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Kansas City's Coterie Theatre names new artistic director, a year after abuse controversy

Khalia Davis will become the Coterie Theatre's producing artistic director on Feb. 1. She previously held similar roles at children's theaters in New York and California.
Khalia Davis
Khalia Davis will become the Coterie Theater's producing artistic director on Feb. 1. She previously held similar roles at children's theaters in New York and California.

The Crown Center children’s theater made headlines in 2022 after a former artistic director who worked there for more than 30 years was accused of sexually assaulting young men. Jeff Church was found dead in his Kansas City, Missouri, home days after the accusations became public.

A prominent Kansas City children’s theater has named a new leader of artistic programming.

Starting Feb. 1, Khalia Davis will be the Coterie Theatre’s new producing artistic director.

She’s the first person to fill that role permanently since December 2022, when her predecessor, Jeff Church, was accused of sexually assaulting multiple young men. Police found Church dead in his home days after allegations were made public. He had worked at the theater for more than 30 years.

The statement released Wednesday announcing Davis’s hire made no mention of Church, Church’s death, or the abuse allegations. Instead, the theater’s leaders seemed to focus on the future.

“As we further our mission to bring professional theater to young people and families, as well as serve our community as the premier arts education theater in our region, Khalia stood out as someone who brings exceptional leadership, talent, and experience in those crucial areas,” wrote Managing Director Jonathan Thomas. “Khalia's commitment to new work, particularly in the BIPOC playwright and composer community, is an inspiring parallel to our equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice work.”

Theresa Stoker, president of the theater’s board of directors, noted in the announcement Davis’s energy and passion for theater for young audiences.

“We believe The Coterie's reputation as a top theatre for reaching across races, genders, and generations, locally and nationally, will flourish,” she said.

Davis previously did similar work at children’s theaters in New York City and the San Francisco Bay area, where she’s originally from.

Before assuming her role as artistic director of the Bay Area Children's Theater in 2020, Davis was director of inclusion and education with Brooklyn Children’s Theatre, where she helped restructure theater programming through an anti-racism lens, according to the statement.

“I was immediately drawn to The Coterie after reading their mission and value statement and seeing that they highlight justice as an important tenant to the work on the stage and in the classroom,” Davis said in the statement. “I believe art is meant to invite conversation, interrogate perspectives, and ignite imagination.”

“I am over the moon with this opportunity to carry on a cherished legacy valued by generations of families and young people here in Kansas City,” she wrote.

As culture editor, I oversee KCUR’s coverage of race, culture, the arts, food and sports. I work with reporters to make sure our stories reflect the fullest view of the place we call home, so listeners and readers feel primed to explore the places, projects and people who make up a vibrant Kansas City. Email me at luke@kcur.org.
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