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Missouri Tragedy, Kansas Suburbs Get Fringe Festival Focus

Though the 8th annual Kansas City Fringe Festivalis increasingly drawing groups from out of the area, more than half of this year's 87 performance and film offerings originated with Missouri-based artists, while about a quarter hail from Kansas. Two shows in particular look distinctly at events or locales in our adjacent states with very different moods and tones.

The thing about the Kansas City Fringe Festival that makes it such a draw is the variety of genres - from theater and dance to film and burlesque. Exemplifying the "anything goes" spirit of the Festival are two shows with subject matter that will be familiar to most residents of the region.

Smashing Boundaries

The Warrensburg-based company Smashing Frames returns to the Fringe with Missouri Momentum X 3, a collage of three short pieces whose style is explained by co-founder Julie Mollenkamp.

"They all have a backdrop in multimedia, including visual images (and) soundscapes, as well as video and the work itself," says Mollenkamp, a professor at Central Missouri State University. "Some of the text is recorded, some is spoken in conjunction with that. Each piece is scored and we add sound effects and text to it." 

One of the three shows is about incidents of bullying in various Missouri towns. Another, People Speak, about how the Occupy Wall Street movement played out in Kansas City and St. Louis, was devised by Mollenkamp's students.

"They sat down and spent hours interviewing people and developing their own opinions about what they were seeing," she says, "and what's interesting is that the students ended up really focusing on the idea that Occupy Wall Street is a great idea but what can people really do other than sit in a park"

Weather Report

Mollenkamp explains the genesis of the third piece, Gust, about the May 2011 Joplin tornado.

"The first half of it is the streets of Joplin - downtown areas, rural areas -  before the tornado of May 2011. And then the tornado happened and the second half is video projection of the streets of downtown Joplin and rural areas after. So you can literally see the visual effects." 

"We had the opportunity to speak with several people who survived that tornado and several people who had lost family members and friends," Mollenkamp adds. "One of the main reasons we wanted to do it is as a tribute to those who survived and those who lost their lives but to remind all of us that we live in tornado alley and we need to have a plan. What are you going to do when those sirens go off?"

Johnson County Lines

Working in a much lighten vein are life partners Suzanne Welch and Jim Sturgill, who've turned their love of the NPR show A Prairie Home Companion into Prairie Village Home Companion. Sturgill says it's both self-deprecating (he lived around  West 135th Street when he first moved to Kansas City) and a little mocking about such suburban staples as housing covenants.

"Covenants like your grass needs to be so long. Your house needs to be painted one of four acceptable colors. Do not put up  chain link fences," Sturgill explains. "The positive spin is that you buy into a set of ideals of what you want your neighborhood to look like - the rules, the enforced tyrrany of the masses."

Emphasizing that the show is comedic, Sturgill adds, "If you live in the suburbs, you have enough self-awareness to know that some things in your everyday life are just going to be ridiculous."

Along with a house band and faux commercials is private eye Pierre Black, a play on Garrison Keillor's Guy Noir, who in the parody helps a Prairie Village woman find her missing husband - who's been gone all of 45 minutes. 

In addition to Prairie Village Home Companion, Sturgill and Welch will emcee Iron Artist at the Pop Up Gallery, 2100 Grand, where Fringe participants compete to create a  completely new work within one hour.


The Kansas City Fringe Festival runs from July 19-29 at several area venues. Missouri Momentum X 3 performs July 21, 23, 24 and 27 on the Main Stage of the Unicorn Theatre, 3828 Main. Prairie Village Home Companion plays the Unicorn's Jerome Stage July 22, 26 and 28. For tickets to Fringe events, visit www.kcfringe.org.

Since 1998, Steve Walker has contributed stories and interviews about theater, visual arts, and music as an arts reporter at KCUR. He's also one of Up to Date's regular trio of critics who discuss the latest in art, independent and documentary films playing on area screens.
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