a new attention as many around the world turn their eyes toward us and this incredible story housed here,” explains Dr. Matthew Naylor, president and CEO. “There will also be many opportunities to engage with the museum and the legacy.”The commemoration period is 2014 to 2019 as World War I went from 1914 to 1918 with the ensuing peace process spilling into 1919 including the Treaty of Versailles.

In 1919, Kansas City leaders and citizens raised more than $2.5 million in just 10 days. The equivalent is roughly $34 million today. Construction was completed in 1926 and was dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge in front of more than 150,000 people. The centennial commemoration of World War I seems logical, but the more paramount honors go to the many Kansas Citians who facilitated the construction of Liberty Memorial nearly 100 years ago.

Senior Curator Doran Cart has been with the museum for 24 years. He has been with museum during the highs and lows. He helped with the two recent efforts for the restoration and expansion. “The overwhelming support of the city has always pleased me. We are a landmark that has withstood many high and low tides.”

During the 1950s and 60s, despite the ongoing support of the people of Kansas City, the maintenance and running costs for the Memorial proved to be overwhelming The Memorial fell into disrepair, as did some civic landmarks such as Union Station. But once again, the people responded to revitalize and restore the Memorial, Cart says.

By 1994, the memorial was closed due to safety concerns. By 1998, a sales tax supported the restoration. In addition to revitalization, plans took shape to expand the museum to showcase the WWI-related objects and documents. Through the tax and other state and national funding, more than $102 million was raised for the restoration and expansion. In 2004, the Museum was designated by Congress as the nation’s official World War I Museum, and construction started on a new 80,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art museum and the Edward Jones Research Center underneath the Liberty Memorial’s main courtyard.

The National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial opened in 2006 to national acclaim. In more than eight years, the museum has had more than 1 million visitors including former Vice President Dick Cheney, General Colin Powell, President Barack Obama (as a presidential candidate in 2008), Senator John McCain and actor and singer Kevin Costner. Additionally, Frank Buckles, America’s last surviving WWI veteran, visited the Museum over Memorial Day weekend in 2008. 

One of Cart’s favorite special exhibitions came in the form of Man & Machine: The German Soldier in World War I. “We researched some and found that there has been no such exhibition from the viewpoint of the common German soldier. It was groundbreaking. We remember the people involved in the war and from the era. We show the things created and in that aspect, my mantra is to show the power of the object.”

Within that power, Cart wants the visitor to find some sort of experience. “We seek ways to interpret the cataclysmic event that was World War I and the aftermath. You have to learn from the past and within that past, we can learn from the economy, societies and wars. The centennial will also cover part of the Russian Revolution. That will be interesting when we get there and what we will talk about at that point.”

Cart also shares some of the “deliberate” choices made within the museum. The first exhibition that visitors see is the portrait wall. “Each photograph has the eyes straight forward. They are looking right at you and making eye contact. Sometimes you can see a reflection of yourself as the image changes. It is a strong view and a powerful compelling way to begin one’s trip through the museum.”

For 94 years the Museum has been collecting items from World War I. Of course, Cart likes each time a requested package arrives on his desk. He recently received medals bestowed on a German soldier in 1916. “When we get around to the centennial of 1916, these medals could go on exhibit, but the other exciting aspect of this donation is that I now know about this soldier’s unit. My goal is to always make exhibitions interesting to visitors. I want visitors to learn something. Education is key, whether it is from a tour or a special exhibition especially during the centennial celebration.”

Some of the first objects came into the museum from foreign governments. Maps were sent by the Japanese and fragments from the Cathedral of Reims, France. German shellfire during the early engagement on Sept. 20, 1914 devastated the cathedral. “We benefit from their foresight almost 100 years later,” Cart says. “As collections were developed, many around the world knew that this museum would be a worldwide resource.”

Cart says the French trench exhibit’s rat is an aspect that many high schoolers remember. “Like them, I still see items or exhibitions in a new light. It might be the Russian soldier’s cap or the French tank. Each item tells a story and that’s why we still collect because we can add to that story. World War I was a cataclysmic event and to keep explaining that, we continue to gather documents and aim to best capture that generation. The success comes when visitors have a moment of understanding here.” That flows into another of Cart’s favorites – Inside the Doughboy’s Pack. “It is all about humanity and what story each item tells,” he says.

Attendance in 2013 was more than 152,000 and that does not include those who visited the park surrounding the museum or spent time looking at The Great Frieze, located on the North Wall, which measures 488 feet by 48 feet and represents the progression of mankind from war to peace or the Dedication Wall, which holds the bronze busts of the five Allied leaders present during the site dedication on November 1, 1921: Gen. Baron Jacques of Belgium, Gen. Armando Diaz of Italy, Marshal Ferdinand Foch of France, Gen. John J. Pershing of the United States, and Sir Admiral Earl David Beatty of Great Britain.

As of mid-May 2014, the attendance was just shy of 50,000. However, those numbers could skyrocket as the Museum is embarking on a $5 million capital campaign to build a new 5,000 square foot exhibition gallery. “We could see traveling exhibitions that will add to our diversity,” Naylor says. Along with additional space, more than 20,000 items from the Museum’s collection have been digitized and individuals from more than 80 countries around the world have explored the online database.

The museum has 30 staff and 200 volunteers. The mission is to learn and make meaning of those who sacrificed for the greater good. “Remembering requires your heart. My grandfather had lung damage,” Naylor says. “I saw a letter from him that was dated from 1917 and I read words of fear and courage. In making meaning of this museum, we explore what makes up a healthy civic life. Who needs to be around the table?

“During the commemoration, we want to again have the metropolitan community involved. When the community came together right after World War I ended, there was almost a sense of adventure that folks wanted to be involved in activities that matter,” Naylor says.

“The community showed incredible foresight in 1919 to build a monument that not only honored those who fought, but served as a monument to peace.” When the building and museum fell into disrepair, that same sense of unity came back in the 1990s with successful votes to support the renovation. “We honor those who served. We create an environment that allows a compelling story to be told and we don’t tell a parochial story. It is an encompassing story and it can be complicated, but we do our best to be good stewards of this legacy.”

The story told at the museum is one told with reverence. “There is some exhibit space that speaks to everyone. There are women who put their shoulders to the wheel and went to work in the factories and on farms,” Naylor says. “There were nurses and others who went to the front as well.” As a matter of fact, one of his favorite images on The Great Frieze is that of the nurse with the injured. “That whole wall is an architectural wonder.” Naylor also appreciates the bunker behind the French tank. “The spotlight will turn to us for the next five years.”

Every continent was affected by World War I. By virtue of colonization, troops from India and Australia came to fight. The other changes still ripple into today with the advances in medicine, aeronautics, energy and geopolitics. “Even Civil Rights moved to the forefront as Harry S. Truman served as a lieutenant in World War I,” Naylor says. “What he saw with segregated troops spurred his decision to work toward the armed forces integration that came around in 1948.”

The centennial will mark a chance to remember courage and for the community to engage, pause and converse. “We can help with that reflection. So often, people leave here and talk. The idea is to look at our civic life and how we work toward a world of peace,” Naylor says. “During these five years, people will have a chance to look at medals, images, stories in a new light. We have the obligation to tell stories that engage. Look at the current exhibit, Over By Christmas: August-December 1914 has a romanticism that many thought the war would be over in a few days or at least a few months.”

The exhibit is open now through March 29, 2015. Another exhibit that looks at the early impetus called On the Brink: A Month That Changed the World is open through Sept. 14 of this year. The exhibition looks at the underground organizations, diplomatic communications and international newspaper reporting of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and its political aftershock.

The museum and the park grounds are Kansas City’s front porch, Naylor explains. “It’s a place to make family memories. The park is part of presenting experiences, especially as families talk and remember.”

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Withered World

Waiting in Line (The Last Episode) from Withered World on Vimeo.

An Award-Winning ‘End of the World’ Anthology Web-Series

When nascent filmmaker Bryce Young thought of the idea for Withered World a couple of years ago, remembering a screenwriting book he read as a teenager crept into his thoughts. As a teenager, Young read the book The Screenwriter Within and started seeking out scripts to read or to follow along with the film. “I like to write humor and works based on reality, but I started wondering about what I would do if I knew the world was ending in a day. Honestly I have yet to earn the right to be called a filmmaker. I am still earning that title.”

