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A 'Venerable' Kansas City Personality Is Excited To Move To A Town Where Nobody Knows Her

Jim Lightfoot
Entertainer, writer and director Missy Koonce will leave Kansas City this fall. She's shown here in 2012 at Bar Natasha, which she owned until 2008.

Missy Koonce has figured out that "weird ages well."

For 30 years, the actor, writer and director has entertained Kansas City with her character acting, parodies of old shows like "Bonanza," and for a while, as owner of Bar Natasha.

That local legacy will be capped this fall when Koonce moves to Indianapolis, Indiana, where her partner has been transferred for work.

"I think what I'm most excited about, about going someplace new, is nobody knows me there," she said.

After graduating from the now-defunct Tarkio College, Koonce performed in a couple of shows in Kansas City in 1989. But she and her friend Ron Megee weren't being cast as often as they wanted.

"Nobody would hire us because we were too weird. They thought, 'Oh, they're character actors, but they're only in their 20s. Where do we put somebody like that? And they're kind of wild.'"

So Koonce and Megee started Kansas City's Late Night Theatre.

The two made their own fun by writing, producing, directing and acting in parodies of Alfred Hitchcock’s "The Birds"; a James Bond parody called "Shocktapussy," in which Koonce played Bond; "Dangerous Dirty Little Liaisons"; and "Sweet Underground Charity."

"The best way to describe it is camp parody," Koonce said. "We'd take television scripts or movie scripts, sometimes mashing them together, then there'll be drag involved: women as men, men as women, men as men, women as women. We just mix it all up and make a lot of fun of it and parody the whole thing."

Credit Missy Koonce
Missy Koonce and Harry Connick, Jr., in 2007 when Connick was part of the Coterie's 'The Happy Elf.'

She said that she's loved being involved with and observing changes in Kansas City theater for the past three decades. Small companies like Late Night Theatre were once the exception, she said, but now they're everywhere.

"There are so many venues where you can take a show, and if you can find the money, and you can find the people who'll work for nothing, you know, you can go and you can do that show," Koonce said. "You can produce that show yourself and you can direct that show yourself, you can star in it."

In recent years, Koonce has turned more of her attention to directing.

Earlier this summer, Koonce directed "The Revolutionists" at the Unicorn Theatre, billed as an "irreverent comedy set during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror" in which "four beautiful, badass women lose their heads."

The show hit feminism and activism hard, offering much political commentary on today through the lens of 1793 Paris, according to the Unicorn's website. And the production was almost entirely female-run, something much more common now than it was when Koonce started out.

Koonce said she's enjoying the role of director more and more, likening it to playing with Lincoln Logs as a kid.

"And then after it was all built, I played with it for like five minutes after like five hours of putting it together. And, really, it's very difficult to go back to acting after that, because then you just stand around going, well, I wouldn't have done it like that..."

It's the building of the shows that she likes so much now, just as she enjoyed helping build the Kansas City theater community. And now, it’s time to see what she can build in another city as an older, more seasoned director and performer.

"I'm not Missy Koonce of Indianapolis," she said. "So to go there, and they don't know the young Missy, they're going to know the old Missy, and hopefully do some new things. The venerable Missy Koonce."

Missy Koonce spoke with KCUR on a recent edition of Central Standard. Listen to the full conversation here.

Follow KCUR contributor AnneKniggendorf on Twitter, @annekniggendorf.

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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