Arts News: Spinning Tree Finds a Home

The formerly nomadic company will stage its ninth season at Johnson Country Arts and Heritage Center

Spinning Tree Theatre, a not-for-profit company known for quality work and staging shows new to Kansas City audiences, has found a new home: the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center.

The center, which houses a small theater as well as the Johnson County Museum, is where the theater company founded by Andrew Grayman-Parkhurst and Michael Grayman-Parkhurst will stage its ninth season. The lineup includes one classic musical and three local premieres.

For most of its existence, Spinning Tree has been nomadic, staging productions in a variety of venues: Just Off Broadway Theatre, Arts Asylum, Musical Theatre Heritage at Crown Center and the Paul Mesner puppet studio.

Now it has found a home at the Johnson County facility at 8788 Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park. Located on the site of the old King Louie bowling alley and ice rink, the building is home to the museum as well as a black box theater with a flexible seating area that can be configured in various ways. Officially, it seats a maximum of 300.

The Johnson County Parks and Recreation website describes the theater as “state of the art” with a grid above the stage and seats that allows convenient placement of lighting instruments and sound speakers. The theater is managed by Theatre in the Park, which has staged summer musicals in Shawnee Mission Park for decades and is now the Arts and Heritage Center’s resident theater company.

The Spinning Tree founders said the decision to move came about after Tim Bair, producing artistic director of Theatre in the Park, suggested they come out and take a look at the facility.

“We only do three indoor shows, so I wondered if they might want to come out and do something here,” Bair said. “I really just sent them a note and said, ‘Hey, did you know we had a black box? Come have a look.’”

The Grayman-Parkhursts were impressed.

“We loved it and talked about starting with our summer youth project . . . and he said we could look at doing our season,” Andrew said. “It is an opportunity too good to pass up.”

Michael said it was unlikely that Spinning Tree would stage a show that would seat as many as 300.

“We’re going to keep with our configuration we’ve been using, (which seats) about 130, for next season,” he said. “We’re going to keep it in a three-quarter thrust.”

Technically, the space offers Spinning Tree a new lighting system and sound system, including an assisted hearing option.

The season:

  • “Every Brilliant Thing” by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, Aug. 16 – Sept. 1. The co-founders read the play, which was produced in New York and London, and “fell in love with it.” “It’s a lovely piece with heart but also deals with mental health issues head-on,” Andrew said.
  • “Caroline, or Change” by Tony Kushner with music by Jeanine Tesori, Nov. 8 – 24. Kushner’s autobiographical piece is set in 1963 in Louisiana and depicts the relationship between an 8-year-old Jewish kid and an African-American maid. Michael and Andrew said this piece has been on their wish list of shows since they founded the theater company.
  • “Girlfriend” by writer Todd Almond and composer/lyricist Matthew Sweet, Jan. 24 – Feb. 9, 2020. Based on Sweet’s rock album “Girlfriend,” this is a coming-of-age story about first love between two young guys. The setting is small-town Nebraska in 1993. The show has not been staged on or off-Broadway.
  • The first three shows are local premieres. The season concludes with one that is not — the classic “La Cage aux Folles,” with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and a book by Harvey Fierstein. The show, which runs April 17 – May 3, 2020, has been seen here before, once in a memorable production at the Unicorn Theatre as well as more than one touring production. The Grayman-Parkhursts said that this show is the one most frequently requested by Spinning Tree subscribers.

In addition, Spinning Tree will host its first Youth Theatre Project in collaboration with Variety Children’s Charity of Greater Kansas City. The object is to allow non-disabled and disabled teens to collaborate on a Broadway musical. The show this year will be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Starlight Express.” The project kicks off June 10, with public performances scheduled to run June 21 – 23.

The youth project is open to youth ages 13 to 18.

For more information on the youth project as well as the season, visit www.spinningtreetheatre.com.

About The Author: Robert Trussell

Robert Trussell is a veteran journalist who has covered news, arts and theater in Kansas City for almost four decades.

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