Return to Sender came to fruition in 2013 with this last day concept, but Young knew he wanted other voices to chime in on the topic. He also looked at an episodic series to accompany the larger series and titled that If Night Comes. “I met with some of the local filmmakers such as Anthony Ladesich and Patrick Rea to discuss the series.

The response was great and we sought others. I was not interested in having the directors and screenwriters look at the hows and whys of the world coming to an end, but I wanted to care about what people are doing. I didn’t want a disaster movie about comets or aliens. I wanted to leave behind the comparisons to films such as Armageddon or Independence Day with comets or aliens and focus on people and how people would deal with the knowledge that they were marking the last day,” Young explains.

Young was joined by directors Rea, Ladesich, Turner Baietto, Chris Bylsma, Jon Davis, Justin Gardner, Tucker Keatley, Katie Mooney, Brian Reece and Kendal Sinn. The entire series found its home on the Internet where the series could be viewed in either its entirety or as individual short films. In many ways, Young serves as the curator of the series … a sort of caretaker and guardian to these many short films. Check out some of the films at or on Vimeo at

Young’s love of films started as child when his parents allowed him to watch films he probably shouldn’t have watched. Then he started looking at the films with the eyes of a camera operator or lighting designer. “I can appreciate films of all types. However, I fell in love with those lower budget films like Tremors or Critters. The styles of films such as Pulp Fiction also resonate.”

Rea and Young met for lunch at the Golden Ox. “I have always been a fan of post-apocalyptic stories and those what-if tales. It was an easy sell and I liked the story from the get-go. I told him he had my support and I liked that he got others excited. I could tell he wanted to make sure the project came to fruition,” Rea says.

The consistency of theme thrilled Rea and other directors. “While my short film is more morose and dark, there are comedies and others. It is a sort of grab bag for many voices.” Vindicate has no dialogue. Rea, who also wrote the short film, told Young that he wanted no dialogue and a long shot that was visually interesting. He filmed the short in May of 2013. “It is not just a simple revenge story. I wanted to deal with what is more important as the world is ticking down. Is it revenge or forgiveness as a man seeks revenge for the death of his family?”

Rea even had some attention from Ain’t It Cool News for his short film. “Each short is almost like a calling card for the series. It’s really atypical in that the shorts stand alone. Each story was its own unique moment,” he says. Web series are fairly new, but Rea believes that many short films will be packaged like Withered World. “Film may be heading this way more and more. The next steps will be making money and bringing attention to such series, but I am hopeful. I know that if one film gets views, viewers are often pulled into watching others.”

In early April, the series won the first Kansas City FilmFest’s Best Heartland Web Series award. The Best Heartland Short Narrative award went to Sinn’s Pop Tarts. While not entirely related to the Withered World series, Bylsma received the Fred G. Andrews Emerging Filmmaker Award for his work which includes a short in the series. Sinn wrote and directed Pop Tarts, a short film of a little more than 10 minutes, tells the story of a widower and a stranger who share a breakfast together on the last day.

“Bryce told me early on that there was no specific thread running through the film, but rather it’s an anthology. We understood that the films simply have to take place on the last day of the planet. I was the only one who thought about Jesus returning,” he says. “It was a fun and an interesting story. I wanted to tell something more personal. I like to take a larger subject, a high concept and make it third-page news. The movie is about hope. Even when the end is staring you in the face, there is hope,” Sinn says.

He says the 2008 election with the divisive nature and the various topics that spurred such hatred including religion. “I suppose those discussions of blaming God and religion stuck with me. In truth, I have a 7-year-old mentality and when my parents would tell me that Jesus loves me, I knew it was so. I suppose that was what I was trying to do … it’s all alright and I if I can be forgiven and redeemed, that goes for the world too.”

Initially a horror movie director, Sinn enjoys the challenge of doing a comedy or a film with a message. “I wanted to put out something innocent, sweet and a positive message. I am now married with three small children. It was probably one of the easiest movies I have ever made. I wrote the script in about an hour. However, I did rely on my wife who is the keeper of the flame. She makes sure my voice is there. I didn’t make a faith-based film or to be preachy, but I still wanted to make a serious toned film with a sense of whimsy.” Sinn has had the chance to sit with audiences and watch the film. “I like knowing the emotional response; the audience smiles and there may be a sniffle. I have even had several congregations share the film.”

Sinn says the opportunity to be part of the web series continues some of his previous efforts. Sinn already hosted a Web series titled Shadow Falls and now has an active series titled Smoke Break. “I have always wanted to be innovative and the web series works. It’s a model that really does operate well. You don’t have to be a studio boss to make a web series. It takes promotion and that is the real trick. The other joy is allowing your voice to come out, especially if you are paying for it. It’s all about making your mark and statement artistically.”

Young says the series is at a point of conclusion. “It’s a complete piece that honors the talented people who were involved. It is an anthology that has achieved my vision. I think we have produced some of the best short films around.” The group also learned how to finance their projects through crowdfunding. Young used Kickstarter. “That all-or-nothing aspect means more and there is a sense of urgency. It keeps the project relevant.”

And like all the filmmakers, there is no rest. Young has another untitled short he is aiming to have completed by the fall. “I also have a feature film that I want to make and I hope to have the screenplay completed by the end of the summer,” he says. “I am always writing and working. There are always stories to tell.”

Posted in Cinematic, Kellie Houx | Leave a comment

A Comedy of Errors

NoisesOff-PosterThe Barn Players Present Noises Off for Summer Fun

What is comedy? Is it the entertainment comprised of jokes, satire and humor? What about slapstick? That broad comedy that is often characterized by farce and horseplay. Combine the two into comedic slapstick and that is what an audience will find with The Barn Players’ Noises Off production in late July and early August.

The play, written by English playwright Michael Frayn, is more than 30 years old. Noises Off presents the story of a hapless acting troupe who is touring a production of a farce called Nothing On. Nothing On must be about something, but both the audience and the actors humorously struggle to determine the plot. There are doors slamming, confusion and lots of sardines. The primary story of the acting troupe is every bit as convoluted with the actors struggling with lines and relationships.

Actor/director Bill Pelletier is excited to take on the challenge of Noises Off. “It’s also the opportunity to stage it at The Barn. I’ve been in the play three times and I know the play can be done at The Barn. I have the best group of actors and crew. I know it is an ambitious show, but the team will work well together.”

A couple of the actors have been part of the play before. Vicki Kerns is reprising her role as actress Dotty Otley and the character in the play-within-the-play Nothing On, Mrs. Clackett. She calls this dual role one of her all-time favorites. “The role is prop heavy for Mrs. Clackett. She’s always carrying something, especially a plate of sardines. She has a younger interest in the cast. It’s a chaotic show that falls apart.” Kerns says the challenge is to memorize the dialogue because as the show progresses, the lines change. “I figure the big challenges for the whole cast include blocking. However, if we are a well-oiled machine, it should look like a sped-up version of the Keystone Cops.”

For those who have seen the play before, an audience will understand that the play is a “comedy of errors,” Kerns says. “The theater company has been trying to work on the show for two weeks and things are falling apart. It’s a farce. There is continuous action and a chain reaction that keeps an audience laughing and you just can’t stop.”

Victoria Hoffman played the role of Brooke Ashton/ Vicki in an earlier production. She now gets to play the roles of Belinda Blair/Flavia Brent. The dual roles are described as “dependable.” “I call this show the ‘actors’ weight loss special.’ The physicality of this show is incredible, especially in the second act.” Both women see the second act as tantamount to an actor’s World War III. “This production has to be so well choreographed,” Hoffman says. “So few get to see the drama that goes on behind the stage and there is an element of truth. There is something cathartic to watch someone else’s pain.”

David Martin plays Garry Lejeune and within the play-in-a-play, he is Roger, the estate agent. “He’s a fun character who lacks the ability to express himself,” he explains. “He’s so close to being a brilliant actor, but the falls down the stairs will not help.” Martin, who stands 6 foot, 8 inches tall, says audiences should enjoy watching him take pratfalls. “I have wanted to do this show for years. I know it’s going to be challenging.”

Pelletier believes that actors will see many recognizable moments in the relationships and fights. “The audience basically gets a treat in seeing a silent film during the second act. It’s like watching Buster Keaton or Harold Lloyd with much of the physical comedy.”

