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Fear No More, Kansas City Theater-Goers Can Get Their Fix with Ghostly October Performances

Witches won't be the only topic of the songs and stories shared at the KC Rep's "Ghost Light" event.
Witches won't be the only topic of the songs and stories shared at the KC Rep's "Ghost Light" event.

A ghost stories performance was near the top of Stuart Carden’s list of proposed events when he took over as artistic director of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre last year. But when he mentioned creating a show comprised of scary tales and spooky original music to the theater’s stakeholders, they filed the idea away as something to get to by 2025.

Thanks to the pandemic, the show has moved from the back burner to the front. And from an indoor stage to the outdoors.

“Ghost Light: A Haunted Night of Songs and Stories from KC’s Cultural Crossroads” will have six performances beginning Oct. 22 and will be one of the first live theater events to hit Kansas City since March.

“It really fit nicely into what we can do to both connect in stories and connect community through the performing arts, but also do so in a really safe way,” Carden says.

He’s calling this a theatrical event and experience because it is not a traditional play with dialogue and a theatrical narrative—as Rep patrons are accustomed to.

Jane Barnette is one of the storytellers in the lineup. The University of Kansas theater professor has written an adaptation of a traditional southern Gothic ghost story.

“It’s fall, it’s October—we all love ghost stories, but especially around this time of year,” she says. “I think there’s something in the air that makes it almost natural that we want to scare each other, and we want to share those stories that have been passed down from generation to generation.”

KU professor Jane Barnette will share a scary story at the KC Rep's "Ghost Light" event.
Andrew Edwards Photography
KU professor Jane Barnette will share a scary story at the KC Rep's "Ghost Light" event.

Barnette, who’s from Georgia, is particularly interested in witches. In her studies of witches, she’s found two definitions: a witch has supernatural powers, such as the ability to fly or transform objects; and a witch may practice a pre-monotheistic religion often identified as “witchcraft.”

Witches will feature prominently in the story she shares.

“I think the big question for the audience is going to be, really, how many witches are part of that story?” Barnette asks. “There’s certainly at least one that you’ll know for sure, but if I do it right, afterwards there’ll be some questions, right, about wait a minute, who is the witch here?”

Carden says some of his fondest childhood memories are of his family’s annual visits to a graveyard in Kentucky where such storytelling events were staged.

“One of the reasons I believe I got into theater and got into the performing arts was that childhood experience of going to that ghost story telling festival,” Carden says.

The performance he’s staging will be fairly similar to those childhood encounters — with a few COVID variations.

Audience members will be clustered in designated pods on the south lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art with family members or others they feel safe being close to. They’ll sit on blankets or their own lawn chairs with food and drinks they’ve packed.

Singers and songwriters will perform original work created on the theme of “haunting and the haunted.” Musicians include Freight Train Rabbit Killer, Madisen Ward of Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, folk musician Jessica Paige, and more.

Storytellers in the line-up with Barnette are KKFI’s Maria Vasquez Boyd and writer Nathan Louis Jackson.

“One thing that we can all agree on is that there’s a yearning to be part of a community,” Barnette says. “To me, storytelling is just so central to any kind of building of community; I think it’s going to help the Kansas City area feel so much more connected.”

Carden says the Rep has planned more outdoor and digital events for the 2020-21 season, but they’re still under wraps and will be rolled out as appropriate. He plans to make “Ghost Light” a Kansas City tradition.

Tickets for the show are limited. Call the box office, 816-235-2700, or visit www.kcrep.org.

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. She is the author of "Secret Kansas City."
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