Get Ready for Opening Season 2011

Take a glimpse at what Kansas City is offering this season.

Opening-SeasonArts organizations, especially those in the performing arts, perceive that palpable energy and almost giddy eagerness in the opening of the Kauffman Center of the Performing Arts. Regional, national and international attention has already turned toward Kansas City with the focus on this center.

The thriving arts scene and the diverse array of arts in town, with many of them preparing to open their seasons in September or October, will raise their curtains on new plays, musicals, concerts and dance performances. Whatever the date, the performers and artistic leaders are buzzing with an excitement to continue doing what they do best.

“This an exciting time in Kansas City with the opening of the Kauffman Center. There is an enthusiasm about the arts and I would like Kansas City to celebrate with us the milestone of presenting exciting and thought provoking dance for 20 years,” says Mary Pat Henry, artistic director for Wylliams-Henry Contemporary Dance Company. “We are focusing on what we do well which is beautiful dance.” The anniversary kicks off Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 concerts to celebrate the best artists with the works the company has performed over this time.

“It will have the works that are the hallmarks of the company’s repertory. To be here after 20 years is an emotional milestone for me and for the company,” she says. “The most exciting time is when you walk into the theater and begin to dance on the stage after many weeks of hard work.”

On Oct. 22, the company will create a new Cyprus Avenue concert with Bill Shapiro from KCUR’s Cypress Avenue at the Folly Theater. “The collaboration with Bill is one of the most fun and most challenging projects we have ever done due to the number of songs such as Sam Cooke, Janis Joplin and Prince. The program is just a good time for everyone,” she says.

At the Unicorn Theatre, RED by John Logan opens the season in mid-September. The 2010 Tony Award Winner for Best Play, examines the mind of master abstract expressionist Mark Rothko, for whom paintings are pulsating life forces and intended to “rip out your guts and expose your soul.” Producing Artistic Director Cynthia Levin will direct. Local theater legend Jim Birdsall will take on the role of Mark Rothko and Sam Cordes will play Ken, Rothko’s young assistant. The Goodman Theatre in Chicago will be the first regional theater to perform RED and the Unicorn will be the second.

“Sure the Kauffman Center is spurring some excitement as the fall rolls in. It’s a great time to be here in Kansas City. We are all going to be doing better work. There will be no room for complacency,” she says.

“Most theaters open in September. It is a seasonal thing – summer, winter, fall, spring and theater opening. That excitement comes every time the house lights go down. Then there is the potential about where the play will take me. Anything can happen and everything can happen,” she says.

Collaboration is another high point for many groups. The Unicorn, University of Missouri-Kansas City theater department and the Kansas City Actors Theatre work together. They will work on God of Carnage in mid-October. Levin says the play looks at how adults should work together, but civility falls by the wayside. Local actor/director Mark Robbins will direct the play.

Directing the play provides challenge and pressure for Robbins. “And that’s a good thing. I believe God of Carnage will attract supporters of the work of both KCAT and the Unicorn, and four very talented actors will reward them with a very stimulating evening of theater. It’s a play that takes us to a pretty unhinged comic space, and we’re very much looking forward to it. Opening nights are exciting as well, but that’s really just another chapter in the ongoing creative process that begins on the first day of rehearsal.”

Shelly Stewart directs the first show of the new season for the Olathe Community Theatre Association. The 38-year-old theater company has had many firsts, but each director and his or her cast experiences their own firsts. The season started in late August with [title of the show]. Stewart has directed several shows and starred in a few as well. The company’s next show is Twelve Angry Men in October.

“There’s always a great amount of anticipation when you announce your season. Did we choose a season our patrons will want to see? Will actors want to be in our shows? Will the public come to see our shows? Can we generate excitement?” she says. Stewart says OCTA has spent the last few seasons aiming for a great first show. “We hope they come to see the first one and say ‘I want to come back for more!’ But then we hope they come to every show and say that. So, the first show has that clean slate feel. We’re starting the season with a clean slate, endless possibilities, and a great amount of hope that this year will be one for the record books.”

At She & Her Productions, Artistic Director Tiffany Garrison-Schweigert and Managing Director Jennifer Coville-Schweigert have two shows in September and October. The Mercy Seat, directed by Matt Henges, runs in early September and the musical Urinetown, directed by Garrison-Schweigert, runs in October.

“There is definitely that initial excitement when you start your first rehearsal and the energy is super high to start this amazing new project. Then you get into working the show and exploring and growing and cultivating new and undiscovered things,” Jennifer says. “Then comes opening night and the initial excitement is back along with the wonderful feeling of opening night nerves and butterflies. The wonderful new energy of finally getting to show the world what you have spent all this time creating.”

Another first will be Artistic Director Gregory Chafin and Journeyman Theatre Company. The show, Generation Why, is the first time that Journeyman Theatre Company production will be opening a season in a new space. “We are incredibly excited to be at the Just Off Broadway Theater. For myself, the first rehearsal of any show is what I always look forward to the most. The beginning of the art being pieced together is filled with a mixture of anxiety and excitement that is only rivaled by opening night,” he says. Generation Why is an original rock operetta set in Anywhere, USA. The show opens in mid-September and looks at the current generation that is out of work, out of money and on the street, searching.

Folly Theater Executive Director Gale Tallis has a different excitement as leading a performing arts venue. “The Folly Theater is particularly fortunate, because not only are we host to our own Jazz Series, Cyprus Avenue Series and Kid’s Series, but we are also the venue for a number of other artistic organizations such as Friends of Chamber Music, the Harriman-Jewell Series and Heartland Men’s Chorus. Our efforts and excitement around the season opening is several-fold; we are making sure that the building is ready for it’s debut of it’s 111th season (the Folly opened in September, 1900), and we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of its renovation in 1981, thanks to the hard work of Joan Kent Dillon and William Deramus III and many other civic leaders.”

Tallis cherishes the energy and enthusiasm for the promise of seeing and hearing world class artists in the beautiful historic ambience of the Folly Theater, which many artists consider to be one of the best acoustical environments in which they have performed. Indeed, Sir James Galway proclaimed it “the Carnegie Hall of Kansas City.”

The Jazz Series starts Oct. 1 with the Yellowjackets. The trio of musicians, which included keyboardist Russell Ferrante, bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Ricky Lawson, are the Yellowjackets.

In 2001, the band self-released the pivotal live Mint Jam recording, with Marcus Baylor now essentially the band’s full-time drummer. Since that time, the Jackets signed a deal with the HeadsUp International label, and have since released the holiday release Peace Round in 2003, Twenty Five in 2006, Lifecycle in 2008, and most recently in 2011, Timeline.

Executive Director Steven Murray says the Youth Symphony of Kansas City engages more than 300 young musicians in its five orchestras. Because of the nature of the program, the ensembles are made up of different students each year with new musicians joining the program, some advancing to the next ensemble and a good number graduating out of the program.

“One of the most exciting parts of our season is kicking things off in September at the annual retreat. While performances are always a highlight, the excitement of the new season really is fueled by the first rehearsals. Of course, the real reward is the rich sound produced after just a few rehearsals,” he says. “Our desire is for Kansas City to celebrate the hundreds of talented young people committed to the study and performance of classical music – not just in the Youth Symphony of Kansas City, but throughout public and private schools and in other community programs.” The Youth Symphony will get to play in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in late spring.

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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