Kansas City/St. Louis 2018/2019 Season In Review by Hartley Wright
Nestled close to the geographic center of the country, in the heart of the American Midwest, Missouri offers a mix of small towns and bustling cities proving to be a serious and exciting hub for new work. Across the state, every theatre season is filled with new works festivals, world premieres, Rolling World Premiere collaborations with the NNPN, devised works, ten-minute showcases, and two fringe festivals. Our 2018/19 season was no exception.
Leading the pack with three world premieres in its season was Kansas City Repertory Theatre, which opened with the musical Last Days of Summer (music by Jason Howland, book and lyrics by Steve Kluger). KC Rep’s New Works Program produced the fully realized Frida…A Self-Portrait by Vanessa Severo, and Unreliable by Dipika Guha. Unicorn Theatre produced the Kansas City Rolling World Premiere of Nomad Motel by Carla Ching and the world premiere of KC playwright Logan Black’s play, Bond: A Soldier and His Dog. Unicorn also continues its very successful In-Progress New Play Development Reading Series, just as KC Rep’s perpetual Monday Night Playwright Series offers script-in-hand readings of new plays on their journey to becoming future hit shows.
KC Melting Pot Theatre’s season featured new work from Michelle Tyrene Johnson and Harvey Williams. Johnson’s The Green Book Wine Club Train Trip takes audiences on a journey that revisits the startling similarities between a Jim Crow past and the present. Williams’ On Shoulders Now tells a poignant holiday family story while addressing controversial topics such as life on the streets, poverty, and immigration.
The 40th season of The Coterie in Kansas City featured two new works for their young audiences: Becoming Martin by Kevin Willmott and Beat Bugs: A Musical Adventure by Sean Cercone and David Abbinatti. The Coterie also premieres the Young Playwrights Festival every season, showcasing new works by some of Kansas City’s most talented teen playwrights who have emerged from a year-long master class of writing and development.
Across the state, near the Gateway Arch, the Black Repertory Theatre entertains the most diverse audience in the St. Louis region. Their season was bookended with two world premieres of plays based on true events: DG Council member Nikkole Salter’s drama Torn Asunder, dramatizing a newly emancipated slave woman seeking to reconnect with her family; and Canfield Drive, a play portraying the lives of high-powered journalists reporting on the death of Michael Brown, written by Kristen Adele Calhoun and Michael Thomas Walker.
Facing, a new play by St. Louis DG playwright Caitlin McCommis, was a highlight in Tesseract Theatre’s 2018/19 season, and The Repertory Theatre concluded its theatre season with the world premiere of Scott C. Sickles’ Nonsense and Beauty. The Rep of St. Louis also produced, within their Imaginary Theatre’s season for student audiences, the world premiere of the musical The Christmas Skates (book by Sarah Brandt, music and lyrics by Nathanael McClure).
New work also painted our theatrical landscape in Columbia, Springfield, Jefferson City, and all along Route 66.