Kerns also see Noises Off as an explanation of the actor’s panic. “As an actor, you learn how to cover for others. Belinda wants people to be happy and she works hard in trying to save the show,” Hoffman says. “I’m a little like Belinda; she is happy to be in the show. I try to serve as the mediator even at work. I work in marketing and communications and even there, I work to bridge the gap.”

Kerns is an office administrator for a finance and real estate office. She is the only woman in the office. “I feel like Mrs. Clackett sometimes; I feel like a house mother. I take care of the place and as I grow older, I am becoming more like Mrs. Clackett.”

Martin is a financial analyst by day. He has performed improv theater and acted in other comedies. “If you are in theater, this is a show that satirizes the experience. It’s going to appeal to those who are on stage and those in the audience.”

Pelletier also has qualities from his work-a-day world that spill over into directing. He serves in a controller/human resources style position for a large company in town. “I think I am a little more passionate as an actor, but when I direct, I become passionate about the whole show and what I can bring to the whole process.”

The other cast members are R. Kevan Myers playing Lloyd Dallas; Rachael Redler as Brooke Ashton/Vicki; Bob Stewart as Frederick Fellowes/Philip Brent; David Krom as Selsdon Mowbray/burglar; Michael Juncker as Tim Allgood; and Laura Burt as Poppy Norton Taylor. Joining Pelletier behind the scenes are D.K. Evenson as stage manager; Amy Eisele, properties design; Marla Gonzales, Tamara Kingston and April Hall, properties assistants; Bill Wright, set design; Marla Gonzales, costume design; Philip Leonard, lighting design; Sean Leistico, sound design; Tamara Kingston, dialect coach; and Jeremy Riggs, stunt coordinator.

Pelletier knew the chemistry would be in place from the day of auditions. “I could see it,” he says. Board President Vida Bikales could see the connections early on and expects the show to be a hit. “In choosing a season, we strive for a happy medium where shows will attract audiences, but first will attract actors to audition. We got this one right.” Pelletier saw 43 auditioners for 9 roles. “It’s thrilling when strong actors come out. We know that many actors and actresses include this show on their bucket list of shows they want a role in.”

Both actresses knew audition turnout would be good. “However, actors need to realize the physicality of this show. I started working out more after I auditioned,” Hoffman says. Kerns expects audiences to appreciate that bodily humor and fun will remind audiences of the Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy. “We are putting ourselves on the line. It has to work like a well-oiled machine to create the action and the humor.” Pelletier describes the second act as a silent film full of slapstick. “When I start a show like this, I use a white board to diagram what happens to my character,” Hoffman says. “It’s my technique, this storyboarding, to let me know where I fit in. I guess it’s a story of visual map.” Martin says the second act will require military precision. “Comedy, especially physical comedy requires a sort of drill until it becomes second nature,” he says.

The joy of live theater is another aspect that appeals to director and actors. “We have to be adaptable,” Pelletier explains. “There is a flexibility I have learned over the years … I suppose it’s a little like an innate sense that I have learned to build in a moment to wait for laughter. Plays have to have fluidity, but you don’t want to run over that wonderful moment. By the end of this show, there is a sort of chaotic, hysterical hysteria,” Hoffamn explains. Martin says one of his top goals is to make people laugh. “With this play, I will enjoy doing just that. When laughter happens, we all appreciate the joys of live theater.”

So other people’s misfortunes equate comedy and have for decades. Whatever humor is valued the most, from pratfalls to quick one-liners, find them in abundance in Noises Off July 18-20, 25-27 and Aug. 1-3. The industry night is July 28. Show times for Friday and Saturday performances are 7:30 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.

Posted in Kellie Houx, Performing | Leave a comment

Art with a Cause : Local Artist Celebrates First Year in Giving Back to Children’s Mercy

Phyllis Harris is an award-winning illustrator of more than 30 children’s books including On Christmas Day, written by Margaret Wise Brown, best known for Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny. The book was released in October 2012 by Booksamillion. In addition to picture books, her illustrations have appeared in several children’s magazines such as Highlights, Jack & Jill and Humpty Dumpty.

Phyllis and Brad HarrisA little more than two years ago, Phyllis and her husband Bradley launched, an online Children’s Wall Art store featuring more than 60 of Phyllis’s original illustration prints which can each be customized for any child’s room or nursery.

At the heart of Phyllis Harris Designs is the mission to give back to children in need; and children battling serious illnesses. “We started thinking about giving back from the get-go, with the online gallery and website,” Phyllis says. “What I do is for children and Brad and I knew we needed a children’s charity. St. Jude’s came to mind, but then we were determined to keep it local. We have known several children affected by childhood cancer. When a child is diagnosed with health issues such as diabetes or cancer, Children’s Mercy is that go-to place. The hospitals and clinics are a wonderful organization. We also do volunteer days there and it has become a wonderful partnership.”

Phyllis went to Longview Community College to study graphic design and art. She worked for Sun Publications as a graphic designer for about four years and then was a freelance artist for Hallmark. “Basically from that point forward, I was illustrating on my own and collaborating with authors on children’s books,” she says.

Giraffe and Little GirlHer tagline, “Illustrating the heart of childhood,” mimics how she sees herself and her art. “There is something nostalgic to my work. It’s a bit whimsical and that is what childhood is … I treasured my childhood and the childhoods of my daughter and now granddaughter. I like to explore the imagination and draw in emotion. Many of my works have characters that appear windblown. I love the free spirit of the wind and the wind’s often peaceful nature.” Phyllis’s work is also about celebrating and treasuring the big and small accomplishments and dreams. “The joys of childhood resonate with adults too.”

Brad and Phyllis often share Phyllis’s work with grade schoolers. “In my presentation, we talk about how practice is a good thing when it comes to art. I want children, especially to draw from their own creativity. There is a beautiful individuality in not letting others tell you how to draw. I want young artists to be free and play rather than refining their own style too much. I go through the steps of my own drawing from those rough drawing, really those scribbles … we talk about how to change one or two lines and affect a facial expression. I work hard to maintain that place where I am still childlike and I can draw from my heart and soul. The less I refine my art, even with those spontaneous scribbles, I am better off.”

Posted in Kids, Uncategorized, Young at ART | Leave a comment

Artist Tom Price Unveils New Body of Work at Nelson-Atkins

Artist Tom Price by photographer Daniel Clements

Artist Tom Price by photographer Daniel Clements

In his first solo U.S. exhibition, London-based artist Tom Price debuts a new body of work at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on June 20. Presence and Absence: New Works by Tom Price features hollow bodies of coal, coal voids and large columns of internally-fractured resin exploring the dependent and opposing notions of presence and absence.

I spent time with Price while he was installing the exhibition in the Project Space in the Bloch Building. There are three distinct areas of work: the human forms made of coal, the geometric Carbon Voids and resin pieces. We talked about the resin pieces first. These pieces are significant, the smallest weighing about 400 pounds and others are even heavier. The installation crew at the Nelson had their hands full in moving the pieces in place. The pieces are not perfect. There are voids and fractures that capture light and Price uses tar to fill in some of the voids. The contrasts between natural coal and synthetic resin are as significant as the voids and spaces that define Price’s forms. The artist said he hopes visitors will engage with these new works on several different levels.

Tom Price, English (b. 1973). Untitled (detail), 2013.  Resin and tar. Courtesy of the artist.

Tom Price, English (b. 1973). Untitled (detail), 2013. Resin and tar. Courtesy of the artist.

“I work through an evolution,” he says. “I investigate materials and accept the large element of chance. With the resin, there’s interplay of light and the refractive nature. Depending on how light sources are angled at the pieces, there are reds, magentas and yellows. It’s about exploiting the natural process. To a point, I get to relinquish some of the responsibility within this discovery. I give up authorship to chance. In many ways and in varying degrees, chance is part of this collaborative process and I become more of a curator.” In the hall before the Project Space, find some of his “sketches” with the various materials.

Price is one of the most honest artists I have ever met. He is not one to shy away from stories about his trials and errors. “Sometimes the spectacular failures are those that allow me to learn. I discover new things. I know that I start at a point of relative ignorance. Through experimentation, I become an expert with some aspects.”

