Arts News: Fire in the Heart

In April, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City will showcase the power of the arts to heal the human spirit by presenting “Fire in the Heart,” an uplifting evening of music, poetry, film and spoken word in the White Theatre. More than 20 performers from KC and beyond will be “speaking in the art forms that gave them the strength and inspiration they needed to rise above traumatic circumstances in their own lives,” according to the JCC-KC website.

Founding director and performer Deb Allen, based in California, tells her story of being raped at 15 by a teacher, and then sexually molested by a minister who was supposed to be helping her. A song by Leonard Cohen, “The Sisters of Mercy,” helped her begin healing. Allen created “Fire in the Heart” in 2012, and in her words, “began using her art form, theater, to save her life.”

Allen’s co-founding director Delores Burgess, from Atlanta, is a gospel recording artist, actor, ordained minister and life coach. After learning that she had breast cancer, Burgess created a one-woman show that utilizes multiple characters to share her healing journey and “to champion her wholeness.”

The JCC-KC production marks the third iteration of “Fire in the Heart.” Following shows in California in 2012 and 2016, Allen’s brother, Kansas City-area oncologist Dr. Ace Allen, told her about the film “Patient: A Surgeon’s Journey.” This inspirational story about Dr. Jeffrey Piehler and his struggle with cancer was made by Kansas City filmmaker Aimee Larrabee with the help of Dr. Peter Van Veldhuizen, among others. Van Veldhuizen’s involvement with the film inspired him to tell the story of his own childhood trauma.

Upon learning of these new stories of healing and the arts in the Kansas City area, Burgess and Allen began exploring the possibility of presenting “Fire in the Heart” again. With the help of Drs. Allen and Van Veldhuizen, they enlisted JCC-KC to present the show.

What should viewers expect? “This is an exhilarating and life-affirming celebration of hope, not a play about trauma, Allen says. “We’re trying to tell stories that are inclusive. We’re talking about our lives.”

Burgess adds, “A portion of the show is an interactive multicultural gathering. We all suffer something, and we can help each other.”

A portion of Larrabee’s film will introduce Dr. Piehler to the White Theatre audience, and Dr. Van Veldhuizen will appear onstage. Other Kansas City-based acts include Tyrone Aiken, choreographer and chief artistic officer of Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey; Rabbi Javier Cattapan, singer; teen vocalist Jaeda Dickens; writer and artist José Faus; dancer, choreographer and poet Anjali Tata Huston; Max Levy, saxophonist; and the Second Missionary Baptist Church Choir.

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City presents “Fire in the Heart” at 7:30 p.m. April 6 and 2 p.m. April 7 in the White Theatre. Tickets range from $14 to $30. For tickets and more information, thejkc.org.

Above: Fire in the Heart founding director and performer Deb Allen (right) and co-founding director Delores Burgess take the stage at a recent Fire in the Heart rehearsal.  (photo by Randy Mason)

James Martin

James Martin is Public Art Administrator for the City of Kansas City, Missouri. Prior to working for KCMO, he wrote freelance for “KC Studio” and served as public art consultant for the cities of Gladstone, Missouri; Leawood, Merriam, and Olathe, Kansas, and for Overland Park Regional Medical Center. He has held curatorial positions with Truman Medical Centers, Sprint and The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and taught art history at UMKC, JCCC, Park University and Baldwin-Wallace College in Ohio. He holds a B.A. in art history from the University of Kansas and an M.A in art history from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

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