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Photograph 51, by Anna Ziegler, makes its regional debut at The Metropolitan Theatre Ensemble, running through Feb 4th.  This tight 90-minute play guides us through what could be a dense, dry scientific journey detailing the discovery of DNA’s double helix.  Instead, audiences are treated to a tense, fast -paced, entertaining exploration of a forgotten female scientist and the relationships that influenced her and the groundbreaking genetic discoveries of the 1950s.  Rosalind Franklin is given new life and, in an age suddenly endangering female rights, makes her story even more apropos and vital.

On stage Wed-Sat at 7:30, Sunday (Jan 29) at 2pm at the MET in mid-town Kansas City.

Here’s what the reviewers are saying:

Robert W. Butler at the KC Star says:

Talk about fortuitous synchronicity!

On the same weekend that millions of women around the world marched to assert their rights, Kansas City’s Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre debuted “Photograph 51,” a hugely insightful and unexpectedly moving play about a groundbreaking woman scientist who never got her due.

“Photograph 51” is less about the nuts and bolts of scientific discovery than it is about the struggles of the human heart and psyche.

[Amy] Attaway’s Franklin pulls us in not because she’s charming but because she’s so rigorous and scrupulously honest. There’s virtue in her approach, if not much humanity. Only late in the proceedings do we sense Franklin’s regrets about the ascetic, practically monkish life she has chosen.

[Robert Gibby] Brand, on the other hand, is both hugely amusing and borderline heartbreaking as Wilkins, who evolves from privileged pomposity to a genuine appreciation of his colleague that borders on romantic love. It’s a performance overflowing with small gestures and stifled frustrations, alternately comic and near-tragic.

But then all six players are superb.

Read more here.

One lady not remembered enough: British chemist Rosalind Franklin.
KC audiences are fortunate to get a glimpse of this Photograph, staged in London’s West End in 2015 and set to open on Broadway later this year (with Nicole Kidman in the role of Franklin in both productions). The piece is timely, a story not only about science and its protagonists but also about politics — the who’s-in and who’s-out in the struggle for influence, recognition and an individual’s rightful place.
The dynamic performances that Paisley elicits from a strong cast are what keep us engaged in this one-act play’s fact-based story.
Read more of Deborah’s article here.

Or Robert Trussell‘s thoughts on KC Studio in his review (click the below title for full review):

Good Performances Buoy Unique Drama About Science, Love and History

Good performances across the board elevate Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s thoughtful production of Ziegler’s 2008 play about sexism and professional competition among a group of British and American scientists who established the molecular structure of DNA in the 1950s. Director Karen Paisley stages the piece with admirable economy and precision.

One could argue that Franklin’s character is less developed than it should be, but Amy Attaway brings the role to life with remarkable precision. Her performance is an impressive succession of smart choices, resulting in a series of indelible physical and emotional snapshots. Even more noteworthy, she holds her own with the formidable Robert Gibby Brand, who plays Watkins as a man possessed of a keen intellect but precious few social graces. Nobody in town plays educated Brits better than Brand and here he delivers one of his finest performances. Indeed, Brand and Attaway together find a beating heart in a play about chilly, eccentric science nerds.

No weak links are to be found among the supporting players: Jordan Fox brings stolidity and muted passion to Don Caspar. R.H. Wilhoit, as Gosling, is a frequently comic presence whose humor never undermines the drama. John Cleary finds honest comedy in his portrayal as the excitable, impassioned Watson. And the reliable Coleman Crenshaw is memorable as Crick. Nice to see quality ensemble work.


As directed by Karen Paisley, “Photograph 51” is a fascinating, edge of your seat rendering of one woman’s fight to establish her value as a scientist and as a colleague.
A strong cast of six in “Photograph 51” at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre spins an unfamiliar, but excellently told tale of a female scientist in 1950’s Britain. Playwright Anna Ziegler recounts the work of crystallographer Dr. Rosalind Franklin and her difficult struggle for equal treatment in the workplace.
Read Alan’s full review here.

“Photograph 51″ shines light into the 1950s research and ground-breaking discoveries in DNA mapping and understanding with brilliant performances by Amy Attaway and Robert Gibby Brand.
Read full review here.

Recently I have been approached by an increasing number of people about the theatre scene in Kansas City; actors contemplating a move, students researching life after college, even reporters keen to examine the arts scene.  Robert Trussell at the KC Star wrote an interesting article about the business of acting recently here.  I’ve been working in Kansas City for a little more than three years now and apparently that makes me an expert!  😉  Not really.  But I do feel like I have learned a lot about the theatre community here in the heart of America.

Kansas City theatre is, without a doubt, thriving.  Early in my days in KC, to gauge my new theatrical home, I set out to count how many theatres were currently functioning in the area.  My unscientific count lead to discovering 19 professional (paying their actors) theatre companies, a dozen more sporadic companies (in pay and production), and 10 established amateur companies.  And I’m sure I missed some (especially on the community theatre side).   Opportunities abound, clearly.  Even with the recent closure of one of the biggest theatres (in employment and visibility), The American Heartland Theatre, there are plenty of courageous artists and producers living and working in this city.  Connections between artists and connections to the audience communities are very important to me, and Kansas City has not disappointed.