Price hopes people engage with his work because it’s first and foremost interesting. “Then the viewer can delve deeper into their own reactions.” The two human forms are made of coal. It’s one of the purest sources of carbon, a fundamental building block of all living organisms. Coal is the principle source of electric energy throughout the world today, bringing power to sustain and support new life, while also significantly contributing to the environmental pollution that is currently threatening our existence. It is an incredibly potent material both in terms of its effectiveness as a source of energy, and also what it represents.

Tom Price, English (b. 1973). The Presence of Absence (detail), 2014. Coal, PVA, steel and epoxy. Courtesy of the artist.

Tom Price, English (b. 1973). The Presence of Absence (detail), 2014. Coal, PVA, steel and epoxy. Courtesy of the artist.

The two models are male and female, reminiscent of the remains of those from Pompeii. By the 1st century AD, Pompeii was one of a number of towns located near the base of the volcano, Mount Vesuvius. Many of Pompeii’s neighboring communities, most famously Herculaneum, also suffered damage or destruction during the 79 eruption. The remains look like plaster casts. Price’s work is strikingly similar. “I was partly influenced,” he says. “There is something fascinating and emotive in these forms.”

The two models are dancers, Price says. He liked their looks. First, the woman was soft-spoken and slightly frail looking and the man has lean muscles. “They looked right together. When I first cast the heads, I realized there was a greater weight. I became emotional. When the entire forms were put together, it was moving. I realized with the eyes closed, there is isolation, an individual experience even as they are placed together.”

Along with the resin pieces and coal forms, there are geometric pieces. “Tom’s new works investigate the seemingly conflicting states of being: presence and absence,” says Catherine Futter, The Helen Jane and R. Hugh “Pat” Uhlmann Senior Curator, Architecture, Design and Decorative Arts. “Tom begins not with an artwork in mind, but with an investigation of his materials, oftentimes using them in ways they were not intended to be used.” He visited Kansas City last October Futter visited Price in March. “It’s always exciting to see a new body of work. I come see the emotion and reflectivity. Tom’s works fit here. These works are unique in that they represent both presence and absence at the same time.”

So as visitors come to view the works, Price finds it important that the viewer is able to engage with the works initially on a superficial level, responding solely to the aesthetic qualities of the forms, composition and materials. “But it is equally important that they offer the possibility of further insight into the process, meaning and concept so that the experience can be both aesthetically and intellectually enriching,” he says.

Born in London in 1973, Price continues to live and work in the capital. Drawing on his training in both sculpture and design, his practice regularly delves into the grey areas between the two disciplines. Much of the work Price produces seeks to explore the untapped potential of familiar materials, encouraging them to behave in unfamiliar ways. This often requires developing machinery and tools that are capable of subverting conventional industrial manufacturing techniques, introducing a dose of entropy into what are typically very controlled processes. Chance is an essential element in this creative process, and one that Price relies on to transcend the limits of imagination.

Since graduating from London’s Royal College of Art, Price has established an international career as an artist and designer with works in major collections and museums worldwide, including acquisitions by San Francisco MOMA, Denver Art Museum, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the MKG Hamburg, and Amore Pacific Museum of Art in Seoul. He has also completed several large-scale sculptural commissions for public and private spaces.

Presence and Absence: New Works by Tom Price runs through Jan. 4, 2015.

Posted in Visual | Leave a comment

Hot Places for Kids to Visit During the Summer

Nothing beats summer boredom like an old-fashioned outing. Of course, some of the suggestions are not close to being old, rather hip and cool. A family can indulge in outdoor activities all over the metropolitan area. For those in Kansas City seeking lower thermostats, a cool retreat to an indoor amusement park, museum or aquarium might be the trick. Remember, this list is not full list, but a list created to spur conversations and interests. Some of the locales have no fee for admittance while others need tickets. The idea is to offer a variety.


First and foremost, how about some outdoor venues that are sure to keep everyone in the family engaged?

Deanna Rose Farmstead ( – The Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead is designed to represent a turn-of-the-century family farm. There are nearly 200 animals and birds of prey, gardens of vegetables and flowers, a one-room schoolhouse, a fishing pond, pony rides and more. The 12-acre children’s farmstead opened more than 35 years ago and was renamed in 1985 to honor Deanna Rose, the first Overland Park police officer killed in the line of duty.

Children can enjoy bottle feeding baby goats, milk a cow or take a horse-drawn wagon ride through the woods. The farmstead is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Halloween. During the summer months, (Memorial Day to Labor Day), the Farmstead is open until 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday.

034First Tee of Greater Kansas City ( – The First Tee of Greater Kansas City is founded as a young development organization teaching young people positive values such as honesty, integrity, sportsmanship and confidence while using the game of golf as a tool. The First Tee lessons are taught at five area learning centers and through in-school programs. According to national independent research, 78 percent of the participants are learning and using life skills such as goal-setting, interpersonal communication and self-management. For Secah “Coach S” Shabib, the director of programming and a First Tee coach, the important of presenting life skills through the game of golf is incredible, he explains.

The young participants can be found playing golf on five courses: Heart of America Golf Academy, Drumm Farm, Iron Horse Golf, Overland Park Golf and Sunflower Hills Golf. “On an annual basis, including the school programs and those at the golf courses, we are impacting the lives of about 2,000. We are busy all year round. We know what we teach gives the kids something they will use in life as well,, not just on the golf course,” he explains.

Henry Doorly Zoo ( ) – The Henry Doorly Zoo is often ranked as one of the best zoos in the world. It’s home to about 17,000 animals of 962 species. It encompasses more than 130 acres of land area. It features the largest cat complex in North America, the world’s largest indoor swamp, the world’s largest indoor desert, as well as the largest glazed geodesic dome in the world.

Along with general visits, the zoo staff offers summer day camps ranging from a day to five days. The single day camps include junior zookeepers, junior vet, big cats, sharks and sea turtles. The two-day camps include photography at the zoo, ocean commotion, and animal training. The four-day camps include top predators and buggin’ around. The five-day camp is called Dirty Jobs where campers explore keep the Lauritzen Gardens and Omaha’s Zoo and Aquarium and the various operations required in working with nature. Other activities include family classes, small group and family campouts and scout outings such as celebrating Independence Day and the zoo marks Shark Week Aug. 9 and 10 with lots of activities and talks.

Kansas City Zoo (– The Kansas City Zoo offers a multitude of programming aimed at exploring the biological and animal science and world with keeper chats, science experiment days and camps. There are sleepovers with the polar bears and zookeeper-for-a-day adventures. The zoo is more than 100 years old. The mission is to conserve and provide access to wildlife to entertain and educate visitors in order to instill a respect for nature.

The ways to accomplish this include the guest experiences for all ages. When plans for the zoo began, children offered up a letter writing campaign to support the efforts. Now the zoo, under the guidance of the non-profit Friends of the Zoo and Director Randy Wisthoff, the zoo’s improvements include the Discovery Barn, the addition of river otters, an Endangered Species Carousel, Polar Bear Passage, the African Sky Safari, Tiger Terrace and the newest Helzberg Penguin Plaza. During a day visit, see the sea lion show, watch elephants paint and grab a lunch at the new Tuxedo Grill.

Oceans of Fun ( – With activities called Aruba Tuba, Buccaneer Bay, Coconut Cove, Predator’s Plunge, and Shark’s Revenge, it’s clear that the family has arrived at water park. For the youngest in the family, there are places such as Crocodile Isle with child-friendly water slides and spray grounds or Captain Kidd’s, a pirate ship designed for children, featuring slides and water cannons.

For those seeking moderate thrills, there’s Paradise Falls with buckets, slides, and wheels surrounded by the tropical excitement, plus the 1,000-gallon bucket located at the top of the water playhouse. Every five minutes, it fills and empties as water splashes everyone below. Then there are the high and aggressive thrills for the big kids such as Shark’s Revenge with enclosed tube slides feature high speed drops and banks; Typhoon looks at two high-speed slides hurdling into a three-foot-deep catch pool; and Diamond Head, which features Waikiki Wipeout, Maui WoWee, and the Honolulu Lulu, three twisting turning water slides together reaching more than 900 feet in length.

Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens ( – The 300-acre Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Garden was founded to keep the city at the forefront of environmental and ecological issues. The arboretum is an educational, recreational and cultural resource for the Kansas City region.

