Kansas City is a healthy arts town where professional and community theaters thrive. And while formal co-productions between theater companies have gone on for years, there has never been a formal theater association — until now.
Theatre Alliance Kansas City was announced in November by leaders of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, the Unicorn Theatre, the Coterie and Kansas City Actors Theatre. The group’s goals include sharing resources and reaching a larger audience by drawing increased public attention to member theaters.
“We want to raise the level for all of them,” said Sidonie Garrett, artistic director of the Shakespeare Festival. “This is a huge metro area, but a lot of those people never go to live theater. We want to get more of them attending . . . The simpler the message, the more effective it will be. We’ve got to find that exhortation to come and experience our art form.”
The inaugural board of directors includes Angela Gieras, executive director of KC Rep, and Jason Chanos, the Rep’s interim artistic director; Cynthia Levin, producing artistic director of the Unicorn; Joette Pelster, executive director of the Coterie, and Jeff Church, the Coterie’s artistic director; John Rensenhouse of KCAT and Garrett.
The alliance applied for a $200,000 grant from Theatre Communications Group, a national service organization for nonprofit theaters, and the founding theater companies committed to raising another $120,000.
Eventually, membership will be open to other professional companies and Garrett said membership could be extended to academic and community theaters.
Among the alliance’s goals is a cross-promotional website that would include information on all the member companies — a sort of one-stop shopping choice for anyone who wants to know live theater choices on any given day. Garrett said it would be similar to the online cultural guide maintained by ArtsKC (artskcgo.com).
“I think we lack our version of ‘Got Milk’ for theater,” Garrett said. “The ability to cross promote just live theater as a choice is going to help all of us . . . We want a landing page that says, ‘Here’s everything playing tonight’ and give people the information they need immediately.”
Garrett said organizers looked at similar associations in other cities, including the League of Chicago Theatres, founded in 1979. Most cities with an active professional theater scene have some sort of not-for-profit umbrella organization.
Another long-range goal, Garrett said, is to establish an annual celebration of theater. For a few years in the 1990s an annual awards ceremony recognized theater talent, but the selection process was dubious, and most people saw it mainly as a chance to party with their colleagues once a year.
In addition to building a larger theatergoing audience generally, the alliance will also work to attract a younger audience and more diverse theatergoers.
“We want to look out in the house and see our community reflected in the audience,” Garrett said.
The formal press release announcing the alliance’s existence underscored each theater’s educational programs. It also quoted leaders at each company, including Levin, the Unicorn’s longtime artistic director.
“Most of the theaters in this town have been working together informally for years,” Levin said. “We now come together as a strong alliance with a collective voice to advocate for all theater and help market more effectively. Live theater is one of the largest employers in the KC metro area and the impact we make on our community is crucial to the growth and well-being of our audiences.”
Above: The formation of Theatre Alliance of Kansas City was announced in November by (front from left) Cynthia Levin, Unicorn Theatre; Jeff Church, Coterie Theatre; and (rear from left) Joette Pelster, Coterie Theatre; Sidonie Garrett, Heart of America Shakespeare Festival; John Rensenhouse, Kansas City Actors Theatre; Angela Gieras, KC Rep and Jason Chanos, KC Rep. (courtesy Theatre Alliance Kansas City)