Reporting in this issue for Kansas City/St. Louis are the two new Ambassadors for the region, Cary Simowitz in St. Louis and Pete Bakely in Kansas City.
First, from Cary Simowitz:
On March 13, 2020, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’s Touring Production Company–aptly named “TourCo”—was approximately midway through an eleven-week road trip that’s goal was to bring a re-imagined Cymbeline to schools, libraries, community centers, and parks around the greater Missouri and Illinois region. Helmed by artistic director Tom Ridgley and educational director Adam Flores, TourCo broke barriers this year by featuring an entirely female or gender-nonconforming cast of actors touting various levels of performance experience (ranging from recent college graduates to seasoned Equity performers), brilliantly designed around their Shakespearean production’s heavy dialogue on gender. TourCo’s bus was excitedly on its way to bring The Bard to Western Missouri.
And then Covid-19 rusted its wheels in place.
The nightmarish virus has since swept through St. Louis, shuttering nearly every theatrical production planned for the next several months (and possibly longer). The ramifications—financial, artistic, and emotional—have been felt by performing artists and writers throughout our community. But the incredible performers of TourCo were not going down without a fight.
On March 26th, TourCo suddenly appeared in living rooms around the world—like a proverbial bolt from the Zoom, er, blue—for a one-night-only Facebook Live reading of Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, an appropriately chosen epic poem that found its inception during London’s Corona-virus-equivalent. In an effort to breathe new life—and a swift 45-minute run time—into the lengthy classical piece, TourCo broke the play down and added hilarious anachronisms into the broadcast. (E.g. The dreaded boar became a Pumba plush, Venus’s attempts to seduce Adonis were transformed into a scholarly PhD presentation entitled “Why You Should Have Sex With Me” [Thesis: “Because I Am Hot”], and the performance included a BYOB drinking game to make the Bard blush). Directed and adapted by the mononymous and luminary Keating, the play achieved its desired result: keeping the virus at bay with hope, hilarity, and—of course—a Shakespearean level of brilliance that can only be found in Missouri and Illinois.
Next, from Pete Bakely:
Kansas City playwrights and theatres have been forced to make adjustments to respond to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. A ban of more than 50 people gathering in one place has had an impact. Kansas City Rep was forced to cancel most events relating to the ORIGINKC: NEW WORKS FESTIVAL, including the world premieres of Frankenstein by Kyle Hatley and Legacy Land by Stacey Rose. The keynote address from Todd London was presented on HowlRound to great success.
To respond to the public ban, KC Public Theatre, a theatre company devoted to new works and run by Nathan Bowman and Elizabeth Bettendorf-Bowman created the Online Devised Play Project, a serial drama created by 30 playwrights in three days. The process was accomplished by contributions to a shared Google Doc with each playwright given a single scheduled hour in which to write their section. The resulting 96-page play has been streamed as a live Facebook reading.
End of Play has been taken up by ten playwrights from Missouri and Kansas, moderated by Guild Member Jessie Salsbury. Regular meetings have been held online via Zoom meetings. A recent meeting had a Q&A with Rebecca Ralstin, a Kansas City professional actress with considerable new play experience followed by readings from five different END OF PLAY scripts.
Kansas City continues to create online projects while we wait for the theatres to reopen.