The combined destination hosts seasonal programs and annual events to get people excited about enhancing and preserving natural resources and the environment. There are also many classes and programs. The year-round Crazy for Critters gives children and youth a chance to “take a walk on the wild side and explore the Arboretum grounds looking for the different places animals make their homes and raise their young. Students will use their imaginations as they roll-play with puppets looking for food and a place to live.” Another coming program is Woodland Wanders where students enjoy the garden in the fall.

4822235750_e7514b6ef9_bPowell Gardens ( – This summer at Powell Gardens, visitors can journey through wetlands, woodlands, tropics and more to discover 26 bronze animal sculptures by nationally acclaimed artist Dan Ostermiller. The exhibition will be available through Oct. 5. Set in nine adventure zones representing animal habitats both familiar and exotic, the sculptures are designed to make art accessible and fun for all ages. Meet a 12-foot elephant playing and spraying into the Fountain Garden; a pair of wrestling bears near a hollow log kids can explore and even encounter farm animals such as Priscilla, a 5-foot-tall hen making her home in the Heartland Harvest Garden’s Fun Food Farm. Long-time visitors to Powell Gardens may recognize Ostermiller’s work. Close Quarters, a pair of rabbits that grace the lawn near the entrance to the Island Garden, was installed at Powell Gardens in the early 1990s as a gift from Marjorie Powell Allen, and has become a beloved photo opportunity for many families over the years.

Some other fun events include Booms & Blooms Festival. The July 3 event (rain date July 5) showcases Mother Nature’s dazzling display of hundreds of daylilies, a daylily sale, children’s activities and special music including School of Rock and the Lee’s Summit Symphony. Events include a fireworks display over the 12-acre lake. The Festival of Butterflies is Aug. 1-3 and 8-10. The festival includes an indoor exhibit with hundreds of free-flying butterflies from the tropical United States and Costa Rica, two outdoor breezeways aflutter with native species, a butterfly art exhibit, children’s activities, and a butterfly plant sale. In 2014, the festival will focus on how people can support the conservation of the Monarch butterfly.

Worlds of Fun ( – Worlds of Fun is one of those destinations for everyone in the family. There are rides for almost everyone from those who seek thrills to those who want a gentler experience. The family rides include the Grand Carrousel or the Worlds of Fun Railroad. Back by popular demand, the railroad includes the Great American Train Robbery. As the steam engine “named” Eli roars around the bend, keep those eyes open for sneaky train robbers. For those older and seeking the thrills, the newest ride is the SteelHawk, a 301 feet in the air and spreads its steel wings at a 45-degree angle at a speed of 8 rotations a minute swinging riders for a 60-second flight.

For some of the youngest, there is Planet Snoopy. Your family’s chance to giggle with the world’s most popular beagle! With more than 20 PEANUTS-themed attractions, spending a day with your kids in Planet Snoopy is timeless fun. Along with Planet Snoopy, kids can join the new Joe Cool Club. Visitors to Worlds of Fun can also step back in time to the beginning of the “Age of the Dinosaurs” at Dinosaurs Alive! – an immersive and comprehensive Mesozoic experience – and encounter the beasts that dominated the planet for over 180 million years.


FS boyAnita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center ( ) – Discovery Center Assistant Manager Wendy Parrett says the center has a variety of local Missouri animal exhibits. Along with drop-in visits, the community can register for all sorts of activities that take place inside the center and on the surrounding acreage. “We are always offering up story times on Saturdays and lots of public programs to help make people more aware of the resources we have in Missouri,” she says. The center and surrounding lands includes eight acres of gardens, a pond, walkways, two disabled-accessible trails and watchable wildlife.

As for activities, here are a couple examples. On July 5, learn about Red, Wild and Blue. Discover nature with live animals like the red-eared slider and red milksnake. Kids will go wild exploring Sycamore Station’s all natural play area or showoff that wild side by creating beautiful solar sun prints using blue print paper and natural objects. On July 19, decorate a customized walking/hiking stick from provided recycled broom and mop handles. Learn about hiking trails in the Kansas City region and try the hiking stick out on the Discovery Center’s trail. “In the 12 years the center has been opened, we demonstrate the ability to connect with the natural world that is right here in our city and to better understand and enjoy our natural neighbors,” Parrett says.

Girl Scouts with hornsLakeside Nature Center ( the wild world of nature in the heart of Kansas City, Mo. Lakeside Nature Center, located in Swope Park, exhibits wildlife native to the area, offers educational programs, coordinates community conservation projects, and is one of Missouri’s largest wildlife rehabilitation facilities.

Lakeside Nature Center is an incredible place to enjoy learning about local native wildlife, including birds of prey, snakes, amphibians, turtles, fish, and invertebrates. The center features several exhibits and there is a small walking path. The center staff also offers programs for scouting groups and others so that even in an urban setting, the natural world is valued.

Leawood Cultural Arts ( - Summer is a busy time in Leawood. The Leawood Oxford House includes an annual reading club called Prairie Book Club during July, says April Bishop, the cultural arts coordinator. This year, the focus will be on Little House on the Prairie. “While it may seem like more of a girl’s story, this is a classic for a reason,” she says. “We have had families ask about reading this book in the past and we are going to tackle this during the summer.”

There will also be American Girl doll events, which is similar to the book club as young participants can learn about a specific time period. Josefina is a young girl in 1824 Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Santa Fe Trail ran by the school house so it is an appropriate story for July. Bishop says. The August story will be Rebecca, a Jewish immigrant in 1914. “Grinnin’ and Groovin’ will be in the lodge this year and the free Tuesday morning events will be morning entertainment for families including Funky Mama, StoneLion Puppets and the Wings of Love bird show.” Plus the Leawood Stage Company will offer Hello Dolly. It’s a great thing for families to do to have a free evening under the stars. This is a great chance to continue to educate the community about the arts. You can come here at no risk and enjoy the show.” The musical runs July 17-20 and July 24-26.

Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm Historic Site ( – Activities vary by season, but the site is open through October. The 1860s living history activities may include stagecoach rides, visiting the Mehaffie House, blacksmith, cookstove demonstrations and seasonal farm activities. Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm offers a hands-on experience for visitors of all ages focusing on 1860s farming, frontier life and stagecoach travel while preserving the nationally significant Mahaffie Story. Mahaffie is the last remaining stagecoach stop open to the public on the Santa Fe Trail.

The Heritage Center exhibit, I knew it was a Fine Country, tells the stories of the Mahaffie family, early Olathe and Johnson County, the western trails and stagecoach travel. The exhibit includes a 12 minute film offering more of the site’s history. The video Border War Voices allows visitors to learn about what settlers went through during the Border War era. The video was co-produced by Wide Awake Films and generously funded through the Kansas Humanities Council. The Mahaffie home and adjoining property was purchased by the City of Olathe in 1979 to insure its preservation and to operate as a historic site. Today, the site is administered by the Parks and Recreation Department of the City of Olathe.

spinerellaMartha Lafite Thompson Nature Sanctuary ( – Here is another location that has the mix of nature center and trails to explore. The center has the hands-on environmental and nature science education. There are displays of native plants and animals. Along with the center, there are birthday parties and special events including a Halloween trails tour that is sure to be fun and educational. The Fairy Tale Forest is like a play, except visitors walk through the half-mile paved trail and meet the characters along the way. The event takes place in late October.

The indoor classrooms are used for hands-on activities, class introductions, meeting program animals, and when relief from the weather is needed. They make it possible to bring the outside in, and give quality programs regardless of weather conditions. Along with the classrooms, there are many trails including a disabled-accessible asphalt trail which can accommodate students with limited mobility. The Rush Creek Disabled-Accessible Asphalt Trail is one-mile, round trip, and meets all ADA requirements.

Dragon ModelMuseum at Prairiefire ( – The Museum at Prairiefire is a collaborative effort with the American Museum of Natural History in New York, one of the most celebrated museums in the world. Through the American Museum of Natural History exhibitions, unprecedented and interactive educational resources will be available to the metropolitan area. The museum includes the Discovery Room and the current American Museum of Natural History Exhibition (when it is on display). At the end of each Exhibition run the Exhibition Gallery will close for installation for approximately six weeks. During this time, the rest of the Museum will still be open to the public. The Discovery Room engages children 3-12 years old and their accompanying caregivers, in the disciplines of the natural sciences. Visitors can assemble a Prestosuchus, a life-sized cast of a Triassic reptile, and dig up fossils in a re-creation of a paleontology field site among many other activities and resources. Along with the indoor events, there is also wetland interpretative trail with educational stops.

