Alternative Theater Is Growing and Thriving
by Joel Barrett
Who doesn’t enjoy a good bedtime story? Especially one told for deviants and dissidents. That is what “The Dirty Birdie Story Hour” is all about. As a storyteller myself, I was instantly hooked when I saw that invite pop up on my Facebook page.
I immediately bought tickets, invited a friend and spent 90 minutes listening to the sordid confessions of six diverse storytellers. Their shameless transparency delighted the packed room who laughed, squirmed, winced and marveled at their sometimes lurid tales.
Making people deliciously uncomfortable is what Susanna Lee Lucky-Deluxe does best. She is the owner/operator of the new Outburst Performance Gallery at 1715 Wyandotte St. in the Crossroads district.
In the former black-box theater, she now curates out-of-the-box performance art she describes as “Outside mainstream. Alternative comedy. Weird shit. You know, things you can’t get other places.”
Susanna, who looks very much like a vintage pinup girl in her peacock leotard and jet black, ponytailed hair, proudly proclaims it as “uncompromised entertainment! Beautiful weirdness.”
The Outburst Performance Gallery provides an eclectic and colorful array of performance art Wednesday through Sunday, including stand-up, spoken-word, solo shows, storytelling, live music and more. All tickets are $15 or less, with most events running $10.
Each day of the week carries a theme with it. Susanna has set aside Wednesday as an “experimental, avant-garde, mixed bag of awesome weirdness.” Thursdays showcase a variety of themed storytelling. In addition to Susanna’s very popular “Dirty Birdie Story Hour,” February will introduce OUTwords: LGBTQ Storytelling on the third Thursday of each month.
Friday and Saturdays are for stand-up comedy and live music.
Sunday includes a catered Bingo Brunch and a hangover show featuring live entertainment. Sunday evenings are Sexy Sundays that include my own Sexual Sunday School on the second Sunday of each month, where education and entertainment hookup for an irreverent and interactive class about the birds and the bees.
It was at “Dirty Birdie” where I first met David Wayne-Reed, the creator of “Shelf Life: A Modern Show and Telling.” He is no stranger to the Kansas City theater scene. He is an actor, writer, director, producer and founding member of Late Night Theatre.
David is well known for his one-man shows “Jolly Rancher” and “Mothertrucker,” as well as his audience engagement play “Help Yourself.” He received an Arts KC grant for “Shelf Life.” This curated, live storytelling series has three more performances on February 25, April 15 and June 10.
The show is a powerful, first-person narrative inspired by the concept of show-and-tell in the style of popular storytelling radio shows like “The Moth” and “This American Life.” Each performance features a fresh cast of storytellers weaving tales around themes like idol worship, wanderlust, winning and cotton.
“Storytellers bring the weird and wonderful objects that have shaped their lives and then tell the audience the stories behind those objects,” David explained. He asks each performer to place their object on a shelf shaped like a slanted “i” before telling their story. “Shelf Life” takes place at The Brick at 1727 McGee.
“Theater in the first person really works best in those intimate environments. When you tell your own story, you are accountable to yourself,” David said. “You raise the vibration in the room, and you have people thinking about their own accountability. It is easy to judge, hate or dismiss someone when they are far away from you, but when they are in the same room as you, I don’t care if that’s in The Brick, in a prison cell or in a confessional at a church, you’re brought close by your confession and your vulnerability. There’s such power in that.”
Poet Jen Harris knows all about the power of narrative.
“There’s tremendous emotional validity to getting up on stage and telling your truth,” she said.
Jen is a KC-based spoken-word poet and activist focused on queer and women’s rights issues. She leads the nationally certified, Kansas City Poetry Slam the first Wednesday of each month at The Uptown Arts Bar at 3611 Broadway.
“I came out to my parents at 16 and was promptly kicked out of my house. It took a lot of years to repair that relationship, and I think I would have been less of a statistic if I had some place like poetry slam to go. I think it would have helped me to know that I had a community,” Jen said.
The poetry slam is in an open mic format, which allows people to come and share very personal and vulnerable experiences but also gives them the opportunity to better craft their performance and their poetry.
“The poetry slam takes all that archaic snooze-fest of poetry and turns it into a competition,” Jen said. “Poets come and realize they can take that and turn it into something they can play with and possibly cash in on.”
In addition to her poetry, Jen is premiering her one-woman show “Lust and Disdain” in February at The Outburst Performance Gallery. She describes it as “a train wreck of poorly memorized monologues, dark stand-up comedy and emotionally unsettling slam poetry.” “Lust and Disdain” explores the extremes Jen Harris has gone to in search of, and in spite of, love.
Not all stories are autobiographical. Kevin King, the Producing Artistic Director of Whim Productions has been presenting LGBTQ Focused plays in Kansas City since the theater company was founded in 2011.
Alphabet Soup, which began at the Fringe Festival, is now an annual short-play festival In October during LGBTQ History Month. Alphabet Soup features stories from queer voices. These short plays, written by members of the community, are windows into queer life that aren’t normally seen or presented. Whim Productions is committed to edgy theater with a strong queer focus.
Whim is a nomadic company. There is no single, specific venue but shows are regularly produced at The Buffalo Room, the back room of the Westport Flea Market. There, audiences lift their glasses and toast to William Shakespeare at “The Bard on Booze,” Kansas City’s take on Drunken Shakespeare. The 90-minute performances of the Bard’s best-known works begin with several rounds of shots with the cast members followed by a performance frequently interrupted by drinking games for both the cast and the audience. The hilarious results are not hard to imagine.
Kevin King’s own personal work will be a part of a one-minute play festival at The Fishtank, Feb. 16-18, located above The Outburst Performance Gallery at 1715 Wyandotte. “Along The Line” is a rapid-fire theatrical response to a specific time in history.
Each one-minute-long play is a response to events from Jan. 10 to Jan. 22, during the transition of power in our nation. The plays will explore: What is it to be American? What is the American Dream? What does this time say about
us? Two of Kevin’s 60-second plays will be presented during this festival.
Kansas City has a rich alternative and queer theater scene that is growing and expanding. The options are as diverse as the rainbow that unites us.
“There’s something very religious about the theatrical and performative experience. You become the vessel your story flows through. It creates this communion with the congregation. It’s transformative. It’s like church without all the dogma,” David said.
Visit thephoenixnewsletter.com for these and other performances happening in Kansas City.