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Arts & Life

Kansas City's Late-Night Scene Adds Something It Was Missing — A Variety Show

James D. Conqueror is among the performers at 'Late Night Squeeze' on Friday, November 30.

Variety shows aren’t all gongs and spangles.

Besides simply being entertaining, such shows are ways for artists to help build their fan bases by “cross-pollinating audiences,” says Stephanie Roberts, a theater professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

She first saw this work when she lived in Seattle and was part of a company called Annex Theatre, which hosted a variety show called “Spin the Bottle.”

“Every act was 10 minutes. So, you knew that whatever you got, whether it’s so-so or whether it’s outstanding, you’re going to get something else in 10 minutes,” she explains.

Roberts says her new “Late Night Squeeze: A Nocturnal Variety Show” will follow the same format. She figures, for example, that if fans of Nouveau Noir musician James D. Conqueror show up to see his performance, they’ll also watch the other seven performers and will be exposed to artists and styles they might not otherwise encounter.

This Friday’s show at the Squeezebox Theatre is the first of four Roberts is set to produce between now and July 2019, thanks to an  ArtsKC inspiration grant. She says she’s “stacking the deck” with ringers in an effort to get the ball rolling and build interest for future performances.

The artists participating are all known Kansas City performers, she says.

Besides James D. Conqueror, she’s lined up multi-instrumentalist international husband-and-wife team Amado Espinoza and Karen Lisandra, who also recently performed at Open Spaces, and comedy improv duo Genuine Pig.

The show will also include a short film, a magic act, and Roberts’ own contribution of “Late Night Grab Bag,” which is basically writings from a former self.

“I kept all of my journals and writings and poems and little stories from maybe 30-35 years ago. So, I’m going to read something from my past,” she says.

Subsequent shows may include amateur performers from colleges and high schools.

Credit Eduardo Osorio
Amado Espinoza will perform at 'Late Night Squeeze' on Friday, November 30.

James D. Conqueror (the stage name of James D. McGee), says his performance will be a radically shortened version of what he did at Open Spaces.

“It’s definitely going to be something that’s a little different. You’ll be able to smell it,” he says. The musician, who’s secretary of the Mutual Musicians Foundation, says he’s been working on a concept called Nouveau Noir, or “new black.”

“It was kind of a way for me to discuss, creatively, and through my music what does that look like culturally, musically,” he says. “We have this history and this legacy in Kansas City of how the music was and what jazz was. We have the present and we have the future. So, how to do we combine all those things and what do they look like now?”

Though his performance is musical in nature, he says it has a very strong visual component, though it won’t look like hip-hop or rap.

Credit Steve Wilkison
Stephanie Roberts (left) has organized 'Late Night Squeeze' at Karla Deel's SqueezeBox Theatre.

Roberts says she has not seen what he or any of the performers will bring to the stage.

“That’s part of the fun of this: that I’m curating this but I’m not adjudicating anything,” she says. “I don’t have anyone auditioning, or I don’t preview their work. That was the original intent with ‘Spin the Bottle’ and that was my intent with this.”

Cabarets aren’t uncommon in Kansas City, but Roberts doesn’t know of one that’s on-going. The Folly Theatre hosts a yearly burlesque and variety extravaganza, and Westport Coffee House sometimes offers its Thursday Night Show.

“What I’m hoping for is not only are audiences exposed to new performers or a new kind of performance,” she says, “but the performers themselves meet and network with each other and new collaborations might come of it.”

“Late Night Squeeze: A Nocturnal Variety Show,” 11 p.m. Friday, November 30 at SqueezeBox Theatre, 1519 Oak St., Kansas City, Missouri 64108. Tickets are $10. Other performances are scheduled for February 15, May 3 and July 5.

Follow KCUR contributor Anne Kniggendorf on Twitter, @annekniggendorf.

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