After WATER: H20=LIFE closes July 13, the next exhibition is Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns and Mermaids, which runs Aug. 30, through Feb. 1, 2015.From unicorns to fire-breathing dragons, humans around the world have brought mythic creatures to life for thousands of years in stories, music and works of art. The Museum at Prairiefire’s Mythic Creatures exhibition reveals the relationship between nature and legend, tracing these creatures’ origins, cultural importance and alluring hold on the imagination. The exhibition combines dramatic models, fossils, magnificent ancient and modern cultural objects and absorbing multimedia and interactive technology to tell the stories behind the world’s most enduring mythic creatures.

Paradise Park (– This family fun and adventure destination is the sort of balance between indoor fun and outdoor fun. In the cool indoors, Paradise Park includes a foam factory, game room, mini bowling, rock-climbing wall and bumper cars.

Equally exciting, the outdoor activities include go-karts, mini golf, a children’s garden, junior mini golf, laser tag, baseball and softball batting cages, a gem mining stream and sand volleyball. When the weather gets cooler, there is a campfire pit, a fall adventure petting zoo and hayrides. Along with all the fun, there are some choices in food such as pizza, entertainment snacks and treats.


So when the weather turns cloudy or rainy or just too darn hot for outdoor activities, why not to turn to locales in the community’s backyard? Here are a few suggestions.

Ceramic Café ( – Owner/operator Sara Thompson opened Ceramic Cafe in 1997 when the “paint your own pottery” concept was in its infancy. For 17 years, Thompson and her staff continue to provide a creative experience for everyone in the family. The studio staff also offers summer camps and the remaining camps include three-day and four-day camps. The Aspiring Artists camps are for ages 8 and up. The camps in July7 are All About Me, Fun in the Sun and Cultures of the World. For Creative Kids, three days aimed at children 5 to 7, include All About Me and Cultures of the World. There are also story times on Tuesdays and Fridays where participants paint an item related to the story.

“Lots of times, older teens and kids don’t know what to do, but we are place that is good for any age,” she says. “We had a birthday celebration for an 80-year-old grandmother. There were items created celebrating family. We also offer glass fusing and pottery painting for adults. There is freedom to do what they want with art. Most of the pieces are functional so a kid who paints his own cereal bowl can use it daily with confidence and self-satisfaction. It is therapeutic too.”

Johnson County Library ( Producer Joseph Keehn II says the Johnson County Library will focus on the theme “The Art of Discovery.” From June through August, science and art will be unified through this theme with programs focusing on the disciplines both together and separately.

Responding to the steampunk slogan “What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner,” 21 regional and national creators join forces to explore the intersections of science fiction and fantasy through the visual arts. The Art in the Stacks: Steampunk 21+ show runs through Aug. 31 at the Central Resource Library. During this same time period, artists, scientists, and professionals come together in an elaborately constructed Cabinet of Curiosities. Yair Keshet and Elizabeth Lovett, with support from the Charlotte Street Foundation, will be presenting a series of conversations at Johnson County Library’s Central Resource Gallery centered on the work of regional artists that highlight the interdisciplinary nature of art, design, science, and technology.

Kansas City Public Library ( ) – Crystal Faris, director of youth and family engagement, says this year’s theme of is “Fizz, Boom, READ” includes a teen component where teens have to turn in a review to gain library bucks. These bucks can be used for reducing fines, more printing, use for DVDS and even to purchase books.

One of the significant changes is in improving engagement. “There is an activity log for early literacy learners where parents and caregivers are not only encouraged to read, but to spur that love of learning through nature walks or singing the ABCs together. There are so many skills that prepare a child to be a reader. For the grade school participants, they can log in working on a science experiment they got out of a book from the library,” Faris says. “We are a vital third place … that gathering place. We are adding early literacy centers and opening three at outreach sites. Today, we take families to the library to spend time together and they are alive with active learning.”

Kaleidoscope ( – Kaleidoscope, located at Crown Center, nourishes the creative spirit. It is a place where children are invited to be creative, have fun, and feel good about their own special ideas. Provided by Hallmark Cards, Kaleidoscope is free. Creative Implementation Supervisor Chris Duh is responsible for the look of Kaleidoscope. “I see Kaleidoscope as a world for your imagination. It is a playful and ever-changing interactive environment that is much like Pee Wee’s playhouse, but here, you actually get to explore and create endless possibilities with Hallmark’s recycled material.”

Kaleidoscope & Hallmark Visitors Center Outreach Supervisor Ron Worley say the Kaleidoscope look reflects a major philosophy here and that is, “There is no wrong way to create art.” “When a visitor looks around at Kaleidoscope’s environment they see a fun, wonderfully creative world, but I hope they also see art that is within their reach. I hope they think, ‘My art would fit right in here.’ We all need to feed our inner artist and, yes, everyone is an artist. Kaleidoscope is an all-you-can-eat buffet for the imagination. ‘Listen to your imagination!’ The Kaleidoscope experience is important for children who are hungry for inspiration, as well as their adults who may have forgotten that they, too, are artists.”

Legoland ( ) – The Legoland Discovery Center Kansas City is a newer family destination. There are more than 3 million LEGO® bricks in the indoor attraction. Based on the ever popular LEGO® brick, the LDC provides a range of interactive play areas including a 4D cinema; master classes from the LEGO® Master Model Builder; LEGO® laser ride; special party rooms for birthdays and other celebrations; as well as the MINILAND exhibit featuring iconic Kansas City buildings.

There’s a large multilevel indoor playground where children can then play as long as they want, building towers and racing cars. There’s also a 4D movie theater at no extra charge and another themed carnival ride.

Mid-Continent Public Library ( Libraries are magical places during the summer. Public Relations Coordinator Jessica Ford says this year’s theme is “Fizz, Boom, READ,” and runs to July 31. Listeners (0-6) earn a free book for every 24 books they hear aloud, Readers (6-11) can earn a free book for every 360 minutes they read. Up to 3 books can be earned over the summer. Teens earn a Teen Buck for every book review submitted of a book completed. Teen Bucks can be used to pay library fines, make copies, get a replacement card, or choose from a variety of prizes including books, hats, or messenger bags.

“We are also having some special performances this summer with WildHeart, Dino O’Dell and some mad scientists,” she says. Begin with a bowlful of nature, add a backpack, and a walking stick, stir in a summer day and Boom! Join the musical adventure “exploding” with encouragement to get outside and discover nature. WildHeart is the Parent’s Choice and Emmy Award winning family group, conservation educators and entertainers, who have performed at the St. Louis Arch, Silver Dollar City, Missouri State Capitol, and schools and libraries throughout the Midwest. O’Dell provides an interactive music and storytelling adventure that features a pond filled with peanut butter, a plate of pancakes, and a surprise visit from a space alien. WildHeart and Dino O’Dell are shows aimed at all ages. Mad Science is for ages 6 and up.

Puppetry Arts Institute ( – This non-profit organization, was founded in 2000 with the goal of “preserving and promoting puppetry through education and entertainment for all ages.” The present Englewood area of Independence contains a museum, a puppet theater and workshop area. Englewood has been established as an Arts District by the City of Independence, so the Institute participates in the art walks on the third Friday of every month. Puppet making workshops are available for children, families, school groups, and adults, using materials from the Hazelle Rollins Puppet Factory that was located in Kansas City from 1932 to the mid-1980s. Birthday parties are reasonable and something unique for children ages 5 and up. There’s also a museum section dedicated to Rollins and her legacy.

Local, national, or international puppeteers perform monthly using marionettes, hand puppets, shadow puppets, rod puppets and other unique forms of puppetry. Two coming performances include July 26 and The Lion & the Mouse from StoryTime Puppets. This fable by Aesop is performed with hand puppets, and has a moral lesson presented in a lively style. The Aug. 23 is Can You Dig It? Clement McCrae Puppets presents Otis, a paleontologist hand puppet, unearths history in this variety show production. This show also features marionettes and rod puppets.