But, back to the question of the posting.  For those of you that don’t know, Equity is shorthand for Actors Equity Association (the trade union for actors and stage managers).  Acting is a glamorous business on the outside.  We are raised on entertainment these days and we glorify celebrities.  Who wouldn’t want to be an actor?  This has been true for many years; theatre, film, tv have always offered a pathway to fame and fortune to the eye of the beholder.  This illusion is mostly due to selection bias, of course, but it is no less seductive.  Quickly, a history lesson:

A long time ago, as theatre and film grew in popularity more people decided to try grab their share of the riches so evidenced in their actor celebrities.   Everywhere you turned in New York was someone claiming to be the next Barrymore (we’re talking  John, not Drew- but the example works either way) or Booth or Bernhardt.   This led, as capitalism often does, to a fair bit of worker abuse.  In this case we’ll focus on actor abuse.  Directors, by virtue of the vast availability of actors on every street corner, could demand virtually anything from the poor sap they hired under the threat of immediate replacement.  This was not a unique problem, of course, nor did it have a unique solution.  Unionize!  Actors Equity came about to stop this exploitation, giving actors the ability to fight back collectively.  It worked well, especially where large numbers of actors and theatres concentrated.  We all know where these theatrical metropolises are: New York (still), Chicago, and Los Angeles (film counts as well people).

Unfortunately, the idea that these are the only places theatre excels (or even exists) is all too pervasive.  Kansas City theatre is very much alive and well, filled to brimming with quality and opportunity.  Yet,  every person who learns that I am an actor immediately asks: “When are you moving to Broadway?” or “So you’re headed to L.A.?”  Or, from the more informed audience member: “Are you Equity?”

Unfortunately, this perception is bad for theatre.  The concept that good theatre is only available in New York, LA or Chicago and only by Equity members has serious consequences on theatre and the artists involved.  Even inside the industry the idea that Equity status is tied to talent all too often raises its pernicious head.  These over-saturated cities are actually damaging to most theatre artists.  For every new artist who gets cast in a Broadway play there are 2000 who moved to New York and auditioned for it.  (And there are 3 already famous film/tv stars who were pre-cast.)  The numbers are even harsher in LA I’m sure, for the saying goes, “you can’t throw a stone in LA without hitting half a dozen extras with new scripts.”

Equity is not a marker of talent.  It is a marker of slightly higher wages, more restrictive rules for artists (and their job selection), and collective bargaining for benefits.  These can be very good benefits to artists.  But too often they keep artists tied to the bigger markets (and therefore higher living expenses) and larger theatres that can afford Equity contracts (but most cut corners in other ways).  An Equity Actor cannot perform outside of an Equity contract and theatre.  What happens when a new theatre, imaginative in scope and execution, passionate about new plays, yet (as many new companies are) slight in resources attracts the attention of a established, talented Equity actor.  They believe in each others’ talent and mission.  Yet, the actor cannot use his talents to support the growth of a potentially innovative and exciting new theatrical endeavor.  This new company doesn’t have the resources to establish an Equity contract (let alone pay the slightly higher Equity wage).  Yet, the public would be more likely to fill the seats of this new company in order to see the Equity Actor they recognize as inherently better than the non-Equity actor.  These innovative companies often struggle to attract audiences to new work because of the fear of the unknown- unknown play, unknown company, unknown actors.  Yet the more established, known companies, not only rarely do new work, rarely hire larger Equity casts (cause they can’t afford them).  Therefore, communities can support far fewer Equity actors.  These actors, working far less now that they are no longer free to do non-Equity roles, are forced to move to bigger, more expensive markets.  Suddenly the big Equity theatre that used to fill their seats on the promise of seeing your favorite Equity actor in a brand new play has lost their marquee name to Chicago.  Now they are forced to do Guys and Dolls for the 25th time to draw in an audience to see an unknown cast, but in a beloved classic that everyone (probably) wants to see (again).  No room for a new, exciting playwright.

So what is the point?  Stay local.  Perform local.  Support local theatres that hire local artists.  I’d rather get paid a bit less per job, yet work more often.  This way we can develop a relationship with the community that will in return support the theatre that will support the artist- and back and forth.  Kansas City, for the most part, does this wonderfully.  But we need your help to continue.

Eat local.  Art local.

Crenshaw delivers an incredibly subtle performance as the seemingly aimless grown son living at home. Chuck is more honest and emotionally available than the women surrounding him and his shrewd philosophizing makes sense. Chuck shares touching moments with Iris, Erica and Nif as he is the only person willing to let down their guard in this emotional battlefield. These introspective moments are quite brief and are among the few respites in the play.

 

Libby Hanssen at KCMetropolis, Kansas City’s Online Journal of the Performing Arts reviews The Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s production of Rules for Widows.  The full review here.

Kansas City playwright Michael Ruth’s new play is currently in it’s World Premiere at the MET in Kansas City.  Shows runs through Oct. 3rd; Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.