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Central Standard

Kansas City Actor And Director Ron Megee On The Not-So-Subtle Art Of Camp

Paul Andrews
Ron Megee at home with his inspiration.

Actor and Late Night Theatre director Ron Megee says he isn't out to change the world.

His troupe, where men often play women and vice versa, performs campy spoofs on popular television shows and movies. And camp, he says, "is a frame of mind."

"We're putting something up on stage and twisting it to the point of humor," Megee says.

Take, for example, the time he played Lily Tomlin's character from the 1980 movie Nine to Five, where Tomlin is a disgruntled, world-weary office worker. He noticed that she was always crossing her arms, and sighing in a certain way.

When he played Winona Ryder's character from Beetlejuice, he focused on the teenage eye roll. And with Tippi Hedren in The Birds? It was all about her being "cold as ice," to the point of seeming absent. As Wilma, from the Flintstones, he stands with his hands on his hips at all times. "As though I've been drawn that way," he says. With all of these characters, one or two traits or quirks is magnified to the point of absurdity.

Which is exactly how the troupe goes after stereotypes. And that's where the humor becomes a little more serious.

"One great thing about camp is you can go to the edge with stereotype and you can float it there and the audience can see the ridiculousness of it," Megee says. "I call it laughing through the pain. Stereotypes are interesting. We've all been stereotyped. When we have a gay character in a show, we're very careful about how far we go with that. Do we put the lisp in? Is it in the movie? Is it something that we want to reflect on?"

Megee knew he was gay, or at least somehow different, from a young age. He grew up in Anaheim, California and moved to Blue Springs, Missouri, as a teenager, where he felt like the odd man out, coming from a hippie environment and suddenly landing in what he saw as a much more restrictive world.

That is, until he found his theater friends. That's when it became OK to spike his hair with toothpaste. And to come out of the closet.

Actually, he has several coming out stories. After coming out to his friends, he was outed more publicly in a Kansas City Star article in the early 1990s, where he was described as a "gay performer." He says it was a huge weight off his shoulders.

The only person he never talked to was his mom. He waited until she was on her deathbed.

"Coming out is an interesting thing," he says. "It's about being a person, and I'm not sure why we put these restraints up, I mean a person's a person, but I didn't want to disappoint her by saying it. Deep down I realize there would have been no disappointment. That was something in my own mind that I didn't deal with."

He also remembers a time when being gay in Kansas City meant being buzzed in at night clubs, and going out with pretend girlfriends until safely behind closed doors. 

Megee and some friends started Late Night Theatre in the 1990s. The shows have always been raucous and party-like, and through three locations — a former porn palace, bank and now a stage at a gay bar — the long, leggy, deadpan Megee is usually cast as one of the leads.

He's a natural performer who connects with audiences, but he hasn't always wanted to be an actor. In fact, he wanted to be an architect ("I got tired of drawing split-level suburban homes," he says) and it's only been in the last couple of years that he's been able to calm his nerves before going out on stage.

In fact, he used to consistently get so nervous that he'd vomit before shows.

"There's gonna be things that rattle you, always, but once I get on stage it's like a drug, it puts a power in you that makes you feel incredible. To hear people laugh or silence or to cry, there's magical moments on stage and that's the part I never want to give up. So I'd fight through that feeling knowing that in a minute, I'd be comforted by an audience and other actors."

Portrait Sessions are intimate conversations with some of the most interesting people in Kansas City. Each conversational portrait is paired with photographic portraits by Paul Andrews.

Gina Kaufmannis the host of Central Standard. You can reach her on Twitter.

People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.