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This New Kansas City Theater Group Does Not Want To Stage Its Readings In A Theater

Jen Chen
KCUR 89.3

A new theater troupe in Kansas City is staging monthly play readings in an unlikely venue: a bar.

That’s part of the Kansas City PublicTheatre’s mission. The group hopes to make theater more accessible by offering free shows in non-traditional venues.

“We go around town, we’re on street corners, we’re in bars, so we come to you,” Elizabeth Bettendorf Bowmantold guest host Brian Ellison on KCUR’s Central Standard.

Bowman, the executive artistic director, has always wanted to share her love of the theater. As an adjunct instructor at Benedictine College, one of her favorite classes to teach is theater appreciation to non-majors.

“There’s almost a salesman quality about it. You have to sell theater to people and tell them why they should like it too,” she said.

“There are so many people who have never seen a play,” she added. “They’ve never been in a play outside of 5th grade.”

She and co-founder Nathan Bowman have been dreaming of starting this kind of theater for about 10 years. One day, they decided they just had to do it. The KC Public Theatre was incorporated last November, and by the first week of January, it partnered with the Uptown Arts Bar to hold staged readings on the first Monday of every month.

“I think we can forget that going to a theater can be really intimidating,” said playwright Lindsay Adams. “It’s a big fancy building, you’re supposed to dress up for it ... or are you not? (If) it’s a matinee, does that make a difference?”

Adams's play “Her Own Devices” is the company's staged reading for March.

Usually, staged readings are whatever the playwright and director want it to be, Adams said. Sometimes it’s just an actor reading the script from a music stand.

“Her Own Devices” won’t be as traditional.

The play, which is about a 13-year-old girl who is isolated in a lab with a disease, includes a scene where the King of Germs wants her to dance. It's a “bizarre nightmare samba set to Elvis,” Adams explained.

“I’m excited that Elizabeth and the KC Public Theatre are doing very, very new contemporary work, helping playwrights with development, and doing this non-traditional play that involves movement and dance and robots and things of this nature,” she said.

Bowman said the group plans to focus on area artists and on plays with local themes and settings.

“We are producing for the community, and we want to make sure that we remember what they hold dear,” she said.

The KC Public Theatre’s next fully produced show will be at the Kansas City Fringe Festival in July: a modern retelling of the Greek tragedy "Medea," about a woman who immigrated to the United States.

Like all artistic directors, Bowman said, she's conveying a message with the plays her theater is performing.

“Our message is one of acceptance and of love,” she said. “That’s what all of our themes are. We want to know people and we want to accept people and understand their stories.”

"Her Own Devices," a staged reading by the Kansas City Public Theatre, 7 p.m. Monday, March 5 at the Uptown Arts Bar, 3611 Broadway, Kansas City, Missouri 64111.

Listen to the full conversation here.

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org and follow her on Twitter @JenChenKC.

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