SeaLife Aquarium ( – Another of the newer family destinations in the metropolitan area, SeaLife Aquarium at Crown Center has more than 5,000 creatures including sharks, seahorses, octopus, jellyfish and rays. There are educational talks and feed shows throughout the day. Hold a crab or touch a starfish in the interactive touchpool experience. Along with that, try a free kids quiz trail, journey through the underwater tunnel as sharks and rays swim overhead and the little ones can find fun the children’s soft play area.

Sea Life Kansas City is committed to bringing in new creatures as part of our exhibits as often as possible. Some of the newest friends include: five Yellow Rays, two Queen Angel fish, and two Scrawled fish. Besides all the sea life, there are thematic days coming including Hawaii Day, July 21; Sharks After Dark, Aug. 18; Pirate Ports, Sept. 15; Spooky Shores, Oct. 20; Thanksgiving Fun, Nov. 17; and Holiday Happenings, Dec. 15.

Union Station/Science City ( – Union Station Kansas City is 100 year old and it is considered to be one of the region’s finest educational and cultural resource committed to the preservation and interpretation of Kansas City’s regional history and the promotion of innovation, research and discovery in science and technology through the development of collections, exhibitions and other educational programs. To develop and nurture successful and financially sustainable museums and attractions within Union Station Kansas City and to ensure those facilities serve as the destination of choice for local residents and visitors.

For families, the Discovery of King Tut at Union Station Kansas City is around through the beginning of September. Named one of the country’s 25 best science centers, Science City provides over 200,000 visitors annually with an engaging environment ripe for exploration, experimentation and discovery. The tomb and treasures of Tutankhamun have been faithfully reconstructed to scale, giving visitors a realistic impression of the overwhelming opulence of the offerings meant to serve the king on his magical journey into the Underworld. More than 1,000 replicas of the most important finds have been reconstructed by master Egyptian craftsmen using traditional techniques, and can be admired at the exhibition.Named one of the country’s 25 best science centers, Science City provides more than 200,000 visitors annually with an engaging environment ripe for exploration, experimentation and discovery.

Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City (– The mission is to spark a lifelong love of learning through the power of play. We provide fun, dynamic exhibits and programs that integrate the arts, sciences and literature for children ten and under, their parents and teachers from across the Kansas City area. Our members and visitors today enjoy our exhibits and programs in our museum facility in Shawnee, Kansas, as well as in our Wonderscope Live and Wonderscope on Wheels outreach programs throughout the metropolitan area. In the future, we will be building a new, world-class children’s museum for the Kansas City metropolitan area.

Newly renovated in June 2011, the ARTWorks exhibit has 4 distinct areas: PaintWorks, ChalkWorks, ARTWorks main area, and the design station/face painting area.   The walls are decorated with murals painted in the style of Modern artists:  Henri Matisse, Jean Dubuffet, Roy Lichtenstein, and Wassily Kandinsky.  Each mural has a small sign describing the artwork and artist with some suggestions for what to do and notice. The philosophy is “With young children, creating a specific art product is not as beneficial as experimenting with the process of making art.  ARTWorks is intentionally open-ended so that children learn how to develop their own creativity and art skills.  It gives them a chance to try and do whatever they can think of- to mix media, experiment, and use the materials without someone limiting their experience.”

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What Makes a Cool Kid Cool? Read On …

What makes a person cool? For those in Kansas City, being cool in the summer can be difficult with heat waves and more, but for six young people, being cool is not a physical state, but a state of being. These guys are collectively COOL! Even in slang dictionaries, cool is still subjective … there is the cool that means excellent and interesting or the cool that is fashionable. For six young people, cool is a combination of both meanings.

There is the youngest of the six, Addison Landes, 11, who loves performing. Her voice and acting abilities have already landed her in small local films. Next is Nelle Henning, 12. She is an incredible violinist who fell in love with the many genres of music available to the instrument including bluegrass. Next is Zeb Lyons. He’s 13 years old with a tremendous love for ballet. And don’t worry, his friend support him 110 percent. They often come to the performances he is in. Then there is Jada Kimbrough, a young 17-year-old pianist whose musical tastes includes no clear-cut genre, but she does excel at jazz piano. Connor Leimer is also 17 and a promising songwriter and guitarist. The oldest is Bailey Becvar. She’s a photographer whose work walks the line between photojournalism, high fashion and fun.

Addison Landes, 11, singer

DSC_0843Addison Landes is developing her vocal chops under the direction of vocal instructor Lauren Braton, who has studio space at the Kansas City Young Audiences-Community School of the Arts. Addison has been taking lessons with Braton for three years now.

“I can’t remember when I knew I wanted to sing,” she says. “I started seriously singing about four or five years ago. My mom always says I sing more often than talk.” At Blackbob Elementary, she was in the special chorus for fourth- and fifth-graders. She will be at Frontier Trail Middle School in the fall. Addison hopes she gets to participate in all that the middle school vocal music program has to offer.

“Lauren lets me choose some of the songs I sing and we often sing together,” she says. Some of her favorites are from Wicked, Phantom of the Opera and of course, Frozen. “I am gaining so much from Lauren. I am learning about controlling my breath. I have learned how to read music and some piano. When we sing Let It Go with Lauren, I gain even more confidence.”

Addison has been in A Christmas Carol at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre for years. She auditioned for the role of Zuzu in the American Heartland Theatre’s radio production of It’s a Wonderful Life and that’s where she met Braton, who was cast as Mary Bailey. She has also been in a few short films. Addison played in a zombie film titled Dead Weight. She also was in The Heist, a live action/animation combination follows a group of neighborhood kids on a quest and then as a best friend named Sam in The 5-Minute Goodbye. She recently completed acting in a short film called Just Like You with her brother. The film is about autism.

“I like bringing a different character to life,” she says. “I can do that on the stage or for film. It’s really a neat feeling to perform in front of others. I don’t have stage fright. I know Lauren has really helped me with that. I know I have more confidence.”Along with singing, Addison likes to draw, paint, hang out with friends, read and enjoy time with her cat, Beauty. She’s also a Girl Scout who just bridged to Cadette. Her service projects include creating thank yous for local firefighters and cards for children in the hospital.

“I usually feel happy when I sing. Sometimes I get to be silly and funny,” she says. “No matter what, I like to express myself. I want to be an actress and singer. I will continue with KCYA and Lauren. She gives me great direction.” This summer will continue her singing and acting training with classes at the Coterie too.

Nelle Henning, 12, violinist

DSC_0700Nelle Henning just completed sixth grade and her eighth year playing the violin. She started studying the instrument through the Suzuki Method at the age of 4. Her interest in the violin came from watching members of the Bluegrass band of which her father is a member. Her mother is also not surprised that she wanted to start playing.

Beth Titterington, a Suzuki teacher who founded a regional affiliate in 1979, has been teaching Nelle since she started and still serves as her teacher. Along with lessons, Nelle also studies and plays with the Heartland Chamber Music Academy. She has been with the group for four years. Her coach is David Kovac, a violin/viola player and teacher. She participates in the yearlong program, Stringendo as well as the summer camp. “I love playing Haydn with the chamber group,” she says. “I am also working on some Bach pieces including a largo and an allegro.”

Some of her personal hero musicians include violinist Joshua Bell, a Grammy-winning violinist who played recently at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Her mother takes the kids to Kansas City Symphony rehearsals.“I know the kids that are younger and getting involved in the Heartland Chamber Academy look up to us. Even my brothers, who are all learning to play the violin, look to me as well.”

Nelle is homeschooled and participates in her parish school athletic program including high jump, distance running and shot put. Plus she sews. Nelle also enjoys learning Chinese. She is also interested in majoring in Chinese in college possibly or looking at pediatric nursing. Then there are her art lessons and going to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Other interests include helping a pregnancy center with a diaper collection. She may also want to own her own farm.

“No matter what, I know that music will always be part of my life,” Nelle explains. “Playing music helps me. I have to be dependable when I am playing in a chamber group. I have to know my part and help put it together.”

Zeb Lyons, 13, dancer

Zeb Lyons in costume for the party scene in The Nutcracker. Image courtesy of the Kansas City Ballet and Lyons' family.

Zeb Lyons in costume for the party scene in The Nutcracker. Image courtesy of the Kansas City Ballet and Lyons’ family.

Zeb Lyons is getting ready for eighth grade at Indian Woods Middle School. Until then, he will mark a busy summer with the Kansas City Ballet and school’s junior summer intensive. He’s been dancing since fifth grade at the Kansas City Ballet School. Zeb became interested in ballet when his school participated in a school program that had dancers spending time with the students. He received a scholarship to pursue dance and hasn’t looked back.

