Winner of a Charlotte Street Foundation Generation performing Artist Award, the playwright, actor, filmmaker, and storyteller has found his voice in a multitude of projects.
David Wayne Reed might best be described as a genre-busting conceptual artist whose work defies easy classification. Playwright, actor, filmmaker, storyteller — he wears these hats and others.
But in the beginning, he was a man of the stage — a founding member of Late Night Theatre who performed, directed and contributed scripts to the gender-bending, genre-hybridizing theater company. In recent years, Reed has worked as a solo creative artist, charting his own path and defining his own unique sense of aesthetics.
Early this year, he was one of two people to win generative performing artist awards from the Charlotte Street Foundation. (The other was poet and presenter Sheri “Purpose” Hall.) The award recognizes the totality of an artist’s work. The jurors included playwright Darren Canady, a native of Topeka and graduate of Julliard and New York University; theater artist Denise Chapman of Nebraska, a graduate of Creighton University and the Chicago College of Performing Arts; percussionist Patrick Alonzo Conway, who earned a master’s in composition from the UMKC Conservatory; and Australian Charlotte Farrell, a theater scholar and director of the Center for Performance Research in Brooklyn.
To be recognized by such heavy hitters meant a lot to Reed.
“It’s a huge honor,” he said. “I’m glad to have received it. I definitely admire so many who have come before me to receive this honor. It means a lot of people have viewed your work and said, ‘Yes, this person is worthy of this award.’ It also comes with $10,000, and that’s pretty OK, too.”
But the award has a deeper meaning for the artist, who’s been following his creative instincts since the 1990s.
“You know, I’m a little bit into my career,” he said. “It’s very validating. It’s an achievement, and it helps cap off my career so far. I’ll see what comes of it, but it’s definitely a feather in my cap.”
A turning point for Reed was “Jolly Rancher,” his autobiographical one-man show in 2012 at the old Fishtank venue. In the piece, he described growing up on his parents’ farm near Louisburg, Kansas, the influence of the agrarian life and the fact that he knew he wasn’t a typical farm kid early on. As a child, he would sometimes perform his own improvised shows for the farmhands.
“A lot of it was done on the back of wagons or inside grain silos, where the acoustics were really good,” he recalled. “It gave me an audience. I wanted to get to know people, and I felt like I could get to know people by performing for them and doing something for them. It was really an act of hospitality.”
“Jolly Rancher” signaled a new wave for Reed as a performer.
“I walked into my own voice, outside of camp and also outside of acting. I wasn’t saying other people’s words anymore; I was saying my own. I was developing my own voice.”
In 2016, Reed inaugurated Shelf Life, a sort of open mic for storytellers every two months at the Brick, the downtown lunch spot and music venue. If the concept invites comparisons to the Moth Radio Hour heard on NPR stations, that’s OK with Reed.
“That’s actually how I sold it,” he said. “When I applied for a grant I said, ‘Imagine show-and-tell meets the Moth.’ It provides an entry point for a deeper truth. It’s a very simple concept, but it’s just this easy entry point to really difficult conversations that linger. It’s been transformational for me, for the storytellers, for audience members. That’s what’s reiterated back to me time and time again.”
He likened the process to 12-step meetings, in which speakers are expected to share unvarnished episodes from their lives.
“Something happens with telling our stories,” he said. “It’s powerful because it provides a space not only for accountability but releasing your truth. Often that truth can be a burden. We don’t have spaces for that in the public realm so much. There’s a hunger for people to share their stories.”
In 2018, Reed released “Eternal Harvest,” a 12-minute film he shot on the family farm in Louisburg. Part documentary, part visual poetry, Reed’s elegant short movie incorporates sweeping aerial images, dancers and unassuming appearances by his parents.
“From the shovel that digs to bury, to the shovel that digs up to plant, ‘Eternal Harvest’ uses drones, dance, farm implements, heirloom quilts, and agriculture to explore Eastern philosophies and reincarnation through the lens of Western agriculture,” the official description reads. “Eternal Harvest” was screened at several film festivals, and Reed plans to assemble a touring exhibit of his grandmother’s quilts that are seen in the film.
And he’s planning a new visual project: “A new film about prairie remnants and conversation in my home county,” he said. And he’s working on a new solo performance called “Goliath,” which he hopes to unveil in December.
The subject matter? “Sobriety, sexuality, survival.”
To see David Wayne Reed’s “Eternal Harvest” and to learn about Reed’s other projects, go to davidwaynereed.com.
Photo by Jim Barcus