Now, Zeb is a Level 3 dancer. He has the first two levels completed and looks forward to building on the foundation he has already gained. Barre and center exercises are more complex and students will begin to incorporate upper body movements to add uniqueness and character to their dancing. Additional focus is placed on using correct accents with the legs and feet. He is looking forward to mastering the pirouette.

“Dancing is a great workout,” Zeb says. “Dancing gives me a chance to meet new people.” During the school year, he was dancing four days a week up to 90 minutes to two hours. Students attended class from 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for four weeks.

Zeb’s mentor comes in the form of Marcus Oatis, the Johnson County campus manager. Oatis began his dance education with the summer program Ailey Camp. This program afforded Oatis the opportunity to study at additional programs including Smith Sisters Dance Studio, The Center Dance, Kansas City Ballet, and the Ailey School. In 2008, he joined the Kansas City Ballet under the direction of William Whitener.

“If I’m stressed out about school, I forget about everything,” Zeb says. “Everything about dance excites me. When I am learning new dance moves, it is like learning to read or walk. Everything is new and challenging.”

Zeb, who is also part of his school choir and enjoys social studies and math in school, tried sports, but discovered ballet fit him. “I plan to stay in dance through high school and if I can go to college to study dance, I would like that too.” He has been in the party scene for The Nutcracker the past two years and he was in The Wizard of Oz with the Memphis Ballet when the ballet came to the Johnson County Performing Arts Center. This October, he will play a playing card in Alice (in wonderland). “I like being on the stage at the Kauffman Center,” he says. “Someday I want to play one of the princes in a ballet like Sleeping Beauty. That would be cool.”

Jada Kimbrough, 17, pianist

DSC_0861Jada Kimbrough has already a burgeoning following for those who love jazz and blues in Kansas City. She has played piano around town and performed in February for the Band of Angels fundraiser with jazz singer, pianist and songwriter Tony DeSare. Her home piano was given to her through the local chapter of Keys 4/4 Kids. One of her teachers is legendary Kansas City statesman Everette DeVan, an organist.

As her acclaim in the community rises, Jada and her mother appreciate where Jada has come from with her small Casio keyboard and the drive to move forward. After their home was robbed and the video games taken, Jada turned to the keyboard and learned to play. “I learned to read music and sight read. Now I am looking at pieces by Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and Chopin’s Prelude in A Major. “I also like to look at the jazz and blues versions of some of these pieces,” Jada says. “When I play music, I like it to be clean and creative. Of course, I like to explore different techniques and feelings, but it is gift to find the fast and happy tunes or the slow and sad ones. I like to tell the stories these songs represent.”

Along with the piano, she knows how to play the electric guitar and is learning to play the bass guitar. Now as a homeschooler, Jada spends time volunteering as well as playing. She has volunteered at Operation Breakthrough and ushered at the Blue Room through the American Jazz Museum. She’s played for residents at Sunrise Assisted Living and jammed with fellow musicians at the Mutual Musicians Foundation. “They have become mentors and family to me,” she says. “It’s a rich music scene here.”

As she finishes her last year of high school, she will perform with two jazz bands through the Johnson County Community College and is a member of the GRAMMY Museum’s Music Revolution Project this summer. “Thanks to the Band of Angels, I will be attending the KU Jazz Camp for the second year. I also received a scholarship for lessons through the UMKC Conservatory based on the merit of my skills.” Her other arts connections include Kansas City Young Audiences and the Kansas City Girls Choir.

“I like to focus and study and for me, that’s fun,” she says. “I like to record my music and post the tunes on YouTube. I have even been studying programming for the computer through the online school Khan Academy. I am learning coding in Java Script.”

While she works on her playing, she also listens to her inspirations such as Chick Corea, Oscar Petersen, Alicia Keys, Charlie Parker, Adele, Count Basie, Diana Krall and Barry Manilow. “I don’t want to fit into any specific genre so I like to listen to folks from many genres too,” she says.

Connor Leimer, 17, singer/songwriter and guitarist

Connor Leimer is recording his first full-length album.

Connor Leimer is recording his first full-length album. Image courtesy of the artist.

Connor Leimer just finished up his junior year at Blue Valley North, but there is no rest for the summer. He plans on working on a full length compact disc. Like It’s Summer is Connor’s first extended play CD with five songs. He worked on the disc in 2013 at Weights and Measures Lab.

He started playing drums at the age of 7, but when he entered seventh grade something else entered his life – a guitar. Then came the love of words and songwriting.

He was part of the second year of the GRAMMY Museum’s Music Revolution Project that took place in Kansas City last summer. He says the program gave him added incentive to write more songs. “I like the creativity to write lyrics. I like telling stories, sharing memories and more. I enjoyed drumming, but I have a passion for songwriting. I hope it takes me far.”

Created with generous support from Sprint Center/AEG and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, The GRAMMY Museum’s Music Revolution Project offers talented youth ages 14-21 the opportunity to engage in musical discourse, composition and recording in order to spur innovative ideas within the realm of American music. Connor’s first EP (Extended Play) features a song written at the camp, Driving. “I credit the camp with connections. I didn’t realize how many studios and other musicians are in town.”

His parents are lawyers, however, music has always been a big part of the Leimer household. “My parents like a wide variety of music. I found exposure to Bob Dylan and Neil Young.” Then he started finding his own musical interests such as Jack Johnson, John Mayer, Stevie Wonder and Blink 182. “I am always working on the perfect draft of a song. I do like rhyme and alliteration.” He expects to put out a full length CD later this year, recording works at Element Recording Studios.

Connor is also striving to balance school with his music. Next year, he will be enrolled at the Center for Advanced Professional Studies through the Blue Valley School District. He is looking at New York University or Austin to study stocks, finance and investments. “It would be great to be near a city that would allow me to grow my music and fan base. I know education is valuable and I am not passing anything up. I know the music business is tough, but I am hopeful and realistic.” Connor is also a member of the National Honor Society and has taken several Advanced Placement courses.

As for being inspired and inspiring others, Connor says music is a creative aspect that gives fellow musicians and singers a chance to be fans to each other. “I know there are people who look at me such as when I am on stage with the school’s jazz band,” he says. “Whether it’s in jazz band or writing and performing my own work, I know that music is universal with expressing and reflecting feelings, growing up, love and more. I am still a teenager so I write about what I know.”

Bailey Becvar, 18, photographer

breadth4Bailey Becvar is the oldest of the Cool Kids featured in this KC Studio Kids section. Bailey attended Staley High School, and is going to attend the Kansas City Art Institute in the fall. Her main interest is photography. “I may look at film as well,” she says. “I wanted to attend a school close to home and I fell in love with KCAI. Plus who can resist being so near to The Nelson and the Kemper museums.”

Bailey attributes her art teacher Chelle Cox with her deepening love of photography and what she can do with that photography. During her freshman and sophomore years, she took advanced photography and Advanced Placement studio art. “For me, photography and then the work through digital manipulation give me a chance to explore the many sides of my personality. I am a curious person and I like to get outside of my comfort zone. I really never want to be held to one style.’

Her portfolio has gotten her many awards. She received second place and third place honorable mention in the Congressional Art Competition in Missouri, she was honored at a reception where congressman Sam Graves presented the awards, and the art work will hang in his St Joseph Office through the year.

She was selected as one of only 15 students to the Nelson-Atkins Photography Scholar program, where she studied for five weeks with photographers from all across the nation, and then she had a gallery opening at the Nelson in early May. She received two Gold Key awards for her work with the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She took a Gold Key for her entire portfolio and a Gold Key or an individual piece. Both came at the regional level.

Along with her photography and school work, she has been part of the school soccer team for four years and on student council. “Soccer has been a big part of my life. However, my friends have commented that I always have my camera and I want to capture what I see around me.” Her college courses while in high school included college French, college English and other Advanced Placements as well. “I know that the underclassmen looked up to the older players. I have always tried to set a good example and think about it all the time.”

Her community service involves helping with children’s church and a pet shelter near her home. “I have been taking pictures of the pets available for adoption for the KC Pet Project,” she explains. “I would love to travel the world and take pictures. I want to grab at life and take whatever comes.”

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